Like I’ll probably never tire of saying, I moved to New York City in 2012.
Among other things, I discovered that a lot of concerts happen in the area. I don’t anymore have to worry about getting back late. And it works great even if I’m by myself, thanks to the excellent public transport this city has. So I ended up watching a lot of concerts. Let’s see how that went.
- Norah Jones: Last April at Tarrytown Music Hall. I had no idea this place existed. My friend had an extra ticket and while I had only listened to two Norah Jones songs properly until then, I decided to just go. Turned out to be a test concert for her tour for Little Broken Hearts a month later. Two hours later, Norah had a new fan. Her voice has an ethereal quality to it. Her manner makes you feel she’s just a regular girl you’d meet at a slumber party and do your nails with and who you’ll grin at when she has her arms full of Grammys and you won’t for a moment think she’s being snarky when she says “And I didn’t thank my grandmother either” when the media asks her why she didn’t thank Pt. Ravi Shankar in her Grammy acceptance speech. I also have grown to like her country band The Little Willies. Her music doesn’t take itself too seriously, be it when she’s covering Dolly Parton’s Jolene or singing melodious yet creepy songs about what she’ll do Miriam who’s done her wrong. I love how effortless she makes it all seem.
Here’s The Little Willies singing about Lou Reed cow tippin’.
- The Manhattan Transfer: It was Last.fm’s recommendations which introduced me to this jazz vocalese band. I wrote about the concert here. It was a very enjoyable evening. It was raining like crazy as I hunted for a Kinko’s to print my tickets out near Grand Central, and I made a mad dash in my soaked ballerina flats to catch the last train that would get me to Tarrytown in time for the concert. It was still cold and rainy and dark as I trudged up the slope to get to the music hall. It was downright magical to hear jazz vocalese being performed live. When we all stood up in an ovation after Birdland, it didn’t matter that I was the youngest and brownest in the crowd, or that the two women next to me had large bobbing Adam’s apples and that had made me unsure about beginning a conversation with them or that the old couple next to me called me ‘coloured’…. all that mattered was we thought the band did a wonderful job and we had had a great evening.
- The Raghu Dixit Project: All the Bangaloreans in the tri-state area came together at Joe’s Pub that evening. Everyone had that typical RV/PESIT look about them. Their performance was just like I remembered them at NITK in 2007, though only Raghu Dixit and Gaurav Vaz remained of the then-lineup. Their token eye-candy was the flautist this time, as opposed to the guitarist while at NITK. Everyone who’d come, Bangalorean or not, enjoyed the concert a lot. There even was a caucasian woman who danced on tables and jumped up on stage as the band finished. She was introduced to the crowd as the band’s ‘stalker’. They played old songs, new ones, movie songs, folk songs… they’ve always been good at showmanship and kept the audience on their feet pretty much the entire duration. Pretty good, I’d say.
- The Doors (of the 21st Century): aka Krieger-Manzarek. They’ve got a lead singer who does a pretty awesome Jim Morrison. Ray Manzarek looks just as erudite and classy as he looked in the band’s heyday. Robby Krieger looks like just another little old man with funny pants and a great shock of white hair, but two minutes with a guitar and he’s a powerhouse. Ray’s brother Rick Manzarek came in with the lead guitar for a few songs, I don’t particularly remember which ones. (This is why you’ve got to blog just as soon as you finish a concert). I was initially trying to record the songs, or to sing along or to try and remember the songs, but with the long interludes and solos and improvizations, I just gave up and sat back and closed my eyes. It was the closest I’ve got to a religious experience. The band are very loud, very ’70s, very cheery, very prone to cussing. They remembered Jim, they got up and pranced around, they screamed, they played their hearts out. From Riders on the storm to Indian Summer to Light My Fire, the music transcended every pore of my being, and when they finally got around to LA Woman, it didn’t matter anymore that they were playing ‘my song’, all I knew was I didn’t want them to stop playing. I’m someone who makes fun of Morrison poetry, but in that music hall with the music so loud, and a powerful-voiced young man spouting them, the lyrics all came together and made sense.
The crowd was interesting as well. Lots of ex-hippies. The sorts who are balding badly but still have a ponytail. The sort who still try to drink like they did in the original Doors concerts, but now end up going to the restroom every half hour. One such man next to me was reminiscing about driving down Sunset Blvd passing by a billboard advertising the latest Doors album, LA Woman, with Light My Fire playing on the radio when the announcer interrupted to announce Morrison had been found dead in Paris. His much-younger wife piped in with ‘I wasn’t born then’, and we laughed.
- Bob Dylan and Mark Knopfler: I had the highest expectations for this one. If listening to Krieger-Manzarek had been a dream-come-true, Bob Dylan would be downright legendary. Didn’t pan out that way. First, we’d gotten the crappiest seats at Barclay Center. Secondly, it was at Barclay Center, which is a ballpark. The problem with a ballpark is, it’s too large. I was too far above the stage and watched the whole thing with my camera zoomed in to 25x. The acoustics were okay. But then Mark Knopfler was the least interactive performer I had watched until then. Most of the songs he played weren’t any of the popular ones from Dire Straits. I’d have liked to appreciate the Celtic-sounding numbers he played, but not one song got an introduction or even had its name mentioned. The band was introduced at the very end. There was hardly any greeting the audience or acknowledging us.
I thought Dylan would be better because he famously performs at his grandkids’ school impromptu. How wrong I was. He acknowledged the audience even less than Knopfler did. He sang all his songs in a gruff monotone with very little hitting the higher or even the mid-ranged notes. I had great difficulty identifying which song it was that he was singing. The lighting was terrible.
If all that weren’t enough, the audience enthusiasm was pretty low. Any burst of enthusiasm would remain rather localized because the place was so large and people were so sparsely scattered. One group starts going ‘woooooo’ and realizes they sound out-of-place and just as others start picking up on it, they stop. And everyone stops. I just didn’t feel the enthusiasm the way I had in the other ones. It was a pretty huge let-down I’ll say.
- The Queen Extravaganza: This is Queen’s official tribute band. Their act is produced by Roger Taylor and the show is designed by the same guy who used to do it for Queen as well as for Led Zeppelin and RHCP and Floyd. I was warned they were loud, but I had no idea how much until they started playing. They had two wonderful vocalists, Mark Martel hitting the higher notes, and Jennifer Espinoza doing the powerful lower notes. Neither did any falsettos, I was disappointed to note. Their enthusiasm is boundless and their energy is infectious. They had these screens in their backdrop where they played footage from Queen concerts and music videos. I especially loved their rendition of Don’t stop me now, where they flashed the lyrics along with little pictographs.
The audience were astounded by their Bohemian Rhapsody where they played the original music video and the band did all the parts live except for the Balland and Opera bits for which they played Queen’s recording. They played all the well-known songs including Radio Ga ga, Killer Queen, Tie Your Mother Down. Mark Martel sang a very very soulful Somebody To Love. They ended it with We are the champions and We Will Rock You.
This was truly a dream-come-true for me. I’ve loved Queen for many years now, love their music, love their showmanship. This was the closest it can ever get to the real thing, and I had the time of my life listening to these songs. If I ‘just let go’ and surrendered while listening to The Doors, I was alive and ready every second for Queen. It made me smile for weeks after and nothing could faze me.
My enthusiasm for the band was however beaten by a banker who said he’d been to Queen’s concerts and pronounced The Queen Extravaganza ‘nearly as good as the real thing’, and a sixteen year old Brazilian boy who loved astronomy as much as he loved Brian May and spoke perkily about learning to stargaze from Brian May’s blogposts and tweets. And a couple of girls from Yonkers who said to me, ‘Ooh, Freddie was Indian too, did you know?’.
- Upcoming…. I’m dying to attend Dengue Fever’s concert in April, and wondering about Steven Wilson too. I’m a tad pissed about missing Roger Waters and Jethro Tull and hope at the very least, Jethro Tull perform again in 2013. I’d love to attend one of The Little Willies. I’ve heard there are a lot of concerts of Bollywood singers, but I’m somehow not too enthusiastic, but maybe that’ll change. I’m hoping AC/DC choose to perform, given I’ve missed them at Indio a while back. Rickie Lee Jones and Fleetwood Mac look promising. Maybe I’ll check out some jazz at BB King Blues & Grill or the Beatles tribute bands there. Maybe I’ll finally try Birdland. Or maybe I’ll say yeah I’ve attended more concerts in a year than I have all my life before and not go for any more. Let’s see how it goes. Watch this space
I watched Anurag Kashyap’s Gangs of Wasseypur today. Not on the big screen, though I wish I had. It’s a tad irksome that Rowdy Rathore gets a worldwide release while this one doesn’t.
I must say I really liked the movie. (Spoilers might follow)
I felt the usual words used to describe the movie misled me quite some. Words like ‘gritty’, ‘raw’, ‘gory’. Watching the movie and seeing what the trailers focused on, I can see why people use those words to describe GoW, but that doesn’t feel like the whole picture to me. It’s a revenge saga, alright. It has quite some violence, yes. The language is crude and there are more sexual references here than in the average Bollywood movie. But at the end of two and a half hours, GoW1 is still a nice cheery happy movie where we know our man is going to win at the end no matter what obstacles come his way, be it a pissed second wife who is spying for his enemies or being nowhere close to getting his revenge even when death is at his door. And when the son is caught with guns, he goes to jail, but comes back wiser, and doesn’t repeat the same mistakes he made while smuggling home guns the first time around. It’s a nicer victory than if he had suspected or known all along the plot against him and done smart things the first time around that would have been presented to the audience as an ace up his sleeve.
I found the first half pretty cheery… you know it’s a gangsta sort of movie, but unlike any you’ve watched before, they have a normal family life, with children and their mother, all smiling, not fearing for their lives every minute like any other loved one of a marked man in other works. In other movies, you’d have the female characters either simpering, or, if they are supposed to be a ‘strong woman’, they actually have things to do with crime, either orchestrating deals or influencing the protagonist, sacrificing themselves… or due to their own motivations, bringing the gang down…. but Richa Chaddha does none of that. She has her own part, cuffing her kids on the ear and all, which brings with it its own flavour instead of being closely tied down to the main plot. She’s a nice supporting role which shows us different dimensions of this sort of story.
And it’s not your usual revenge movie. Those are all plotted in a mathematical fashion, with one action, then a reaction, then a reaction to that… but GoW meanders. People in this movie don’t spend their entire time thinking only of revenge, they spend it waiting for an opportunity to take revenge, and in the meantime, life happens, the social, political and economic climates change, children are born, people get married, people bury some old feuds… the works. The feuding characters don’t outright want to finish each other off, but just want to make living hell for the other, like Manoj Bajpai says in his first few scenes.
Having read other reviews, I was expecting Manoj Bajpai’s character to be this complete womanizer with little or no respect for women… but it isn’t so black and white. He is not your gallant white knight who takes off his hat in the presence of ladies, but nor is he the typical gangster who grabs women off the street for his own pleasure. He’s actually shown playing with his infant son, and apologizing to his wives…. not saying that redeems him in some way, but it’s nice to have a little complexity to a protagonist. It adds some semblance of realism. After all, the misogyny we encounter on a daily basis is more the result of just not knowing the right thing to do and a lack of perspective instead of a carefully orchestrated plot to keep women down.
The much-touted abusive language, sexual references and gore didn’t faze me at all. It’s possibly because I don’t really understand Bhojpuri to get the literal meanings of the expressions the characters use, and I expected more visual gore than what is shown. Plus, the background music and soundtrack, as well as the pacing and editing make sure to keep the mood easy and light instead of filling you with horror and disgust each time some violence breaks out or a character dies. Even when Manoj Bajpai has been shot brutally, instead of sweeping shots that let the tragedy sink in, you have him standing upright, with a gun, with an upbeat Bihar Ke Lala playing in the background.
There’s nothing more to say for the music score or the cinematography or the writing that hasn’t been said before. It all just goes well together, and trying to find faults seems more like nitpicking to me now. I must confess the movie didn’t knock my socks off, but that might have been due to my watching it on my laptop instead of a movie hall filled with people whistling and hooting at appropriate times that I appreciate the depth of what is happening. I really like what has been done with the subject matter at hand; it feels refreshing to my senses because I haven’t watched anything quite like this before, where I’m an amused bystander watching a gory drama unfold, and instead of feeling extreme emotions, I’m just grinning at how things happen.
Overall, I’d watch it again. And I can’t wait for Gangs of Wasseypur II.
I’ve had a most wonderful weekend.
A couple of months back, I’d been to a Norah Jones concert at this little town in Westchester county called Tarrytown. It was a great discovery by a friend of a friend’s, especially since Norah would be touring the world a month after to promote her new album, Little Broken Hearts, for tickets that were twice what I paid for that small ‘Norah and Friends’ concert in Tarrytown. It wasn’t even advertized… that secret.
