Sunday, October 31, 2010

My favourite horror picks for Halloween!

Halloween in my part of the town has been quiet – except for the occasional drunken hoots of teenagers. However, the weather seems to be in accordance with the spirit of Halloween – gloomy, grey with a constant drizzle. I am well stocked with popcorn; and all I need to do is get the scary DVDs out for a cosy evening.

I’ve always been a fan of horror movies – not the yucky Evil Dead types – but the more psychological ones; the ones that can stir a fear in you and make you sleep with the lights on.

Here are some of my favourite picks (in ‘ascending’ order – least scary to most scary. Nonetheless, all ARE scary.) I’ve included trailers too!

• There is a Kannada movie called ‘Naa Ninna Bidalaare’ (literal translation – I will never leave you... LOL!) It’s a simple storyline – a girl is spurned by a guy (she has a crush on him, he loves someone else). She tries to seduce him, but he throws her out of his house. She raves and rants, and meets with an accident. Yeh, she dies. And comes back to haunt the guy. Ananth Nag is the possessed one. There is no extraordinary makeup for Nag. Yet, he was S.C.A.R.Y. The screenplay is fantastic. The movie came out in 1980s I think; first of its kind as far as I know and it was a rage. Possibly the scariest scene – on the first night of his wedding, Nag goes into a kind of trance and sleepwalks to the graveyard where the spurned girl is buried. I think he kind of crawls up to her grave when the ghost ‘possesses’ him. And then, ‘intermission’ was announced evoking a collective, frustrated gasp in the theatre. I did not find a trailer – but here is a song from the movie -

• Turn of the screw – Henry James novella. The story is about a governess who looks after two children; and there is something very strange and very scary about these two angelic kids. Set in the English countryside, in a typical manor – the story moves in a brooding pace, gripping you by the throat. There is a T.V. version too, but it was not as powerful as the book. Trailer -

• Hound of Baskervilles – the most captivating Sherlock Holmes story. I love the Jeremy Brett T.V. version (in fact, I don’t think anyone else can ever replace him as Holmes.) The moors, the fog and mist, the legend of the hound...all so very haunting. I think the entire episode in on youtube. Here is the first part as a teaser!

• Picnic At Hanging Rock – this cannot be classified as horror in the ‘modern’ sense. Based on a novel written by Joan Lindsay, this movie has a haunting narration, and the ‘open ending’ leaves you frustrated, a bit scared, and the story lodges in your brain for ages. The story is disarmingly simple. Set in Australia, a group of teenage girls, studying (and boarding) in strict convent, are taken out for a picnic to Hanging Rock (Australia). Four girls (or was it three?) vanish into thin air. It is never revealed what happened at Hanging Rock. The movie narration is languid, the setting of the Australian bush seeps into your bones as you watch the young, carefree girls go on their picnic. You are eaten away by the curiosity...what exactly happened to those girls? What is wrong with that place? Truly, truly a classic! A work of art! Oh, by the way – the music thrums your soul. Here’s the trailer -

• Cujo – This Stephen King’s novel is a million times scarier than the movie. After reading the book, the goddamn dog was barking inside my head. The movie has tried to remain faithful to the book; but the intensity is lost. It’s about a rabid dog. Enough said. Go read. Trailer -

• Stigmata – I love this one! A stigmatic is a person who suffers physical injuries that resemble the crucifixion wounds of Christ. Such a person is usually extremely devout. So why does a punk hair dresser in Pittsburgh suddenly become a stigmatic? Patricia Arquette plays the stigmatic, and Gabriel Byrne is the priest who comes to investigate. I thought Arquette was brilliant, and I loved the rock score for the movie. The narration is fast paced, the screenplay is edgy. The chemistry between Arquette and Byrne is subtle, yet strong enough to burn the screen. Trailer -

