Thursday, January 19, 2012

The best movie of 2011 - A review of Drive

I was honestly searching for the best movies to watch, and I found this one as listed by many different websites as the number 1 movie of 2011. since I love action/ thriller movies, and prefer movies that allow a little of the brain to be used, I was intrigued.
And I was certainly not disappointed.Ryan Gosling has delivered an incredible performance as the lone driver (without a name), who drives getaway cars, acts a stunt man in movies, and also works in a garage. The calm and quite demeanor that hides so much hidden and lurking danger, is conveyed in an excellent fashion.
The pacing of the movie, the editing and the mood created are phenomenal. Not very wordy, with choregraphed slow but clear action sequences, it keeps your mind thinking about what is likely to happen next. The Danish director is a revelation, and he certainly escehws a lot of Hollywood cliches, while making Drive a thriller to remember.
Here are the ratings & reviews for Drive (2011) at Rotten Tomatoes 

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Saibo in the city - a review of Shor in the City

However dumb and regressive be the serials made by Ekta Kapoor, the movies made by her banner have been 'interesting'. Love Sex aur Dhokha, Once Upon a Time in Mumbaai, Shor in the City, Ragini MMS and The Dirty Picture have done well commercially, but more importantly have been gritty, thought provoking and intense. 
This review is about Shor in the city, a movie that looks at the 'commoners' in mumbai and how they react and adapt to life in this city that never sleeps. It has lots of reference to crime, and cricket, and ganpati visarjan (now a staple of most mumbai movies), but the one thing that it does very well is that the story never flags and is full of surprising twists and turns right till the end. I am not a fan of Tusshaar Kapoor, but he carries the role of the wannabe respectable/ intellectual crook with a heart of gold, with admirable restraint. 
The other characters are also well cast, very believable and make an impact. Loved 'Mandook', the irrepressible friend of Tusshaar, especially. Saibo, the song is one of the most haunting melodies of 2011, and a favorite of mine. While the film uses real life stories as a base, it retains all the edge of a thriller. Some of the sequences, like the child and the bomb, the 'most natural' kiss scene between the wannabe cricketer and his girlfriend - she actually asks him to stop kiss her because it is paining since her lips are dry :) are truly amazing, and remain etched long after the movie is over.  

Monday, January 16, 2012

Sherlock Holmes - The Game of Shadows movie review - Its like James Bond in 19th century !

Sumptuosly presented tale of London in the 1890's with the usual suspects. The story line is an excuse for non stop thrills, chases and action sequences. The movie is engaging predominantly because of its backdrop - beautiful sets of Europe in the late 19th century, and some stunning photography.
The action sequences are fun too, and the chemistry between Sherlock Holmes and Watson remains intriguing. Mycroft (Sherlock's brother) does not come out like the extremely intelligent worthy competitor to Sherly (as he says) though, and the story continues to miss the cerebral component / mystery that ought to be an integral part of Sherlock Holmes. The movie almost feels like Mission Impossible/ James Bond in the 19th Century, with even less twist and turns !
All in all, a fun-filled watch that would certainly keep you amused for the 2 hours, though you are unlikely to remember much of it later, like most offerings in 2011.
3 star out of 5 perhaps ?!

Friday, January 13, 2012

Reviewing Revolution 2020 by Chetan Bhagat - more of the same - Topical and yet strangely unsatisfying

Chetan Bhagat's novels remind me of movies by Danny Boyle. They have a great premise, and are good but strangely unsatisfactory at the end. You leave the hall/ the book with a feeling that this could have been so much better. But it is still "paisa vasool" :)
You are unlikely to remember them for anything exceptional for very long though.
Finally, both of them don't really end very well, somehow it seems a bit hurried and forced in many cases.
R2020 is about three friends, 2 boys and a girl in Varanasi. It obviously involves a love triangle, and speaks about a lot of contemporary issues like power, politics, corruption in low to high places, with special reference to higher education. But finally it is about Gopal, the rags to riches Principal of Gangatech college from whose view point the entire novel is written.
Aarti - his love interest is certainly dealt with in greater details with her confused yet believable personality being something we care about, but unfortunately, the other characters, especially his 'close friend' Raghav are fairly uni-dimensional and not very interesting.
Finally, the end is quite 'filmy' and predictable. I guess Chetan Bhagat is already finalizing whom to sell the rights of the film too.
The topics of corruption and youth empowerment are very topical, especially with Anna hazare agitation going on, but are handled in a predictable and superficial manner.
The simple writing style, as always, makes it a fun, easy, time pass read though, and at the price he sells his books, you will almost never regret buying them :)

