Sunday, 17 April 2011

Roja Malare Rajakumari

Back when there was only radio  - and the dinner bell was the Gopal PalPodi advertisement, there was Vividh Bharathi’s varthaga olibarappu. And there were songs from black and white Tamil films – songs about liberty and new worlds from MGR movies channelling Captain Blood and the Prisoner of Zenda, tearjerker and rail against the  universe songs from Superham Sivaji Ganesan, sensitive love songs from that King of Love, Sambar. There were some lovely songs from that time – before colour and Kamal and Rajni changed the face of Tamil cinema beyond recognition.

There were other heroes from those days, the days before Balachander and Sridhar – when Apoorva Sagadharargal  was not the Kamalahasan egofest but a swashbuckling sequel to Chandralekha where drumspawned M.K.Radha and Ranjan duelled for the affections for T.R.Rajakumari.

And then there was this movie called Veera Thirumagan – starring a guy called C.L.Anandan – whose two initials were too little and too late. It had this song called Roja Malare Rajakumari, one of the loveliest I had heard. It was a song that I would always associate with the Modern Hairdressing Saloon, on Village Road, where my father would take me for my quarterly shearing. He would busy himself with the Ananda Vikatan while I would fidget until my turn on the barber’s chair. And this song would play, on All India Radio.

It was a total ear worm, and one of the first songs I noticed that I actively liked.

A few days back, I remembered the song, apropos some scarlet  roses that had sprung up in my cousin’s garden. I went looking for the video on the web and I could only come up with this.

The Old and the New

The first thing I see was this guy point to the camera with a shit eating grin on his face going “My Beauty Queen”. Then in the next minute, accompanied by a ridiculous synth, a woman wielding a shaker, a reefer changing hands,  a few item number extra types taking a few tokes and a lot of jiggling. My jaw hits the floor and my eyes bug out. Then the original visuals start and then I start beathing easier.

It doesn’t last though. Before you know it, theres a berk smoking a cigarette and there’s a lot of smoke behind a terrible CGI bullet.

My first instinct was to rage quit, but I was in a mood for reflection. After all, the remix was a symptom of our culture now. We have come far, from the time when a calf was enough to get the repressed masses – who were busy at work booming the population – in the mood for a good boinking. Isn’t it better now, where “Tonight I’m Fucking You” plays in the mall and this is what we are today. We are the new India, we are out there, competing with Flo-rider and Snoop Dogg. This is us, uncloseted and sexually liberated. (the guys of course. the women are, after all, sex objects). 

Then I thought “Naah.” This is just some wanker laying a huge turd on a beautiful song.

So I did quit. And soothed my senses with the original.

And washed that down with this

The Ultimate Job Application

and this

Sambar and Vyju. He leers, she sneers

Saturday, 16 April 2011


"I am glad he has left us," he said. "Smoking is a subject on which I hold strong views. I look upon tobacco as life's outstanding boon and it annoys me to hear these faddists abusing it. And how foolish their arguments are, and how easily refted. They come to me and tell methat if they place two drops of nicotine on the tongue of a dog the animal instantly dies: and when I ask them if they ever tried the childishly simple device of not placing nicotine on the dog's tongue, they have nothing to reply. They are non-plussed. They go away mumbling something about never having thought of that"

Mr. Mulliner, The Man Who Gave Up Smoking

I am, as ever, in complete agreement with Mr. Mulliner.  Not only does he speak with his usual sound common sense, but he also echoes the point of view that kept his creator happily chuffing away till the ripe old age of seventy six.

Nowadays, however, the faddists have become a lot more influential, and as ubiquitous as the cockroach. You can see their cancerous tentacles everywhere, from entire towns that do not allow smoking to recommendations that smokers be denied health care.

I wonder if any of these fanatics have ever experienced the true bliss a well timed smoke can provide.  The trouble is, these are the people who probably never had a good meal in their lives and their outlook on life has been coloured by dyspepsia. No one, no one who has dined well, so well that they had to undo the tops of their trousers to let the food settle, would ever cavil at the noble smoke that follows. 

