Jurassic Park Revisited

Dr. Grant, my dear Dr. Sattler, welcome …..  to Jurassic Park

I remember it as vividly as if it had happened just yesterday. With great enthusiasm, my father had suggested that we go watch the film at the cinema in our town. They screened foreign films dubbed in Hindi back then and it was no deal breaker for a kid who was just coming to terms with whatever little English he could pick up from dog eared comics of Phantom and Tintin. We were to be disappointed though, as they had removed the film from the screens just the previous week. “Never mind”, consoled my dad and we came back home.

20 years since, I have watched the movie multiple times and not for a single instance (and I generally dislike re-watching a movie) has there been the slightest dip in my enthusiasm. “An adventure 65 million years in the making..” ran the tag line. Not stupendously brilliant, but not hideously cliched either. It does sound grand and magnificent though, just like the spectacle the film turned out to be. I remember my dad remarking “How many times will you watch the damn movie” during a TV screening. I must have lost count, was my honest answer.

If you are watching it in a theater with an excellent sound setup, do not by any chance, miss the opening sequence. The logo of ‘Universal’, accompanying a single beat of a drum, is as ominous-sounding as it can possibly get.

The introduction to Isla Lubnar, preceded by John Hammond’s “..there it is“, consists of a breathtaking visual of the helicopter flying towards the island, first over choppy waters and then over green hills and valleys and miles of untamed forests. John Williams’ THX certified epic soundtrack, hiding in the background till then, rises to a crescendo and shares equal space with the stunning visuals. The scene makes my hair stand on end every time, partly due to the beauty of cinema unfolding in front of me and partly in anticipation of the thrilling adventure that is about to follow.

The helicopter scene in Jurassic Park
The helicopter scene…magnificent cinema !
Jurassic Park's Isla Nublar
Kauai island’s Na Pali coast in Hawaii is Isla Nublar in the film

(Aside: You can read about Kauai island here and a wiki post on the fictional Isla Lublar here)

Minutes later, when the tourists to the island have their first glimpse of a real life specimen in the Brachiosaurus, Alan Grant almost collapses to the ground and Ian Malcolm’s jaw drops in half-disbelief and half-delight. I love to imagine that that same expression must have echoed on audience faces around the world in 1993 for the first time when that Brachiosaurus must’ve dropped its forelegs to the ground and seemingly made the ground beneath Alan Grant and Ellie Sattler shake. How other-wordly the use of CGI and Stan Winston‘s robots must’ve seemed back then !

Ian Malcolm
Malcolm’s first view of a dinosaur – the gigantic Brachiosaurus

It is with great gusto that we, as movie watchers, tighten our seat belts for the pre-historic ride (“The voice you are now hearing is Richard Kiley, we spared no expense!“) along with Grant and co. Along the way, we start believing in Malcolm’s skepticism of the whole thing with his beliefs of chaos theory, debunking Hammond’s control over nature as anything but profound (“..Life, uh, finds its way“). And we start cheering for the laconic and dour Dr. Grant as he guides the children through the park, running from most of the dinosaurs, educating them one moment and saving them from danger the next. And we admire Sattler’s courage in deciding to go outside the bunker all by herself (“We can discuss sexism in survival situations when I get back”) and her tongue-in-cheek take at Malcolm’s view of the park’s future (“Dinosaurs eat man. Woman inherits the earth“).

Without a doubt though, the film belongs to the dinosaurs. It all begins pounding inside your head when ripples form in the water in the glass inside one of the Ford Explorers. From then on, the T-Rex and the raptors and the sound effects play havoc with your adrenaline – the pupil dilation scene, the T-rex with the kids sequence, the jeep chase scene, the raptors in the visitor center sequence. And I will never forget where I first saw “Objects in the mirror may be closer than they appear“.

