Marvel Redefines Synergies

Marvel Studios has made it a habit of churning out huge money spinning blockbusters but it was not as easy as it looks. Marvel started as co-producers on Spiderman and X-Men movies, with Columbia and Fox Studios owning the rights. However, there were other forgettable co-productions like Elektra, Daredevil and Blade (which was not as bad as the first two) along the way and their failures got everyone to rethink the whole ‘films on not-so-popular superheroes’ idea. Spiderman and X-Men were well-established and extremely popular comic book and cartoon franchises, so to make a film on them entailed much less risk. Kids had seen and read plenty of things on both these franchises. So, any film made on these characters was just unstoppable whenever it released. In comparison, DC Comics was not able to make a successful film even on the most popular super heroes, Superman and Batman. (Read More DC vs Marvel)

The issue of lesser-known superheroes was not new for Marvel who had been struggling with this since 1990 when they first gave the rights of Iron Man to a studio. Over the years, no one was able to believe in the project and the rights changed hands a few times before coming back to Marvel in 2005. So Marvel took it upon themselves and conceptualized the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) which today is the third largest movie franchise ever. Iron Man (2008) was the first film in the MCU and no one gave it a chance at the box office. Yet it proved everyone wrong and went on to become a huge blockbuster. Post that Marvel knew it could pull off films even based on lesser-known super heroes, with the right amount of action, humour and CGI in them. They pulled off Thor for god’s sake and have continued their success with Captain America and The Avengers.

Captain America: The Winter Soldier is the latest film under the Marvel Cinematic Universe and if the opening weekend is any indication then this one too seems all set to break records. Marvel has been able to deliver what the audience wants but their real strength lies in managing the universe so seamlessly. Right from 2005, when they started work on Iron Man, they had envisioned how the universe would pan out and what would be the role of each medium in it. Marvel didn’t just get the universe to play out on the big screen, they extended the universe to TV (Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D, Agent Carter (upcoming)), Netflix (planned), Video Games & even Direct-to-Video Short Films.

To achieve this synergy across various mediums and platforms, Marvel made sure that every director they hired was comfortable with the idea of a shared universe and was able to skillfully weave the story in a small part of it seamlessly. Every Marvel film has some elements from the shared universe and now fans look out for it. The scenes after the end credits are one such recurring element and people wait for them till the very end. The bigger accomplishment, however, is being able to manage the elements of the shared universe across mediums. Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D TV series, which started with huge expectations, could not live up to them early on but as the elements from big screen started dropping in, the show has got a huge boost. Nick Fury himself was featured on the show in a very short appearance. A Chitauri (aliens from Avengers) artifact showed up in one episode and Sif (played by Jaimie Alexander) from Thor also made an appearance in an episode.

The biggest proof that Marvel is damn serious about this shared universe came in the latest episode of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Those of you who haven’t seen The Winter Soldier yet, there are spoilers from here on. [SPOILERS] Captain America: The Winter Soldier serves up plenty of material for Avengers: Age of Ultron and ends with the emergence of Hydra and the death of SHIELD. People who were sitting and watching the film started wondering what would happen to the TV show they have been following for 16 weeks, as it is called Agents of SHIELD. So everyone was waiting for this week’s episode and it did not disappoint at all. The episode brilliantly rides behind the story of The Winter Soldier and hides clues in plain sight. Visuals from the film also make an appearance and the viewers are left more than satisfied. One can actually link each moment as it happens with what they have seen in the film. The fact that this episode is not a one off occurrence and actually takes the story forward along the lines drawn at the start of the season just proves the fact that Marvel has thought this through way ahead.

At this point of time, Marvel is light years ahead of other studios that have only now woken up to the idea of a shared universe. Before this, the concept of a shared universe was totally unheard of and Marvel have shown everyone what a humongous money-spinner this genre and approach can be. Warner and DC have finally announced a Justice League film; Sony is releasing the new X-Men Days of Future Past, which could be a start for their shared universe. Imagine how many super heroes were just lying there gathering dust, but now with this new approach thanks to Marvel, a lot of them will live to fight another day.


