Jungle Book 2016 … Scary, but fun. But scary. But fun.

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Kipling would have been astounded. When he wrote Jungle Book in 1894 for his little daughter, he never would have imagined that his stories would be brought to life in such an awe-inspiring fashion.

For that is what Jungle Book 2016 is. Awe-inspiring. Scary and loud in parts. But awe-inspiring.

Forty eight years ago, I saw Disney’s animated version of Jungle Book and it gave me goose bumps. Jon Favreau’s modern-day version of Kipling’s classic had the same effect on me, its dark tones notwithstanding.

Disney’s 1967 version took hand-drawn animation to a new level with the use of xerography, hand-painted multiple layers, and animation inspired by live-action animals and humans. Five decades later, the movie is still worth watching.

In its current avatar, Favreau uses CGI, motion capture technology and photorealistic rendering with spectacular results. It is virtually impossible to tell the difference between the live-action and the CGI.

NEoixdyKUN5Ssq_2_bThe voice casting is impeccable, notably Ben Kingsley as the story narrator and Bagheera the panther, Bill Murray as Baloo the bear, Scarlet Johansson as Kaa (mmm…that sensuous, sibilant and utterly sexy voice), and Idris Elba as Shere Khan. And thank you Favreau, for retaining the best songs from the original, albeit in a refurbished form.

Technology or not, movie-making is still an art. And movie scenes still need to be properly composed and the story’s characters still need to be well developed. Favreau scores full marks here. The story flows easily from one scene to the next and the tension is maintained all through. The characters are well fleshed out and believable, just as they were in the 1967 version.

3D technology keeps getting better. For a change, I didn’t have a headache at the end, in spite of the crappy 3D glasses you always are given in Indian theaters. Next time, I’ll take my own.

One wonders how far CGI and photorealistic rendering will go. Seems to me that in the near future, human actors will become obsolete!

Mr Pahalaj Nihalani is right for once. Mukesh Bhatt and his ilk can rave and rant all they want. Bhatt’s rants are simply silly. One fails to see how national prestige can be affected by giving Jungle Book a UA certification. This time, CBFC is totally right. Jungle Book 2016 does not have the cheerful, bubbly tone of its predecessor. This is a dark movie.

This is a 3D movie, and the action is sometimes too real, especially for children. Some scenes, like Shere 30FB2DC400000578-0-image-a-28_1454894126631Khan suddenly bursting out of the undergrowth and the like, can scare little children. They certainly scared the wits out of me!  And some of the sound effects were too loud.

To his credit, Nihalani did not lop those scenes off, but merely insisted on UA certification. And he is not incorrect. Adult guidance is certainly called for. This is not a movie that children should watch unsupervised. Not that any parent would send kids to a movie without an adult chaperone.

Be that as it may, Jungle Book 2016 is simply not to be missed by children, of all ages. The movie’s plot is well known. If you don’t know the plot, then shame on you. Go read the book.

So gather round the kids, go forth and enjoy Jungle Book. And wait for the sequel, which I am told, has already been planned.

Cheers … Srini.

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Why do we celebrate Yugadi?

copy_of_gudi-padwa_300The Indian calendar can be baffling to many people. The gist of it is quite simple though. There are twelve months in the year and 30 or 31 days in each month. Leap years are accurately accounted for, as are other astronomical events like equinoxes and eclipses. The significant difference between the Indian calendar and the Western calendar (or the Gregorian calendar) is that our calendar follows the phases of the moon. The Western calendar follows the revolution of the Earth around the Sun.

That is why Indian festivals seem to fall on different days each year, with reference to the Gregorian calendar.

In the Indian calendar, there are certain days that are especially important, since they mark epochal events in Indian history.

The death of Krishna marks the end of an era. Kaliyuga, the age of Evil, began from the moment of Krishna’s death, and according to the scriptures that day was during end-March in 3102 BC. Hence, this day is called Yugadhi, the first day of an Era.

Yugadhi also marks the beginning of a new year. Unlike the Gregorian calendar that calculates the passage of each year based on the Earth’s annual revolution around the Sun, the Indian calendar is based on the orbits of Jupiter and Saturn. As these two planets move through the heavens, they seem to transit across the twelve Zodiac constellations, starting with the constellation of Aries (Mesha rashi). Jupiter takes one year to move from one Zodiac constellation to the next and therefore takes twelve years to complete one round of the Zodiac. Saturn takes thirty years to complete one round. And once in sixty years, both planets wind up at the starting point, i.e. Mesha rashi, at the same time.

Hence, the Indian calendar follows a cycle of sixty years. Each year is called a Samavatsara and is assigned a specific name, like in the Chinese calendar. Last year was Manmatha nama Samavatsara, and it began on March 21, 2015.

The 30th year in the cycle begins today, i.e., April 8, 2016. The new year is named Durmukhi, the literal meaning of which is ugly face. This is not predicted to be a good year!