I am gushing so much, it must be frothing at my mouth too, you’d say. But then, one night while walking along the pavement book sellers of Mumbai, I chanced upon the book (No e-commerce back in those days). The book though, pans out on a scale that can only be screened by your brain inside your head. Full of theories from biology and genetics – DNA combinations and the processes required to create dinosaur DNA, to enable the management to control the breeding and eating habits of the dinosaurs (depriving them of the ability to manufacture the amino acid lysine) on to mathematics – chaos theory explanations, normal distributions depicting population and evidence of breeding among all-female dinosaurs,  to advances in modern science and computing.

Unfortunately, the film does miss out on a lot of narratives featured in the book. For instance, the failure on the management’s part to notice that the park has been running on auxiliary power after Dennis’s mischief, an event which leads them to realize in horror that the electrified fences separating the dangerous dinosaurs had remained off all that time. Then there is Grant leading the kids through the park. They come across almost-tame triceratops, they study sauropods in the open, they are chased by a T-rex down a lagoon and they walk through an aviary that is not a part of the original tour, but is inhabited by pterodactyls. The final sequence has them facing raptors inside the visitor center too, with Grant using toxins to kill the raptors. Some sequences, like the little girl being bitten by a procompsognathus and the aviary sequence were depicted in the 2nd and 3rd installments of the film trilogy. Finally, in the book, when they are deported off the island, Grant is informed by a Costa Rican doctor of some strange patterns of lysine-rich crop consumption inside human cultivated lands by mysterious wild animals.

Quite an engrossing work by the late Michael Crichton, that book led me to read “The Lost World”, “Congo”, “Prey”, “The Andromeda Strain” and almost all of Crichton’s works. In terms of science fiction content and similarity, The Lost World is a must-read if you liked Jurassic Park. Congo is also very similar in the kind of settings the plot is based in.

Digressions apart, the movie does come close to delivering as great an impact as the book, which is saying a lot for any screen adaptation. And the latest 3D version means I can finally watch it on the big screen and be mesmerized yet again, in the way it was originally meant to be seen.

I hope it will be the same decades later as well, when I become a parent and have kids who are fascinated by dinosaurs (who aren’t ?). And I do cherish a hope, as millions of kid harbored in their hearts once, that they do succeed in recreating those big animals in the future. That would make an old man with the heart of a kid, if he is not extinct by then, very very happy.

P.S. More of my tribe: here and here

P. P. S. Interesting documentary on the making of the film here. Watch it to get an insight into how Spielberg and the team at ILM made a path-breaking film that was far ahead of its times.

More documentaries here and here.

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Memories of Bombay

Having spent most of my life in Vasai, I am always confused whenever somebody asks me where my home is. While Mumbai is a sufficient reply for outsiders, Mumbaikars themselves will tell you that Vasai falls well outside the city limits. True that, any time I had to go watch an English movie or pick up clothes from a mall, the first thing I would have to look for is the next convenient local train from Vasai. Don’t get me wrong, Vasai retains a quaint, old world Portuguese charm that will remind you of Goa in more ways than one. But it is simply a case of so near yet so far.

Home…

My father came to Bombay during the late 60s as a young, eager lad seeking a job in a city that was even then, known as the land of opportunities. He tells me that his first proper accommodation was in the railway quarters that you can still see near Matunga railway station. Upon a lot of pestering, he speaks of the charm of those days. Matunga was still developing into a fledgling hub of the south Indian diaspora in those days. It had not even been a decade since the trams had been taken off the roads in Mumbai. Local trains would run empty, even during peak hours. The rotating floor of the Ambassador hotel, visible from his office toilet at the Churchgate station western railway premises, would actually rotate. Cricket was still played at the Brabourne stadium. And you could actually photograph the Gateway of India and the Taj hotel without another soul in sight.

Churchgate station 1930
A file photo of Churchgate station from 1930
Dated photo of JJ Hospital
JJ Hospital. Wikimedia Caption for this photo reads: “Engraving of the Jamsetjee Jeejeebhoy Hospital in Bombay by C. Rosenberg after W. J. Huggins and published by Collett and Co. in 1843. Inscribed: ‘Bombay Native Hospital. This engraving of an important Charitable Institution, founded, and constructed at the joint expense of Sir Jamsetjee Jeejeebhoy & the East India Company, is respectfully dedicated to Sir Jamsetjee Jeejeebhoy, by his obedient servant, W. J. Huggins. (This Building is 400 feet in length & 280 feet in depth).”

