Joker 2008 vs 2019

Well, I finally got myself to watch the Joker – the one with Joaquin Phoenix, and after the show, it inevitably gets you to compare the performance of Joaquin with the Joker brought to life by Heath Ledger. And to cut out the suspense, Heath Ledger’s performance will never be topped. There I said it. I have had endless discussions on Heath’s portrayal of the Joker, and every time you think of that Joker & his calculated unleashing of chaos, it leaves you scared. I remember watching the movie in the theater and I remember being very disturbed by his antics. Classic quotes like “Some men just want to watch the world burn.” stick with you and resonates when you see and hear some of the stuff that goes on in this world today. While Heath’s Joker was a cruel sadist who enjoyed bringing out the evil within the man for his pleasure, Joaquin’s Joker is just an angry soul who is out to vent it on people. He is not into mindgames, he doesn’t want to test their morals, he just wants to get even. And I think that’s about what I can conclude from this movie. Don’t get me wrong, Joker (2019) is a very good movie, and considering how we are flooded with big bang superhero movies with very less substance, this is levels above its peers.

Also, its a bit unfair to expect anyone to top Heath’s performance. That was a once in a lifetime performance, made even more untouchable for the sheer fact that he never had a chance to reprise it and he actually never even got to a stage where he could give his thought process of how he approached the character and what he aimed for the character to deliver. He never lived to see the cult following that character gained.

To be fair to Joaquin, watching Joker, it clearly shows that he knew what he was up against, and he did put it in his all for the character. He was consistent in his character. But there is only so much he could do within the confines of the script. Heath, in hindsight, had a much superior canvas to play his role and by this I mean, great cast, exceptional talents in Nolan brothers.

In the end, I was left with the feeling of satisfaction, Joker managed to be a respectable second to the Dark Knight, but its that gap between the two that keeps a good movie from being into a timeless classic.

Phir ek baar?

Did Modi decide that he wanted to become the PM of this nation, or did Amit Shah decide that he will make Modi the PM of this nation. I always wonder how it was? Was there a day, perhaps when the two of them sat for a tea and one of the above happened.

India is voting to elect its 17th Lok Sabha. 900 million Indians are eligible to vote except maybe in WB where non-Indians too will vote 😉 This is the worlds biggest democratic exercise. This time around there will be 7 polling days spread over a month. The results should be out on May 23rd. Leading the BJP, current ruling party, is Narendra Modi, who in my humble opinion, is the world’s best politician. As he goes in for re-election, he has effectively made this election a referendum on himself. He runs the most cutting edge campaign in India’s history. Its made up of massive rallies all across the nation (typically 3-4 rallies a day, & he speaks for about 40-50 mins) All his speeches are a clever mix of nationalist issues, local issues, his performance, and his ideas for the next 5 years. His speeches have a good amount of rhetoric, blaming the past governments for stifling India’s progress for the past 6 decades, primarily the Nehru-Gandhi era & the current state government if its not a BJP government. When he is not campaigning, he is doing ‘exclusives’ with national & local media. He also finds time to sit down for a chat with a very popular Bollywood Actor to talk non-political aspects of his life and makes it too into a political masterstroke. His social media accounts actively engage the masses. He was even able to scout the social media for the INS Viraat vacation incident and make it into a major issue in the last stages of this elections. All this keeps the opposition miles behind. It feels like the opposition is still stuck in the early 2000s in terms of the campaigning strategy.

I attended his campaign rally in Bangalore. What I realized is that he has a very precisely crafted persona. I am sure that a lot of detail goes into projecting Narendra Modi that we see in the media & on stage. Not that it’s a bad thing. In a country like ours, you need a larger than life image to cut across the regional, communal, language barriers, else you will end up just being a regional stalwart, like the current crop of leaders found in the MahaThugBandhan.

Modi has successfully converted this election into a vote on his 5 years of PM-ship. I have always maintained, that you take out Modi from the BJP, and BJP is just another slight upgrade on Congress. He shows the killers instinct when the need arises. He can very well get down into a bare-knuckle street-fight (like the Bhrashtachari no 1 comment) just before polls in places where Sikhs have a significant influence. I believe he understands that there no point holding the higher moral ground & losing like Atalj in 2004. Indians need a tamasha when it comes to politics. He knows it.

