Seven Deadly Sins : My pursuit of Lance Armstrong

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Towards the end of the book, David Walsh talks of how Paul Kimmage, a fellow journalist, asked him to let go of his obsession with Lance Armstrong. David Walsh then writes of an incident, soon after, where Paul Kimmage admonished an youngster for wearing the ‘Livestrong’ bands. I was mortified by that passage because of how proud I felt by wearing them and also feeling good about having made a contribution to charity.

He starts the book in 1993, goes back to 1983, talks about his hero Sean Kelly and his friendship with Paul Kimmage. It was through Paul that he came to know of doping in the sport and it disappointed him that the 1988 tour winner had taken a masking agent and still went on to win the race because it wasn’t a banned substance. His hatred for doping started at a village race, when his hero Sean Kelly while bouncing the rear wheel off the surface was not concerned when David and Paul heard pills hitting the plastic

The tone adopted in the book is sceptical and he talks about the death of his son and his memories. He rides on those memories to ask questions that no one else would ask. One of the questions that motivated him to ask more questions was, ‘What did Mary and Joseph do with the gold?’ When Michelle Smith won the 1996 swimming gold medal, his initial reaction was that of suspicion- how a lady with modest abilities transformed herself into a world beating athlete. The fact that her husband, who also doubled up as her coach, was a doper fuelled the suspicions further.

He takes some time getting to the subject of the book. When he does, he does it in a blockbuster fashion. He talks of coppi chuppacci and how his ride at a mountainous range with a passion rarely seen before had made him cry. Further, the man’s revelation and retraction made him lose some respect for him. So, when Lance Armstrong does the same at the same place in 1999, the author doesn’t quite have the same feelings.

There are moments when he draws examples from other sports too about the doping. Linford Christie and Merlene Ottey’s examples are cited to drive home the point that doping is prevalent in many sports. The reason why David grows sceptical about the athletes performance is the sudden surge in their area of activity. He doesn’t allow himself to be shrouded by questions like, ‘Why would Linford dope during the last stage of his career.’, ‘Why would Lance put more in his body when he has recovered from cancer?’ . He says that the joy of covering sport for the sake of sport has long vanished and now it’s all about who has taken what substance and in what quantities?

He meets other journalists who investigate doping and gets inspired by them. He wants, like them, to clear the sport of doping. In 2000, he got a call from Bill Stapleton to stay away from his investigations. In 2001 too he got a call, but this time around the offer was different and the bait was to interview Lance Armstrong.

When the Michael Ferrari case was being investigated and the results about to be made public, Lance said to a publication that he had collaborated with him for the World hour record. That incident made David Walsh realise how quickly the cyclists think. In all his interactions with the press, whenever the doping incident came up, Lance would be quick to point out that some person wasn’t proved guilty or some people had cases withdrawn against them.

Responsible reporting always builds trust. This fact shines through in the people that David gets in touch with. They are ready to talk to him because he is known for his through research. Why else would a man who has been researching about the doping in cycling and Michael Ferrari’s connection to it get in touch with him? Why would lance’s friend’s wife respond to him when asked? Why would the team masseur respond to him? They all had a period where they read what he wrote and developed their trust on him based on that.

He has Stephen Swart talking to him and then co-authors a book with Pierre in French because of the libel laws in UK. Armstrong does not let it go easily. He sues everyone involved with the book and also Sunday Times, because they published an edited extract from the book.

He was involved in a lot of cases about Lance Armstrong, including one long, protracted battle about him doping where most of the people who were interviewed by him were also present. Some turned hostile, some didn’t. The book also speaks about the arm twisting capabilities of Lance Armstrong.

When it all started to go downhill, it careened for Lance. David Walsh asks a lot of people about what they felt, finally, after their stance was vindicated. A lot of people responded about their contribution only to clean up the sport and not to bring down Lance.

Overall a good read. As you go ahead, turning the pages, sometimes you tend to question if you are doing enough.

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Baahubali movie review

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“Killing 100 people can make you a warrior, saving one person’s life makes you a god”

Thus says Ramya Krishna towards the end of the movie. During the promotional tour, everyone went gaga over her and her performance in the movie. One wondered if it was a hogwash or were they speaking the truth? We know it now. They were indeed speaking the truth. Of all the stars in the movie, it’s Ramya Krishna that shines the best. Be it quelling the rebellion, showing equal love to children or the way she sits while deciding/strategising, she looks every bit the epitome of justice that her role was promoted as.

She appears in the first scene in the movie and is there towards the end as well. Going by  what her character says in the first scene, she seems to have an equally important character in the second part of the movie as well.

There are humongous expectations on Baahubali. Touted as the biggest movie made in India, there is a huge pressure on the movie to earn back what was spent on it. One thing that no one can fault the team is for their preparedness. When you are shooting for long stretches of time, there are problems of continuity. This movie doesn’t suffer from it. A lot (or rather, entire) of credit must go to the second line director for that. S.S Karthikeya, the son of Rama Rajamouli and SS Rajamouli is the second line director for this movie. You appreciate it when you see the smaller things in the movie – the soldiers looting gold of the denizens in the kingdom, the costumes on the lead characters etc. If you had to pick faults, probably the only thing would be how Nasar’s hand looked in one of the sequences, but then they had it draped for the rest of the movie.