Growing up with Cinema

My journey with films started in 1987 when my parents took me to the theater for the first time . They had purposely bought tickets to the night show because it would be easy to manage with a 3 yr old when he is asleep. As soon as the screen lit up I got up on my seat, eyes wide open in amazement and asked my parents “Itna bada T.V., yeh chalta kahan se hai??” and my parents pointed upwards to the projector room from where a faint glare was coming into the large theater. Sleep was nowhere to be seen in my eyes that night, only the joy of watching something magical. My mom kept trying to force a milk bottle in my mouth and I kept pushing it away with all my might, eyes glued to the giant screen. Maybe if the film had been boring my enthusiasm would have died down, but how could it be, after all it was Mr. India, one of the finest films in Indian Cinema.

From that point on I was hooked to the world of cinema and could never get enough of it. Unfortunately, I didn’t get too many chances as going to the theater was rare at that time and my dad got posted to Baroda which meant even fewer films. So whenever I traveled back to Delhi to visit my relatives I would try my best to watch as many films as possible. I was particularly interested in going to my grandmother’s house because there was a video library downstairs. It was at my grandmother’s place that my love for cinema reached new heights and I discovered my first idol. 1991 saw me go crazy over two Amitabh Bachchan films, Ajooba (my first superhero film) & Hum . I would watch these films back to back the entire day and fight with anyone who wanted to watch something different. I would even enact scenes like running in slow-motion, jumping from the bed, shouting, and so on. Amitabh became my idol and I saw every movie which he was in. I distinctly remember a 1983 film called Pukar featuring Amitabh which I was watching with my parents on TV. In the climax of the film Amitabh gets shot and probably dies. As soon as I saw him dying on screen, tears started rolling down my eyes and I started howling (not crying).  Bollywood had totally taken over me, Hollywood was next.

I got my first taste of Hollywood and Steven Spielberg in 1993 with Jurrasic Park. It was an extraordinary film and simply blew me away. I was a 9 yr old boy with a powerful imagination but this film was beyond anything I could ever imagine. It was all I talked about for so many days, at home, with other kids at school, narrating to those who had not seen it in back in Baroda.

Then came the age where I could start understanding love stories somewhat and think of the girl in class I had a crush on. I am sure we all have done that at some point during that age. 1994 was Hum Aapke Hain Kaun which I saw 3-4 months after the release as it was running house-full all the time. One year later in 1995 I saw Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge and just like every other guy I wanted to be like Shahrukh Khan. He was my next superstar, one I followed to the extent of buying & wearing the stupid ‘Cool’ neck chain he wore in Kuch Kuch Hota Hai. I went on to do some more crazy stuff like exploding imaginary bombs after watching Border & wearing powerless glasses after watching Kaho Na Pyaar Hai. 

My hysteria went to an all time high with The Matrix in 1999 which influenced me to the extent of getting me interested in computers and technology. My email ids, my computer, my hard drives, everything was derived from the film. I even bought the original soundtrack which made me fall in love with rock music. It is this film that made me call myself a film buff because I have probably seen it more than 100 times and there was a point when I could narrate the lines of the entire film. (Have stopped doing that coz people started suggesting that I needed professional help)

Last but not the least by any means are Lagaan in 2001Haasil in 2003 which are two of my all-time favorite films (Haasil taking the top slot). These were the films that made me appreciate the nuances and subtlety of acting and cinema. I love cricket and I love films, It was only logical that I would go crazy about Lagaan. However, it was not just the cricket that I loved, it was the manner in which it was portrayed. In comparison, Haasil is special for a very different reason, It was the first time that I realized that there can be good films without big stars, there is acting without shouting and a film can also tell realistic stories and still entertain. For me Haasil is one of the finest pieces of acting I had ever seen. Instantly Irfaan Khan became my favorite Khan and Haasil became my favorite Hindi film.

This love continues with Wall-E, Khosla Ka Ghosla, Rush, Oye Lucky Lucky Oye, Argo, Wolf of Wall Street, Gravity, Gangs of Wasseypur, Do Dooni Chaar, Udaan, Inception, Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara, Peepli Live, Talaash, Queen…………and so many more. Each one leaving a mark on my life, each one having its own signature.

Its the little things…

People watch films for entertainment and praise some of them a great deal. But do they really embrace them or learn from them? Just to clear the air, this article is not about films, its purpose is very different. I want to talk about a particular instance from a film that inspired me a great deal.  It helped me to live a better life & find meaning in small things. The scene is from Bluffmaster where Boman Irani asks Abhishek Bachchan “How many days of your life do you remember?”  and let me tell you, no answer is good enough!