• Exorcism of Emily Rose – loved this one. A legal twist to an exorcism! A girl dies during an exorcism. The priest is charged with homicide. Laura Linney (the beautiful Linney who acted in Congo and Primal Fear) defends the priest. Was the girl, Emily Rose, really possessed, or was she just psychotic resulting in those horrible body contortions? Did she really need psychiatric help? Could the girl have been saved through exorcism? Did modern psychiatric medicines hinder the exorcism process? Gripping courtroom drama – and the horror scenes are enough to make you scream! Trailer -

• Rosemary’s Baby – based on a novel of the same name by Ira Levin (author of Stepford Wives, Sliver – yeh the hot Sharon Stone, William Baldwin starrer); the story is about a young couple who move into an old apartment in New York. At first, they seem to have rather odd neighbours, old but endearing in a parental kind of way. Soon, Rosemary realizes there is something wrong with her neighbours – they are probably not just the genial elderly couple she made them out to be. They are way too interfering, way too nosy. The book is one of those rare ones which you have to finish at one go even if it means you hold your pee. That you will be too scared to run across to the bathroom is another matter. The movie, directed by Roman Polanski was really good. But the book is better. The trailer sucks.

• Dracula aaah! I loved the book better than the movie. The book takes possession of your mind and body. From the first page to the finish line, you cannot but hold your breath. None of the vampire movies or stories of today can ever reach the intensity of this original Bram Stoker classic. And to think this masterpiece came out in 1897! I liked the movie (1992 version)...but it was more sensual than horror. Nonetheless, it is Francis Ford Coppola so the direction was perfect. But I did not feel the desperation of Mina Harker...or the horror of Jonathan Harker as he watches the Count scale the wall like a lizard. The movie has an impressive star cast – Anthony Hopkins, Keanu Reeves, Winona Rider, and Gary Oldman as the Count (Gary has acted as Sirius Black in Potter movies). Trailer -

• The Shining – based on Stephen King’s novel of the same name, this movie is absolutely terrifying. As far as I am concerned, this is the best screen adaptation of Stephen King’s novels. Directed by Stanley Kubrick no less, Jack Nicholson had me cringing. The story is simple, the horror bone-chilling. Jack Nicholson accepts a job as a care taker for a sprawling hotel during the off-season months. The hotel is located in a remote location, and is cut off from civilization during brutal winter months. So once the hotel shuts down, it’s just Jack, his wife and his little boy. It was just too horrifying to watch the loving, gentle Jack Nicholson transform into an absolute psychotic maniac. I promised myself never to step into sprawling hotels ....yewwww! Trailer -

• Misery – another Stephen King masterpiece. Another brilliant adaptation on the screen. The story is about a famous writer Paul Sheldon (played by James Caan) who meets with an accident during a blizzard. He is saved by a middle-aged woman Anne Wilkes (Kathy Bates – scariest villain I’ve come across!) who happens to be his ardent admirer. Well...luckily for the writer, this woman who is his fan, is also an ‘ex-nurse’. So yeah, she takes care of him real well. Until he realizes that he is a prisoner in her house. She’s every famous person’s nightmare – not the average psycho stalker. Oh no! She’s the woman-next- door, all warm and good-natured and caring...who will do everything in her power to keep you with her. The scariest scene – she breaks Sheldon’s legs (was it with a hammer?) when she comes to know that he tried to escape. Oh. My. God. Bates was nominated for an Oscar for her performance I think. Trailer

• The Omen - undoubtedly rocks! Based on David Seltzer’s novel, the storyline is so powerful and believable. The fact that it is based on a line in the Book of Revelations adds credibility to the plot. So far, we’ve been used to ‘adult’ villains. Who could ever think of a chubby, cherubic baby as evil? And that is where Omen packed the atomic bomb shock value. Mrs. Baylock as Damien’s governess was kickass scary. The scariest scene – the graveyard scene where Gregory Peck and the photographer are chased by those horrid heart really stopped beating! Trailer -

• The Exorcist – so far, no movie has matched the horror depicted in this one. The terror is absolute and complete. Based on the novel of the same name by William Peter Blatty, the story is about a 13-year old girl who is possessed by Satan himself; and the subsequent exorcism. I could not get past even half the novel; I found some of the details so vile and revolting. But the movie is a clear winner with the taut screenplay, guaranteed to stretch your nerves to the limit. Perhaps what really worked for me is the absence of horror clich├ęs – dead body in bathtubs and faces appearing on the mirror and idiotic background score. This was in-your-face physical presence of the devil himself, in the battered body of a thirteen-year old, mocking you, taunting you, scaring the hell out of you. Trailer -

Oh! And Boo to you!

