Thursday, March 12, 2015

The Rang De Basanti Album

When it released in January-2006, Rang De Basanti (RDB) became a cult movie almost overnight. Everybody, including me, was simply blown away by it. It had a very unique storyline, brought alive on screen amazingly well by all the leading and supporting actors. In my opinion, the music of the movie composed by A. R. Rahman had a huge role to play in its success. I am fascinated and love each of the songs for different reasons elaborated below.

The title song – Rang De Basanti – is a typical Punjabi song sung by Daler Mehndi & K. S. Chithra. I bet nobody can avoid tapping their feet while listening to this song. Both the lyrics and the music have a very North Indian feel to it.

The song Paathshaala turned out to be a total rebellious college song. Prasoon Joshi's youthful lyrics only added to its charm. Sample this: “Yaaron Ki Equation Hain Love Multiplication Hain”. It is very easy to time travel back to your college days while humming this song. It was shot at Nahargarh Fort in Jaipur.

When Madhavan proposes to Soha Ali Khan, Naresh Iyer chooses to croon the romantic and slow number Tu Bin Bataayein. It was shot in a spectacular location called Mughal Sarai, located about 20 kilometres from NH-1 []. I hope to visit it someday.

A. R. Rahman considers Luka Chuppi to be a very special song for him because it was the first time he had an opportunity to sing with Lata Mangeshkar. It comes at a very poignant moment in the movie; when a mother has to bear with the loss of her young son in a plane accident. Listen to it and you will find it difficult to hold your tears.

Khoon Chala sung by Mohit Chauhan is his first song with A. R. Rahman. It portrayed the angst of a civil society rising against the injustice faced by it quite well. Of course, I could be biased since I am such a huge fan of Mohit Chauhan!

And last, but definitely not the least, is Rubaroo sung by Naresh Iyer and A. R. Rahman. This song won the National Award for Best Male Playback for Naresh Iyer. The song comes at the fag end of the movie when the protagonists have confessed what they have done and heave a big sigh of relief. The song captures their friendship and their commitment to the cause quite beautifully.

Saturday, March 07, 2015

Book Review: Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami

This is my first ever Murakami book. I was told that this is unlike any of his other books in that, it is only a 'simple love story'. But, what a love story it turned out to be! It was definitely not simple and certainly not predictable.

The book's title comes from a song by Beatles ( Before I picked up this book, I was not aware that there was such a song by the band. When the protagonist of the book, Toru Watanabe hears this song, he is transported back to his college days and his first love Naoko who considers this her favourite song. I identify with this sentiment; I am often reminded of someone or the other whenever I hear a particular song that I associate with them. The book is set mostly in 1969 Tokyo when Toru and his girlfriend Naoko attend University.

It is a story that every person who has ever gone to college will identify with – the conflict of emotions you go through, the dislike for a particular course you do not want to study, the tragedy of trying to fit in with your friends, university politics, and, of course, falling in love and trying to make sense of it. And Toru is no different. In the course of the book, he also meets the vivacious and extroverted Midori. It's a struggle for Toru who feels that he now has to choose between either of the two girls.

Murakami is a master storyteller and, for me, the book was an absolute page-turner. However, as much as I enjoyed reading about the main plot of the story (featuring the three protagonists), I also loved reading about Tokyo and its streets and the trains and the restaurants Toru and Midori frequented. Murakami was able to make me feel as if I was right there in the middle of Tokyo observing the events as they took place.

Also, as much as the book is a love story, it is also a story about dear friendships. Because without a dear friendship, can there really be love? And while one may eventually stop loving somebody, the friendship would still remain.

I loved how the book is set mainly in 1969; Woodstock happened the same year ( and one of my most favourite songs ever also happens to talk about the 'Summer of 69' (

It is very easy to love Toru who is as clueless as any other teenager on the cusp of adulthood. But he is sincere and caring and committed and quite serious when it comes to relationships. As Midori says somewhere in the book when she is telling Toru why she loves him, "You know the English subjunctive, you understand trigonometry, you can read Marx, and you don't know the answer to something as simple as that?"

Toru is a bibliophile; some of the books he mentions in Norwegian Wood include John Updike's The Centaur, F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby, Raymond Chandler, Thomas Mann's The Magic Mountain, Karl Marx's Das Kapital, William Faulkner's Light in August and Hermann Hesse's Beneath The Wheel.