Since then, I’d been following the show listings of Tarrytown Music Hall quite religiously and they had a lot of musicians performing, a lot of whom I’d vaguely listened to, but wasn’t really inclined to go to a full concert of, like Michael Bolton and Dionne Warwick. And then I saw them advertise for The Manhattan Transfer – a jazz vocalese band. I booked tickets more than a month in advance.
The concert was on Friday night. Somehow I managed to get fully drenched in the only 20-minute spell of thundershowers in a long time – it had been boiling hot the whole week through. After a ride up north, I found my seat, with a good view of the stage. As the hall filled up, I realized I was easily the youngest person in the place. Everyone else seemed to be thrice my age or thereabouts. I got talking with the old couple to my right, and they were quite surprised to see a young brown girl at a concert like this. They were very nice, unintentionally racist and loved jazz music.
It turned out to be the band’s 40th year, and they were playing a lot of their old hits. They started with Route 66, followed by Java Jive, followed by On a little street in Singapore and Brasil. Everyone seemed disappointed that Cheryl Bentyne was not performing, as she was undergoing surgery. In place of her was Margaret Dorn, who did a decent job, but somehow didn’t complement the band well enough. Janis Siegel, who is the other female singer in the band (they consist of two male and two female singers), does a beautiful scat and hits the high notes wonderfully, but the steady, solid, unadorned voice of Cheryl would have kept the sound more grounded and bound together, I felt. The band went into solos then, and also songs from other composers and songbooks.
By now, the elderly gentlmean in front of me was shaking his head wildly, obstructing my view. So I switched to the empty seat in the front row, next to two colourfully dressed women. If it hadn’t been for the bobbing Adam’s apples and raspy voices, I would never have realized they were transvestites… even their square jawlines weren’t so prominent. There was a fifteen-minute interval and I was nervously looking into my phone because I was afraid of saying something to the ladies and offending them. One of them then asked me what I thought of the concert so far. They turned out to be immensely passionate about music and about this band.
The band then got back and continued with numbers from the songbooks. They went back to their classics, and reached a crescendo with Birdland, at which the ladies next to me burst into tears of joy because ‘it was so beautiful’. It really was. A wonderful, practiced sync between all four of them, that comes with singing together for so long. That one song took all the positives from their entire performance that evening and put it in one four-minute burst. It indeed was a marvel to hear. Alan Paul then finished off with a very emotion-laden Gloria, a fitting end to the concert.
I came back tired, cold and wet, and with a big smile on my face for having experienced something that beautiful. Nothing could top that.
Or so I thought. Reddit.com, worldwide purveyors of procrastination, were having their annual Global Reddit Meetup Day on Saturday. Turned out, the New York City meetup was happening rather close to where I lived. What the hell, I thought and went there. The environment was surprisingly like what Reddit feels like to me online – where you can be yourself and find your crowd no matter what. Everyone felt welcome. There was food and drink which people had brought, and people talking and playing frisbee.
Within minutes, a couple of computer science sophomores and I were in a deep conversation about the Twitter API and web development and Asian Parent memes, when we were interrupted by a friendly southerner who introduced us to a Mongolian who grew up in Siberia. The conversation shifted to languages, their origins, and things like that while we asked the Siberian about what it’s like there, whether it was a ‘punishment posting’ (extreme weather, yes it’s a punishment posting, especially the northern parts of Siberia).
Just then, we were all called for a group picture, which took several clicks to get right, with one organizer running frantically across the area, trying to get all of us in the shot, in panorama mode. There was one guy screaming out typical Reddit stuff like ‘That takes care of my senator ambitions’, ‘That escalated quickly’, and other such things. It was awesome that everyone got the inside jokes!
We got back to hanging around and chitchatting. Now there were people playing soccer in addition to frisbee, and then a bunch started playing Calvinball. The bunch of us who were talking about insane conspiracy theories, careers in computer science/IT, drones, Iran and other things slowly got distracted by a guy who was showing a bunch of people some plants and trying to dig something out. He looked out of place, with his rather-complicated looking tools and park-ranger clothes. Turned out to be a horticulturist, and we got back to talking.
There was one fella who had a job extracting eyes from corpses, for an eye bank. The conversation quickly degenerated into a barrage of eye puns. Eye-banking, Eye-T, ‘Did you know about the blind man who picked up the hammer and saw?’ ‘No I didn’t, and neither did Helen Keller’… and so many others which I don’t remember now. We were surprised at how quickly real life mirrored Reddit.
We see this guy standing awkwardly beneath a tree, by his bike, and texting on his Blackberry. I wanted to engage him in conversation, when one of the people I was talking to whispers “Omigod, that’s the Reddit CEO”. I don’t remember Yishan Wong’s face, so I pull out my mobile to imageSearch his face, by when one of the group had already walked up to him to ask, “Are you Yishan?’. “Yes, yes I am”, he said. And then told us not to make much of a fuss.
So we casually stood around, asking him about what keeps him busy. He said though he’s a techie, the 20 people who run the website don’t much need any guidance with technical issues, though scaling is a challenge. His job, he said, is to keep a good relationship going with the folks who own the website, so that in times of crisis, like the r/jailbait issue, they trust the Reddit team to get it right instead of walking in and shutting the website down.
He was telling us about how the whole plus for Reddit is the community aspect, which is fostered by self posts and by meetups like this one. He told us about how they hired someone who would have been an awesome Community Relations Manager, but right after the day he was hired, he was diagnosed with leukemia. Just then, we were interrupted by a reporter from New York magazine, who stood by listening to our conversation, and chiming in with supporting questions.
Someone asked him about the next technical questions he was addressing, and he mentioned subreddit discovery. It seems a very interesting problem, because given an interest, there are atleast 30 different subreddits, so which one would you recommend to a given user? Also, how would you know about these subreddits, given that most of the time, the names of the subreddits don’t directly reflect what it’s about? I suggested showing the users wordclouds around each subreddit, extracted from the content of the posts on it. He said their biggest advantage is their large user base and availability of mods for everything, which they can use to manually tag subreddits.
I then asked for a photograph with him, which he kindly obliged. One of the group asked if he gets asked this often, and he said he doesn’t, mostly because he’s a very private person. Then he had to talk to the reporter as he needed to run elsewhere in a bit, so we shook hands and got back to talking to each other.
Stuck around for a while more, talking to the photographer from New York magazine, who was somehow unobtrusively capturing pictures of all of us in our natural environment, and watching people play Calvinball.
Four hours after I’d first walked in, I walked back home, terribly dehydrated and hungry. And cheery as hell. It’s not everyday (in New York atleast) that you meet so many nice cheerful people, one among who is the damn CEO of Reddit Dot Com and talk to him about word/tag clouds!
Living in New York City has its perks. Hindi movies on the big screen are never too far away.
My flatmate was away for a bit. I wanted a fun-filled Saturday. Being away from Irvine and in an action-packed city, I seemed to have almost forgotten the pleasure of watching movies in theaters. Being away from the esteemed company of my friends in Irvine has a lot to do with it, probably. It’s a wonderful thing to pass Bangalore-referencing InternetMeme-referencing half-funny comments while watching a movie.
I decided to watch Kahaani, given that it was very highly rated by virtually everyone who had watched the movie. Turned out, Midtown East housed a Big Cinemas. As in Reliance. Wow. Samosas for snacks. Impressive. The theater marketed itself as a place where you could watch international movies, French and Italian and Korean and everything else, not just Indian ones. Brilliant move; this way, you attract not just a desi crowd, but also the hipster avant-garde international film-watching New Yorkers.
Oh, and I watched this movie all by myself. Know what, apart from the cashier’s sharp “ONE ticket?!’, there’s no indication of anyone giving a damn about your watching a movie alone. I miss funny comments and all that, but I ended up passing random comments and predicting the next few scenes with these two Indian-American didis who I was sitting next to. Was totally random fun. Especially when they termed the movie a combination of Kill Bill and Salt. Don’t ask me how that conclusion was reached.
Anyway. The Cult Of Bob Biswas.
For those who haven’t yet watched Kahaani, Bob Biswas is an assassin-for-hire. Unlike the usual solidly-built seven-footer types or the extremely lithe, ‘hai-yaa’-screaming martial artist types who usually play the roles of paid assassins, Bob Biswas wears thick coke-bottom classes, works at a desk job at an insurance firm (LIC?), is always on the brink of being fired, is chubby, short and stocky, doesn’t come anywhere close to being called fit. Oh, and he’s asthmatic, too (Oh, and the chief villain in the movie has a rare blood group…. no dearth of medical issues in the movie).
Totally. While the internet is not exploding with Bob Biswas references, the number of folks chattering about him is undeniably increasing.
Not unexpected. Bollywood produces too few memorable movies, and even fewer memorable leads, forget about memorable interesting fringe characters. Unless you watch movies as avidly as Dipta Chaudhuri, your chances of coming across a memorable character in mainstream Bollywood movies is rather low. Bob Biswas is rare enough to stick to the mind long after you’re done watching him. And we can’t deny he’s interesting either.
And what exactly makes him so memorable? To start with, I’d say he’s exactly the sort of character we would love to come up with while performing improv. Reminds me of the time these two guys spent the better part of 20 minutes doing a mom-son thing where the mom was abusive and kept making the son’s life comically miserable. We got all invested in the comically sobbing son, when he upped and killed the mother, and turned out to be a serial killer. All in comic fashion, of course. And all totally improvised.
It is really fun when two totally opposing ideas come together and actually work out, in improv. It’s not always a sure thing. A happy guy and a sad guy? Surely. Two totally excited guys? Totally, when they match each others’ energy levels, there’s only one way it goes. An excited guy and a bored guy? Mmm… not so much. A totally subdued type turning out to be a badass killer? Why not?
For all purposes, Bob Biswas is just a fun thing to play with. The very idea doesn’t make much sense, or we don’t have enough to go by to make such a character believable. How’d he get so good at murder, how does he lay low, how does he advertise and get his business, does he not have any enemies who’d be equally or more powerful and finish him off, and how does he go undetected and stay alive with all this?
Unless these questions are satisfyingly answered, Bob Biswas will never become a full-fledged spinoff or a full-length novel material.
But obviously, the writers of Kahaani never intended him to be all that (and there are plenty of characters that succeed without much of a backstory). Or anything apart from being some guy who gets caught and betrays the guy who hired him. They just thought to up the fun a little. I can picture the writers at a brainstorming session, and someone saying “What if he’s just a mamooli guy you see on the street and don’t even register?”. Most of the folks in the session would have laughed, cracked a couple of jokes and then someone else sees a workable idea taking shape, decides to go with it just to see what it leads to, adds details to solidify the character (“Let’s also give him a boring job… hey, I once had a roommate who worked at LIC, didn’t do a single thing….”), et voila.
When I think of it this way instead of just letting the idea for the character simmer in the backburner of my brain, I don’t anymore find him all that fascinating. But I still do smile a little that what would have been an absurd unworkable idea while whiteboarding was actually taken seriously, its merits recognized, and they actually gave it a form on the big screen.
Not every absurd idea is a good one, and not all of them merit precious time spent on them. But it is good to see how an idea, with some work done to it, can be fascinating, and feel like a rich contribution. And… I’m also glad for these successes, for it makes people – bosses, financiers, folks in jobs that require creative output – more inclined to say ‘Yes, and..’ to seemingly crazy ideas that come their way.
Life was never the same after the advent of the Sun Network. There was a movie every afternoon on Sun TV! Every afternoon! Previously, movies could be watched only on the weekends, on TV, so this was cause for much joy, especially among those who didn’t have much to do in the afternoons.
Then there was Sun Movies. Three or four movies a day! When I wasn’t burning my skin off in the sun during the summer vacations, or watching Cartoon Network, or fighting with my sister, I’d be glued to these movies.
This love for movies were further kindled by themed movie weeks on Sun TV. So the late evening movies for a particular week would follow some theme. Like ‘Adhiradi vaaram’, where all the movies would be action blockbusters, or ‘Thik-thik vaaram’, where horror movies would be screened the whole week, or even a week full of Vithalacharya movies, or movies where Vishwanathan-Ramamurthy were the composers. There were also other more specific themes like Movies Where Hero And Heroine Cannot Be Together, or Movies Where Love Is Sacrificed For Higher Reason. Apart from Movies Where One Or More Protagonists Are Differently-Abled, or Movies Where One Or More Of The Protagonists Are Dying (Of Cancer). I’m not making any of these up.
This went on for around a year or two, before they filled late evenings with some or the other soap (which all deserve a post or three to themselves… remember Chitthi, anyone?). Then they had a common theme throughout, with every day of the week having one genre. Like there was a comedy movie every Monday, a love story every Tuesday (Kaadhal Sevvaai), a classic old movie every Wednesday (Kaaviya Budhan), an action flick every Thursday (Adhiradi Vyaazhan) and a superhit blockbuster every Friday (Superhit VeLLi). This, apart from two movies, one in the afternoon and another in the evening, every Saturday and Sunday.
