Sunday, July 19, 2009
Friday, July 17, 2009
Producer: Warner Bros.
Director: David Yates
Cast: Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, Emma Watson, Michael Gambon, Jim Broadbent and others
Screenplay: Steve Kloves based on Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince by JK Rowling
Rating: **** (4 of 5)
The problem, according to many, with the Harry Potter books is that they are just too big to read. And that's why the movies are so popular and much-awaited (that's not to say that the movies aren't good by themselves, of course!). The sixth edition of the Harry Potter series came with a lot of expectations, and it lives up to most of them.
In his sixth year at Hogwarts, Harry is faced with the spectre of Lord Voldemort's power growing rapidly coupled with Dumbledore's ill-health. In the meantime, Horace Slughorn decides to come back to Hogwarts to teach Potions, with Snape getting the DADA job at last. Dumbledore tells Harry about Voldemort's past as Tom Riddle and the key to destroying him.
The movie comes with some exceptionally good effects, particularly the Cave scene. The Inferi and the ring of fire were done very well. The Room of Requirement was also done well as was the larger-than-life look of Hogwarts Castle.
Unlike the fourth and fifth movies, the screenplay here was good and generally left ardent readers of Harry Potter without too many complaints. So, while some scenes such as the burning down of The Burrow were created for the movie, others like Slughorn's Christmas Party stuck to the book perfectly. However, some of the additions in the movie were glaringly incorrect. For example, Ginny Weasley accompanying Harry to the Room of Requirement, wizards (including a pure blood) serving drinks and Harry not being petrified by Dumbledore on the astronomy Tower (I doubt if Harry would obey Dumbledore's orders even in this situation). Draco Malfoy looked funny wearing a suit instead of robes the entire time!
Also unlike the previous movies was the exclusion of action scenes: the sixth movie was supposed to include a grand duel between Death Eaters and students and teachers of Hogwarts, but it does not. Even the story of the Half Blood Prince was placed on a slow, parallel track. Dumbledore's funeral was deleted altogether from the nearly two a half hours long movie, perhaps leaving it for the next director to imagine.
As always, the costumes were good and the effects were excellent. The acting was also good, although Draco Malfoy's part was not played very convincingly. Some parts, most notably the Quidditch try-outs could have been left out altogether. Most of the scenes are dark with very little sunlight, if at all. This is justified, as this is supposed to be the 'darkest' (no pun intended) movie yet.
I saw the movie in 2D, but you could watch it on IMAX 3D, although it will cost you a lot more. Either way, watch the movie carefully because a lot of it will have to be recalled in the next movie. I don't think I need to recommend anybody to watch the movie, you are going to anyway. Hate it or love it, you just can't ignore a Harry Potter movie!
Thursday, July 16, 2009
Wednesday, July 15, 2009
In the last part, we saw how Corporate Colleges use a clever combination of bribe and propaganda to hide their horrendous methods, often taking Government officials into confidence in the process.
Now, we examine how the methods employed by them affect children and society as a whole. We present this in the form of some simple points and substantiate them.
- The strategies of these corporate colleges has created a psyche in society that Engineering and Medicine are the only lines of career that are worth pursuing. Nothing could be further from the truth. It is not true that students of BA, B.Com and B.Sc are left with no jobs. A student of BA (Foreign languages) can earn over Rs. 1 lakh a month. It is not necessary that a teenager of 16 years would want to pursue only Engineering or Medicine; they are probably interested in something else, including sports. Corporate Colleges create a sense of fear towards failure. They point out that for every successful artist or sportsman, there are several failures. Failure is not a bad thing, it precedes success. Talent and hardwork alone determine one's success, not one's profession.
- Corporate Colleges treat students as mark-scoring machines, not humans. They conduct hundreds, even thousands of tests over a short span of two years and punish students for failure, often using phrases such as 'last chance' or 'final warning' to intimidate students. For them, poor marks directly implies an apathy towards studies, they do not even once consider that a student might be collapsing under pressure or some other emotional trauma. For them, students are emotionless, only meant to carry the burden of excessive expectations.
- The atmosphere of extreme stress created by these colleges pushes students towards smoking, drugs, alcohol and even suicide. Almost all these colleges have little shops selling cigarettes outside them. Drug agents make quick money here. It is as simple a matter as to stand outside a corporate college in the evening to see students smoking. These colleges do not care about all this: for them, a student might die in five years, but if he gets them a good rank in the process, it is worth it! If a student is caught smoking or doping in the premises, they are simply 'shifted' to another campus, where they will be around more students like themselves. They do not feel that they have any responsibility towards the student. For them, marks and ranks alone matter.
