Saturday, June 27, 2015

MasterChef Australia : Top 10

First of all, I apologize for another MC Aus post...but just indulge me, will you? :)

Secondly...spoiler alert! This post is on the contestants who have made it to the Top 10 this year, which hasn't been aired in India yet.

MC Aus is witnessing some intense competition right now and I'm really happy about the cooks who have made it to the Top 10. Each of them deserves to be there. Here's my take on them and who I think has the best chance of taking the title out (no one cares, I know, but it makes me happy so I'm going to do it anyway :)

Billie - Moonshine's favourite and now one of my favourites too, besides Georgia! I liked her since the beginning but she didn't get as much air time as Georgia (who is the cute, cherubic kinds) as she's quieter...not too expressive. I really started rooting for her after watching her in a very tough elimination challenge where they had to cook a very technical dish. The other contestants were extremely frazzled and not able to keep up with time but Billie was so focused and on top of things throughout the cook. She also got the best dish up, and that's when I realized what a great shot she has at winning this competition. Her strengths: very clever with what she cooks, cooks delicious food and very calm under pressure. We are yet to see a chink in her armour! While many other contestants break down under pressure she just gets her head down and does what she needs to do, and that is a great asset to have in a high pressure format like MC.

Georgia - Yayyy Georgia!! She's a very talented cook no doubt but she also has a very warm and cute personality. It's tough to dislike her. She has ended up in elimination twice because of the idiot John but she is such a forgiving and positive person. Like Billie she too is very clever with what she cooks and gets her dishes tasted a majority of the time. She's my favourite but strangely I can't find much to write about her...she's just so good all round!!

Jessica - Another talented cook (what the hell, they're all talented at this stage!), big on flavour. Came closest to beating a professional chef in an immunity challenge. I think she has it in her to reach the Top 5...not sure if she can win though.

Jessy - She made a dessert that the judges voted as THE BEST dish they had tasted on MC ever, so definitely a top contender for the title. She has a good understanding of the 'process' of cooking...what would work and what wouldn't, which means she makes fewer mistakes than others. She may end up in the finals, who knows!

Rose - Like most people I too had written Rose off early as she did not impress as much in the auditions as the other cooks. The dish she cooked in the first round of auditions wasn't up to the mark but the judges gave her another chance as they saw potential. She didn't knock their socks off in the second round either but did enough to make it in to the Top 24. From there on she struggled trying to be true to her Lebanese/Middle Eastern roots vs. plate dishes that were more Australian/European in taste. What she did do was survive every elimination she found herself in - and she has been in almost all of them - but now she's going strong. She's usually cooking dishes that are flavourful and homely, well liked by the judges, but I'm not sure that's enough to catapult her into the finals.

Amy - I like Amy...she's a good cook, really strong with Asian flavours, particularly Vietnamese. But sometimes she makes silly mistakes like not getting everything she cooks on to the plate, which in the final stages of the competition can be the difference between staying on vs. going home. Therefore, I don't really see her winning the competition.

Ashleigh - She has her ups and downs. She's usually on a roll with desserts, wobbly with savoury dishes. Goes on a spiral of self-doubt from time to time which reflects on the food she puts up. She's also really shy, introverted and hates being in the limelight, so it's a surprise she signed up for a TV show!! I don't really see her making it into the Top 5.

Sara - Hmmmm...comes across as arrogant and cocky. Definitely an attention seeker. But she's a good cook. She started off strong but has been struggling of late. I can maybe see her in the Top 5 but given how consistently good Billie, Georgia and Jessy are as cooks I don't really see Sara in the finals. On one of the previous seasons though she could definitely have made it.

Matthew - Awwww....warm and fuzzy....sweetheart. He has come to his team's rescue quite a few times salvaging dishes that are on their way to disaster, lending a helping hand to those who're drowning. Has a good understanding of food but isn't as dynamic a cook as some of the others, so I can't really see him in the finals.

Reynold - He has definitely been the surprise of this year for me, besides Rose. He's quiet but a very strong cook. Very inventive and modern age...the judges love him for that reason. He's exceptional with desserts...often comes up with elements one can't even think of! Really talented with presentation. He's done well with savoury dishes too. I won't be surprised if he makes it to the finals!

