Our Trip to the Yellowstone National Park

June 23, 2014

We decided to see Yellowstone National Park this Memorial Day. A typical long weekend is not going to be enough unless you live pretty close to the Park in Montana or Wyoming. But I managed to get 2 additional days off so we decided to do it. It was a fascinating and very humbling experience to see Nature’s fury striking a balance with life and I felt like I was standing on a ticking time bomb. Even though we had 5 days, we could only spend 3 full days at the park because of travel back and forth from Salt Lake City which was the only closest point of entry for us. It was slightly a hectic pace and we managed to see everything that we wanted to and more because we made sure we were in bed on time. This holiday was a like an anomaly because we like relaxed vacations where we wake up late usually by 9 am mainly because we don’t want to miss out on free breakfast. However, for those who have more time, I would recommend a week with 5 full days at the park. The reason I decided to blog about this trip was because I spent hours on the internet to come up with some points of interest and a good itinerary and it was exhausting. I researched TripAdvisor who unfortunately did not have much content except for reviews (they seem to have 2 different pages for Yellowstone and the one that did have content doesn’t rank well, hint for their SEO team!) and I also referenced Frommers, individual blogging sites, nps.gov, trekking sites etc. My itinerary may not be perfect, but I can assure you that it will at least get you started on the right path. Before I jump into the itinerary, here are some tips on what to wear and carry

  • Most websites suggest wearing layers and they are right. However, we went almost end of May and the weather was in high 60s but the sun was scorching
  • Full sleeve shirts and hats helped me, especially if you are sensitive to sun’s rays
  • Of course, lots and lots of sunscreen
  • Bug spray, we carried it per the recommendation on many sites but unless you are camping, we didn’t have to use it
  • Lots of water and/or vitamin water, energy drinks etc. and snacks like nuts and bars or whatever that you may think is helpful for the family
  • Comfortable shoes as there is good amount of walking to be done

What really helped me with the itinerary was the below map that I found in Google Images of the park and various entrances and attractions. This itinerary covers the major points of interests with at least 2 miles of walking in a day. However, for more adventure and hiking the lesser known spots, you need more time and I definitely wished I had. Yellowstone National Park spans an area of approximately 3,400 sq miles comprising of lakes, rivers, and mountains ranges. Half of the world’s geothermal features are here in this Park fueled by the underground volcanic activity which is why I was referring to this place as ticking time bomb. The Park is also famous for unique species of plants, microorganisms, animals, and birds. Popular suggestion is that we do a loop but it is okay if you do go back and forth as sometimes you may discover an attraction that you may have missed. And, it is really not a bad drive provided you are able to go past the slow drivers at the passing zones. We could not do a loop because we booked this trip in the last minute and being the Memorial Day weekend, all the lodges inside the park were full. But I am glad we did not book inside the Lodge because although the food is not bad, it may be boring to pick from the same options morning and night, especially if you are a vegetarian.

Day 1: We flew into Salt Lake City and drove to West Yellowstone, MT. It was a long drive (nearly 5 hours). We had booked Explorer Cabins for the first 2 nights, close to all the restaurants in the area. The accommodation was new with basic kitchen amenities. The restaurants in the area offer a lot of options apart from pizza, Chinese or a grill. We loved the Cafe Madriz, Spanish for its Tapas, Paella and even Ratatouille. Madison Crossing Lounge, a contemporary and eclectic restaurant was another one that we liked. First day was just travel, hotel check-in, dinner and sleep.

Day 2: We were up early and drove to Yellowstone National Park West Entrance which was only about 15 minutes from the hotel and continued to Madison Junction, a total of 14 miles. What we did not expect is a traffic back-up for almost 40 minutes and it was not because of accident or anything else but it was a herd of Bison. Welcome to Yellowstone!

Bison - Yellowstone

Herd of Bison

On our first day at the Park, we took a right at the Madison Junction and explored the Geyser Basin, Old Faithful and West Thumb. First stop was at the Firehole Falls at the confluence of Firehole and Gibbon Rivers. Its a small waterfall with a nice view. We then stopped at the Fountain Paint Pot Geyser area and thus began our tour of the various geysers, hot springs, mud pots, fumaroles and vents and of course, the pungent smell of rotten egg from the sulfuric acid. It took me back to my Chemistry lab days in school. How does each of these geothermal features differ from one another? Well, Geysers are Hot Springs that erupt, the super heater water below the ground become trapped in channels building the pressure. Hot Springs are vast with no blockage so there is water circulation. The trillions of microorganisms around this area makes hot springs extremely colorful. Mud Pots are water saturated sediment which is clay-like with steam rising up making it bubble and even burst. Fumaroles don’t have water but only steam from underground that escapes out with a hissing noise. Steam Vents are similar to Fumaroles but they are just cracks on the ground with hot steam escaping out. The surprising thing for me were the colors like turquoise, emerald and coral around these hot springs. I had seen a lot of pictures while researching and didn’t think much of it but itis real. Colors are mostly because of the heat-loving bacteria called thermophiles that thrive well and create a bacteria mat around the hot springs. Most spectacular sight at the Fountain Paint Pot GB is the Red Spouter.