Of course, ‘Ghar mein guske marenge’ narrative post-Pulwama, boosted his national image even further as he came across as a leader who is not afraid to deal with Pakistan in a language that they understand. As the elections got underway, one could see the undercurrent of his social schemes like LPG scheme, electrification of villages, rural sanitation, Mudra loans becoming discussion points amongst the common folks.

Another key narrative was set in Bengal, where thanks to TMC, BJP got into the driver’s seat on Hindutva. Bengal helped reaffirm the pro-Hindu stance of the BJP, which I feel they could not do it UP owing to the stalemate on Ram Janma Bhoomi issue. Coming to UP, the MahaThugBandhan became more of the top-down approach aimed clearly by salvage the political careers of the Yadav Parivaar and Mayawati. The masses I feel never really bought it as it’s like getting the North and the South Pole of a magnet to join together.

Another key issue was the opposition crying Rafale all over India. And it never seemed to become a key issue. The opposition peaked too soon on this. My personal opinion is that it became too complex for most to understand. It didn’t help that Rahul kept changing the numbers at every rally. Modi on the other hand never gave it any importance. ‘Chowkidar Chor Hai’ has to be one of the most ill-conceived one-liner in a campaign. Whoever came up with it and whoever approved it must be fired straight away. Modi kept his campaign fresh. He shifted into the top gear very close to the actual polling dates. Also, he played it smart with his talk with Akshay Kumar, that made up for the ban on the movie, his biography, by the EC.

While I am no expert, my observation is that the people who in 2014 voted Modi, who at that time was fairly inexperienced at the national stage and foreign affairs, have seen enough to vote for him again. Of course, the Modi government never went overboard appeasing the middle-class, though it did it in bits and pieces, except for maybe in the last budget. But doles are not what most middle class want. Safe cities, better infrastructure are important considerations too for them. Also, ‘There is no alternative’ is also a valid reason to vote Modi. Another small and yet significant segment that I would expect to vote him is the non-minority(2 of those) non-political electorate that may be motivated to vote him just because he has given a relatively stable, clean govt and seen his personal work ethic in the last 5 years. I assume a lot of first-time voters, and females voters to be part of this. At this point, credit must be also given to lots of groups who generated a lot of awareness on radio and social media that has made voting a pretty cool thing to do. While I was voting I saw quite a few first-time voters, waiting to get inked so that they could then snap a selfie and post it in their social circles just to get that – ‘I am responsible youth’ swagger 🙂

Another factor I have seen within my social media circle is that the voter, both urban and rural seems to clearly differentiate between a state and a national election. It also helped that the much-hyped loan-waivers promised by Congress when they won the state elections in late 2018 became a fiasco, with allegations of corruption which served a timely reminder as to what Congress brings to the table when in power. The quick deterioration in law and order in these states also grabbed headlines leading up to the national polls. People didn’t really buy into the NYAY especially looking at the Congress track record and it also had the middle class spooked as they realized that to fund this mega waste, it would inevitably mean more taxes, cesses on the middle class. Sam Pitroda and PC in a way confirming it by asking the middle class to be more generous in uplifting the less privileged.

So what are my predictions? Well, it’s not easy to put a number out. If I just go state wise, it’s difficult to imagine BJP could fare better than 2014. They already maxed out in BJP friendly state last time around. So the head says crossing 270 would be difficult. But if I go by my heart, and just looking at various snippets of simple people talking so passionately about Modi all over the country, the hordes of volunteers campaigning for Modi, I am inclined to say 320-330. But now the results are less than a week away. Surprisingly, none of the BJP supporters seem to be considering a remote possibility of BJP stumbling to less than 200. I shudder to think how these folks may react to a non Modi PM. The opposition seems to have already begun targeting the judiciary to create obstacles in the parliamentary process post results. EC has already been termed pro-Modi. EVMs are already faulty. And BJP voters already accused of being fascists.

Well if indeed Modi is our next PM, then the credit only goes to him and the huge trust capital that he has amassed with the people of India in the last 5 years. This trust capital is what has motivated crores to vote Modi in 2019 which the BJP and all their candidates are banking on the 23rd of May 2019.

Respect

Yesterday was election day in Bangalore for the 2019 Lok Sabha. I have my name enrolled in Indiranagar. I haven’t changed it to Hennur, because I don’t want to fix what’s not broken. I am not sure if I fully trust the Election Commission to transfer my vote to Hennur without any hassles. People who have lived in Bangalore for decades, voted as recent as 2018, find their name deleted this election. But that’s a story for another blog.