So these are the wonderful Top 10. I'm so glad John is out of the competition. He has shown that neither can he be a good leader (he made some very stupid decisions in a recent team challenge just to prove a point, despite pleas from his team mates and advice from the judges...this led his entire team in to elimination), nor a good team member (in an earlier team challenge he showed complete disregard for his team members because he wanted to impress the judges, once again causing his entire team to go in to elimination). He also refuses to learn - throughout the competition the judges have been consistently giving him the same feedback to not over-complicate things in a bid to impress - but he refused to take it on board and that ultimately became his downfall.

So who do I see making it to the finals? Although I would love to see a Billie vs. Georgia final (and then I won't know who to support!!) but I think it's a toss up amongst Billie, Georgia, Jessy and Reynold.

What do you think??

Friday, June 19, 2015

Dil Dhadakne Do

'Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara' is one of my all-time favourite movies. I watch it every time it airs on TV, at least in part, and want to live my own version of it with my girl friends. I also loved the shortie that Zoya Akhtar made for 'Bombay Talkies' - a small boy who loves to dress up in costumes and dance, and the pressure he faces from his family to act like a boy and not a girl. It was a touching story told compellingly in 30 minutes.

Naturally, I was looking forward to 'Dil Dhadakne Do'. I had read that it was a story about a brother-sister relationship and with a stellar cast comprising of Farhan Akhtar, Anil Kapoor, Shefali Shah, PC and Ranveer Singh (yes, Anushka Sharma as well but I just can't get myself to like her regardless of what she does), I thought it would pack a punch. Zoya Akhtar can really express the voice of our generation in a realistic and impactful way. However, DDD was anything but that!

I thought it was a classic case of a good concept let down by poor execution (pardon my market researcher voice ;)

Zoya had a couple of good messages on hand - existence of gender inequality even amongst the creme-de-la-creme of Indian society, and how important it is to give the people you love the freedom to live their lives in the way that they want. These messages really resonated with me. I've been so fortunate to grow up in a family where I have experienced neither gender inequality (or seen it happening to my cousins), nor a stifling of my freedom. My parents have never stopped us from living our lives the way we wanted be it in the friends we made or the clothes we wanted to wear or the careers we wanted to pursue. Also, having grown up without a brother we never saw preferential treatment given to a boy vs. a girl, even something small as the time you need to be back home from play (neither are our parents the sort). But I know these pressures and discriminations exist in many families.

Unfortunately, the movie left me really bored. The slow pace was a killer. All through I was waiting for it to pick up pace...and when it did, in the last 15 minutes, it was in the most idiotic way! It's like Zoya & team suddenly realized that they've bored the hell out of the audience for the last 3 hours (no less!), so let's make the last 15 minutes as stupid and Bollywoody as we can.

Also, I didn't feel that the brother-sister bond coming across too strongly. Yes, there were a couple of scenes showing their camaraderie but I think with 3 hours in hand Zoya could've focused more on that relationship. Instead she chose to waste a lot of time on side characters that did not necessarily contribute as much to the the track with Parmeet Sethi and his rival and the love story between their kids (I didn't think she needed two stories to convey that space and freedom are essential in every relationship). Or the scenes with Shefali Shah's high society friends...I mean we are all well aware of what they are like, Zoya wasn't showing anything new here.

Farhan Akhtar too was completely wasted. He hardly had much to do except a couple of scenes where he stood up for PC. Such a talented dishy...what a waste!

I loved Shefali Shah...such a terrific actress! And Ranveer too. He can be quite putting off on live tv shows with his over flowing energy but he was so restrained in the movie. He really got into the skin of the poor-little-rich-boy character.

Oh much for DDD. Zoya better make up for it with her next movie. And please...give us more of Farhan Akhtar next time. Promise we won't complain! 

Friday, June 5, 2015

The Great Gatsby

The great American classic. Have you read it?

I had been intending to read this book since a long time but somehow it always got sidelined by more interesting prospects. Finally, I picked it up one fine day.

It's the story of a young and mysterious millionaire Jay Gatsby, set in an island off New York in the era that is described as the 'Roaring Twenties' in the American economic and cultural scene. Gatsby, who had an underprivileged childhood and whose income comes mainly from criminal activities, throws lavish parties that are attended by the who's who of New York society, socialites as well as wannabes. However, he doesn't attend these parties himself and so no one knows who he really is. Except his neighbor Nick who Gatsby takes a fondness to because he is the cousin of the girl Gatsby has been deeply in love with since years. The underlying theme of the novel is the contrast between the moral vacuum of high society folks and the honesty and integrity of the "common" people (shown via the sacrifices that Jay Gatsby makes for love).

