Feb 21, 2008

Kimi in F1's 'Hall of Fame'

Fast-tracked into the sport with the shortest CV on four wheels, the unknown newcomer who came from nowhere and said next to nothing immediately proved he knew exactly what he was doing: driving a Formula One car as fast as it could possibly go. The car couldn't always keep up with his talent and it took seven seasons for Kimi 'Iceman' Raikkonen to become World Champion. Notoriously inanimate and uncommunicative, the silent speedster's frozen expression in fact masked the hidden depths in one of the coolest, most original characters in the sport's history...

Kimi Matias Raikkonen spent his childhood in a house built by his great grandfather in Espoo, a suburb of the Finnish capital, Helsinki. To provide for Kimi, born on October 17, 1979, and his older brother Rami, their hard-working parents Matti and Paula toiled, respectively, as a road builder and an office clerk. Money was scarce but the Raikkonens were a happy family and their humble homestead surrounded by open countryside was an ideal environment for the two rambunctious youngsters to flex their racing muscles. At first (when Kimi was just three years old) the brothers tore around on miniature motocross bikes fitted with training wheels. A move to karts paved the way for Kimi (who began competitive karting at 10) and Rami (who eventually became a successful rally driver) to make rapid progress in motorsport, though it came at a cost. Matti had to work nights as a taxi driver and nightclub bouncer and funds diverted to karting meant plans to replace the outside lavatory with a proper bathroom in the family home had to be postponed.

Kimi, a reluctant student who used his schoolbag as a sled to slide down snow-covered hills, enjoyed winter sports, especially ice hockey, though he eventually gave it up because he hated getting up for early-morning practice. At 16 he left school and enrolled in a course for mechanics, believing this skill might be the only way to stay involved in motorsport. Very soon his mechanical expertise, and the need for family funding, became superfluous, as Kimi's natural talent for driving fast led to sponsored rides.

Following a rapid series of successes in Finnish, Nordic and European karting, he jumped into a racing car and promptly won two British-based Formula Renault championships. In the fall of 2000, despite having just 23 car races to his name, he was given a test by the Sauber Formula One team. Impressed by his immediate pace and assured approach, Sauber shrewdly signed the 21-year old to drive for them in 2001. His having short-circuited the conventional route to the top provoked fierce debate over his right, let alone his readiness, to race at the pinnacle of motorsport. Raikkonen rapidly silenced his critics (he finished sixth in his Grand Prix debut) and attracted the attention of McLaren, who saw him as a likely successor to the retiring two-time champion, Mika Hakkinen.

One Finn after another proved to be a good thing for McLaren, for whom Kimi the 'Iceman' never gave less than his maximum, always driving to a personal limit that at least equalled, sometimes exceeded, the best of his peers. Experts endlessly praised his seamless, straightforward, mostly mistake-free style. "I never really think about what I'm doing," Kimi said in a rare outburst of self-analysis. "I just do it."

His five seasons at McLaren coincided with a period of unevenly performing, often unreliable, cars. Yet he finished second in the championship twice (2003 and 2005), won nine races and finished in the top three on 36 occasions. His podium appearances and subsequent TV interviews exposed him to public scrutiny under which he tended to squirm and fidget, tugging his ears, rubbing his nose and trying to hide beneath his baseball cap. He seldom smiled, spoke sparingly in a mumbled monotone, then all but ran for the nearest exit.

Yet in his private life the poker-faced enigma's icy reserve was prone to spectacular bouts of thawing out. 'Drunken Race Ace Kimi Bounced Out Of Lapdance Club For Fiddling With His Gearstick!' shrieked a headline in a British tabloid newspaper. Spanish media gleefully reported that the vodka-loving Flying Finn was found lying fast asleep outside a bar embracing an inflatable rubber dolphin. In Monaco he was filmed cavorting on a yacht, swaying unsteadily on the upper deck then falling onto a lower level where he landed on his head.

"What I do in my private life doesn't make me drive any slower," the free-spirited speedster insisted. In truth, the Iceman's private life was running smoothly and he was well-settled on the domestic front, having in 2004 married Jenni Dahlman, a gorgeous Finnish fashion model and former Miss Scandinavia. At their sumptuous Swiss home there was plenty of room for their two dogs and Kimi's car collection. Asked to name his most prized possessions, he replied: "My wife and my Ferrari Enzo."

In 2007 he began driving a Ferrari Formula One car for a living, having been hired (for a reported $41 million a year) to fill the considerable void left by the departing seven-time World Champion Michael Schumacher, whose unrivalled work ethic and team leadership qualities were not part of a Raikkonen repertoire that seemed more akin to another past champion. A week before his debut with the team, Ferrari's new recruit was in Finland, winning a dangerous snowmobile race he had entered under the alias of 'James Hunt.' When the same 'James Hunt' later competed in a powerboat race dressed in a gorilla suit Kimi said he invoked the name of his hero as a riposte to the media sensationalization of his private life.

