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Sunday, July 24, 2016

The Conjuring 2

Movie Review

I am a big fan of horror movies. No, not the Ramsay banners please! I pick up a horror film expecting a unique content, but end up disappointed. The Conjuring-1 garnered lot of public attention with its different presentation. The team thought of continuing the legacy with a sequel. Want to know what happened next? Okay then, read on.

The plot- A single mother Peggy Hogdson stays in a big house in London with her four kids, struggling hard to make needs meet ends. Their life turns upside down when her eleven year old daughter Janet sleepwalks and converses with a spirit. Things go ugly when the screams become frequent and Janet is possessed by a demon who claims the house to be his own.

The incident reaches media and ultimately paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warrren who were popularly known for investigating the AmityVille murders. Lorraine had a vision of Ed being killed by a demonic Nun figure during the investigation of AmityVille shootout.  In fear of Ed’s death, she takes a break from work, trying to stay away from investigations. When they are approached to help Janet, Lorraine agrees reluctantly, asking Ed not to get involved closely in the case. Both reach London as observers instead of investigators.

The local investigation team finds out Janet is possessed by spirit of Bill Wilkins but soon call it it a fake show when they see Janet in a video recording purposely throwing things. Being challenged on the legitimacy of spirits, an angry Peggy asks them to leave the house. The Warrens half heartedly return but turn around when they discover Bill Wilkin’s spirit is not the main culprit. Lorraine sees the same Nun demon from her previous vision haunting the Hogdson house. What was the connection? Why does she see Ed dead? Does Ed make it to the end? Well, you gotta watch it for yourself.

My views- Vera Farmiga and Patrick Wilson as the Warren couple, play their characters well. They efficiently portray calm, ready to help, no nonsense, sweet people. The real couple in real life was also as sweet and loving as shown in the film. The backdrop, the set of the old house gave it an authentic look of 70's. Madison Wolfe as Janet Hogdson was convincing for her age. 

Frankly, I missed the core horror factor. Same props and dim rooms no more attract the audience. Please try something new. Unlike the prequel, Conjuring -2 lacks the spine chilling factor. Why do demons or spirits make their presence felt only at night? Objects flying, tables shaking, hideously spooky faces are old school! (No offence to demons okay). Power cuts in the presence of spirits, creeky doors, disturbance in TV sets- seriously people? Who finds these creepy at all? Given the history of late 70's, I agree nothing much could have been done. Still, making it spicy is in the hands of the director, ain't it?

For those who still enjoy this level of horror, please watch it. If you are looking for something new, then this is not your cup of tea. 

By the end of the movie, I felt I could have invested time in a better movie. Conjuring 2 is good to watch if you have no other movie or sitting idle while travelling in local transport. 

Genre- Supernatural 
Duration- 134 minutes
Direction- James Wan

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Restaurant review - INDIA ON MY PLATE


Fortune Hotel, part of the prestigious ITC group is well known for its excellence in service. The beautiful property located on Sohna Road, Gurgaon has opened a new restaurant INDIA ON MY PLATE and extended a warm invitation to me for its media preview on 16th July.

The restaurant theme revolves around different Indian cuisines under one roof. They serve variety of specialities from each Indian state, blending in authenticity and great taste. The USP of the place is LIVE ghazals by renowned Gharana sensation who also sing songs requested by guests. I thoroughly enjoyed the ghazals of maestro Late Jagjit Singh sung by the artist. What a perfect way of spending a weekend!
















PR Shuddhita and Shrea gave us a tour and history of the restaurant, sharing their speciality with us. India on my plate has a spacious indoor seating on second floor of the hotel, overlooking a pool outside. The aesthetics on walls showcase the royal maharajas and maharanis from ancient times, adding more cultural value to the place.

Neer More
Ram Laddu






















The courteous waiters started with traditional welcome drink named ‘Neer More’ which tastes like rasam. Partly tangy partly salty, the spices burst into your mouth as you sip this cool appetiser. 'Últe tawe ka khakhra’ coupled with an array of chutneys accompany it.  