Yugadhi falls on the first day of the first half of the first month in the Hindu calendar, i.e. the month of Chaitra. The official Indian calendar, that was adopted by India on March 22, 1957, and starts from that day, is based on the Shalivahana Saka.

Shalivahana, also known as Gautamiputra Satakarni, was a mighty king from the Shalivahana-8973-16Satavahana dynasty, that ruled much of South India for about four hundred years, from 230 BC to 220 AD. Shalivahana was the greatest of them, and the date of his coronation is the beginning of Shalivahana Saka. This was during the year 78 AD. The month of Chaitra is reckoned from that date.

Therefore, the Indian national calendar officially began on Chaitra 1, 1879 (Saka era) i.e. March 22, 1957 (Gregorian era).

And therefore today, April 8, 2016 is Yugadhi, Prathami (first day), Shukla Paskha (Bright half), Chaitra (first month of the year), Durmukha Samvatsara, Shalivahana Saka 1938, Kaliyuga (age of Kali).

Yugadi is celebrated across India. In Maharashtra, it’s celebrated as Gudi Padva.

Happy Yugadhi everyone!

Cheers … Srini.

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Namma Bengaluru – the Red Garden.

sksrinivas-1-10If you visit Lalbagh on any evening, and you come across a tall, well-built, grumpy man laden with photographic gear, assiduously clicking pictures, that grumpy man would be Yours Truly.

Although it has deteriorated over the years due to encroachment, poor management and unrelenting abuse by the visiting public, Lalbagh remains my go-to place for photography, birds, fresh air and a good walk.

glasshouse5So named because of its red roses that bloom through the year, Lalbagh Botanical Garden was first established about 250 years ago by Hyder Ali and completed by his son Tipu Sultan in 1760. After Tipu’s death in 1799, the British took over the garden. Lalbagh’s centerpiece, the Glass House was built by the British, on the lines of the Crystal Palace in London. The original Crystal Palace burnt down in 1936, but the Glass House at Lalbagh remains.

In a literal sense, Labagh is redolent with history. Tipu Sultan and the British imported hundreds of rare flowers and trees from all over the world. If you’re an aspiring botanist or a lover of flora as I am, Lalbagh is the one place you must be in.

And, if you’re a birder as I am, Lalbagh will not disappoint you. Once, there were about a hundred species of birds, but those days are gone. It’s still worth your visit.

Spot-billed pelican at the lake.

Spot-billed pelican at the lake.

What’s good about Lalbagh: Fresh air and greenery. Rare species of trees and flowers, Several species of birds, especially in and around the lake.

The lake.

The lake.

What’s bad about Lalbagh: Too many hawkers, feral dogs, loafers, pesky photographers (the ones who charge money, not Yours Truly!), illegal fishing and worst of all, lovey-dovey couples in various stages of foreplay and vulgar displays of public affection.

I’ve had my share of youthful tomfoolery with various girlfriends in my younger days – but what is vulgar is vulgar.

That said, Lalbagh definitely merits your visit, at least once.

lalbagh4Make it a point to see:

The Glass House, the lake, the Kempegowda Tower and the 3 billion year old rock on which it is built, the bonsai garden, the floral clock, the fossilised tree trunk and the 200-year old silk cotton tree.

Make it a point to avoid: The pesky photographers at the Glass House, the feral dogs all over the place (don’t you dare feed them!), and the hawkers.

Disregard: Above-mentioned lovey-dovey couples in various stages of foreplay. Or if you are so inclined and if you are built like Schwarzenegger, glare at them pointedly.

Fossilised tree trunk. 20 million years old.

Fossilised tree trunk. 20 million years old.

How to get there: Easy. Every bus route towards south Bangalore will pass through Lalbagh. There are three separate gates of entry to Lalbagh, and there will be a bus to reach any one of them. Check out BMTC’s helpful website.

You can take an autorickshaw to the place. But avoid taking an autorickshaw at the gate when you leave. They will rip you off, the traffic constables notwithstanding. Walk a few yards away from the gate, and hail a passing autorickshaw. That’s a better option.

There is car parking inside Lalbagh, but best avoided, especially during weekends. Public transport is better. You will save yourself a lot of time and the enormous hassle of looking for parking space. That time can be better spent inside Lalbagh.

Purple moorhen.

Purple moorhen.

Lalbagh is open on all days, including Sundays, from 6.00 am to 7.00 pm.

There is a nominal entry fee. However, entry is free from 6.00 to 9.00 am, and 6.00 pm to 7.00 pm, for walkers only.

If you have a camera, fork out an additional Rs.50/- (Grrr!).

Bottom-line: A must-see place if you’re visiting Bangalore. And a must-save place if you’re a Bangalorean.

Cheers … Srini.