Honestly, I was quite underwhelmed with the book. It's not a difficult read...not more than 200 pages if I remember correctly, and reads easily. But it takes a while to get to the point. For the most part you are wondering what the theme is, except maybe a love story between rich girl and poor boy. Then you think that there's got to be more to it - it is an all-time classic after all. The theme does become apparent towards the end of the book - maybe the author's idea was to build up to the theme - but unfortunately it's not much of a build up.

Still wondering what the hoopla surrounding this book is about, I went back to read the history of the book - apparently it was poorly received when it first came out and saw a revival only after WWII, years after F Scott Fitzgerald (the author) had died believing himself to be a literary failure. Oh, the sadness! Today not only is 'The Great Gatsby' considered a classic it is also one of the books to have earned the title of 'The Great American Novel'.

It is worth a read if you want to tick one book off the 'classics one must read' list, just don't have very high expectations.

Thursday, June 4, 2015

The Mandatory MC Australia Post!

MasterChef Australia...where do I begin??

I've been a devoted follower of this show since it's debut 7 years ago. I've watched it religiously year after year, rooted for contestants I liked (Marion Grasby from one of the earlier seasons, Julia Taylor from a couple of years back, and Jamie from last year are a few who have stayed with me), and not to mention that my knowledge of food and cooking techniques has increased manifold thanks to the show (that I don't use any of it is an entirely different story)!

I do not make plans for weekday nights during the 2-3 months that MC Aus is on air. It's my absolute favourite show in the world (second only to 'Friends').

I'm aware I might be sounding deranged but MC Aus has therapeutic value for me. I look forward to it the entire year. Regardless of the issues I might have on my mind, I tune them all out for the one hour the show is on air every day and just feel myself ensconced in the warmth, positivity and fuzziness of MC Aus. And that is the reason I love it so's just such a warm, positive, feel good show!

The judges are critical...if the dish is bad they rip it apart but it's done professionally. There's no drama and no personal attacks. And there is always a positive take-out in terms of what the contestant could've done to make their dish better.

Contestants who end up in elimination don't act as if their lives are over...unlike in MC India. There's no barrage of tears. Rather they treat it as a bad day at work and the elimination cook-off as an opportunity to come back focused, with a positive mindset and put up a brilliant dish that would help them stay in the competition.

If they don't perform well in a challenge the focus is always on redeeming themselves in the next challenge. If there's a team member who lets the entire team down in a team challenge, people don't run to crucify him/her. Rather they are forgiving.

The other reason I like MC Aus so much is because every contestant is there for the right reason, and that is that they have a food dream. It could be having their own restaurant or catering business, or starting some other business revolving around food, or pursuing some other food related career. Unlike MC India where almost every contestant has a sob story and is there not for anything remotely related to food but because they want to buy a house or pay off a loan or get money for someone's treatment etc.!

Also, MC Aus is a wonderful representation of Aussie culture. The contestants come from all kinds of diaspora...Australians, Brits, Middle Eastern, Indians, Asians...and everyone brings a slice of their culture to the show in terms of the dishes they put up. Many challenges focus on the use of native ingredients, and the friendliness, warmth and positivity that permeate the show are the trademarks of Australian culture as well.

The quality of contestants over the past 2 years has been mind blowing. They are putting up restaurant quality dishes just in week 2 or 3 now! In the earlier seasons one didn't get to see such a high caliber of cooking even in the finals.

My favorites this year are Georgia and Billie. Georgia is a brilliant cook and comes across as sweet, cheerful (but not nauseatingly so) and full of warmth. She does tend to panic under pressure but is getting better at controlling her nerves with every episode. In one of the team challenges her team had no dish to show after an hour and ten minutes of cooking, but she pulled something together in the last 5 minutes. To be able to overcome your tendency to panic and have such presence of mind when you are pushed against the wall is commendable.

Billie too is a wonderful cook...quietly confident. But the dark horse this year could be Reynold, I feel. He cooks well, has amazing plating skills and has earned praise from the judges for both. I can also see Jessica go a long way but I'm not sure she can take out the Masterchef title.

Unfortunately, for all my love for MC Aus I haven't been able to convert any of my family members to fans of the show. They dismiss it as a boring cooking show and aren't even willing to give it a chance. Except my sister...she likes MC but she's a bigger fan of MKR (which I don't quite enjoy).

I'm looking forward to see who wins this year. My money is on Georgia! If only she continues to have a grip on her nerves.