Harry Potter Epilogue Day

September 1 2017 was the day the epilogue in the last Harry Potter book took place, where everyone is grown and has children.

I used to be a huge, huge Harry Potter fan. More so since, initially, when Harry, Ron and Hermione were 11, I was, when they were 12, so was I, and so on, until the fifth book got delayed by a year. Harry Potter was so much of my identity. I could (and did, often,) discuss the books for hours. Now though, you’d find me hard-pressed to remember anything beyond The Goblet of Fire, the last great Harry Potter book, according to me. And I remember every line from Goblet, only because I was stuck for a week at my uncle’s, without TV or any other entertainment, and this book was all I had with me.

Until not that long ago, I wanted to write this novel called The Harry Potter Fan Club of New Bangalore High School, or something. It would be a saga chronicling a group of friends, with each chapter being about the friends meeting to buy, read and discuss each book. They would be introduced to the book in the 6th standard, and we would watch them grow up as they met for the book releases. It would be a tale of friendship, love, and loss. Of growing up, coming of age, and discovering yourself.

Now I think I could write a novella with this theme, but the passionate fire I felt in me for the theme is long gone. None of what I’d expected to happen with my friends after high school happened, and most of our group didn’t keep in touch after school, so my Order of the Phoenix discussion was with two friends, one of whom was a new friend I’d made, and nearly as much of a fangirl as I was.

Also, I dislike Harry as a character now, stupid poor little rich boy punk with exactly one spell he’s good at, and inordinately trusted by his teachers. So rereading the books makes me rather annoyed.

But if you’d asked me when Goblet came out, I would tell you I would be a fan of Harry Potter for the rest of my life and that I would listen to everything JK Rowling said ever. That didn’t quite pan out. Here’s some other things I would totally not believe if you told me when Goblet came out when I was fourteen:

  • JK Rowling will one day block you because you would reply to her announcement of Fantastic Beasts with Fantastic Revenue Streams And How To Mine Them. And you won’t hate yourself for it.
  • You will have a crush on a writer called Shashi Tharoor. He will break your heart by joining the Congress, and then make you question your taste in men when it comes to light that he may have killed his third wife.
  • The boy you currently have a crush on will seem gross three years later.
  • The first time you’re published in a real book, it won’t be fiction. Or personal essays. It’ll be a grad-level textbook. In Computer Science.
  • Your political activities will resemble your grandfather’s more than you think.
  • All the people whose opinions you take seriously, you’ll be dissing them because they ‘don’t have enough depth of knowledge or perspective on anything’.
  • You’ll be married to someone who hasn’t read any of the Harry Potter books, or watched any of the movies.
  • There will come a period in your life when you read three books a week and a good movie every day. You’ll also be able to listen to all the best music from everywhere without having to wait for it to play on the radio and then record it on a cassette tape. It will be thanks to piracy.
  • You won’t have your entire book collection with you for nearly ten years. And you won’t attempt to recreate it, either.
  • There will be a few years when you don’t read any new novels.
  • You’ll live in cities which don’t even have one bookstore you like for ten years.
  • Oh, and you’ll despise Derek O’Brien one day. And it won’t have anything to do with how lame his quiz questions are.
  • You will one day end up despising chitranna and puliyogre after eating them at least once a week for two whole years.
  • Remember the disturbing movie you watched, called Mahanadi? One day, you’ll hear the real story behind it. It will upset you even more than the movie.
  • You’ll grow to despise Harry Potter.
  • But it’s okay, because you’ll discover Percy Jackson and Artemis Fowl.
  • Everything will turn out okay.
  • Except one of your pet squirrels. But you kind of expect that, don’t you?
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Kaatru Veliyidai…. again.

I had a pretty emotional reaction to Kaatru Veliyidai fresh off of watching it. Now though, Aditi Rao Hydari’s beautiful face has grown on me, and the soundtrack is rather a earworm. I can’t stop thinking about some little moments in the movie that struck a chord.

I wish Mani Ratnam wrote novels, instead of making movies. That way, he doesn’t have the constraint of two and a half hours or the movie format, and he can explore his characters deeply with small little scenes that add up. I could read pages and pages of stuff illustrating and explaining why Leela loves VC.

That scene where she’s singing and doing her chores, when she hears an aircraft, and steps out to look at it…. and then comes back in, singing and doing her chores right where she left. So silly, so childish. And so real.