Or maybe its the other end of the alimentary canal at work here. May be the grunting and straining on the porcelain pot in the morning has embittered these faddists. If they had any idea of the pleasure that sitting on the white throne in the morning after a good strong South Indian coffee, with crossword and cigarette, their sunny smiles would brighten everyone’s day.

Don’t take my word for this. I don’t eat fish, and therefore am notably deficient in the cranial content department . Take this guy, for instance – he’s almost as intelligent as Jeeves.

“I believe that pipe smoking contributes to a somewhat calm and objective judgement in all human affairs." 

Albert Einstein, some bloke who lived a long and eventful life

But while the world turns against me, I will remain devoted to smoking – and that’s smoking both the divine and profane herbs.  And for those who tell me “It contaminates the air, pollutes my hair and clothes, not to mention my lungs.”, I request they stop breathing and farting – because they contaminate my lungs with their poisonous Carbon Dioxide and their foul methane, butyric acid and hydrogen sulphide cocktails. And will you stop driving your petrol drinking exhaust exhaling vehicle start riding a bicycle while you are at it…

Thursday, 14 April 2011

The Hero and the Champion

Playing Dragon Age II now, and comparisons and contrasts and complements to Origins become inevitable.

The  first thing that strikes you is the attack animation. Your jaw drops when Hawke uses whirlwind on a bunch of Hurlocks  - remember the term “ludicrous gibs”? The ludicrousness of these gibs is inestimable – as Hurree Jamset Ramsingh, the Nabob of Bhanipore would say.  The next thing is the art.  The change in the art style had been heralded well before the game arrived – and the change in Lothering is dramatic. While the initial Lothering was – well – brown, atleast it was an earth brown, offset by the green of the mabari tree. This Lothering is sand brown, and there are no trees, just dead black crags of rock all over. Maybe its meant to show how the land changes during a blight, but the only reaction it got from me was a pained “yuk”.

Another thing that pissed me off was the elf redesign. I know a number of people did like it. Tycho raves about Merrill (it’s actually the other way round Smile), for fuck’s sake, but she just reminded me of a marapachi.

The next thing is the conversation wheel. Complete with helpful icons – There is a black fist against a red background for a response like, say, “Fuck You”. The icon, my handy reference guide says symbolises “An Aggressive Response” . Its pretty much the ME conversation wheel, with icons.

Kirkwall. Is cool. It’s up there with Baldur’s Gate and Athkatla, and a welcome change from lameass Denerim. The city has as many sections as either of the former. There’s The Gallows – the point of entry for your immigrant hero, as well as the home of the Templars and the Circle of Magi. There’s Lowtown, where the lowlives – and you, atleast for the the first three game years live. There’s Hightown, and there’s Darktown – home to  those for whom being a lowlife is a step up the social ladder.

After you get past the changes in the art, the inventory system starts to mess with you. In that you can’t equip your companions with armour. You find a lot of armour sets and pieces during your adventures, but you can’t equip Aveline with the Stonehammer armour set? WTF? Every piece of armour you find is restricted to Hawke. This follows… [Virtual Shackles]

There are other changes, as well. Warriors lose dual wielding and archery. Its rogues only now. You can’t change your default swordnboarder to a two hander or vice versa. Only Hawke has both shields and two handed weapon skill trees available. There are some new skill trees – for all classes. and specializations are specific to your companions. Your Hawke gets to choose, though.

Origins was high fantasy. It was about getting people together to face the Blight – Gondor calls for aid, in TVTropese. There were no really difficult moral choices, except maybe the choice between Bhelen and Harrowmont – and that only because you read about the consequences of your decision in the epilogue. [Note: I usually play disgustingly noble/good characters – and if I play the anus or the crazy , its usually because there is an achievement to be unlocked].

DAII is low fantasy. Very low fantasy. The human treatment of the elves is now overlaid by Qunari hate and a brewing war between mages and templars in Kirkwall, where the veil is so thin that a mage may sneeze and end up an abomination. Your companions are quite extreme in their diametrically opposed views and any decision you make usually ends up pissing one or the other off.

