Monday, July 24, 2017

The Type of Dunkirk

Vidit Bhargava
I had the opportunity to watch Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk recently, and it’s one of the best movies I’ve seen this year. I really liked the interplay between the three parallel timelines, the sparing use of dialogue and the haunting cinematography but what I found really intriguing was their consistent use of the Akzidenz-Grotesk type.

akzidenz type

What’s interesting is that Akzidenz-Grotesk is a late 19th century sans-serif typeface from a German foundry. At surface it seems ironical to use Akzidenz in a movie based on World War II with the chief characters as the British.

However, If you put some thought to it, maybe it isn’t so ironic. The primary emotion is pure faceless-terror. The terror is induced by the German forces, of which we don’t see so much as a shadow. The presence of German forces is only validated by dropping bombs, gun-fire or mass destruction Of ships. It’s terror, and there’s not just a minimalist character of violence attached to it.

What’d be the type of faceless terror to the British forces at Dunkirk? Akzidenz isn’t a bad choice for that. It’s got a ‘monoline’ structure, it’s pretty non-descript and it’s undeniably German!

The only other font that comes to mind is a much later released Helvetica, but then it wasn’t released until 1957, long after the Dunkirk evacuation, and was itself based on Akzidenz Grotesk.

However, during the inter-war period, a completely different sans-serif evolution was taking place in Germany, that of geometric typefaces and “Futura” is one of the most popular typefaces from the era. Having said that Futura has a lot more character than Akzidenz and the entire idea may have been to offer a less characteristic typeface, since the enemy doesn’t even appear on screen.

dunkirk font

To me, it’s one of the best Type choices for a movie. The best part is, they remain consistent in its using. It’s the same typeface that is used in the credits and the same type face that’s used for titles.

For a typeface of faceless terror for the four hundred thousand soldiers stranded at Dunkirk, Akzidenz is a great choice.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Restaurant from the future: Eatsa

Vidit Bhargava
The world’s first automat, a restaurant where food and drink were served by vending machines was first introduced in Berlin in 1985. The concept of getting food from a vending machine enjoyed a good 80 years or so, until it was eclipsed by fast food chains, like Subway, which had a greater flexibility of food selection and payment options.

Eatsa Store at Berkeley

However, as if in a revenge plot of sorts, an automat has surfaced in the United States, which aims to disrupt the Fast-food market by combining the flexibility of a counter-preparation model and modern day automation technologies to deliver food faster and cheaper. The experience is as though you were being served food by robots.

iPad Kiosks

As you walk into an Eatsa, you’ll find yourself in a room with an array of iPads lined up to take your order And a grid of cubby-holes which‘ll host the food you order. It’s a futuristic experience, in the sense that there’s minimal human interaction involved. You’re expected to interact with the iPad, place your order and get your meal, all in a couple of minutes. You’re aren’t even supposed to know that there are humans preparing the food behind the cubby holes. Much like how Elves prepared the great feast in the kitchen below the large dining tables of the great hall in the Harry Potter series, and you wouldn’t know they were the ones toiling away in the dungeons unless you were Hermione. It’s the quickness of the service and the ease of placing an order that really transforms Eatsa’s experience and Eatsa’s proprietary automation tech is to be credited for it.

The Experience of Ordering food

Food ordering was a relatively simple process. You just need to sign up for Eatsa, pickup your nearest restaurant and begin preparing your meal, either either by selecting a preset food or by “Starting from scratch” and selecting your own ingredients.

The Eatsa App

I really liked the customisation options here. You can select whatever base you want, and while quinoa is pretty much the central attraction, you can even pick stuff like “Channa Masala” or “Pinto Beans” and then of course there’s an assortment of sauces and crunchies to pick from.

Eatsa’s offerings are vegetarian (with the exception of eggs, which appear to have a vegetarian status in US) and in general focus on a healthy diet and given that Eatsa’s target audience is primarily office-goers or students in need of a quick lunch, these options seem specially lucrative. Moreover, Eatsa’s app is intelligent enough to inform about potential allergens and offers filters to remove items which may contain them. This is especially handy for some one like me, who’d otherwise have to check with the staff and rely on their word for such information.

I also liked the attention to detail and the polished user interface of the app. The interactions were fluid, information clearly presented and the experience reliable, whether you’re using a kiosk or an app on your iPhone. It feels like a premium experience, at a cost that’s even cheaper than your local McDonald’s or Subway.

