Aishwarya Rao
*This is a Viswaroopam review : Spoiler Alert*

A realistic and relevant story

Set in New York, Vishwaroopam is the story of Kathak teacher ‘Wiz’ Vishwanath (Kamal Hassan), his Tam Bram wife Dr. Nirupama, a neuro oncologist (Pooja Kumar) and their involvement in an evidently ambitious conspiracy by the villain, an Afghani Al-Qaeda Jihadi, Omar (Rahul Bose) to destroy New York. You can read the detailed plot here.

With the bold, honest story line that captures the ongoing war against al-Qaeda Vishwaroopam is an exception in its genre of Tamil spy-action-thrillers. It is also a refreshing break from the boy meets girl framework that our movies are notorious for.

Intelligent direction 

Vishwaroopam is a movie that is surprisingly and intelligently detached from the tricky subject of religion - any religion for that matter.  There - I said it. 

Having watched the movie, I am quite sad that it hasn’t received its first day first show celebration in Tamil Nadu, yet. The movie is so tactfully made that it leaves little room for religious fanaticism and bigotry. This is India, not Iran we are talking about.

You know, I am so tempted to take my Kashmiri Muslim bestie Raheel Khursheed to watch this movie with me, for I am confident, he too will agree that there is an unmistakable focus on al-Qaeda terrorists with absolutely no comment on , suggestion of or allusion to Islam or those who practice it.

In addition, Kamal makes it his sole purpose to smash propaganda and media driven stereotypes. That is why you have the chicken loving Tam-Bram Dr. Nirupama, indulging in an affair, a mockery of the stereotypical curd rice licking, ‘Rascala’ obsessive Tam-Bram as popularly depicted by Shah Rukh Khan. That is why an al-Qaeda terrorist Omar’s young son speaks in fluent English announcing his ambition to become a doctor. The guy who is expected to detonate a bomb is Nigerian – not Afghani, not Pakistani, not Arab. The nuclear oncologist who is likely to save New York is a woman…and in response to a NYPD officer’s question about God, Dr. Nirupama retorts “My God has four arms and we dunk him in the sea”. Kudos to Kamal for directing a clever movie that tramples on clich├ęs.

Serious performance #Likeaboss

Rahul Bose as the Afghani al-Qaeda terrorist is deeply authentic. His artificial eye makes you squirm and his unsettling performance makes him a convincing antagonist. Despite an annoying Tam-Bram delivery and a constant perplexed look on her face, it is easy to accept Pooja Kumar as a nuclear oncologist, may be because she comes with little baggage.

Andreah Jeremiah is nothing more than a nice-to-have distraction adding prettiness to the why-so-serious moments of the film. Shekar Kapur, Nasser, Zarina Wahab and Jaideep Ahlawat bring elegance to their characters in an otherwise unemotional and grim storyline.

Undoubtedly, Kamal shines throughout the two and half hours. One cannot miss the deliberate effeminate steps he takes as he runs to a ringing phone (aah!) or the hopelessness in his face when a young Jihadi’s life is lost…living and breathing his character with a maturity that comes with age, experience and to an actor of his calibre. One must deeply thank him for a realistic performance in the action sequences and for staying away from donning multiple roles.

With the absence of the standard, irrelevant, unwanted-running-down-snow–capped-mountains-song sequence and a parallel Santhanam comedy track, the screen play remains tight, logical and delightful.

In my feeble attempt to draw comparisons and elaborate what a ‘next-level’ Tamil movie Hassan has made, I am tempted to declare that some of the warfare scenes are as gripping as that of Zero Dark Thirty.  In what might be the first time for Tamil cinema, here is a three point five to four star rated movie that can confidently compete with its Hollywood counterparts on the subject of international espionage.  

Vishwaroopam is truly Kamal’s magnum opus - a brave, artistic, beautifully made, realistic, tightly edited piece.  Look at it as an arresting tale of global terrorism and you will see how Kamal Hassan has justified his title, Ulaganaayakan.