And I sat fixated as often as I could. Watched heckuva load of Tamil movies. Amma and I would watch some Kannada movies too, on Chandana, but we stuck to comedies… Anant Nag’s Ganesha ones, or S. Narayan… we both still adore his Oho. Channels would promptly be changed if it was a Kashinath movie. But I hated Kannada movies back then. They seemed too serious and too tragic. When we didn’t still have cable, Amma and Ajji would watch the Sunday evening Kannada movie on DD, and cry and cry and then cry some more. One movie which freaked the heck out of me had Ambarish write a letter in blood to the leading lady. Years later, when a classmate wrote a love letter in blood to another, I felt very very very faint not because it looked like a crazed madman’s handiwork, but because it brought back repressed memories of this movie. And I stopped watching Kannada movies after this one wacko movie where Ambarish gets bitten by a dog and dies of rabies. He barked like a dog, ate food from an aluminum plate not using his hands, frothed at the mouth, and died. I swore to myself I’d never watch a Kannada movie again, and never one with Ambarish in it.
So Tamil movies it was. And God, they weren’t any less gaga. They might be cheerier, more hopeful, better-made and more watchable, but less crazy, they most certainly weren’t.
One of the more tragic ones I watched involved a lower-middleclass family, where the father was presumed dead in a train accident. They get his insurance money, and their standard of living suitably improves. But then, the father comes back, and the rest of the movie is about the shenanigans that result from trying to hide him from the rest of the world. It could have been a nice comedy, but it mainly involved the family politics, grinding poverty, maintaining self-respect, and endless mother-in-law daughter-in-law shenanigans, apart from the mother not being able to wear her mangalsutra and sindoor even though her husband is alive. It sapped the energy out of me.
Then there was this seemingly normal movie where a boy with a widowed mother falls in love with a girl with a widower father. The girl’s father suitably opposed the match like all movie dads, but then he went one step further. He spoke to the boy’s mother, saying there’s only one way we can stop them from marrying and making the biggest mistake of their lives. And the mother agrees. They both get married, and then he snidely tells the boy, now since I’m married to your mother, Heroine is your….? . Mindblown, simply mindblown.
And I saw this one clip of a movie and couldn’t bear to watch it any more. So this guy has a rather cold wife who’s not being intimate with him. He takes her to a movie one evening. And from her horrified shrieks on watching it, we infer that it was an adult movie, and she is thoroughly disgusted and limp from shock. He tells her in a confrontational tone that he did that just to loosen her inhibitions after which she’d fall limp into his arms. Oh. My. God.
On the other end of the spectrum, there was this sweet movie on Young Love called Panneer Pushpangal. The western world (and the Star World-watching world) may have had its Wonder Years, and Kollywood had Panneer Pushpangal. It starred Prathap, who I used to confuse for Kokila Mohan, as a cool and with-it teacher at an Ooty boarding school, where the lead pair were students and fell in love. Of course, the girl’s mom was a witch and locked her daughter up, but the ragtag bunch of friends help her escape. She meets the boy, and then everyone wonders what to do. And then the movie ends. I rather liked this movie, I’ll admit, and wished my school had a teacher like Prathap. And I mention that movie here mainly because it has this wonderful, wonderful song.
Radhika (of Chitthi, Annamalai and Arasi fame) starred in a few more mindblerg movies I watched. First was this one where she woos Sivakumar as a village girl, going as far as getting each others’ names tattoed on their arms, after which he is transferred to the city, where he meets another Radhika who is a modern-dressing rich daughter of his boss. She keeps aggressively pursuing him, and he never gives in because he loves only the villager Radhika. He goes back to the village to find her, but she isn’t there and the whole village blames him for her disappearance. And then comes the shocker. Both the Radhikas are the same! It was an experiment where the rich girl was testing a potential suitor to see if he was only after her money. Oh, what problems rich girls have. Anyway he takes offense and spurns her, and her own father says while he supported her through this endeavour, he feels this sort of test insults any self-respecting man. Then both Sivakumar and Radhika down sleeping pills separately. After appropriate edge-of-seat shenanigans, the director makes sure both lives are saved and that they live happily ever after.
Another one was Meendum Oru Kaadhal Kadhai with Radhika and Prathap. They are two mentally-ill kids in an asylum, and are supervised by a progressive doctor played by Charuhaasan. Radhika is from a rich family who all don’t really like her, especially her scheming brother and brother’s wife, while Prathap has no one. They fall in love, get married and move to some new village with the doctor to have a new life. The village had a slew of quirky characters I don’t really recall, but most of the movie was pitiful while not being slapstick. Radhika ends up pregnant, and dies when Prathap is making her laugh or something…. most mindblerging natal death EVER. I didn’t follow what happened after that, but it might have involved the doctor dying after killing Prathap.
And then. This is the first mindblerging movie I watched, and the one which I was thinking about and then remembered all these movies I’ve talked about. I saw it first on DD one Sunday afternoon when they’d show regional-language movies, which meant this movie had subtitles. It starred Mohan as a Hindu boy, who falls for his sister’s Christian friend. She keeps away at first, actively asking him to get lost, but he persists and they end up in love [Aside: it never fails to blow my mind how easily couples before the Noughties fell in love in movies so quickly and based on so little! He saved my life, so I'm going to spend it with him! Or, she loves animals, so I'll love her]. His mother and her father can simply not submit to this match. They chain Mohan to a small room in their terrace, while the girl (who could have been called Julie and could have been played by Radha) is locked in her room, while presumably her wedding to a Christian boy was being planned. The separation proves too much for her, and as Christ is the reason she can’t be with her love, she hammers a nail through her palm, like was done to Christ. And obviously dies. He escapes from his shackles and comes to help her escape, but he only sees her little neighbour boy (every heroine in every movie before the late ’90s had one) standing in line for her funeral. He runs to the graveyard as they are reading out hymns before burying her, sees her dead, kisses her prone body and dies right there. Lovers dying, okay, fine, but nail through palm? That made my eight-year-old self squirm a whole lot when I saw a crucifix after that, and I took special care to never hold a nail in my hand, and was very edgy around hammers.
I’ve been wondering what the name of this movie is. Does anyone know? Please please tell me… I want to watch it again, this time with new eyes that are cynical about such dated movies.
But…. that might be jumping the gun. These movies were definitely cheesy. But they were gritty. And original. And had an honesty and creativity to them which is missing in later suave movies without bright lights and item dancers in shiny costumes. They had some really good music, and I don’t know how popular they turned out in their time, but their actors gave really wonderful performances in these movies.
The themes were bold and original. The filmmakers might have been wacko jerks with too many rich uncles, or they might have been thinkers, I’ll never know. But I’m glad these crude movies that lack even an ounce of finesse and subtlety got made. They were like alcohol experiments in undergrad where you experiment with a wide range of quality and quantity of drink before you figure out what works for you. The makers of these movies might have hit bull’s eye with exploring early-teenage love and jealousy with a Panneer Pushpangal, and I might be glad for that, but I’m also glad that they got the scenario of ‘What if a guy likes a girl but his mother marries her father?’ out of their systems so that none of us needs to explore that again.
The past couple of weeks have been quite eventful. For one thing, Google released its Facebook-killer in a very very swift and well-planned move. For another, I finally got to see San Francisco thanks to this very nice cousin of mine.
First, on San Francisco. I find I’m a big-city girl at heart. I can simply not live in suburbia or anything like that… not in India, not anywhere else. Closer to nature and all is fine, but not for more than a few days. The city simply pulsates with people, with spirit, with soul.
Los Angeles does, too. But it feels very…. different. Like, most people you find taking the Metro from Union Station would be tourists or working-class folk, or the elderly and disabled. But when you take the VTA from San Jose Diridon, you find the light rail has Wifi inside, and is filled with a really much wider variety of people, and a more uniform distribution. The Bay Area feels much less stratified socially than Los Angeles or anywhere else in Southern California. Or maybe I’ve not been there long enough to see the stratification. LA somewhat reminds me of New Delhi, while San Francisco reminds me of Bangalore. (And Sunnyvale reminds me of Chennai so much that I suspect it’ll be renamed Sakthivel soon).
San Francisco seems very, very easy on the feet. It’s a pleasure to walk its streets, the narrow lanes with tall buildings which shade you from the harsh summer sun. I find it funny that in the USA, people in cities walk much, much more than people in smaller towns and rural areas… in her memoir, Tina Fey recounts this incident where she had her nieces and nephews from the Midwest visit her in New York, and were extremely tired when they were done with the day because getting around New York involved so much walking! I thought that was an outlier, there must be some quirky way to explain that off, and that that won’t generalize…. but tramping around SF makes me want to strongly believe that is indeed the case.
I haven’t really travelled around the US much, just a little here and there, but every place seems to be a clone of every other place, with only a few old places preserving their character… while being inundated with big brands everywhere. Urbanization in the US seems to be done with no soul to it. But San Francisco turned that on its head for me. Every building is different from every other building. When you look at the city from a high vantage point (like, say, Lombard Street), when you look at the rows of mismatched houses, it might probably not be as easy on the eyes as, say, looking at a street in Irvine where all the houses are uniform and prettified, but when you walk down the same street, the riot of clashing colours, the tall orange house next to the even taller red-brick pub next to the tiny bright purple art-supplies store makes such a refreshing relief from living in a StepfordWife-esque town.
And the art galleries and the art supply stores! I’m no artist, but I do like looking at pretty things that are pleasant on the senses. And while I didn’t buy any art supplies there, I got inspired enough by all the colour and hippie-ness (and even the hippies struck me as being very square hippies, the sort with a lecturership at Berkeley) to get very quirky-coloured yarn for crocheting.
There’s plenty of graffiti covering every single surface in the Bay Area. Some of it seems to be related to gangs and their territory claims or whatever, but heck, most of it looks so artsy! I wonder if people use stencils to spraypaint the walls? The graffiti has inspired me to want to do a photo-essay on the city, and call it Funky Freedom (after the song by Colonial Cousins, which is about very different things, but the title suits this so aptly). In the struggle to try and stick it to The Man, San Francisco seems to be the city in the US that’s most likely to taste success, far as I’ve seen.
What I liked best about the Bay Area however was the radio stations there. There are plenty that serve Southern California, too… in English, Spanish and Japanese. I used to be mildly annoyed with the profusion of ads on KRTH or KUCI or KALI or KLOS, and the only ad-free one was KUSC which played only classical music, and the radio jockeys on KUCI were incompetent, and the ones on KRTH were borderline sleazy. The programming and music just about passed muster…. and then I come across the Bay Area stations. They are very geared to listening during your workday. And most importantly, they seem to know exactly the sort of music I want to listen to!!
And now for Google Plus.
Clean, nice, Google-style interface. High marks for the privacy settings… I share more on it now than I used to on Facebook. I find it especially more conducive to share images. And the traffic is not so high that I’m very wary of addiction. I liked the way the hype built up. I liked how they executed it, making privacy a high priority…. they had seemingly learnt from their mistakes on Buzz, where they forced sharing down everyone’s throats. One rather hilarious incident in the early days of Buzz involved a friend changing his status message to something about someone on his chat list when that person was offline, and it got posted on Buzz automatically. It wasn’t until said person-on-chatlist logged into Buzz and saw the 40-odd responses to that update and began acting funny with him did he realize his Buzz was on. No such slip-ups on Google+… you don’t share something with someone unless and until you want to.
And Hangout has to be the single most awesome thing since sliced bread. The harate sessions so far have been nothing short of fun, and the randomness progresses quicker than on group chat. It’s heavy on memory and processing, not to mention bandwidth, and hopefully they’ll find ways of bringing it down even more soon.
While I’m very glad for circles, I really wish they allowed set operations on circles. Sometimes more than specifying who I want to share a post with, I’d like to say I want to share it with everyone in my circles with the exception of one bunch of people. Like if my extended family are organizing a surprise party using G+ for my cousin, it’d be easier for me to share a post with (Family – VidyaAkka) instead of (Amma, Appa, Sandy-mama, Suji-mami, Radhika-chithi, Viju-perima, Seenu-mama, Sriram-chitappa, Ashok-anna, Karthik-anna, Chintu, Pinky and Bubbly), (and what a pain it is to keep track of all the names).
That said, it throws up more questions about social networking. It becomes apparent that you need to have two set of circles – one for sharing with and another for reading. Both your cool cousin and your ageing uncle fall into Family, the circle with whom you share photos of the pongal you made for Pongal along with sidenotes about how you missed saying Pongalo Pongal with the whole clan, but your cousin’s set of Wilbur Sargunaraj links go better with the same thread as the one your co-internet-addict friends sharing GultRage/KannadaRage comics than your uncle’s desperately-in-need-of-a-Snopes-check email forwards. And your being specific about what you share with who removes the random component of things completely. Like, if some friends get forgotten, they stay forgotten. Unlike on Facebook where all of a sudden you get back in touch with an old friend because they see your location updated to Melbourne and comment saying hey, I’ve lived in Melbourne for two years now, maybe we should catch up. And another thing is I want to filter posts by topic than by who shared it. Like, I probably don’t care about the finance-related posts my schoolfriend shares and would rather not have them on my timeline, but I’d really really want my attention drawn to his announcing the birth of his first child. I probably don’t care for a researcher’s sharing his karaoke night photos, but I do care for when he updates his blog with a Scala tutorial. It seems a daunting task off-hand to build a system that does that automatically, but that notion needs to get out there.