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Book review - Crocodile in the Sunbank by Elizabeth Peters - Book 1 in Amelia Peabody series

I was looking for some humorous audio-books for my commute, and had just finished a Terry Pratchett novel (Thud).
On doing a net search, I came across recommendations for Amelia Peabody series. Hence started my journey in the life & times of Egypt in the late 19th century. I was expecting a half baked 'exotic' mummy mystery - being a bit biased against Egyptian mysteries, with a woman doing the job of a man ....
Boy, was I surprised !
Amelia Peabody is definitely a woman character, no doubt about it ! She is head strong, funny and the book is a delight to read. Her thoughts are very well captured in the 'journal' that is the source of the stories.
Her clear concise ideas about herself and how things ought to be, are sometimes so splendidly off target, and she retains the self deprecating humor to acknowledge her errors, though always a bit begrudgingly.
Fascinating interplay between her and Emerson, their chemistry is simply delightful. The huge gender divide in the late 19th century European society and the silliness of it all (in Amelia's views at least) is also very well evident.
Where the writer fails to some extent is in the mystery. Anyone with some experience of reading thrillers/ mystery would clearly be able to figure out a large plot of the plot, far before the very intelligent and perceptive Amelia is able to figure out. Hence the last few pages turn out to be a bit frustrating, in my opinion. But since this is just a part of the novel, and not the main purpose, it remains a delightful read, and a welcome addition to my collection.
PS: The audiobook is very well read & adds loads to the character as well.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

4 Simple Steps to manage your money. .

Reprinted below is an excellent financial advisory article from

I hope to learn from it and hope that it would be useful to you too.

Where Do You Want to Reach?


    (08-Nov-2011 )

In our article last week, we covered the topic of ‘Where Do You Stand Today?’.
We briefly went over the need and efficiency of having a financial plan, 3 simple financial thumb rules, and assessed whether we were living below or within our means i.e. are we spending or are we saving.

Moving forward we will see how to track our expenses and our savings with a simple and efficient budget.

The use of a personal budget is the simplest and quickest way of analyzing whether you are a spender, or a saver

And there are 4 Simple Steps to manage your money. .

Step 1: Know Your Income

Be aware of your Net Monthly Income (post tax).
This can be more than just your pay packet.
You can be receiving income from rent, from interest, from dividends and so on.
Make a mental list right now, and later on, write this all down.

Step 2: Know Your Expense

Make note of all your expenses. This will take a little time.
The main Expense items that show up in everybody’s budgets are:

  1. Grocery bill
  2. Spending on children’s school / college tuition fees
  3. Entertainment, including eating out, movies, shopping, gifts etc
  4. Electricity bill, gas bill, wifi for the home, any other utilities
  5. Travelling / fuel expense
  6. Telephone, internet, cell phone bills
  7. Medical expenses
  8. Miscellaneous and contingency expenses such as society charges if you own a home and others 
Often, part of one’s cash outflow is for expenses and the other part is to fund existing liabilities. So we come to Step 3.

Step 3: Know Your Liabilities

Keep track of your Liabilities. The main Liabilities that people can have are:

  1. Home Loan (the biggest and longest EMIs you will ever have to pay)
  2. Education Loan
  3. Car Loan
  4. Personal Loan
Cash outflows that go towards repayment of existing liabilities such as home and car loans, are funding the respective asset purchases. For example, EMI payments are regular, and significant, outflows from your monthly income. Be aware of the rate of interest on each of your liabilities, see whether you can avail a better rate elsewhere (refinance), and know the tenure of your loan.

Income minus all Expenses and Liability Payments will give you your Free Cash. It is this free cash that you will use to build your wealth and achieve your life goals.

Step 4: Build Your Wealth

Invest your Net Free Cash to build your wealth.
The free cash you have left after your expenses are taken care of is your net free cash. This is the money that will go towards building wealth for your financial goals and accumulating assets. And this is the most important part of your money life. It is these ‘leftover’ funds, also known as your investible surplus that will build your wealth.

So if you find yourself in a situation where your investible surplus is low, or close to nil, you need to very quickly rectify the situation.

The only way to do that is to cut back on unnecessary expenditures i.e. any expenditure that is not on a necessity.
Remember - it is better to first invest, and then spend out of what is left, rather than to first spend, and then invest out of what is left.

The beginning of all this is to start keeping track of your cash inflows and outflows.
Maintain your budget.
You can use PersonalFN’s free online tool - MyPlanner - to start maintaining your personal budget.