I really enjoyed this book though I did feel equal parts depressed and equal parts angry in the course of reading it. But, I guess, if any book does that to you, then it is a well-written one. Go read it if you want to experience love and heartbreak Murakami-style; you will not be disappointed.

Sunday, March 01, 2015

Book Review: The Billionaire's Apprentice by Anita Raghavan

Image result for the billionaire's apprentice
I had been wanting to read The Billionaire’s Apprentice for quite a long time. Like many others, I, too, was shocked when the news of Rajat Gupta’s conviction in insider trading was announced by a US Court. What only added fuel to the fire was the fact that two Indian immigrants Preet Bharara and Sanjay Wadhwa were behind the conviction.

This is the first book on an insider trading case written with the aid of nearly fifty wiretapped calls. The author Anita Raghavan takes us behind the scenes of the entire insider trading saga – right from the childhood days of Rajat Gupta in Kolkata and New Delhi to his initial days at Harvard and his entry into McKinsey. His success as indicated by him being appointed the managing director of McKinsey three times is juxtaposed with his eventual fall when he fell prey to Raj Rajaratnam’s sneaky association.

As the book tells us, Rajat Gupta was quite a hotshot guy – he was close to Mukesh Ambani, head of Reliance Industries and was one of the few Indian executives who could get Dr. Manmohan Singh on the phone at short notice.

The book mentions the insider trading case in great detail including the various persons involved, their modus operandi, the rise and fall of tech industry and their stocks. The way the prosecution went about building the case going through tons of documents to piece together the evidence makes for interesting reading, especially for financial junkies like me.

September 23, 2008 turned out to be a red letter day for Rajat Gupta for that was the day the Goldman Sachs had its board meeting information about which was passed on by Gupta to Rajaratnam just before the stock markets closed. While we may wonder what led Gupta to keep on passing sensitive information, as respected and wealthy as he was, his actions may be explained perhaps by his quote during his speech at Columbia University in April-2004, “I think money is very seductive. However much you say you will not fall into the trap of it, you do fall into the trap of it.”

The details of the trial are also quite interesting with the author bringing out Gupta's humane side and his family's reactions quite skillfully. According to Bharara, his rationale behind going after people involved in insider trading was that, “People with lots of money were trying to game the system.” Judge Rakoff disallowed testimony on Gupta's philanthropic plans, saying, “The annals of white-collar crime in this district are filled with people who wanted to make themselves respected, powerful members of society by giving to charity.”

The book is a must-read for those who are interested in reading about financial white-collar crimes. It is also a must-read to understand what made a person like Rajat Gupta, probably one of the most revered and influential Indian-Americans in the world, indulge in insider trading. When Rajaratnam was convicted, you do not feel bad or surprised because his persona was such. But Gupta exuded a different personality and, thus, his conviction affected everybody. The book stays with you long after you have finished reading it; I went on to read much more about the case and Gupta.

Random snippets I found interesting in the book about Rajat Gupta :)
  1. Rajat Gupta's wife Anita Mattoo was the only girl in a graduating class of 250 at IIT-Delhi in 1968.
  2. Subramanian Swamy, a well-known Indian politician, taught Rajat Gupta economics at IIT-Delhi
  3. Rajat Gupta was one of the youngest members of the Harvard Business School class of 1973 and one of three from India.
Random snippets I found interesting in the book that have absolutely nothing to do with Rajat Gupta :)
  1. Golf arrived in Calcutta in 1829, some sixty years before it reached New York.
  2. Governor-General William Bentinck introduced English as the official language for Indian higher education, a move that would have momentous consequences a hundred years later.
  3. Narayana Murthy's son could not get into IIT to study computer science so he had to go to his safety school, Cornell University.
  4. McKinsey has its roots in a company founded in 1926 by James O. McKinsey, a certified public accountant and University of Chicago professor.
References to literature in the book:
  1. Rajat Gupta's most remembered drama performance at IIT-Delhi was his role in Jean-Paul Sartre's searing existential drama Men Without Shadows.
  2. Rajat and his wife Anita acted together in a Hindi adaptation of the Moliere play The Miser.
    On his study table at Harvard, Gupta kept a tattered piece of paper which read, “But I have promises to keep and miles to go before I sleep – Robert Frost.”
  3. The Guptas named their first daughter Geetanjali after the Nobel Prize-winning epic written by the Bengali poet Rabindranath Tagore.
  4. Anita Raghavan's mother came to the United States in 1959 for an internship at the Brooklyn Public Library.
Additional reading for those interested :)

Note: I was given a review copy of this book by the publisher Hachette India.