Also, with privacy, the notion of being able to see who all a certain post you might comment on is going to be shared with does have a significant need. But heck, I don’t want people trying to infer what sort of circles I have by keenly observing the also-shared-with list. I want there to be a distinction I can choose to make, like a CC and a BCC in email.
And heck, when I’m on someone’s profile page, I want to be able to send them a Direct Message or an Email or something similar. I don’t want to have to add them to a circle, go back to my homepage, create a post that is shared with just them. I’d like to be able to message anyone from their profile page. It’ll I guess be just a simple few lines of code where you share an update with just them at a click of a button, but that goes a long way.
This one might come as a bit of nitpicking, but trust me, it makes a huge difference to me and possibly a lot of others. There is just too much wasted space on the G+ screen. I prefer my Facebook or Twitter timeline to this. There’s more I can take in at one glance on those screens whereas with G+, I need to scroll up and down a lot. The middle column is too narrow comparatively and the font sizes are by default too large. This is perfect when you have only a few updates everyday like I do now, but the same thing for a posting volume like the folks I follow on Twitter or on Facebook wouldn’t hold up. It would involve an unholy amount of scrolling. It’s fine when I want to read every single thing shared, but then, I don’t want to. There should be a more comfortable way of skimming past updates. And one thing I really really would like to see is to combine the same link shared by different people into just one update, like Facebook does.
All said and done, it’s not yet as wildly addictive as Facebook was when it started. The updates to my inbox are more irksome than the sort that get me going to my Plus homepage. I wouldn’t for the heck of me call it a Facebook-killer, but it sure is a great alternative, like how Chrome is to Internet Explorer. I have mostly positive feelings towards it. It feels like the mutated offspring of Facebook and Twitter midwifed by Google, and I really really wonder what it’s going to grow up to be.
I’ve been exceedingly tied up with this and that and god alone knows what else, though I feel like I’ve not gotten any darn thing done. But over the past couple of months, I’ve managed to watch and read stuff.
Most of it has been random shite I wouldn’t rewatch or reread. But some stuff has penetrated my numb skull and made an impression on me. I’m a sucker for small details which I don’t explicitly notice, but which give me a glimpse of a feeling of something, somewhere I want to be. A flick of the wrist, a hint of jealousy in a voice, some microexpression, pastel colour schemes… they don’t even register, but go on to hit me like a ton of bricks, drawing the seemingly arbitrary line between “good” and “godawesome”.
So… here goes.
I hunted this one up just for the title. It sounded genuinely hatke. It’s a whodunit, with Rajit Kapoor as the detective, only it’s more Roger Akroyd and Poirot’s Last Case than his well-known Byomkesh Bakshi. It is shot very well, the white balance makes the images very sharp. And the characters apart from Rajit Kapoor and Rati Agnihotri aren’t known faces. Due to this, it genuinely feels like a whodunit… you can’t assume anything about any of the characters, you’ll be willing to go wherever the story takes you.
Saat Khoon Maaf
This movie sort of lived up to expectations, though watching a bad print sort of dilutes the experience. But what I liked the best was not Priyanka Chopra’s performance, though she does do well here. It was the characters of the servants – the butler, Usha Uthup and the dwarf jockey which gave it a real feel for me. When the butler is poisoned, it sort of hit home for me, the evilness of Naseeruddin Shah’s character. Usually the support staff in any movie are either just in the background and nothing happens to them; they are in the same state in the end as in the beginning, or their deaths are inconsequential, some sort of a sideshow. But here, it’s a turning point in the movie. Whoa.
And Vivaan Shah. The character of the narrator was so incredibly well-etched. The dark way in which he talks about each death in a casual way mirrors the sort of feel in the original Susanna’s Seven Husbands story, where the narrator is just a bystander, but the muffled irritation he has to every husband of Susanna’s (and is conveying the same to his wife) earns my empathy, makes the story personal in a way going deeper in to Susanna’s mind couldn’t have.
Tina Fey’s memoir. It’s not a bodice-ripping tell-all tale or anything. It’s exactly what you expect from a comedy writer. She writes about her early life, her path to SNL, life at SNL, 30Rock, playing Sarah Palin.. and then reflecting on her life, child(ren)…. the stories aren’t spicy or edge-of-seat. But it’s the way she writes them that keeps you glued to the book. Her writing style when she is trying to be funny is reminiscent of Woody Allen. When she’s not being all WoodyAlleny, she has a very conversational, stream-of-consciousness way of writing. You can as well imagine her saying these things on some talk show or the other. Her pragmatic approach to feminism appealed to me, mainly because I haven’t heard these sorts of points of view elsewhere, and it gives my (very similar) points of view some validation.
I’ve always found Tina Fey pretty, and wondered where all those ugly-jokes came from – on 30Rock, everyone makes derisive references to her looks including herself, and she herself talks about her looks in a self-deprecating way. That, mind you, was a little unsettling… it felt like she was just playing the Geek Girl card while being Hollywood-ugly (the sort who only needs to take off her glasses to look like a leading lady), not real-ugly. But only until I saw what she looked like before she began doing Weekend Update on Saturday Night Live… overweight, badly-dressed, with a haircut that didn’t quite suit her… and realized, well, she does know what she’s going on about; it’s not just exploitation.
This gives her a self-deprecating yet mean and nasty sort of a sense of humour, that is enchantingly delightful. She disses Paris Hilton, she disses random people on the Internet who’ve left nasty comments about her… you don’t always want to agree with her, but her insults are fun to hear and file away in memory to use sometime later.
This is a famous movie, apparently. It’s one of those very few Chinese movies famous outside of China which aren’t about martial arts… here, you must keep in mind that the only Chinese movies I’ve watched are Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon and those ones dubbed in Tamil that show on Vijay TV on Sundays.
This one’s made in and set in Hong Kong. It’s got two stories, told one after the other, and they pretty much don’t intersect except for one brief moment.
The stories are normal, usual, whatever you call it…. they didn’t much make an impact on me. What did was the dialogues… my favourite is where one of the protagonists is arguing with the cashier in a departmental store about the feelings of a can of pineapple. The cinematography is good too. It gives me a feeling of deja vu; I seem to have seen this movie before I came to UCI – When I was at Hong Kong airport for my transit, this was one of the first shots I took, and the movie seems to look like that, only much more ’90s-looking and with better white balance and contrast.
Yeah, the dialogues are good, but I think the poignancy in the movie comes from the heckuva lot of stuff that is left unsaid. It’s been ages since I’ve watched a movie with latent emotion portrayed in a believable way. You know that scene in Sarkar where AB senior and AB junior realize that Kay Kay Menon is the one who betrayed them or something? That whole scene passes without a single word, just ominous background score and ‘powerful’ glances exchanged between them. That’s ‘latent emotion’ alright, but I didn’t find it one bit believable…. it came off as too forced.
In the climax of Chungking Express, he asks her if they would accept a boarding pass that looks like the one she gave him a year back, and then she says a very casual ‘maybe’ after which she writes him a new boarding pass on a tissue… that scene to me was pure magic.
And, of course, the strains of California Dreaming playing throughout the second half… I liked very much.
I liked the first story much better than the second one. Maybe because like the protagonist there, my twenty-fifth birthday isn’t all that far away. Maybe because of the pineapple dialogue. Maybe because of the pithy philosophy he spouts while nursing a broken heart, same as I do even when not nursing a broken heart – “Running is good. The body loses so much fluid when you run so that there’s none left for tears”. Maybe because Takeshi Kaneishiro is way better looking than Tony Leung. Maybe because on some days, I feel like Brigette Lin, with the whole world against me and so tired that I want to just sleep, though I might not remember to wish people on their birthdays when I wake up. Maybe because I found Faye Wong’s character in the second half way too creepy and stalkerly… maybe a few years back, I’d've found her character as alluring and enigmatic as the director wants you to think she is, but all I feel now is she is crazy, creepy and needs a restraining order.
After watching this flick, I’ve pretty much made up my mind that I’m going to fly to India the next time transiting at Hong Kong, with a really really really long layover and a transit visa. And take pictures of the streets and neon lights downtown at night. And edit them to make them seem as psychedelic as possible without making it look like Tokyo….thinking of which city gives me the shudders; the ghost of the Ryu Murakami books I’ve read so far still refuse to stop haunting me.
I’ll leave you with a clip of Quentin Tarantino talking about Chungking Express.
I’m writing this in darkest hour. No, not metaphorically like that.. just that dawn is an hour or so away. My body clock is rather messed up, and I’m stuck about whether to embrace it or to go on the warpath and try to set it ‘right’, right here meaning the sort that’ll wake a few hours before noon and sleep somewhere on the good side of midnight. I’m afraid to upset the delicate balance I’ve created, but I also crave the productivity of the morning hours. It’s not like I’ve not tried setting it ‘right’… I’ve tried over so many weekends, to sleep it off or keep awake, but something or the other always, always messes it up.
Talking of which, I have a vague, vague wish I were in Egypt two weeks back. Some detox from the Internet is what I need, yeah, but I can’t voluntarily detox now when I’m actually awaiting a lot of stuff in my inbox. I can’t pull a danah boyd (Lack of capitalization intentional. That’s how she spells her name) and ask everyone to email me a week hence. Not just yet.
However, I don’t even remotely wish I was Egyptian over the past week. Uprising and all is great, but volatility kills me, it just kills me. I cannot take the excitement of a pregnant pause, the cusp of something totally different, the uncertainty in what’s coming next. And yes, I’m going through a bit of that for a few other reasons. I think if I were in Egypt, I’d've broken a window, set something on fire, thrown a Molotov cocktail at an armyman…. something to spark off all the latent tension.
I just can’t take uncertainty.
And all the stuff about how the Internet helps organize mobs… y’know what, uncoordinated publicity, hashtags and all that can only incite mob frenzy. Nothing more. If anything gets done, it’s in the frenzy of a mob. And it can also be easily defused. Expecting 10k likes to translate into 1k people on the streets is too much, let alone expecting 10k people on the streets based on some Facebook community. The reason all these things looking like they work are because they place great weights on things that don’t take much for people to do. Sounds pretty disjoint coming from me at this time in the night/morning, but it was very lucidly said by Malcolm Gladwell in an opinion piece I can’t seem to find now.
I’ve pretty much lost faith in humanity, so I don’t expect the outcomes of the ‘revolutions’ dotting the Arab world to lead to any larger good for the countries or for the rest of us. As long as there are people to be exploited, there will be tinpot dictators, slavedriver bosses, bossy spouses, martinet teachers.
And heck, if anyone’s nice to me, or anything good happens, I just don’t take it well. I am constantly looking for the price-tag, the downside, the catch… it’s good, in a way, I’ve to admit.
Y’know how it is when you hate things for absolutely no reason? Yeah. It pays to try finding out why exactly you hate these things, and for writing it down somewhere for posterity. Otherwise you’re wont to hear one mindblowing talk and say “Heck, why didn’t I consider this career option? What was I smoking?”, and kick yourself for weeks together till the reason is staring at you in the face and you say “Oh, yeah, that’s why”. Save yourselves the trouble, children.
Also, the reason you pick a career is not because you love the awesome stuff… anyone can love that, but you pick one because you like the boring stuff about the job as well. Like the endless waiting for code to finish compiling, or the thrill of reading a dozen papers on a topic and categorizing them, or dodging the paparazzi or singing the same note for three hours to get it right.
Short book review: I read Ryu Murakami’s Almost Transparent Blue. Fellas, don’t mistake Ryu Murakami for Haruki Murakami. Also, this book is absolutely not for everyone. Puke-worthy. And worse, pointless. Though, I must say, writing’s okay.
Oh, and the DA’s office decided to press charges against 11 students belonging to the Muslim Students Association for planning a disruption of the Israeli ambassador’s speech here last year. Looking at this, I wonder if my earlier stance on the need for student activism was misplaced. It suddenly seems like the right thing to do is to go to class like a good kid and keep away from any sort of trouble. I don’t know if it would have been just like this if it was a more protesty campus like Berkeley instead of goody-two-shoes Irvine… what do you say? As for facts, while I didn’t attend the talk, you can read this article here.
