Thursday, November 12, 2009
Thursday, November 5, 2009
Wednesday, July 15, 2009
There are those, of course, who believe that the two Shyamalans are merely figments of the gullible public’s imagination, and that the real Shyamalan is the third one, the figure who has carefully cultivated an air of mystique about himself, with wild rumours ranging from the Hitchcockian (apparently a big black bird can be seen following him around), to the conspiratorial (they say that Shyamalan drowned in a childhood accident, and this one is really a ghost. So there.)
But I digress. No matter which Shyamalan you take to be genuine, I for one would choose to dwell upon some of his earlier masterpieces rather than curse him for his current sorry state.For me, Shyamalan reached his pinnacle as a writer and a director with “Unbreakable”. I know this might seem strange, given the long shadow cast by “The Sixth Sense”. The story basically involves a crippled comic-book collector(Samuel L. Jackson) trying to convince a security guard with a bad marriage(Bruce Willis) that he is, in fact a superhero. But as I shall elaborate, “Unbreakable” had quite a few remarkable things about it, which made it into a cross-genre, quirky-yet-believable SF film.
The first was the mythological aspect of the script. Shyamalan put forth a very compelling argument for comic-books as a sort of unbroken historical chain of information. At the time I saw the film, I was not the comic-book maniac that I am now. But when I saw the film again recently, some of the more daring statements about the art of comic-books resonated strongly with me. If you’ve ever read the so-called “Silver Age” superhero comics of the 60’s , you’ll know exactly what I mean. Take a character like Captain America for example. The story arcs of this hugely popular character have functioned as a virtual barometer of public sentiment over state policy down the years. While the Captain punched Hitler in the 40’s , in the wake of the outrage over Watergate, the Captain lay down his shield and helmet in shame. This was a masterstroke at the screenplay level, one which elevated it beyond the realm of the conspiracy theory or the urban legend. Coupled with the spooky dialogue delivery of Samuel L. Jackson, an inspired casting choice for the role of Elijah the cripple; the overall effect is chilling indeed. Elijah has been born with osteogenesis imperfect, a rare condition which causes his bones to be extremely brittle. He believes that there must be someone at the other extreme as well, someone who is invulnerable, unbreakable.
The second aspect was that of Shyamalan’s endlessly fascinating usage of light and space. The first scene of the film involves the birth of the Elijah character on a train. The claustrophobic nature of the train, accentuated with a huge mirror, serves well the template for the moment where the doctor announces that the baby was born with broken arms and legs. Also, late in the film, there is a scene where Bruce Willis, who is afraid of water, is almost drowns while struggling with a huge tarpaulin. The technical work and visual artistry on display here is simply staggering. Shyamalan is one of the great indoor directors of our time. He has a highly acute sense of the power exercised by the four walls, of the paranoia and the primal fear which can be depicted indoors(Signs is an excellent example of this, too, as is The Sixth Sense…remember the famous sequence featuring the young Mischa Barton playing a dead girl?)
I didn’t really like “The Usual Suspects” despite the most famous plot twist in cinematic history. The reason being, a)You feel kinda cheated about the previous two hours and b)The “twist” doesn’t really chime well with the remainder of the plot, and is as such not integral to the ethos of the story. Five smartass minutes do not a movie make.
This is where “Unbreakable” works wonders. As I don’t want to spoil the story for first-timers, I won’t discuss it at length, but I will say is that the “twist” is, in this case central to the cascading mythos of the whole film, as well as being thoroughly satisfying on its own. The third aspect, then, is the ubiquitous Shyamalan twist which was better than ever before.
While Shyamalan’s film haven’t been typically known for exceptional performances(I think Mel Gibson’s performance in Signs was perhaps the best of the lot), Jackson and Willis bring in their experience into play, turning in solid outings. And who better to play an ‘unbreakable” man than Bruce Willis? The scene where Willis tries to lift increasing amounts of weight to try and test his limits is comical, with a dangerous undertone, something which Willis pulls off quite well, in the end.
Alas, this brilliance was to be short-lived, and the other two Shyamalans would soon take charge, leaving in their wake whispered dialogues, insipid plots, multiple Razzie nominations(and two wins, for Worst Director and Worst Supporting Actor for Shyamalan in “The Lady In The Water”) and bemused critics.
So, the jury is out on when the first Shyamalan decides to grace us with his presence once more. Watch this space for updates.
Thursday, July 2, 2009
After 62 years of wilful ignorance, the Indian Government has finally seen the light. Delhi High Court today finally struck down Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code, which criminalizes gay sex. This ruling today came after years of campaigning, parades and lobbying from intellectuals.
Section 377 was written in 1877, during the British Raj, and was representative of the prudish Victorian mores of the age. The gay population of the capital overflowed onto the streets today, as the historic decision came after years of ostracism and victimisation for them. Overcoming the social taboo is quite another thing, but this is a brilliant start. Gay rights activist Lesley Ashley said on NDTV today, "When I grew up, it seemed to me that I was the only (gay) person." She added, "Today, our nation has taken a huge step to being more of a liberal democracy."
As expected, religious spokespersons from all around the country have reacted strongly against this ruling. The Deoband School of Islam has been quick to declare that homosexuality is a sin and is "against the tenets of any religion, not just Islam." (note the sudden solidarity with other religions here..... lesser evil and all that, I guess.) Spokespersons from the Catholic Church have found the decision to be "shocking and disappointing." They said that "Indian society" would face the repurcusions of the decisions soon.
This confidence of the Catholic Church in "Indian society" and its inevitable rejection of today's ruling is interesting, given that the Church itself has come under fire recently over sordid tales of rampant sexual abuse and corruption.
Monday, June 15, 2009
“Thou, of the blogger’s faith, shalt not revert to the “list” post, ‘cept if ye haven’t banged thine keyboard for a while, or the Indian cricket team has been knocked out of the World Cup, or both….”
– The Underground Bible Of Bloggers
Seeing as both of the above criteria are fulfilled, I think I’ve got this covered. I remember reading in a PFC article about how “The White Tiger” was voted the most “filmable” among a host of recent books in a film festival not long ago.(There ye go, Danny Boyle!) That set me thinking about some of the books I read(or re-read!) in the past few weeks, which are on my silver-screen wishlist. This is in no particular order, with little rhyme or reason, except for an effort on my part to make the list as varied as possible, as far as genre is concerned.
1. Netherland- Critics around the world hailed Joseph O’ Neill’s 2008 novel as a post 9/11 masterpiece, or alternatively as a masterly post-colonial interpretation of “The Great Gatsby”. Call it what you will, but “Netherland” is poignant, precise and hauntingly effective at revealing the many pitfalls of relationships and the ultimately fickle nature of mankind. The story revolves around a Dutch banker Hans Van der Boek whose personal life takes a tumble after 9/11, and his uneasy frriendship with Chuck Ramkissoon, an entrepreneur with stars in his eyes, who wants to set up a cricket enterprise in New York. My choice for director would be Robert Zemeckis, with Ewan McGregor and Forest Whitaker as Van Der Boek and Ramkissoon, respectively.
2. The Reluctant Fundamentalist- Young American of Pakistani origin works in a hotshot financial firm, settles down into the yuppie shell…..and when the two towers collapse on the TV, he just laughs. Intrigued? Mohsin Hamid’s slim novel packs quite a lot of narrative punch in its 180-odd pages, and maintains to keep us all on the edge. Mira Nair has expressed interest in this one, and I hope she does get to be the one who dons the director’s hat for this film. As for the role of Changez, the Princeton-educated Lahore boy…. it is a tremendously subtle role, and one which requires some serious head scratching on the part of the director…as far as physical attributes are concerned, Neil Nitin Mukesh comes to mind.
3. The Zoya Factor- After two very literary novels, the next one on my list is firmly in the realm of what is popularly called “chick-lit” . Anuja Chauhan’s debut novel chronicles the adventures of Zoya Solanki, a girl born on the exact moment of India’s World Cup victory, the deal being, whenever she has breakfast with the team on the eve of a match, we win. So there. Despite such an obviously contrived backdrop and some pretty standard chick-lit set-pieces, the author raises quite a few laughs with its caricatures of Indian cricketers, bureaucrats and numerology-toting holy men. Following the release of Billu Barber, the Internet was strife with reports of Red Chillies Productions, SRK’s banner producing the film. Let’s hope Shah Rukh’s second innings with cricket goes slightly better than the first….till then “Korbo, lorbo, jitbo re!”
4. The Plot Against America- Philip Roth imagines an America where Charles Lindbergh has defeated Roosevelt in the 1940 elections, and the resulting rise of anti-semitism in America. The lingering questions posed by the master novelist are tough to answer, as Roth turns his microscope towards the America which voted for George W. Bush not once, but twice. (If you ask me, this is almost as outrageous as the alternate history devised by Roth.) To capture the escalating paranoia and tension, I would go for Steven Spielberg(this has nothing to do with his being a Jew). On an unrelated note, another Roth adaptation to hit the screen recently is “Elegy”( starring Ben Kingsley and Penelope Cruz) based on Roth’s 2001 novel, “The Dying Beast” a poignant tale about love, the fear of ageing and its inevitable physical toll.