Red Spouter at Fountain Paint Pot

Red Spouter

Our next stop was Midway Geyser Basin. The 2 most important sights to see here are the Excelsior Geyser, the third largest in the world and the Grand Prismatic Spring, largest hot spring in the Park, second in the world.

Grand Prismatic Spring

Grand Prismatic Spring

Excelsior Geyser - Midway GB

Excelsior Geyser

They are the most beautiful sights of the park with colors that captivate you. Unfortunately Yellowstone geysers and springs are not for soaking because they are super-heated above boiling point to nearly 200 °F and more. They are continuously hissing and bubbling which is why there are boardwalks around these thermal features and there are signs warning us to not walk off of the boardwalk. This is because the area is unstable and a new thermal feature can erupt at any time. Our third stop was Black Sand Basin. The most important sights to watch here are the Cliff Geyser where we were able to see the different stages of eruption, the Emerald Pool and the Opalescent Pool.

Emerald Pool

Emerald Pool

Opalescent Pool

Opalescent Pool

A good stop for lunch is at the Old Faithful. You can call at 307/344-2751 and press 1 for continually update of eruption forecasts to see this active geyser. Old Faithful is a popular spot but actually it is quite boring when compared to other thermal areas. The geyser just erupts quite high, lasts about 2-3 minutes and stops. Post lunch, we drove to the West Thumb GB which is about 17 miles. The juxtaposition of the vast frozen Lake Yellowstone against the boiling hot springs was a visual marvel.

Frozen Yellowstone Lake at West Thumb

Frozen Yellowstone Lake

Abyss Pool at West Thumb

Abyss Pool

 

After having covered a lot on this day, we decided to go towards the South entrance and drive through Grand Teton for a while before heading back. The landscape completely changes to snow as we go higher in altitude. The peaceful Lake Jackson against the backdrop of the Rockies was quite relaxing. If you have time, there is lots to explore in Grand Teton but it was already 6 pm so we headed back to West Yellowstone. As I had mentioned earlier, we stumbled upon Lower Geyser Basin on our way back which we had missed earlier. The main attraction there that was unique to see was the White Dome Geyser.

Day 3: We woke up early again and started our drive back to Madison Junction and thankfully there were no Bison to stop us that day. We went left at the Madison Junction and turned into the Grand Loop Road. We stopped at the Gibbon Falls which is an 84 feet falls in the Northwestern Yellowstone Park on the Grand Loop Road.

The weather was beautiful and even felt chilly at times. In fact, it even started raining at the Canyon. So, you know why one has to dress in layers. Our next stop was at the Artists Paint Pot where you can see the mud pots, fumaroles, and vents. This is less crowded and offers spectacular views.

Artists Paint Pot

Artists Paint Pot

We finally reached Canyon Village and our first stop was to go see the Lower Falls. Lower Falls is the biggest waterfall in Yellowstone at 308 ft. The trail to the top of the Falls is definitely a must as it offers breathtaking view of the Yellow Falls and the beautiful Yellow Canyon. The trail is ¾ mile roundtrip bit is steep. The color is because of the hot water acting on volcanic rock, Yellowstone Caldera. This is the largest and active supervolcano in the US. After working up a good appetite, we went to the Canyon Village for lunch spot and then headed to Lookout Point and Artists Point to enjoy the view of the Upper Falls, Lower Falls, the Canyon and the North Rim.

Yellowstone Canyon

Yellowstone Canyon

Lower Falls - Yellowstone

Lower Falls – Yellowstone

 

We then drove towards East Yellowstone entrance to see the Mud Volcano Area famous for the sulfuric acid ponds. Some attractions here include Mud Caldron, Dragon’s Mouth Spring, and Sulphur Caldron.

 

Sulphur Caldron

Sulphur Caldron

Mud Volcano - Yellowstone

Mud Volcano

Dragon's Mouth Spring

Dragon’s Mouth Spring

We then turned around and drove for about 26 miles towards Gardiner MT, exiting Yellowstone via the North entrance. It was a beautiful drive and we did it at around 5:30 pm and we saw some wildlife on the way. First was a bear dining on some twigs. We parked our car and joined the people standing. It was safe as the forest ranger was around making sure that everyone keeps a safe distance from the bear. We spent about 30 minutes looking at the bear until it finished its dinner and went into the forest, quite satiated. I really wanted to see a grizzly and I was so happy to have seen one. As we continued on, we were stopped by elks and a family of bison crossing the road. After a long day, it was blissful to come to a nice, clean bed.

Bear - Yellowstone

Bear – Yellowstone

Bison family - Yellowstone

Bison family

Bull Elk - Yellowstone

Bull Elk

Day 4: This was our last day at the Park and since we had covered a great deal of the Park already, we took it easy on Sunday. After a leisurely breakfast, we started at around noon to the Park and our first stop was Mammoth Hot Springs and the famous travertine terraces. This is a unique geothermal attraction with limestone formations.

Palette Spring - Mammoth Hot Spring

Palette Spring

Mound Terrace - Mammoth Hot Spring

Mound Terrace

 

Mammoth Springs area is great for accommodation and food so you can definitely plan on staying here if you book in advance. Be sure to indulge in some amazing huckleberry ice cream!