And, well, I’ve been at the receiving end of some racism as well over the past week. I don’t want to talk about it, and the perpetrator was someone well-known to be racist and well-known as the Department Jerk, so it’s not a reflection on attitudes here in general (though I’ve also heard tales of a racist European here), more so since the jerk was told off quite quickly by folks around me. I was very very pissed, and still am, and while it irks me that I’m not displaying any backbone here by making the Jerk’s life miserable, the more I think about it, the more it seems to not be worthwhile. More so since it seems more of a display of jerk-ism than racism.
Then… I’ve sort of been attending these Women In Computer Science events on campus. I’d love to go to those conferences, but haven’t got an opportunity yet, so just the campus stuff for now. While it’s great that these spunky undergrads are taking initiatives to get highschool girls interested in computer science, I have mixed feelings about another aspect of this. I find I am not too comfortable with the whole “Computer science doesn’t mean being a nerd, y’know” line. Especially when that is peddled about to get girls interested in stuff like Informatics and technical writing and software testing. For one thing, it makes Informatics, technical writing and software testing look like the poor cousins of ‘real Computer Science’. For another, it says folks in computer science are nerds and for some reason, being a nerd is a bad thing, and more so if you are a girl.
If your girls are not choosing parallel processing and database systems as a career because it requires being a ‘nerd’, there’s something wrong with the whole system, not with the girls. If your society says working hard is a bad thing, or choosing not to do something just because it’s hard is okay, something’s wrong with that attitude. If your society doesn’t reward persistence with anything but social ostracism, there’s something wrong with it, and that’s what you have to work to correct. Not these band-aid measures. Like getting women to do the ‘easier’ jobs in the field and saying ‘Oh, look, we have a fair representation of genders in our workplace’. This is just passing the buck, and it doesn’t solve any damn thing.
That said, I sometimes wonder if I’d've been better off in some artsy job that involved writing features and blurbs and reviews, meeting Marxy members of the literati, talking in abstractions, finding phallic symbols in the opening scene of Lion King, making Free Binayak Sen posters and Tshirts, and sending pink innerwear to some remote address in North Karnataka. That, when I’m not viewing people from other countries as objects in a museum, acting in plays which use just one prop and have plenty of monologues, and lamenting the cloistering morality of the middle classes of India. I possibly wouldn’t have been as analytical as I am now, but maybe that’d be a good thing; it’s blissful to not know the extent of your ignorance about the world.
And then I look at one of those Indian-hippies-discovering-themselves-in-the-US, with their Jayanagar-4th-Block-Pavement junk jewelry, their ill-fitting kurtas and their totally clashing salwars, their desperately-in-need-of-a-comb hairdo, their lack of pride in themselves, and back at my Zen-ish accessorizing, recent trendy haircut, clothes designed to blend in rather than stand out, and strict no-caffeine-as-wake-me-up rule and decide the change is totally not worth it.
I just got done with Enthiran. Not on the big screen, sadly, but the awesomeness still shines through.
It is simply Perfect. Rather well-made product.
Ash is not irritating , she seems so totally back to her ’90s aura of wonderfulness, the science is not (atleast on the surface and a little deeper) screwed up, the music is actually good when you fit it with the rest of the movie, there is no chummangaati sentiment-putting, the gimmickry totally fits in with the plot, Danny Dengzongpa is scary, the references to past Rajini films and punch dialogues is just right. Then there’s also the total #win Asimov reference, and robots-building-more-new-robots dystopia.
And Rajini is Rajini.
It does have its downsides…. Karunas and Santhanam are wasted – that subplot is one of the worst I’ve seen, while it could have been used for such a lot more. The middle bits are a tad draggy. There’s too much carnage, though that fits in with the scale of the plot. And, well, the whole scientist-working-alone thing should totally not be allowed.
Plus, Rajini’s age is totally totally justified in the movie – he did a PhD and a postdoc, so he’s allowed to be Ancient most people on the verge of graduation are.
But you know what I liked best? They got the universities right – Rajinikanth is supposed to be a PhD from CMU’s Robotics department, and postdoc at Stanford. Yes, not your standard ‘Harward University’ or ‘University of California’. Such attention to detail…. all that was remaining was to add an ‘Advisor: Dr. Raj Reddy’, and ‘Member: STAIR Project’ at the end
You know what I would have liked better? To have Chitti do robot soccer
Dear Mr. Purie,
You quite obviously don’t know me. And while I know you (well, you head India Today), I didn’t much care. Your rag always lost out to The Week in my house, God alone knew why my father subscribed to you…. to me, you were inherently unreadable. I didn’t pay much attention to your antics. Until this morning.
I happened to come across this post not twenty minutes after I woke up. Normally, it takes the better part of an hour for me to ungrog. But Mr. Purie, your scandalous behaviour and the brush-it-off-gently apology got me all fired up in not more than three minutes. While my teammate was happy I showed up early to his meeting for once, I don’t much share his joy. I’m livid, pissed, wild, mad, cross, fuming, steaming at the ears.
Why, you ask? I’ll tell you why.
Firstly, plagiarism sucks. Secondly, plagiarism by a huge media house, especially one of the ‘India Today Conclave’ fame, totally totally sucks. Thirdly, a top editor like you not knowing about Thalaivar is BLASPHEMY. And fourthly, WTF excuse was that? Jet-lag?
I was jetlagged three weeks back. Not just your ordinary jetlag. I was coming from eight-regular-hours-of-sleep-IST to Pacific time. Twelve hours away. Twelve whole hours. Total reversal of night and day. Add to this, I had deadlines from my three classes, AND from two bosses, one of who was on Pacific time, and the other on Indian Standard Time. And that apart, Mr. Purie, I flew Economy. Nearly twenty-four hours. Not much legspace. Folks eating smelly food around me. Middle seat. Two stops. Baggage that weighed twice of what I weigh. Which I had to lug over three floors when I got home, no elevator. Not your first-class flight where you’d be served champagne and have ample leg-room, and have Ram Singh carry the luggage when you landed, for the short distance from the terminal to your airconditioned car.
I blogged when I was jetlagged. And blogged when I was both jetlagged and sleep-deprived. Did I plagiarise? NO. A big NO. Why didn’t I? Because I love my blog too much to post unoriginal content here, and pass it off as mine. This place is hallowed, and such injustice will be met with Hara-Kiri.
Also, I have been plagiarized. By Bangalore Mirror. Old story. I vilified them quite some on this blog. But you know what, Mr. Purie, you make them look like Sathya Harishchandra. Because, they posted my stuff without permission, but they did put my blog URL there. And when I complained, they responded. And apologized (though frankly, I’d say that was an apology for an apology). Quite unlike what you’ve done to my fellow blogger Niranjana.
My colleagues were to submit something for review and publication. And by publication, I mean in the proceeds of a conference, not a piddling rag like yours. New results and changes at the last moment made it such that they didn’t have all their references in place. Did they submit it and say ‘Hah, let’s see who finds out’? No, they did not. You might say yours is a mag that touches millions of life, and just HAS to be out by the deadline, but you know what, they had more at stake. They get this opportunity ONCE a year, mind you. And yet did not compromise on principles.
What were you thinking when you blatantly plagiarized? Doesn’t your conscience prick you? When I put my friend’s joke as a status message on gTalk, I add a “(Credit: Abhi/Tuna/Ego/Whoever)” bit towards the end, because it doesn’t feel fair when people ping me and say “Heh, you crack good jokes!”. We all do that. Even on Twitter, where no one would worry where a joke came from, people say “@jokerman says” or “(credit: @jokerman)”. Even the most mundane stuff, like a new word coined – like Kosubat (the electrified racquet used to kill mosquitos) or Homour (jokes about homosexuality).
Why do we do this? It’s our culture. Our honour code. ‘Stupid gits’, you might think. But no, Mr. Purie. It’s not just our morality that has resulted in this culture.We know what it’s like to have our friends copy from us and get higher marks. We know the resentment it breeds. We know what it’s like to pull an all-nighter and then have the folks who were lolling about get higher marks and skew the whole grading curve because they cheated. There’s no end to how much you can cheat. There are plenty of us who can keep coming up with better and better techniques to steal credit, not that the world needs it. We don’t want every sphere of our life descending into that sort of an abyss. Hence this culture and honour code. And you know what? We like this sort of an environment darned very much. We don’t have to worry about our jokes being stolen, so we let ‘er rip. We know our ideas will be attributed, so we put them out there for others to play with. We like this setup very much on the Net.
It might seem very old-fashioned to you, this moral posturing of mine. But you know what, Mr. Purie, you’re the fossil here. Did you really think you could get away with ripping off such a widely circulated article from the Net? Especially at the peak of Thalaivar-craziness? Especially in this age of Facebook and Twitter and gTalk status messages? Heck, it was the title of this Churumuri article, for godsake. For context, more people have read that article than your titchy Letter From The Editor. For context, Mr. Purie, that’s like ripping off Jai Ho and mega-releasing it as your own in the weeks following the Oscar nomination.
And when you say “Not being an acknowledged expert on the delightful southern superstar, I asked Delhi for some inputs.”, I can only say WTF. Any piddling two-bit journo knows enough to write about Rajnikanth, heck even Manu Joseph does. Or they pretend to, which is fine because we Thalaivar-fans don’t expect any insights into the method acting in Netrikan from anyone in the mainstream media. That you, yes YOU of the India Today Conclave fame, and YOU who edits ‘India’s Biggest Newsmagazine’ had no frickin’ clue on what to write about Thalaivar really gets my goat. If you had said this about Amitabh or SRK, there would have been blood on the streets. Blood. Yours. And the rest of your staff’s.
And I don’t get why you asked Delhi for input, especially given that a reasonably well-travelled Amit_123 like you itself had no clue about Thalaivar (No, he’s not just a ‘Southern Superstar’… he’s a South-East Asian Sensation as you would have realized if you had travelled through Japan, Singapore and Malaysia even once), what do you expect from the rest of the Amit_123s and Isha_123s there? I’d've thought the first logical reaction would have been to call Chennai. As we say on the Internet, #FAIL.
And how DARE you change it from SUPERSTAR to Superstar? All the Caps are merited. And we forgave the original author for not putting it in Bold, Underline and Fontsize 42 only because he was not Indian. You on the other hand…. bah!
You know why I’m pissed, Mr. Purie? It’s not just because you ripped something off. It’s your impunity in shrugging it off that gets my blood pressure rising. AND that no one is being fired over this. Or even getting a rap on the knuckle. Not just the Slate thing…. I’m more pissed about Niranjana’s situation. What sort of low-quality mediocre staff you have who can’t even have a few original ideas? And why are you still keeping them? And no rap? What sort of a message are you sending out? That it is okay to lie and cheat?
No remorse? No nothing? Atleast pretend you’re sorry about the whole deal, suspend someone for eyewashing…. do something! Even the smallest political scandal makes sure that atleast one person gets the axe! The fact that you’re not even pretending to be outraged outrages me.
I know Mr. Purie, that this letter might not even reach you, and even if it does, you wouldn’t read it (And if you do, you might plagiarize it… no worries, I now know I can issue a cease-and-desist notice if something like that happens). But I just have to write this because I feel quite outraged on knowing about your heinous act…. If Ponzi mated with Kaavya Viswanathan, and their Indian-Italian spawn then hooked up with Bangalore Mirror AND the folks from here and here, the offspring would be you.
OR Crazy Must Be God.
This post is a week overdue. Between reading and travelling and shopping, I don’t get much time to come online. Yay for that.
So I was a tad pissed two weeks back. Colin Mochrie and Brad Sherwood were performing in Bangalore, and entry was by ‘Invite Only’… only, the invites weren’t quite open to public. Adding salt to my wounds was that my friends in Calcutta snagged tickets for the same show… it was only in Bangalore that there was some kirrick happening which made the show more of a private party.
And then Amma pointed to an ad in the paper about Crazy Mohan performing his play Chocolate Krishna at Chowdiah on Sunday. I called the number in the ad. They said they had tickets available, which I immediately blocked. After I’d made doubly, triply, quadruply sure that I have the tickets (the lady on the other end got rather flustered just telling me my tickets weren’t going anywhere), I said ‘Gah! Who needs Colin and Brad when I have Crazy Mohan and Maadhu Balaji for six hours straight”. And grinned ear to ear.
Flashback a year. Crazy Mohan was performing Chocolate Krishna at Gayana Samaj. On a Sunday. Gayana Samaj’s phone number was out of order. And the website to book tickets was malfunctioning. And, most importantly, I was stuck debugging code until 11 pm on Saturday night. I’d missed that performance. And felt very bad.
Flashback twenty-odd years. I was a toddler. The entire clan was out for a movie, me in Amma’s arms. That was the first-ever movie I’d watched. I didn’t really follow anything, given that I barely had learned to speak… but I laugh at those jokes even today. Kamal Haasan in four roles. Mentally-ill industrialist. Sneaky secretaries. Cases of mistaken identity, aaL-maarattam. Confusion. Madness. Chaos. In other words, CrazyMohan-ness. Loved it.