And your companions. I think this is, by and large the best group that Bioware has put together since – well, a very long time. And the list starts with Varric, the first person you see in the game, even before you meet your character.  Varric is neither a simpleminded bruiser nor a psychotic automaton– he is just a storyteller, a merchant and unhealthily in love with his crossbow, Bianca. (Mirabelle, he says, was taken). There are some characters for Origins/Awakening who make appear as companions here, but none of them shine the way Varric does. That doesn’t mean that promiscuous Isabela or dorky Merrill (who was definitely not as dorky in the Dalish elf origin) are not funny. They are. And Aveline’s courtship has to be the most HILARIOUS quest in the history of RPGs.

Isabela – “Captain Isabela” who gambles and fights in the Pearl and teaches  you duelling in Origins is back now as a companion. She is – well – as promiscuous as ever, though you can romance her and make an honest woman of her – if that is at all possible.

Merrill reappears here as well, with a much more significant role. In Origins, she was your Dalish Elf’s mage companion. She seemed smart, very grounded and stable there. Here she’s a dork. And a blood mage. And a love interest. And the only mage without access to any kind of healing.  Unsettling, but acceptable. Unlike Anders.

My biggest quibble with the companions, though is with Anders. Anders in Awakening was a laid back apostate with a sense of self deprecating humour. Here, he’s a frikking terrorist. Yes, what he does is required by the plot – to force a choice and a confrontation. But that’s not it. In some ways, he’s become a hipper and more hypocritical version of frikking Korgan. It might have been so much better to put some other crazy mage in his stead, but I’m sure Bioware did their focus groups and market studies that made them go with a darker and edgier Anders.

The villains. Since the game is a three act tragedy – so to speak, you have villains at the end of each act – and act bosses. There is no game boss as such, which is a little disconcerting. The really cool boss is the Arishok, and he was a boss I desperately did NOT want to fight. Not because he’s unbeatable or anything, but  because he is frikkin honourable – and he likes and respects you. Curse you Bioware. couldn’t you have given the Arishok and Hawke a way out without the former having to betray the Qun or the latter having to betray his friend? The Act 3 boss – is well – meh.

But the game is not about the boss fights. It’s about a world gone mad – CMOT Dibbler would approve – and your hero doesn’t save the day. Hell, he’s probably the reason for a few of the fucked up things that happen.  And there are no easy ways out. You have to screw one group or another – and both have good members and bad. Whatever you do, the world gets WORSE – which is actually unprecedented in an RPG – I mean, you usually get an option for a good ending and one for an evil ending – but I don’t remember any RPG where either ending left the world a more fucked up place.

Origins was about a hero who went from riches to rags – a hero who lost everything (Dwarf Noble, Human Noble, Dalish Elf and to an extent Mage). DA II is about a hero who had nothing to begin with, but ends up rich and respected.  Origins was about losing your family and finding the Wardens who give you a duty to take its place. DA II has loss of family, but its a much more natural progression in terms of time.  But unlike Origins, the game actually shows you grieving after your mother’s death, and companions and lovers visit and commiserate.

And the “Ohhhh, Bioware” bits? Isabela’s armour upgrade – “Rigid Boning”. A faction of Kirkwall thugs – “The Reining Men”. A quest called “Kind of Want”. Isabela asking Aveline about her sex life –“Does he … cup your joining? Dwarf your beard? Arl your Eamon? Shank your Jory? Praise your Maker? Grope your grinder? Establish his canon? Kaddis your Katie? Dampen your Divine? Pamper your Paragon? Grey your Warden? Pudding your peach? Float your frigate? Explore your Deep Roads? How about "satisfy a demand of your Qun. Or master your taint? That's an old one."

Now, with two games gone, Bioware has left the DA universe in an interesting place.  Since the series is not so much about a single hero’s adventures in a fantasy world, but rather about the world where heroes have adventures, I can’t wait to see where they go with it. And there are so many hooks. What happens with the Qunari? Who is Flemeth, really? What does she get out of her mysterious appearances and rescues? What about Morrigan and her child? What is the situation in Orlais? What was Leliana’s and Cassandra’s original plan? Where is Hawke? Who will return?

I can’t wait…

Note: There is this blog entry by Gerald Nascimento which covers some of the complaints – about repeated areas within the game etc – by pointing out that while other games try to be movies, DA works like a play