Our second stop on the way back to the Madison Junction was the Norris Geyser Basin. This is the most fascinating and hottest Geyser Basin with lots of geothermal activity. But be prepared for a long hike and a strong pungent rotten egg smell. I really thought I will not be able to eat eggs in my life again but trust me, you will survive. Attractions here are the Steamboat Geyser that produces world’s highest eruptions. Then there is Echinus Geyser, Vixen Geyser which was amazing to watch the different stages of the eruption and so many more.

Vixen Geyser - Norris GB

Vixen Geyser

Vixen Geyser - Norris Geyser Basin

Vixen Geyser

 

We covered both the Black Basin and the Porcelain Basin. This is it. We basically covered all that we wanted to see in the last 3 days and our plan was to say goodbye to Yellowstone and drive to Idaho Falls for the night. This was to cut short or drive the next day back to Salt Lake City for our flight back home. It was a great choice as we could unwind ourselves here in this quaint city. We stayed by the Snake River Belt. Ou room had a balcony with the view of the River. We got some food and just relaxed our tired feet gazing at the river and people walking/jogging. It felt great to be back into civilization.

Day 5: Well, we requested a late check-out as our flight was later that night so we had a scrumptious breakfast (I actually had a French Toast in spite of being some what sick of the rotten egg smell!) and took a leisurely stroll along the Snake River and the Idaho Falls created by a hydroelectric power project. Well, we then checked out of our hotel and drove back to Salt Lake City and flew back home. All good things come to an end and it’s always awesome to come back home.

Hope this will help you to create your itinerary to Yellowstone some day.

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Sherlock Holmes is everywhere!

October 1, 2012

My entire childhood days were spent watching Jeremy Brett playing Sherlock Holmes in the Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, a British TV series based on the short stories of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. I would eagerly wait for Sundays just to see this show. I specifically loved the character Sherlock Holmes and his astute deductions of human behavior based on simplistic and detailed observation. His being socially inept and rude had no bearing on my admiration for him. I realized that observation alone is of no use without logical deduction and timely action.

I guess this was the seed that was planted in me to rejoice thrillers and mysteries even today, especially, where there are detectives and lawyers slicing and dicing the evidence. Even medical enigmas like House MD! So far in my adult life, I have been catching the re-runs of Sherlock Holmes on PBS and even Agatha Christie’s character Hercule Poirot. And, among the newer and relevant thrillers, I love Monk and CSI. I also am an avaricious reader of John Grisham, Michael Connelly, Mary Higgins Clark, Robin Cook and more recently David Baldacci.

Sherlock Holmes is a fictional character created by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. The character is a consulting detective to Scotland Yard and is known for logical reasoning using observation, deduction and sometimes forensic skills. He was also known for using perfect disguises to solve many cases. He lived at 221B Baker St.

221 Baker Street - Sherlock Holmes

Dr Watson was his partner, friend and chronicler of all his cases. Sherlock is eccentric and arrogant. But at the same time he never took credit for solving cases. In fact, this character is the backbone even today, to all the fictional detectives that get created. If you look at Monk, Dr Gregory House, and even Poirot, they all are eccentric and socially awkward. While one of them is an OCD, the other is an addict and a narcissist. But one common thread connecting them is their observation skills.

However, this character is seeing so many makeovers and versions recently. Check out the actors who have played Sherlock Holmes.

The year 2009 saw a mega movie with Robert Downey Jr playing Sherlock Holmes and what a perfect choice. The character was further exaggerated with extreme eccentricities and humor. The plot itself had a great combination of action and drama.

Sherlock Holmes

Seeing this success and the guaranteed ROI, we have some new shows in TV now. BBC came out with their short series and a new interpretation. Their Sherlock, played by Benedict Cumberbatch, is a modern day young detective and a consultant to the cops. He has a cell phone which further helps him in his logical deductions.

Not wanting to be left alone, American TV has thrown in its hat into the ring to create “Elementary”. The Sherlock Holmes in this show has just come out of rehab. After being kicked out by the Scotland Yard, he comes to New York to assist NYPD. It is also modern and relevant to our times but has a twist. Dr Watson is a woman and to top that, an Asian. Gender and Race change, awesome! I know that many literary purists are quite shocked with this interpretation but I quite liked this version. Lucy Liu has the chutzpah to counter Sherlock. I already love her comebacks like “You are full of it” or my favorite where she points out that Holmes doesn’t have any mirrors around his apartment because he knows “a lost cause when he sees one”. Touché! But I hope they build on this chemistry and not make her just another female eye candy.

So, what more is left? Are we going to get an animated version or a 3D movie with Robert Downey Jr?

And, to my Indian friends, what about an Indian Sherlock Holmes? Since Bollywood loves to copy, why hasn’t anyone thought about this yet? Indian TV is still synonymous with “Karamchand”, a popular detective show of the 80s which was the first of its kind and still the best. So, maybe it’s time for something new even if it is an old wine in a new bottle.