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A few months ago, there was an interview of Jagapathi Babu that I was watching in which he lamented the fact that he wasn’t considered for Posani Krishna Murali’s role in Temper. He said that had he acted, it would’ve lent more credence to Jr.NTR’s role.

Whenever you see Rajamouli’s interviews on a movie, he is at pains to explain the fact that he writes the script first and chooses the actors later. Going by what Jagapathi Babu and Rajamouli say, casting is very, very important for a movie.

Sathyaraj, in the role that he has, from the beginning to the denouement in the movie, appears a perfect fit for his role. One just has to marvel at his ability in playing around with the sword. He does a brilliant job of it. The scenes where he confronts Prabhas are among the best scenes in the movie.

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Tammanah was a late inclusion in the movie. Looking at her role for a time, you might wonder if her role was also a late inclusion in the movie. It’s her role that keeps the slow first half moving. The first half has some sequences that has you literally waiting for the sequences that the movie has been hyped for –  the war sequences.

The song ‘Pachcha bottesina’ has K Raghavendra Rao written all over it. It won’t be a surprise if in director’s cut we are told that he was the one who conceptualised and picturised it. The song also takes us back in time when bushes and scrubs covered the essentials.

Whether or not Tammanah has a lot to contribute in the second part, she has done her bit in enhancing the glamour bit for the movie as Anushka appears in a deglamourised role in this movie.

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When ‘Nenu, naa Rakshasi’ released, it was unanimously thrashed. It will always be discussed when the topic of worst of Puri Jagannadh is broached. It was the worst that a protagonist in a Puri Jagannadh looked and behaved. To go from that disaster to various other roles and then to the antagonist’s role in Baahubali takes some belief. Rana seems to have it in bagful. He looks the part when he has to be menacing towards Anushka’s Devasena or be scared of return of Prabhas’ Baahubali.

His dialogue modulation in the movie is top notch. Though he gets overshadowed in the second half, look for the scene before the interval where he performs incredibly well. Him, Ramya Krishna, Anushka seem like they have brilliant roles in the second part of the movie.

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Anushka has literally ‘next to nothing’ in terms of contribution to this movie. There are a couple of scenes in which she figures. Her scene with Sathyaraj is a good one . She better have a lengthier role in the second part of the movie

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Playing a titular role is not easy. It is shown in the way Prabhas performs in the movie. In the first half, the way he talks and behaves, it looks as if he is suffering from a hangover of Bujjigadu and Ek Niranjan. As the movie and the proceedings get revved up, so does his acting and the screen presence. From the time he promises Tammanah’s Avantika that he would complete the task she is assigned, Prabhas’ role undergoes a metamorphosis for the better.

It is difficult to find a better sight than Prabhas running in Mahismathi kingdom in the movie. He has a regal look in the movie and carries it very well. The speech he makes to the troops in the battle sequence must be his best sequence in the movie.

For a director wanting to make an action movie, Prabhas is a dream. He came off unaffected from the disaster that ‘Rebel’ was. The action sequences in any movie, particularly Rebel, looked more believable because of Prabhas. He has that sort of screen presence

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MM Keeravani provides brilliant background score for the movie and the rest of the family performs what is expected of them.

It is surprising to see Rajamouli waste Sesh Adivi so spectacularly. It will remain as one of the weaknesses of the movie for me that a few good actors were wasted.

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When people are going to talk about Baahubali and SS Rajamouli, you would see some nitpicking on writing or lack thereof. It is not a new phenomena. From Yamadonga on, we have seen SS Rajamouli wean away gradually from story telling to concentrate on the grandeur and visual effects in the movie. While it is not a slight on his abilities as a director, one would want to see what Rajamouli can do with a good story in hand.

His visualisation is what makes him the man that he is. It is easy to say that special effects make the movie what it is, but then to feel that a specific special effect can make a certain difference to a scene requires a visualisation that only few can manage. Rajamouli counts among those few. The entire second half, the way Mahismathi kingdom is shown or the way avalanche is shown are indicators to the brilliant visualisation skills of Rajamouli.

In an interview, Rajamouli himself admitted that he depends less on dialogues and more on visuals. He sets the record straight with the very first scene in the movie. Instead of trying to narrate about the various places, he shows it to us on a map.

It looks like Rajamouli has a certain fascination towards Maori culture. The language that Kalakeya’s tribe speaks seems so similar to Maori and other Polynesian dialects.

On a different note, it was brilliant to see him pay tribute to some of the luminaries who passed away recently. It was done before titles started rolling. Brilliant gesture indeed

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There will be people gloating that we have managed to reach the levels of Hollywood with this movie. Let yourself not be deceived by that. If you have seen the action sequence in Mad Max: Fury road before the intermission, that’s the level that Hollywood can reach to.

Given the budgetary precincts in India, it has to said that Rajamouli has done a brilliant job of showcasing the Indian film industry to the world.

If one remembers, the unit had flown to Bulgaria to shoot a few sequences. Nowhere was it apparent that it was shot abroad.

While returning from the single screen I saw the movie in, TV9 was interviewing a few people. I heard a person say ‘Super hit, 100 days’. It brought a chuckle to my face as the widespread release of the movie would easily prevent that. We will save that discussion for a rainy day.

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Verdict : A movie with a slow first half. The second half bursts into prominence with the superbly shot war sequences. It also sets the viewer up for what should be a very good and better second part

Image courtesy : idlebrain.com