Jun 28, 2015

Travel Diaries: Because Diu Was Long Due

'Nothing spoils you like good travel'. I texted this message to a friend while conversing with her about how difficult it is to get on with your 'routine' life just after you are back from a memorable vacation. She was quick to understand my sentiments (she had been a long 'city' vacation herself) and both of us realized that a couple of weeks and a dozen Instagram pictures may never suffice for the incredible memories one gathers while traveling, living and loving.

Diu happened by sudden desire, spontaneity and an early morning decision to just go there. It is unbelievable how you plan to go somewhere forever but never really make it. I think it's the calling that decides where and when you will end up. I had always been intrigued by the tiny UT of Daman and Diu and being the only Indian alive to have NOT been to Goa, I was really keen to explore a place that is referred by many as Goa without its crowd and commercialization.

Some early research busted three of my initial myths. One - Daman and Diu were far apart, some 640 kms away from each other by road. So, it is best suited to plan a trip to the prettier, cleaner and calmer Diu rather than Daman. 

Two, Diu is not a very frequented travel destination (one of the reasons for my wish to go there) and hence there is very little or rather negligible travel information and reviews available on the Internet. The ones that are available are from commercial websites that use so many adjectives that it becomes difficult to distinguish Daryaganj from Diu. 

Three, Diu is not Goa. I don't know (yet) what Goa is like. But Diu is definitely not Goa. It is something else. Diu is Diu. One of its kind.

Early morning jog at the Nagoa beach.

How to reach Diu? 

Diu is not the easiest travel destination if you are planning to go there from Delhi. The best and quickest bet is to plan an air travel via Mumbai well in advance that will cost you around 8,000 INR for the round trip. Remember that there is only a single flight from Mumbai to Diu every day and if you book your flights wisely, the overall journey from Delhi to Diu will not take more than 6 hours.

Alternatively, if you are not short on time, you can reach Diu from Delhi by aggregating two train trips - first and the longer one that takes you from Delhi to Ahmedabad (14 hours overnight journey) and the second train journey that is shorter but more tiring - from Ahmedabad to Veraval, the nearest rail head from Diu (90 Kms away). The journey from Ahmedabad to Veraval takes approximately 10 hours. From Veraval, you will have to book a taxi to Diu, which will take another couple of hours. So, in total you will take at least 36 hour to reach Diu from Delhi via two trains and a taxi journey. 

The choice is yours. If you want to soak in the Gujarat countryside and relish a train ride, and most importantly, are not short on time, the train journey option is fun and fulfilling. And if you are the high flying kind, who thinks airports are more poetic than railway stations, go for the Via Mumbai flying option. The quiet, little Diu airport takes you by surprise for its, hold your breath, diminutiveness.

Diu from 16000 ft above the ground

Where to Stay in Diu?

Diu does not have many fancy places to stay or let's say it will not offer you any luxury that you normally associate with travel destinations these days. Trust only the top 10 hotels listed on popular travel websites and water down your expectations before you land in Diu. Hotel Palms Resort (my hideout in Diu), Hoka, Radhika Beach Resort and Azzaro are some of the good places to stay in Diu.

The best part about staying in Hotel Palms is the almost-private beach that you get as a bonus. The resort is away from the hustle bustle of the popular Nagoa beach and is situated right in front of the secluded and picturesque Kodidhar beach. 

So, set out for a morning walk on the long and remarkably clean beaches, go out for a stroll in the evening, have a bottle of beer or two (dispose the empty bottle responsibly!), read a book by the seaside or do nothing. Simply sit and feel amazed at the sheer vastness of the Arabian Sea.

Sea waves at the Kodidhar beach. Right in front of Hotel Palms

Sunrise at the Kodidhar beach

What to Do in Diu?

You can choose to do nothing in Diu. And yet, never get bored. The island has an innate tranquilizing and calming quality that lets you unwind and relax. 

