Category: Reviews

Famous movies of the Soviet Russia

In the grand old days when Doordarshan was the sole broadcaster, only two films were available per week – Hindi on Saturday and Tamil on Sunday. Monday morning talk invariably revolved around those two movies as everyone would have seen over the weekend. When cable TV and private TV channels started becoming popular, Doordarshan started allowing private TV groups to make their own deal with Hollywood movie libraries and advertisers. For its part, Doordarshan sometimes broadcast movies from the Soviet Union.

Cinema from the Soviet Union was not as good as Hollywood but it was good enough. The movies had a weird Marxist twist, particularly at the ending. There is a Soviet film version of the English novel Treasure Island. In the end, they do not get the treasure and return back empty-handed. Soviet cinema even had Hollywood-style Western movies. They seemed to have all the thrills of a Hollywood make but the ending was an impromptu propaganda session on Communist anti-capitalist values. This did not really matter because in the 80s and 90s, we (us kids in school) were all supporters of the Soviet Union, which was a great friend and benefactor of India.

Recently, my Internet connection improved. For the first time in my life, YouTube is playing without any lags with speeds approaching 1000 Kbps. Strangely, BSNL is providing high speeds even when I am over monthly fair-use data limit. This was drastically different from a few months ago when it really went bonkers*. Dish TV had disabled recording on my recorder set-top box. I don’t watch TV programs live like ordinary people. I watch only recorded programs. So, and I switched to watching online videos.

BSNL continues higher speeds, even after exhausting quota.

Mosfilm, the Soviet movie production outfit, has turned over several of its famous movies online. Here are a few of them that that I saw recently, in descending funniness order.

  • Operation Y and Shurik’s Other Adventures: A movie in 3 parts. (First and last part are safe for kids. Fast-forward for 3 minutes after 00.37). Extremely funny movie. My favorite line from the movie is the policeman saying “Dear citizens, alcoholics, hooligans and parasites..” alkogoliki, khuligany, tuneyadtsy
  • Unbelievable Adventures of Italians in Russia: The movie is about a group of Italians who go to Moscow in search of a treasure buried by a dead grandma who escaped the Bolshevik revolution. I think this movie was shown on Doordarshan. I had multiple deja vus hitting me, particularly during the scene with the passenger aircraft landing on a highway. This movie has one of the best car chase scenes ever recorded in movie history. There is a scene with gratuitous 30-second nudity (obscured by a curtain) for few seconds at 01.09m which is not safe for kids. The background music is based on some famous compositions I suppose. You also get to see some famous landmarks in 1970s Moscow.
  • Kidnapping, Caucasian style: The Shurik adventure continues in this movie. He helps a gang kidnap a girl thinking it is part of a local Caucasian tradition. Before he realizes his mistake, he is in the nuthouse… The most memorable part is the song by Aida Vedishcheva at (00:27m).

    A little like Indian movies, many of these Russian movies feature song sequences. Here is another song of hers “Help me” set to the tune of the song Sway. The tune seems to be very popular in Russia. I heard in many of these movies.

    Sway from the movie Dark City by Anita Kelsey

  • Ivan Vasilievich: Back to the Future: Ivan The Terrible is brought to the present thanks to a scientific mishap. The guy who played Shurik, Aleksandr Demyanenko, is the scientist.

    This song became an delightful ear worm.

    Here is another song. Russian women are B-U-T-fool!

  • Irony of fate: This 3-hour movie is supposed to be very famous and is routinely broadcast on New Year. [In order to whip up nationalistic fervour and fight the Nazis, Stalin once allied with the Church. The Commie dictator moved the birth of the Messiah to New Year Day so that Christmas celebrations could be allowed under the guise of a secular holiday.] The movie is about a guy who gets drunk in a sauna and mistakenly put on a plane going to a different city. Thanks to the uniformity of Soviet town planning, his address in Moscow has counterparts all over Russia. And, the taxi takes him to the same address in St. Petersberg and mayhem ensues.

    Part – 2

  • The girls: This is supposed to be a romantic comedy but it appeared a bit sad for me as I saw it without subtitles. All I can say the girl Nadezhda Rumyantseva has as much energy as a tactical nuclear weapon. The movie shows life in Communist cooperatives.