Bu if Bollywood were to make an Indian twist on Sherlock Holmes then my bet would be on Vishal Bhardwaj to direct it, after all he succeeded in making Indian adaptation of Othello and Macbeth. My next bet is on Farhan Akhtar because his modern take on Don was not bad at all. But who do you think can play this role? In my opinion, Abhishek Bachchan will be a great modern day commercial Sherlock. In fact, Irrfan Khan will also be a great choice. What do all think?

 

My Top London Olympic Moments

August 21, 2012

It’s been a week since London Olympics 2012 ended and I kinda miss it but also feel glad to be back to my routine. The two weeks was entertaining, motivating, fulfilling and tad bit busy as well trying to figure out where to see the videos of the many events that NBC did not show. But I am always happy and proud to see all the sportsmen and women who practice hard, perform their best, and make their respective countries proud.

I wanted to recap some of the awesome moments that filled me with joy, tears, fun, and laughter.

Swimming: I have to start with the legend, Michael Phelps. He ended his Olympic Career with 18 gold medals, two silvers and two bronze, a grand total of 22. What an amazing feat! He just went on to prove that he is not just a legend but a phenom. Why do I get a feeling that we will see him again in 4 years. Or, will he become the next Tiger Woods?

Michael Phelps

Gymnastics: 16 year old Gabby Douglas won not only a Gold Medal for all-around gymnastics competition but she also got a title of “flying squirrel” because of her high-flying performance on the uneven bars. She made history as the first African-American and third straight American to win this highest prize.

Gabby Douglas

Rhythmic Gymnastics: I cannot believe people here were criticizing this event along with Synchronized Swimming. I look forward to this event in the Olympics. When you can have figure skating in Winter Olympics, why not this? To me, it provides a graceful break from the hard core games. I love the mix of elegance and precision that these sportswomen display. How can you not like this Gold Medal Ribbon routine event performed by Russia’s defending champion and now a 2-time gold medal winner,  Yevgenia Kanayeva

London 2012 Olympics - Yevgenia Kanayeva

Women’s Soccer: US avenged the loss to Japan in the 2011 World Cup. Both the semi-finals game against Canada and the finals were a treat to watch. Well played girls!

London 2012 Olympics - US Women's Soccer team

Men’s Soccer: I never in the wildest dreams thought that Mexico would win a Gold. I was rooting for Spain and they did not even qualify into the quarterfinal matches. I was also hoping for a Europe vs. South America face-off but that too didn’t happen. But Brazil losing to Mexico….wow. Mexico should be proud of what they achieved here.

London Olympics 2012 - Mexico

Men’s Basketball: The US team with LeBron James, Kevin Durant and Koby Bryant defended their Olympic champion status and I have to say, Spain gave one hell of a challenge.  I loved to see some great camaraderie between the NBA players and Chris Paul even commented, ““I hate that in a couple of months, these guys are gonna be my enemies.” Love the image of the whole team dancing after their gold medal win –

London Olympics 2012 US Basketball team

Boxing: I want to talk about our very own Indian boxer Mary Kom who is known as the Magnificent Mary. She is a five-time World Boxing Champion in flyweight category. Some of the challenges she faced were lack of sponsorship for Indian female boxers in India, lack of support from her parents and yet she persevered and practiced in secret and is our own legend. She has an American coach but unfortunately he could not be there for her in the Olympics because he did not have an International Boxing Association’s 3-star certification required for Olympics. Despite having no coach and with no support from the crowd either, she went on to win a bronze medal and best part is she apologizes to the country for failing on gold medal. No, Mary, we are just as proud and just as happy with the Bronze.

London 2012 Olympics - Mary Kom

Track & Field: This is my favorite Olympics event.  Some of my favorites heroes were –

Oscar Pistorius – He may be a double-amputee but he is a four-time Para-Olympic gold-medal winner. Finally, he got a chance this year to participate in London Olympics. Although he could only reach until 400-meter semifinal, he is truly an inspiration. Kirani James of Grenada who won the Semifinals second heat asked Pistorius to exchange running bibs at the finishing area, which was quite touching –

London Olympics 2012 - Oscar Pistorius

Mo Farah – Rightfully said, he is Britain’s crown jewel. When I saw him run the 10,000m, I was at the gym on the treadmill. He was somewhere way back along with US’s very own Rupp. The way this guy slowly made it into the front and outrunning everyone towards the end made me run faster on the treadmill. I guess, we should have such videos in the gym so that we can push ourselves harder. Mo demonstrates patience, perseverance and great strategy in distance running.

London 2012 Olympics - Mo Farah

Usain Bolt – I started with a legend and I will end with another, my ultimate hero. I was so happy that he won all 3 of his events. He is not only a self-proclaimed legend but he really is one too. Looking forward to seeing him play in the Twenty20 cricket competition along with Yohan Blake.

2012 London Olympics - Usain Bolt

Hope you enjoyed the blog, images and don’t forget to click on some of the links to see the videos.

P.S. – I forgot to add – I think McKayla will not be impressed with this blog 🙂 I love her and it’s sad that her image went viral but she is such a sport.

London 2012 Olympics - McKayla

 

My Top 10 Break-up Songs

July 1, 2012

I am not sure why but lately there has been an outpouring of break-up songs from many artists. Either the break-ups are on an increase or artists are seeing a huge success with such songs. I think it’s a bit of both.