Tilwali subz seekh - My favorite
Starters flowed in and each item on the plate spoke of a true Indian experience with the finest blend of spices. My order of veg starters comprised Ram Laddu, Rajma Galaouti, Tiwali subz seekh, dahi kebab, bhutta mutter shammi and pudina paneer tikka. I skipped the Nilgiri Cheese Dosai as I made space for main course. Nawab’s style Rajma Galaouti was simple crispy bite and little spicy just like the Nawab’s form. Awadhi style Tilwali subz seekh and dahi kebab stood out in the entire platter. Tilwale seekh gets a full 5 on 5 from me.

Rajma Galaouti


Cranberry mocktail
Hyderabadi combination of corn and peas made on tawa- Bhutta mutter shammi was the second best. I found Ram Laddu- stuffed moong daal deep fried served with radish and green chutney- okayish since I am not much fond of this. Maida roti layered with ghee accompanied the starters.

I sipped cranberry mocktail along the starters. Unfortunately this mocktail turned out to be quite sweet and not so refreshing.

Being the first day of the restaurant, the staff was quite busy with their hands full of orders from every table. Main course arrived after some delay while I enjoyed the live music and virgin mojito. Oops virgin mojito was not upto the mark. It was overloaded with sweet.
Beautiful bar in the middle 
Rasmalai
 I liked the copper utensils for serving dishes which completes the Indian concept palate. Be it chutneys in copper bowls or main course in the copper carriers, the presentation looked great! I opted for veg dum biryani that came on a plate covered by an edible veil for “dum”. Choley Darbari biryani was nicely prepared with all spices measured flawlessly. I loved the daal tadka which is also said to be the speciality of Fortune. Imagine a simple yellow daal turning out to be the best item of lunch!

Marwad famed Dahi aalu achaari is another unique item in vegetarian menu which is made by potatoes simmered in pickling curd. A nice tangy punch feels heavenly.  

The last item in main course was Amritsar’s Paneer Kasturi. The color looked tempting however the dish wasn’t much exciting. Husband enjoyed his non veg meal of mutton curry, chicken chettinad and gosht biryani.  


Amritsari Badam Phiri

After a hearty meal, I was full to the core but an Indian can never turn down desserts. Hehe

Husband had Rasmali and I chose Amritsari badam phiri. Former tasted way better than Phiri.

Shuddhita in her conversation told us about Indian Cuisines that would be presented rotational basis. The thaali would be unlimited, priced at 500INR only. This gives me more reasons to visit INDIA ON MY PLATE again in future. What’s better than pocket friendly authentic Indian food at a great place like Fortune Excalibur?

Ambience- Very comfortable, warm and cheerful- 5/5
Food presentation- 5/5
Experiment with cuisines- Good attempt- 4/5
Staff- Very courteous, polite- 5/5
Anything missing – I missed salad. May be it can be included. I also found the ‘health consciousness’ factor missing. However, health has not been the focus of Indian cuisine, so Fortune kept it at bay. May be they can introduce a section for health conscious ones like me.


Friday, July 15, 2016

Mujhe naaz hai- Empowering to encourage

NAAZ JOSHI: INDIA’S FIRST TRANSGENDER COVER GIRL






After big celebrities like Caitlyn Jenner and Laverne Cox appeared on the cover of Vanity Fair and Time magazine respectively, it was time for Tehelka to look for an Indian name. That is how Naaz Joshi, the strong headed woman, became India’s first transgender cover girl. She is a leading fashion designer, stylist, model, model manager, model trainer and a fashion columnist, who has worked with renowned names like the ex-cabinet minister Shelja Kumari, late model Viveka Babajee, Riya Sen and Neha Dhupia.
With a name that means pride, 35-year-old Naaz was born in Mexico City into a middle class, family. She was born a transgender with a twin brother—the late fashion designer Chirag Joshi. Soon after they realized she was a transgender, and considering the conservative family she was a part of, her father sent her to a distant relative in order to avoid wagging tongues. While living with relatives, she studied till class 8 and was unable to complete her education, as her brother passed away after losing his battle with cancer at a very young age. It was then that Naaz came back to Delhi and took control over her brother’s business.
It’s not that Naaz was new to the fashion world. She has had a flair for fashion from a very young age and also used to take lessons in marketing strategy and public relations from her brother as and when possible. Ask Naaz how fashion designing happened to her and she says, “I was merely 12 when I started my career by designing beautiful diyas for Diwali meals. As soon as I turned 14, because I looked older than my age, I started working backstage for the Sunder Verma, Rohit Bal, Ravi Bajaj, Payal Jain and Abu Jani Sandeep Khosla shows. I was mesmerized by Madhu Sapre’s style when she was crowned Miss India in 1992, and soon I started following fashion institutes and event companies so that I could give wings to my dreams.”