Image courtesy - // - that's the poster for The Exorcist.

©Sumana Khan - 2010 

Friday, October 22, 2010

Bright Side Of The Moon

If you ventured into this blog, hoping to find out about vampires and werewolves and people who turn into dogs and other animals...sorry to disappoint you. This is really about the moon. But in my next blog, I promise to write about these fascinating there!
When someone uses the phrase ‘dark side of the moon’, it goes without saying the first thing that comes to my mind is Pink Floyd’s monumental album. The second thing that comes to my mind is all those geography lessons about how we always see only one side of the moon.

After my 10th standard, (which I completed about 600 years ago), I don’t think I’ve given geography and astronomy much thought, least of all to the moon in particular. It is of course a fascinating subject. But thanks to our examination formats, I ‘learnt’ the facts by rote, without understanding the ‘why’ behind the facts. All other ‘knowledge’ was gained by hearsay and Hollywood and X-files type conspiracy theories. A friend of mine, another dodo like me ‘found’ out about blackholes. “If you manage to travel through a blackhole, you will travel back in time,” she had told me with conviction. Well, that happened to me a lot of times at work, especially during meetings. Then of course, there was the email that claimed that the landing on the moon was humbug and make-believe. And then, the face that appeared on Mars. And about how schizophrenic serial killers keep time with the moon phases. And about how NASA does experiments on alien creatures in secret labs under Arizona desert. Crop circles. UFOs. And many, many more. I am neither a believer nor a non-believer. I just find all this thrilling, a break from a mundane life.

So yeah, up until yesterday evening, for me, the moon was this thing in the sky which affected the tides. And yes, whenever there is a full moon, I love to switch off all the lights and listen to music in the ethereal glow of the moonlight that floods my home. And so far, my favourite moon stories have been Tintin’s Destination Moon and Explorers on the Moon. But yesterday, I learnt about the significance of the moon that made me feel humble; and now, whenever I spot the moon, I shall say a prayer of thanks.

I caught this program about Apache Point Observatory in New Mexico on Nat Geo. They were talking about the APOLLO (Apache Point Observatory Lunar Laser-ranging Operation) project. A set of reflectors have been installed on the moon’s surface (I think this was done during the manned Apollo-11 mission to the moon with Neil Armstrong and team). From a bunch of telescopes in the Apache observatory, laser beams are pulsed at this reflector on the moon’s surface. The beam (when I say beam, it is really in terms of photons) is reflected back. The time taken for each such operation is measured, and therefore, the distance is calculated. This has helped in accurately measuring the distance between the earth and moon – with accuracy to the nearest millimetre! Well, first of all, I found it fascinating that sitting on earth we can flash a light on to the moon’s surface. The distance of 385,000kms is traversed in about 2 seconds. So yes, in contrast, I thought about how we cover half a kilometre in two hours in Bangalore. Or for that matter, it takes nearly 2.5 days to fly from India to USA, while the Apollo 11 took 3.5 days to reach the moon (from Florida)! But was this distance between earth and moon not known? I thought our Aryabhatta had figured it all out thousands of years ago. Yes he had. But this APOLLO project also has other objectives – stuff to do with gravity and relativity theories. Also, this project has revealed that the moon is spinning away from earth at the rate of 3.8 cms per year. And so, what would really happen if the moon eventually orbits out of earth’s gravitational pull? I shrugged my shoulders. No more tides and eclipses perhaps. Boy was I WRONG. No moon, no life. Period. Did I hear wrong? I thought no sun, no life. Well, this was news!

