December 26, 2016

My Dangal Review

These days, I am blissfully ignorant of the latest movies coming out of Bollywood. The wife still keeps a tab on them and it was she who told me about Dangal.

Once I learned about the movie’s sporting theme I wasn’t sure if I wanted to see it. You see, movies about sports tend to be a predictable fare - a prodigy is discovered, training for a big event starts, setbacks are encountered but they are eventually overcome and the story culminates in the protagonist’s ultimate triumph (despite unfavourable odds) in a big international tournament. If the movie is about a team sport, then the setbacks include episodes of friction between members of the team. Eventually, the team comes together as one with help from a long, inspirational speech from the coach in the final moments of the movie. Inadvertantly, such movies tend to be peppered with generous doses of jingoism.

When we were in Singapore a few days ago, I somehow managed to convince the wife to watch Rogue One with me. When Dangal released in Amsterdam, that too in a theatre close to our house, there is no way I was going to be able to wiggle out of watching it with her.

For once, I am glad I went.

The movie does loosely follow your typical sporting movie template but it never gets dull - helped in some measure by its unusual theme of women’s wrestling in India. It chronicles the journey of Phogat sistes from their birth in a small village in Haryana to their success in the women’s wrestling event in the 2010 Commonwealth Games. Now wrestling is a sport your casual sport fan probably knows nothing about. Thankfully, the narrative includes a scene where you are educated about the rudiments of modern international wrestling so that you can follow the protagonist’s guaranteed triumph better.

Spoilers Ahead

Since this is a movie and not a documentary, some creative liberties have naturally been taken (in fact we are told as much in the opening credits of the movie). The rivalry between the protagonist’s father (a former national wrestling champion and her mentor) and her national coach came across as exaggerated. That this rivalry should end with the national coach conspiring to get the father locked into a storage room in the stadium during the final match of the tournament, felt a little ridiculous. Truth, especially in India, is often stranger than fiction. Perhaps such an episode really did occur, but the sense I got was that the movie tried a little too hard to manufacture a clear villain out of the national coach. Also, the final match, judging by the scorecard I found on Wikipedia, was probably not much of a cinematic thriller in real life (at 0-3/0-8 it didn’t even go into the 3rd round).

I thoroughly enjoyed myself despite the unnecessary histrionics in the end. The pacing was perfect, the dialogs were crisp and the songs were carefully employed to move the story forward. Given the general neglect sports - especially women’s sports - suffer in India, the achievements of Phogat sisters are very significant. I am glad their story is being told.

The Dutch subtitles that accompany foreign language movies released in Amsterdam, always make for an interesting study of things that get lost in translation.

A simple utterance of शाबाश (shabash) from a father to a child sometimes doesn’t have a direct translation in another language. In Dutch it got translated as Ik ben trots op je”, which in English would translate to I am proud of you”. I guess they could’ve gone with goed zo” (roughly well done” in English) - but that’s something I hear used by parents offering encouragement to a toddler learning to walk and perhaps would be misplaced in context of a father congratulating his gold-medalist daughter.

The subtitles here not only convert quantities uttered on screen in imperial units to metric units, but also change the emergency numbers to local ones (e.g. 911 is translated to 112). This time I noticed a couple of other interesting phenomena.

In one scene, a girl is heard in the background reading from her English schoolbook:

B-O-Y boy

which in subtitles became

J-O-N-G-E-N jongen

Jongen being the Dutch word for boy. That they would translate something being read aloud letter by letter was surprising for me.

In yet another scene, the protagonist’s father is having a little altercation with the national coach about his daughter’s poor performance in past wrestling matches owing to the coach forcing a defensive strategy. He uses an analogy about a player’s natural game” from Cricket - a sport you apparently cannot escape from in India even in a film about women’s wrestling. He says that what the coach was instructing his daughter to do, was the equivalent of telling Virender Sehwag to play like Rahul Dravid.

How does one translate something like this to another language for an audience that knows nothing about cricket, let alone the batting styles of Indian cricketers? Well, they chose not to use cricket in the subtitles at all. While the exact Dutch used here escapes me, the translation said something to the effect of telling a tiger to behave like an elephant1.

The songs often get a very literal translation and don’t make any sense at all.

As you can probably tell, I no longer find Dutch subtitles in theatres here distracting. I almost look forward to them!


  • The movies shown in theatres in Amsterdam don’t have a notion of intermission. Indian movies are no exception. Despite their length and the explicit inclusion of an intermission frame, you don’t get a break. Which means one must remember to go in on an empty bladder and then go easy on the fizzy drinks.

  1. good’ol India - the land of snake charmers, tigers and elephants. You can’t blame them if Virender and Rahul sound like names of dieties from the mystical Indian pantheon. Actually, given that cricket in India borders on being a religion, they actually are.