That determination brought her to Pearl Academy in 1998 where she did her first student fashion design show with top models like Mehar Bhasin, Dipannita Sharma and Sonalika Sahay. Thereafter, Naaz got into NIFT and even won the most creative designer of the year award for her designer lehengas and got to work closely with super models like Noyonika Chatterjee, Bhawna Sharma and Lakshmi Rana. Continuing the story, she adds, “After that, I polished my Indian wear designing skills by working with brands like Ritu Kumar, Ritu Beri, Adarsh Gill and Divya Bindra. I have also done certificate courses in fashion from the Singapore School of Fashion. In 2007, I launched my own label and started retailing from a number of big stores.”
In India, despite the fact that the third gender has been given a green signal, it is still looked down upon and that is the reason Naaz had to face the gender tussle. She went through breast augmentation surgery in 2013, sex re-assignment in 2014 and eventually a breast removal surgery because of cancer in 2015. Ask Naaz how difficult it was to face society and she says, “When I decided to undergo a change, my own so-called friends left me. I also worked as a cabaret dancer at night in order to feed myself. People used to hate us during the day but the same people were ready to pay a price for our glamour at night. I landed up in prostitution so that by working as an escort, I could save funds for the surgery. My clients stopped coming to me and I went through so much emotional distress that I tried committing suicide thrice but failed.”



Naaz was not just answerable to the society for who she was but remains unacceptable to her own family members even today. “I was never accepted by my family. Even today, there are many restrictions on me—no male friends, no socializing, no late nights, always wear covered clothes, sometimes I feel I am living like Cinderella,” states Naaz.
But, all this doesn’t stop the fashion designer from aiming high. It was in 2014 when Supreme Court gave recognition to the third gender. After that, Naaz left prostitution and started her own company. This time, she was a one woman army, unapologetic, strong headed and one who wanted to rise in her career.
As the owner of Naaz Joshi Designs, the designer offers Indo-western fusion clothing to women. She seeks inspiration from Donatella Versace, who, like her, took over as the chief designer of Versace after her brother’s death. She has been a part of several fashion weeks and events. Apart from the wide acceptance Naaz has been receiving from her participation in social media, she is also a recipient of many awards like Miss Queen Mauritius, Wamba Diva of the Fortnight, besides achievement awards from NGOs and news magazines. As a grooming expert, she has trained more than 500 aspirants, including home makers, students, models, corporate clients and singers.
Naaz lets her work do all the talking and is constantly on a mission to find out ways to help the community so that they are not deprived of their basic rights. What has been her learning in life, we ask, and she says, “My life has been a roller coaster ride full of emotions. I love it simply because unlike others who are ashamed to accept who they are publically, I came out in the open and took a stand for myself. I love teaching, training students and children—it makes me feel like a mother because biologically I can’t have kids.”
Naaz requests everyone to look at people of the transgender community as human beings. “I beg all of you to understand the fact that we too have a heart full of emotions. At least, listen to us, as we also value relationships. To all the parents, I just want to say that may be your children have changed their body, but their soul is the same. Don’t be ashamed of them and don’t leave them in darkness as they love you,” pleads Naaz.
Having emerged as an inspirational woman the society can look up to, Naaz has her future plans in place. She shares, “Things haven’t changed and even today people laugh, make fun and mockery of our gender. It is a long journey and will definitely take about 15 years to bring some change. From my side, I will try and come up with concepts where each and every member of the society gets to live a life of a model for at least one day, possibly in a reality show like Big Boss.” Wish her dreams come true.
(Source:- magzter.com)


Wednesday, July 13, 2016

From The Little Black Book - BoomBox Cafe



Review: RESTRO BAR CAFE



Gurgaon sector 29 is a hub of countless hip-hop cool eating joints. Every food joint tries to offer something different to win customer loyalty. The newly opened BoomBox Cafe has also joined the bandwagon and welcomed us for a food review meet. 


