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No Valentine’s Day: Love’s tortured course in Cold War



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Valentine’s Day is coming and as love blooms or advances for many young in age or heart, consider its course in difficult situations. Truth is the first casualty in wars, but so is romance. The conflict doesn’t even need to be a shooting war – even undeclared conflicts like the Cold War can be daunting and hazardous for lovers – particularly if they are on opposing sides.

But like many other human misfortunes, love in the Cold War with all its travails, tragedies but (some) triumphs too, makes for some memorable but haunting stories. Most were adapted for the screen and have become iconic films but also remain equally well-read books too.

Love is always not genuine – initially – in some cases, being either an amoral tool for different, usually sinister, motives or even accidental. But then the best-laid plans, or even intentions, of humans can (and do) go awry, for love, true to its overpowering nature, can subvert all other reasons and motives, make hardened men (and women) act atypically or recklessly, and can achieve unexpected outcomes.

The most famous arguably, though not the first of its kind, was a bleak story by a retired intelligence operative who went on to become a most celebrated writer of the espionage genre.

“The Spy Who Came in from the Cold” (1963) was David Cornwell alias John Le Carre’s third novel but successful enough to convince him to turn a full-time writer, earn him renown (especially after the 1965 film adaptation) and remain a major influence on the genre.

It is about Alec Leamas, a burnt-out spy, being sent to (the then) East Germany for a mission, whose motive only becomes evident in the narrative progresses – and offers a sharp look at how amoral even liberal democracies can be in security matters. It, however, strikes a more deeper, mournful chord, in its cynical manipulation of romance, especially when this draws in Leamas’ oblivious English girlfriend.

Liz, an idealistic Communist, ultimately ends up paying a price for the operation’s success and Leamas unhesitatingly chooses his own course too from atop the Berlin Wall.

And possibly the first Cold War novel to use romance as a key plot element was Ian Fleming’s “From Russia With Love” (1957). The fifth in his James Bond series and purportedly among US President John F Kennedy’s 10 favourite reads, it sees the British spy service receive an intriguing offer.

A young cipher clerk, Tatiana Romanova, posed in Istanbul, has fallen in love with Bond – after seeing his photo in a file and wants to defect. She makes the offer irresistible by promising to bring out a Spektor, a Russian decoding device much desired by the British, but has a condition – she wants him to come there and escort her.

Though we come to know of what the fiendishly intricate Soviet plot this masks right away, the thrill is in reading to know if Bond and his agency will fall into the trap, how it will play out and what will happen eventually. It also became the second Bond film.

Another classic where love is used to seek other motives, though much more positive, could be seen in Frederick Forsyth’s “The Devil’s Alternative” (1979) – one of his rare, early books not to be adapted into a film. It sets a fiendish set of interlocked options before the US President, with each promising to lead to a major disaster, before British secret agent Adam Munro, who is getting some vital information from his former Russian lover, steps in. And it is the only at the end where Munro learns how he was set up.

But there are also those where the individuals concerned seek to make their own destiny, and there are some helpful people around. In this strain is the neglected classic – Evelyn Anthony’s “The Tamarind Seed” (1971), which inverts the usual order by having a Soviet male character.

British Home Office employee Judith Farrow, holidaying in the Caribbean after a failed affair with a married British minister, meets vacationing military attache Feodor Sverdlov and they fall in love, despite the hackles it raises on both their sides. Will they have a future together – or even survive for it is the crux of this pulsing adventure, which also became a noted film starring Julie Andrews and Omar Sharif.

Then the last in this series, for it came as the Cold War was winding down was Le Carre’s “Russia House” (1989), made next year into a film starring Sean Connery and Michelle Pfeiffer.

British publisher Bartholomew “Barley” Scott Blair, visiting Moscow for a book fair, meets an enigmatic Russian man who is impressed with his views and chooses him as a recipient for some secret information. The conduit is Katya with whom Blair falls in love. But pressed to obtain more information while his source and Katya are in danger, our hero must decide whom to betray – his country or his love?

What would you do?

By Vikas Datta



‘Skyscraper’ Review: A lowbrow, watchable thriller



Dwayne Johnson Skyscraper

New Delhi, July 20: Film: “Skyscraper”; Director: Rawson Marshall Thurber

Cast: Dwayne Johnson, Neve Campbell, Chin Han, Roland Moller, Noah Taylor, Byron Mann, Pablo Schreiber and Hannah Quinlivan;

Rating: ** (2 stars out of 5)

Despite being visually exciting, suspenseful and entertaining, “Skyscraper” is a lowbrow, one-dimensional, fun B-grade action thriller that is absolutely worth a watch.