5. After Dark- In a world of acolytes and factory-made zombies posing as writers, Haruki Murakami is a bona fide original. He has his influences, but he leaps beyond them to create a dazzling palette all of his own. This eerie tale of two sisters, one of whom is mysteriously in a month-long coma-like sleep, is a classic Murakami tale, with themes of urban loneliness and a gripping sense of unease and alienation. For this film, I would choose stylistic chameleon Ang Lee as director, or alternatively, David Lynch, because as I was reading the novel, scenes from Mulholland Drive were flashing through my head, for some strange reason I am yet to fathom…..
6. The Sandman- I could go on for ages(and pages) talking about this comic-book series….and it still wouldn’t be adequate. Suffice to say that British writer Neil Gaiman revolutionized the way comic-books are perceived(with all due respect to Alan Moore!). Erudite, complex both visually and literally, and constantly pushing the bar ever higher, Gaiman helped usher in a new wave of “comic-books for intellectuals” as Norman Mailer, the grand old man of American letters described Sandman. On the surface, Sandman is about the adventures of Morpheus, the Dream Lord who controls the Dreaming, and his siblings Death, Despair, Destiny and others, known as the Endless. But really, Sandman is about the power of the human imagination, and the myriad landscapes the mind draws to often blur the line between fact and fiction. Drawing on mythologies and historical figures of several lands, as well as Western canonical literature, films and pop culture, Sandman is as “essential” as Lord Of the Rings. No surprises, then that my choice for director would be Peter Jackson. (Neil Gaiman himself stated that he would like the potential director to be “as obesessed as Peter Jackson was with Tolkien’s works.)
7. Preacher- Irish comic-book writer Garth Ennis wrote this mature comic-book series under the Vertigo imprint of DC Comics, known for its quote-unquote serious titles. But for once, the hype was justified. The series is a scathing critique of religious conservatism, and the modern uber-American identity. Stylistically influenced by old-school cowboy westerns(it even has John Wayne as a character, which is an apparition guiding the hero, who in turn is a very Waynesque character.), Preacher kicks some serious ass, and is among the wittiest comic-books I’ve read. In January, Columbia Pictures finalised the film rights, with Sam Mendes, whose work I greatly admire, directing!
To round off the list, I would like to draw the reader’s attention towards “Between The Assasinations”, Aravind Adiga’s second book, a collection of short stories set in a fictional South Indian town called Kittur, and as is obvious from the titles, chronicles the time between the assasinations of Indira and Rajiv Gandhi. These sketches from small-town India, often characterized by Adiga’s acerbic wit and black humour, manage to capture the zeitgeist of the mid 80’s India very well. I found it a kind of a twisted riposte to “Malgudi Days” which had charming little vignettes which were gentle even in their criticism. In my opinion, it is a far superior work than “The White Tiger” which had periods of brilliance marred by hackneyed, myopic portrayals of rural poverty which strove for cheap thrills rather than insightful examinations of the lives of its subjects.
I would love it if “Between The Assasinations” is adpated for a television miniseries, inviting some of our top directors to make 40-minute episodes, a la “Star Bestsellers”. Alternately, three or four of the stories could be taken to make an ensemble film, much like “New York Stories” which had Scorsese, Coppola and Woody Allen at the helm, or Boccaccio 70, which had Fellini, de Sica and other Italian directors. I scarcely need to point out the need for quality made-for-TV works in India, although I admit I haven’t seen the much touted “Specials at 9″ series with names like Madhur Bhandarkar, Anurag Kashyap and Mahesh Manjrekar to boast of. Let’s hope that we, too can see something like “John Adams” or “Angels In America” on our telly screens soon!
I would really appreciate your own ideas for books which you think will make for some compelling cinema :)
Sunday, May 10, 2009
The second on my world cinema series is a film by Iranian director Jafar Panahi. Western audiences know Panahi, most recently through his 2006 film “Offside” which depicted the efforts of two Iranian girls to get inside a football stadium, disguised as men. This film created enough of a buzz in the Western critical circles, and also bagged the Silver Bear at the Berlin Film Festival. (Although Panahi had in the past, been honoured at Cannes and Venice among others)
This post, however, is not about Offside, but about one of his earlier works, “The Mirror”(1997) which I saw last week. “The Mirror” begins with a little girl, Mina(Mina Mohammed-Khani), who is desperately hoping for her mother to come pick her up after school. She has one arm in a sling, her school is located in a fairly crowded locality in Teheran, and she isn’t really sure about the way home.
As the clock ticks by and no one comes for her, Mina sets off on a journey which will take her through the heart of the city, and us, for the camera remains faithfully, unmovingly fixed on her. Mina is stubborn, fidgety, and walks a tricky line between being intrepid and vulnerable. Did I mention she has the most angelic singsong you could ever hope to hear? If you were one of those who were wowed by the cute-as-a-button-kids in another Iranian film, Majid Majidi’s “Children of Heaven”, chances are you’ll love this one, too.
But I digress. As Mina begins her quest to reach her home, she encounters the big bad world in all its scary sights and sounds. Using the wide-eyed child’s point of view as a template, Panahi paints a compelling portrait of Teheran. For a movie which has very few cuts, there is little shortage of action as Mina encounters different sorts of people along the way. The conversations which she listens to are sometimes a surprisingly lucid insight into some of the pangs of modernized Iran. One scene in particular, where she listens to an old lady is particularly touching. The old woman laments the fact that she is not allowed to spend time with her Americanized grandchildren, because her son thinks she’ll “spoil their accent”.
Just when you think the film has reached a plateau of sorts, something very surprising happens. Little Mina Mohammed-Khani gives us her best pout, takes off her sling and declares that she’s “not acting anymore”. A group of men with cameras and stuff, ostensibly Panahi and his crew try to persuade her to return, but Mina has decided that enough is enough. This meta-fictional twist takes the film into a completely new direction, and needless to say, makes it all the more ambitious.
Upto this point, this looked very much a film in the hysterical realism, or as they say in cinematic lingo, neo-realist mode… but this took the film into altogether different territory.
From then onwards, the little girl is the real Mina in some scenes, and the reel Mina in others, only both of them seem to be equally clueless about how to reach home! The crew of the film follow her as she tries to make it on her own. At some point, her microphone seems to get disturbed, which brings into play all the street noises of Teheran, lending an intriguing edge to the already unconventional narrative.
Writers like Italo Calvino (If On A Winter’s Night A Traveller, read my review here), Vladimir Nabokov(Pale Fire) and Thomas Pynchon(The Crying of Lot 49) have displayed the immense power of meta-fiction(fiction that is aware of its fictional status, i.e. a self-conscious bit of narrative) if done properly. In cinema, the names which come to mind off the top of my head are Barton Fink by the Coens,the horror thriller Donnie Darko and the Spike Jonze-directed Adaptation by the celebrated writer Charlie Kaufman.(Kaufman seems to have a weakness for this : see his debut directorial venture Synechdoche, New York, starring Philip Seymour Hoffman)
“The Mirror” is, ultimately a beguiling statement on the nature of art, and the subtle tricks it often plays on the mind.Believe me, you wouldn’t want to miss this for anything.
Later this week : More on Aki Kaurismaki, and a documentary on one of my favourite comic-book authors, Alan Moore.
Wednesday, May 6, 2009
UTV World Movies is, in fact, screening more of Kaurismaki’s work, every Saturday night, all this month, and there’ll be plenty of repeats, too.(I caught this one on the second repeat, I believe) I’ll be sure to catch all of them, and I urge you to try and catch’em, too !
Monday, April 13, 2009
(It’s been a weird kind of semester. Starting off at full steam, it seemed like it’ll all be over and done within two shakes of a dog’s tail… but it’s ended up dragging on and on. Mercifully, it’ll be over soon… my exams are starting in a week, and this will be the last entry in this blog for 15 days.)
Every year, around this time, I have a lot of reading to catch up with, (as the summer approaches) and as I start to look back at all the stuff I read, I notice a pattern. There are typically one or two writers/schools of writing to which I get attracted… and then I start to read up most or all of their work. And although I try to be as heterogeneous as I can while buying books, these writers inevitably end up on my list.
So,while the period around my tenth standard was mostly about magical realism(Rushdie, Marquez, Grass… the whole shebang…), after giving the Engineering Entrance Exams a couple of years later, I buried myself and my I/Me/Myself pangs into Camus and others of his absurdist ilk. Going even further back, I recall that I more or less saturated the Wodehouse rack at the local library in the summer vacation when I was in the seventh standard, before proceeding to do the same to the Asimov and the Stephen King racks.