I am certainly looking forward to part two.
Aishwarya Rao

“Mrs. Anand”, the twenty something receptionist in a tight grey skirt, called out - “Your report is here”.

Parvathi drifted across the waiting area and collected her report. As she clumsily tore open the envelope, she noticed the receptionist staring at her nails. Unpainted and uncared for, much like an abandoned property in dispute. Well someone noticed it, she thought to herself.

You see, after seven years of marriage there was hardly a need to dress to impress anyone, especially not her husband. Anand was so extraordinarily busy at work, that he hardly had time for her. Not only that, over the years Parvathi had come to realize that Anand was actually very different to how he came across in society.

At home, he mostly kept to himself, sticking to his video games, books, newspapers, magazines and his latest obsession, the iPad. He was such a big loner, that Anand whined about having guests and hosting dinners at home. During the festive season, Anand would request his boss to send him on a business trip to Hyderabad, just to avoid the drama of gettogethers…

‘Uncared for, much like me’ she murmured, staring at her own nails.

She recalled how it had been before the wedding.  She would spend hours together at a beauty parlour getting her nails done. Her eyebrows were perfect arches, her hair always styled, the oxygen facial would make her face glow and there wasn’t a day she wouldn’t receive compliments for her tasteful outfits and accessories. But now…now things were different. A fine dine meal was a rare occasion, restricted to Anand’s relaxed mood.  Jewellery? What jewellery? Anand had taken to buying indoor and outdoor furniture for birthdays and anniversaries. Movie time was replaced by TED talks on the iPad….and Parvathi couldn’t actually recall the last time they had kissed.

Marriage is over rated she thought to herself as the receptionist yelled out “Mrs. Anand, the doctor will now see you”.
Aishwarya Rao

Go on Long tail boat ride to Koh Phi Phi, Thailand

Go on a boat with a sail cruise to Tivua, Fiji

Take a Jet Boat Ride at Hole in the Rock at the Bay of Islands, New Zealand

Visit Tasmania, Australia

Don't miss snorkelling in Catalina, just of LA, the USA

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Aishwarya Rao

Stop guessing.
This is not about your Cityville invite to build the city of my dreams, run trains, launch ships and more.
Or your desperate cry for help to survey your farm land.
In fact, I don’t mind your game invites at all.

I find it amusing that you reckon I could be your Poker buddy, that I will give you four cups of All Purpose Flour to run your cafe and help you make delicious cakes while playing ‘Tea4Friends’.
The truth is I suck at poker, can’t tell the difference between Atta and Maida and the only thing I probably make in style is Lipton Dip Tea.
But you don’t know this. So I don’t mind your invites.
After all how does the ignore button achieve its ‘life purpose’, right?

This list of ‘things you do on Facebook that shit me’ is a very different one.
It is a list of things my Facebook friends ‘commit’ that I struggle to control.
Mostly I am amused, sometimes annoyed and once in a while speechless.
So here’s my list in order of annoyance from to 10-1, 1 being super psycho.

NOTE: This post was not written with any particular person in mind.
So don’t take it personally, be offended, unfriend me, call me a bitch and create a scene.

10) Setting up a Fan Page for yourselfAre you serious?
Did you accidentally set up a page instead of an account?
Or do you think it is high time your acquaintances and friends became your fans too?
Unless you are some sort of a celebrity or one in the making, I am not sure I follow your logic and that cracks me up!

9) Making a calendar of friends’ birthdays and worse, tagging them
Why do you do that?Do you print these January Birthday photos and pin them on your bedroom wall?
Are you afraid that Facebook might screw up and forget to notify you of their birthday?
Worse you tag your January born friends.
As if there is a chance they might forget their own birthday.
If this is an app you have accessed, have you ever, ever questioned its logic?