Standing in the queue for voting is always a moment of reflection for me. Though I have never experienced serpentine queue, instead, each one so far has been a pretty relaxed experience. The people who come out to vote always seem to have a sense of duty towards our democracy. Ours is not a perfect one by a long mile, but it’s also not the worst. Also, in the mix for this sense of duty, there are the first time voters who radiate enthusiasm, though I get confused – Is it for the election process? or the ubercool inked selfie to announce to their friends on social media that they are now responsible enough to participate in the process that decides the course this nation takes.

Yesterday, while I was queuing up to vote, in the uncharacteristically hot Bangalore summer, I witness a very memorable incident. A very senior citizen walks in to cast his vote helped by middle aged man who I later came to know was his son in law. What struck me was his 1000-watt smile as he was greeted by many folks, both young and old as he made his way inside the polling station. The respect he was getting was what got me curious. As a senior citizen, he quickly went in the booth, voted and came out. Even as he was being helped back into his car, many more people went over to him and greeted him. He cheerfully acknowledge all of them. The person standing behind me, another ‘young’ senior citizen also said hi to this old man. When he had left, I asked the gentleman behind me, who that person was. Was he some office bearer of some local organisation? a politician? The gentleman behind me replied – ‘He is nobody, but just a simple teacher, who has taught a lot of folks in that neighbourhood’. And I thought to myself – but of course!

As I gathered back my thoughts, I also remembered how my father-in-law also gets a lot of respect when he moves around in his town. He was a teacher too. At the end of the day, I can think of only two professions in India and perhaps the world, that can garner such respect from ordinary folks – Doctors & Teachers. I am an engineer by profession, I can never hope to get such adulation. There is something noble about the profession of doctors & teachers. One helps save lives, the other helps us to make our lives. I have very fond memories of my school days. I still vividly remember my teachers that have taught me. And when my thoughts wander to those days, they always bring a smile on my face. Be it Gopi teacher, or Surlacar Sir, or Mrs Surlacar, or my maths teacher Smita, or my science teacher Linda or Amonkar Sir, or Thakur teacher or Volvoikar Sir or Sunanda Pai teacher. All I can say is that I am grateful!

It’s a noble, albeit an underpaid profession. But at the end of the day, I guess it makes up for it when you walk around with a stick and people stop by and greet you with smile with nothing but gratitude and then there is this one guy who doesn’t know you, asks around to know who you are and then you leave an imprint on him too…

Pulwama attack 2019

Yet another ghastly attack on the Indian Armed Forces. The perpetrators the usual JEM. Our response… well thats the tricky part.

URI2??? Or another measured silence??? or some other Out-Of-Box response that will catch all of us by surprise.

The timing of this attack puts Modi in a very uncomfortable situation. The recent hit movie URI, seen by a majority of Indians has brought in focus the perils of serving in the Indian Armed Forces specifically those deployed in the conflict zone. It, also for the first time, brought into the focus the aftermath of such attacks especially for the family and the loved ones of the martyrs. Earlier we used to focus only on the soldiers. I am hundred percent sure that today, for the first time, all the thoughts of the people of India are with the family of the soldiers who were martyred. Every one of us is picturing a wife, a daughter, a son, a mother of each of the these soldiers. Yes, it’s a difficult day today.

Emotions are running high… everyone wants revenge. But you must also realise that the Pakistani Army, who surely is responsible for this in some capacity, will be on high alert. The JEM will also be on high alert. So that leaves URI2 as a high risk option. Modi will also need to take into consideration the LokSabha elections which are due in a couple of months. Any miscalculation can be disastrous. But at the same time, if his actions bear fruits, it will guarantee a second term.
Pulling out of the Indus water treaty is a more diplomatic options, plus, we could also stop all trades with Pakistan. But will it really be crippling?

Also, since the attack is fresh, all media outlets will be harping ‘Revenge’ but this narrative will change over the coming days to a more moderate tone as the usual Pakistani sympathisers who are hiding today, will start appearing in the news studios and social media sphere and blabber about how an unproportionate response could diminish the support for this Fight-Againt-Terror.

I personally think, that if the Indian Govt can, they should take out Masood Azhar soon. And may be a few others just as a cherry on the cake. Some sort to armed escalation would also help. But this will require elaborate planning and could be expensive also. This has an added risk that if it spirals out of control so close to the national elections, it could undo all the work done in the last 5 years by this govt. Plus this would undoubtedly invite pressure from the international community, primarily US & China. But it’s an options none the less.

