Grand Slam Sunday

The weekend that could have a pretty important bearing on the outcome of the title race is upon us. With all of the big 4 facing each other in two very important matches, today, the 23rd of March promises to be a Grand Slam Sunday.

Manchester United vs Liverpool

If you could say one match was less important than the other, then it would be this one. No matter what Liverpudlians or Rafa Benitez say, Liverpool are out of the title race. They are 11 points behind Manchester United whom they are facing and even if they win this fixture, it will still be quite impossible for them to get back 8 points with the form the other 3 are in.

Man Utd are arguably the strongest performers in contests featuring them against any of the top 4. With wins against Chelsea at home, Liverpool away and a near-win against Arsenal at The Emirates as well as 4-0 thrashing of Arsenal at home, we always get ourselves up for the big ones. So, I am hoping this one will be no different.

Liverpool are on a great run with Torres firing on all cylinders and Gerrard once again manning the middle of midfield and they come to Old Trafford with 7 continuous wins in all competitions. But, so are United. With Ronaldo’s fiery goalscoring streak helping United eek out wins even when the performance is not upto expected levels and with important players returning from injuries, things are looking all too good for us.

Man Utd have the added incentive of putting pressure on Chelsea and Arsenal (who face later today) by going 6 points ahead of closest competitor Arsenal by beating Liverpool. I am hoping United win today because, as the stats prove, when United face any of the top 4 and both teams play to their best, United will always come out on top. The only problem United will have is if Ferdinand does not play (which looks highly likely), in which case we would have lost someone who could have handled the mobility of Torres with ease. Even then, Vidic and Brown/Pique would be a nice central defensive partnership capable of handling Torres. If all goes well, I think United will go 6 points ahead for a short period of time, at least.

Chelsea vs Arsenal

Arguably the more important of the two matches being played today. Featuring two of the three title contenders, this match could have a bigger say on where the BPL title ends up. A draw would be ideal for Man Utd fans like me, of course, as that would put both teams further behind us. With great pressure on both teams to not let United out of their sights, this is one mouthwatering fixture.

Arsenal are on a very poor run by their standards and that run is the reason they see themselves 3 points behind United. With 4 continuous draws after the match in which Eduardo got injured, the incentive is bigger for Arsenal to prove that they are no pushovers when it comes to the big games during the business end of the season.

They have thier task cut out for them, however. Chelsea have not lost a game at Stamford Bridge for over 4 years. With 57 wins and 20 draws in 77 matches, Chelsea are the strongest of the top 4 when it comes to home fixtures. But, Chelsea themselves come into this fixture on the back of a 4-4 draw with Spurs, a match they would have expected to come out on top. Spurs got their tactics right in that match, keeping two up front in Keane and Bent and withdrawing Berbatov to a free role behind them. That decision made the Chelsea backline go haywire and, for one time, we saw Chelsea’s defense not knowing what to do. Knowing Arsene Wenger, he would’ve noted the problems Chelsea faced in that match and would have something similar lined up. Arsenal, however, have only one main fit striker in Adebayor and he is going to have a difficult time beating Terry’s Chelsea defence.

Taking all that into consideration, Chelsea have the upper hand in this fixture mostly because of their home advantage. Add to that, Arsenal also don’t have anybody to take the physical battle to Chelsea, it does look grim for the Gunners in this fixture. I am still hoping for a draw to give United some more breathing space at the top of the table.

Whatever happens in those two fixtures, there is no denying the impact it will have on the title race. This is arguably one of the best title run-ins in years and the best I have experienced since I started watching football. It can only get better as we near the finish line and with United getting their act together at just the right time, I am hoping this season proves to be just as successful as the pervious for the Red Devils.

The Command and Conquer Saga

The compilation includes all the 12 Command and Conquer games till 2006 (i.e. the First Decade DVD) as well as last year’s Tiberium Wars. It also includes a bonus DVD of the first decade which contains a lot of background information into the origins of Westwood studios, the Command and Conquer franchise, who came up with the crazy idea for Kane and so on and, in general, is a very good bonus over what you already get with the main two game DVDs.

Anyways, I went to the store on sunday with plans of picking up Sins of a Solar Empire (which I have been searching here for over a month) and I find The Command and Conquer Saga on sale for only Rs. 999 (which if you do a straight conversion comes to about 25 USD) which is the same price as OB and I thought that was a great deal.

For anyone who has played any of the previous C&C games, this may not sound like much of a deal but for someone like me, who has not played any C&C game (yeah, sue me!), this is one of the best deals I have ever picked up. And swear at EA all you want but they have done a lot for third-world countries like mine where gaming is on the rise. They were one of the first publishers to set up a nice base of operations here (it did help that they had a cricket franchise which is the craze here) and recently decided to offer all their PC games for the price of Rs.999 which is awesome. In a country like India where piracy is full-fledged, those kind of deals make it worth your while to buy original games.