Boombox live upto its name with peppy foot tapping numbers and musical aesthetics on display. I loved the music. Atleast they don’t play the irritating Honey Singh numbers. You would be stunned with the superb ambiance, the moment you enter. Glowing BOOMBOX branding at the ceiling, cool retro musical artefacts, a beautiful large bar and variety of seating arrangement will leave you in awe. 












There were tall tables as well as lounge sofa seating. We chose the low table with four chair seating since our friends Mandira and Manoj had their two years old daughter with them. While the height of the table was perfect, I found the chairs a little uncomfortable. That’s the only area of improvement for Boombox. 
            
Guava Mary
 
Kiss of Kiwi
















Chilly Paneer

We began our evening with Guava Mary and chilly paneer. Unfortunately the Guava Mary didn’t suit my taste buds. This mocktail is prepared on the likes of Bloody Mary with salt smeared on the glass rim. I don’t have a taste for bloody mary, so asked for another drink after few sips. The replacement – Kiss of Kiwi exceeded my expectations. Soothing, refreshing and filling it was!

Chilly Paneer was a surprise package. Usually I don’t find spice in pizza or rolls as they claim, so I happily ordered chilly paneer thinking it to be the same case. But the spicy punch inside paneer took me by surprise. It was well marinated and spices had seeped inside. Neither soggy nor hard, this dish was a killer!  
Dahi k kabab
Cranberry mocktail

Chef Deepak met us in person to tell about the menu selection. He personally recommended Dahi k kabab for starters. Sharing the secret of Dahi k sholay, he told us the correct proportion of curd that should go in its preparation. My apprehensions of cholesterol with deep fried stuff was resolved when he told Dahi k kabab were shallow fried. With a great presentation and tinge of tanginess, these soft dahi k kabab tasted heavenly. A good variety of chutney accompanied the dishes.


For another rounds drinks I ordered Cranberry mocktail which had subtle sweetness. Thankfully it did not have the taste of strawberry juice which usually is the case. Hubby tried Italian Smooch which was my second favourite after Kiss of Kiwi.



Veg platter
As the evening sky grew darker, the music tracks changed from one pop number to another groovy song. We swayed to the fantastic music as Chef Deepak curated a non-spicy bowl of veg noodles for Mandira’s daughter. The noodles kept her occupied as we ordered two platters. Non veg platter for husband and Mandira, veg platter for Manoj and me. They highly apprised non veg sampler. The veg platter had Dahi Kabab, Tofu Yakitori, Paneer Harrisa Tikka, Cottage cheese Spring Roll ,Tomato Bruschetta and Caesar Salad.

The cheesy spring rolls and Tofu Yakitori are things to die for! Every dish had the perfect balance of spices and salt. The spacious, beautifully decorated place won our hearts as we left with great memories and the promise to come again.

Highly recommend this place for office parties and large group of friends to chill and spend fun time. 

My rating- A good 3.5 on 5




Sunday, July 10, 2016

The treasures in McLeodganj


Second half of Day 2 McLeodganj trip




As we left from St John's Church, it poured heavily for a good forty minutes. We were stuck in a massive traffic jam for more than an hour on the two kilometer road. Yet, we enjoyed that traffic snarl because of the pleasant weather and lush greenery around. Such amazing weather is so rare in the city.

We reached McLeodganj by half past one. The slippery wet roads and traffic in the narrow lanes of the market welcomed us. Post a hearty lunch we headed to Dalai Lama Temple.