- Corporate colleges directly lower the standards of colleges and Universities in which their former students go. This might seem paradoxical, but it is true. The lie that 'you just have to study like a maniac for two years and the rest of your life will be smooth sailing' is ingrained into students' minds and they remember it. When they go to college, they bunk classes and mug up answers just before exams. They become allergic to studies: it seems a chore, not a pleasure, to them. The two years in corporate colleges kill the sense of inquisitiveness and desire to learn that should characterise a student. In addition, because students neglect their academics, they take up other methods to kill time, principal among them being ragging. Ragging, outlawed by the Supreme Court of India, is something students here look forward to indulging in to 'relieve them of stress'!
- Students' mental health in corporate colleges deteriorates significantly. A constant sense of fear and intimidation damages a student's sense of safety and even makes them wonder whether life is worth living like this. An atmosphere of extreme stress causes hypertension. Before exams, students complain of lack of sleep or nightmares related to the punishment they would meet in case of failure.Students in hostels are the worst off: many of them beg their parents to take them back within the first week. The trauma is often unbearable and students carry these memories all their life.
- Corporate colleges are detrimental towards students' physical health. As stated in Parts 1 and 2, they run illegally in apartment blocks which are not designed for students to study in. Classrooms are often overcrowded and have poor ventilation. An astonishingly large percentage of students end up needing glasses because of the terrible lighting. Students are not allowed to participate in any physical activity, which brings with it the whole gamut of physical disorders. Benches are often packed right next to the blackboard, and those sitting in the front inhale tons of chalk dust. The normal practice of keeping a safe distance between benches and the blackboard is disregarded to stuff more students into a class. In many cases, students are physically beaten for poor performance or indiscipline, there have also been cases of sexual abuse which managements put under the carpet.
- Students coming out of corporate colleges lack even basic communication skills, which are essential in the 'real' world. Because of the system of gender segregation practiced, students find it very difficult to interact with members of the opposite sex, which carries over to professional college and proves to be a major problem in the future. Managements and even parents support this idea with the excuse that they are preventing any love affairs between girls and boys. This, at the age of 16 to 18, when love is but human. And even if they are doing that, a simple question tears their argument apart: 'Can a girl and a boy share no other relationship than that of an affair?'
- Physical health of students deteriorates rapidly in hostels, where they are served sub-standard food and are punished if they complain. Food poisoning is common but only a few cases are reported in the media.
- Sleep deprivation is a common tool used by these corporate colleges to get more marks out of students. They actively encourage students to sleep less to satisfy their greed. Students often spend well over 12 hours a day in colleges and are then given enough homework to last a few more hours on purpose. For them, a student's health matters much less, if at all, than the marks they can score. This leads to physical disorders that prove costly in the future.
- Corporate colleges follow the absurd mantra that 'the longer you stay in college, the better marks you get.' In reality, they are taking advantage of a basic human shortcoming - 'out of sight, out of mind' - that parents suffer from. They are tricked into believing that their child is being taught something in college, and they believe it because they cannot see the evidence against it. They are tricked into thinking that their child is happy and mentally and physically sound in college, because they cannot see otherwise. Thus, corporate colleges take advantage of this to force students into following an inhuman study schedule.
This list is just indicative, not exhaustive. Corporate college end up creating bad citizens: citizens who have lost faith in society because society could not save them from their trauma; citizens who do not care about law and order because it never helped them in anyway; citizens who are pushed into anti-social activities because they have no other way to vent their frustration; and citizens who collectively form an unhealthy society.
In Part 4, the last part, we conclude the series with some points on what needs to change in order to save our society from a grim future.
Over the past decade, there has been a marked shift in France's foreign policy towards India. From being just another country that bought a lot of weapons, India has emerged a major ally of France and there is an active exchange of culture between both sides.
Thus, Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh being invited as Guest of Honour on Bastille Day is a proud landmark in the history of these two nations. The sight of Indian soldiers of all three branches of the Armed Forces marching to the tune of Indian martial songs caught the world's attention. Indian soldiers, then British-Indian soldiers, fought for the allies on World Wars 1 and 2, and many other wars as well.
France's high ideals of liberty, equality and dignity are the core concepts of our Constitution, indeed, the French Revolution served as the ideological catalyst time and again during our Independence Struggle.