I started playing with C&C: Red Alert 2 which came highly recommended and so far am loving what I am getting to play even though I am not a lot into the game. I love how fast-paced the gameplay is - never letting you slow down for a bit and always giving you something to think about and something to get your hands dirty with which is what I want from my RTS. I also started playing a bit of C&C: Generals which I was told is a separate thread of storyline altogether and I am also liking what I am getting from it so far.

After tinkering around with those two games for a bit, I decided to try to play Red Alert and the original Command & Conquer but realized that the 2-D graphics were too much to look past and get to the superlative gameplay (at the time) underneath. So, I decided to start playing Tiberian Sun which is the oldest CnC game with passable 2-D graphics and I am totally hooked into it so far.

The reason I decided to start playing older games instead of the newer Tiberium Wars, Generals and Red Alert 2 is that I knew the newer and more advanced graphics in those games would spoil me into not playing the older games which I don’t want. And also I wanted to see how the basic CnC gameplay has progressed from older games right into Tiberium Wars.

As I stated I got totally hooked to the basic CnC gameplay right from the word go. The best aspect is how much little base building there is in CnC. In other RTS, I would have to spend the initial third of the game gathering resources and making technological advancements before getting into all the action. But in CnC, it is action from the get go and if you spend too much time on gathering resources and building up the right units, then you are sure to get yourself killed. That is the primary aspect which has got me loving the games so far and I am sure it can only get better as I find more and more strategies and other advanced units to play with. The campy full motion videos in between missions are also awesome and, in a weird way, they add a great deal of immersion and personality to the games. I am also liking the music which includes a lot of heavy metal which suits the hardcore action perfectly.

Overall, I am extremely satisfied with this purchase. It was one of those impulse buys which I am not used to a lot - I always plan my purchases a few days in advance so buying this was a pleasant surprise for me. Anyone who has not played C&C or does not own the entire collection and wishes to do so cannot go wrong with this one. Anyways, I am planning to do individual reviews of each of the games in the package separately, so look out for those in the coming weeks.

Taare Zameen Par… in Tamil?

Recently, there have been lots of rumours that last year’s smash Bollywood blockbuster Taare Zameen Par is going to be remade in Tamil. This is not in the least surprising because the story and message in TZP is universal and it can be remade with ease in any language and, in fact, such a move was expected. What will be interesting to see is the cast and crew since a movie like TZP practically rides on the shoulders of the entire cast. With Aamir Khan proposed to be producer, we can expect him to make all the right decisions to make TZP a hit in tamil just as he did with the Hindi version. Before any official announcements are made, I wanted to take a closer look at who the cast and crew for the Tamil version of TZP should be comprised of.

The whole business of a remake started with a rumoured meeting between Aamir and Cheran in Mumbai, so no second guesses as to who the director will be. I guess Cheran fits the bill perfectly. There are a lot of subtle emotions in Taare Zameen Par and with the way Cheran has handled such movies in the past with Autograph and Thavamaai Thavamirindhu, he should have no problems dealing with the emotional depth present in the movie and presenting it in a realistic way.

Arguably the second most important character in TZP was that of Aamir Khan’s and it has been rumoured that it would be either Vikram or Surya in that role. Being a Surya fan myself I would definitely like to see him in that role. But Surya’s already got his hands full with Vaaranam Aayiram after which he moves on to do an AVM film and also a film rumoured to be with Murugadoss. However, even from a neutral perspective I think Surya would work better for this role than Vikram for a number of reasons. Plus, Aamir owes Surya for Ghajini, so I think he would be keen to return the favour.

The other important characters are that of the mother and the father. I have already raved about the splendid performance given by Tisca Chopra as the mother in various places so I think it would be quite a task to fill her shoes. The name that immediatly comes to mind is Charanya. She would be a nice choice for the role given that she has played mother roles in both Thavamaai Thavamirindhu and Emttan Magan. The role of the father is slightly more difficult, however. Vipin Sharma played it ideally being tough and rude in the earlier portions of the movie and bringing out his emotions ideally when he noticed his son’s transformation in the later parts of the movie. Again, Rajkiran crops up in mind when thinking about a father figure since he has played such roles in the past. I also heard that Nasser’s performance in Emmtan Magan was very good and it was very similar to this role, so he would also be a good choice.

