Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Sivaji... and more Sivaji in San Diego

Like other centers around the world, San Diego doesn't seem to get bored of Sivaji. It is a known fact that Sivaji pulsated San Diego with 2 rocking shows in the opening week. Suprisingly the reality is, San Diego is a very dormant market when it comes to Tamil movies. Only the elite films even make the cut and most movies can hardly sustain a single show. Just a handful of Tamil movies over the last 9 years have even crossed more than 1 screening. The last tamil film that had 2 screenings was Vetaiyadu Vilayadu.

In the inimitable thalaivar style though, Sivaji's path was altogether different (In Tamil you could put this as 'Sivaji vazhi thani vazhi'). Sivaji not only rocked as a film, it also rocked the box office. The infectious phenomenon called Sivaji woke the San Diegan Tamil public, who flocked to the cinema halls in large numbers to greet their thalaivar.

With the recently concluded final screening of Sivaji, it had already walked its way into the record books with a number of firsts to its credit. Sivaji was the first Tamil movie to be premiered in San Diego on the day of world-wide premiere. Due to continuous demand, Sivaji was screened as many as 5 times in a reasonably bigger cinema hall, which is another first. This was also the first time that most number of people made repeated appearances for the different shows.

For statistical interests, here is a listing of the different shows
  1. Premiere show (June 14th) 7:30 pm (Ultra Star - Del Mar) (200+ capacity).
  2. June 17th @ 7:30 pm (Edwards - Mira Mesa) (270+ capacity).
  3. June 17th @ 10:30 pm (Edwards - Mira Mesa) (270+ capacity).
  4. June 18th @ 7:30 pm (Edwards - Mira Mesa) (270+ capacity).
  5. June 25th @ 7:30 pm (Ultra Star - Del Mar) (200+ capacity).
Just when we think that Sivaji fever is about to fade, the boss returns back next week and this time to enthrall the telugu audience.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Taming Castle Rock

The mountains and forests surrounding the Big Bear lake is believed to house some of the best hiking trails in Southern California. On a Sunday morning during a weekend outing, about 8 of us set out to explore the wilderness in Big Bear. We settled comfortably in 2 cars and cruised for about 10 minutes before we noticed a pull out on Highway 18 (About a mile east of the Big Bear Dam). This space doubled as a parking lot. A short walk on the road led to the trail head with a board that read aloud 'Castle Rock Trail 1W03 ... Castle Rock 1'. We started our ascent into the wooded area with a modest cargo that contained a few digital cameras and 1 bottle of fitness water. The trail ran parallel to a stream which had run completely dry.

After climbing for few minutes, we realized that this was going to be one strenuous hike. We gained quite a bit of elevation in the first few minutes of our hiking itself. This unfolded some great obstructed views of the Big bear lake as we ascended. After about 45 minutes of grinding our way through the pines at almost 550 feet higher than where we started, we got our first real view of the Castle Rock. Castle Rock is a giant Granite boulder sitting majestically on the hills about 1 mile from the trail head. We were a bit tired in the mid-morning sun and without proper hydration. We guessed that we were still about 0.2 miles away from the rock. The last 0.2 miles were quite steep and after a bit of struggle reached the base of Castle rock. This brought us to an obvious question 'Do we climb the rock? Or, do we satisfy ourselves with the climb on the trail?" It appeared a bit too risky to make it to the top considering the steep slopes that provided no proper footing, our inexperience in rock climbing and the lack of proper planning. We were all in a pair of shoes that had little or no grip. As we almost decided to turn back, an enthusiastic couple descending back from the rock tempted us with promises of unbelievable views of the lake.

This prompted one of our members to try to hit the first tough step in the form of a high, narrow, steep and slippery path. As he made through that with some help, 4 of us followed suit. Each step in the ascent was a nerve-wracking one and even one wrong step could lead us to oblivion. Extreme care and a great team effort finally led us to the peak of the rock. As promised, we were treated to some gorgeous panoramic views of the lake and the surrounding hills and forests. We decided to spend a good 15-20 minutes at the top allowing the serene scene to engulf us. The most difficult part was yet to come 'The descent from Castle rock to the base of the rock'. There were prayers performed at the top requesting almighty to safely guide us back to the base. With our heart in the mouth, we started our descent. It was definitely not for the faint of heart. After a number of trial and errors in our footing coupled with each other's guidance, we finally made it to the bottom much to the relief of everyone. We thanked God first thing, before starting our way down to the road 1 mile away. Near the Castle rock, the trail was not properly marked and this led to us straying from the proper path. However, we took the dry stream route which guided us back to the marked trail few minutes later. Still shaking from the experience and yet with a sense of achievement, we reached the road with a well-deserved self-applause.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Sivaji mania grips San Diego