* – At that time, the Internet connection was extremely flaky, even flakier than it regularly used to be. It seemed like some monkeys were playing with the wires.. However, I turned the misfortune into something valuable. I wrote a software called NetCheck in both PC and Android versions. It provides visual or audio notification when the Net connection fails. It is now an indispensable application on my computers and phones/tablets. Interestingly, even with higher speeds, the Net connection continues to be flaky, particularly when I blogging or publishing. If I am passively downloading stuff or reading the news, the connection stays up.

Grand Circus at Palakkad Stadium Stand

I am just back from attending the show at Indira Gandhi Municipal Stadium (near Stadium Stand). The circus arena seemed like one that had fallen on hard times.

The one time I had been to a circus was when I was in primary school. We got a free ticket each to the Jumbo Circus. It was a neat marketing trick by the circus management because we also brought our parents who had to buy their tickets. Jumbo had a fabulous production. There were elevated wooden stands for us to sit. They had wild animals like tigers, lions, bears and elephants. The Indian government stupidly banned circus animals several years later. (Zoos continue to imprison animals.) Since then, circus troupes have fallen on tough times.

My initial impression at Grand Circus was not great. It seemed like a failure. But boy was I surprised!

The publicity handouts said something about African and Manipuri performers along with Indians. What a show they put on! It was not a totally flawless performance but they had everything you expect from a circus. Trapeze acrobatics, various gymnastic performers, a strongman (a lady), dog tricks, motorcycle cage, bicycle stunts (no brakes, just two wheels and a frame) and the children’s favorite clown show. The Manipuri boys & girls did many of the gymnastic stunts along with some feats using iron rods and sharp knives. The Africans did mostly non-African stunts – the famous Brazilian leg acrobatic thing and the Caribbean fireplay thing.

Indian crowds are hard to please. They are extremely reticent when it comes to applauding. But by the end the crowd was clearly won over.

My favorite stunts were the gymnastic stunts and the woman who balanced herself above three wooden boards with glass tumblers in between and a plastic cylinder below everything.

Shows are at 1 pm, 4 pm, & 7 pm.

Grand Circus Kerala

Grand Circus Kerala

Bike trip to Palani from Palakkad

If you want to avoid the crowds, choose a weekday and start early. By early, I mean that you want to get there by 8-9 o’ clock. Around noon, the nada will be closed for an hour. So, try to get the hilltop much ahead of it.

From Palakkad, Pazhani is over a 100 kilometers. You take the Palakkad-Pollachi road and go via Pollachi & Udumalapettai to Pazhani.

Once there, you go to the right of the main entrance for the free parking area. I don’t know if there is a separate parking space for two-wheelers but if you want to park it there chain your vehicle to a post. Otherwise, some nuts will box your vehicle in. I found that my vehicle had been moved behind a post & the nuts had parked two SUVs on either-side with no space to reverse. I have good upper-body strength and lifted the bike by its wheels one-by-one in about two minutes. Initially, it looked like I was stuck there for good. So, beware!

On the left of the main entrance is a free storage for footwear. Remember to get the numbered token.

Also on the left is a shed for tonsuring the head. You need to buy a ticket from the guard before sitting before the barber. Nearby, there is a bathing area (Rs.20). You should have brought a towel and a spare set of clothing. Also maybe a cup, Dettol and plastic bag for wet clothes.

In summer, it is better to climb the hill after a meal. I thought I would take my lunch after darshan and to my dismay found myself feeling woozy midway. On previous trips, I went up with no breaks. This time, my vision grew dark around three-fourth of the way and I decided to take breaks, even as female casual labour around me were transporting heavy headloads.

At the hilltop, I bought a prasadam ladoo and became re-energized. I also bought prasadam puliyokarai, which I ate after darshan. It was as good as perumal-koil puliyokarai.

My darshan was delayed by the closing of the nada. The crowd was heavy and grew heavier by the hour. Finally, after several hours in the serpentine queue I had a good darshan of Dandayudhapani in all his glory.

The stone-paved area around the temple and the steps going down becomes very very hot at noon. I decided to take the rope car on the way down but queue area was way too crowded. I took my lunch at the hilltop restaurant and went downhill by foot.

On the way back, I stopped for some palmyra fruit some distance from the Kerala border. The guy asked me if I wanted neera. My previous experience with this drink (at Chennai Mount Road Khadi Kraft) was with mixed feelings… or rather mixed tastes. I did not have great expectations and accepted one glass. But, there was no glass! He made a palmyra leaf bowl instead and disemboweled a palmyra fruit into it. Then, he poured some neera into the bowl.