When this question came up, my mind started racing, sifting through memories trying to locate the best ones. It was like the timeline from Person of Interest moving back & forth or maybe even like Sherlock, running across my mind palace opening one door after the other. I don’t think the point was to count nor was it meant as a memory test, it was to realize that the ‘pursuit of happiness’ should never end.

So what did i remember? after racking my brain, I stopped at a memory which was of a time when I was maybe 12 years old. I had been living in Bangalore for over 2 years and I had not been able to find a ‘Go To’ place for comics. One day in school, I heard about this library that rented out comics and I thought to myself “Could this be it or is it just a myth?” I took directions and peddled away on my Hercules Top Gear using all the strength in my legs. I reached the location only to spot a very small shop with an single bulb. My heart sank. “How could this be a library?, There is no way they would have any comics. All this peddling for nothing?” As I parked my bicycle next to a street lamp and started walking towards the shop, I started prioritizing. “Please please, if nothing else let there be Tintin, and may be Asterix and may be even Archies and….” Clearly I had no clue what prioritization meant. I reached the entrance and heard some kids shouting “Aaj mein leke jaunga, last time tu leke gaya tha Dhruv wali, Kirigi Ka Kahar“. I stepped inside and got blown away. Endless rows of comics stacked one rack after the other, the entrance was small but the collection wasn’t. It was like Alice in Wonderland, I tumbled down the rabbit hole and was amazed at the world of comics underneath. There was Nagraj, Dhruv, Chacha Chaudhary, Tinkle, Champak and….Archies, Asterix, Tintin and may more. It couldn’t get any better.

I took the membership, picked up a Tintin and rode back home without a care in this world. No thoughts of pending homework, assignments or upcoming tests could bother me. I reached home with a Joker-esque smile on my face, had a bath, picked up the comic and started reading it lying down on the bed. That moment, as I lay there reading, i remember very clearly, saying these words “This Is Life”. I was just so happy because my mind was constantly going back to the hundreds of comics still lying on the shelf waiting for me.I couldn’t stop smiling.

This was such a small incident and yet, it has been with me for so long. There are so many little things like this that make us happy. I think the problem is that we focus too much on that one big happiness (a huge birthday bash, a lavish wedding, a long holiday) rather than the small innocuous moments which we always recollect with so much fondness. That is why we forget a big dinner party at a friends house but remember countless moments from our college cafeteria with the same friends. So If you still want to ask for more, ask for more such days because no matter what you say now, these will be the only days that will be worth anything in your life.

I hate my job! Don’t you?

Over the years a thought has come to my mind countless times but somehow I never got around to writing about it. How many people do we meet who say “I am satisfied with my job”, one or two in a lifetime. Today a job is where we spend more time than even our home. What is also true is that most people are unhappy with their jobs. I have thought long and hard as to why this happens. Why is it so hard to find jobs that one would enjoy, be passionate about, or be happy with? I am sure most of the people want such a job, then why can’t they get it? The answer lies within each one of us.

What I have noticed is that people from good colleges, even IITs and IIMs, are unhappy with  their jobs. Why I point out the colleges is because these are the most elite institutions in the country and passing out of such an institute not only gives you a much better chance to get a job than the rest of country, most of the times it also gives you the privilege to choose. Is the problem then in the factors that our decision is based on? Do we not assign a proper weight to passion or interest? Maybe. Let me give an example. Back in 2007 there was this person who left a job which paid him 17k/month for a job which paid him 13k. That was not the end of it. In 2012 he did it once again, left a job paying 75 grand/month for a job which pays just 50 grand/month (These are take-home figures).  I think a lot of people would call this person crazy. “Abey thode din aur kar leta na kaam, acche paise toh mil rahe the”, “Itna bhi kya bura hoga, salary toh achi hai na”. Well I did it, and I don’t regret it at all. For me, passion will always weigh more than CTC.