(Watch some fantastic photos of Bombay from an earlier era here.)

My earliest memories of the city however, are from the 90s.

Twice a year, my parents would see that my sister and me were fast outgrowing our clothes and we would go to Dadar to shop for new clothes. This trip would also conveniently be undertaken near the summer and Diwali school vacations so that my mother could purchase a few gifts for our relatives down south in Kerala, whom we would visit in the ensuing holidays. Dadar west specifically, used to be a teeming mass of humanity, all of them jostling to sell and purchase things with equal vigor even then. Suvidha on Ranade road would usually be our first stop, followed by a multitude of smaller retail shops on the same road. Bargaining and haggling was a given back then and my mother had developed into quite the expert, sometimes walking out of the shop and being called back by the exasperated shopkeeper willing to sell it at her price. My own opinion of these dresses was solicited sometimes, but it didn’t quite matter in those days. I digress too much, but once shopping was done, our next stop would be Visawa restaurant on the adjacent road. Now this is one Udupi joint that curiously enough, I haven’t read about anywhere. Queues here would extend long enough on a Sunday and we would have to wait our turn in the sun to get a table for four. Our typical order would be 3 South Indian thalis with me having to share a thali with my sister who would take it upon herself to polish off the Gulab Jamun entirely.

Sometime during my vacations, my father would take me to his office at Churchgate which would be my first real sight of town, as South Mumbai (how I wish they had retained the name Bombay. It sounds so much grander than its present moniker) is popularly known. He would point out Wankhede stadium from the outside (One day cricket was only just becoming the cash king of Indian sports then). Churchgate railway station itself, with its huge raised ceilings looked magnificent to my eyes. As did the railway headquarters bang opposite it. Eros theatre would look out from across the road at both of these buildings. Sometimes, we would go to fashion street to strike a good bargain on some clothes, if need  be. However, we would most surely take a stroll down DN Road and sometimes even Colaba whence he would point out various land marks (the Azad Maidan, the Oval Maidan, the huge VSNL headquarters, the police headquarters and the BMC headquarters, the gateway and the Taj hotel). I would stop at the book sellers on the pavement and peer at the tall columns of books. Once we took a taxi ride to the grand Victoria Terminus station which, I took for another one of those grand buildings built by the British. The fact that there was actually a railway station inside would astound me no end. Evenings would be when we would walk on marine drive. The setting sun, the strong breeze, groundnuts and coconut water would be a perfect complement to the experience. A few months ago, I was literally dying of thirst in Halebeedu in Karnataka when we saw a few coconut vendors outside. The coconuts, priced at 15/- each were enormous, the biggest I’d ever seen in my life and the sight of a little boy, unable to finish his coconut water elicited quite a few smirks and laughter, taking me back to the times on marine drive when my own stomach was too small to accommodate something similar. I also have faint recollections of visiting the Kochu Guruvayoor temple in Matunga as a kid and partaking of their ‘annadaanam’ (lunch).

It was only when I grew into my teens that I saw a bit more of Mumbai. Morning classes at Agrawal’s on Dadar TT would mean walking on the streets of Dadar, passing by Pritam Restaurant and eating the delicious, piping hot samosa at Damodar Mithaiwala. Mock tests conducted at a school near Podar college would mean walking through the charming bylanes of Hindu colony dotted with pockets of greenery on which the morning sun would cast an ethereal glow. Engineering days meant hanging out with friends at quite a few places in Mumbai. A bunch of us computer geeks would head over to Lamington road to shop for computer accessories. From Lamington Road, once we had to go to meet a relative of a friend and the taxi we caught drove through Kamathipura. For the first time in my life, I witnessed the seedy underbelly of Mumbai, a memory that even today, drives me sick at the depths of human depravity. Happier memories pervade though, with a sunny evening spent with friends at the Haji Ali promenade, wolfing down grilled sandwich and juices at the Haji Ali juice centre. I also remember battling heavy rain, slowing trains and clogged roads many a time, but particularly when once, 3 of us, hopeful of catching Spiderman 2 at the enormous Dome theatre in Wadala, found the shows house-full for the next 3 days. (It is only recently, that I managed to catch a movie at the Dome, travelling from Bangalore to Mumbai to catch The Dark Knight Rises, that too a show at 0700 in the morning on a Monday) Outsiders may balk at the level of flooding Mumbai faces every monsoon but I honestly feel that the city is at its most beautiful when it rains.

