Wednesday, July 31, 2013

The Beirut Bonanza

Lebanon was only about Civil Wars, Shawarmas & Bomb Blasts till I came to Kuwait! Since then, it is also about gorgeous females, beautiful locales & other lip-smacking food too!

Thanks to my job I recently got an opportunity to travel to Beirut for 3 days – albeit it was an official hiring trip I was really excited about exploring some parts of the historic city in whatever time I had! It was a wonderful trip & I had a real awesome time – Hiring, Eating and Exploring! This was also going to be the first International Trip for my new Camera which I bought in March – The Sony HX20V to check what it was really capable of…

Wednesday 24th April 2013 ||| KuwaitBeirut

We took a Jazeera Airways flight from Kuwait & reached Beirut at 9 PM & were greeted to an empty Airport! No crowd at all; the Immigration was seamless too…and when we reached the Exit it was a very nice & different feeling – for a change I was the only Indian in the crowd! Yes strange but true…we were a group of 5 people; 2 Lebanese, 1 Serbian & 1 Egyptian! True global diversity…in the past I have travelled to Thailand & Dubai and everywhere there were fellow Indians so it was a very different feeling to be a special one in the crowd with people giving you those looks – “yeh kahan ka hai?” ;)

The city was almost like Delhi with the hustle-bustle & the big-wide roads. The only difference being a large number of tunnels which we don’t find in Delhi…we reached the most famous street of Beirut – Hamra Street where our Hotel was based & it looked all so familiar…cars honking & bumper-to-bumper traffic…the feel was real nice I must say! Even spotted a Bata Showroom to get more familiar with the surroundings…we checked into Hotel Crowne Plaza, freshened up and then decided to hit the street! The 2 Lebanese colleagues decided the Pub for the night – Brick’s which was right on the main road & a Real Madrid match was being shown on the Big screen which meant a lot of noise & crowd! But I was soaking it in; very different from Kuwait where we don’t witness any such scenes soaking with Beer & Loud Music!

And here I witnessed the first oddity of Lebanon; though owing to external factors. While we were sitting at the Pub at a place which was right next to the road a young kid came selling Chewing Gum & tapped my shoulder to sell his stuff & I was like “Wow, this is new”…my Lebanese colleagues told me he was part of the many Syrian Refugees who have come to Lebanon to run away from the raging Civil War; later I saw many such refugees; begging & sleeping on the streets too!

We had a wonderful time at Brick’s; discussing myriad things about Lebanon & the Middle East and also eating some real nice food! And owing to my health restrictions the only “drink” I had that night was chilled water! But I have got used to it now & don’t mind it much! We finally called it a day at 1 AM as we had to wake up early the next day for the main agenda of our trip! Day 1 of the Campus Recruitment Fair at American University of Beirut (AUB). And I was understandably very excited for the day ahead!

Thursday 24th April 2013 ||| Beirut ki Masti – Day 1

Surprisingly I woke up at 6:30 AM even when I slept so late; maybe due to all the excitement! We were supposed to start from our hotel for the AUB Campus at 9 AM, I decided not to waste my time turning & toppling in the bed but to go for a walk through the Hamra Street to the beach and it was definitely a sane decision I made!

Saw the biggest Street Art piece I had ever watched on Hamra Street painted on the side of a very tall building and it was brilliant! More details here:

The City was just waking up after a busy night, vegetable vendors were setting their road shops, Grocery Shops were getting their daily deliveries, some people were jogging, some were going to their office and some like me were just idly walking through! I asked for the route towards the beach from a passerby & when I told him I was from India he was so damn excited, he said “this is the first time I am talking to an Indian!” had a brief chat with him and then walked towards the beach. And noticed a street named “Mahatma Gandhi Street”, was definitely a nice feeling to see that board!

Went till the Beachside in some real nice, clear & sunny weather and had a long walk & I rued the fact that I wasn’t wearing proper shoes else would have walked a bit longer enjoying that weather & the sea! Plus had to get back to the Hotel to get ready, have breakfast and leave for the campus so decided to leave…but had a real nice time  for sure…reached the hotel & had a nice & heavy breakfast – the best part about a hotel stay has always been the breakfast for me. The big spread this time was brilliant too & I ate my heart out!

Reached the Campus at 9:30 AM and what a beautiful campus it was! Right next to the Beach, old-colonial style buildings and greenery all over the place! AUB is a very old University (started in 1866) and is ranked as the first American university located outside of the U.S.A & the campus is spread across 61 acres! I was amazed by the beauty of the place & had a nice walkthrough clicking pics & reading about the history of the various buildings! There was a huge Car Bomb attack here in November 1991 & some buildings were damaged too; luckily nobody died!