Looking back at this year(Yes, being a student, I tend to treat an year from April to April) if I have to label it, it would undoubtedly be the Year of the Comic Book/Graphic Novel . I’d read some pretty good comics before, but the credit for introducing me to this wonderful world goes to my friend Arvind Sowmyan here on campus, geek extraordinaire, and brilliant artist himself. One day, when we were sitting in his room trying to beat the sticky Kharagpur heat, I commented on the drawing he’d made of a hooded, goateed figure (curiously resembling Colin Farrell!) he’d drawn on the wall, something which I thought had clear manga influences. He remarked, “It’s closer to Sandman than manga….”
It was then that I discovered Neil Gaiman’s stunning Sandman series, a huge, sprawling achievement in every way, something which has the density, maturity and texture comparable to the best of modern literary fiction. After that, there was no looking back. Afte completing Sandman, I quickly moved on to Alan Moore’s Watchmen, which is considered the definitive graphic novel of our times. By now, I’d well and truly caught the bug. I read up everything I could by Moore, including the massively entertaining LXG(League of Extraordinary Gentlemen) series and From Hell the stylistical masterpiece set in Victorian times. Later this year, I read dozens of prominent writers like Frank Miller(Sin City and Ronin are my faves). Among standalone graphic novels, I read “Persepolis” by Marjane Satrapi and “Maus” by Art Spiegelman, two memoirs about different childhoods in different parts of the world, both of which are throbbing with poignance and utter beauty, as is the magisterial “Blankets” by Craig Thompson. Honourable mentions go to Sarnath Bannerjee, whose witty and ambitious novels “Corridor” and “The Barn-Owl’s Wondrous Capers” I enjoyed immensely; and also to Amruta Patil, whose dark and shadowy “Kari” serves as an intriguing advertisement for her future work.
I feel that as visual artists, graphic novelists have a lot to offer to the world of cinema. While it is a bald and mundane topic that the comic-book medium is inherently similar to the silver screen, things cannot be put in such a simplistic manner. The stylistic innovations brought to the genre by messrs Moore, Gaiman and Miller are testimony to the fact that comic books today can be as challenging as the best offered by Scorsese, Stone or the Coens. Read any “Sin City” title or any of Gaiman’s Sandman books , and you’ll know what I mean. Iron Man was the film which started pushing the barrier last year, before Christopher Nolan set the cat among the pigeons with The Dark Knight. Inspired from classic Batman titles like Frank Miller’s “The Dark Knight Returns”, Alan Moore’s “The Man Who Laughs” and Jeph Loeb’s “The Long Holloween”, he made what is sure to be an enduring classic among movie-goers everywhere, helped generously by a hauntingly macabre performance by the late Heath Ledger.
And yet it wasn’t good enough for the pundits. I won’t start a tirade about the quibbling idiots at the Academy Awards.(I loved Hugh Jackman’s song-and-dance routine “How come comic-book movies never get nominated/How can a billion dollars be unsophisticated?!”) What I’m surprised about is the people who’ve actually been lavish with their praise have managed to make it patronising and ultimately holier-than-thou. Roger Ebert is a critic I admire immensely, not just for his forthright reviews but also for his often self-deprecating humour. Now, he gave the Dark Knight four out of four stars, recognising the brilliance for what it was. But even his review came with a rider.
Towards the end, he says that The Dark Knight is “a haunting film” which “leaps beyond its origins” and that it “redefines the possibilities of the comic-book movie” , the implicit argument being that the origins of the film were inherently inferior because they were, at the end of the day, comic-books. The air smells of intellectual snobbery when people like Ebert come up with stuff like this. I dare these people to see “Persepolis” (the film version was co-directed by Marjane Satrapi, the writer of the graphic novel, herself) and not be moved to tears by the end. The power of comic-books as a storytelling medium was explored by the Manoj Shyamalan thriller “Unbreakable” which had some pretty cool theories about comic-book sensibilities.
Part of the problem is that filmakers in Hollywood are still not ready, for the large part, to think of comic-books of anything other than huge, flashy colours and “Kaboom” sound buubles. The “Wanted” comic-book series by Mark Millar was a brash, in your-face crime thriller, with plenty of spunk and bold brushstrokes all over the place. But the movie turned into an excuse to show off every last one of Anglina Jolie’s curves in devout super-slo-mo sequences. Later in the year, “The Incredible Hulk” too, disappointed on most counts. Ed Norton, an actor I like immensely, gave a shockingly ineffective performance. Neil Gaiman has expresed his disappointment at several abortive attempts at making a Sandman movie… but he also said that a project like this was only possible with a director who was as obesessed with the subject matter as Peter Jackson was with the LOTR saga. This is one of the reasons why writer Alan Moore distanced himself from “V From Vendetta” , which was actually a pretty good effort in the end. He had faced bitter disappointement earlier with the film adaptations of his books “From Hell” and “The League of Exraordinary Gentlemen” (I think we can all agree that we never want to see Naseeruddin Shah beat up people with his boots again!).
I fervently pray and hope that there’ll be a brash maverick out there somewhere who’ll replicate the magic of people like Moore, Spiegelman and Gaiman. I haven’t yet seen Zack Snyder’s “Watchmen” , but the initial rushes look very impressive indeed. Remember Watchmen was called “unfilmable” ….. Closer home, I’m eagerly waiting for the silver screen adaptation of “Doga”, one of Raj Comics’s more enduring titles, a Punisher-like ruthless vigilante wearing a dog-mask. At the helm of the project is Anurag Kashyap, who is currently the toast of the town with Dev D and Gulaal.Kunal Kashyap is said to be playing Doga. Having read a bit of Doga comics, the dog-man does kind of fit the bill as a typical Kashyap character…. Let’s wait and watch :)
Wednesday, March 25, 2009
Kharagpur readers.... you are not strangers to this. For others: On Sunday, the 23rd of March, a 3rd year student of IIT Kharagpur, Rohit Kumar died while on his way to the hospital in Midnapore, the district headquarters. He had sustained a head injury after falling off a rickshaw... but due to the callousness and negligence of the authorities at B.C. Roy Hospital on campus... was not treated properly. There was a 90-minute delay in issuing an ambulance.... there was no trained paramedic with him..... the horrorshow goes on and on.....
The students here had been angry about the pathetic medical facilities here for some time now.... (25 beds for over 7000 students, no MRI, no CAT scan...not even a 24-hour pharmacy) a few months back, about a thousand people attended an Open House meeting to demand the revamp of the hospital. Promises were made..... and forgotten.
This time, the students had had enough.
In a now-famous move, thousands of students gathered near the gate of the director's house and demanded that he come out and talk. After some aggresive and arrogant posturing by the guards and later, the Director, Dr.Damodar Acharya himself, the students decided to take matters into their own hands. They started to smash the window-panes of the bungalow. Bricks, stones, tree-branches.... whatever they could lay their hands on. Pretty soon, they were inside his drawing-room, which was soon to be a sorry mess of broken glass shards.
His car went next.... as it was upturned, and everything which could've been smashed in it was smashed with gusto.
Finally the Director was forced to come out of hiding.... faced with thousands of angry, indignant students, he immediately announced he was stepping down. Later on in the night, there was another massive Open House meeting, one which saw an unprecedented number of people.... The Dean of Student Affairs also resigned in this meeting, on principle of course.... (the principle being "Save Thy Neck" .... when he roared on mike " Behave yourself!" and "Kya problem hai! Iddhar aa kar bataao(translated: What's your problem,eh? Come here and tell me!); hundreds of sudents immediately obliged him by climbing on stage and literally breathing down his neck.)
The vandalism was unfortunate...but the anger and the outrage were genuine and justified in every way. Let's hope that nobody else has to lose his life for want of better medical facilities on campus.
May Rohit's soul rest in peace.
Monday, March 16, 2009
(Originally published here on passionforcinema.com)
I saw Gulaal today in a crumbling, fading, bleeding ramshackle masquerading as a cinema hall….at least from the outside. Gulaal was sandwiched between two contemporary gems “Dil Ko Churaanewaali” and “Maa Kasam Badla Loonga”. (I would have uploaded the posters as well…but wasn’t entirely sure where PFC stands on this…) The name of the theatre(Bombay Talkies) was emblazoned in massive letters, which were slightly dangly, at best. The balcony seats were the prized possessions, at thirty bucks apiece.
So far so good…..
The tangy aftertaste of “Dev D” hadn’t quite left the palate, and the prospect of another Anurag Kashyap film meant I was schoolboy-on-springheels excited and a bit apprehensive, too… for what if it flattered to deceive?I’ve seen hardcore Sachin fans solemnly declare that their man is going to smash every record in the book; everytime he goes to bat. I’ve a friend who has more than a thing for Federer….everytime Nadal overpowers the Swiss ace(as he does so often now) my friend declares that this would be undoubtedly the last time such a travesty would take place….