On your visit to McLeodganj, Dalai Lama temple is a must visit. You never know you might get lucky to meet his highness, the holy Lama.
The temple premises has basic infrastructure with beautiful view of the mountains around.




As we entered the security check zone, to my surprise mobile phones and cameras were allowed as against my last visit in 2014 when they were not. People were free to take pictures even inside the premises this time!



The temple complex attracts tourists globally who come in search of answers to questions of life and death. His highness Dalai Lama's temple houses a hostel complex for monks and students. Many have converted into Buddhists who spend their lives serving mankind or mediating there. The first floor with prayer bells and mediation hall gets the maximum footfall. 

Deep dive into the beautiful spiritual sojourn as you witness the large holy sculptures of Buddha, Avalokiteshwara and Gilded Chenrezig

Buddha
Avalokiteshvara
                Chenrezig
We had looked forward to spend some quiet peaceful moments in the temple, but it just did not happen. The place became noisy and a ground for selfie obsessed crowd. It surprised me to see the priests totally cool about it. We settled with some pictures of the deities and moved towards the prayer bells. It was not a pleasant experience unlike my last visit. Teens and young people obstructed the way of the prayer bell direction, posing for pictures and refusing to budge. Whatever happened to the peace of mind and maintaining the sanctity of a holy place?

The view from the first floor overlooking the green mountains is a visual treat. Infact the balcony view is more soothing than the statue premises. 


The whole premises takes less than an hour to see and soak in the positive vibes. We sat across the front gate of the ground floor trying to calm our minds and heal our hurt soles. By 3 pm, we departed from Dalai Lama temple, ticking it on our travel bucket list. :-) 

Our cab driver, suggested us to either go for para gliding or visit Khanyara. For the former we were not prepared nor had planned anything. So choosing the latter sounded a better option to us. Curious to explore, we covered a distance of around twelve kilometers to this lesser known place.

With very less footfall and serene beauty around, the isolated place boasts of a very old Aghanjar Mahadev Temple and a little river flowing in the backyard. Of-late this has emerged as a fun picnic spot.


Walk through this main entrance and see the open temple under the sky. The simplicity of the temple and the people is worth noting. No show of money, no royal ancient carvings on walls, no customary 'chadhawa', no loud bhakti sangeet would make you feel so free and at peace. I pondered over the show offs God is disturbed with. Isn't it? Why not just thank God for his blessings and give him a break? That's my idea of praying to the almighty.


History of the temple- During Mahabharat era, once when Arjun, was on his way to the Kailash Mountains. Lord Shiva appeared in front of him and blessed him with the Boon of Victory over the Kauravas. At this place Baba Ganga Bharati has fired "Akhand Dhuni" (Sacred Fire). 

Descend from a flight of stairs at the backyard, cross a little bridge and treat yourself to a splash of cold water from the Himalayan river.  
  
Slippery in many places, its good to seat yourself on the big stones. Dip your feet in water and relax. The backdrop is perfect for few selfies too! hehe

                                  


Though the place is extremely relaxing and worth travelling a long distance, Indian tourists always disappoint big time! Needless to mention how they litter all places and prove their cheap traits. To add to all this, there were beer bottles  at a holy place! Only God knows why does the temple authority ignore this. Atleast  people should respect the place! 

Anyway, we left the place heading to The Kashmir House crossing the Kotwali bazaar where we shopped for local specialties. We filled our shopping bag with lemon and honey flavor green tea, coconut cookies and tangy apple jam, of which the latter is my favorite. 

We retired to our lovely hotel and unwind-ed before packing and leaving from Dharamsala the same night after an eventful weekend. Dharamsala and McLeodganj happily ticked on our travel list in two days :-)


Saturday, July 9, 2016

Mesmerizing McLeodganj

Day 2 of our trip to Dharamsala.


Continued from Day 1- http://expressunleashed.blogspot.in/2016/06/breathtaking-dharamsala.html




As the morning rays kissed the sky and the chirping birds woke us, we knew it was going to be a long day! After monakeying around the tea gardens and soaking in the natural beauty on day one in Lower Dharamsala, day two was more adventurous and tiring. Post a scrumptious heavy breakfast, we boarded our taxi which ferried us to Naddi.