The Heroine’s Friend is such an abused and under-acted role usually. The director usually takes great pains to make the Heroine’s Friend as generic and unattractive in comparison to the heroine as possible. If she stands out in any way, it’s usually played for laughs. Even Swarnamallya in Alaipayuthey was bland.

But Rukmini Vijaykumar as Nidhi is delectably three-dimensional. She has a crush on RJ Balaji, but doesn’t let that get in the way of enjoying male attention, and on top of everything, dances like a dream. I particularly loved when she accompanies Leela to Leh, Leela gets busy doing her own thing with VC, and Nidhi is just having a blast dancing with the rest of the regiment.

I love how the scene cuts from Leela and Nidhi hearing that VC is in Leh, to Nidhi and Leela on a bus to Leh. Everyone can do with at least one friend who partakes in all their crazy schemes.

More than all of that though, what stood out for me is how Leela always has a legit reason to be around wherever VC is. She came to Srinagar because she ‘wanted to go as far from home as possible’.  She shows up at the flying club because she is meeting her late brother’s commanding officer. She shows up at Leh saying she wants to see her brother’s last resting place. But we know those things aren’t really the reason why.

Finally, what I find most remarkable is how Leela has an image of VC from her brother’s letters in her high school days, and how that, and her brother dying, has such a strong impact on her that the image stays with her for years despite the universe working actively to destroy it. It’s a sobering thought to know how vulnerable the best and most loved among us can be to demons from our past, especially because of familiar and satiating they feel.

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Ticket To Ride

“I’m sorry ma’am, we’re overbooked, you’re just too late”.
“But I have a ticket!”, I said. “Why do you issue tickets if you’re just going to kick me off the plane? I have an AirBNB and everything”.
“Sorry ma’am, there’s no more room. Do you really want us to drag someone else off the plane? Violently?”, her eyes glinted, like she desperately wanted me to say “YES”, and she could finally use her strong arms and shoulders for what they were really meant for.
“What are my options?”, I said. “I just spent $200 on tickets and more on hotels, it gets expensive in Vegas this time of the year. I need fair compensation”.
“I can book you a hotel here. Two nights. Free”.
“I live here!”.
“Well, then we’ll have to go for Option B. A free round-trip flight to a random location chosen by our Smart Assistant”.
“Uhh…”
“Try it. It’s fun! This lady last week got to go to Chicago. She’d never been.”
And she hated it, and cursed you with every atom of her being?
As if sensing my thoughts, she added “She loved it. Sent me pictures”.
“Fine, I’ll try it. But can I just get a cheque if it comes up Gary, Indiana or something?”.

She was already talking to her device. “Siri, what’s a fun airport to go to this weekend on a United flight?”.
“A great destination for Memorial Day Weekend is, Homey Airport, Nevada.”
I froze. I recognized that name from all the hours of reading conspiracy theories online during a bad patch. And Siri knew! I shouldn’t have been surprised, I coded that people-recognition module when I worked at Apple last year.
“Can… can I just take the cheque?”
“Fine, if you want it that way”, she said stiffly, and began shuffling her papers and rummaging through her desk.

I’d have $500 for this weekend. And then I’d go back home. The streets would be empty. No one I knew would be in town. My friends would be in Vegas. Everything would be closed. I’d eat ramen and watch Netflix….

“Actually, I’d like to go. It’s a return ticket, right?”
“Yes, guaranteed return”.
“Great, gimme the ticket”.

I ended up having the time of my life. Mingling with a new people, learning bits of a new language, crazy rides. They loved how different the color of my skin was from theirs, and the little ones asked to touch my hair. When I told them I’d worked on Siri, they wanted to hear all about talking computers. I loved playing with the local critters, and this one little cuddly bunny that glowed in the dark wanted to come back with me.

I really enjoyed my weekend with the aliens of Area 51.

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“Engineer-ku abuse thaangaada?” Kaatru Veliyidai and abusive relationships

I watched Kaatru Veliyidai with my husband last night. He, being from the opposite end of the world from Mani Ratnam, wasn’t very familiar with Mani-saar movies, and wondered why this was something I would watch with such excitement, much less drag him along. He also wondered why our wedding didn’t have a rave like in Sarattu Vandiyile. Because, I said, he didn’t make a music video for me with ten of his friends, like Jugni.