The reason I am smitten with these beautiful memories are because of two fantastic blogs (1 and 2) that I came across the other day. A quick Google maps view of the city confirms my fears – I still have barely scratched the surface of Mumbai and that too, after living for a quarter of a century in its vicinity.

Therefore, I have made a list of a few things that I want to experience before they die out or before life takes me to some other place distant from Mumbai. Listed below, in no particular order are some of them.

1. Eat in one of the few Irani restaurants that still dot the city landscape, at one of the famous South Indian eateries in Matunga and also try the buttermilk-in-beer-bottle at Bhagat Tara Chand as well as the lunch at Mahesh Lunch Home and Chicken ala Pouse at Samovar, Jehangir Art Gallery among others

2. Throng the crowds during the annual Ganeshotsav immersion ceremony, and watch the human pyramid formation during the Vijayadashamai celebrations in pockets of Central Mumbai

3. Take in the waves during the monsoons while walking the complete stretch of Marine Drive

4. Go to the Worli/Bandra fort and look out at the shimmering lights of the Bandra-Worli sea link as the sun goes down

5. Visit the Bhendi Bazaar – Mohammed Ali Road stretch during the nights of Ramzan…

…By no means is this a bucket list that seems to be bandied around by most people on social media these days. This is just my hope of a journey, rediscovering a city that I have tremendous respect for.

There are a great many of these things to discover in Mumbai and if you, dear reader, can contribute just one of them – well known or obscure, i’ll add them to the above list. 

Aaj ka ye episode….

Flop Show
Flop Show (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Honestly, I never found Ulta Pulta funny when I was a kid. For someone who still doesn’t understand politics even in his late 20s, a satire based on politics and the Indian economy would quite obviously have been too dense back then. But Flop Show was an entirely different matter altogether. I didn’t know his name back then, but for millions of Indians, Jaspal Bhatti will forever be remembered as the brains behind one of the best comedy series on national television.

Aaj ka ye blog post therefore, dear reader, is dedicated to a few gems that I will always fondly remember with more than a chuckle, from Flop Show.

1. Doctor’s watch Episode

Bhatti as the doctor performing a primary checkup on his marwari patient (Shauq), elicits a dog like yelp from the patient. And then with great horror, realizing that his father-in-law’s watch was left inside the patient’s body during the surgery, decides to perform another surgery to remove the watch. The last few seconds of the episode, when the location of the watch is finally disclosed, is outrageously funny.

2. Contractor Episode

BN Sharma plays a thief who scans the local papers and pinpoints a shoddily constructed housing society to his protege. One of the best moments in this episode occurs when the protege implores his boss to improve his snigger, “Ustad, hasna to seekh lo“. Hilarity ensues when the contractor whom Bhatti files a complaint against, gets a commendation from the police for helping capture the 2 thieves, when the shoddy wall falls on them while they are committing the theft.

3. Ph. D Episode

Bhatti tries to off load his problematic car on to one of his hapless Ph. D students. Watch how this student tries to persuade his father to buy the car for him. In another scene, Bhatti asks Vivek Shauq about his experiment in the laboratory, to which he retorts with a straight face “Sir, chai bana raha tha sir“. Brilliance.

4. Meeting Episode

This episode is my favorite for it has umpteen moments of pure hilarity. “Ek to apne desh ke choohe bade uneducated hai, VIP ke fileon ke pehchaante hi nahi“. Bhatti’s great attention to detail ensures a seating plan for the meeting that has red points, indicating gulab jamuns and blue points, indicating where samosas will be kept. That is when his secretary asks him, “Lekin Sir, meeting ka agenda kya hoga” to which he replies “Agenda to kal bhi dekh lenge, lekin mind it, samose kacche nahi hone chahiye.