France has increasingly emerged as India's all-weather ally, supporting us in matters such as a Permanent UNSC seat and never blaming us for terrorist attacks on our own soil because of Kashmir (which our other 'ally' Britain does so regularly). This friendship can only go further from here, and the Indo-French relationship is going to be one of the most historic ones for centuries to come.
Tuesday, July 14, 2009
In Part 1, we got an overview of how the Corporate Colleges of Hyderabad use a mixture of abuse and slow torture to milk students for their greed. In this part, we shall see how they get away with breaking numerous laws and avoid being caught by regulators.
A common feature of these corporate colleges is their high fees: it can go as high as Rs. 1.5 lakhs for two years, excluding the cost of books. All these colleges are highly profitable businesses and earn very large profits. A substantial portion of this money goes towards bribing officials so that they can continue with their unlawful practices. In addition, leaders of student unions are also bribed to keep them quiet.
All corporate colleges are affiliated to the Board of Intermediate Education, AP (BIE). BIE's laws state that colleges affiliated to it must teach only the prescribed syllabus and may not teach for any competitive exam, except for the state CET in the last month or so. Every building owned by the college must be registered with BIE as well and they must follow the academic calendar as prescribed by BIE.
Corporate colleges break all the above guidelines. The prescribed syllabus is taught for an hour or two at best, and the board exam is only taken into consideration in the last week before the exam. All of them act as unrecognised coaching centres, which take students through an inhuman process, often called 'grilling' by the locals. Only one or two buildings are registered, while a 'campus' may have as many as 10 or even more buildings under it, all illegal.
Moreover, officials appointed by BIE to oversee the Practical examinations are almost always bribed to ensure that the top students get full marks. In 2009, BIE tried to stem this open secret with firm warnings but nonetheless, corporate colleges outperformed all other Junior Colleges in Practicals, which is ironic given the way they are taught, or not taught.
In 2009 again, after an illegal building of a corporate college collapsed and killed one student, the AP Government launched a drive to close down illegal buildings. But by means of bribe and political influence, only the unimportant buildings were closed down while the real problems were left untouched.
Corporate Colleges have successfully spread their propaganda among the residents of Hyderabad. By acquiring smaller colleges that follow rules, they have created a sort of monopoly, with the handful of colleges colluding with each other at the highest levels.
They have spread the false propaganda that Engineering and Medicine are the only courses available, and anybody who does another course will end up a pauper. Indeed, in Hyderabad, it is said that there is Engineering, there is Medicine and then there is failure! They have used propaganda to create the illusion that any engineer will earn a six-digit salary. This, to boost their own business. They even use Southern chauvinism, portraying themselves at the heroes of South India who are somehow bashing North India! It is not uncommon, in an attempt to gloss over failure, for them to publish full-page ads like 'Best in South India' or 'Making Telugus Proud.' Thus, a clever mix of propaganda and marketing helps them remain heroes in the eyes of the public.
Some of the corporate colleges pay huge sums of money to the toppers of various exams so that they can publish their names in their ads. This is a clear case of cheating the public, but it is done with impunity. Thousands of children are saddled into these colleges thinking that the college will bring them a bright future, not their own hard work and talent.
Corporate colleges are regularly criticized for the their practices, but they always give the same answers: they are sending lots and lots of students to IITs, NITs and other Universities, hence they should be lauded, not criticized. But this argument fails on two counts.
First, the idea that IITs and NITs are somehow the ultimate goals of one's life was created by these colleges themselves. How many of our nation's great leaders were from the IITs and the NITs? If we have only engineers and doctors, how will the country function? Does it imply that students of BA, B.Com and B.Sc are somehow below their B.Tech/BE/MBBS counterparts? Is talent measured only by an objective test?
Secondly, the result does not justify the means. A student might get into IIT or AIIMS, but will he/she be a good citizen? How are corporate colleges contributing to the nation? By creating machines that can no longer think for themselves? By torturing students and pushing them towards smoking, drugs and even suicide? By torturing, abusing and harassing children? By depriving children of physical activity and fresh air? Is this the future we seek to build?
In the next part, we discuss the points against the corporate colleges and how out society is moving in a dangerous direction.
Monday, July 13, 2009
Sunday, July 12, 2009
Nearly a third of all students from IITs are from Andhra Pradesh, and a large percentage of them are from Hyderabad. The Cursed Generation, a four-part series, the last major series of the year on OTFS, will try to understand why Hyderabad has become a hub for the lucrative IITJEE coaching business, why illegal businesses flourish in the name of education using bribe and marketing techniques and what we are losing in the process.