He got off to a fast start with Ferrari, winning the season-opener from pole position, though by the penultimate race he was third in the driver standings, behind the McLaren team mates Fernando Alonso, seeking a third successive title, and Lewis Hamilton, the record-breaking rookie. Though Raikkonen had won more races, five to their four apiece, he remained the long shot among the trio of contenders at the final race, in Brazil. The phlegmatic Finn delivered sensationally, winning the race and the 2007 World Drivers' Championship by a single point.

On the podium the new champion swigged as much champagne as he sprayed and, grinning at last, the Iceman broke his silence with a veritable torrent of words. "I'm very happy. I came from pretty much nothing but my family, friends and sponsors helped me get here. People will probably look differently at me and make up more stories about me. But I am going to lead my life as I want and that's it."

Feb 17, 2008

Jodhaa Akbar.......flamboyance redefined

What I look for, while watching a movie are some absorbing scenes which I can take back in my heart leaving from the theater and Ashutosh Gowariker's Jodhaa Akbar did succeed to do exactly that. A three and a half hour long epic saga is one of the evidences of dauntless film making. The film is a roller coaster ride which starts with a bang in the "battlefield of Panipat" then blossoming through Jodha-Akbar love episode before ending up as a thriller. Traversing through the life of emperor Akbar and princess Jodhaa, JA has all the ingredients of making it big worldwide.

Jellaludin Mohammed Akbar (Hrithik) is forced to marry a Rajput Princess Jodhaa to restructure the political disarray in the empire and thus proves a point to the religious bias which was then in a very ominous state as it is now. This doesn't go down well with the other Mughal protagonists including his brother in law Sherrafudin who wanted to attack "Dilli" with the help of Jodha's cousin Sujamal. The film suddenly takes a twist and starts to focus on the swaggering journey of the lead pair and their love life. Well, it's a treat to watch Hrithik where he steals the screen with his sheer presence. Watch him on that scene where he reveals to Ash that he is illiterate or that scene where he tames an elephant or even in the climax scene where he rips the villain aided by some thunderbolt action scenes.

The film's other main highlights are undoubtedly Rehman's refershing tunes and timely background score, Kiran Deohan's magical camera placings the battle scenes are proofs, Gowariker's skillful direction watch out for that beautifully choreographed sword fight between Hrithik and Ash. Talking about Aiswarya, she is at her best in JA and surprisingly enough, she has carved out a terrific performance as the loving begum of Akbar. The lead pair just carry from where they left in Dhoom2 and both of them need a pat on their backs for etching out such wonderful on-screen chemistry. The support cast are adequate with none of them failing to live up to the script. The first half needs some trimming as there are too many subplots which one may find as overdose of emotions yet I found those easier than taking my eyes off Shehenshah, Hrithik.

The film picks up extremely well in the start of the second half, where Akbar goes to Jodhaa's house for a reunion after she was shown his back for an allegedly fabricated sin on her part. Akbar, repenting on his decision, choose to tie up the loose ends on his post-marriage session. In these scenes, Hrithik and Ash complement each other well enough that they succeed to hold the movie together. Meanwhile, Akbar needs to face Sherrafudin to avoid anymore bloodshed for the fight of Delhi and Agra which forms the rest of the movie.

As always, Gowariker's song picturisation is commendable especially the Azeem-O-Shaam song in which people from all over Hindustan praise Akbar for his down to earth behavior and benign attitude towards the poor. Sumptuous sets and lavishly thrown out costumes are some features of the song. The love-saga of Jodhaa and Akbar move in fine lines and are self explanatory by a long way which is good as the audience won't get fagged up by heavy doses of stressful dialogues. Coming to the controversial part, to be very honest, I don't give a damn about a film-maker interpreting history as long as he keeps you interested in a 210 mins marathon run. If some people are so much worried about history, then why can't they preserve it or document it rather then waiting for someone to make a film and then to start cribbing on it? It's extremely disheartening to see the film not being screened in Rajasthan and MP for some reasons which are made to be sensitive rather than being one.

In every possible way, Jodhaa Akbar is a fruitful and engaging love story and I strongly recommend people to watch it atleast once if not twice. There are just too many reasons for not to ditch this film. Ashutosh Gowariker after Lagaan and Swades has gone places with this howling tale of love which would go down as one of the best movies ever made in Indian Film Industry......

Rating : 4.5 / 5