Today we live in a world where we are judged 24X7. When we go to office, go for a meeting, go for a party, go out for coffee or even go to the kirana wala to buy bread n eggs. So what one values is how he/she is perceived by the world. Uncle aunty package poochenge toh kya batayeinge? MBA ke baad bhi itne hi paise milte hai? Saath wale toh keh rahe ki unke beta ka package isse double hai. I want to ask the saath walon ka beta, ‘Dude even with a package of 20 lacs, Are You Happy?’ Each and every person who steps into the world for a career is reduced to just three letters, CTC. Most poeple who ask don’t even know what it means. But, what they accomplish is to push people away from doing what they would love to, what they are passionate about.

One of my professors told me this story and that became my inspiration for writing this article. Once a baby camel asked his mother “Mom, why do we have a hump on our back?”,  the mother replied “So that we can store water for a long time”, then the son asked “But why do we have such huge feet?”, the mother replied “So that we can walk properly on sand” and then the son asked “Then WTF are we doing in the Zoo?”. If you are made for the desert, you belong in the desert. Another inspirational message for this piece came from a book written by Sir Ken Robinson, The Element – How Finding Your Passion Changes Everything. He also has the most watched talk on Ted.com about how ‘Education Kills Creativity’. Its a must watch (attached at the end). I strongly believe that this problem would not have been so bad had education been a little different.

Basically what I am trying to say is Do what you Love, Its not that difficult. The first step to doing that is to get out of your comfort zone. (Yes even though we are miserable in our jobs, we somehow manage to be comfortable as it is routine). Remember what Joker said in The Dark Knight, “No one panics when things go according to plan”. So I insist very strongly to ‘Take A Chance’. Come out of your comfort zone and make an effort. If you want to work on something you are passionate about then you need to make things uncomfortable for yourself. This is not that difficult if you are unmarried and don’t have major responsibilities.

If for some reason you think all this is not possible in your case then I suggest you find time to do other things that you are passionate about. Read, write, play a sport, catch up with friends. If you are packed during the week, find time on the weekend. If sports is something you like then getup at 6 and go play. I am sure you can find time at 6 in the morning. Unless you are happy, you are just wasting time and these lines from Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara say it all

Dilon mein tum apni Betaabiyan leke chal rahe ho, Toh zinda ho tum; Nazar mein khwabon ki Bijliyan leke chal rahe ho, Toh zinda ho tum; Hawa ke jhokon ke jaise Aazad rehno sikho, Tum ek dariya ke jaise Lehron mein behna sikho; Har ek lamhe se tum milo Khole apni bhaayein, Har ek pal ek naya samha Dekhen yeh nigahaein; Jo apni aankhon mein Hairaniyan leke chal rahe ho, Toh zinda ho tum; Dilon mein tum apni Betaabiyan leke chal rahe ho, Toh zinda ho tum!

X-Men: Days of Future Past

Let me start by saying that X-Men: Days of Future Past brings together arguably the biggest star cast we have seen in a long time. Though only a few of them get to do substantial work with their characters but I am not complaining. Why would I? How often do we get to see James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, with Patric Stewart & Ian McKellen? Add to that Jennifer Lawrence & Ellen Page, Top all that up with Hugh Jackman and Peter Dinklage. Wow! With a cast like that, one needs to do just a little more to make people scream. This film does a lot more.

The film takes no time in getting down to business and starts right away filling the screen with mutants both old and new. You see Blink who makes portals to move around (reminded me of Portal, the amazing game from Valve), Colossus, Kitty, Ice Man etc. The first fight sequence itself gives you a glimpse of what to expect from the rest of the film, and let me tell you what follows is spectacular.

The action sequences are top notch and extremely well choreographed. A few scenes mix humor with action which is actually signature for all Marvel Studio films (this film has Marvel characters but has not been made under Marvel Studios, read more here: Marvel Redefines Synergies). The highest point of the film comes thanks to the introduction of a new kick-ass mutant called Quick Silver. As the name suggests, Quick Silver is very fast and [SPOILER ALERT BEGINS] interestingly he is the son of Magneto. This fact is not revealed in this film, only a small hint is dropped to suggest the same. [SPOILER ALERT ENDS] The scene takes place in slow motion and shows the speed at which Quick Silver sees the world around him. The background score complements the scene really well and the entire sequence leaves you laughing and awestruck at the same time. It deserves all the claps it got during the screening.  The narrative is interesting for most part though I would have loved a little more detail and background on the current time/present day happenings.