Saturday, July 11, 2009
Wednesday, July 8, 2009
Wednesday, July 1, 2009
Director: Michael Bay
Cast: Shia LeBeouf, John Turturro, Megan Fox and others
Rating: ***** (5 0f 5)
The IMAX posters described it as 'The Most Awaited Movie of the Year.' Now I know why. Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen (unofficially Transformers 2) picks up well from the first Transformers movie.
The US Army has created a new force called NEST, which assimilates humans and autobots. The defeated decepticons are hiding on different continents, occasionally cooking up trouble. The movie starts with a spectacular action sequence that depicts the destruction of Shanghai. In the meantime, Sam Witwicky's life goes back to normal as he heads for college.
But as the decepticons become more powerful and look to make a comeback, he is hurled back into the battle. The story of the decepticons becomes more clear, and we learn that Megatron is really working for one of the Optimus brothers! But for the rest of the story, you will have to see the movie.
The movie moves, a little clumsily, from various locations. However, the battle and explosion scenes in the deserts of Egypt are mind-blowing. The scenes atop the Pyramids of Giza and the American weapons add panache to the action scenes. The gigantic screen at IMAX makes them even better!
The technicians deserve full marks for the was they designed the Autobots and the decepticons. The costumes, especially Megan Fox's, were very good. And as usual, the music at the end of the movie was very good. Sam Witwicky looks a few years older than in the first movie, which means that the make-up artists got it just right.
Overall, this is a must-watch movie for all those who loved the first Transformers movie. A lot of questions are answered here, and the movie will definitely leave a mark on your mind.
Producers: DreamWorks and Paramount
Director: Gavin Hood
Cast: Hugh Jackman, Liev Schreiber, Tim Pocock, Julia Blake and others
Rating: **** (4 0f 5)
Wolverine has always been one of the most intriguing mutants in the X-Men series. A mutant whose body seemed to have been modified but who seems to have sprung up from out of nowhere, with no past at all! X-Men Origins: Wolverine tells the story of Logan and his brother Victor, as they run together and fight great wars, only to separate and battle each other.
After Logan has a disagreement with his brother and fellow mutants, he leaves his life of war and hatred behind to start a quiet life with his school teacher love in the mountains of Canada. But Victor chooses another path: to track down other mutants and use their DNA to create the ultimate anti-mutant.
The most thrilling part of the movie is the scene where Logan's skeleton was modified to make it indestructible. The sheer intensity of Wolverine's thoughts as he had to bear inhuman pain, the silence that followed after he nearly died and his ferocity after emerging from the tank took my breath away.
Overall, the movie is very good: the story keeps the viewer engaged and the action scenes make them cheer. Hugh Jackman's acting is, as always, beyond comparison. He can turn from the soft-hearted Logan to the merciless Wolverine almost seamlessly.
I recommend you to watch this movie. It will be worth your time and money.
There are birthdays. And then there are 18th birthdays. Now that I've finally turned 18, there's just so much to look forward to. The next year will be life-changing: freed from the shackles of school discipline and the torturous training from coaching centres, I will now be entering the portals of college.
What do I look forward to? Well, one this is for sure: my Facebook friend count will exceed 400 (it has already exceeded 200!). A lot of new friends will be made. Where? Well, a few days back I thought it would be at IIT Roorkee, but now I think it will be at BITS, Pilani-Hyderabad Campus.
Of course, a lot of taboo things become possible once you turn 18: but let me not run in that direction.
There is a GHMC election coming up, but since I won't be in my ward, I might not be able to vote, thanks to the clauses in the Representation of People Act.
At the end, whether 18 or 81, life will go on. And the journey of life is what I'm looking forward to.
Sikkim is the second smallest state of the Indian Republic, after Goa. The state is Buddhist-majority and has been ruled by the same party for years, winning election after election. As much as Sikkim might seem as another vibrant state of India, its history is intriguing. From a small kingdom that made the mistake of supporting the English East India Company to being annexed by the mighty Independent India, Sikkim's story is fully of mystery and conspiracy.
In this documentary, we try to understand how the monarchy in Sikkim functioned, where it went terribly wrong and how Sikkim eventually became the 22nd state of India.
Legend goes that one night, Prince Khye Bumsa of the Royal House of Kham of Eastern Tibet received a divine instruction in his sleep to travel southwards and seek his fortune. In 1642, his fifth generation descendant Phuntsog Namgyal became the first Chogyal, or King, of Sikkim. As a deeply religious Buddhist kingdom, the new King was consecrated by three revered Lamas.