Well, first of all, we know that the earth is tilted on its axis, at an angle of 23.45° to the perpendicular. The four seasons that we experience is because of this tilt. The earth has remained steady on this axis for millions of years, thanks to the gravitational force of the moon. It is because of this tilt that both the northern and southern hemispheres get to enjoy their place in the sun, influencing the evolution and behaviour of so many life forms. Without the moon, the earth would have wobbled on its axis, like Mars, bringing about catastrophic changes in the environment. This wobbling is capable of pushing icecaps of the Arctic and Antarctic towards the equator. Tides as we know it would not have occurred; ocean levels would have risen flooding land mass. Without the moon’s steadying influence, the earth would have spun faster on its axis, resulting in turbulent and destructive weather conditions.

All in all, without the moon, the earth would behave the way I’ll probably behave (when I reach old age) – senile, unpredictable, cranky and involuntarily destructive.

By the time this program ended, the moon was rising over the horizon, and never have I enjoyed a moonrise so much!

While everyone worships the bright, glamorous, colourful, powerful sun; the moon, visible only through the reflected glory of the Sun, has quietly nurtured life on earth in its own way.

And that made me think about life itself. How often we get enamoured and caught up by someone’s in-your-face importance in our lives! How often we relegate to the background the truly beloved ones, the ones who are always an invisible presence in our lives – steadying us, keeping us on the right path...without whom, we would be nothing!

Perhaps philosophy was not meant to be a take-away from this science program – but it made me more humble, more aware and more thankful for people in my life!

Image Courtesy:

Those of you who are interested - this is the video of the first landing on the moon -

And this is the link to the Apache Point Observatory :)

Monday, October 18, 2010


Right from school, the constant emphasis on correct pronunciation, correct grammar, correct tone, correct modulation ... still rings in my head like an irritating calling bell. All of us sounded like Mrs.Marple without exception. But once we stepped out into the big bad world devoid of Mr. Darcy and Holmes and Emma and Lizzie, this outer polish was eroded. English, after all, will always be a foreign language. One can never take out the native tongue from an Indian. I now delightfully slather my English with a dash of Kannada whenever I speak. Something which was done in record time would draw out a "So fast aa?" Or something that went wrong ...yet not so wrong to invite the F word would invite "EEE thu!" At work, the Mrs. Marple's accent was reserved extensively for customer visits.

We have a peculiar love-hate relationship with English. At one point in time, learning English had an elitist value. Putting a child into ‘English medium’ school was as important as vaccinations. Now of course learning English is a necessity; as necessary as brushing one’s teeth. You will not find mums asking other mums if they admitted a child to an English medium school. It’s a given. But even today, there is still a peculiar snob value attached to writing and speaking correct English. In fact, in my opinion, nowhere in the world is a person deemed inferior because he/she cannot communicate in correct English, as is done in India.

Perhaps this attitude has been fostered by corporate India. Agreed, our USP is the large English-speaking youth population; but not all these hundreds and thousands of engineers will be negotiating deals and writing proposals and rubbing shoulders with CxOs. So it has always puzzled me when promotions in technical roles have been stalled citing ‘poor communication skills’. The person in question might have published poetry and novels in a native language, which proves that the communication skills are intact! In the corporate world ‘poor communication skills’ simply means ‘cannot speak/write correct English.’ Pray tell me, why should a hardcore java developer who has a proven track record of building complex software speak correct English? When I say ‘correct’ English – it could be anything ranging from heavy regional accent to faulty grammar! As an organization, should you not look at leveraging on the skills of an employee, and rewarding him/her for the same instead of magnifying non-existent weaknesses?