Last week, a wave of euphoria swept across the globe and San Diego was no exception. It was not a divine incarnation, not a festival, not a sporting event and definitely not a new invention. It was SIVAJI-THE BOSS. After weeks of anticipation, Superstar Rajini's blockbuster Sivaji finally stormed into San Diego. This was the first time, premiere of a tamil movie was screened in San Diego. Evening of June 14th was an eventful one as couple of hundred die-hard Rajini fans lined up outside the theatre almost 2 hours before the show began. As thalaivar with his immense screen presence and rocking style entertained the guests for 3 solid hours, the audience had their own celebration converting the quiet cinema hall into a carnival event. Hordes of emails followed the show with rave reviews of the movie and non-stop praises of the one and only Rajinikanth.

San Diego had to share the movie reel with Phoenix and so the next show in San Diego was scheduled only 3 days later. As the second show was to be screened in a much bigger theatre with stadium seating, a number of us had planned to watch the 2nd show. We had to go through a gruelling 3-day waiting session before we could get a glimpse of our thalaivar.

Slowly the big day arrived. We had already been to the premiere event just to experience the Rajini phenomenon without actually watching the movie that day. Having seen the celebration, we decided to have a bigger and a louder one. We went to the theatre almost 2 and 1/2 hours before the showtime and started transforming the movie hall into a Rajini paradise. The ticket counters and the hall were decorated with banners that shouted punch dialogues like "Vaada Vaada Vaangikoda.. Ticketa inga vaangikoda", "Pera keta odane chumma adhurudhu illa" etc. Everyone in our group dressed up in blue and we sprinted energetically to occupy a complete row at the hall#12 at Edwards Mira Mesa 18 in San Diego. We started distributing confetti shooters, saved a bagful for us and we were all set for the big moment.

As the trailers of Sultan (An animated movie of Rajinikanth set to release in 2008) hit the screen, the crowd was not able to control their emotions. By the time, the titles rolled with the inimitable fashion 'SUPERSTAR RAJINI', the theatre almost resonated with the noise the modest 250+ crowd generated. This was an experience like no other and only Superstar could generate such energy levels in the audience. For the next 3 hours, we were treated with pure Rajini magic and sheer high-quality entertainment. Director Shankar made sure that each frame looked like a scene out of a glossy high-resolution post card. The rich imagery, with a rocking A.R.Rahman score scorched the cinema hall. Staff at the Edwards cinema hall walked in to catch a quick glimpse, but never moved a muscle after that. Their eyes were glued to the screen and were amazed at our thalaivar's screen presence and the electrifying atmosphere we generated. It was a cracker of an experience and seemed like Diwali just got over looking at the number of papers strewn all over the place. At the end of the show, we felt many years younger and were gleaming with energy.

Monday, June 11, 2007

'The Feast' at Lakeside Estate

The quiet lanes of Edgemoore at the Big Bear Lake in California got transformed into a culinary paradise on a gorgeous Saturday evening. The huge Lakeside Estate situated on the banks of the lake's Metcalf bay with million-dollar lake views and boasting an array of modern facilities in an old-world charm setting hosted an enthusiastic crowd of 16 San Diegans on a weekend retreat.

On a day packed with sporting and other fun activities (including a gruelling session of sand volleyball and a boat trip on the lake), the tired group longed for a perfect dinner. A talented make-shift head chef for the evening accompanied by 3 others decided to treat their friends with a culinary trip to Italy. For the next 1 hour, the huge well-stocked kitchen was filled with clanking of vessels and aroma of herbs and sauces.

The 4 cooks slowly started dishing out rather exciting Italian fare with a Californian twist. The menu of the evening rightfully termed as 'The Feast' consisted of an interesting mix of Antipasti, Insalate and Pasta dishes. The delicious spread immediately triggered the senses and brought the whole gathering to the dinner table in a jiffy.

The Feast

1) Focaccia bread topped with a spread of pesto, mascarpone cheese and garlic and baked to perfection.

2) Salad of the day - Iceberg lettuce mix dressed with Italian vinaigrette and hand-tossed with black olives, garlic croutons and shaved parmesan cheese.

3) Baked Penne pasta with a zesty Arrabiata sauce, Mozarella cheese and Sun-dried tomatoes.

4) Baked Penne pasta with Marinara sauce, Mozarella cheese and Sun-dried tomatoes.

5) Capelline Pomodoro topped with cut black olives, fresh basil and garlic.