Once the order is placed from the app, and the food ready, your name appears to on one of the cubby-holes, which you can then double tap to unlock and get your food. While the food is still being made by humans, there’s a good deal of automation going in the background to get the food ready in a very short span of time. Usually the waiting time for something like this would be 5-6 minutes. But Eatsa’s service is a lot quicker than that. If you were placing your order at home / office and going to a store for pickup, you wouldn’t really have to wait for it to get ready. You can just walk-over to your cubby hole, pickup your food and get working.

cubby hole pickup

That’s why I feel the experience is futuristic, it eliminates a lot of traditional concepts that’ll be in such a restaurant, and ultimately offers food at a very affordable cost. The experience is friction less, extremely convenient and even somewhat /delightful if you are watching this happen for the first time, these factors should really help Eatsa get a foothold in the Fast-food space quickly.

Food Quality

food prepared The food being served is no gourmet fine-dining replacement. It’s just a quick and healthy bowl filled with items you’d like to have. It’s more in the range of a chipotle or subway than your local fine-dining eatery, and for that it’s pretty tasty. It certainly feels like a very wholesome meal.

I especially liked the texture of the roasted potatoes and tofu. They were all well cooked and blended well with the rest of the ingredients.

If I were to eliminate the fact that I was visiting a restaurant that felt straight out of a Jetsons episode, I’d still want to visit the place again, since it provided a pretty delicious lunch.

food bowl

But here’s the thing, Eatsa doesn’t have a lot of outlets right now. There are a couple of them in San Francisco, one near UC Berkeley, and a couple of them in New York and Washington DC. Eatsa’s only two years old right now, but it’ll need to be in a lot more places very soon to be able truly unleash the second coming of Automats.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Kaatru Velliyidai Movie Review

Kaatru Velliyidai
Vidit Bhargava
Kaatru Velliyidai by Mani Ratnam marks 25 years of his collaboration with A.R. Rahman (my favourite music composer, and also the reason why I end up watching random Tamil movies even though I have no knowledge of the Tamil language at all), and in many ways it is also a near perfect expression of what Mani Ratnam and his fairly consistent team offer best: great music, stunning visuals, innovative angles, interesting metaphors and a fresh perspective. However, movies aren't just about stunning visuals and great music, and Kaatru Velliyidai is far from Mani Ratnam's best.

Set in the 1990s' Kashmir, Kaatru Velliyidai is more of a character sketch of on an INA pilot (played by Karthi) and a young doctor (played by Aditi Rao Hydari). There's depth to the two characters and there's a decent story that's told here. But where Kaatru Velliyidai really excels is the visuals. From the Himalayan expanse that makes up for the landscape of more than half of the movie, to the some really well directed scenes which are beautifully captured. If the story is just a tad bit slow, it's complemented by visuals that brighten your day. Ravi Varman's visuals accompanied by Mani Ratnam's direction manage to capture the beauty of the Kashmir Valley.

The setting is well laid out, the Honda Kinetic, the Willies Jeep, the Delhi house with a central courtyard (which I'm sure is the same house that Mani Ratnam used for the residence of Preeti Zinta's character in Dil Se), the VHS tapes and the CRT TVs all subtly remind you that it's the 90s that the movie is set in. It's always great to see attention to detail in a mainstream movie. It also helps a lot that some of the best work of the director came in that very era.

Kaatru Velliyidai also benefits from stellar performances by Aditi Rao Hydari and Karthi. Aditi Rao Hydari is effortless in her role. Karthi even though a little loud at times, shows prowess in the later parts of the movie where he's playing a more subdued role. The support cast for most of the part doesn't really shine though. They are all good performances but there's little that stands out. However, that only works in Kaatru Velliyidai's favor, as the focus is kept on the two lead actors.

There's a lot of implicitness in the screenplay. Which is pretty interesting. The first time Leela (Aditi Rao Hydari's character) mentions about her brother, it's only a passing reference made to VC's (Karthi) senior. It's not until a good 15 minutes later that it was her brother she's talking about. The reasons for why the characters behave in the way they do, all lie in the implicit hints dropped around. At one point, the movie shows a glimpse of VC's family, which when you think of it also gives you an insight as to why VC's character is so flawed and reckless. However, this implicit nature also makes the movie look incomplete. There's so much to be filled in the gaps, that it's a little discerning and frankly not the ideal experience.