But, there are some magical places in and around the city that present a heady blend of  Diu's historic connection with the Portuguese and its mesmerizing geographical location at the edge of the Arabian sea. Hire a cycle, a bike (at 300 INR per day approx) or a car (at 1500 INR per day) and zip through the well-built roads that connect all the major tourist attractions. Sample these:

1. The stunning Diu fort. Built by the Portuguese. Frequented by Gujjus.

A part of the Diu Fort

Pani Ka Kotha right in the middle of the sea. As seen from the Diu Fort

Tourists at Diu Fort

2. The most breathtaking location in all of Diu - The INS Khukri Memorial

View from the INS Khukri Memorial

The Open Air Theatre at the INS Khukri Memorial

3. The intriguing Naida Caves

Not sure what/who built the Naida Caves. It's either the nature or the Portuguese

4. The historic St. Paul's church

St Paul's Church is one of the few functional Portuguese churches in Diu

St. Paul's Church - Front View

5. The abandoned church in Fudam

The mostly abandoned church in Fudam, Diu

6. The Gangeshwar Mahadev Temple - Where the sea pays obedience to Lord Shiva

The unique Gangeshwar Temple with five Shiva Lingas.
The sea waves come running in every now and then.

7. The sunrise and sunset at Nagoa beach

Sunset at Nagoa beach

The morning Sun's abandoned chariot. As found near the Nagoa beach

Mornings be like.

Mornings be like.

Early morning sight at the Nagoa beach

8. St. Thomas Church and Museum

Portuguese statues and artifacts at the St. Thomas church

Where to eat in Diu?

Getting good food in Diu is an issue. Most restaurants serve Punjabi and Chinese cuisine that does not taste like Punjabi and Chinese food! Hoka has a nice little cafe that serves good continental food. The only restaurant that serves good, authentic Gujarati in whole of Diu is Bamaniya restaurant, a nondescript gem on the main highway that connects Nagoa beach and the airport to the Diu city.

First encounter with white jaggery or 'Gudd' 

The sumptuous Bajra Na Rotla and Baigan Bharta. With some chilli fry and Gudd. 

I believe when you find it difficult to express through fluidity of words, you opt for frozen pictures. And that's why I have put up more pictures than words to make a case for Diu. :)

This small and quiet island is sans all the frills attached to a beach vacation these days. Truly, ilha de calma that the Diu tourism claims it to be. Go, find peace, find love or simply find yourself in Diu. 

And here is the customary 'I Love Diu' picture. 

I love Diu Vs. I loved you

P.S: Be careful while you say 'I love Diu' to your girl. She might construe it as 'I loved you'. And that will be the end of the game.

I traveled to Diu in June when the temperature was pretty high. Best time to travel to Diu is August-March. Or simply, whenever you feel like.

All the pictures in the post are clicked by the blogger. Don't reproduce/reuse without permission. For more pictures from Diu and other places, follow the blogger at Instagram - @ashishanant 

Jun 20, 2015

ABCD 2 Review: Bigger, Better and Spectacular at Places

Remo D’souza is a brave man. He mostly resists the temptation of going for 'typical Bollywood' choreography and dishes out some lovely psychedelic, hip-hop, Broadway and other western dance forms in ABCD 2, sequel to his 2013 hit ABCD (Any Body Can Dance). I am not an authority to comment on the quality and level of dancing, but as an average movie lover seated in the theater, much of the choreography in ABCD 2 gives you goosebumps. Your limbs twirl a little and a bit of shiver runs down your spine during several dance sequences in the film – especially during Prabhu Deva’s stunning introductory dance number and the exhilarating Ganesha formation towards the climax. More on that later.
Despite song and dance being an integral part of syncretic Indian culture and particularly Bollywood films, genuine Hindi dance films are as rare as rains in Rajasthan. Director-choreographer Remo bucked the trend with ABCD in 2013, which featured an ensemble cast of relatively unknown reality show dancing gems. With ABCD 2, Remo ups the ante by assembling perhaps the finest bunch of dancer-actors, led by young stars Varun Dhawan and Shradha Kapoor. The film is not exactly a sequel but rather a new installment in the ABCD franchise with only Prabhu Deva reprising his role of Vishnu – a dance guru like no other.

Like any other dance film, ABCD 2 has a wafer-thin storyline that traces the real-life journey of a disgraced dance troupe from Nallasopara, Mumbai that resurrects its reputation and represents India in the World Hip-Hop competition in Las Vegas. The troupe is led by Suresh (Varun Dhawan) and comprises his childhood friend Vinnie (Shradha Kapoor), Raghu (Raghav Juyal), Vernon (Sushant Pujari) and a host of other talented dancers which we have seen performing in numerous television shows.
The film has a breezy and hugely entertaining first half where, rather surprisingly, Prabhu Deva walks away with all the whistles courtesy his dancing and comic timing. The legendary dancer’s elastic moves leave you in awe in the song 'Happy Hour Hai' and you wish you could have seen more of Vishnu sir's fabled dancing in the film. There are some other lovely dance routines in the first half and a neat little twist towards the intermission to keep you hooked.