Well, break-up or not, this genre has a universal appeal that goes beyond time and age and/or break-ups. They are catchy on one hand and poignant at the same time, tugging at your heartstrings with beautiful lyrics and haunting melody.

Isn’t their a popular notion that best songs are written if one has experienced inner angst or a personal break-up? Well, whatever be the case I decided to bank on their success and have compiled a few of my favorite songs from this genre. So enjoy, sing along and let it all out!

Number 10:

“Believe” by Cher: It came out in 1998 and it is still so relevant. I like it because it has an uplifting message –

Number 9:

“If you go your own way” by Fleetwood Mac. This song came out in 1976 but is still evergreen. Especially love the this line in the song – “If I could, maybe I’d give you my world, How can I, when you won’t take it from me”. I love Stevie Nicks.

Number 8:

“Nothing Compares 2U” by Sinead O’Connor released in 1990. This is my all-time favorite and it just makes me emotional every time I listen to it. I didn’t know till date that this was actually written and recorded first by “Prince”

Number 7:

2006 hit, “Smile” by Lily Allen is quite funny and will actually make you laugh because of its simple and direct lyrics.

Number 6:

80s classic, “Take a look at me now” by Phil Collins. A guy’s version of a break-up song and so touching.

Number 5:

I have to include this timeless song from the 70s,”Please Don’t Go” by K.C. & the Sunshine Band. May be, just may be, hearts can mend by listening to K.C. crooning “Please Don’t Go”.

Number 4:

A more recent song, Coldplay’s “Scientist”. My favorite part is when Chris Martin sings with his beautiful voice: “Nobody said that it was easy, No one ever said it would be this hard, Oh take me back to the start”.

Number 3:

And, then comes a flurry of songs last year from Adele, an album full of songs on break-up and all the songs were amazing. No one has really expressed this pain any better than Adele in her “Someone Like You”.

Number 2:
I have to say Adele again with her “Rolling in the Deep”. The song has a way to connect with everyone of every age including young kids.

Number 1:
Of course, I can say Adele again for “Set fire to the Rain”. But my best is Gotye’s “Somebody That I Used To Know”.

If best songs are written after a break-up then it is now Tom Cruise’s turn. 🙂

Classic Indian Beauty

April 10, 2012

It was a rainy and cold Saturday night when I felt like watching a good old Amitabh movie and after going through the list, I decided on a more romantic one, Silsila . This movie was loosely based on the alleged Amitabh-Rekha affair. But despite some great acting and a poignant story it was a flop.

However, what inspired this blog is not the movie but Rekha. She was at the peak of her career. She had lost some weight which she attributed to Jane Fonda workouts which made her chiseled features and expressive eyes stand out. Added to this were her husky voice, acting skills and perfect diction of Hindi that made her reach dizzying heights professionally. Who can forget her in Umrao Jaan where she even spoke Urdu like a pro!

"Rekha in Umrao Jaan"

A beautiful face with expressive eyes is the quintessential classic Indian beauty which you will not just find in Bollywood but all over India. A few years ago a fellow American had asked me why Indian women are not sexy-looking (he worded it respectfully so it was not derogatory). The background for this question was that we had a huge bunch of Indians in our office, no thanks to outsourcing and he being a young guy and still unhitched was constantly on the lookout. His question got me thinking and in a way he was right.

An average Indian woman has a freshly scrubbed beautiful face, deep set huge eyes with hardly any makeup. They are usually petite and have a pear-shaped figure which unfortunately diminishes their sex appeal in Western clothing because the clothes are cut to perfection and proportion. But drape us in a Sari and lo behold! Do we look sexy? The sari plays peek-a-boo with the body accentuating and exposing only the best at certain angles. Added to this with our culture being a little conservative towards exposing skin, those who do have hour-glass figures go unnoticed.

How about some more examples of such beautiful faces from Bollywood through the years –

Madhubala: She started her film career when she was barely 14 and won the hearts and minds of not only all the Indians but also Hollywood. Did you know that she was featured in many American magazines Theatre Arts had an extensive Article on her “The Biggest Star in the World (And She’s Not in Beverly Hills)”. Her captivating looks and her enchanting smile has transcended style, ethnicity and time.

"Madhubala"

Waheeda Rehman: A graceful dancer and a talented actress with high cheek bones, expressive eyes and a teasing smile!

"Waheeda Rehman"

Sharmila Tagore: Well, not many people would call her a classic Indian beauty. She did not have typical Bengali features with a perfect round face but she had her own appeal with eyes that spoke volumes coupled with dimpled smile. She also had a great slim figure, one of the rare Indian women who could confidently sport a two-piece bikini in those times and looking good too.

"Sharmila Tagore"

Aishwarya Rai, Miss World 1994: She is one actress who has equal and opposite reactions among women. There are intense hate clubs who cannot fathom this flawless creation of God and hate her superfluous beauty and then there are fans besotted by this shockingly perfect woman. I too am torn and confused by her looks. She is too perfect to the point where she comes across sometimes as an overly made up doll. Her giggling persona fills me with disgust but again I wonder if that’s her way of diverting a journalists’ brazen questions. I think she needs a reminder every five minutes that “less is more”.