Had a long walk through the Campus soaking in the history & the greenery of the Campus and taking a lot of pics! Remembered the good old days of my GIM Hostel which was also located at a gorgeous & picturesque location! The best part was the Football Ground view – with the Sea right next to it and snow clad mountains visible at a distance…perfect place to study & unwind I say!

Our company’s stall was quite active throughout the day with lot of students coming to enquire about the available job opportunities and it was real fun to interact with some of them! Right next to us was Google’s stall so you can imagine the footfalls! And we gained a lot due to our lucky location…

And then disaster struck! We got KebabJi pre-packed Packets for lunch and as always I was hungry so gobbled the Shish Taouk-Khabooz-Lamb Kebabs Meal quickly! And within an hour so my stomach started acting weird; had a real bad pain & just couldn’t sit; I am sure some bacteria in the Meat had set in & it screwed my system! I decided to leave for my hotel and take a long nap…woke up at around 7 in the evening with still some pain in my tummy…went to the Pharmacy Shop opposite my Hotel to buy some Food Poisoning medication recommended by Bandita…came back & watched a Hitchcock Movie “The Man Who Knew Too Much” before ordering a customized Dinner…Had Dal Soup, Buns and Curd Rice made for me! Big Thanks to the Crowne Plaza Head Chef who personally talked to me and took this order! He was a Lebanese but know what would best suit a Food Poisoning struck & stuck Indian! Had a nice sleep afterwards and I hoped for a better day ahead!

Friday 25th April 2013 ||| Beirut ki Masti – Day 2

Woke up nice & fresh free of any pain or discomfort thanks to the medicines and the healthy dinner! Got ready and went for the breakfast – this time had a light one! Thankfully!

The day was going to be a busy one as we had to take interviews through the day starting at 10 AM and by the day we finished the day I had taken 22 interviews & was completely drained out but the evening plans kept me going as finally planned to explore some parts of Beirut before flying off to Kuwait the next day! We left AUB after finishing our work at 5 AM, got back to our hotel, freshened up and were ready to rock Beirut at 6 PM!

Started with some Lebanon Souvenir shopping for friends & family; bought a real nice collection of stuff from a small – old school shop run by a very old gentleman who was more than happy to sell his stuff to an Indian! Had a nice conversation with him about India & his interpretations of our country! Wished him goodbye and went towards the Landmark Location of Lebanon!

The Pigeon Rock formation in the Raouché Area of Beirut is almost the National Symbol of Lebanon! The moment I saw them, I was mesmerized and amazed at the sheer beauty of the place! Even amidst the hustle & bustle of this touristy location I was lost for quite some time and my camera never stopped clicking! Wanted to stay here till eternity but then had other places to visit!

And then the second mishap of Beirut…our taxi driver was a Syrian (most probably a War Refugee), we had negotiated a rate of 40,000 Lebanese Pounds (yes you read it correctly; 1 Kuwaiti Dinar is equal to approximately 5500 LP!) but when we reached our destination he demanded 1,00,000 LPs! And we were stuck; he shouting at us & we couldn’t even understand even a word of what he was saying! It was a panicky situation as he got really aggressive…somehow we managed to ward him off; paid the 40,000 amount and ran away from the scene!

After this heated session we reached the Beirut Marina Area to witness the Sunset but unfortunately were 10 minutes late! Still the place looked beautiful in the fading light & the just-switched-on bulbs & lights! We were spoilt for choice for our Dinner Destination; there were so many restaurants here and even an Indian one – Moti Mahal! I wanted to try some seafood so went to Babel Bay Restaurant which was a fine dining resto and looked damn impressive and as Angelika said “very expensive but awesome food”! I said let’s try it out! Luckily we got a table for 2 as all other tables were pre-reserved!

Got down to our table and then the long…very long dinner session started! The moment I saw the menu I knew this was going to be a special meal – the word Octopus said it all! I had to order that one without doubt…had never eaten it & what better place to make a debut than the best Seafood Resto of Lebanon! We also ordered Prawns & Fish…

The meal started with freebies though! Olive & Octopus Ink Breads, Nuts, Olives, Sea Weed Spread & Leaves and some more nuts! And I was like “all of this for free”? Gobbled them up in no time in anticipation of the big one! And then it arrived…Grilled Octopus Legs! Didn’t look weird as I had thought! And the taste was real nice too unlike my expectations! Another Tick in my Food Repertoire!

The Grilled Prawns and the Fish Salad was awesome too plus the Fresh Grilled Fish too which we selected from the counter…we talked like mad through the meal soaking up the atmosphere and the food! We looked weird though…casually dressed in a resto where everybody else looked like attending a Page 3 Event and some of them gave weird looks too! A Blonde European with a Dark Indian – I am sure they had not seen such a combo ever in their life!