Neera is the clear sap harvested from a cut made in the palm flower. It is non-alcoholic. (It becomes fermented (alcoholic) naturally to form toddy.) I have had neera before from a Khadi store and it was only mildly sweet. It also had a raw aftertaste. This was different probably because of the lack of preservatives or the presence of additives to prevent fermentation. The water from inside the palm fruit (analogous to coconut water) seems to have overwhelmed everything and oversweetens the serving. Both TN & Kerala governments are now promoting the sales of neera.

image

Update: I have tried the neera drink several times at this place and each time it tastes a bit different. So, my guess is that the Khadi Kraft product did not have any additives or chemicals.

Bike trip to Kava, Malampuzha Dam & Palakkad Fort

Palakkad Fort

This was right in the middle of the city and so was easy to check out. [I was on foot. This was not a bike trip.] It was used by Hyder Ali and his son Tipu Sultan. It was later taken over by the British. For a tourist, the Palakkad fort may be a disappointment. It is on flat ground and the ramparts around the fort are not very imposing. Like true Indians, visitors have left their mark on the walls. It covers considerable real estate right in the middle of the city and currently houses a jail and an office for the civil supplies department. The fort is also a venue for cultural events. The often-hyped-up Hanuman temple is in reality a very small shrine.

Tipu's fort in Palakkad City

Tipu’s fort in Palakkad City

Malampuzha Dam

This dam is some distance from the middle of the city. It has a large park, a ropeway, a snake park, an aquarium and a boating area. The dam is very high and stores water for the city. Best time to visit would be after 4 o’ clock.

Malampuzha dam

Malampuzha dam

There is a hilltop cottage for those who would like to stay longer than an evening visit. I expect the sunsets or sunrises to be great. The ropeway goes from one end of the dam, across the park and boating area, and then back again. The aquarium and the snake park on the sides of the park have very good specimens. I was surprised to find a fish called Miss Kerala. There is also a government-run shop that sells forest produce generated by tribal communities. I bought some honey and it tastes great.

Park and waterway near the dam

Park and waterway near the dam

The boating area is accessible from the park via a suspension bridge. As you get off the bridge, there is a huge nude Yakshi statue. It is impossible for kids to avoid the Yakshi as the bridge bobs a lot and demands parents’ attention. Ancient Indians did not create such huge eyesores. Our temples have nudes but you barely notice it.

Nude Yakshi statue drying her hair, possibly.

Nude Yakshi statue drying her hair, possibly.

Kava

Malampuzha has several other privately-run man-made attractions around it. However, Kava is different. Thanks to wooded and winding roads to this area, the drive from and to Kava is just great. Interestingly, the moment I landed near the spot, an old woman asked me for a lift. I took her all the way to Anakkal. The return journey had even better scenery. Palakkad is at sea level while Kava is at a high altitude. Here rain clouds are crashing the hills all the time, even as Palakkad remains bone-dry. When I was there, the skies were rumbling continously and was sounded spectacular. Surprisingly, the place has been spared of any man-built structures. Most people simply drive to the waterfront. Buses halt on the side of the road. Except for some cows, goats and shepherds, the place was empty.

Malamapuzha map showing route to Kava

Malamapuzha map showing route to Kava

A look back at a few old phones

I owned this Samsung SCH N356 phone for about an year in 2005. Everyone asked me to buy a phone but I thought it would be a waste. I finally bought one when I needed to switch jobs and had to answer phone calls. This was claimed to be the slimmest mobile phone at that time. It was the cheapest too and that worked for me. Later, I gave the phone to my father. Somebody thief stole it from him. It was a CDMA phone and worked only with Reliance network, which at that time provided very cheap mobile connectivity.

Samsung Slim SCH N356

Motorola RAZR V3 seems to have started the craze for owning mobile phones. I still use this phone. It can run Java (J2ME) apps including a Cell Broadcast Message app that made.
Motorola V3 RAZR

My first Android phone. Very expensive at that time. One of the few to have a keyboard. Works fine. SSL-sites such as Twitter or Facebook don’t work, which is just fine for me. My Subhash Browser & Feed Reader supports the Android version made for this phone – Donut or 1.6.
Sony X10 Mini Pro

Duffy’s Tavern – TV Episode

STILLS-Duffy-s-Tavern-TV-showDuffy’s Tavern, a popular World-War-2-time radio show, is now available as MP3 audio files. Vintage radio fans have restored them from old transcription records.
https://archive.org/details/DuffysTavern

Even though the once-popular radio show was made into a movie and a TV show, there aren’t any online copies available. I found one TV episode recently.