October 30, 2016

Autumn colours in Amsterdam

The tree at the intersection of Brouwersgracht and Keizersgracht was one of the first trees in Amsterdam to start developing fall colours. Within no time it sported leaves in every possible shade you would associate with autumn.

Other trees along the canals followed suit shortly. The last three weeks have been an abolute riot of colours in Amsterdam:

October 18, 2016

Bergen’s Funicular

The wife is addicted enough to Pokémon Go to seek out new Pokémon when we are traveling but still not addicted enough to pay for a roaming data plan for it. Her strategy when traveling abroad is to seek out free WiFi access points, start Pokémon Go and hope that a new Pokémon spawns near her. Sometimes it works. It was during one such attempt in a bogey of Bergen’s funicular train that an asian lady standing next to her asked her what level she was on. I guess the social convention amongst Pokémon Go players dictates that you answer the question with your level and then ask the other person theirs. Which is exactly what the wife went on do. We had barely processed the answer from the asian lady when a middle aged American man sitting opposite her looked at the Asian lady’s sneakers and asked her if those were Onitsukas. When she said yes, the man exclaimed that he couldn’t believe they still made them! He then went on to regale all of us about a comfortable Onitsuka pair he owned when he was living in Tokyo many years ago.

Soon a group of excited kindergarten kids on a field trip boarded the funicular with their teachers. I lost this thread of conversation amidst their chitter-chatter and used the opportunity to scribble the brand name of the sneakers into my diary.1 As far as Funicular smalltalk goes, this had been few notches above surreal.

Our ride barely lasted 5-7 minutes but in that time we gained considerable elevation. The view from the viewing gallery just outside the Funicular station on the mountain was beautiful. There was a little hut just below the lookout point and two white goats were living there.

There was a playschool just off the funicular station. Around here, we came acorss stumps of trees that had been carved into trolls complete with signs telling us not to feed them.

We took a random marked trail that got us a little deeper into the woods - amidst tall pine trees and close to small, placid lakes.

Animals carved out of wood were placed throughout. This made our walk feel like real-life Pokémon Go - A wild vulpus had just appeared:

After a few hours, instead of taking the funicular back, we simply walked all the way to the city center.

The next day, we had some time to kill before our afternoon flight back to Amsterdam. We wanted to spend our time walking through nature and decided to take the funicular to the mountain again. At the ticket counter, they warned us about there being poor visibility from the top owing to fog. Since we weren’t going there for the view, we took the funicular anyway.

When we reached there, the view wasn’t actually all that bad. This time, we also noticed signs forbidding witches on flying brooms from entering the forest.

A few minutes later the whole area was blanketed in a thick fog. We could see why they’d warn you about it when getting tickets - if we were here for the view of the city from top, we’d be pretty dejected.

However the sort of views that we had come for, had actually been enhanced by the fog:

p.s. Had we heard Come Wander With Me by Bonnie Beecher playing here, we would’ve been very spooked.

  1. I hadn’t heard about Onitsuka before and wanted to look them up online later. I am at an age when memory is beginning to be an increasingly dubious ally. At that moment I would be certain beyond any doubt that a name like Onitsuka would stick in my mind forever. However just a few days later, as I would sit down to write a blog post, all manners of details would pour out but the name of the brand would elude me.

October 5, 2016

Winter’s footsteps

Summer this year in Amsterdam has been so warm and so long, that the cooler autumn temperatures of the past three days, quite normal for this time of the year, seem too sudden too soon. The temperature outside in the morning is around 8-9°C, while inside the house, the thermostat is beginning to read below 24°C after many days. The days of blankets are still far, but a thick throw is a must for a good night’s sleep. The pedestal fan will definitely need to be disassembled and stowed away one of these weekends.

Autumn here makes me nostalgic about my childhood in Delhi because the autumn temperatures in Amsterdam are in the same range as winter temperatures in Delhi. Once it gets colder though, I lose that frame of reference and the only memories that come back are the ones I formed here.

The days are getting shorter and soon my 35 min walk to and from work will be in the dark. For now, the light both in the morning as well as in the evening is gorgeous. I especially look forward to my walk in the evening. Even if I miss the golden dusk light or a dramatic sunset, lights getting switched on inside old, historic buildings of Amsterdam create opportunities for pictures that, when processed by programs like Prisma, look like a cross between works of Vermeer and night-time impressionist paintings of European cities.

October 2, 2016

A musical street in Istanbul

While walking through a popular street in Istanbul my pace slackened as my ears caught strains of music and singing. There were a lot of restaurants and bars in that street that were getting ready to open for the evening. Pretty much every one offered live music. The singers were strumming their guitars and rehearsing in their full, energetic voices. The singing was in all likelihood in Turkish. Even if it were in a language I understood, it would’ve been hard to make out individual words in the general hubbub. As I would move past each restaurant, the melody and the voice would change. It was like turning the knob of a radio and tuning into a new station momentarily. Mesmerised by the effect, I took out my phone and paced up and down the street to make these two recordings:

p.s. From a trip to Istanbul early last year.