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Janapada Loka … quiet tribute to Kannada culture.

sksrinivas-kbellur-1-7I am constantly surprised by the richness and depth of our country’s folk culture – and equally dismayed at its chronic neglect.

Janapada Loka, a delightful little folk museum on the way to Mysore, represents a serious attempt to revive Karnataka’s dying folk arts.

sksrinivas-kbellur-1-2I’ve passed by this place several times on my birding field trips but never gave it a serious look, although Janapada Loka is right next to Kamat Lokaruchi, my favorite eating house on this route.

This time, armed with a decent camera, I paid a leisurely visit to Janapada Loka, and came away enlightened by the experience. Established in 1994 on a 15-acre estate by the late HL Nage Gowda, an Indian civil servant and Kannada folklorist, Janapada Loka has been designed to recreate life in a typical village in Karnataka. sksrinivas-kbellur-1-4

The place is dotted with artifacts, sculptures and other exquisite examples of Kannada folk culture.

Pause a while at the amphitheater in the company of the local geese. Stroll across to the Ganesha temple and the sculpture yard and pay particular attention to the collection of Veeragallu (hero-stones) that date back to the 15th century. Hero stones are unique to Karnataka, you won’t find them elsewhere in India.

sksrinivas-kbellur-1-3The centerpiece of Janapada Loka is the Loka Mahal. This well maintained folk museum exhibits ceremonial dresses, masks, pottery, weaponry and a whole lot of rural handicraft, collected from the four corners of Karnataka.

The helpful attendant inside Loka Mahal will be glad to give you a detailed description of every exhibit. Be sure to generously tip him. These guys don’t make much money.

Janapada Loka deserves at least an hour of your time. It’s open from 9.30 am to 5.30 am. on all days except Tuesday. Lunch time is from 1.30 to 2.30 pm. sksrinivas-kbellur-19

What you need to do is to land up at the place by lunchtime, have a robust, rustic lunch at Kamat Lokaruchi, that shares its wall with Janapada Loka. At 2.30 pm, walk into Janapada Loka, which will be empty at that hour, take a quiet snooze in one of the shady nooks inside, then go around the place at leisure. sksrinivas-kbellur-1

Bird lovers will note the pleasant trill of Tickell’s blue flycatcher, a resident species in Janapada Loka, among several others.

At around 4pm, sneak back into Kamat Lokaruchi through the small gate that links the two places, get yourself some piping hot Kannada tiffin and one strong kaapi, and then head home. One recommends the kadubu idlis and neer dosas.

Avoid weekends, strictly. You will have to fight your way inside Kamat Lokaruchi and parking will be a nightmare. On weekdays, everyone is relaxed, and you will have a good time in both places.

sksrinivas-kbellur-5Note that photography is freely permitted in Janapada Loka, except inside the Loka Mahal museum itself. For Loka Mahal alone, you will need to pay Rs.100/- for your camera. Otherwise, the fee is a mere Rs.20/-.

Janapada Loka is totally worth your time and money. Go. Enrich yourself.

Yeah. India rocks.

Cheers … Srini.

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The Paowallahs of Mumbai

What is Mumbai without its pav? Vada-pav, pav-bhaji, maska-pav, bhajiya-pav and just plain old chai with pav. The humble pav is Mumbai’s icon, it is uniquely and typically Bombay, it exemplifies the bindaas attitude that defines the City of Dreams.

The word ‘pav’ does not come from the alleged practice of bakers using their feet to knead the dough! No bakery in Bombay is known to do this (at least I hope not). The word ‘pav’ actually comes from the Portugese ‘pao’, which means bread. The technology for pao-making was brought to India by the Portugese in the late 15th century.

After the Portugese took over Goa, that state fell into economic ruin. Many Goans migrated to Bombay, and settled in a place called Cavel, near Dhobi Talao in South Bombay. One such Goan was Vitorino Mudot, an enterprising young man from the village of Assagao. In 1819, he set up the first bakery in Cavel, and started making Portugese-style pao.  Vitorino encouraged his fellow Goans by giving them jobs in his bakery and by helping them set up their own bakeries. Vitorino Mudot became a rich man in the process.

In 1843, one of his own assistants, Salvador Patricio de Souza, forcibly took over the business. He in turn grew rich and powerful, and diversified into banking, real-estate and cotton. Under his reign, Goans monopolised the bread-making business in Bombay. After he died in the late 1890’s, the Goans were undermined by the aggressive Iranis. The pav business in Bombay is now dominated by north Indian muslims, most of whom are in the Grant Road area.

The golden age of the Goan pao-makers is long gone, but the nickname given to them still remains – makapao. It’s not a polite nickname, but the easy-going Goans take it sportingly (usually, but not always!)

So the next time you bite into a spicy vada-pav, don’t forget to pay your respects to Vitorino Mudot, the young baker from Assagao.

Cheers … Srini.

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