We laughed incredulously at the Escape from Pakistan bits. I mean, come on, you can’t swat a fly in Pakistan without the ISI knowing.

And when the movie moved on to the VC-Leela relationship complexities, we stopped laughing. It got too real.

Both of us had nearly been Leela at one point or another in the years before we met. And I don’t mean we wore chiffons in the cold, or spoke to people while referring to them in the third person (“VC-ku enna pudikum?”, she asks VC).

Here’s the thing about abusive relationships. They sneak up on you without warning. Often, the abusive bits are so far apart and interspersed by good times, that by the time it all gets totally abusive, it’s all normalized in your mind.

Take Leela in the movie. She is breathtakingly beautiful, raised to be willful, is completely aware of when a man is being abusive, and yet, is powerless against the abusive relationship she is in. The love she feels for this man, the closest she can get to her dead brother, keeps her coming back. Also, the abusive episodes are separated by eloquent poetry, thrilling adventures, charming conversation, and love.

It also helps that the man in question is an IAF pilot, a profession for which you totally need a cocky confidence, and which almost always ensures you get your way – we see in the first few scenes of the movie VC’s CO telling him he insulted the Brigadier for not raising his daughter well – there’s enough people who will make sure nothing comes in your way.  When you’re faced with someone who has never been told no, the rules of engagement are completely different.

There’s another class of people who are cocky and have always had their way.

Indian men with IIT and/or PhD on their resume.

And being from the background I am, I regularly got set up with men like this.

It would start off well enough, with mutual interest and engaging conversation. Lots of humor, lots of obscure pop culture references I appreciated. And the shining approval of friends who were happy I found someone who ticked all the boxes, and was the ‘right’ sort of person. Some who even went on to tell me how lucky I was.

But as it went on, that shiny image would show blemishes. Dismissiveness. Dismissiveness and demeaning jokes while in a group of friends. Attempts at controlling my career choices. Attempts at controlling my wearing makeup. Demeaning references to my past life. Annoyance at how I didn’t like chores.

It would go on. Jokes about beating and other abuse. Arguments about how I called myself a comedian but couldn’t even take those ‘jokes’.

I would begin to disengage. At this point, there would be snide remarks at how I would never find anyone else, and I’d come back crawling to them. The stern confidence that they would definitely wear me down, and this was just a temporary setback. I once said “I don’t think I could love you”, and the response was “But how important is that when it comes to marriage?”.

At this point, I would know I couldn’t get into a confrontation, because that would only draw me in more. I couldn’t express my concerns about the relationship to them, because it would be met with, at best, dismissiveness, or worse, the ‘happy’ facade would come on and I would be convinced against leaving.

And I would know I wanted to leave, because I found myself becoming a circus lion. My opinionated talkativeness would be turning into a prop by then, as would my degree. I would feel like I wasn’t me, growing and learning and changing, but an actor hired to play a specific role. And like I’d be handed demerits if I veered from the script.

But I couldn’t do the breakup conversation. Because then I’d become the bad person for breaking the heart of such a kind and genuine person. Or worse, I’d become the stupid girl for walking away from someone who was so clearly a meal ticket. I remember one of these things devolving into some rather intense online stalking, and a friend saying “See? He loves you so much. What more do you want? Where else are you going to find anyone who cares this much? You aren’t getting any younger”.

So I had to improvise. I’d become Me. You know like how Hanuman grows to ten times his size? I’d amplify my personality similarly.

I like a little back-and-forth? I’d go full on argumentative. I like jokes? I’d make them rude and cutting. I have issues? I’d make myself all about the issues.

And that would be the end. Without my having done much at all.

It scares me how easily women I’m scared of get into abusive relationships. There was this girl I found particularly domineering at NITK. Imagine my shock at seeing her get slapped and called names in public by the boy she was dating. Imagine my further shock at her not saying a word in response.