The entire implicitness of the screenplay and the fact that the story gets a little stretched and even a little outlandish towards the end makes you wonder if this is an incomplete movie. There must be more of it, surely the director's leaving a lot for the audience to interpret. While the last hour is not disastrous, it's nothing special either. The screenplay leaves a lot to be desired.

A.R. Rahman's music is top notch. The combination of Vairamuthu, Rahman and Mani Ratnam produces some really meaningful and melodious tracks. Amongst the songs, Nalai Allai, Saratu Vandiyile and Azhagiye are my favourite. Tango Kelaayo is innovative, Hariharan dubbing both the male and female voice. But in general, I've been listening to the entire soundtrack for the last 4-5 months and it feels like another winner from the trio.

Ultimately Kaatru Velliyidai is a visual treat with an interesting story, bogged down by an ordinary screenplay. Great music, visuals and acting lead it quite far, but not far enough. I'd only recommend it for the visuals And music. If you are looking for a good story and screenplay to go along with it, this is not the Mani Ratnam movie you're looking for.

Rating : ***

Sunday, February 05, 2017

Movie Recommendation: Raees

Vidit Bhargava
A typical Hindi Crime thriller (or in the broad sense this is what a rags-to-riches story would generally look like) follows this screenplay:

An outsider rises up the crime ranks by becoming an apprentice to the existing biggies, rises to new heights overshadowing his own mentors, but ultimately peaks, and then follows your great Greek tragedy.

There have been quiet a few of these in the past, & for me Sathya was one such movie that stands out (probably because it breaks the template a little and tells the story of the 'master' rising to his peak with the help of his apprentice) In the recent times, Vasan Bala experimented with this format when he wrote Bombay Velvet, and the movie was slightly underwhelming, primarily because it had one too many distractions that it couldn't narrate a coherent story At the end of the day.

Raees is the latest entrant. A story, coincidentally set in the same age that these type of movies started coming around. Inspired by the life of “Abdul Latif”, Raees is a crime thriller directed by Rahul Dholakia.

What works for Raees is the fact that it's constantly engaging. Well shot Action sequences ensure the much needed adrenaline rush for the movie. The good part is that the action sequences aren't sprayed around, Dholakia uses them at the right time for a good impact. Seldom did I feel that a sequence wasn't needed at the point in the movie.

But more than the action sequences, it's the acting that really makes the day. Shah Rukh Khan is phenomenal in his potrayal of Raees, carefully treading the line between Angry, kind and shrewd. It's a pleasure to see him think on his feet; in one scene he's offered tea at a police station and he casually remarks about its miserly small quantity, the very remark goes on to plant the seed for a new idea. In another sequence, he gets his escape idea while absent-mindedly tossing a matchbox, this is something that could easily feel cliche with a different actor, but Shah Rukh Khan handles it surprisingly well. Zeeshan Ayub as the loyal friend is dependably great, and Nawazuddin Siddique shines in his role of the righteous cop. I wish Nawazuddin had better dialogues written for him though, it's a shame to see his character feel so off-colour in comparison to his anti-establishment counterpart. (Should have taken a cue from Adil Hussain's character in Lootera perhaps)

There's something to be said about Rahul Dholakia's prowess in establishing the period setting . The subtle references to the period that movie is present in, the small but visible changes that make Shah Rukh Khan look young in the start of the movie, and considerably older by the end of it; all speak of an attention to detail that shows the care with which this movie was made. You can track the timeline of the story by the small details like the visual style of Raees' spectacles, they are accurate in identifying the different styles each decade had; right back to the 70s when a much younger Raees' gets a much more utilitarian looking spectacle. But sunglasses aren't the only thing indicating the period of the setting here, it's even in the dialogue, paraphernalia, and the cultural references too. If you were to divide a movie's story in three parts, Idea, setting and Screenplay, Dholakia absolutely nails the setting part.


As for the screenplay, Raees sets up a great first half with engaging sequences leading upto an interesting story helped by some great acting. It sets the stage for its self to rise above its template storyline and really make for a meaningful watch in the final act. But then Raees fails. It gets too preachy when handling the riots' sub-plot, the screenplay is distracted by way too many things leading up to the climax, a political alliance, a romantic sub-plot, riots, did we really need them in this movie? Perhaps not. Even the quick-wittedness of Raees' character feels repitative and less appealing after awhile. It's these problems that entangle Raees, which ends up just being a +1 to the long list of Bollywood crime thrillers, ultimately offering very little that's new to the table.