As the marquee started, my thoughts were, this better be good.
150 awesome minutes later, all I could think was, “Which do I like better, Dev D or Gulaal? “
Anurag Kashyap said in an interview that Gulaal was his “angriest film”. Sure enough, anger of all sizes and shapes can be found… Kay Kay’s alternating quiet menace and searing blazes, the laidback sarcastic anger of Abhimanyu Singh , who is a revelation as Rananjay “Ransa” , the prince who loathes his royal family and everything they stand for. As he acknowledges himself, he drinks, womanizes and generally is a wastrel, but he has a mind of his own and is sickened by the dinosaur that is his father, His Highness and others of his ilk.
In fact, so good is Abhimanyu that he manages to outshine(briefly) the man from whom we’ve come to expect bravura performances as a matter of course.
By now, it is more or less accepted that it’s humanly impossible to blink while Kay Kay Menon is on screen. Yet again, he captures the imagination, like few others can, as Dukey Bana, the man who is willing to get his hands as dirty as you like, for his dream of a united Rajputana state.
Newbie Raja Chowdhary(who is also a co-writer) plays Dilip Singh, a bespectacled, serious young Rajput, who is initially disapproving of Dukey’s political machinations. Raja looks the part so much that for the most part, we don’t mind his often amateurish performance, which only gains steam in the second half. Aditya Shrivastava, another Kashyap favourite, plays Karan, who is the illegitimate son of the Maharaja, Ransa’s father. He and his sister Kiran(played by newbie Ayesha Mohan) are the alternate power centre to Dukey Bana.
Before the films starts, we are told that Gulaal was inspired from the song “Yeh duniya agar mil bhi jaaye” by Sahir Ludhianvi…… (there is a song of the same name featured in the film)and also the other poets who had a vision of India. They would’ve tipped their hats to Kashyap, I’m sure…..because the writing here is some of the best I’ve seen in Indian cinema. The outrage articulated by these poets of yore has been captured brilliantly by using the idiom of the lost glory of the Rajputs.
In Sarnath Bannerjee’s wickedly funny graphic novel “Corridor”, a character quips, “People are like onions, baba….they have layers and layers.” He might have been talking about Dukey Bana, Kay Kay’s character. Dukey is genuinely outraged about the state of his people, and has seen his family suffer the anguish and the alienation associated with the transition to democracy. To that end, he is ruthless in order to gain the power to reverse this position. However, all too often, he becomes painfully aware of his limitations. Kay Kay’s blazing eyes are pitiless, masterful, holding us all in the illusion of immense power.
Kay Kay’s not-so imposing physique is slyly used here by Kashyap. There’s a scene where Dukey Bana screams in frustration, standing at one of the windows of his mansion. The frailty of Menon’s body is nicely dovetailed with the aggressive instincts of his character, coupled with the natural machismo of the Rajputs in general.
The female characters in the film are a study in contrast. Jesse Randhawa, previously seen in the “Jab Bhi Cigarette” number from No Smoking, plays Anuja, a character which is low on dialogue but high on impact, and Randhawa acquits herself reasonably well. The cool conniving bitch is played competently by Ayesha Mohan, while Mahie Gill, playing Dukey Bana’s mistress, has a couple of songs, a couple of funny scenes and that’s about it. But as I said in the Dev D post, at this point I’ll be happy just to see her at all. She has an intriguing mix of abandon and assertiveness….heady stuff.
Some brilliant supporting hands, by Deepak Dobriyal in particular,ensure that the action never slacks. (Seeing Dobriyal in this film, I couldn’t help but think of Kashyap’s post-filmfare comments about two years ago about how Dobriyal’s performance in Omkara was “*****ing better than Abhishek’s performance in Guru” :) )
The music of the film has to be commended. Theatre veteran Piyush Mishra, (remember Kaka from “Maqbool”?) has written and composed the songs. He also plays one of the most macabre cameos I’ve ever seen on screen. When I say he’s the boss as far as music goes, I mean that quite literally. For he is the sole character upon whom music is picturised…. A sort of deranged minstrel of reworked folk ditties and patriotic hokum, with a typical Rajasthani bahuroopiya, or masquerade artist, in tow. As the John Lennon-worshipping bard, Mishra is haunting, to say the least.
As things start to get out of hand on screen, Mishra gets more and more manic, becoming a sort of a collective conscience for us. If the use of music in Dev D was innovative, here it’s a masterstroke. In the anthemic chant “Aarambh” Mishra claims
“Jis kavi ki kalpana mein
Zindagi ho prem geet
Us kavi ko aaj tum nakaar do”
Perhaps fittingly, a couple of days back, Anupama Chopra called Kashyap the “Anti-Yash Chopra” !
The cinematography of Rajeev Ravi, who wowed us all with Dev D, is back with a vengeance here. The red coloured gulaal smeared over the faces of the Rajputs like war paint is an image which will stay with you long after the closing credits. Red is clearly the colour of choice here, whether it is the colour of the frequent bloodshed pervading the film, red is the fiery colour of passion……
Gulaal works above all, because of its searing honesty…. a throwback to the times when outrage was still considered cool. Films like this have the richness and the scope comparable to the best of modern literary fiction…. and to my mind few films fit this bill better than Gulaal. Answering my own question earlier in this post, I would say Dev D is still my favourite Kashyap film… but I suppose at the end of the day… I’m just barely out my teens, and the urbane chic “coolness quotient” of Dev D coupled with the natural chutzpah of Abhay Deol is irresistible right now. Perhaps, ten years down the line…..
Seeing how Anurag Kashyap has stamped his authority all over 2009 with Dev D, and now Gulaal, one of my favourite quotes springs to mind. In 1974, Jon Landau, music critic for the Rolling Stone magazine was sufficiently moved to say
“I’ve seen Rock and Roll’s future and its name is Bruce Springsteen”.
Now this is precisely the kind of soppy prophesizing which was in vogue back then…..but Springsteen did become the Boss after all…….
So maybe, I’ve seen the future of Indian cinema after all.
Tuesday, March 10, 2009
That comment, the first of several since then, came from my friend Onyeka Nwelue, who at the ripe old age of 21, has got his debut novel "The Abyssinian Boy" , released by Dada Books. I haven't had the opportunity to read it, but I can tell you this: the man is undeniably, unbelievably talented...(check out his superb blog here)
Onyeka lived in India for six months on a "self-imposed" exile a few years back, where he was taken in by Abha Iyengar, the eminent Indian writer and social activist. The influence shows in "The Abyssinian Boy" which is the story of a child with a Tamil father and a Nigerian mother.
Over the past year, I've had the pleasure of interacting with him over several issues, both literary and otherwise :)Not only does he have a keen intellect, he has a self-effacing way and a child-like sense of wonder which make him special.
Recently he was at at a book reading at Abuja(the capital of Nigeria), talking to secondary school students. (The photos that you see are taken from another reading session at Abuja) . Also present there was Felix-Abrahams Obi, a writer based in Nigeria. He wrote this piece which I'm reproducing here... along with my response to it.
The Unsung Nigerian Writer in a Hip-hop World
- Felix-Abrahams Obi
She was staring at the computer when I grabbed a seat beside her to rest my tired body after a long stretch of activities to mark the World Book Day in her school; Regent School Abuja. With her right hand on the mouse, she clicked and navigated through various websites and top on the list was a social networking site. To kids in her generation, social networking, instant messaging, and music websites are the most popular because they are the shapers of today's culture. They are designed to attract and hold the attention of the young and even the older generations. We are now in a world where everyone aspires to become a celebrity; a kind of super star with the rare privilege of walking down the red carpet with the flashing lights of the paparazzi forming a halo around them. But it seems the contemporary Nigerian writer is seemingly wary of enjoying the spotlight like his peers and pals in the music/movie/comedy industry whose shows and concerts pull the crowds into opens fields and overcrowded halls. Yet the writer is as much an artist as all others. Upon whom the burden of recording of history and transmission of knowledge and wisdom rests upon their weary shoulders. This young girl was clad in a costume depicting her favourite book character like other pupils in the school. It was a special day to celebrate writers and lovers of books, and the school had opened its doors to some writers and lovers of books. As I settled into the chair, I engaged her in a short chat and asked if she would love to be a writer. She answered, 'Nope! I just love reading books'. Then I quipped, "But if no one writes a book, what then would you be reading?" She then got my drift and the message berthed in her heart, I supposed; that it takes a writer to write a book that others would have to read. And books are created and made by writers who have to depend on the goodwill of their literary agents, editors, publishers and the general public to remain afloat in today's world.