However, over successive generations, the Kingdom faced many invasions. Starting with an invasion by Bhutan that was repelled with Tibetan aid to numerous invasions by the Nepalese, Sikkim began losing territory to Nepal, a process that ended only with the help of Chinese troops who could fight the fierce Gorkhas of Nepal.
When the East India Company seized control of a majority of neighbouring India, the rulers of Sikkim saw an opportunity. With the British looking to defeat the Nepalese, Sikkim allied itself with the British. This would prove to be an unwise decision, as the British began to illegally tax the Sikkimese region of Morang. In 1849, two British doctors, Sir Joseph Dalton Hooker and Dr Archibald Campbell, began exploring Sikkim without permission and were arrested.
The arrests angered the British, who set forth to annex Sikkim's territory. Eventually, Darjeeling and Morang were annexed by British India in 1853 and, in 1890, all of Sikkim became a British protectorate with the Chogyal as the nominal head.
In 1947, after India attained Independence, a referendum held in Sikkim voted against joining the Indian Union. Subsequently, Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru agreed to confer the status of a protectorate upon Sikkim. Under this special arrangement, matters such as foreign relations and defense were handled by India while Sikkim retained a great deal of autonomy. A state council was formed and a Government under the Chogyal was established.
The arrangement worked well under Nehru. However, things began to change when Indira Gandhi became Prime Minister. India was caught in the midst of the cold war: the mighty United States of America and the Soviet Union were at loggerheads. While India officially toed the line of Non-Alignment, it was all too clear that it was closer to the USSR than it was to the USA. At the height of Indira Gandhi's tenure, anti-Americanism peaked. Any American in India was considered a CIA agent; the Government was extremely weary of American influence, even as neighbouring Pakistan began to ally itself with the Americans.
In a strange turn of events, the Chogyal of Sikkim decided to marry for a second time. Only this time, his wife was American. This move angered Indira Gandhi and tensions began to rise. Meanwhile, the Sikkim National Congress, a powerful political party in Sikkim, started demanding greater representation for the Nepalese minority. Riots and clashes broke out in Sikkim and there was a deep sense of dislike towards the Chogyal. The Indian Government saw this as a move by the Americans to interfere in India's affairs.
Finally, in 1975, the Kazi (Prime Minister) of Sikkim went against the Chogyal and appealed to the Indian Parliament to change Sikkim's status to a full state of India. His appeal was approved. In April 1975, a 5,000-strong contingent of the Indian Army invaded Sikkim and surrounded the Chogyal's palace. His 300 bodyguards, who were themselves trained by the Indian Army, were caught and driven away, while one of them was shot. The Chogyal was arrested. In his last letter to Indira Gandhi, he wrote:
I have no words when the Indian army was sent today in a surprise attack on Sikkim Guards who are less than 300 strong and were trained, equipped and officered by the Indian army who looked upon each other as comrades. This is a most treacherous and black day in the history of democratic India in solving the survival of our little country by use of arms.
The Chogyal died under Indian surveillance, supposedly of a weak heart. The Sikkim National Flag was lowered and subsequently banned, being replaced by the Indian Tricolour. A referendum was held under which 59% of the electorate came out to vote. Of them, 97.5% approved a merger with India. However, historians strongly dispute the statistics provided by the Indian Government as well as the fairness of the referendum, which was conducted by the Indian Army. Nonetheless, Sikkim was merged with the Indian Union as its 22nd State.
Interestingly, the treaty which enabled the merger had a special clause inserted into it by India: the merger of Sikkim and India could never be disputed in any court of the land, including the Supreme Court. Of all the instruments of accession signed between various Princely States and the Indian Union, only this one contains this special clause. Details of what actions Indian Intelligence agencies took before the annexation, including the accession of Bhutan to the United Nations, remain sketchy, mostly because the Government classifies it as a state secret.
Today, Sikkim is like any other state of India. It is nominally headed by a Governor while executive power lies with the Chief Minister and his Cabinet, who belong to and are responsible to an elected unicameral State Legislative Assembly. Sikkim's flourishing economy is based on agriculture and tourism. Sikkim is one of the most peaceful states of India. It sends one member to each house of Parliament.
While the youth of Sikkim are firmly in favour of it remaining an Indian State, there is always the thought of how a quiet little Himalayan Kingdom turned into a battleground and was gobbled up by a much-larger country that had just freed itself from foreign rule. As they say, destiny plays strange games.