Once, we had a French customer visiting us. His profile said he had 15 years of experience behind him, and he was the ‘chief architect’ of one of the software modules – a sickeningly complex one at that. When he spoke English, my team and I thought he was speaking a French dialect. We were supposed to discuss an implementation strategy with him. Despite the language barrier, we hit it off – we were after all discussing a technical strategy; amidst rip-roaring laughter thanks to our sign language gimmicks. After he left, one of my colleagues said, “S., I feel sorry I joined an Indian company. I have the same expertise as he does, I have a similar experience as his, both of us have similar English issues...yet, he is miles ahead in his career. I will never get that growth anywhere in India because I cannot speak English like a BBC newsreader.” Sad, but true. Faulty English is attributed to lack of self-confidence, poor communication skills, it negates your professional degree, and you will never pass any interview in India.

I have come across instances where employees stationed at onsite - at client locations, have got poor appraisal ratings in the ‘communications’ department, despite the employee getting glowing accolades from the customer. In my experience, the clients have always been sensitive to the fact that English is not our native tongue, and yet, they appreciate our mastery over it. Their interaction with an Indian employee is not about summing up his/her intelligence based on English speaking skills alone. They respect a person for his/her dedication at work, technical skills and commitment.

Take the way our corporates are traditionally organized. A ‘growth path’ invariably is a vertical movement – and it means you get to lead larger teams, (and therefore do more presentations and maintain more excel sheets). It is a very typical mindset – this idea of power. More people under you, the more powerful you are – more teams, more projects, more departments, more ministry portfolios...and so on. And so, you are considered successful – that you are ‘climbing the corporate ladder’; if you have 75 people under you – and by the next project, this will go up to 125, and therefore, the promotion criteria is fulfilled. ‘Good communication skills’ is a key ingredient for this growth. On the other hand, so what if you are ranked as the world’s 4th best expert on Oracle Financials? You can’t even use powerpoint well to put across your idea. So you will never ever become the CTO!

But then, there are certain areas were English skills are a must – sales and associated roles for example, especially in a global business. During my tenure in a business development support role, I’ve come across such fantastic howlers in some of the business proposals; I almost wanted to start a desi Dilbert strip! During one such routine ‘corrections’ the author of the proposal was so furious with me - ‘how dare I correct his English; he with X number of years experience...etc.etc .’ I was honestly taken aback! I can’t blame him – although I was doing my job of ensuring a faultless proposal gets through. I guess his boss would then write ‘lack of communication skills’ in his appraisal and screw him over. 
And of course, the regional accents are an endless source of mirth. One of my Telugu friends was sent to Munich (in the late nineties apparently) – when travel was still popular only to USA. My friend is now famous for asking for a hamburger without ham. He later told me in his inimitable Telugu accent, “What karmamo karma. Yarning money to eatu, but eating only problemu.” He was one of the best TCP/IP experts I have come across! Another senior manager, a Tamilian, had the habit of rhyming all his words. And it would slip out in all possible situations. During a technical demo, he explained to the QA director of a leading US retailer – “If you use these components, writing code-geed is not necessary.” I drew blood biting my lips, trying not to laugh. He had several such rhymes – “What ya? Not going for this trip-gip and all aa?” or “This component-geemponent is too techie for sales guys ya.”

And of course, ironically, the only Brits I can understand are probably Hugh Grant and Daniel Craig, apart from the BBC folks. The early days in UK were a real struggle. I remember one such incident. I’d been to a convenience store for a regular grocery trip. The guy behind the counter was a desi chap – a Punjabi dude...probably second/third generation immigrant. As I was fishing for my credit card, he said ‘June-ee-baa?’ I looked up. I thought he was speaking in Punjabi to someone. But I saw him looking at me. “I’m sorry?” I said, puzzled.

“June eee baaaa?” he drawled again.

Now I was embarrassed. Was almost about to say “Abe hindi mein bol na!” when he held up a plastic carry bag. Then it struck me. He was asking “Do you need a bag?”

“No, thank you. I don’t NEED A BAG,” I replied politely with all the Mrs.Marple accent I could muster.

All said and done...English is a beautiful language. And let’s have it that way. Let’s not make English a measure of one’s communication ability in corporate India.

Image courtesy - The bard himself -