Flashback fifteen-odd years. This time, it’s my sister who’s the first-time moviegoer. Kamal Haasan again, this time in two roles. Lovelorn landlords, lovelorn industrialists. Sneaky secretaries. Sticky-fingered household help. Drunk makeup artistes. Iyer-ness. In sum, CrazyMohan-ness. Totally loved it.
For the uninitiated, Crazy Mohan (Sometimes credited as ‘Gracy’ Mohan, in true Tamizh tradition of muddling up ‘ka’/'ga and ‘cha’/'ja’ and ‘tha/dha’) is a scriptwriter in the Tamil film industry. He has to his credit a lot of films like Arunachalam, Little John, Magalir Mattum and Indran Chandran, but he is known best for his comedies starring Kamal Haasan – Thenali, Michael Madana Kaamarajan, Panchatantiram, Sathi Leelavathi, Avvai Shanmughi… basically every damn movie which when relayed on TV stops all fights for the remote between my sister and I.
With his group Crazy Creations, he stages plays, which someone like me who’s living outside of Tamil Nadu knows about only because the stories get adapted and relayed on TV… they used to make for rather popular TV shows.
So when they were promoting Chocolate Krishna on Coffee with Anu, we all watched with rapt attention. A rather fun bunch of people, sharing anecdotes about each other. And then an interview of Mr. Mohan himself.
I didn’t know till then that he was an engineer too. Back then, when I was still wondering about what to do in life and whether engineering, even of the software sort suited me, it struck a chord with me. [And no, the fact that Chetan Bhagat is an engineer doesn't do anything to me].
So you sort of get why I was all excited about going to this live performance…. this was someone I’d been worshipping since my first taste of celluloid. The reasons stretch to more than just that he was a funny engineer. I’ll come to those a while later.
Malleswaram is on an average day full of people in Iyengar naamam and Hebbar Iyengar Tamizh [this is a tongue which uses the grammatical structure and sentence endings of Tamil, with most of the vocabulary being Kannada. Like "En magan-ku kaayle bandhudtu" or "Paath-kond vaa ma, neeru challidum"], but today was exceptional. More Tambrahms than you would find at the Srirangam temple on Vaikunta Ekadashi.
And for good reason. From what I’ve seen, Tambrahms form an integral part of Crazy Mohan’s fanbase. Not only is it because of the sort of language he uses, or the subjects he picks, but also because he is one of the very, very few scriptwriters who portrays Tambrahms as actual people. Most others choose to vilify us, highlight and lampoon and parody our customs, language and social structure, mostly going to the extent of highly exaggerating and manufacturing the ills of our community. Crazy Mohan on the other hand portrays us as People. People with the usual ups and downs and quirks and lovableness. For once, we don’t have to see a Tambrahm on screen as a vile bastard poisoning the villain’s mind, or a wicked witch looking down upon (and/or torturing) people of ‘lower’ castes, or sneakily eating meat. And hence, if there’s a Rangachari or Swaminathan in a movie where Crazy Mohan’s the scriptwriter, we can be more than confident of it being a portrayal we are comfortable with, not one where we look away bashfully when others look quizzically at us, wondering if all non-Brahm women who marry into Tambrahm households are routinely tortured, or if we all routinely practice untouchability with the household help.
It is however not just casteism that drives us all to set aside a Saturday afternoon whenever a film of his releases. Atleast not me…. his brand of humour with vile puns and wordplay is something I myself practice, possibly as a side-effect of watching his movies religiously for years and years.
But unlike me, he doesn’t stop with that. A typical Crazy Mohan story will have atleast a dozen convolutions, two dozen absurd situations which you will totally not buy if it was any other movie, and layers and layers of jokes a new one of which you’ll unravel with every time you watch the movie. And watch it repeatedly you will… the whole experience is extremely feel-good.
No other scriptwriter can convince you that three grown men will be in contention for a wizened lady well past her prime. No other scriptwriter can subtly put it across with dollops of humour that you need to put your wife above your friends. No other scriptwriter can make the saga of a husband jealous of his wife’s male friend (due to, of course, mistaken identities and two-three people with the same names) so funny that you cruelly want to watch him fall flat on his face when he discovers that his wife is not actually cheating on him; it’s just that the male friend’s girlfriend has the same name as his wife.
The most absurd lines sound so in-place and in-character in his scripts. Like when someone says “This is my son Uppili”, the other guy awkwardly asks “So… you married Uppili’s mother”. Or when someone enthusiastically says “Maadhu, Janaki writes a lot of Letters to the Editor… have you read any of them?”, and Maadhu replies with an earnest “I don’t read letters meant for others”, you are more inclined to laugh than to dismiss the exchange as lame.
And the best part is all the humour is all-inclusive. Never once do you feel any of the humour is at the expense of any person or groups of people. Or something you have to be above a certain age to fully appreciate. No double-meaning, no bait-and-switch… though that’d be so easy to do to draw some laughs. He actually takes the trouble to go back to the basics to provide some laughs.
Due to which a lot of his themes are very recurrent. A lot of his jokes are, too. When I got back from watching Chocolate Krishna and looked on Youtube for more of his stuff, I came across many different episodes with the same jokes as I’d heard that evening. The basic stories he works on too are reused often, with minor tweaks and edits here and there.
I’m not complaining, though. It’s nice to watch the same old Marriage Made in Saloon or Maadhu+2 refurbished. We all know the basic story, so we set those worries aside and concentrate on the jokes they slip in, the way the plot is adapted for changing times, and the minor tweaks they make that pleasantly surprise us.
One thing I deeply admire Crazy Mohan for is his ability to deal with even the most serious subjects and tragicky endings with a lighthearted style. I remember this one story where two doppelgangers vie for the affections of the same woman. The tragic ending was that this lady falls victim to a terminal illness when both the men say they’ll ‘sacrifice’ her for the other and she dies alone. While this would ordinarily have been depressing coming at the end of a story full of funny antics at outdoing the other, with Crazy Mohan’s treatment it took on a rather hilarious tone – the disease she suffers from is a ‘headache in the foot’ or something similar, and the two doppelgangers pretending to be the other. He however gave a ‘happy ending’, where there turns out to be a doppelganger of the lady too!
That was a minor episode for TV…. but Avvai Shanmughi was a take on divorce, Sathi Leelavathi about extra-marital affairs… remember the deep dialogues between Kamal Haasan and Heera Rajagopal where he gently points out that her boyfriend treats her as just a ‘keep’, he never takes her out to public places or official or family gatherings… and asks if she really wants to go on living like this.
The thing is, he never dwells on those bits for too long… it’s the sort of thing you’ll think about if you want to. And ignore it and laugh if you aren’t in the mood to. Not in-your-face, not provocative. Just a feel-good experience for everyone.
Back to Chocolate Krishna, the plot here wasn’t as convoluted and tangled as his usual plotlines. You could say it was low on story. He didn’t however scrimp on jokes. It was, as promised, 100 jokes in 100 minutes. Which were all so tautly woven into the plot that it makes ill sense to try reproduce those here. In any Crazy Mohan play, there is one scene where half the people there know what’s happening and the the other half don’t, and those in the know are trying to not be found out, which leads to a scene full of pun and wordplay. There was one such scene here too, but compared to his repertoire, it left a lot to be desired. But it was not any less funny, mind you.
All in all, Chocolate Krishna is certainly not one of Crazy Creations’ best work. It however is great to see them back and touring, giving us all a teaser of possibly awesomer work coming up next.
I sadly couldn’t stay on for another three hours to watch their Jurassic Baby…. quite possible that was their awesomer work.
However – this is the best part – I did get to speak to some of the cast, most notably Neelakantan – the old man who plays all the grandfather and astrologer roles. I told him I rather enjoy his clueless-looking performances in movies and on TV, and he talked to me like he would to a grandchild, even saying “Vaa kozhandhai…”… god, it’s rather long since someone said that to me!
And, even better, I did get to speak to Crazy Mohan. Rather a friendly person… he posed for like a zillion photographs with fans. I of course did a brilliant job of carrying along only my useless mobile camera, and didn’t even have a sheet of paper to ask for an autograph on. I think I was one of the very few who did more than just pose for pics with him… he’s rather a delight to talk to, though apparently he’s quite a shy and serious person in real life. I told him about the longtimeFan-ness and the *respect* that I automatically accord with all my heart to any engineer who writes brilliantly, which I mainly reserve for him and the late Sujatha, mainly coz I try to write too, and attempt at humour which is a pale imitation of his, but my ability to come up with strong stories and/or translate a solid story idea into something readable leaves a lot to be desired. He said I could write to him…. (which of course I had no time to do over the past week).
I’m still grinning widely at that memory. And will do so for a long time to come. It’s not everyday that you get to meet your idol. I’m sure I wouldn’t be so starry-eyed if I lived in Chennai and got to see his work more regularly, but the point is I’m not, and the rarity makes this whole deal all the more special for me.
On an aside… Crazy Mohan cracks kadi jokes… if he was a Gandhian, he’d be cracking khadi jokes.
Oh, and one of the jokes in the play – “What’s the difference between a Muni/Rishi and a Saamiyar?” “Kaat-la irundha Muni-var. Cot-la irundha saamiyar”. LOL-ness only.
It was a good idea to release Mani Ratnam’s latest flick Raavan in the rainy season. The rain and all the water adds a sort of surround effect to the scenic shots in the movie.
I watched the movie on the day of release, though missed the first half hour due to traffic jam and unhelpful rickshaw drivers in Mumbai. I thought it was fab.
Reading so many bad reviews and criticism about Abhishek Bachchan’s acting, I’m wondering if there is anything wrong with me or if my taste in movies has gone to dogs.
Tell me, is Ramayana a rule book, setting moral standards to people? Is it there to give definition to the whole of Rama as good. Raavana as bad. Sita as the perfect wife? (however hard it is to define such vague terms). How much do you really question the action of each character in the epic? Do we ever think that Valmiki might have just taken a break from his japa and the like and said “Hey! I’m bored, Let me write a story!”
Let’s say you read the whole of Ramayana as a story, in the same breath as say, Huckleberry Finn abridged version from a shelf of other classic abridge versions. All the Nava Rasas are squeezed from the pulp and juice distributed to the whole population of Dombivli. If you can add different Rasas in different proportion and completely mix it, you might actually set the reader thinking that Pap, Finn’s father as the “good guy” of the book. Maybe all your ingrained moral values might push you to think otherwise and hence hate it. But it’s worth a try. For art’s sake.
That, I think is precisely what Mani Ratnam has tried to do to Ramayana here. And that is why I hold the movie so highly. Starting from the point where Rama accused Sita and working backwards, trying to figure out if there may be a more human reason for his action (apart from God left his body after his work of killing Raavana was over), Mani Ratnam has tried to prove that if you tried to interpret each action in the rind differently, Raavana might have a better case in front of people. And the only Sita, with her better will power and better judgement can develop a soft corner for him. For her, Rama is still her beloved god, but Raavana’s actions are justified too. He tries to potray Raavana’s crimes as vengeance, more like his only weapon against the more powerful, more influential rule of Rama. His leadership is justified in the eyes of those who follow him. In the end, it is powerplay and the play of strong feelings, to possess the woman that they both are madly in love with.
As usual, Mani Ratnam, uses his visual prowess and better cinematography to woo the audience. But then he fails to deliver, where the authenticity of the ways of people where he claims the story takes place comes. Particularly, Beera’s ways of speaking, the change from Hindi to Bhojpuri is not very well shown. Better people than the super couple could have conveyed the story better. But then, Ash looks as beautiful as ever and Abhishek is still the gunda-mawali from Yuva. I guess, Mani Ratnam mischieviously tries to break them apart onscreen, only to keep their couple-ness intact by the end of the movie.
Overall, I would say it was worth that one watch, not anymore.
This might sound really sad, but my introduction to Netflix was through the Netflix Prize. In my defence, I wasn’t all that much into movies back when the contest was announced. And heck, the NITK LAN when I was around could easily beat any Netflix in terms of average quality of content hosted. And not that much into data mining either [the Netflix Prize was a contest where you had to devise a system which would predict ratings for movies you hadn't seen yet based on what you had rated, and not just that, you had to perform 10% better than Netflix's recommendation engine, and you would get a million dollars]. I didn’t know enough to compete back then. And now, there’s not going to be another Netflix contest [which essentially will mean a shot at a million dollars and/or bragging rights] thanks to some IITM-UTAustin-Stanford guy (Indian! Everyone, put your claws together for one of our very own!).
So anyway, now that I knew what Netflix was, I took amazingly long to visit the site. Yesterday I did. And the deal seemed rather OK – Trial run for two weeks, which I had to cancel before the two weeks were up, else I’d get billed for the month. And unlimited movies to watch online. Great, no?
Totally. I watched more movies yesterday than I normally watch in a week. It felt….. surreal. The max record I know of is Dha’s record of 9 movies in a day (Info gleaned from Smriti testimonials… is it an Urban Legend?). Anyway, these are the ones I watched yesterday.
- Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi: I totally totally liked SRK in this one. He doesn’t talk in his usual manner in the movie at all… whoa. Movie isn’t great, obviously. But the ending credits more than made up for it – Surinder-ji presenting his and Taani-ji’s Japan snaps.
- Welcome To Sajjanpur: Nice timepass movie. A little cliched in places, but overall, a good watch. Shreyas Talpade is totally lovable in this flick.
- Luck, By Chance: Ok, I didn’t watch this off Netflix, but I watched it yesterday, so it makes it to this list. I liked the opening credits quite some. I don’t know why, but I’ve always liked videos of people posing for photographs. I rather liked Rishi Kapoor and Juhi Chawla in it. Dimple Kapadia seemed too contrived to me, and I can’t stand Isha Sharvani’s giggle. I liked Farhan Akhtar’s understated manipulativeness, thankgod it was not the rubbing-hands-evil-glint routine.
- Blackadder Goes Forth – I’ve watched this before, and I can rattle off each dialogue before it’s uttered, but it’s brilliance, just plain brilliance.
- Hey, Arnold! (Season 3) – I used to watch this show long long ago, sporadically. It turns out that I appreciate this show better when I watch it right after coming back from school than now when I try watching the entire season at a stretch.
- The Proposal – I had watched Did You Hear About The Morgans a few months back. Man, what’s it about Hollywood and getting New Yorkers to live in some rural area due to a set of unforseen circumstances? It’s not sweet, it’s not cute, the granny is not as adorable as other Hollywood grannies, nor is the family, certainly not as adorable as the family in While You Were Sleeping. Random chickflick. Unless you really have no choice, don’t watch this one.
- Julie And Julia – Given that I’m going through a phase where I’m craving for short term goals and structure in life, AND that I blog, AND that I sort of like cooking, this one hit close to home. If you want to use your blog to set and fulfill short-term goals, and attempt to become a better person in the process, this movie’s for you. Also if you seek relief from the daily humdrum by making yourself a nice meal at the end of the day. Of course, I’ve ended up doing neither; I constantly waver between “Cooking is stress” and “Cooking is stress-relief”. Still, not a bad movie. It shows a blogger getting a book deal, so… well…
- District 9 – Aliens! Racism! Xenophobia! One of Us becoming One of Them! Those things didn’t really make much of an impact on me. What did, however, was the possibility of a senti sequel where Wikus is old, there’s a plot to remove Wikus’s then-assistant who’s now a good bigshot, Christopher is dead, and Christopher’s son comes back….. And I’d really have liked to see something about the Alien culture and all that. It’s a good watch, I’d say, and Sharlto Copley does do a good job of the whole thing. It’s good to see aliens being portrayed in a way different from the established norm in film industries worldwide.
- Monsoon Wedding – I’ve seen this often on TV and blogged about it too. Oh, it turns out that the girl who plays the 10-year-old is Naina Lal Kidwai’s daughter.
I should also state here that I began watching Shakespeare In Love, and Happenstance, and quit coz they weren’t riveting enough.
So did I beat Dha’s record? No, considering I didn’t really watch the entire season of Hey, Arnold. And even if I did, I’d probably be tied.
I’m not going to be doing this anytime in the future. Having so many movies at your disposal and limited time to watch them isn’t my cup of tea. Of course, it’d be much better if I took it in smaller doses…. there are lessons you learn from watching Arunachalam. I’ll be going home for the summer, and as part of closing a lot of things down, I’ve cancelled my Netflix account.
And I’m not really ruing that. There aren’t that many movies and TV shows you can watch online right now. Most of the ones I wanted to watch – the entire run of Whose Line and A Bit of Fry And Laurie and all the flicks from Studio Ghibli – are not available to watch online. Why, even the rather popular flick which I haven’t yet watched and whose name I will not reveal for fear of being crucified or lynched was not available to watch online. Rather a disappointment, that way.
Plus, a good number of the films I want to watch are Tamil or Kannada or Hindi. I sadly couldn’t find Manithanin Marupakkam, which I vaguely remember watching many years ago on Sun TV and being very intrigued by it. A lot of the movies I want to watch are like that – I’d've watched fifteen minutes of it before changing the channel many years ago, after which the clips keep coming back to me, and I decide I just have to watch this… often, those fifteen minutes have nothing to do with the general tone of the movie and I’m often disappointed, but not for lack of trying.
Still, a sort-of magical day when I could totally drown in a world of make-believe.
Oh, and how could I forget…. the ratings. I rated just around 60 movies, and already, the predictions for the ratings I’d give other movies were BANG ON!! Really, amazingly accurate. Down to the decimal point. Except when it predicted I’d give two-and-a-half stars for Avvai Shanmughi.
The one thing that strikes me about this is that the movies I’d give five stars to aren’t the ones I’d really prefer to watch at any given time. I like my mindless, useless chickflicks for a one-time watch. I find some Awesome movies totally depressing.
Maybe an alternative small task would be to predict which movies are a one-time watch, and which ones I’d like to rewatch?
This Post Contains Spoilers.
After Logik’s comment on my previous post, I decided to watch Paanch. It was one of those movies I’ve always wanted to watch, but not finding a copy online in the past put the idea out of my head. I didn’t want to watch it because I expected it to be awesomeness personified; it was more of curiosity – it wasn’t allowed to be released, and recently, I’d watched Anurag Kashyap’s movie for Star Bestsellers – Last Train to Mahakali, which starred Kay Kay Menon, and was rather impressed.
The movie starts off as expected – trippy opening credits – chaotic visuals of Mumbai(?) streets from a vehicle, as shot from a moving vehicle. And then the whole dope and rock n’ roll bit.
The story moves slowly. Until the Kidnapping.
There are five main characters, as the title suggests. It’s mainly told from the point of view of Murgi (Aditya Srivastava), who doesn’t have much to do in the movie until the end. The screen is occupied more by the cowardly Pondy, and the explosive, Satanic, edgy, pure evil Luke (which, midway through the movie, I wonder if it’s a shortened version of Lucifer. One of Kay Kay Menon’s best performances, I’ll say.), and the extremely loyal Joy. And in the second half, by the street-smart money-minded promiscuous Shiuli (Tejaswini Kolhapure).
Nothing redeeming about any of them. They are portrayed as being all about vices, no single endearing characteristic about any of them. No backstories that justify their behaviour. In another movie, you would have Shiuli’s promiscuity being explained by showing a flashback of her parents’ divorce, or being abused, or some such. But not here. The characters are unapologetically what they are.
Long story short, they have a band. And they need money for a demo tape. One of their friends suggests they ‘kidnap’ him and ask his father for ransom. And in one of his many fits of rage, Luke beats him to death. The police get suspicious. Luke gets edgier. Pondy gets cowardlier. They decide to rob the friend’s father. He walks in on them cleaning out his money. They kill him. His policeman pal finds out and confronts them. He is killed too, as is the constable with him. Soon, all four of them get frustrated with everything. They drown Luke. They turn themselves in.
So far, so good. If not sympathize or identify with the characters, you grok them, their motivations, their every next move. They are not deep, or with multiple layers, but that’s the whole point. The movie seems so far like a delicious study of anger, of frustration, of inflicting psychological pain, of forgetting all about right and wrong, of forgetting all about consequences. It is delectably trippy. It doesn’t tell a story so far; it presents to you a collection of fascinating characters together, like a social experiment or something – some points almost bring to mind the Stanford Prison Experiment. Nothing is explicitly said – it’s there for you to see, in the graffiti, in the way they speak, in their body language, in the bloodied dolls with severed heads in Luke’s room.
And at this point, Anurag Kashyap slips. Trips. And makes this your regular movie.
So it turns out Luke is not dead, and it was all a plan hatched by Murgi (yes, pun intended, you can laugh), Luke and Shiuli. And then the cunning woman pits them against each other, and everyone ends up dead and she decamps with the cash, becomes a popstar.
That killed it for me. That really did. The meandering first three-quarters of the movie prepared me for an ending, where, possibly, everyone dies, or where some die and the rest live on…. but not one where people take advantage of each other. If that was to be the highlight, it could have been done in so many other colourful, entertaining, psychedelic ways, keeping with the rest of the movie. There could have been such an undercurrent throughout the movie, if not through Shiuli, through some other character. You begin to feel the last quarter of the movie was ghost-directed by the spotboy or something.
And why was this banned? Because it showed the bad guy coming out smelling of roses? Flimsy. I think Dhoom probably had more sex and violence than this flick.
My verdict: It has its moments. Good dialogues [There's this one bit where Murgi and Pondy try their hand at waiting tables, and there's this frustrating customer who gives a long list of specs about his omelette. To which Murgi says "Murgi ka naam Champa hai, chalega?"] , great acting [As a friend said, Kay Kay has enough in him to have Mogambo running scared]. And the music, one of Vishal Bharadwaj’s best. All the songs are good to listen to, especially the jazzish Kaisa Hai Sheher by Dominique. Along with the visuals, it all comes together to make a trippy watch. A lot of promise, sadly shattered by the incongruent dénouement. Recommended watch. Out of Paanch, I’ll give it Teen. But only because I don’t give full ratings to any movie, and hence everything is suitably downgraded.
PS: The only version of Paanch that is out is a pirated version of the preview copy. Don’t feel too bad about watching that… Anurag Kashyap himself doesn’t much mind. Check out this byte from him: here.
For quite some time now, I have been complaining about the utter lack of swanky hotels in Mysore to my Dad. No ambiance, if tried very badly done. Waiters don’t know that starters are to be served before the main course. Some don’t even have the concept of starters. No one gives you finger bowls after a meal. I don’t want to go on about the state or the placement of the washing area. The menu cards are centuries old, some soaked on old coffee or wet with water. Heck, its better to ask the waiter “Whats there?”.
I’ve gotten used to entering names and waiting in queues for a table. The waiter pulling chairs, and handing over napkins after folding them in a triangle. Neatly made menu cards, sometimes leather bound placed in front of me. All of them immaculately dressed. Music to set the mood and good decor. The order taking guy comes takes it and goes, the others serve food and some others come and take away the plates when done. The second guy comes and sets the plates for the next course. All this is done like clockwork. Each table is an island in its own way. Orders of one not affecting anything in the other table. The bill comes in a leather bound folder. Cards get swapped. And I leave, sometimes the waiter pulling the chair back for me. Overall it feels like an evening well spent.
Today, I entered an average hotel in Mysore cursing my dad for not finding a better one. It was an old house convert. Looked very unclean, with rickety chairs (The chairs don’t match the tables!). None of the tables were empty, so we ended up sharing the table. The guy who brought water, spilt it on the table, and took a while to clean. The waiter told us the whole menu. He knew it by heart. I ordered a set masala dosa. My dad, a south Indian thali. My dosa came on a humble banana leaf placed on a steel plate. He brought my dad only a part of the thali saying that he would serve it hot when he came to it. The appalam late, so it wouldn’t get wet on the rasam. He kept asking if we wanted more, of anything, if the consistency was good, like my aunt at her place would. No fuss, nothing. He was even endearing to the cleaning boy when the chap took away our plates, that he could have done it later. In the end it was a very humble bill.
Some one in the hotel business once told me that a set of tables are assigned to a particular waiter, and that that is their territory. I was also told that a certain strict hierarchy exists. If you give feed back less than average in the end, the waiters are taken to task (And hence not to give bad feedback). I don’t know if such rules exist in this place. But it surely felt like home and it was the best dosa I have had in a very long time.
I watched Shutter Island this morning. And read the book it is based on this afternoon. I liked both. That’s a first.
Ordinarily, it turns out that the one you come across first reeks of awesomeness, and the other always pales in comparison. I liked Sixth Sense – A Novelization better than the movie because I read the book first. And I liked the Bond movies better than the books. But in this case, no complaints about either. None, whatsoever.
The year 1954, an island connected to civilization only by a ferry, the island full of loons, no cellphones or other links, a storm and hurricane, and an escaped insane baby-drowning woman loose on the island. And a US Marshal with his own inner demons. Add to that disappearing inmates, the other inmates not telling the whole truth, suspicions of Nazi-esque experimentation on the human mind, a la The Men Who Stare At Goats. No sideshows, no distractions.What more do you need to create a taut, tense plotline that keeps you on the edge of your seat for each of the two hours and eighteen minutes of its running time?
I particularly liked the cinematography. Since this wasn’t an all-out extravaganza, there are no desktop wallpaper shots, but it is pure whiteBalance magic. The bright, warm shots of Teddy Daniels’s happier times also take on a surreal tone, consistent with the rest of the movie. There are no gory images out to shock… none of that sort of B-movie madness.
The book is short – only 131 pages. Perfect movie material. Martin Scorsese has stayed faithful to the book, with only a few omissions here and there, and just a couple of additions. No radical plot changes, which someone making Harry Potter movies would really have to rely on to get the movie within bladder-tolerant duration.