Monday, June 4, 2007

An evening of enchanting rhythms, soul-stirring notes and high adrenaline beats

It all started with one of the most anticipated events in 2007: A.R.Rahman's 3rd dimension tour in North America with over 70 artists consisting of renowned singers, a full-fledged orchestra and a number of dancers. The 3 week tour kicked off with a blazing concert at Oracle Arena in Oakland/San Francisco area.

The quiet Saturday evening witnessed progressive crowd trickling in to the arena and settling with Ethnic Indian finger foods and Garlic french fries. The excitement started to build up in the hall from 8 pm onwards with whistles and chants galore of 'Rahman.. Rahman'. At around half past 8 pm, the eagerness and anticipation of crowd was broken with an envelope of complete darkness and a short pause of silence. What followed that, was an experience of a lifetime that would linger in the minds forever.

Blazee (pronounced as Blah-Zae) stormed the evening with a rousing welcome rap for San Francisco that went like "Boys and Girls of San Francisco, Are you ready for the show ..." accompanied with roaring Sivamani beats. The crowd burst out at the mention of "The one and only A.R.Rahmaaaaaaaan ...". Playback singer Chitra started with Jaage Hain from Guru and as the tempo increased, the spotlight turned to the Maestro A.R.Rahman who joined with his high pitch sensational singing as he walked down the ramp. This eventually transformed into the energetic number KhalBali again by A.R.Rahman. An array of melodies filled the air in the form of Chanchan (Water), Ramta Jogi (Taal) and Roja Janeman (Roja). Once Hariharan sensed the anticipation in the crowd for Tamizh songs, he instantly started with Vaaji Vaaji Sivaji (... No guesses here, this song is from the most anticipated Tamizh movie ever SIVAJI) which was just mind-blowing to hear in the concert hall. Crowd wanted more of Sivaji and all our wishes were fulfilled with the soothing and haunting Sahana.

All these set the perfect platform for a cracker of a evening continuously bombarded with the energetic PAATSHAALAAs, ROOBAROOs, and the DIL SEs. However, the biggest biggie was yet to come. There were periods of gap between the songs and the troupe enchanted us with magical tunes of bass, percussion and flute (Naveen). A.R.Rahman also made use of these short periods to supply us with interesting tidbits and experiences. When the typical Rajini (aka. thalaivaa) 'chook-chook' tune began, the crowd went bonkers. Our prayers were finally answered. Blaaze and Naresh Iyer instantly hit the 'Sega Fightaa.. Sivaj Rightaaa.. ' energetically. The off-beat tunes with the funky lyrics of the Boss (Sivaji) and live orchestra just lit the arena on fire. The energy levels were a new high and was unlike anything witnessed before. As a perfect sequel, A.R.Rahman stepped down from his pedestal for rendering the most anticipated Athiradee (Sivaji). This song was in fact ATHIRADEE as half of the audience got off their seats and began dancing to the rocking tunes. The next 5 minutes witnessed the whole arena filled with chants of 'Sivaji Rightaa.. Sivaji Rightaaa'. If this was not enough, Sivamani's 5 minute solo on the 100-some drums around him accompanied with vocal percussion was earth-shattering. He perfectly blended western beats with dapanguthu and controlled the tempo of the beats at will.

After a number of high-intensity songs, Rahman settled calmly on the Grand Piano with a message for humankind. He started with "I know everyone here is on high spirits here, but we have to do our part for the human kind", played some soulful tunes before treating us with the enchanting anthem for UN 'Pray for me brother'. The crowd joined him in the support and serenity by swaying gracefully with cell phone lights creating a candle-light effect. The song and the moment was just magical and heavenly.

The concert was not over yet. A parade of songs rained from the movie Guru; the mystic and exotic Maya Maya, the playful Barso Re and the enchanting Ey Hairathey & Tere Bina. The list of songs for the evening just went endless and is not covered in entirety here. The crowd got to its feet again with the ever-green Chaya Chaya (Dil Se), a regular in all A.R.Rahman concerts. Playback singer, Sukhwinder Singh would not let go of the song so easily. He continued to play and experiment with it as the crowd got into an increased state of frenzy. The euphoria and the ecstasy hit unprecented levels with SaReGaMe (Boys) and Humma Humma (Bombay) as both songs were accompanied with high pitch vocals, pulsating beats, groovy tunes and energetic singing. The patriotic and the powerful Vande Mataram from A.R.Rahman himself was a fitting finale to one of the best events ever. The crowd wanted more music in this already 3+ hour concert. Rightfully, June 2nd was named as A.R.Rahman day.

At the end of the day, it was pure bliss .. served in plenty by the genius of A.R.Rahman. One only hopes that such magic happens more regularly. The music, the moments, the atmosphere, the crowd and finally the man A.R.Rahman.. still lingers in the mind.