8) Punctuating your post. Or not

If it is not funny enough that you write a Facebook post to say you have emailed someone, your utter lack of respect for the ellipsis or any punctuation for that matter is (if only mildly) disturbing.
Dear A,Read your email and I have replied to it…………………………………………
‘Reply me’ when you have a moment!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!With Love; P
7) Updating your status with sad, poignant and mysterious statements, every single day
A normal person has a thousand wishes…but I have only one…to stop you from updating your status with sad, mysterious and philosophical messages that want me to choke you. You might have been back stabbed by a friend. I have been too. In addition I have lost my job and a parent, broken up with my boy-friend and been rejected a visa. My life sucks too but save the self-pity. Let me know when you have moved on. Please repost this in honour of someone who moved on…one who stopped annoying us with sad LIFE quotes copied from various pages on the Internet. I know 97% of you won’t post this as your status…but 3% will.

6) Sts updts tht rd lke dis
Are you on drugs?
Do you confuse Facebook with text messaging?
You have 420 characters to update your status.
Then why do you torture my soul with updates that look like you have been forced to use the left over characters from a game of speed Scrabble.
Dis msg is 4 ppl who wrt lke dis. Hw tuf is it 2 wrt in full? It is nt kewl!

5) Using David Beckham’s or Pippa Middleton’s photograph for your profile picture
It is okay. Occasionally. May be L.A.Galaxy won a match.
Or you are celebrating Doppelganger week on Facebook and someone mentioned that you are a Pippa look alike.
But if you have celebrity photos or low resolution images of Simpsons quotes (that you found on the Internet when you googled ‘FUNNY’), as your profile picture FOREVER, then it is strange. Just strange.

4) Changing your last name to your status
Either you are stuck in Orkut 1.0 beta mode or you simply don’t get it.
How can your last name be ‘happily-married’, ‘in- Hawaii’ or ‘on-a-roll’?
Why don’t you explore the possibility of updating your daily status, relationship or current city?
How am I supposed to respond to a friendship request from Raj Coolismylastname?
It is really not that funny, unless, your last name is ‘has-no-clue’.

3) Letting your dog post on my wallI know he is ‘sooo cute’.
But he can’t post on my wall and ask me to Skype with his momma.
It is unnerving enough he has a Facebook account.
It is so not ‘awwww’ when he does that. So not!

2) Checking into bed with your partnerScreams PSYCHO
Not funny.
Not cool.
Just wrong.
Stay away from Facebook Places.

1) Allowing your new born to poke me

Welcome to creep-fest heights.
Have you any idea how unsettling it is when your three-day old baby pokes me?
Friend, I have come to accept a lot of things in this friendship.
Like the fact that your bundle of joy has a Facebook account of her own.
That she uploads her own photo albums.
And captions them with much creativity like “I couldn't stop giggling” “Me, when I was two days old”
In some way I even get it.
But allowing him or her to poke me is both bad manners and spooky.
So stop it.

As I said earlier, no offence intended. I certainly look forward to our continued friendship on Facebook.
Aishwarya Rao
My Kiwi adventure began on Christmas Day'10 on what I call a 'pseudo international' flight from Sydney to Auckland. With four kilos of carry on luggage and 'Seat Only' tickets on Air New Zealand, this was quite literally the 'lightest' trip I had ever made (I remember carrying more luggage from Chennai to Pondicherry).

Here are six lessons from a near perfect adventure holiday in New Zealand's North Island.

1. Sometimes the journey is more exciting that the destination

Day 1: Hole in the Rock, Bay of Islands, New Zealand. Photo Courtesy: Siddharth Chandrasekar

Driving from Auckland to the Bay of Islands to go on a cruise to the famous rock, Siddharth and I comfortably, almost implicitly, followed our three year old Garmin. That is, until it began taking us on endless stretches of abandoned and precarious gravel roads in the name of 'avoiding traffic'. Driving at 10kmph, we arrived at our cruise pick up point in bad mood and only two hours late.

I am not sure if I can attribute it to the proper alignment of our stars, but the staff at Awesome NZ were so welcoming and flexible that within minutes we were on our way to the famous 'Hole in the Rock' on a fast boat ride that was incredibly true to its promo line 'adrenalin, fun and adventure'.