However, things get a little haywire post intermission when the story and screenplay of the film start to crumble under their own weight. There are some unpolished and needless subplots that only add to the overall length of the film and prohibit it from becoming truly great and spectacular. Things change for better after Lauren Gottlieb makes a late but electrifying entry through the song 'Tere Naam Ka Tattoo'. The song is so energetic and embellished with superior and glamorous dance moves that you almost forget and forgive the twenty odd minutes of agony post interval. Full points to Lauren for making a massive impact in what is a pretty shortened role. Her dancing caliber is amply displayed in the mesmerizing hip-hop tribute to Lord Ganesha in the song 'Hey Ganaraya'. This dance sequence is so beautifully choreographed and conceptualized that you wish it could have been the climax of the film. But sadly, even after reaching this crescendo, the film meanders along for quite some time and the dance performances never really attain the same 'high'.
Talking of loose ends, the film never reveals the motive behind the alleged plagiarism against the protagonist and his dance team. Some of the dance sequences in the second half seem to be stretched and attaining the climax becomes quite a task towards the end! These loopholes aside, the film gets its casting spot on with Varun Dhawan stamping his authority as one of the finest dancers in Bollywood. The young actor, however, is no match for Prabhu Deva, in the only sequence where the two share the dance floor, but you got to give credit to Varun Dhawan for being the heart and soul of ABCD 2. Shradha Kapoor surprises with her dancing talent and does a fine job of role as Vinnie. All the other actors in the film are terrific dancers or should I say vice-versa? Specially, for Raghav Juyal whose comic timing is very much aimed at the galleries.
The scale and canvas of ABCD 2 is mind-boggling with top-notch choreography – something that you expect when Remo and other top names collaborate, fascinating cinematography (Vijay Arora) and intelligent use of special effects. Much of the film’s soundtrack is enjoyable, thanks to Sachin-Jigar's soulful compositions. Editing, one feels, could have definitely been tighter and the screenplay could have surely avoided some of the deviations.
But, all said and done, ABCD 2 is a thorough entertainer that takes Indian dance films to an all-new level. A film that gets your heart pumping and your body grooving even while you are seated, and never really lets you down despite its near three hour long run time. Go out in the theater with your dancing shoes on, grab your popcorn and behold the spectacle of dancing brilliance!
Rating: ***1/2 (Very Good)

Jun 18, 2015

Box Office: Why Should Bollywood be Wary of Its American Big Brother?

Hardly a week back, Rajkumar Hirani and Vidhu Vinod Chopra threw a bash in Mumbai to celebrate PK’s unprecedented success in China – an unconventional and largely untapped territory for Hindi films. The event was attended by a visibly beefed up Aamir Khan, Anushka Sharma and other cast and crew of the film. Around the same time, in the same bustling and humid Mumbai, the members of the fabled Bhatt Camp were huddling and wondering what exactly went wrong with their ambitious Hamari Adhuri Kahani. Like they say, every Friday fortunes fluctuate in Mumbai and few would know it better than the Bhatt brothers – Mahesh and Mukesh – who produced the Emraan Hashmi-Vidya Balan starrer. So while PK has taken Bollywood to dizzying new heights (in terms of business) by grossing over a staggering 100 crores in China, back home in India, things do not look so bright for a film that’s backed by one of the most reliable and profitable film production houses.
But, what went wrong with Hamari Adhuri Kahani? Bad reviews? Not really, because it’s not rare for a Bhatt camp film to be panned by critics. In fact, Mahesh Bhatt and his ilk have a firm grip over the mood and nerve of the masses. They know what works in huge swaths of India that resides outside metros and big cities and that’s precisely the formula behind their production house’s roaring success in the last decade, irrespective of how the critics receive the film. Then, what killed Hamari Adhuri Kahani? Apart from its own glaring misgivings, the film was seemingly chomped down by rampaging dinosaurs of Jurassic World who rode straight into the hearts of the Indian masses, leaving behind a weeping Vidya Balan and a shocked Emraan Hashmi. Yes, you read it right.