September 23, 2016

From Bergen to Flåm and back

The wife and I love train journeys. While planning for our trip to Bergen in Norway, the wife had read about how beautiful the train ride from Bergen to Oslo was. However, that would’ve been an 8-hour one-way trip and thus would’ve probably involved looking for an overnight accommodation in Oslo. Instead, we settled for a shorter 3½-hour train ride to Flåm.

On Sundays, the train leaves at a peculiar time: 9:59 AM. The train was mostly empty and naturally, we sought window seats in anticipation of picturesque views.

The views of placid lakes surrounded by pine trees and mountains that shortly followed our departure were stunning indeed. Given the mountainous landscape along this route, most of the track lies inside long tunnels bored through the mountains. The moment we would switch on our phone cameras, the train would roll into a long, dark tunnel. The noise of the engine would reverberate and would be joined by a strange whistling sounds as the air inside the tunnel would rush through gaps between our train compartment’s doors and their frames.

I lost myself in my book (Amitav Ghosh’s Sea of Poppies). I also had my headphones on, but given the din the train was making, had to strain to hear the music. I would occasionally raise my head from the book to take in the views as the train would transit between two tunnels.

The first half of our journey ended at Myrdal station. Here we walked to the platform across the tracks to board another train that would take us to Flåm.

This train was quaint - with wooden benches and a decor that harkend back to the glory days of the steam engine. It was quite full and getting a window seat was out of question.

The train moved slowly and passed through more tunnels and over bridges that offered breathtaking views of the deep valleys below. It even made a 10-minute stop near a waterfall where everyone could get down and take pictures.

When we finally reached Flåm it was clear that it was a very popular tourist destination - a little too popular for our taste. We avoided the busy restaurants near the train station and grabbed a couple of cheese sandwiches and coffee for lunch from a small bakery. It was a clear afternoon and we sat down on a wooden platform by Flåm’s small harbor to enjoy our meal. We saw several boats leave from here for a tour of the fjords. Shortly a large ferry bound for Bergen docked here. Neither the wife nor I had particularly enjoyed the journey by train. The wife wondered if we would be allowed to use the ferry on our train tickets. I found the idea a little far-fetched but she decided to try it anyway. Turns out, it was possible in a somewhat roundabout way. We could cancel our train tickets for a fee of 100 NOK (approximately € 11) and by adding another 20 NOK or so to the amount we got back, buy the ferry tickets.

It was 90 minutes to the ferry’s departure and we killed time by taking a short walk through the village. Our plans to go see a church in the old village center were thwarted by the weather - it was too warm for a long walk without any trees shading the way. We returned early and stocked up on snacks from the bakery for the trip back.

When we entered the ferry a few minutes before the departure, the whole boat smelled of bacon. Clearly the pantry was well stocked for the 5 hour-long journey. The ferry was relatively empty when it started from Flåm, but it would pick up more passengers along the way.

Unlike the train, the boat was clearly not going to seek passage through tunnels. The entire journey was through Norway’s majestic fjords. We kept trying to take pictures by pressing our phone cameras to the grimy windowpanes of the ferry but when it stopped near a waterfall, we realised that the ferry’s upper deck was open to passengers. We found seats next to the staircase that led there and kept moving back and forth between the comfort of the warm, air-conditioned lower deck and the cold, open upper deck.

From a distance the cliffs surrounding the water looked like rocks covered in moss, but as the ship would draw closer, it would become evident that the rocks were bonafide mountains and the moss proper forests.

The ferry made a handful of stops near small towns and villages along the route. Some of those stops must’ve taken impossible feats of engineering to build:

while others looked like scenes from a fantasy novel:

At this time of the year, the sun in Norway sets around 8:00 PM. Our ferry was leaving the fjords and entering open waters. The spray its bow raised as it zipped through the turbulent waters turned golden. The clouds that lingered in the sky, did so not with the intention of obscuring the sunset, but merely to add a bit a drama to the event.

Once the sun went down, we settled into our seats till the end of the journey. The ferry docked at the Bergen harbor (a short walk from the city center and our hotel) around 9:15 PM. We stepped out beaming - thoroughly pleased at our decision of having swapped the train ride for the journey by ferry.


  • It got very windy on the upper deck, at one point my glasses flew off my face!
  • Waltz from Angels and Insects kept looping through my head during our stay in Norway.
  • As we followed our ferry’s route through the map, we couldn’t help but wonder if children in Norway had to draw the map of their country from memory in their geography class.

  • The exhaust vents of the AC were a popular spot to stand against on the upper deck because of the warm air from the lower deck they were constantly pumping out.