There is a book available on the show – “DUFFY’S TAVERN: A History of Ed Gardner’s Radio Program” by Martin Grams.
http://martingrams.biz/duffys-tavern/

Where to get extra-large writing boards or pads in Chennai (Madras)?

chennai-writing-boards

When I was a kid, boards like these were pretty common. You could easily keep two or three books/notebooks on a boards and finish your homework. They were also common in offices where users would incline them on the edge of their tables – this allowed them to lean back and write/draw more comfortable. Office users typically used extra-large writing boards. With the advent of computers, these writing boards have disappeared.

I use a board when I am working on my laptop. I have an grandfather-style lean-back chair. I place the board on the arm rests and the laptop on the board. This gives me more than enough space for the mouse and also a tablet or mobile for testing. Smaller writing boards have the nasty defect of slipping under one of the arm rests.

I got my board at a fancy shop in my town. However, I wanted to get another one for a relative but the shop mysteriously declared that they never had such big boards. I got one from them just four months ago! I am used to this sort of thing and I decided to check other shops. No luck. I went to Parrys Corner in Madras, which is where all shops source their stationery supplies. No luck there too. I went to the famed Bunder Street (all notebooks are belong to Bunder Street) and all of them said they had no stock. One old person with a small shop saw me and offered to get them. I sat there for 10 minutes and he brought me two of them. I asked him for another one. I gave him 500. (I got the original one for Rs. 150 in my town.

chennai-writing-boards-seller

Aero India 2013 @ Yelahanka Air Force Base, Bangalore – Photos and Video

F-16 fighter aircraft

aero-india-2013-f-16-fighter-2012-02-10

Boeing C-17 Globemaster

From the Deccan Herald (http://www.deccanherald.com/content/310889/dont-turn-your-back-us.html):

India now buys American transport planes which cannot accommodate its existing force tanks in the new aircraft. Amazingly, they are also spending twice the amount of money for these new planes.

aero-india-2013-american-military-transport-aircraft-boeing-c295-2012-02-10

Advanced Light Helicopter (ALH) aka Dhruv

The Dhruv helicopterss were beautifully painted and did spectacular flying stunts and formations.

2012-02-10-dhruv-advanced-light-aircraft1

This is the weaponized combat version of the ALH – Light Combat Helicopter (LCH) aka Rudra.
2012-02-10-rudra-advanced-light-aircraft

Mikoyan 8 (Mi-8) Medium-lift Helicopter

This Mi-8 medium-lift helicopter was not part of any stunts. It made rounds around the tarmac during breaks.
aero-india-2013-russian-mi-8-helicopter-2012-02-10

Sukhoi 27 (Su-27) aka Russian Knights

This is the big payoff for visiting an event like this – two aircraft going past each other at great spreed and at tree-top level.
aero-india-2013-russian-su-27-fighter-3-2012-02-10

Because of ideological issues with “humanitarian bombing,” I don’t like the American aircraft. If I had known these were the Russian Knights flying Sukhoi 27 (Su-27), I would have happily cheered them. The crowd of course had no such problem and greatly liked their aerobatic stunts. The Russian Knights were easily the best-liked stunt team on Sunday.
aero-india-2013-russian-su-27-fighter1-2012-02-10

Indians should remember that it was American aircraft that prompted China to leave Arunachal Pradesh in 1962. The aircraft came to India after Nehru cut down his rhetoric, put his tail between his hind legs and wrote to the US President Kennedy for military help. One ideological partner invaded India and another one (Soviet Union) dilly-dallied on military support.
aero-india-russian-su-27-flying-knights
The Russian Sukhoi 27 team was the loudest of all visitors. If I close my eyes, I can still hear them.