"Aishwarys Rai"

But if anyone in today’s times were to symbolize classic Indian beauty then it is Vidya Balan. Always criticized by journalists and fellow colleagues in the film industry for being on the heavier side and wearing clothes that only brought out the fact that she was not thin, she has kept her head high and has clinched the best roles and more recently a National Award. She too has a beautiful expressive face with a great acting talent and all I can say is she truly represents an average Indian woman.

"Vidya Balan"

Of course, make-up has played a huge role to enhance their beauty since they are professional actresses. But an average Indian woman hardly uses any. Make-up in India usually consists of an occasional moisturizer, pressed powder, kohl liner for the eye or eyeliner and lipstick. I never knew what a primer was until I came to the US. I think it could be lack of commercialization in Indian society until the 90s that I survived this heavy make-up gluttony that we see in the US. However now that India is an open market, the international cosmetic companies with mega advertising budget are changing the mindset of the younger people. The need to look and dress like a Westerner has reached a never before high today but the love for food is equally at its peak. Let’s see what the future generation of Indian women will warp into.

But for now I can still say it is the simplicity and natural looks that adorn Indian women. There is a love for a good life, friendship and lots of food.

"Indian Woman"

Image courtesy: “Indian Woman”

Bollywood Movie Remakes

March 7, 2012

I was completely disappointed with the remake of Agneepath and surprised that it became a hit. Well if you have read my blog about how I like my Bollywood then you will know that I am not much for melodrama or should I say mocktails. Agneepath came across to me like trying out a rich dark chocolate cake in a vegan style only to see it fall flat. (If done right, some vegan cakes are amazing!)

Let me tell you why. The basic story was a literal copy. However it lacked the thrill of retribution like the original where the angry young man vindicates his father’s wrongful death by becoming the underworld don of Mumbai, Vijay Deenanath Chauhan and defeating his enemies.

Okay, so the remake had a twist just like Farhan Akhtar’s remake of Don where the hero is the villain. Here Karan Johar made his victim the perpetrator. Apart from colossal loss of lives including his own there was nothing really gained at the end. And then there was Sanjay Dutt. I love this guy but I didn’t know whether to laugh or to cry looking at his persona in the film. He was just an oversized “human” version of Gollum. Remember him? Sorry Sanjay but if you are a fan of “Lord of the Rings” I am sure you won’t be offended as Gollum was quite awesome.

Sanjay Dutt in Agneepath

Honestly friends, I am not much for remakes and that too of movies that are still fresh on our minds and still relevant for many generations to come. Think about it, do you really want to see Godfather again without Marlon Brando, Al Pacino and Robert DeNiro? Guess not. Do you really want to see Sholay without Dharmendra, Amitabh, Hema Malini, and Amjad Khan in those very roles? Now I am fine with parodies or spoofs. Yes you guessed it, I am a die-hard fan of Amitabh and I choose to overlook his lapses. 🙂

Anyway, the trend for remakes probably started with Devdas. Now this is a very old movie and I really enjoyed watching it again in the grandiose settings of Sanjay Leela Bhansali.

Then came the remake of Don. But kudos to Farhan for giving a great twist to the story and hitting a home run with the masses and critics alike, including me (a critic among the masses). But what did not work for me is his choice of the actor. Shah Rukh Khan may have done well as Devdas but he failed in the first remake of Don. He desperately tried to copy Amitabh and failed. In fact Farhan should have completely stayed away from the original dialogues and scenes. Even Kareena Kapoor’s dance was disgusting and cheap when compared with Helen. So true, “See, Helen never looked vulgar while doing all those cabaret songs.” – Pandit Birju Maharaj, in Times of India.

My husband says to not compare and to look with fresh eyes. If so, then there should be none of the original scenes, dialogues and dance sequences. For example I was quite impressed with Shah Rukh Khan in Don 2. He was his original best.

Coming back to Agneepath, one thing that worked for me was Hrithik. He did not imitate Amitabh even remotely and gave a fresh take on that character. But I wish this was Farhan’s project because Karan Johar as always, got carried away by his super-duper love for melodrama which was disgustingly portrayed very well at the end. Spoiler Alert below!

If a body gets pierced with a weapon penetrating through and through, there is no way that one can survive. To top that if the weapon is removed from the body then one will bleed out completely within minutes. Yeah I know, I watch CSI too much but isn’t it common sense. Well, our wounded hero went on to fight for 20 minutes or more overpowering a man two times his size and even lynching him single-handedly. Really? Not even Rocky Balboa could have pulled that off. C’mon Karan! What were you thinking? Are you testing the intellect of average Indian public? Or, you thought the chikni chameli dance will blindside this lapse? Lucky for you it worked.

On one hand Bollywood makes commercial yet very realistic movies like Zindagi na mile Dobara and then we have movies that are so ridiculous.  This is yet another classic Indian paradox that afflicts our society, our minds and obviously our taste in films and film-making. My earnest request to all the directors and producers, please don’t make fun of Bollywood legends by making such poor remakes. Exaggerating of facts is fine but it should be within sanity. In fact please take creativity classes if you have run out of ideas or just take a walk into real India and you will get your script or even a fresh talent perhaps.