Here are some facts that tell us how Hollywood is slowly but surely posing a serious challenge to Bollywood:
  1. With the super success of films like Fast and Furious 7, Avengers: The Age of Ultron and now Jurassic World, the writing is clear on the wall for our desi producers. They do not just need to watch out for potential box office clashes with ‘Khan Films’, but they also need to be wary of big Hollywood releases – especially films that are successful franchises or fall in the action/sci-fi genre. Sample this – Fast and Furious 7 released on the same day as Detective Byomkesh Bakshy and easily trumped it to emerge the winner at the box office. The first week collection of Detective Byomkesh Bakshy was a paltry 19.75 crores. Contrast it with Fast and Furious 7, which grossed around 70 crores in week 1 and then went on to become the highest grossing Hollywood film ever in India with lifetime business of a remarkable 110 crores. You don’t need to be a rocket scientist to figure out that Detective Byomkesh Bakshy, already a niche multiplex film, was swept away by the rampaging F&F franchise.The history seems to have repeated itself with Hamari Adhuri Kahani and Jurassic World. While the Hindi film could only mint 16 Crores in its opening weekend with virtually no growth and a poor trend, the Dinosaur franchise went from strength to strength and garnered close to 30 crores in its opening weekend with a very healthy trend.
  2. While Bollywood producers are rightly vying for more and more overseas business and going into foreign territories that no one ever imagined before, back home the domestic audience also seems to have matured and developed a definitive, distinct taste. Any Bollywood product with mediocre content (Bombay Velvet, Hamari Adhuri Kahani) is summarily rejected and only films with good content (Piku, TWMR) are accepted. With ticket prices soaring, the audience is not ready to compromise on content until and unless the film is spearheaded by a massive star (read the Khans). Interestingly, the same junta is taking up to ‘event’ Hollywood films with disaster, sci-fi and action themes in a big way. Even content driven Hollywood films like Gravity, Life of Pi and Inception have started to make a mark at the Indian box office with collections going well into tenth and eleventh weeks!
  3. Hollywood films have the great advantage of big studio backing which allows them to dub in regional languages. This ensures that the overall business of these films in India goes up significantly. Imagine this – more than 50% of Jurassic World’s business in India is driven by dubbed regional versions. On the other hand, growing number of multiplexes in the country has encouraged the Hindi filmmakers to make films that cater only a niche segment of the audience. For example, although Zoya Akhtar’s Dil Dhadakne Do should manage to earn profits, most of its revenue is coming only from 4-5 big cities like Delhi, Mumbai, Bangalore and Pune. The film’s collections in mass belts like Bihar, CP and Rajasthan is very low.So, while Hollywood is solidifying its net collections through dubbed versions, Hindi films are losing out their pan-India appeal. There are hardly four to five Hindi films every year that can boast of healthy all India business. A point to ponder for the producers?
It can be easily said that Hollywood is at its strongest best at the Indian box office right now. With continued flow of mediocre Hindi films, very few big-budget and star-driven films and more and more niche films in the offing, the time is ripe for the big American Daddy to conquer the Indian market which has so far proved to be elusive. Not suggesting that the dinosaurs and the ETs are going to run riot in India and throw the Hindi films out of the window, but there’s a definite nudge, or rather a push, from the high and mighty Hollywood. And the push is big enough for Bollywood to sit back and notice.

Jun 14, 2015

The Story of June

A milestone so significant
At the halfway stage
Of a beautiful beginning
And an eventual end

A notch ahead of
Memories of March
A tad behind
Occurrences of October

Somewhat like
The mid-day Sun
Burning with desire
But living by fire

Those who live
Are mostly burnt
Only a few survive to tell
The Story of June.

All Rights Reserved. Original Image Used by Blogger. Clicked in Diu, India.