2. It is not in the head...or is it?

Day 2: Black water rafting, Ruakuri Cave, Waitomo

When I signed up for the Ruakuri cave adventure I knew one of two things would happen. Either I would overcome claustrophobia or I would die trying. After all, black water rafting, watching limestone formations inside a cave that originated millions of years ago and staring at magical glow worms are straightforward, only from outside the cave.

Yet, as I was floating and tubing on the underground river, leaping on my back into cold and cascading waterfalls, navigating through the seemingly endless and bottomless cave, depending on the flow of the river and the distant voices of the guides to find my way, I discovered, as Siddharth often says, that my fears are in my head.

3. Your biggest weakness can be your biggest strength

The first thing you'd notice about Rotorua is the ridiculous smell in the air caused by active thermal activity, erupting geysers and geothermal springs.
To pay no attention to this smell, transform it into a 'natural' experience and make Rotorua an adventure destination is simply sheer genius.
Walking past pools of boiling mud on a gloomy day, I could see why GB Shaw had called this particular geothermal reserve Hell's Gate.

Overlooking the unearthly reserve was the Wai Ora spa that invited us into its warm sulphurous waters promising to refresh, exfoliate, detoxify, revitalize and give us the much sought after wheatish complexion (I am kidding of course). The only annoying part of this truly relaxing experience was the lingering smell of sulphur that continues to haunt our swim wear.

4. What does not kill you only makes you stronger

Day 4: White Water Rafting, Grade 5, Kaituna River, Rotorua

When our complimentary pick up van pulled into the rafting base, Siddharth spotted a bill board that explained how we were about to raft on the highest commercially operated waterfall in the world and he was furious. A mariner himself, he was not remotely faint hearted but the likelihood of damage to his already sore back worried him endlessly, and he would later discover, rather needlessly.

Along with our guide, Sydneysider Catherine and her mate from Brisbane, we set forth on one of the best water adventures of our lives. We rowed hard, struggled with instructions, closed our eyes at every rapid and nearly contributed to the River Rats statistic that 'one in twenty nine rafts overturn'.

Catherine probably got the best bang for the buck when she tumbled into the river while we rafted down the highest rapid. The guide deeply appreciated Siddharth's rowing abilities and sense of balance and all of us came out like conquerors.

5. There is nothing trivial about a Skydiving experience.
Especially not its costs.

Day 5: Nzone Tandem Skydiving, Rotorua

Skydiving in Rotorua makes it to the top three most incredible moments of my life and I have a feeling it will stay there for a long time. Even now when I recall the 'dive' my heart beats faster and I feel nervous.
It was only when the plane chugged 12000 ft into thin air, I realized what an insane idea it was. I recited Hanuman Chalisa and thought of my family. My heart pounded rapidly and I feared I would pee in my suit.
When the time came, I reluctantly jumped from the plane and I swear there are few words to describe the outlandishness of the moment. The entire experience was surreal, up in the air, hanging from a parachute and looking at the the world below, like it was a normal thing to do.

The photos and videos package was almost worth another sky dive, but what the heck, you only do these things once.

6. Never judge a restaurant by its name. Or its location.

Day 6: Satya, South Indian Restaurant, Auckland. Photo by Siddharth Chandrasekar

Yes, I am a food xenophobic. I can't get over the awesomeness of Indian food especially (for lack of a better word) the orgasmic combination of crisp Dosai + Sambhar + Chutney and so I hunt down Indian restaurants wherever I go. Well you can judge me, but that's the truth.

On one of our last evenings in Auckland, Siddharth who sometimes shares my passion for the Dosai chose 'Satya', a South Indian restaurant that also had the rare Uttapam on its menu.