Most Nigerian writers and authors are not so well-celebrated and the economy has been harsh on their art. Many manuscripts are lying still in the hard drives of their computers, and many resort to self-publishing after series of rejections by the mainstream publishing houses. Unlike the 'full-time' hip-hop musicians, the Nigerian writer has to keep a 9-5 job to keep hunger pangs at bay. He has no access to government or private funds to attend literary conferences, arts residencies or fellowships where he can develop his art of writing. After a prolonged haul of frustrations, many give up their dreams and take up a career that ultimately leads them to the boardroom like the Toni Kan's of this world, and many others who are working in banks, Telecom andIT firms, the Oil Gas industries and many more.
To Mrs. Chiamaka Kalu-Uche, the librarian of the Regent School Abuja, the Nigerian writer needs to be encouraged and his books should also occupy prominent slots in the school's unique library that boasts of books that range from Greek classics to modern English and western writers. The children's costumes showed that they knew little about African writers as only a few dressed like Wole Soyinka, Chinua Achebe, Cyprian Ekwensi, Niyi Osundare, Tanure Ojaide , Mamman Vatsa or our female writers like Zainab Alkali, Chika Unigwe, Chimamanda Adichie , Akachi Ezeigbo , Mabel Segun etc. To domesticate the World Book Day which is celebrated internationally on the 4th of March and in the UK and Ireland on the 5th of March, she desired to have Nigerian writers read from their works to the kids at Regent School Abuja.
Top on my list was one of Nigeria's youngest novelists, Onyeka Nwelue whose trajectory as a writer has been on the rise since his maiden novel titled 'Abyssinian Boy' was launched couple of weeks back. He had made a strong impression on me when he eloped with another teenage friend from his home in Imo State to attend a literary meeting that was held at the National Theatre Lagos as a 17years old boy sometime in 2004.His passion to write was palpable to all and I wasn't surprised when he chose to go on a self-imposed 'exile' in India to write the manuscript of his novel, rather than proceed to the Senior Seminary to continue his training as a future Catholic priest. I contacted Onyeka and his publisher about the possibility of featuring at Regent School and the idea made sense to them even when the librarian could not promise any stipends or 'appearance fees' to any featured writer due to funds constraints, Onyeka still showed his willingness to attend the world book day event on self-sponsorship. And on Wednesday the 4th of March 2009, Onyeka landed in Abuja, proving yet again how far he can go to promote the cause of writers and writing in Nigeria.
There was a buzz of activities at Regent School and the excitement among the kids was palpable. They grinned from ear to ear, and like models clad in colourful costumes, they filed out to the blue-draped assembly hall for the session with writers and celebrities. Earlier they had a parade at the school's field and had fathers read favorite books for the kids in their respective classes, made bookmarks/door hangers, juggled with cross word puzzles and book character games. Some were made to be on the 'hot seat' to answer questions from their peers as a book character to elicit the emotions and thoughts of each character in their favorite book. The children also visited the book stands set up by Bibi Bakare-Weate, the founder of the publishing house, Cassava Republic, and was the official judge of the writing contest for the kids. Mrs Emem Okpashi's "All for Kids" outfit also displayed their educational products at their stand, as well as other exhibitors. Jerry Adesowo who reports for the nearly-launched NEXT Newspaper was on grounds to cover the event.
The expectant kids sat calmly on the rug-covered floor of the hall with their teachers flanking them on both sides like a defense shield. After an introductory speech by Mr. Robinson, a Briton and Head Teacher of the school, Mrs. Kalu-Uche introduced the special guests; Chief Chukwuemeka Chikelu (erstwhile legislator and Minister of Information and Communication), Mr. Collin Connelly (Deputy High Commissioner of Trinidad and Tobago, Mr. Onyeka Nwelue and I. In an earlier session Hon. Nike Oshinowo and Mr. Denja Abdullahi had read book excerpts for the lower primary pupils in the same hall. In this session for the upper primary pupils, Mrs Kalu Uche publicly recognized a little girl, Azume Ajayi , and a boy , Ogechukwu Flagg-Igbo respectively for their avid interest in reading books, and they were asked to recommend their favourite book to their peers.
Chief Emeka Chikelu read excerpts from his all time favourite book, Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe, and another inspiring book titled 'Say it Like Obama" by Anna Lee, while Mr. Collin Connelly read excerpts from the book, "The Little Blue Boy". During the authors' interactive session, Onyeka Nwelue talked about his debut novel, Abyssinian Boy while I gave a synopsis of my short story, "A Date with Area Boys" which was featured in an anthology of short stories titled "Eko ni Baje" by Nelson Publishers in 2008. The kids asked questions that bothered on writing and there was the issue of what gains as an individual from writing. In my opinion, the writer has the rare privilege of documenting history and etching himself on the hearts of living long after he's dead and gone. We still read and interact with dead writers through their works and travel with them to remote climes and milieus that their astute minds had created.
Onyeka added a new dimension by reminding the kids that it is a hip thing to be a writer, and being hip is no longer the exclusive preserve of hip-hop stars and other celebrities. The writer is also a celebrity in his own right, and to 21 years old Onyeka, the older writers had adopted bland and unattractive lifestyles that may have seemingly made the young not to see writing as a hip thing. I may have been one of the culprits in Onyeka's as I was dressed formally like most writers in one of my best fitting suits. To engage the young and feel their kindred spirit, Onyeka made a fashion statement with his afro hairstyle. He also had a nice short-sleeved green top over his blue jean with a brown bag strapped across his shoulders and wore colourful beads on his right wrist. And it was this image of the writer as a hip celeb that he wants to project to the world and he has in some sense made that impression in the hearts of kids at the Regent School Abuja.at a personal cost with no one sponsoring his long trip to Abuja.
After the authors' interactive session, Mrs. Kalu-Uche had promised the kids a surprise, and from behind the curtains that shielded him from their bated eyelids, Jeremiah Gyang emerged and the kids roared in excitement at the sight of the popular singer and multi-instrumentalist whose debut album "Na Ba Ka" had hit the top charts few years back. He strummed his guitar as the children and their teachers, and guests clapped and sang the song 'Allah Na Ba Ka' along with him. He then read excerpts from the Cinderella story to the delight of the kids, who asked as well as answered questions that on the Cinderella story. It was obvious the children also want to be stars like Jeremiah Gyang as they asked him questions about his music career and none bothered to ask if he also writes, for Jeremiah writes passionately and this is evident in some of his blogs that I have read on facebook and hi5 in the past. The event ended on a celebratory note after the kids sang 'Happy Birthday" to their amiable Head Teacher Mr. Robinson who said that he has grown old enough to not answer the kids, the quizzy part of the song that goes " How old are you now..?
Jeremiah at my humble behest had agreed to Mrs. Kalu-Uche's request and invite to feature at the World Book Day for free, and he did that for the sake of the children ; an event that would have featured the Abuja-based R & B trio, StylPlus had they agreed on time. Jeremiah thereafter toured all the respective classes to read, sing and play with the cheery kids. The free appearance and alliance between writers and musicians must have made a strong impression on the children, and it wouldn't come as a surprise if these kids in the future turn out into hip writers and musicians. Though it's a lot more attractive for the kids to end up as musicians, they would really see writing as a hip thing when they can see politicians, business moguls, models, musicians, movie actors and other superstars also making exploits in the literary world. They would then realize that the culture of reading is a hip thing and they won't have to wait till another March 5th to wear the costumes of a favourite author or book character on World Book Day.
Though the reading culture is on a downward spiral nationally, writers must find a way to engage the teeming youthful population if we must remain relevant. Jumoke Verissimo, an eclectic poet and journalist with The Guardian last week lamented at an event hosted by Abuja Writers Forum that the gathering of writers oftentimes has writers as the audience. So we cook our literary food and consume same among our selves whereas arts should be shared with the public for whom the menu was designed.
We may have to find more creative and innovative ways to translate our writings from the present height to such a point that book reading will become fun like it used to be in the past. We may have to recruit premiership starts, supermodels, TV goddesses and music stars to cross over and become novelists and writers to have their fans root for our writings. For instance, once a music star crossover into acting like Will Smith, Jennifer Lopez and Beyonce Knowles, the movies charts at Hollywood. In Nigeria, our movie stars would rather crossover to music to gain more popularity.
I would have wished they crossed over into writing to show how creatively versatile they truly are, or is writing such a hard job that only a few have been able to tap into the mastermind of the Muse? If the playwright and dramatist, Tyler Perry could become a multi millionaire by turning his writings into movies, maybe writers should start thinking of diversifying their creative expressions to match the changing trends in our changing world. Most of the blockbuster movies and academy award winners have been adaptations of writings of novelists of the classical and modern era. And in today's hip-hop culture that is ruled and governed by the dictates of celebrities, the writer has to somehow find a way to become as relevant as the other mainstream artists. The time for a sequestered lifestyle is over for the writer belongs to this modern era. The 21st century writer has a duty to either write what will make him popular or write about what makes others popular and influential without compromising his creativity, intellectuality and more importantly, his spirituality.