All these episodes and more can be found at this link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fIstUOqFthY&feature=BFa&list=PLC8CC6F179F598DAA

Do take a dekko and write in about your favorite moments from Flop Show.

Of trivial pursuits in childhood..

One of my earliest exposure to acts of wanton violence was a game called ‘Ops-Bats’ that was popular among most kids in my town. The pernicious little game was played out something like this: every time you sat down, you had to shout ‘Bats’ to the person you were playing it with. Otherwise, he was entitled to punch you in the back with all the strength his closed fist could muster. And again, if you had a moment of epiphany and decided to stand up like a mushroom in the monsoons, you were obliged to shout ‘Ops’, failing which, Zeus would take his thunderbolt, use various scientific formulae to wield the same power with his closed fist and drive it down your innocent back. Many a time, a hapless  victim of the thunderbolt would swear vengeance, and await an opportunity to return the favour. With a run-up that would put even a performance-drug-enhanced Shoaib Akhtar to shame, he would strike down upon the unsuspecting victim without the slightest of pity while the recipient would moan in agony. And that would put matters to rest, at least until the next round.

Another game went by the innocuous name of ‘Jolly’ and was a favorite pastime in the growing up years. According to the rules of the game, you had to mark a small dot in the lower left area of your left palm (the fleshy part extending from below your thumb) every morning before reaching school. If, god forbid, that dot was missing on a particularly gloomy day, the opposition (which of course would have a beautiful little dot marked on their palms) had the right to demand anything: toys, comics, land,  riches, women – but crazily enough would settle for a chocolate or a candy. Sometimes, people would unearth the mildest of spots on their palms (made 2-3 days ago from the last ‘Ae ! Jolly Dikha !’ they had proudly answered to), much like an archaeologist unearths a fossil, and point it out to the disapproving glance of the opposition. It is a wonder however that nobody I’ve even remotely heard of, has paid his due in kind after being caught without a ‘Jolly’. Which brings us to the whole point of why actually someone would play this game. Don’t ask me though, yours truly doesn’t have the slightest clue how this game could have been invented, or where it could have originated from.

Yet another favorite pursuit in the glory days would be the game of ‘Statue’. You just had to point your gun (your fingers making up the imaginary gun barrel) at anybody and mouth the magic word: ‘Statue’ and that person would instantly freeze into a statue with not the slightest of movement. If he so much as fluttered an eyelid, it would mean a loss and he would have to come out of statue-mode and spend 14 years in exile and complete abstinence from drinks, tobacco, women, other pleasures of life; you get the picture .

And how can you forget the trump cards ? You see, some company had the brains to cash in on the sports entertainment wrestling brouhaha and had come out with flash cards for each of the wrestlers. One face of the card would have a wrestler’s photograph and the other side would have details on their height, chest size, matches fought, matches won etc. So you would match up against another guy with half the cards from the same deck, draw a card and bet on your card’s wrestler whose chest size or matches-won would hopefully, be greater than your opponent’s card. And sometimes, a particular wrestler’s card would be worth its weight in gold, with the proud owner of the card lucky to be in the possession of a collector’s item while the rest of the neighborhood tried their damned best to persuade him to trade that card in exchange for miniature cars, a chance to open the batting when playing a cricket match against the neighbouring housing complex, a video game cartridge or even coins from British India (no guesses as to the moron who did that).

A big savior in those trying times was the versatile ‘time-please’ (an Indian cousin of the globally renowned time-out). It was utilized to great effect during exams, or during the rainy season when rains would wash out your painfully drawn Jolly, or when you had to stand up in class to answer a teacher’s damned question, or when parents were nearby. I sometimes wonder if these games are still played today, or if we’ve lost it to the omnipresent cell phone-PSP culture. Ah well, the times..they do change quickly, don’t they ?