• Last month, I did something completely unacceptable in my social circles. I watched, and, horror of horrors, actually dared to like two Bollywood films in a row. When your immediate circle of friends comprises chiefly proud Tamils who only watch films in languages nobody in India speaks (Korean, Arabic, Yiddish), this is clearly a no-no.

    The films in question are Dabangg and more recently Do Dooni Chaar. Both are rather good, and there's absolutely nothing wrong in enjoying either of them. But for me, due to this cultural peer-pressure, it's almost as if it's some forbidden, guilty pleasure. Like Bon Jovi. Or eating Boost directly from the jar.

    Take Do Dooni Chaar for instance. It's a delightful film about a middle-class family and their aspirations. It's a superbly written feel good comedy with some absolutely great laughs, poignant moments and some brilliant acting from Rishi Kapoor. (which came as a shock to me. I thought he only did stuff like this)

    Yet, when speaking to my friend

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  • A film and its cover

    Two very nice things happened to me last week. First, Manjula Padmanabhan (friend, multi-talented author and illustrator who once put me in a comic strip with the peerless Suki) dropped in with a gift: a couple of posters that she had designed for Govind Nihalani's Ardh Satya in 1982. Second, I got my hands on a bunch of Criterion Collection DVDs that another friend, Tipu, had picked up for me at a sale in the US. (It was my first brush with legitimately bought Criterions: Tipu had disapproved of my pirated discs from the underground market in Delhi, and decided to help make an honest man out of me.)

    Both the posters and the DVD designs were reminders that high-quality promotional artwork can have a life of its own, even while it enhances one's appreciation of the film. One of Manjula's posters is a large close-up - a drawing done in black ink - of Om Puri's lined, weary face. You might recall that in Ardh Satya, Puri plays a sub-inspector named Velankar who is facing a crisis of

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  • The Pursuit of Friendship

    Money can't buy you love -- but it can rent you friendship. I was taken aback yesterday by an interesting report on the BBC website about how "friend rental services are launching in more and more countries." The report focuses on one such service named Rentafriend, which was originally launched as a "a friendship-cum-social networking site, designed to take advantage of the fact that nowadays people often live far away from where they grew up and work long hours, leaving limited time to meet new people." It is "explicitly stated" on the site that it is "not ... a form of escort or dating service," which the report bears out.

    To use the service, you need to sign up, pay a membership fee, and browse for a friend who you'd like to hang out with. You then rent their time, paying for all expenses incurred while you're spending time with them -- like buying them coffee or tickets to a movie. Then, when the meter runs out, you bid them goodbye -- or maybe take an appointment for another

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  • The Legend of the Turtles

    In 1983, Richard Dennis wanted to settle an argument with William Eckhardt. Dennis, a famous commodities trader, said that trading could be taught as a set of mechanical rules; Eckhardt, a mathematician who had built and traded exactly such mechanical systems, disagreed - he believed there was that little something in a trader that made them successful, something genetic or involving aptitude that made traders great.

    In a setting reminiscent of the movie Trading Places (*), they decided to conduct an experiment. They placed an advertisement in the business dailies requesting applications for traders, mentioning that "Prior experience in trading will be considered but is not necessary." According to Market Wizards (Jack Schwager), more than 1000 people applied, and after a recruitment process involving an exam and interviews, 13 people were selected. Dennis and Eckhardt taught the select traders a "system" - rules that mentioned when to buy, how much to buy and then when to sell. In a

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  • In almost exactly a month, the President of the United States will visit India. There was a time when such occurrences were so rare, you could count them by the decades. Dwight Eisenhower came to India in 1959, on a South Asia tour that also saw him stopping by in Pakistan, where he became the first American president to watch a cricket test match (Pakistan versus Australia). Ten years later, in the worst phase of India-US relations, Richard Nixon dropped by for less than 24 hours. It was another 10 years before Jimmy Carter landed in New Delhi in 1978 for a tepid interaction that saw disagreements on the nuclear issue.

    The breakthrough came in March 2000, when Bill Clinton charmed and mesmerised India, making all the right gestures, saying just what his hosts wanted to hear. It was a landmark.

    In 1955, Nikita Khrushchev and Nikolai Bulganin landed in India, with the Congress and the Communists competing to welcome them. The visit became emblematic of New Delhi's leftward tilt and, in

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  • Down the Drain

    Of the many foolish statements made in the past weeks by organisers of the Commonwealth Games, none was sillier than secretary general Lalit Bhanot's claim that, if some delegates were finding conditions in the Games Village intolerable, it was because "their standards of hygiene differ from us (sic)". Attributing the complaints to "cultural differences", Bhanot explained, "Everyone has different standards about cleanliness. The Westerners have different standards, we have different standards."

    Bhanot's words, entirely deserving of the ridicule heaped on them, were a novel twist to the philosophy of multiculturalism (MC). MC holds that different societies have varying value systems, each of which deserves respect.

    MC ideology was big in the 1990s. In North America, the metaphor of the melting pot was replaced by that of the salad bowl and the mosaic. In Southeast Asia, Lee Kwan Yew and Mahathir Mohamad argued for political systems based on Asian values, specifically a preference for

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