Most important of all, I think the role played by Darsheel Safary is being lost in the news about Surya or Vikram playing Aamir’s role. There is not a single child actor currently in tamil cinema who can play that role as well as Darsheel did. I have seen very few great child performances in the past — Kamal in Kalathur Kannama, Baby Shyamili in Anjali, Keerthana in Kannathil Muthamittal and the child who played deaf and dumb in Poovizhi Vaasalile (would’ve been ideal for this movie) are a few that immediatly come to mind. Darsheel’s performance was as good if not better than any of those roles and it would take a lot of effort to extract such a performance from another child actor. My choice would be for Darsheel to act in the Tamil version as well, though my guess is as good as anyone else’s at the moment.

Rounding it off, there are still many gaps left to be filled if Taare Zameen Par has to reach to both the classes and the masses. The music director is very important given how good Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy’s music was in the original and that combined with soulful lyrics from Prasson Joshi made the songs a treat to listen to. Another important but unsung hero in the original was the dialogue writer who should have been given the filmfare award for his excellent dialogues. All these roles have to be cast perfectly in order to get the combination just right.

Of course, all of these are just my ideal choices and as I said, they are all wild guesses at the moment. The idea of remaking Taare Zameen Par in Tamil is a very good one. Cheran himself stated that the message is universal and such a movie in Tamil would take a message intended for the class audience and give it a wider reach by bringing it to towns and villages which wouldn’t be bad at all. Now, the long wait begins for the official announcement to be made.

BPL Officials - On a downhill slide

If you thought United’s exit from the FA cup (thus bringing to an end their treble dreams) was the most shocking aspect of Saturday’s game at Old Trafford, think again! Martin Atkinson’s performance as the match official was the stuff nightmares were made of (especially for Man Utd fans like me). From the opening whistle to practically the last kick of the match, he got most of his decisions wrong and thus ended up earning Sir Alex Ferguson’s ire. What is even more irritating is that, thus far, no action has been taken against Martin Atkinson whereas both Sir Alex and his assistant, Carlos Queiroz, have been sent letters asking them to explain their post match comments on refereeing standards which is bullshit if you ask me.

To begin with the decision that started it all was the penalty appeal against Ronaldo which was not given at about the 7th minute. Ronaldo’s reputation as a diver precedes him wherever he goes and therefore he ends up not getting most decisions which he should be getting. Harry Redknapp referred to Distin’s challenge as a casual shoulder barge and stated that he would have been disappointed had the penalty been given. From my minimal understanding of the game of football, a shoulder barge is when you use a little upper body strength to cover the attacker from the ball, not when you bash into someone inside the penalty box who is running full speed towards the goal and that is what exactly happened. So, I fail to see Harry Redknapp’s logic behind his and the referee’s reasoning.

It is hardly worth getting frustrated over one such decision especially when your team goes on to dominate the entire match but when you see your stand-in goalkeeper sent off unjustly for a foul and when pretty much every other kick of the ball is not going your way, then the anger will definitely go to your head. I have seen referees like Howard Webb and Alan Wiley think many times and confer with the linesmen before making the decision to send off a player even on the most obvious red card decisions. But the immediateness of the red card shown to Kuszack was what got on my nerve the most, especially when Rooney was on the goal line and Tevez was just behind Kuszack to stop Baros. That decision arguably had the most impact on the game. With our stand-in goalkeeper sent off, Ferdinand took his place and when you lose your most mobile defender just like that, it is difficult to get back into the game even when you are the world’s best team playing at home and United ended up losing the game 1-0.

None of these are excuses for United’s exit from the cup by no means; United had ample opportunities to put the game to bed with three shots cleared off the line and two shots off the post, so saying that refereeing decisions are the reason for the loss is by no means true. But it is true that such decisions are becoming commonplace especially in English football and it is surprising that neither the Chief of Reefrees, Keith Hackett nor the FA is doing anything about it.

Ronaldo’s post-match comments summed up the state of refereeing perfectly. With techinally skilled players not given enough protection by match officials, players like Ronaldo, Rooney etc. might have to change their styles a lot to prevent getting kicked because that is the only way to stop them. One of Arsene Wenger’s previous comments also comes to mind in this situation. During one of his post-match interviews (probably the one in which Eduardo suffered his horrendous injury), he stated that the opposition have finally figured out the only the way to stop Arsenal is to kick Arsenal. The same holds true for any team that plays entertaining and attacking football.

The FA definitely need to make a firm stand in situations like these. While it was nice to see Rob Styles suspended for a weekend for his unbelievable penalty for Chelsea against Liverpool early in the season, those kind of hard and strict punishments need to be enforced more often to make match officials understand the importance of their role on the field. Other officials should look up to people like Howard Webb and Alan Wiley who are content to let the game flow and give out as few cards as possible and take their example in making informed, proper decisions even if a few seconds are wasted in the process. Officiating a football match is by no means an easy job and I do understand that but the way the current situation is falling on a downhill slide (especially in the BPL), the future does look a lot less brighter for football in general.