Onyeka asked me what I felt about this particular piece..... here's my reply:
Obi does put forward several valid points. His chief concern is the poor health of the reading habit across youngsters in Nigeria. I, for one would take this one step forward and say that this is a global problem, and not just restricted to Nigeria or, for that matter, India. Soothsayers point at the rising number of young novelists coming from the subcontinent. This phenomenon has two explanations:
a)If you look closely, many of them are either foreign-educated or working abroad... or both. Look at Mohsin Hamid, Daniyal Muenuddin, Rana Dasgupta...
b)When you look at our sheer numbers, you get more of a perspective about the whole issue.
But I digress... Obi suggests that part of the problem is the image young Nigerians get when they think about professional writers. And from what I gather, you seem to share this opinion. The logic being, writers are just not upto scratch when seen from the judging eyes of your typical westernised pre-teen. They are mostly introspective, even the young ones, seldom flamboyant, and not all that gregarious. Adoloscents are more likely to be drawn towards actors or pop stars. Hence, Obi thinks you made a conscious decision to dress and present yourself in a certain way..... and you yourself think that "writers ought to live more popular lifestyles"
The thing is, I'm not sure if this can really happen, or if this is even the right thing to do.
In an interview, the Indian journalist and author Raj Kamal Jha once said two things which really got me thinking.... The first was "The few people who are damaged enough to love reading are essentially those who are comfortable with solitude..." and continuing in the same vein, he said, "People who feel the need to read will read. It's personal. Even a writer who is very full of himself will never say, "There are 150000 people who need to read me." With regards to this issue, I would especially stress the latter point.
So, while I'm not saying that any effort made to get youngsters to read is ultimately futile; I do think that trying to package writing and writers in a certain way is certainly pushing it a little.
And to suggest that actors or movie-makers should take up the pen in order to popularize reading is just wishful thinking.... to date, the only readable thing I've heard of in that direction is Ingmar Bergman's collection of screenplays...... and even he lamented the fact that he wasn't a novelist per se..... he thought that the novel was inherently a superior art form. (a view I don't subscribe to, by the way...)
By all means, encourage local writing, especially writers who practise their craft in their native tongue. There are few better ways to tell youngsters about their rich heritage....a seamless, coherent record of everything worth knowing about their past.
I can understand the fears of people like Obi and Verissimo..... I have seen some unbelievably talented regional Indian writers languish in oblivion simply because.........well, they never really left oblivion. But pragmatically speaking, trying to make writing "cool" can only be successful upto a certain limit.I'm sorry if I'm a wee bit pessimistic... but from what I've seen and felt...this is my opinion. For what it's worth, I think you did the right thing by presenting yourself the way you did at Abuja :)
Sunday, March 8, 2009
I just completed "Blankets" the superb graphic novel by Craig Thompson which I was reading on the laptop, while simultaneously listening to dozens of Coldplay songs. "Yellow" changed to "Politik" effortlessly, and then segued along merrily to "Lost", "Life In Technicolour" , "Sparks" , "Speed of Sound" , "Scientist" ....
The incredibly touching memoir and coming-of-age tale seemed to merge seamlessly with the soft strains of the alternative rock; coupled with the soothing yet darkly introspective vocals of Chris Martin....
Thursday, February 26, 2009
(Statutory warning: This reviewer has got an incurable Nostradamus complex and is prone to spouting pseudo-profundities just for the heck of it…..)
Valentine’s Day is not my favourite part of the year……. I have an extraordinarily strong mush-radar, which was going haywire at about midnight on the 13th of February. My college(IIT Kharagpur) stands out for its laughably skewed sex ratio(at last count, it was about 8 per 100 in my year), and because of that, guys who do have girlfriends on campus, feel obliged to throw bucketfuls of mush right in my(and every other blissfully single guy’s) face. So, as I was saying, around midnight, there was a buzz in the air. I was walking along the long stretch on campus which has most of the hostels on it…..
I felt like some poor sod victimised by the living dead in a zombie flick. There they were, in twos, sometimes in groups of four or even six. This was a cold-blooded, calculated attack. These were professionals…. the worst part was these were guys and gals I actually hung out with on an average day, who felt compelled to subject me to this.
Well, that was that. The severity of the attack left me with two options: grab a saffron headband and join the Sri Ram Sena…..or grab the first local train out to Kolkata. Tempting as the Ram Sena was, I decided to go with the latter. I didn’t even return to my room…..I phoned a friend who was similarly reeling under the attack, and we just headed out to the station…..and we decided to watch Dev D.
Now this was one film which I had been looking forward to for months…… following Anurag’s posts on the making, then the “Emosanal Atyachar” wave which swept us all, after the music release … my expectations had started reaching ridiculous levels….never a good sign. Films have flattered to deceive all too often for my liking, and given my own propensity for hero-worship….
Nothing of the sort happened. :) Dev D lived up to all my expectations, and then some. Anurag Kashyap has raised the bar a notch higher, confirming his status as one of the finest minds in Indian cinema today. Years from now, when we talk about the films which changed the face of Indian cinema, the name “Dev D” will slip off easily from our tongues. At nearly three hours long, the film seemed if anything, a little on the shorter side to me, believe it or not.But Kashyap’s brilliance, combined with a masterclass performance by Abhay Deol, kept me hungry for more.Dev D is that rare kind of film, which clicks on so many fundamental levels, and draws you deep into its world……the film excites, infuriates at times, tickles you silly, is intimate one second and shuts you out the other.
To say Dev D is audacious is like saying Salman Rushdie likes to scribble little somethings every now and then. When Heath Ledger died, I remember Chris Nolan wrote a stirring obituary titled “Charisma as natural as gravity…” . Something of the kind is in play here. It is in vogue to be tongue-in-cheek nowadays, slipping in rookie double-entendres in otherwise anaemic screenplays which are meant to underline their wannbe status as “alternative” cinema. But in the hands of someone like Kashyap, it works magically, never once do the sleights-of-hand seem forced or fake…..and believe me, he gets away with plenty here…..
Since this is not your average Taran Adarsh review, I will not try to break the film down into manageable quarters, which can then be converted to BO collections. The initial portions focus on Dev’s return to Punjab after his padhai-in -vilayat. Right from the beginning, it was obvious that nobody was gonna pull any punches. I might mention at this point that I had a girl with a very annoying ringtone sitting beside me(I hate the Black Eyed Peas more than any band after this…). When Dev asked Paro if she touched herself, the female in question dropped her cellphone, after the most audible gasp I’d heard in some time. There is some justice in this wicked world after all…. After I saw Oye Lucky Oye, and its superb usage of the rustic lingo, unlike its usual abuse in Bollywood for cheap thrills and a quick chuckle or two; Dev D gives us Paro, who is the Punjab-di-kudi from hell, when she wants to, that is.
And yes, the much-talked about mattress-in-a-khet was every bit as awesome a scene as you’ll ever see.
A word about Amit Trivedi’s soundtrack here. The music is used in liberal doses here, throughout the film, sometimes nearly back-to-back. Of course, big fat Punjabi weddings do give you license that way. But the score is just so versatile, you are surprised constantly. From the earthy strains of “Hikknaal” to the wistful “Dhol Yaara Dhol” , we segue merrily along to the special from Patna Ke Presleys…… “Emosanal Atyachar” has achieved cult status on my campus, as it has, I’m sure on college circuits elsewhere in the country. The in-your-face brashness, straight-laced parody and cool-as-you-like Hinglish has struck a chord, and I dare say it has already become an oft-used catch phrase. However, my personal favourite is “Nayan Tarse” , the slightly-wasted sounding vocals of Trivedi himself resulting in a very grunge-like effect on this soul-meets techno track.
A frequent complaint about the film I’ve heard since then is that Anurag Kashyap has slipped back into uber-indulgent No-Smoking-territory again in the second half. To them I say, “Kaun kambakht bardaasht karne ke liye peeta hai? ” Dev’s descent into the seedy world of “connoiseur bars” , seedy undergound bars, and one psychedelic pharmaceutical after another is wonderfully captured here, in some virtuoso cinematography and camerawork. (To know more about that you can read this post by the man himself , about how Danny Boyle advised him to use a special camera technique…..no wonder he is credited in the film). Dev and Chanda’s first encounter is filled with deliciously funny dialogues, where newcomer Kalki Koechlin more than holds her own against Deol’s carefully cultivated rage and indignance.
That brings me to the two women in Dev’s life. To call the interpretation radical would be stating the obvious…. Paro in particular was brilliantly sketched out as a character. Mahie Gill is quite a handful, for both Deol and the obvious. If Paro was supposed to be a docile, demure character, nobody told Mahie…
“These boots are meant for walkin’ ,
And that’s what they’re gonna do..