The premise is simple and the plot is predictably straight laced. Will Sawyer (Dwayne Johnson), an ex-military operative who has lost his leg in an explosion, now owns a security company that has been appointed to service ‘The Pearl’, the tallest building in the world, built by the Asian Financier Zhao Long Ji (Chin Han).

Fit with the latest security measures, the building seems insurmountable, till a group of mercenaries led by Kores Botha (Roland Moller) try to sabotage the building by burning it down because of their differences with Zhao Long Ji.

Sawyer’s stakes in saving the building are doubled as his wife Sarah and two children; Georgia and Henry, are stranded in the blazing skyscraper. How he rescues his family and Zhao and saves the building from being completely destroyed, forms the crux of the film.

The film is serious at times with by-the-numbers, over-the-top set action pieces and a few little twists here and there that defy expectations. The audience may find the set pieces to be incredibly entertaining, but in actuality, they don’t particularly mesh with the narrative. But then, as an action film it delivers the goods.

Overall, the film is Dwayne’s canvas. He entices the audience with his jaw-dropping stunts especially when he is dangling outside the building with nothing but a rope and wrapped prosthetic leg keeping him alive, the notion of “suspension of disbelief” only goes so far to save it.

He and Neve Campbell, who plays his wife Sarah, have surprisingly solid chemistry and together they as a couple make the telling of the film relatable. The kids are there to tug you on the emotional note, which definitely seems forced.

Overall, the film delivers on pretty much everything it promises and even adds a layer of emotion when looking at the family dynamics.

In fact, it even tries to reach the levels that the original “Die Hard” did, but then the ridiculous dialogue at the end – “You nearly need a shower” belittles Sawyer’s endeavour and takes away from the seriousness of the events one witnessed.


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Startups News

Google ‘Launchpad Accelerator’ India chapter to nurture desi startups




New Delhi, July 10: In a bid to nurture Indian startups working in the fields of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning (ML), Google on Tuesday announced to open the India chapter of its global “Launchpad Accelerator” mentorship programme.

The three-month “Launchpad Accelerator” India programme has been designed to grow the AI/ML ecosystem by helping desi startups build scalable solutions for the country’s unique problems.

The programme, based out of Bengaluru, will provide a cohort of 8-10 Indian startups mentorship and support from the best of Google in AI/ML, Cloud, UX, Android, web, product strategy and marketing, along with up to $100K of Google Cloud credits, the company said in a statement.

“India has the appetite to build entrepreneurs of the future and we are proud to announce a focused programme for the next wave of Indian entrepreneurs, who are using new technologies to solve the country’s needs,” said Roy Glasberg, Global Launchpad Founder.

Over the years, Google has worked with some incredible startups across India who are using advanced technologies such as AI/ML to tackle everything from agri-tech to language web, healthcare and transportation.

“With the dedicated India-only Launchpad Accelerator programme, we will be able to build a bridge between startups and the industry ecosystem and support them to drive innovation in the India market,” Glasberg added.

Applications for the first class is open till July 31 and the first class will start in September 2018.

In an effort to mentor emerging start-ups, Google India hosted a four-day boot camp for the first 10 Indian startups as part of its ‘Solve for India’ programme.

The India-focused accelerator programme is building on Google’s “Solve for India” roadshow from last year.

Ten Indian startups were shortlisted from across India which underwent four days in one-on-one consults with experts from Google and mentors from the industry to solve critical product and growth challenges.

“We shortlisted 10 startups from 160 home-grown start-ups by travelling across 15 cities in India, and are now ready to scale this pilot as a dedicated programme for India,” Karthik Padmanabhan, Developer Relations Lead, Google India, said at that time.

The participants were the founders of startups including Nebulaa, Slang Labs, PregBuddy, LegalDesk, PaySack, Vokal, FarMart, Meesho, Pratilipi and M-Indicator.

“Launchpad” regional accelerators are tailored specifically to their local markets, helping startups build great products, Google said.


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Fuel prices hiked for fifth consecutive day



Petrol Price

New Delhi July 9: Petrol and diesel prices on Monday hiked for the fifth consecutive day, according to the Indian Oil Corporation data.

Petrol is being sold in Delhi at Rs.76.36 per litre, as against Rs.76.13 on Sunday, while diesel is being sold at Rs.68.07 per litre, as against Rs. 67.86 on the previous day.

While in Mumbai, petrol prices increased from Rs. 83.52 on Sunday, to Rs. 83.75 per litre on Monday, and diesel prices from Rs.72 to Rs. 72.23 per litre.

Members of the Organisation of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) last month, agreed to jointly increase oil production, which was estimated to be about one million barrels a day.

The deal, which came after days of negotiation, was reportedly aimed at easing fears of a global supply crunch.


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