Bollywood Filmfare Awards 2008

A two week delayed post about the Bollywood Filmfare awards that was conducted on February 23rd. To mention all that happened at the show is pointless so I am going to stick to what I though of the awards and which of the award choices were questionable to say the least. To start with, the ceremony itself was a nice occasion and, as usual, King Shahrukh Khan and his able partner in crime Saif Ali Khan were present to keep the ceremony a light-hearted affair throughout. Their Na-Real awards was just icing on the cake when added to their on-stage antics and funny conversations.

Well, enough of that go here for a list of all the awards. As I mentioned above, a few of the awards that I thought were questionable were:

Best Supporting Actress – Konkona Sen Sharma for Life in a Metro
Personal choice – Tisca Chopra for Taare Zameen Par

I have not seen Konkona Sen’s performance in Life in a Metro but I thought this award should have gone to Tisca Chopra for Taare Zameen Par. The whole point of such awards is to encourage new talent and Tisca Chopra was one of the finds of last year (anybody remember any of her previous movies). As I stated in my review, she was nothing short of outstanding in her role as the loving mother of Ishaan Awasti.

Best Music – A.R. Rahman for Guru
Personal Choice – Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy for Taare Zameen Par

This is one of those awards that I think was presented for the popularity of the composer rather than for actual music. Don’t take it the wrong way, Guru had some great music but best of 2007, I am not so sure. I though Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy’s wonderful music in Taare Zameen Par deserved that award. To come out with such great music in such an off-beat film and to make that music gel with the film takes a work of genius and that is exactly what the trio proved they are with TZP.

Best Dialogue – Imtiaz Ali for Jab We Met
Personal Choice – Taare Zameen Par

Not yet seen JWM also but if I have to take my sister’s word for it, she says the dialogue is nothing out of the ordinary, standard love story stuff. I though the dialogue writer of Taare Zameen Par (name anyone?) definitely deserved this award. In most movies like TZP, dialogues tend to be preachy and I expected TZP to be the same. To my surprise, I found all the dialogues straight out of life and some of them like in scenes when Aamir visits Darsheel’s house had an almost immediate impact on me.

Also, I have no idea why there were no Best Villain and Best Comedian awards. Maybe due to the lack of enough nominations but still there were many people who deserved those awards. Well, truly only one deserved the award for Best Villain (a no-brainer really!) and that was Arjun Rampal for Om Shanti Om. Anybody who watched the film would have come out feeling detested at his character and that is what the goal of the Villain in the film is. As far as the Best Comedian award is concerned, the whole cast of Dhamaal contributed to the film being a laugh riot but Jaaved Jaffrey had all the best dialogues and some of the funniest scenes, so I thought he should have been given that honor.

Other awards that got under my skin were Lifetime Achievement for Rishi Kapoor (what is his contribution to Hindi cinema anyway) and Best Male Newcomer for Ranbir Kapoor -- yeah right, his only claim to fame being Rishi Kapoor’s son. Apart from that he imitated Hrithik Roshan every frame of the movie right from voice tone to body language.

The happiest news for me was King Khan winning Best Actor for Chak De India. To be honest, I think he has been given awards for movies that maybe he did not deserve like for his chocolate lover boy roles and such. However if there was ever an award he deserved it would be for Chak De India. Shahrukh was simply awesome in a role where he had to be subdued and understated for long periods of time. I think it is one of his best performances ever since he came out of being an anti-hero and became a full hero.

And of course young Darsheel Safary winning the Critic’s Best Actor award was also great news. I have had many arguments with my sister over Darsheel being nominated for Best Actor. I think there is a reason the Best Child Performance award is there and it is to commemorate performances like his in Taare Zameen Par (but that is an entirely different discussion altogether). However, Darsheel’s performance in TZP deserved something more than a Child Artist award (because he was the hero of the movie after all) and it was fitting that he got such an award.

Other deserved awards were Best Lyricist to Prasoon Joshi, Best Story to Amol Gupte and, of course, Best Director to Aamir Khan all for Taare Zameen Par. It was interesting to note that most of the awards were neatly (and deservedly) split between two of the best movies in recent times, Chak De India and Taare Zameen Par.

Bollywood had a great year last time around. With movies like Chak De India, Om Shanti Om, Dhamaal, Namastey London, Guru and the icing on the cake, Taare Zameen Par, there is a lot to live up to. 2008 looks promising with movies like The Name is Khan, the hindi remake of Ghajini and others lined up for release in the coming months. I can only hope that 2008 turns out to be as good an year as 2007, if not better.