One of these days these boots are gonna walk all over you!!”
This is what she seems to tell Dev with every fiery glance, every defiant silence, and every sailor-like outburst of the choicest… check out her balls-out shaadi-ka-dance in the Emosanal Atyachar number(did I mention it’s her own wedding….?) Anurag sir, if you’re reading this, please cast her again in your next!
Chanda is alternately vulnerable and dominating. Half-child and half preying-mantis-seductress, Dev is intrigued by this strange and exotic creature who seems to be just as damaged as her. The use of the DPS MMS-scandal in Chanda’s backstory is a masterstroke…and tells us some very inconvenient truths. Kalki makes a solid debut with an utterly believable, if not compelling performance.
Which leaves us with the Curious Case of Abhay Deol. With every movie, the man has utterly reinvented himself. Perhaps fittingly, he was likened to a young Johnny Depp, by Anurag Kashyap in a blog post. Here, he has delivered the performance of his fledgling career. He has already put together a very impressive filmography, what with Manorama and Oye Lucky Lucky Oye….I have no doubt that he is the one Indian actor to watch out for in the days to come…would love to see him share screen space with Kay Kay Menon, another Kashyap favourite.
The great Frenchman Francois Truffaut first coined the word “auteur” in a famous essay, arguing that the director was in fact, the real “author” (auteur means author in French) of the film, leaving his handprints on each and every frame of the movie. He said that all great directors had a distinct visual and narrative style, which is unmistakeable, which is something separating the truly great from the merely good. I am not fond of singing paeans to anybody, but with Dev D, Anurag Kashyap has earned the right to be called one of India’s few true auteurs. I’m eagerly waiting for “Gulaal” and with every passing day, curse our luck and the Censor board for “Paanch” (someone, anyone please get in touch…how does one watch “Paanch?)
After this wonderful cinematic experience, I bummed along Park Street for a while, browsing through bookstores, munching down junk food……and come night, returned to a post V-Day Kharagpur, which was still as endearing , and still as much a pain in the ass as ever.
And now it’s my turn to annoy people, especially the committed kind, asking them about their V-Day. When they politely ask me about my own, I put on my best I-know-what-you-did-last-summer smile, and answer “I watched Dev D in Kolkata.”, like it was the most obvious, the most natural thing to do. Most of them give me a “what am I missing here” nervous chuckle, while their partners stare at me with undisguised loathing.
Come to think of it, at midnight on that Friday the 13th… it seemed the most natural thing to do, after all.
Friday, January 30, 2009
Much of what I've written over the past year and a half has been divided into roughly two parts: this blog here and the stuff I write for the campus mag. Even so, the overwhelming majority of these has been non-fiction, that is if you discount the odd play or two I've written as part of a theatre troupe in college. Therefore, as someone whose first love is, and has always been fiction, I was really looking forward to this session, at the end of which I would, hopefully, gain a new insight into the ebbs and flows of spinning a yarn.....
In the spirit of things, I'll narrate this like an old-fashioned Chandamama story. On the day itself, I reached the huge lecture hall, which, unfortunately, was the appointed venue for our day. I say unfortunately because that hall used to be my one-size-fits-all classroom in my freshman year....and it suffices to say, that room and I have a history.
Apart from about half a dozen people, most not from my college, I saw a bespectacled lady, not quite middle-aged, with cheerfully streaked waves of hair, and a general air of joie de vivre about her. Bingo. Later, during the course of the day, as I would find out, she had an infectious(and very mischievous!) smile..... Our session began with a round of introductions while Ma'am would talk to us about our individual stories, respectively.(Here's mine) I remember Ma'am talking about my story which she said was "Pretty delicately done......especially by someone who's not a practiced writer.. " (If that seems a tad too self-congratulatory, remember....a blog is the ultimate ego exercise!)
At this point, a few shady-looking guys sauntered into the room and sat in one of the back rows. Ma'am requested them to sit at the front as she had apparently caught the Kharagpur cold. At this point, they got up, as if in sync, and said they would be back. That would be the last of them we would see that day. My guess is that they were just plain curious, or plain dumb. Anyway, soon enough, we were all assigned a colour each and asked to write a page about how that colour made us feel. ("Emotional temperature" was how Ma'am put it.) Now, the thing about assigning colours to 20-odd people is, after a point of time, you have to get real inventive real soon. My friend Tiyasa, who's quite a character at the best of times, was assigned "tangerine".
This exercise was simple, yet surprisingly stimulating. (My piece, on "Moss-green" will be put up on this blog real soon.....and I hope to expand it into something more substantial...) I realized that there has to be some method to the madness, when it comes to writing fiction; indeed, seasoned pros, thousand-words-a-day guys like Roth or Coetzee will tell you, the discipline is all in the head. At this point, Ma'am decided she'd had enough of the depressing lecture hall, and in true Tagorean fashion, suggested that we take the session outdoors, on the rather splendid lawn at the Vikramshila complex. We must have been quite a sight to the people who were in the thick of things at the fest, busy with their cheerful revelries, slightly bemused to see such a passive group in an otherwise ebullient atmosphere.....
By lunchtime, we had gone over nearly all the stories.......some were abstract, some were nostalgic, a few had silver donkeys from other galaxies..... the good times were well and truly rollin'!
At this point, I should mention that I'm an avid quizzer, (as can be seen from the previous post) and we, that is me and my teammates have got quite a decent racket going, travelling around the country and winning quizzes. The day before the workshop, we had won both Biz and Cyber Quizzes, events which were our weak spots, traditionally(Entertainment, movies....that's much more down our lane!). Naturally, we were cock-a-hoop about the next quiz, the big one, The Mary Bucknell Trophy, which was the general quiz held at Spring Fest every year. The event had a lot of history behind it, and has been the stage for some legendary battles.
The catch was, it was the same day as my workshop.....
From here on, the serendipitous part of my story begins. My teammates had cleared the prelims without me, albeit not very convincingly. Just as the quiz was about to begin, Ma'am decided it was time for a lunch break! In the distance, I saw Ankit, one of my teammates gesturing wildly towards me, and shouting something unintelligible. I broke into a sprint towards the auditorium where the quiz was about to begin. I think I narrowly escaped knocking down about three people, at least one of whom called me something unprintable. I entered the auditorium, much to the surprise of some of my friends, and skipping three stairs at a time, hopped onto the stage, and into an empty chair.
The rest of the quiz went according to script.......staving off a ferocious challenge from the IIM-C team, we got our hands on the Mary Bucknell trophy at last.... ( the next day, we won the Movie Quiz as well, making it four quizzes out of four at SF-2009, a rare Grand Slam of sorts)
The adrenaline still pumping, I returned to the lawn, where Ma'am and the rest of the people were settling down after their lunch.Ma'am had apparently refused the SF guys' offer of lunch at Kharagpur's best restaraunt, preferring to eat at the hut-like canteen near the lawn, with its quaint fried offerings and its too-sweet tea. Even this, the smallest of gestures seemed to me incredibly charming and down-to-earth.
Next, we were each given a picture which had one or more than one person in it, and we had to pick our person and create a back-story about that particular person. This exercise reminded me of the premise for an anthology published last year, selected by Zadie Smith, called "The Book Of Other People". Anyway, this again proved to be a lot of fun, and not just creating stories, but listening to characters made by the other participants. I got a rather elegant-looking lady in a typical red Bengali sari.....again, who knows, someday she might pop up in one of my stories....
Ma'am said she was in the process of writing the story for a graphic novel called "Kalpa". At this point I told her about my fascination for the genre(see this, this and this) and my admiration for writers like Alan Moore and our very own Sarnath Bannerjee(my starry-eyed expression grew wider when she said she'd met the man himself!), author of the magnificent Corridor and The Barn-Owl's Wondrous Capers. It was amazing to discuss literary or cinematic stuff with her, like Moore's magnum opus From Hell, the noir style of filmmaking...... and loads of other stuff.
The round of build-a-story yielded some pretty wacky tales, with the Chinese whispers style format ensuring that there was never a dull moment.....we would jump from romanticism to science fiction to detective thriller to high fantasy in the blink of an eye!We rounded off the workshop with a unique exercise. We first named six characters/personas, places, props, emotions and locations. Then, Ma'am would roll this huge cardboard die and decide who gets which set of people, locations etc. So while I got something pretty feasible(A tragic writer.....in a pub, with a lighter!), people did get all sorts of crazy combinations(like a hopeful dog, in a jungle with a handbag!!!). We then wrote a plot or a full-fledged short story based on our respective sets. This one was the most intellectually challenging of them all....I did okay, I guess. (Ma'am said it was "very noir" :) )
When people talk about "a day to remember" and "experience of a lifetime" , it sounds and feels pretty banal and cliched, but I guess spending an entire day at the workshop, with Ma'am, falls firmly into that category. In a place where the average lecture is clinically drained of anything remotely resembling fun......I felt truly rejuvenated last Saturday.