Jun 13, 2015

Hamari Adhuri Kahani: Shockingly Regressive and Melodramatic

There are good films and there are bad films. And then there are some films that are so unbelievably bad that you feel like shouting - why did they make this film!!? Hamari Adhuri Kahani, the latest melodramatic overdose from the Bhatt camp, is so regressive, unbelievable, over-the-top and nauseating that you stop expecting anything within half an hour into the film. Mohit Suri, the film's director, has a reasonable track record with good little films like Kalyug, Awarapan and Woh Lamhe under his belt. In fact, Suri has also been at the helm of affairs for three consecutive blockbusters for the Bhatt Camp in the recent past - Ek Villain, Aashiqui 2 and Murder 2.
Apart from a credible director, the film boasts of three fine actors in form of Vidya Balan, Emraan Hashmi and Rajkumar Rao, but the end product is so mediocre, pointless and boring that even you, as regular moviegoer, would like to hang your head in shame. Hamari Adhuri Kahani's biggest lacuna is its kahani itself. Mahesh Bhatt and Shagufta Rafiq's story is so contrived, half-baked and dipped with horrendous dialogues that it can make 80s cinema look like sparking pieces of art. In fact, some of the dialogues are so cheesy and loaded that you silently giggle in your mind and think how they would become a rage once the dubsmash milieu laps them up!
Both Emraan and Vidya mouth some of the worst written lines that one can remember in recent times, but the cherry on the top is saved for Emraan's mother who looks at Vidya and asks his son, "Kaun Hai Ye Banjaran?" Not just that, she even goes on to lecture her on how its time she stopped being 'Sita' and became 'Radha'! Phew! Such rhetorical verbal stone pelting may have been 'cool' in the 80s but is definitely out-of-date and bogus for current times. It is annoying when none of the characters in the film talk to each other in simple words. They are all perennially grim, look heavily constipated and thrash each other with verbal and metaphorical bricks. There is a constant and disturbing imagery of flowers and a VFX-enabled climax in a "valley of flowers" near Bastar (I am sure no place like that excists near Bastar) that looks so odd that it makes special effects of Mallika Sherawat's Hisss look pretty cool.

For those of you who are still interested in the film's story and plot - Vidya Balan plays Vasudha Prasad, a young mother of a 5-year, old whose husband Hari, played by Rajkumar Rao, leaves her an year after the marriage. We are told that Hari is a really bad guy because he has forced Vasudha to get his name tattooed on her arm, and constantly evokes their saat janam ka rishta, sanskaar and peedhiyon se chali aa rahi sanskriti. Vidya, on the other hand, is the lady in distress who always clutches at her mangalsutra as if it were a trophy, but eventually is serenaded by Aarav, played by Emraan Hashmi, the billionaire hotelier who has his own sad past.
It's tough to digest how the film's writers reinforce regressive mindset and beliefs by investing too much in symbolism of a mangalsuktra, pati parmeshwar, sanskaar and then foolishly try to fake feminism towards the climax with an artificial Durga imagery. The principal characters in the film are mere caricatures and lack soul, motive and purpose. You never really take up to Vidya's tears or understand Emraan's fetish fatale with her. Strangely, you do not even hate Rajkumar Rao's character and pity him for landing up a role that lacks layering and conviction.
From Sujoy Ghosh's Kahaani in 2012 to Mohit Suri's Hamari Adhuri Kahani in 2015, life seems to have come full circle for a certain Vidya Balan. Be it the traditional yet poignant Lalita in Parineeta (2005), the chirpy RJ Jhanvi of Lagey Raho Munnabhai (2006), the hysterical but effective Avni of Bhool Bhulaiyaa (2007), the shrewd Krishna of Ishqiya (2010), the spirited and seductress Silk in The Dirty Picture (2011) or the feisty Vidya of Kahaani (2012) - Vidya Balan has given us some of the most memorable female characters in recent times. With Hamari Adhuri Kahani, Balan nosedives to a new low in her career, so much so, that it not just hurts but even shocks you to believe that she gave her consent for a film as regressive, ridiculous and nauseating as this. Emraan Hashmi looks disinterested and the film does little justice to his acting potential or even his kissing caliber! Rajkumar Rao is wasted magnificently and it is painful to see an actor as brilliant as him to do a poorly written role as this. The film's support cast borders on being incompetent with the actor playing Emraan Hashmi's mother looking naive in her dialogue delivery and younger than Vidya Balan even with those fake grey strands.
The film's music does not live up to the melodious reputation of the Bhatt camp. Except for "Humnava" none of the songs have that repeat value or a humming quality that sticks on to you. The film's cinematography (Vishnu Rao) is below par, so is the background score that uselessly tries to build up tempo in this lethargic, boring film.
Overall, Hamari Adhuri Kahani will easily qualify as one of the biggest letdowns of recent times; specially for Vidya Balan who has wowed us with stellar performances in the past. This is one film that you can definitely miss and thank this reviewer for saving you your hard-earned money. 
Rating: * (Poor)