And then the BIG Surprise! The attendant came and asked me “Sir, would you like to have some complementary dessert?” and I was like “YES YES YES”. I thought he would come back with 2 small bowls of some Lebanese Dessert but when he came I was bamboozled for ever! The biggest WOW Restaurant experience of my life by far! He served us the following…yes and all FREE! Fresh Fruits, Assortment of Dates, Figs, Pumpkin and Pineapple and a Cheese-Blueberry Spread! I don’t know what toe at and what not to! The Cheese-Blueberry Spread was way too awesome and the strawberries were the best I have ever had! I thought my stomach would explode but fortunately it didn’t!

The Bill was also the fattest one which I have ever paid…some 250 odd USD for the 2 of us! Wasn’t shocking though for the experience we had and didn’t mind paying that even a single bit!

We decided to have a long walk to digest our meal and also to enjoy the beautiful Marina scenes! My new camera was in full action mode! Our Lebanese colleague Hani then came over to meet us; had another nice discussion about Lebanon in general and then he drove us to our hotel to avoid any other Cab-Driver issues!

I noticed a strange & huge hoarding on one of the buildings named “Stop Solidere” and Hani gave me all the details…it is a long battle between St George Hotel and the Solidere Business Group which literally owns the Beirut Seafront…more details here:

Reached our hotel at around 12 Midnight and had to finish the lovely day on a high! Had a Watermelon-flavour Italian Gelato which was droolingly delicious and a pefect end to a gloious day well spent in Beirut! Went to my room and had a nice sleep...we had to fly to Kuwait the next morning...

Saturday 26th April 2013 ||| Beirut - Kuwait

Woke up late as my body required some much-needed rest after the Sea Food Attack! Had a light breakfast (and I am serious) and left for the Airport to board our flight back to Kuwait…thankfully everything went on smoothly. I shopped some more Lebanon Memorabilia at the Airport & relaxed at the coffee shop till we boarded…surprisingly there is no Smoking Room/Lounge at the Beirut Airport which for a Middle East country is almost shocking as majority of the males smoke in this region!

The aircraft flew at sharp 12 Noon and then the delightful scenes started to roll! It was so wonderful to see snow clad peaks and sea beach together in the same view! I witnessed this for the first time and the entire team I was looking outside the window! Had a nice nap before I woke up when we were flying above Iraq and saw the famous River Tigris flowing in full might below! Landed in Kuwait at 2:30 & were welcomed to the usual chaos at the airport plus Dust-Heat outside! Just another day in the Kuwait Summer! Have got used to it by now…

This was definitely a wonderful trip; even though it was short but still I had my share of fun, food, excitement and work! Would be definitely visiting Lebanon again till I am here in Kuwait with Bandita to explore more!

We are travelling to Cyprus this weekend and that would be the 3rd new country I would be visiting in 2013! We are damn excited & all set to explore the Mediterranean Weather, Cuisine and the beaches of Cyprus!

Till the time we meet again...

Ride safe and have safe sex...

Che would be back on the road soon...

Hasta la Victoria Siempre...

Jai BoP...

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Lootera...My Review...

I got to know about Lootera sometime in early 2012 when I saw the pics of the launch of the movie and the Production house named “Phantom”; both of them were launched on 30-Nov-2011 (I hope I am correct!). It was formed by four of Indian Cinema's young, creative minds viz.Vikas Bahl, Anurag Kashyap, Vikramaditya Motwane and Madhu Mantena and it is India's 1st Director's Company.

And the first Production was Phantom was supposed to be Lootera! Directed by Motwane, starring Sonakshi Sinha, Ranveer Singh and music by the maverick- master Amit Trivedi…enough reasons for any Movie lover to get excited!

Amit Trivedi is by far India’s most talented Music Director right now (yes, I rate him higher than Rahman too) and he has enough accolades under his belt; Aamir, Dev D, Udaan, English Vinglish…the list goes on & on!

Motwane directed the classic Udaan which definitely is amongst my all-time favourite movies…one movie which I can watch over & over again…incidently it is one of the 3 movies which I watched with my wife just after we got married as she hadn’t watched either of them…the other 2 being Dev D and Gulaal! Yeah we watched Gulaal during our Honeymoon at Havelock Island, Andaman! And yes you can call us a crazy couple! Watching such a movie in a Jungle Villa!

The only thing which worried me about Lootera was the lead pair – Sonakshi & Ranveer…Ranveer was superb in Band Baajaa Baaraat but after that got sort of typecast & some of his press interviews weren’t really smart and then Sonakshi…she has acted in senseless movies before this! Plus the pairing didn’t look that great atleast before the first promos were aired…but then Sonakshi looked surreal on the day of the movie launch! The perfect Indian beauty…and Ranveer came on a vintage bike which I thought would be in the movie too…so there was still some hope from this pair!