The best part is the dialogues just out of the book. So if you liked the book, it would be simply great to see all those lines you read and read over again come to life on screen.
Which also means, the book is taut, no loose ends. Not a single word wasted. No elaborate unnecessary descriptions. Nothing at all that distracts you from the plot.
Which means at no point during the movie you feel like you’re watching a movie. You don’t move, you are so riveted that you even forget to sip your lemonade or nibble at your popcorn.
And the performances. Ben Kingsley is awesome. DiCaprio… I saw him play a similar role in The Aviator last night, so yeah, well, nothing new there. Mark Ruffalo gives a measured supporting performance which makes you want to watch him in other movies as well.
The plotline…. there’s no point of going into that here… as is expected, the climax turns the whole thing on its head and I’m not inclined to give out spoilers. The concept might have been done before, but Scorsese brings a realistic feel to it.
So… should you read the book? Oh yes, you certainly should. Should you watch the movie? Please do, and join me in raving about it.
PS: I ranted about Google Buzz, and now I don’t much mind it. For all you know, I might be cursing the movie tomorrow. Don’t really go by my just-out-of-the-hall reviews. I once said *shudder* Rang De Basanti was awesome.
Now if there was one movie I was asked to recreate, it’d be 2012. I’ve been working on the Google Earth API for some time now, and all the stuff I’ve come across – zoom ins to historical spots, topographical maps, skies, day-night effects, sunlight-on-surfaces effects – is majorly the essence of this movie.
I have no excuse for watching this movie apart from acute boredom.
So the movie opens in a copper mine in India. Everyone in India wears turbans, including taxi drivers, everyone has a manservant, the women are all pretty and the men are either servile or nerdy. And everyone speaks English in an Apu-from-Simpsons-esque accent, with the phrase ‘my friend’ liberally littering their speech. And the names and places are imaginary… never in history have more nonsense words been invented in relation to India since Herge talked of the Maharaja of Gaipajama.
Jimmy Mistry is the Indian geologist who has discovered that solar flares are causing neutrinos or something like that, due to which the core will collapse and the crust caves in. He looks like a dad in an Asian Paints ad, with a wife and son to match. He also has very bad Hindi.
So black guy listens to this brown guy and gets freaked like crazy. Next person shocked is random white guy, who in turn shocks random black guy, who turns out to be President of the United States. Who freaks out other Heads of State.Who all jointly decide not to freak out the rest of the world.
And so random people end up getting killed, including the curator of the Louvre.
Nah, the story is getting too much into detail here. There isn’t that much of it to merit that. I’ll quickly summarize the rest of it.
As usual, there’s this broken-ish American home at the centre of the whole thing. Next time there’s a problem in my relationship, I’ll just pray hard for an earthquake/tsunami/terroristAttack/shootout/hostageCrisis which will magically make everything alright by killing off irritant sideRomanticInterests who might be direct competition for one or both of the main characters.
Oh, and how many people miraculously die when their part in the movie gets over. How many miraculously appear when you need them. You need a plane. Magically, there’s a pilot with a plane there. But you don’t want the pilot in the movie. So he dies in the earthquake. And they all suddenly remember “Gordon’s a pilot!”. And then you need a bigger plane to fly to China. Magically a rich Russian materializes with a big plane and experienced pilot to fly to China with. And he needs a co-pilot, so Gordon and gang are on. Then they hit China, and Sasha, the Russian pilot with the awfully exotic accent dies. Needless to mention, I was most sorry to see him go. Gordon the boyfriend becomes a thorn in the side once Hero and his ex-wife realize they still want to be together, so he dies in a freak accident.Hand of God? This God can only be a multi-limbed Hindu God.
But no, they have to be politically correct, and the teachings of the Booda (that’s what they call him in this country anyway) are in vogue, so you have a Tibetan monk explaining things by means of tea and teacups.
And then the movie gets more preachy, moralistic and stereotyped than a movie with Nirupa Roy. Family matters. Family. Family. Mother-father-kids. Family. Togetherness. Black-White Bhai-Bhai. Why don’t we listen to our hearts? And so on and so forth. Everyone ends up with a family or dead. Just like we have the whole mangalsutra sentiment, the wedding ring sentiment is coming up in Hollywood. Soon.
And a million subplots all ending by death of one or all of the parties concerned. The rate of death ending stories was so much, it reminded me of this post of Arjun’s.
What I was mildly irritated with was that they went through all the trouble of inventing names of Indian places, and when they showed an AngelaMerkel-esque German Head-of-State, and Queen Elizabeth and her dogs, couldn’t they, couldn’t they just show some random guy in a sherwani and say or atleast hint that he’s the Indian Head-of-State? One-sixth of humanity, folks, one-sixth of humanity. (One of my friends theorized that the Italian PM chooses to stay back in the Vatican and not join in the whole Noah’s Ark business because the Indian HoS was sufficient to represent both countries).
What I would have also preferred was that the who’s who of the world was supposed to be in the Ark, so couldn’t they have spent four minutes parodying, say, Bill Gates, Murdoch, Stephen Hawking, Paris Hilton, Donald Trump, Paul McCartney, Al Gore?
All in all, a Bollywood movie masquerading as a Hollywood one. Nice SFX, though. I’d like some posters of the movie.
And… I finally solved the mystery of why Hollywood movies are rather short, just over an hour – they don’t have the concept of ‘interval’. This movie was two and a half hours long, and no interval. Pretty evil, evil on the bladders of the audience.
Why isn’t this a major motion-picture yet, with Ilayaraja/Rehman soundtrack and Surya in a double role?
This book made quite a few waves when it first came out. It was supposed to be a really brilliant book, nicely written etc etc, and Mr. Davidar was the other reason for the hype. The man who brought Penguin India from being a publisher of a handful of books every year to one of the largest publishing houses in English in India had written a novel. It seemed quite full of Raj reminisces, caste violence, and all that staple Indian English fare. There were murmurs that it was semi-autobiographical.
Me, I was in no mood to read another The God of Small Things. The reviews were goddamn all over the place. All the more easier to gloss them over. [Aside: I read on a blog somewhere about how online advertising co.s like Google should penalize bad ads, because they make users more resistant to ads, making the jobs of even the good ads more difficult]. Just like it had been for Arundati Roy’s magnum opus. And the plot seemed to be set in Kerala. God, just some smartass publisher who hoped to capitalize on the success of The God….
So I don’t know what I was thinking when I picked it off the rack at Blossoms a couple of weeks back.
But I’m glad I did.
(It later turned out to be set in Tamil Nadu, in some places bordering Kerala, but it’s not about a bunch of Malayalees who have descendants who come up with those irritating Mallu jokes. But the reason I’m glad for it being set in Tamil Nadu, I will come to very soon. Oh, and those of you wondering how to pronounce Davidar, after reading the book, I guess it doesn’t have an outlandish pronunciation, but probably something like David-err… just like Kalaign-err, Chozhiy-err, etc.).
The plot line is quite simple… tracing the travails of three generations of the Dorai family, who find true happiness and purpose only at their ancestral Neelam Illam, the titular House of Blue Mangoes.
The story starts in 1899, the first generation of Dorais we are introduced to are lords of a village… Solomon Dorai is the village headman, a just, kind and stable one. Caste violence tears the family asunder, taking with it Solomon and his cousin, and separating his wife and older son from the younger son.
The next generation consists of his sons – the studious Daniel, and the volatile Aaron. Aaron is lost in the freedom movement, while Daniel becomes a successful doctor, combining the best of traditional and Western systems of medicine, going on to become very wealthy after coming up with a skin-lightening formula.
The story follows Daniel’s son Kannan in its last third. It is now close to independence and WWII, and Kannan finds himself a brown man in a white man’s world. This part of the book deals exceedingly with his identity crises, and his journey of self-discovery.
Themes of family togetherness, father-son conflicts, and stubborn pursuits of idea run throughout the story.
While the book deals mainly with the men of the Dorai family, Mr. Davidar does do the women justice. Be it the strong Charity, or the Anglo-Indian Helen, or even the calm Lily, they have a depth of character, elaborate character sketches, strong likes and dislikes – enough to feel very real. Though they are mainly relegated to the background in their lives, their importance to the plot is not undermined by Mr. Davidar, who goes on to give them engaging, powerful and empathy-evoking personalities.
Mr. Davidar does the same for even the minor characters. Be it the sneaky Vakeel Perumal or the sturdy Joshua, or Cooke, the good Brit, or Hall, the Brit with his own axe to grind, Mr. Davidar does enough to ensure they aren’t stereotypes who exist to perform fixed roles in the story, but characters good enough to have their own birth certificates and passports.
I was glad this novel was set in TN and not Kerala, not because of any innate hatred towards the redflag-toting football-loving neighbors to our south, but because I’ve been so long cut off from Tamil literature, I know very little of the place beyond what I see in movies… which I don’t watch much on a regular basis. I cannot read my aunt’s columns and short stories in various magazines, because I can’t read Tamil. The cap on all this came last month, when I was visiting an uncle of mine. For half an hour or more, he kept slipping in references to various Tamil authors, what they said, and all that, none of which I could comprehend. And after forty-five minutes, he finally understood that I can’t read/write Tamil, and with a flourish, brought out a book of children’s stories by Sujatha. I hadn’t finished reading even one line, when he’d interrupt me with some other quote by some 16th Century saint, to ask about Lennon’s lovelife, trying to get me to spar with him on a K’taka-vs-TN argument which would put Ka.Ra.Ve and the cable operators of Bangalore to shame… I haven’t read even a single story in Tamil yet.
But anyway, any Tamil writer on the same topic wouldn’t be as passive as Mr. Davidar, but take on a more activist role. Most Tamil writers who would generally deal with caste violence in their books would take a stand, mostly on the side of the lower castes, and yell Death to Brahmins, mostly in verse, obtuse verse a noob like me wouldn’t be able to understand.
And that’s where Mr. Davidar’s brilliance lies. He doesn’t preach, or take sides. He presents the caste wars as just another agent of change, nothing more, nothing less. He doesn’t decry the Englishman’s apathy towards the native… it’s left to the audience to do so. There is absolutely no overstatement, no underestimation of the reader’s intelligence.
What makes the book all the more refreshing is that Mr. Davidar doesn’t write from the point of view of the urban Indian or an NRI rediscovering his roots, but as someone writing about something close to his heart. There aren’t outlandish references, or an overuse of vernacular words [though one minor irritant is his spelling Avvaiyyaar as Auvaiyar.. but that's towards the end of the book, by when Mr. Davidar has established his credentials as a non-pseud-Indian]. There isn’t any of the mandatory description of traditional rites and rituals from an outsider’s perspective. That makes you feel one with the characters, not like some fly on the wall. You care about the characters. You worry when Charity Dorai begins to lose her mind. You rejoice when Rachel’s wedding with Ramadoss comes off successfully. You feel the desperation when Kannan sets off to bag the tiger. You feel the same sense of homecoming when Kannan comes back to The House of Blue Mangoes in the end. You don’t turn the pages of this book and keep at it for four-five hours because there are strange twists and turns in the plot, but because you care about the characters.
What, for me, added a touch of honesty to the whole thing is the Author’s Note near the end, where he announces that the story is fiction, and the castes mentioned in it are, too, and it shouldn’t be construed as autobiographical, or as family history masquerading as fiction, though inspiration for bits of the story came from places he lived in during his childhood, and a grandfather who had a family settlement. That bit makes me like the book a lot more, as that makes it less like other works of Indian fiction, more notably The God Of Small Things which everyone thought was Ms. Roy’s autobiography with fiction thrown in here and there. It’s also great to come across a plot which has been conjured from thin air, with only the implementation details inspired from real life.
And you’d even know which bits are from where… the Acknowledgments page is more than just a boring collection of sources… Mr. Davidar acknowledges in detail seemingly everyone who had to do with the book, including “Vivek Menon who pointed out that ‘nightjars drift and do not whir’”.
All in all, a nice, well-written book with characters you can sympathize, if not empathize with. A good read.
It surprises me that no one has yet made a movie out of this plot. The narrative has been so gripping, I can see prospective trailers in front of my eyes… a collection of clips where the village gathered on the beach for Chitra-Pournami, Aaron jumping the well, Rachel blushing when she first meets Ramadoss, Solomon jumping into a well and playing with the local boys, Aaron and the Andavars practising silambattam under the guidance of Joshua, Kannan bagging the tiger, Solomon and Muthu Vedhar locked in a fight, Aaron assassinating a police officer, and a flash of an Indian flag, Daniel’s visions of his mother after she dies, Aaron calling Daniel anna before dying, Kannan getting ragged at the Madras Christian College, Kannan and Helen having long walks around the tea estate, Charity, Daniel, Rachel and Miriam on the way to Nagercoil, with wistful music in the background and visuals of evergreen forests… and finally members from different branches of the family coming together to celebrate Christmas together, and graphics of a house and a mango tree, and the title “Neelam Illam” falling into place next to it.