Either which way he choses, Modi’s political acumen will be tested this time. He himself has come out and said that the sacrifice of the jawans will not be in vain. His senior ministers have also echoed the same. So this has to manifest in tangible actions else the opposition will make this a poll issue. If there is no response, then the Congress President will not stop screaming about it in all his rallies leading upto the polls. All the other members of the Thugbandhan will also be critical of how the issue was be handled by the PMO.

So as it stands, this is a difficult time for the nation and it’s leadership. All eyes will be on the PMO. I hope that the action Modi choses, surprises us. Honestly, I don’t think the end to this conflict is near. It’s a vicious cycle. But in this day & age, no retaliation is a sign of cowardice rather than upholding of Gandhian principles.

Jai Hind!

Crazy Flagship Prices

Apple launched the iPhone X at a thousand bucks. The top end costs $1200. This was in 2017. In 2018, iPhone XS Max tops at a staggering $1449. Every other flagship device that launched since has tested the $1000 dollar mark. These are crazy prices. Really crazy. Pause for a moment… Are mobile devices, which inherently have a lifespan of 24-30 months worth $1000+ ?

The answer I predict will be revealed in 2019 refresh cycles. Thats when the first generation of these flagship typically come up for replacement. The flagships of today are without a doubt the most fantastic piece of devices. State-of-the-Art! But will people be tempted to upgrade these devices with every launch? I believe, that most people will hold on to these devices a while longer. This would mean lower sales of the flagship phones released post 2019. Apple, Samsung made their billions selling us millions of phones in the mid 2010s. To make these billions, the companies required that their products see mass adoption. Not be seen as exclusive devices, but be the daily drivers. That was exactly what these two companies managed to achieve. The flagships where priced such that people could afford them, most of the time subsidised by the carriers. I remember the first time I got my self a flagship. It was the Samsung S3. It was a perfect phone… fast, great camera… but for exactly 2 years. Then it started to slow. The battery began to die quickly. The next flagship I picked was the iPhone 6s. This was even better than the S3. It lasted for more than 2 years before the battery-gate kicked in. Luckily, I replaced the battery under the Apple Battery Replacement program. My current flagship is, well not exactly a ‘flagship’, but rather the ‘Flagship Killer’ OnePlus 6. Most of my phones are less than $650 thanks to buy-in / trade-in schemes. When I was looking to upgrade my iPhone 6s, the iPhone X was not even in the shortlist. It’s price even with the offers didn’t really justify. Plus, the user reviews of OnePlus 6 were great. Good build, good camera, fast OS, good battery with dash charge at less than half the price.

Today, the mobile market is a mature market. The differences between the high end phones has never been this close. So when experts rate a phone, there almost never is an unanimous winner anymore. And with phones that cost less than $500, replacing them in 2 years is always a possibility. Replacing a $1000+ phone in two years is also a possibility, but what will be interesting is the number of people who ACTUALLY go for replacement. The early reports suggest that the sales of iPhone XS are lower than expected. Samsung too is being given a tough fight by Huawei.

Another factor that will matter is that in the last 3-4 years none of the manufacturers have leap-frogged in terms of innovation. The hardware of this devices today are easily future proof for at least 2-3 years. Personally, I find their pursuit for the bezel less display laughable. I would instead prioritise a bigger battery or an indestructible display any day. Keep the bezels and put in as many sensors as possible if you ask me. Phones have moved on from being just a device for communication. They are a device that have an untapped potential as utility devices, health monitors, navigation devices, digital wallets.

Smartphones, especially the flagships, will need to realise, that $1000+ prices is not sustainable. They will still sell, but the sweet spot lies well below this price point. Apple just announced their quarterly results and the sales are way below. They sugar coated it by saying that the battery replacement program caused a hit. Also the phones of today are so good that people are happy to keep them for more than 2 years, which in plain english is saying that our new phones are just too expensive for people of upgrade, so they rather squeeze out every penny of the earlier $1000 device till they pick up the next $1000+ device. And god forbid if they get their hands on a device like OnePlus. Cause if they use if for a few days, they will realise what a daylight robbery the $1000+ devices are.

Manufacturers have to revisit the pricing of the earlier days when they were killing it in terms of sales. They have to cut down on their fancy bezel less, 4K targets. But rather put in better speakers, bigger batteries, unbreakable screens. If they don’t, then the next OnePlus like story is just waiting to happen.