On our way to the restaurant, I wondered about its quality and lack lustre name. No India Palace, Little India, Spices of India, Tandoori Palace....simply Satya. As we pulled up in front of the restaurant, my suspicions were confirmed. Just a block away from Satya was a strip club with a massive A rated bill board. I made a huge fuss about the location and accused Siddharth of being careless. I shut up and acknowledged my narrow mindedness as soon as I tasted the most brilliant Dosai I had had overseas, ever.

So yes, there they are, six lessons from nine days of adventure and I can't wait to explore the famous South Island, NZ. You see, I have mountains to climb and more fears to conquer.
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Aishwarya Rao

“Any good news?” enquired my sixty something neighbour aunty, as I stepped out of the taxi. This year, my summer holidays in India began on that note of interest. A deep interest displayed by a variety of people in our society – the neighbourhood shopkeeper, a friend’s would-be-mother-in-law, the Secretary of the ‘Colony Association’ as they bump into twenty something married girls they hardly know.
Earlier that day, I had invested about two hours of flight time mentally preparing clever remarks that I would come back with to tackle the profound curiosity of acquaintances and fifty something maamis, about the success stories of my sex life. Yet, as I stood in front of the familiar building in good old T.Nagar, no witty response came to my mind. Instead, I found myself mumbling something like “Not this time aunty” and hastily walking away, realizing that no amount of preparation can train you for the missile

Any good news?

The bad news is that it is launched infinite times, restrained and otherwise by a number of ‘relatives and friends’ and by the end of my holidays, I had heard it all - from the delicate
Are you and your husband happy?
the implied
Hasn't it been three years since your wedding?
the ingenious
Your classmate Lavanya has named her second daughter Diya
and the candid
When is your father going to have a grandchild to play with?

This time there was even an order

By this time next year you should be in the family way!
No kidding – by this time next year. Clearly adding a branch to the family tree is that straightforward.
Don’t misunderstand me. I am neither against the idea of breeding nor do the incessant and obnoxious family quizzes fluster me. I only find it tedious to explain my life’s plan to random folks I bump into. Every time a person so innocently picks my brain I find myself questioning their logic and motive – and in most cases I am unsuccessful in discovering a reasonable answer.
Since pretending not to have heard the question never works with maamis who are adamant to hear your story, I often try the “My husband and I are living together in the same city. Isnt that great news in itself maami?” Mostly it works. Other times I surrender and listen to the scientific explanations and strong recommendations of these self-made family counselors – “When I was twenty six, I had my fourth child” (Clearly your recreation options were rather limited!), silently counting my blessings. After all, the REAL good news is that these nosy neighbours are an exclusive summer holiday special.
As for my own parents and immediate family - they say,

Leave it to God. He will make it happen when the time is right

Easy. Isn't it?
Oh wait – Why is God a ‘He’? Well that calls for an entirely different post, doesn't it?
Aishwarya Rao
For most part of my life I have lived in a big and busy a getaway break was something I always looked forward to. And then some remarkable events brought me to Tassie, a pure travel destination, a physical stunner! And ever since I have looked around for 'unique experiences', not featured in Lonely Planet Guides...Here is a list I hope to keep updating for the rest of the year.

Hollybank: Tree Top Adventures
Catch an incredible bird's eye view of the intriguing forests of Tasmania by gliding across treetops. You can enjoy the adrenaline rush of a high-wire, super-fast canopy ride in Hollybank, just twenty minutes from Launceston.

Wynyard: Unforgettable Views
The Wynyard Tulip Festival (September-October) is a chance to walk amidst thousands of blooming tulips and feel like a Bollywood star in a romantic song sequence. If flowers do you no good then explore the bleached sands of Sisters Beach and go swimming in the crystal clear waters of Boat Harbour Beach.

As they say, Tassie is nothing if not for its dazzling wilderness, colonial charm untouched beaches and incredible wine and food. Its urban spirit, fairly recent, will make you wonder if God froze time in Tassie for a small period in time. For a place that accommodates some amazing natural wonders, Tasmania is rather shy...this is my attempt to unearth its dazzling character.
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