James McAvoy & Michael Fassbender are superb once again as younger versions of Prof. X & Magneto. As always Hugh Jackman lives and breathes like Wolverine and I can’t imagine what it will be like after this as this could very well be Jackman’s last outing as Wolverine. Lets hope he sticks around for the next sequel in 2016. Jennifer Lawrence as Raven/Mystique is totally in her elements and Peter Dinklage (Game of Thrones) is breath taking as the central negative character but it is his future creations The Sentinels that are so much worse, inducing fear of life even in the most powerful mutants.

I would have really liked to see more of Ellen Page & Ian McKellen but as I mentioned before the film does not delve into the present day details and so these brilliant people do not get to show their class. The climax of the film is a little underplayed for my liking. I would have loved an all out smash & bang but the film settles for something safe on this front. It also resets the X-Men world in very interesting ways which can serve as fountainhead for new stories for next several years.

Overall, the X-Men: Days of Future Past is probably the best X-Men installment that we have seen and it surely is not a film that you would like to miss. A word of caution for the people who have not seen some of the previous films in the franchise. It would be a little difficult to link the events with past films which is not essential but it does elevate the experience. Having said that the film still has the potential to keep your attention throughout the 2 hrs even if it is your first X-Men film.

Rating: 4/5

P.S. The 3D version of the film offers absolutely nothing so i would suggest watching this one in 2D. Also, stick around for the end credits scene at the very end! You will be rewarded with a bonus first look at the next movie’s villain. And, if you are an X-Men fan, you know it is gonna be one hell of  a ride!

Not so Amazing Spider-Man 2

Here we are, exactly 10 years after Spider-Man 2, witnessing The Amazing Spider-Man 2. For me, Spider-Man 2 was really the highest point for superhero films till Nolan came along and showed a different side to this genre with The Batman trilogy. So it is safe to say that the highest point was way out of reach for The Amazing Spider-Man 2, even in it’s second try.

I had written about the level of involvement Marvel Studio has with Spider-Man films in Marvel Redefines Synergies and it shows in The Amazing Spider-Man series. The issue I had with the first Amazing Spider-Man was that there wasn’t a good enough story to tell. Over here however that is not the problem as in a complete contrast, we are given an overdose. The story telling is extremely convoluted and over loaded with sub plots. It would be an achievement to remember all the plot lines after coming out, even then I will try and give it a shot. There is some secret about Peter’s father, then there is the obvious love story, there is Electro, and Aunt May trying to forget Uncle Ben, then there is Harry Osborn (Peter Parker’s long lost friend). Oh and yeah, there is also lot of screen time given to Peter Parker’s guilt trips about breaking his promise. I mean c’mon, is this a superhero flick or what?

The previous Spider-Man versions scored hugely on the strength of its central character backed by fresh writing. I feel bad in saying this but Andrew Garfield is possibly one of the biggest problems with the film. He is not able to portray the character convincingly & seems even more out of place then the first film. The writing is uninspiring & tries to throw in too many witty lines but fails to get the smiles. Another strength of the older films was the superbly choreographed action sequences. I mean the sequence with Spidey & Doc Ock fighting on a moving train was just spectacular. We don’t see anything like that this time around. Yes the special effects are right up there. But then wouldn’t they be for any film that comes 10 years later? The villains too are poorly conceived and suffer from lack of character development. This is actually a huge problem because 1) villains are the life lines of such films (remember Green Goblin & Doc Ock) & 2) This in spite of taking the entire first half to get a back story in place for them.

Fortunately there is something in the film that is truly amazing and that is Emma Stone. She is sweet, charming, witty & natural. It is only because of her that we see some chemistry on screen as she overshadows Andrew in every single scene. She is the reason why the second climax (there are actually 3 of them!) hits you and stays with you. Sadly that cannot be said about anything else. Overall a total drag. Watch it only if you must.

Stars: 2/5


Best Films of 2013

Another year has gone by but this one has not been so productive for this blog. I say this because this post comes after 5 months of silence. To be fair 2013 has been more than productive on the personal front with a shift in location back to the capital city. And oh yeah I also got married this year (almost forgot). Still 5 months is a really long time and enough is enough. So here I am putting down my thoughts on my ‘Best Films of the Year 2013’. Continue reading “Best Films of 2013”