Adios Amigos!

Reflecting on 2011

December 31, 2011

This year was one of the toughest years of my life and much as I want to forget it and move on it is deeply etched in my mind. I am sure this feeling resonates with a lot of you in some way or the other. People around the world have suffered profound loss in their own ways from either losing a job or losing a loved one or losing a home or losing something precious. 2011 showed me how frail, fragile, unpredictable and sometime irreversible life is. I have reached a point where I have no room in my heart for any negativity, ego or spite. I oppose war more than ever.

No one knows what tomorrow holds and this is a feeling that we always adhere to when we usher in the New Year. I still remember last year’s New Year’s Eve party when we bade goodbye to 2010 and as always we are all so excited for the New Year. Isn’t “New” always thought of as something better, something bigger, or something greater? But what if it is not? 2011 made me change my perception of “New” as something unknown (which it is) and not necessarily better or bigger or greater but to go with the flow.

Well, this year started off with a small fender-bender on the road which was inconsequential really and I was thanking my stars as we drove back home. So I could not believe my ears when I heard that the car had to be totaled. Logic here was that the cost behind the damage was much more than the value of the car but still overnight we lost our car. Again after a few months we missed a near fatal accident by a hair’s breadth when a van jumped the red signal. Thank goodness I was a bit distracted so had a slow start but the incident still sends a chill down my spine. It made me feel how unpredictable life can be.

But the biggest blow came on 22nd July when we got the dreaded phone call from India at wee hours of the morning. My friends this call is most dreaded to us Indians in America because we have left our loved ones behind to come to the US to make a better life here. I used to talk about it, worry about it and have seen so many of my friends go through it and it finally happened to me. I lost my father that day, my rock, my mentor. Every one of us who knew him is still trying to come to terms on how life can just slip out of a healthy man within seconds. Life is frail and sometimes the losses we suffer are irreversible.

The world too saw some tragic events this year. Natural calamities struck the world like never before. Japan braved a triple disaster with a 9.0 magnitude earthquake and resulting tsunami killing nearly 20,000 people and causing grave destruction to the towns and cities on the Northeastern Honshu coast. The third blow was a major meltdown of a nuclear plant in the area causing months of scare over radioactive contamination. No one knows better than them what it is to suffer from radiation after-effects through generations. 2011 saw many earthquakes all over the world (Turkey, New Zealand). It almost feels like nature is warning us about its fury against man’s negligence.

Apart from earthquakes, we saw the most deadliest and destructive tornado outbreak slamming the mid-West and South of US causing 552 confirmed fatalities. At least there were over 1000 tornadoes reported here in the US with six EF5 tornadoes. Towns of Smithville, Joplin and Tuscaloosa saw catastrophic destruction. One such devastating tornado had a wind speed of 205 miles per hour and stretched three miles causing complete devastation.

Jopin Tornado effect

Then we all know and have experienced in some ways the repercussions of the economic quagmire in Europe and US resulting in the highest unemployment rate. So many people have suffered financial and emotional havoc because of this while the politicians and rich business tycoons controlling the banks keep striking deals to safeguard their interests.

The world also lost some talented people this year and of course topping this list is Steve Jobs, a visionary and a creative genius. 

But best part of life is while on one hand it may take something precious from you it also teaches you to be thankful for what we still have or what we may have averted when we lose something or someone. I am thankful that my father did not suffer. He was a self-made mad, proud and always ready and willing to help others and he never would have liked to depend on anyone or cause inconvenience.

The world too saw some good this year. Finally the likes of Osama Bin Laden and Muammar Gaddafi were taken out. The Middle East uprising resulted in positive change of regimes in Tunisia and Egypt. The Iraq war that started in 2003 finally ended (Price of War: more than 4,400 US troops sacrificed & $700 billion in expense and who knows how many civilians). And, I finally learnt to bake and achieved one of my dreams.

As I eagerly bid goodbye (just a few hours left) to this year I will continue to keep my hopes alive for a better tomorrow for a brand New Year and pray for a lot of peace, happiness and courage for those who have lost someone or something precious this year. I love you dad.

Happy New Year!

Is Bollywood sexist?

July 18, 2011

In the recent Aishwarya Rai – Madhur Bhandarkar controversy a fierce debate of whether Bollywood is sexist or not became a topic of our discussion with friends one afternoon and thus gave me a much needed topic for blogging.

More on this controversy a little later but first I want to share some scenarios with all of you to set the premise behind this allegation and leave the decision for you to make.

Bollywood has several male actors in their 40s and 50s still playing lead roles alongside actresses who are barely 20. But one doesn’t get to see female actors getting this opportunity. Forget the age factor but the moment they get married and have kids their opportunities start to dwindle. Or does it?

Some examples of male actors are Salman Khan (45), Sanjay Dutt (52), Aamir Khan (46) and Shah Rukh (45). Just recently Jackie Shroff (51) has refused father roles. They all show their age but yet get meaty roles. In fact the only guy who looks fit and young despite his age is Akshay Kumar (43).