After witnessing that and similar incidents, I came up with a set of rules to abide by:

  • Don’t be afraid of making a scene, when it comes to calling someone out for being disrespectful to you. Even if it seems petty. It’s okay if you lose respect in public. It’s better than losing your mind in private.
  • Don’t stop knocking on doors for help if you have started. There is going to be at least one person to help you.
  • A relationship that involves losing your financial independence is probably not worth it.
  • Don’t hide signs of abuse. Tell everyone about it, including the cops. Trevor Noah’s mother got shot at by her ex-husband. He got away scot free because she survived, and because every time she had tried to complain to the cops about his abuse, they wouldn’t register a complaint.
  • There’s women out there who started afresh with no friends, family or money, and they manage to be healthy and happy.
  • Be very clear about your boundaries always. Don’t be hesitant to discuss boundaries, even if it seems like a buzzkill. That way, if someone crosses a line, there is an unambiguous reason in your mind to stay away from them.
  • 99% of the time, there is a valid reason why you feel the way you feel. Talk it through in your mind and verbalize it. It will be difficult at first, but it gets better. This is how you prevent being shut down in arguments and being gaslighted.
  • If someone doesn’t brook any discussion on some topics important to you, especially by virtue of being loud and/or big and/or intimidating, run very far away.
  • Give in to your fear. It is a gift. Listen to your instincts. Think them through slowly and patiently with self-love. You get scared for a good reason usually. Ponder through it and let it inform your next steps. Do not be dismissive of yourself.
  • Being single isn’t the punishment your mind makes it out to be. It is always better than being in a relationship that makes you lose your sense of self and happiness.
  • Above all, never blame yourself for being in a relationship you don’t like. Mistakes happen. It happens to the best of us. Heck, Hillary Clinton remains stuck in a marriage where she is cheated on repeatedly. The difference is, once you realize it, you can always take appropriate steps to get away from it. Half the battle is in your mind. Once you convince yourself you must leave, it becomes a matter of logistics.

And believe you me, these rules are gender-neutral. Men can be stuck in as scary a relationship as women. Everyone deserves love and respect. And everyone can obtain love and respect. The first step though, as both of us will say, is moving away from places and people where you aren’t able to get love and respect.

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An update on Boyhood OR When Ethan Hawke locked eyes with me from across a room

I had blogged about Boyhood when I watched it a couple of years ago. In it, I had said

Boyhood makes me think of a larger point. The way we remember things doesn’t have to be coherent, neat sequences of events. But, at least in my head, the way I remember things is like a story ready to be narrated to someone else. So there’s this beginning and middle and end and I make them tie together. It might be because I blog and write a diary, it might be because that’s the only sort of narrative I come across. It makes me wonder how much of how we think is shaped by how we see others narrate stories. It is oddly freeing, after watching this movie, to know that patterns of my thoughts don’t have to have a point or a narrative.

Yesterday, I had the luck to attend this session at SFIFF which was a tribute to Ethan Hawke. There was a conversation with Ethan Hawke, before a screening of Maudie.

While I’ll write more about that in another post, I want to focus on the fact that I GOT TO ASK ETHAN HAWKE A QUESTION ABOUT THIS VERY THING, and that his response was inspiring and satisfying.

Towards the end of that conversation, Michael Almereyda (who had directed Hawke in Hamlet) said they would open it up to the audience for questions. Immediately, I knew what I wanted to ask. As I walked to the mic, and as I waited my turn, my heart was in my mouth.

I said, all stories seem to have a structure to their narrative. There’s a setup, a reveal, a twist, a conclusion tying it all up. There’s Chekov’s Gun. But Boyhood doesn’t do that. Like there’s an axe in a scene, and no one gets hurt. There isn’t a satisfying conclusion that ties it all up. The only callback to a past scene is the guy working on the yard running into them at the restaurant. Which is more like real life, a collection of memories and incidents and nothing necessarily tying it all up neatly. To me personally, it challenged my notions of how my own thoughts are organized. What was the thinking behind this choice, and do you think there’s other ways to challenge narrative structure?

Now, I don’t recall the response Mr. Hawke gave me exactly, but this is what I got from it.

“Plot is an adornment on which you display emotion. You need plot to keep people focused and not get bored. You need plot to get to the point where you get across to your audience the emotion you wished to convey. No one remembers whether Lawrence of Arabia lived or died at the end of the movie, but everyone remembers him atop the train, being cocky.

“It’s possible to use time as a structure – Boyhood does have a structure – it shows the life of a boy from first grade to twelfth grade (How did I never see that!). It’s possible to make the structure something less conventional, hence having the emotion and plot sneak up on the audience.