The complete film soundtrack album was released online on 29 May 2012. the audio was launched at PVR CinemasJuhu in Mumbai on June 7, 2013 and Trivedi said that day "The music of this film is a tribute to R. D. Burman in terms of melody and orchestration."…and needless to say the Music is a Masterclass…just 5 songs and each one of them is a symphony of it’s own! My favourite though is "Manmarziyan"   sung by the talented Shilpa Rao and the Music Director-Lyricist duo Amit Trivedi  & Amitabh Bhattacharya…this is closely followed by "Zinda" sung by Trivedi himself! The OST kept playing in my car all the time plus during my exercise time at home! And no signs of an OD!!!

The first trailer released in March 2013 revealed that the film will release on July 5, 2013 and the countdown was on!

I followed the FB Page and the Twitter Handle of the movie as well quite closely to get all the latest updates…the excitement was palpable! And was building quite strongly….but then in the middle of June I realized that this movie was releasing very close to the start of the holy month of Ramzan and all movie halls close down during that time! I was hoping against hope that I don’t face the GoW disappointment once again almost exactly after 1 year of the GoW Saga which got banned here and I never got to watch it on the big screen! One of the saddest moments of my Movie-watching career!

Amidst these prayers I went to the office on Thursday 4th July waiting to see Lootera in the movie listings…kept going to the webpage but no luck….did that some 8-10 times and then in the afternoon all hell broke lose…Sanjay Dutt’s Policegiri was added in the Movie List & I thought this can’t be true…this movie is releasing and Lootera isn’t….such a big shocker! Came back home and got ready for the weekend ahead…

But then in the evening God showed some mercy when I opened the site again and VOILA….Lootera was added too! I couldn’t believe my stars were shining bright & history wasn’t going to repeat itself! Booked the tickets for me, Bandita, Tripathi and the Bhagat couple! Sadly the Vermas couldn’t come for some genuine reasons…

On Friday 5th July – the same day as the India release we went to the 360 Mall to watch Lootera magic to unfold at the show starting at 5:15 PM…And then it started…

The Movie builds up really very slowly…at times the 1st half was excruciatingly slow and I was wondering this can’t be this bad! The songs kept me motivated though…”Monta Re” being the best one in the first half for the picturisation & timing! The story was building up very slowly but surely…by the time the interval came I wasn’t very excited or happy about the movie – and I am being very honest here! But somewhere inside me I knew the second half would be riveting & intriguing and boy wasn’t I correct in my judgement!

The second half started with some fresh & hot Popcorn plus the magnificent Background Score of Amit Trivedi taking the movie forward and building the excitement!

Innovation at Kalatop! 
And then Dalhousie came! It was so awesome to see all those places where I have been to specially Kalatop where the BoP Darogaas trekked to in September 2011 with lots of beer & bakchodi!  Yes BoP was there too! We were at the same place where the entire second half is shot and even at the guest house too! What a moment of Déjà vu it was! It is one helluva beautiful place I must say and well captured in the movie…surreal and gorgeous at the same time!

Even though I love fast-paced movies and ain’t a fan of slow movies but this one is a clear exception…the plot & theme demanded a slow pace and Motwane has once again proved that he is one of the best modern-day Directors in Hindi Cinema!

He has made Sonakshi Sinha act – and that speaks volumes about his directorial talent – she is so nice in the movie that at times we have to rub our eyes and say “is she the same Dabangg Sonakshi Sinha!)…plus he has got Ranveer out of that Bindass-Tapori mould & transformed him into an intense actor in the movie! Adil Hussain as Inspector KN Singh (bloody brilliant choice for a character name) is real nice too!

The best words to describe this movie for me would be Mellow & Intense! And at the risk of sounding cliché I would say this movie is nothing short of being “Poetry in Motion”!

It definitely entertained me and for me it is the best love story told in our Cinema after the ever-so-legendary Romantic Movie – Qayamat se Qayamat Tak!

Be ready for a slow-paced Movie Treat with brilliant Art Design, superb acting and perfect recreation of the 1950s (which has been rarely done in recent times)…Period Dramas aren’t Bollywood Forte but this definitely breaks that bad reputation!

Watch this for the transformation of 2 young actors; for whom this would be definitely their best-ever acting performance and they should be ever so thankful to Motwane!

The biggest star of the movie though for me is Amit Trivedi – for his brilliant Music and the Background Score which helps the movie to move forward and building the excitement…do pay special attention to the background score for sure…it’s definitely the best of the recent times!

The Movie even brought out the romantic in me! Which my Brother say I ain’t! ;) and this speaks a lot about how much I liked this movie!

I am recommending Lootera to all movie lovers to witness this Period-Romance Drama on the big screen and help this movie earn big revenues so that Phantom Films can continue to mesmerize us!

I have ensured that I don’t reveal the plot much even though I wanted to write about it; maybe I would come back to this plot and add about that later!

Till the time we meet again…

Cheers to life…

Till then ride safe and have safe sex…

Hasta la Victoria Siempre…

Jai BoP!