Scenery from the view point




  
Barely ten kilometers from Dharamsala, Naddi is a quiet village in the Kangra Valley. At an altitude of 2000 meters above sea level and surrounded by the Dhauladhar mountains, Naddi is the starting point of trekking to near by hill tops. The dreamy clouds playing hide and seek with Sun, the lush green mountains and foggy trails leave you asking for more. It's a treat to watch the hills engulfed by fog one moment and clear sky the next moment. You instantly want to spread your arms like a bird, breathe in the clean fresh air as you close your eyes and fill yourself with tranquility.
Sun playing hide and seek


Tourists flooded to the "viewpoints" where a person loans his telescopic lens (in return of a nominal to fee) to watch the farthest points of the mountains. Thanks to husband's DSLR and my Moto X phone, we did not use the view point lens.





Man at work
  
The cameraman hubby



The serene surroundings have been encroached upon by reckless construction of hotels/guest houses. Countless felling of trees and drilling mountains will lave nothing for us in future. Don't be surprised to see international tourists (mostly bag-packers I assume) running small eateries or grocery shacks for a living. Perhaps India is very pocket friendly for them.


Approach roads to Naddi are steep with sharp curves. Drive carefully while descending the hills. Returning from Naddi, we stopped by Dal Lake. 



Mesmerized by the beauty of Kashmir's Dal Lake, this lake was named the same. The water source is believed to be Manimahesh Lake (situated at Bharmour, Distt. Chamba) which has dried now. Boating is no more allowed due to depletion of water table, silt deposition and soil erosion. The lake is literally a garbage dump now but the forests around the lake makes it worth stopping by. Since the place is peaceful, we choose a bench to sit on and relax for some time. Lines of deodar trees add to the beauty of the Lake.







Plastic waste and bottles in the lake bed are certainly big turn offs. Though the Himachal Government has taken measures to restore the place, it is also the duty of locals and tourists to cooperate. Why spoil the natural beauty like this?


A two hundred years old sacred temple of Lord Shivaon the river bank adds to the mystique of the river. Across the road, many other temples are a major source of attraction for tourists.


We resumed with our journey to McLeodganj, barely three kilometres from there. On the way our driver stopped asking us to visit St John’s Church. Against our expectations and no plans to visit this tranquil place, St John’s added joy to our journey. Such a magically wonderful place to visit. 






The church is said to have survived the massive earthquake of 1905 which had killed close to 20,000 people in Kangra. However the bell tower was destroyed in the earthquake. Later, a new bell, cast in 1915 was brought from England and installed outside in the compound of the church. It is said many failed attempts have been made to rob the bell many times. 
    


Surrounded by green forests and well maintained by the authorities, the vicinity offers you calmness and natural beauty.
Backyard of the church






We spent a lot of time capturing the playful beauty of nature and the luxurious greenery. The cold breeze caressed us as sunshine revealed different shades of green. We walked, we hiked, we sat on a stone with our legs dangling down and enjoyed the sound of silence, occasionally broken by tourist buses.


























The churchyard is the final resting place of Lord Elgin ( then Governor General of Canada). He later became Governor General & Viceroy of India in 1861 during the British rule.  He soon died in Dharamsala in1863, and was buried there. It was Lord Elgin's wish to be creamted in the vicinity of the church as Dhramsala reminded him of Scotland. He was quite fond of the flora and the lovely weather of this quaint hill station.






What attracted me the most was the inclination of the authorities towards wildlife and fauna protection. The little bird houses and the well maintained beautiful garden bear a testimonial to the fact. Considering that I volunteer at animal NGOs and have built bird houses, I know the importance of these little shelters for the birds. Totally appreciate their efforts.

                                                 

The neatly paved pathway towards the church symbolizes a gateway to peaceful solace. People from all religions are welcome to the church. St John;s Church was worth the visit.



We left the place with sweet memories, happy heart and a calm relaxed mind.




Rest of the journey in next post....