By the end of one month, you will have greater awareness on where your money is going and you will be able to streamline your expenses to increase your investments, ultimately building more wealth.

Now that you know where you stand financially today, you can put down on paper where you want to reach.

Once you have come this far - two things will be clear.

The first is that you need to set a target of where you want to reach in life - list out the things you want to achieve. You need to determine your financial goals.
The second should be that the more you are aware and knowledgeable of your finances, the better they will perform. Everybody would benefit from improving their financial literacy.

Let us address the first factor: Determining Your Financial Goals 

We all live and strive for certain goals in life. Goals and objectives provide focus, purpose and vision to the financial planning process. By setting your financial goals you will be able to define your priorities, establish a direction and identify the results that you expect to achieve. When listing down your financial goals, take care to make your goals measurable, realistic and time bound.

STEP 1 Identifying Your Financial Goals

Common financial goals can include:

  1. Purchase of home
  2. Purchase of Car
  3. Child’s Education
  4. Supporting your parents
  5. Child’s Marriage
  6. Retirement
  7. Vacation
  8. Buying Holiday Home
  9. Wealth Accumulation
  10. Creating Trusts
  11. Charity / philanthropy
STEP 2 Classify financial goals based on their priority and proximity

  1. Short term (less than 3 years)
  2. Medium term (3 to 5 years)
  3. Long term (more than 5 years )
This will help you to know what goals are to be met first and therefore channelize your investments accordingly, based on the time to the goal and your risk profile. A simple table such as the one ahead will help you decide which goals are the most important (priority) and also see which ones are urgent (proximity).

Child’s College EducationHigh9 years
Child’s MarriageMedium12 years
RetirementHigh15 years
Foreign VacationLow16 years

STEP 3 Quantifying your Goals 

If a goal is not quantified, it becomes very difficult to select a path to achieve it. Again this can be divided into two parts, minimum and maximum.

For example, you may have a goal of funding your child’s higher education. For this you can consider two scenarios.
The first scenario, of your child being educated in India, may be the minimum that you need to achieve. For this, the fees may be Rs. 10 lakhs.
Maximum amount for the goal would be sending your child abroad for further studies. For this, the fees may be Rs. 25 lakhs.

Now you know that the minimum you need to achieve is Rs. 10 lakhs in today’s terms. You can start investing accordingly.

STEP 4 Plan and Invest towards Your Goals

Once your goals are quantified i.e. you have a tenure, an amount and a clear idea of your goals of retirement, child’s education and marriage, asset purchase and others, it is time to actually plan for these goals.

Also note that conflicting goals are a fact of everyone’s life. You must do the best you can to resolve this difficulty by allocating your available resources in the most efficient manner possible to those goals that have the highest priority.

For example, spending on a lavish wedding for your child should be given lower priority than planning for your own safe retirement. You must also evaluate your investment progress regularly. If the progress towards the goal is not satisfactory then one or more of the following options can be exercised:

  1. Review your investments and alter specific investment amounts / investment instruments
  2. Push the goal further back, where possible. For example, if you are planning to retire at 50, consider retiring at 55 instead, giving yourself more earning years.
  3. Reduce the goal corpus that is required. If you wanted to buy a house for  75 lakhs, consider a house for  60 lakhs. 
Setting your Goals is typically not an ongoing process. You can set your goals and begin working towards them. Review of progress towards your goals can happen typically once a year.


The most important part of all this is just to get started. Once you do, you’ll find that you enjoy investing and building wealth because you know what this wealth is going to be used for - your family and yourself, in achieving your financial goals.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Movie Review - Cloverfield - Unique concept, well executed!

JJ Abrams is an interesting guy. I love most of the movies he does. Got to know about him as a producer for a great movie called Super 8. He has also produced the latest MI - 4 movie, and the latest Star Trek flick.
Also being an SF lover, I was really looking forward to Cloverfield, again produced by JJ Abrams.
I was so not disappointed!
The movie is shot as an amateur video from the eyes of a few friends, as New York's Manhattan district is attacked (& devastated) by monsters of unknown origin. The movie is cleverly executed, both in its pacing and story line.
What I really found fascinating was that the ending was so open-ended with many questions left unanswered, including the origin of the monsters.
The special effects are top notch, and the monster ravaged New York is so believable. The idea of the amateur video may have been inspired by "The Blair Witch Project" and copied by other movies (including the excellent Norwegian flick "Trollhunter") but the believable characters, the rapid action packed storyline and avoiding many cliches make this a definite must see for all SF fans, and worth a watch for the non-believers too :)
Gets a 4.5 star out of 5 in my book