Tuesday, January 20, 2009
The quizzes themselves were a lot of fun, conducted by Mr. Avinash Mudaliar, who is a pretty popular and respected figure at quizzes around the country. I could have listed some of the more interesting questions on this post.....but I guess that would be a bit of a bore.(Reminder to self: MUST set up a quiz blog this summer....) So here's the deal: I'll just give you some intriguing team names I came across(My team was called "Mostly Harmless" after the Douglas Adams madcap SF book of the same name)
1. Pamela and her Sons (I kid you not!!!!!)
2. Tum Ek Kaam Karo, Tum Kal Aao..... (my personal fave)
3. Brokeback Mountaineers
4. Gecko Geeks
5. Name at the back(Mudaliar thought this was their actual name till the helpful fellows pointed out that their team name was actually at the back of the paper.....but the damage had been done...)
The only bright spot about the long train delays was I caught up with some of my reading....finished two books I'd started some days earlier: J.M.Coetzee's masterpiece "Disgrace" and Philip Pullman's "Northern Lights" which is the first part of the reknowned "His Dark Materials Trilogy"....more on that later.
P.S. I got into the creative writing workshop!!! (see previous post)
Monday, January 12, 2009
"Cancers and clockwork"
He woke up to find that the world was still suffocating him. All its noises, smells and flavours assimilated their way into a big bolus which snuck up his throat till he felt like throwing up. It was the persistent yet circumspect knock on his door which finally roused him. Good morning, Sir. Would you like breakfast in your room? A voice, with the practised and polished saccharine dripping off the edges, like milk which has been boiled a little too much. On other days, he would have even shut the door to her face, but today, in a display of politeness which surprised him, he gently refused, even thanking the girl, in her ridiculously starched white-and-red uniform.
On days like these, his usual recourse was three-pronged: Beethoven, cigarettes and his trusty old Parker pen. As of yesterday, the latter two options had been taken from him. His manuscript had been just been trashed by his editors, and his fiance had given him an ultimatum to quit the "cancer sticks" as she called them. He permitted himself a smile over her choice of words, recalling how he, as a college geek had been enamoured by Anthony Burgess's "The Clockwork Orange" ; the book which had its own lingo, "nadsat" .....(the word for "cigarette" was "cancer" !!). She had met him for the first time when he was sitting under a tree, engrossed in what had to be his seventh shot at the book. They had hit it off rather well, considering his propensity to lapse into long reveries and stubborn silences.
"Come on, say it...what's your favourite nadsat word? ", she insisted with an impishness that was already starting to grow on him.
"You mean apart from cancer?", he slyly asked, a nearly worn-out Marlboro still hanging lazily from his fingertips. "Yes, apart from cancer, and for Christ's sake will you chuck it away already!", she said in faux-anger, pretending to hit him playfully. "Okay, okay, there....it's gone...." , he said, tossing the cigarette in an exaggerated flourish. "All right, let's see... I'm rather partial to "ultraviolence" ....and then there's "chai", (the word for tea) and "tolchock"..... but I think I'll go for "Charlie".. you know, the word Alex used for his prison chaplain... I think that one really tickled me...Get it? "Charlie Chaplain" ...ha!" ....and they had chuckled about it for ages, as if it had been the joke of the century. Passing each other by in the corridors, they would mouth "Charlie" at one another, much to the bemusement of their friends, who had by then suspected that there was something in the air about these two.....
The sound of the telephone, an annoying tinny monotone, snapped him from his trance. He picked it up, warily. It was his publisher, Joseph K, a man who was barely tolerable when one was in the best of spirits, and quite insufferable at all other times. He was rambling on something about “ young readership” and “catering to all tastes” ….
”Gregory….are you with me? Hello? “, his publisher asked, his nasal twang piercing his ears like needles.
“Yes, I…uh, I’m with you ..uh, Joe.”
“As I was saying, times are changing since you wrote “The Lotus”..…. attention spans are at an all-time low.. and your subsequent book was … a disappointment, as you are aware… . you know the old saying, don’t you? People aren’t reading nowadays. And if they’re reading at all, they’re not reading fiction. And if they’re reading fiction…”
“They’re not reading literary fiction…yeah, yeah I get it . Would you do me the courtesy of cutting to the punchline, Joe, please?” , he asked, gritting his teeth.
“Yeah, well.. let me say, Greg…. I’ve always liked you… but we’ve got a business to run here.. you know how it is, my friend…..”
“Right, right ….well, I’m not feeling the love here, friend! So would you please cut the crap? “
“I’m not sure I appreciate the tenor, there, Greg…. We’ve decided not to publish your manuscript. Our people here said, and I must say, I agree…… it’s not exactly what people would call a page-turner…. The readership is increasingly rejecting overly “intellectual” stuff….and we just can’t ignore that…”
By now, the words were getting lost on him…..it was as if they were bouncing right off him, entirely devoid of rhyme or reason… for the second time in the conversation, Joseph had to rouse him.
“You there, Greg….hello? “
“Yes, Joe…I’m still here” , grinding out each word, the effort clearly proving to be difficult for him.
“Yeah…….as I was saying… Wordsmith House has decided not to renew your three-book contract, which as you know, expired with your last book….”
“So…who are you selling me out for, Joe? “ , he asked, no longer caring to keep the sarcasm out of his voice.
“Yeah, well……I thought that’d interest you. It’s Trevor Hardwood…..”
Two words. That was all it took for Greg to slam the receiver down with a resounding bang without further ado. Trevor Hardwood………of course, that cheap peddler of two-bit “penny dreadfuls” about psychotic college kids and slick, oiled-up super sleuths. Greg had written a scathing review of Hardwood’s body of work(which already consisted of twelve novels in the space of six years) , calling them “B-Grade Hollywood on paper” and “lurid in every way imaginable” , upon which Hardwood had politely declined to comment(oh, the slimy silver-tongued bastard!) , saying that everyone was entitled to an opinion.
His mind wandered to two weeks earlier, when he was having a fight with Simona(his fiancé) …..or rather, she was screaming her lungs off, and he was staring morosely in the distance, taking in monstrous puffs of his umpteenth fag of the day.
“……it’s like living with a stranger, Greg! Don’t you get it…I can’t take it anymore…..For Chrissake, when was the last time we had an actual conversation?? Everytime I try to talk to you……you just hide behind your books, or your notes……or your freaking cigarettes! “
Her voice now had a dangerous edge to it.
“I’m serious, Greg. You have to prove that you still give a rat’s arse about how I feel… that I’m not just another whackjob character in your psycho-babbling, mumbo-jumbo stories……I give you a fortnight…..at the end of that period, you’ll have to choose between your precious “cancers” and me! “
And that was that. Tell you what, honey, Greg thought. At this moment you’re the whackjob, not me. Anyway, today marked the end of the aforementioned fortnight. He went to the bathroom and splashed cold water over his stubbled, weary face. His eyes looked shot and distant, as if they were looking for something that couldn’t possibly be there.
He would go and try to talk some sense into her. This wasn’t precipitated by love so much as…….habit. He was a creature of habit, and she, slowly, imperceptibly, had become a part of his minutae, like a favourite doodle one likes to make on the edges of notebook pages, or a particularly catchy piece of nonsense verse. And right now, what with this jerk-off of an editor humiliating him…any further disruption in his environs would be too much for him to take in.
He figured she would be there, by Reno’s on Park Street. Everytime the two of them had a tiff during the early days of their relationship, she went and sulked there, which would be his cue to beg and plead.
And there she was………right by the window sill, at her usual table. But hang on…could it be….yes, she definitely had company, Greg thought as he hurried forward across the street to get a good side-on view. He froze. The street and all its cacophony seemed to replay itself in slow-motion for his benefit. For their, in all his glorious idiocy, was Joseph K. himself. No trial for you this time, Joe…Greg smirked to himself.
A gush of memories, suddenly unbound.
“ ….that a creature who can perform only good or evil is a “clockwork orange” –meaning that he has the appearance of an organism lovely with colour and juice…”
The two of them…together…suddenly everything is lucid and fluent in his mind.
“…but is in fact only a clockwork toy to be wound up by God or the Devil..”
In a single, languid move, he went forward, wished the clearly flabbergasted couple a good day, and sat down on an adjoining chair.
He then brought his right fist down in an exquisite whiplash motion, making good contact with Joseph K.’s nose, upon which said Joseph went from “screamed like no tomorrow” to “babbled like a baby” pretty soon.
“How’re you doing, honey….” , he asked, giving her his grandest smile he could summon. He took out a Marlboro, lit it with elan, and blew a ring of smoke close to her face.
And, from that moment on, he knew everything was falling into place….