Brute force and elegant fight scenes

About a month back I happened to watch some random Kannada movie playing on TV starring wifebeater Darshan (it was called “Boss”, I think). It seemed like yet another of those typical masala flicks, with twin brothers and a weeping mother and lots of rowdies and corporate rivalry and all that. Overall it was a mostly sad movie but for me the biggest turn-off was the final fight-scene that takes place in some warehouse.

Ever since I was a kid, I’ve been a big fan of action movies. After we got our VCP, I remember going up to the videotape rental store close to home every Saturday evening and asking for “some fighting movie”. I didn’t care at all for the story or the lack of ┬áit in any movie I saw. All I cared about was for “action”. After I had whetted my initial appetite for “fighting movies” by watching a bunch of Shankarnag action flicks (CBI Shankar, the Sangliana movies, etc.) my father started bringing home James Bond movies. I remember watching You Only Live Twice and Moonraker back then. I remember watching The Spy Who Loved Me, too, but there was a problem with the tape so I wasn’t able to watch it fully.

Coming back to Darshan and Boss, the turn-off about the fight scene was that it was an unbelievable “brute force” scene. The hero, a rather muscular sort of guy, singlehandedly beats up a whole bunch of bad guys. And it’s not even in the traditional form where the bad guys come one by one. They all come together and attack him and he repels them all simultaneously by means of sheer superhuman muscular strength. There was absolutely no fun in watching it. It was a similar story with the Puneet Rajkumar starrer Jackie, which I saw on TV last weekend. Though it was a rather well-made movie with a nice (and unusual) storyline, it again suffered from the problem of a superhuman hero who would overpower bad guys by means of muscular strength.

Earlier today I happened to watch the “Indian James Bond movie” Goadalli CID 999 starring Dr. Rajkumar. A rather poor attempt to make a “James Bond style” movie in Kannada, with a rather lame plot and underground hideouts involving automatic doors and the likes. The redeeming feature of the movie, though, was the fight scenes, especially the ones with Narasimharaju (who plays CID 888, 999’s sidekick). Clearly recognizing that this fellow didn’t have any means of brawn to beat up the bad guys, the fight scenes were “elegant”, where the good guy uses his brain rather than muscular strength in order to overpower the villains. So you have a gun that fires ten seconds after the trigger is pulled, and you have the good guy getting the bad guys to shoot each other, and things like that. It was a joy to watch.

The unfortunate trend in recent Kannada movies, though, is to make a superpower hero who simply beats the bad guys, which completely takes the joy out of fight scenes. That clever movement to deflect a punch, the use of easily available props to get away from the bad guys, setting bad guys against each other, stuff like this is completely missing from these movies. One reason could be that directors are not imaginative enough to put more care into fight scenes to make them enjoyable (though this is doubtful given that the general quality of Kannada movies in the last 5 years is better than that of earlier movies). The other reason has to do with the actors who play these roles. Perhaps they want to build up a superhero kind of image among their fans, one in which they can do no wrong and are supremely powerful. And a scene where they have to rely more on their intelligence and trickery to win a fight might go against this kind of an image they want to cultivate. Whatever it is, it only goes to remove entertainment value from a fight which could have been a joy to watch.

My all time favourite movie fight scene is from the “original” Don, featuring Amitabh Bachchan. The centre of attraction in this scene is this little red diary which contains all the information about the bad guys, and the good and bad guys are fighting for it. In the mix are a bunch of kids, the heroine, a paralyzed stuntman and of course the hero. The good guys play “monkey” with the diary, and in the process beat up the bad guys. It is an absolute joy to watch and for me that was the high point of the movie. Sadly, they don’t make movies like that any more.

Arranged Scissors 13 – Pruning

Q: How do you carve an elephant?
A: Take a large stone and remove from it all that doesn’t look like an elephant

– Ancient Indian proverb, as told to us by Prof C Pandu Rangan during the Design of Algorithms course

As I had explained in a post a long time ago, this whole business of louvvu and marriage and all such follows a “Monte Carlo approach“. When you ask yourself the question “Do I want a long-term gene-propagating relationship with her?” , the answer is one of “No” or “Maybe”. Irrespective of how decisive you are, or how perceptive you are, it is impossible for you to answer that question with a “Yes” with 100% confidence.

Now, in Computer Science, the way this is tackled is by running the algorithm a large number of times. If you run the algo several times, and the answer is “Maybe” in each iteration, then you can put an upper bound on the probability that the answer is “No”. And with high confidence (though not 100%) you can say “Probably yes”. This is reflected in louvvu also – you meet several times, implicitly evaluate each other on several counts, and keep asking yourselves this question. And when both of you have asked yourselves this question enough times, and both have gotten consistent maybes, you go ahead and marry (of course, there is the measurement aspect also that is involved).

Now, the deal with the arranged marriage market is that you aren’t allowed to have too many meetings. In fact, in the traditional model, the “darshan” lasts only for some 10-15 mins. In extreme cases it’s just a photo but let’s leave that out of the analysis. In modern times, people have been pushing to get more time, and to get more opportunities to run iterations of the algo. Even then, the number of iterations you are allowed is bounded, which puts an upper bound on the confidence with which you can say yes, and also gives fewer opportunity for “noes”.

Management is about finding a creative solution to a system of contradictory constraints
– Prof Ramnath Narayanswamy, IIMB

So one way to deal with this situation I’ve described is by what can be approximately called “pruning”. In each meeting, you will need to maximize the opportunity of detecting a “no”. Suppose that in a normal “louvvu date”, the probability of a “no” is 50% (random number pulled out of thin air). What you will need to do in order to maximize information out of an “arranged date” (yes, that concept exists now) is to raise this probability of a “no” to a higher number, say 60% (again pulled out of thing air).

If you can design your interaction so as to increase the probability of detecting a no, then you will be able to extract more information out of a limited number of meetings. When the a priori rejection rate per date is 50%, you will need at least 5 meetings with consistent “maybes” in order to say “yes” with a confidence of over 50% (I’m too lazy to explain the math here), and this is assuming that the information you gather in one particular iteration is independent of all information gathered in previous iterations.

(In fact, considering that the amount of incremental information gathered in each subsequent iteration is a decreasing function, the actual number of meetings required is much more)

Now, if you raise the a priori probability of rejection in one particular iteration to 60%, then you will need only 4 independent iterations in order to say “yes” with a confidence of over 95% (and this again is by assuming independence).

Ignore all the numbers I’ve put, none of them make sense. I’ve only given them to illustrate my point. The basic idea is that in an “arranged date”, you will need to design the interaction in order to “prune” as much as possible in one particular iteration. Yes, this same thing can be argued for normal louvvu also, but there I suppose the pleasure in the process compensates for larger number of iterations, and there is no external party putting constraints.