Bollywood Actors

Or, take a look at Rajinikanth (60), how he is in real life and how he looks in reel life –

Rajini

But for a lot of actresses, marriage and motherhood translates to early retirement from films. Some have chosen to stage a comeback much later when they are gray and old and take on “mother” roles while some don’t.

Then there is Raakhee who, despite age and motherhood received great opportunities. But then she surprised everyone by taking on the “mother” role for a lead actor (Amitabh Bachchan) with whom she had successful onscreen romantic pairing and since then her fate was sealed. The same goes for Hema Malini but at least with her it was not until her late 40s that she started playing more matured roles. Clearly this shows that Bollywood is not sexist.

Look at their counterparts from Hollywood like Diane Lane (46), Jodie Foster (48), and Julianne Moore (50), they are still sexy and they are still in demand. The key is that the Hollywood actresses understand what it takes to be successful in their profession and hence they get into all kinds of fitness and beauty regimen to remain bankable. Who cannot but get impressed with Meryl Streep even today.

Hollywood Actress

So if actresses don’t maintain their looks then why should the producers put their money on them? So is it really fair to say Bollywood is sexist?

Here is now a tricky part. What about Madhuri Dixit (44) and Sridevi (47)? They are still very beautiful and extremely fit. Why are they finding it hard to land a role?

I think it is purely a business decision. Rajinikanth is still in demand because the brand “Rajini” is imperishable.  But these actresses are out of touch with reality due to a very long break that they took from their career. Simply put their brand is no longer relevant albeit still popular. For example melodrama that was at its peak during their time has very little role to play in today’s movies.

So the second part to this conundrum is actresses taking a long hiatus from their career. Most Hollywood actresses remain true to their professions. Here are  more examples:  J Lo (42), Halle Berry (44) or Angelina Jolie (36). They had kids and they were back in form in less than a year looking as sexy as always. Their name, their body and their face is big money and they know that.

The only actress in Bollywood to have worked through marriage and motherhood is Kajol (36). She looks as beautiful as always although some fitness regimen will not hurt her. We might be at an early stage of change where our actresses don’t look at marriage and motherhood as roadblocks but just as a part of life while continuing to hone their brand image. A lot depends on the next generation of actresses (Deepika Padukone, Anushka Sharma, Priyanka Chopra, and Konkona Sen Sharma).

Now to the topic of Aishwarya Rai! I don’t think Bollywood or for that matter Madhur Bhandarkar is anymore sexist than Aishwarya Rai being completely unprofessional. A true professional will never walk out on a commitment. In fact I have heard of actresses being  dropped from projects because of pregnancy. Even Meryl Streep lost out on “Thelma and Louise” to Susan Sarandon because of pregnancy but it did not stop her from being a successful actress or from being a mother to 4 children.

I am happy Madhur is moving on. He is a great director and there are great actresses equally beautiful who can do justice to his script. He has nevertheless settled the issue with Aishwarya and now looking at Priyanka or Kareena.

It will also be interesting to see what Aishwarya (37) would do. Will she let the brand “Aishwarya” to fade away by following the footsteps of her mother-in-law or whether she will come back looking just as beautiful and stunning in a year’s time or will she stick to matured roles like many other married actresses like Juhi Chawla for one. Whatever it is she should not be forced into it either by family or the industry or the audience.

The day we start seeing female actors in Bollywood enjoying a success like Hollywood’s Meryl Streep or like our own ageless legend Amitabh Bachchan then yes we can stop debating on this issues. For now the case rests.

*Ages as referenced in Wikipedia

Happy Endings.

May 9, 2011

I watched a movie called “Royal wedding” last weekend starring Kate Middleton and Prince Williams. This real life event was almost like a movie because it had all the elements that make a romantic movie – Love between a prince and a commoner, the rise of a commoner into the royalty, princess bride, suspense (what will she wear, who will she wear, will she choose Diana’s designer and blah, blah), the regal walk down the aisle, the vows and all this excitement ending with a kiss.
.

Royal Kiss

We all love happy endings because we all grew up reading or watching the fairy tales. How can we forget the beautiful quote from Cinderella “A dream is a wish your heart makes when you’re fast asleep. Have faith in your dreams. No matter how your heart is grieving, if you keep on believing, the dream that you wish will come true.

I think this whole wedding was even more special because Kate was like one of us who married an actual Prince and she in her beautiful white dress looked almost surreal.

Royal Wedding dress

This real life movie also had some comic relief from the giggling Prince Harry all the weird hats. 

But this was not it. Last weekend had more happy endings in store. Before the weekend closed, we heard about the triumph over evil after 10 long years, the downfall of Osama Bin Laden orchestrated like a slick spy movie. The Navy Seals assumed the role of a group of super heroes who put an end to World’s most wanted man. Again, it reminded me of my childhood days. Haven’t we all grown up reading about super heroes and how good will always prevails over the evil?

I call the last weekend as a welcome oasis after a 2 long years of being in the doom. The Royal Wedding on one one hand provided an escape from reality while the OBL saga gave reality a ne wmeaning. These two events gave us a hope for better things to come, a hope to surge ahead and attain our goals and dreams and a hope for a turnaround. It sure was a weekend when movies and fairy tales descended into our real lives.

Here’s hoping for more such happy endings, cheers!

Happy endings