Dassault Aviation’s Rafale Fighter Jet

The Rafale from the darned French was thunder itself.
aero-india-2013-rafale-fighter-2012-02-10

Sukhoi 30 (Su-30 MKI) Fighter Jet

The overwhelming response was “Omigod, the pilot of the Sukhoi aircraft actually waved at us!”
indian-sukhoi-mki-fighter-aero-india-2013-2012-02-10

Red Bull Flying Team

Is the Czech Red Bull team part of the military? The Indian Air Force let Red Bull invade the spectator area and put up stalls there. (Recently, there was an article in the NYT where it was finally decided to let people know that energy drinks were just sugar, caffeine and water.
http://www.nytimes.com/2013/01/02/health/scant-proof-is-found-to-back-up-claims-by-energy-drinks.html)

Anyway, the dare-devilry of the Red Bull team was second to none.

aero-india-2013-red-bull-stunt-team-2013-02-10

YXTEL W188 Review – Dual-display flip phone

On a recent trip to Chennai, I went to Ritchie Street looking for a senior phone. I was not successful in this but saw a lot of cheap Chinese phones. All the phone shops have “Rokea” brand phones. These are popularly known as “Korea” phones. Rokea phones look like popular models from Samsung or Sony. Prices are around for Rs. 2000. Even the model names are subtle misspellings of the originals. They are all dual-SIM touchscreen phones. Another Chinese brand that has stormed the shops is the Yxtel brand. The tiny 650-rupees Yxtel models seem to be moving fast. There is also an “Ice Cream” brand of phones. Some phones have batteries so big that they have ports to charge other devices!

However, I could not find a phone suitable for an elderly person with visual/hearing disabilities. The keys of all the phones are very small. In case of touchscreen phones, keys are non-existent.

Later I found a few shop selling Yxtel phones near Chennai Central. One of them was a flip phone with an external display – almost like the iconic Motorolal V3 RAZR. I got it for Rs. 1500. The instructions in the manual are unreadable. The specifications section offers no details.

Original image taken by Yxtel phone.

Original image taken by Yxtel phone.

Another picture taken by the Yxtel phone.

Another picture taken by the Yxtel phone.

The YXTEL W188 is a dual-SIM phone. Both SIMs have an IMEI number. It has a VGA camera, although on the outside it says “HD Camera”. You can take 480×640 pictures. Photos will not look good in low-light conditions. (The photos shown above were taken from the phone.) There is also an integrated LED flash. Videos are marginally faster than paint peeling on walls. You also get Bluetooth and Micro SD card support. An 8GB card worked. A 16GB card did not. Apart from the audio and video players, FM radio is also available.

The Yxtel is a flip phone. It has big keys and is built like a tank.

The Yxtel is a flip phone. It has big keys and is built like a tank.

The YXTEL W1388 has a heavy metal covering and is built like a tank. Its USP is its loud speaker and big battery. The keys are also very big. Another winning feature is the key “readout” feature. Any number you press will be read out by a built-in female voice. This can be a great help for people with visual disabilities. All the menu options, including file listings, are numbered.

There is an option for specifying a data account but I could not make it work. The menu options for MSN, Yahoo, Facebook and Twitter look like decorations. This looks like a WAP phone at best.

Now, can you give this phone to a senior? I couldn’t because the phone has more features than I expected it to have. Also, there is no indication of a SAR value. As with all cheap phones, the risk of a battery explosion is always there. So, I have decided to use the phone myself. (I don’t carry phones in my pocket. I always keep it in a bag.)

Like the Motorola V3, the Yxtel w188 has an external display and keys to control playback.

Like the Motorola V3, the Yxtel w188 has an external display and buttons to control playback.

The phone’s external display show status messages. There are three metal buttons next to the external LCD for controlling the playback of audio player. On the keypad, there are two dedicated call keys for each SIM. There are dedicated keys for the camera, music player, Bluetooth, and messages. The display quality is passable, given the price. The phone’s user interface is pretty fast. I like the fast that the phone allows me to enter alphabets very fast, unlike other phones that wait a whole second. The speakers are unbelievably loud. You can also charge the battery via USB port, in addition to the regular power port. The battery supposedly uses the same form factor as another 1500mAh Nokia BL 5F battery.

CONS: Phonebook name search does not work well.

DEFAULT PASSWORD: 1122

BOTTOMLINE: This Chinese phone has many useful features but there are big question marks over the quality and longevity of the phone. (The metal covers of the SIM slots are pretty loose and will come off easily.) I don’t know how long the phone will last. There is no bill. There is no guarantee. I wish I could buy a similar phone from an Indian company.