For a movie that could have gone down as a classic crime thriller, its a bit underwhelming that Raees ends up being just an entertaining action movie. Having said that, I thoroughly enjoyed watching Raees. Something that I can't say for a lot of great movies I saw last year. There's this trend building up with Hindi movies that unless a movie doesn't offer this life changing, completely un-heard of idea or a social message relevant to the media rants around it, it's worthless. I'd like to differ from this view. I think an ideal movie is one that keeps you entertained for its entire duration and offer a well written story that interests the viewer. Great ideas are a sign of a great story, not necessarily the only sign you should be looking for in a movie. So, is Raees is the ideal movie? Far from it. But is it a good, entertaining watch? Yes.

Rating: *** (I really enjoyed watching it)

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Don't Peep in the Kitchen just Yet

Sometime back, while I was designing the Watch app for LookUp, my brother (and the Co-Creator of LookUp) arrived at my desk, looked at me designing the interface and exclaimed, “This Looks Terrible! I hope we aren't shipping that!”, my response to him was simple, “Don't Look into the kitchen while the food is being prepared”, I meant to tell him that while I was in the process of designing an interface, there'd undoubtedly be things that I'd change, improvise on or remove before I finish making it, and in general it's not a good idea to critique the design during the process.

Sometimes I feel the same is true with Apple bloggers and rumor websites. Sometimes, they peep into the kitchen too early, set their expectations too high, and when the final product is ultimately different, or all together scrapped, there's an altogether different slew of rumour on rumour reports.

By now you've probably guessed what the post is about: Rumors on the Apple Car. Sometime in 2015, rumor began that Apple was planning to make a car. They'd insist that the car would be ready by 2018 and have self driving capabilities and would be an electric car. Months passed, Now the ambitions were reportedly toned down, and the first version was to just be an electric car And self driving would come later. A few months later, reports started pouring in that Apple had scrapped the idea all together, and was focusing on the software instead. Confusion ensued, is Apple making a car or not? Is even Apple clear about what they want to do with their car project? (Given a new reports suggesting that they working with law makers to work on self driving tech) Apple's Famed Car project was now termed the failed car project.

What!? Failed Car Project!? Were they even making a car in the first place? This to me appears to be a Peeping to early in the kitchen problem. Apple was probably working on a car, like they work on almost everything And the rumor went out rather earlier than it should have, and the result? Everyone assumed Apple would be ready with a car. They didn't even think of the possibility that they wouldn't eventually go ahead with it, or possibly shelf it. It's as if you were told of a touch screen Mac back in 2003, subsequently being told that Apple had “toned down” the ambitions and were focusing on building a touch screen phone instead.

Wednesday, December 07, 2016

Book Recommendation : Snow Crash

Vidit Bhargava
For some years now, a popular question in Technology quizzes has been about the inspiration behind Google Earth being a piece of software called “Earth” from Neil Stephenson's Sci-Fi novel Snow Crash. Turns out, describing a software like Google Earth isn't Snow Crash's biggest futuristic prediction. Stephenson's book is more deeply researched than that.

Back in the 1980s Neil Stephenson wanted to create Snow Crash as a computer generated graphic novel and got deeply involved in scientific research going on at the time in the field of computers and religious symbolism. In a conversation with a Jaime Taffe, Stephenson first came across the idea of a “Virtual Reality System”. Because Stephenson was spending so much time in Mac software development, he decided to design his fictional VR System called “Metaverse” using Apple's Human Interface Guidelines, following the design philosophies mentioned to lay the foundation for the most important part of Snow Crash. The Metaverse Virtual Reality System. Metaverse is what inspired the creators of Oculus Rift to make their VR Headset.

Given Snow Crash's rich technological heritage, I decided to read this book, sometime back. Like one would aspect, Snow Crash is set in a time where the next big thing after the internet is a VR System called “Metaverse”, a digital universe where users can log onto to interact with people and share information and knowledge. Metaverse has the stream of advantages that any digital universe would have. Following the plot of a certain “Hiro Protagonist”, Snow Crash explores the themes of the Mafia, religious symbolism, Sumerian Mythology and a modern day info-calypse. It's a gripping story, one that draws you into the novel from the beginning.

Snow Crash works because it's always got some or the other surprise up it's sleeve. Moreover its fascinating to see the futuristic gadgetry from the late 1980s that eventually turned into products in early 2000s. The central characters are quick-witted and every character is highly competent in what they do, resulting in scenarios where some or the other is always thinking two steps ahead of their opponent, making for a highly engaging read. Stephenson even manages to slip in humorous moments, which is good, as this book is always at a risk of being too heavy with all the different genre it's trying to merge, the humor helps maintain a lighter environment.

But where Snow Crash falters is the parts in which Hiro goes on an exploration trip about Sumerian Mythology! It's boring and takes up a good chunk of the book. I wish there was a little more focus on Uncle Enzo's Mafia or Juanita's character, both of them, while important, seem to be ignored for a large part of the book.

Snow Crash is worth a read because of the interesting futuristic tale that it has in store for us. I also found the concepts of “Namshab” and other elements from the Sumerian Mythology to be interesting, and it gets me wondering if anyone's trying to figure that out too (just like people dwelled on Virtual Reality for years)

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Dear Zindagi Movie Review

Vidit Bhargava

still From Movie

Movie: Dear Zindagi
Director and Writer: Gauri Shinde
Actors: Alia Bhatt, Shah Rukh Khan, Rohit Saraf, Kunal Kapoor
Running Time: 2hours 30 minutes

Somewhere towards the end of the Movie, Shah Rukh Khan's character says “Genius is to know when to stop.” it's ironical that this movie doesn't know just that!

Starring Alia Bhatt in a lead role, Dear Zindagi follows the story of an ambitious director of photography who eventually ends up seeking therapy from a queer psychologist (Shah Rukh Khan) who treats people with his unconventional means.

This is director Gauri Shinde's second movie, her first movie English Vinglish was an extremely delightful movie watching experience and remains one of my all time favorite movies. So it was only natural that I'd go to Dear Zindagi with equally high expectations. Just like English Vinglish, Shinde is able to narrate a powerful story with a good female character at its center. At an interview sometime last year, Shimit Amin had mentioned about the dearth of female directors actually leading to a dearth of stories which focused on them. The situation still persists, and at the moment someone like Gauri Shinde is just one of the few directors who are keen on presenting such stories. Which is a good thing because there's a new perspective to see whenever you goto watch a Gauri Shinde movie.

A major part of the movie's more-or-less successful execution can be attributed to Alia Bhatt. This is easily one of her best performances, (ranking right up against her performance in Udta Punjab and Highway). She's effortless in her role and even when the character's story goes into an hyperbole post intermission, it's her acting that keeps the movie from completely falling apart. She's also aided by an equally flawless, Shah Rukh Khan (whom you could fit in any role and get the same level of awesome acting from him), Shah Rukh Khan's role of a doctor / mentor while reminiscent of his character in Chak De India, is still fresh and somewhat comical. Most of the laughs (there are a plenty) are provided from him. This is also the second time in the year when Shah Rukh Khan has shown some seriously good acting prowess or got a character to play, coming after 3 years of presenting us with Mind-less crap in the name of 'entertaining' movies.

But Dear Zindagi is far from a perfect movie. The writers are so occupied with the idea of showing an independent woman's plight that they end up dividing their focus on a lot of issues. There's a consistent lack of focus here. A sub-plot too many about the lead characters woes. There's a constant ring about being judged for work over anything else, a sub-plot about having to leave an apartment at the landlord's whim, and a subplot about the career choices and settling into a “job”. To top that, there's also a back story, just meant to justify our lead character's exceptionally mercurial behavior. Had they instead, focussed on one of the many problems, we'd have a better story perhaps. At this point it's just a little better than a documentary on the many woes of women.

To top that, the editing isn't great either, the movie is filled with long conversations between Bhatt and Khan's characters. The conversations while noteworthy and important to the story, eventually get too long and boring. At a point, you're no longer even listening to the characters, you end up just staring at their faces, looking for a clue as to where is this going. Long Conversations also have the habit of feeling cliche, it's not surprising that Dear Zindagi suffers from that too. Snappier Editing or perhaps a greater focus on the lead character's profession would have made it a much better movie.

But even with it's many script problems, Dear Zindagi is one of the better films of 2016. It's a good, positive movie which brings a new perspective and a new story to the table. It's also nice to see some comedy coming back to movies, it's after a long time that I found some genuine humor in a hindi movie. I'd recommend watching Dear Zindagi. It's seldom that you see such fine actors working together.

Rating : *** (Worth a watch, despite some problems)


P.S. It is worth mentioning that Dharma Productions itself has a great graphics and cinematography crew. Their knowledge of colours, font matching and their attention to detail even in the end credits is worthy of an award.