“Guys like Kerouac are responsible for a lot of bad art, because they make that look so easy. People read On the Road and think “I could do that, I can write a story about my friends”. People watch scenes all about burping, and think “I could do that”. But they can’t, because it isn’t about just your friends or burping. ”

Previously in the conversation, he also talked about how Linklater approached writing his scripts. While his life may be boring when compared to most movies, with dead bodies, chase scenes and choppers, he still thinks his life is interesting, and the most interesting parts involve the moments he connects with someone else.

Given all this, it seems like there’s a third approach to scripts. So far, I’ve seen screenplays and stories be plot-driven, or character-driven. These stories though, seem ’emotion-driven’. Hence, Linklater is okay with his actors coming up with their own three-dimensional characters, and operates on a wafer-thin plotline. Because the magic is in the connections, and it matters little how we get there.

That also puts in context this interview of Norah Jones where she talks about her experience filming My Blueberry Nights with Wong Kar-Wai. He was okay with changing the script to suit her. If she had difficulty with anything, he didn’t mind switching it over to something that came to her more naturally. The interviewer said “What if you had an accent issue, or you were bad at dialogue?”. She said “Then he would have made my character mute, or something”. At that point, I wondered what was up with that, and how did a renowned director want Norah Jones so much for a role, when she wasn’t even an actress, that he was willing to do whatever it took to have her do the role?

Now it makes sense. My Blueberry Nights wasn’t about the characters, or a plot. It, like all other movies of his, was about capturing a certain connection, or a certain emotion. So it didn’t matter what Norah could do or couldn’t. There was enough flexibility to be able to arrive at a certain moment or a certain connection.

Now that I have the vocabulary to talk about, and think about movies in this way, I expect to be able to frame better stories, focus on the right things, and get less carried away by the vagaries of plot and character. A lot of what confuses me about writing fiction is how to decide what choice is fun, what parts don’t matter, and what parts do. If I fix on the emotion, then location, people, and other things end up mattering less, and there’s less to be confused about.

***

I returned to my seat grinning ear to ear, and looking back and smiling at Mr. Hawke. I couldn’t hear the next couple of questions, because my heart was beating so loud. I barely managed an intelligible response to the couple sitting next to me, who said “Good question”.

Heady stuff.

Maybe I’ll put that in a movie 😀

 

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Return of the Writing Bug

I stopped writing here nearly two years ago. That was around the same time as I’d moved to the Bay Area.

My life began revolving around work. And the rest of what constituted my life had little to do with music or art or movies, or even writing. There was little to no material to distill the emotions from.

At least, material that I wanted to share with everyone online.  I became overly concerned with privacy and didn’t anymore like sharing much of my activities or interests online. In college, I could talk about things my roommate did or events I went to, and it didn’t matter. I was just being a college student. As a grownup though, everything you do becomes imbued with meaning and becomes open to interpretation.

And interpretation not just from the small set of people who beg and plead to read your blogposts. From employers past present and future, colleagues who don’t necessarily share your view of the world, people you run into at events, people who don’t know you at all, but are curious about you, and people who are looking hard to find something wrong with you.

It didn’t seem worth it anymore to put a piece of myself out into the world. Especially since I went into a period of introspection and trying new things, and it isn’t always fun to share work in progress.

Over time though, I realized I had no avenue to express myself with words. It eventually began hurting my soul, not having an outlet. There is something cathartic about just putting out your feelings into the ether of the Internet and watching what it brings back. Because then, you don’t have to tailor your words for a certain audience.

I thought I could take refuge in fiction, but it doesn’t come as naturally to me as journaling this way, due to which I became more of a reluctant writer. Watching my way with words atrophy has been hard.

So. I’ll try maintaining a balance. I’ll try writing as much as I can here, without compromising on my need for privacy. Let’s see how that goes.

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I love writing.

I recently had the opportunity to spend whole blocks of time just writing. It was glorious. I’m quite annoyed I hadn’t tried that before at all.

It was too good to last though. I haven’t had the opportunity to do any writing over the past couple of months. But I’m rather glad I had the opportunity for at least a couple of months. I now know I can spend days writing, and it is actually good for me, and any fears I might have had about getting jaded or burning out, or growing to hate writing, are unfounded at this point… I think I’ll have to output a novel-sized body of writing to get there. And there’s no danger of that happening anytime soon.

I found I don’t like the kind of writing I originally aimed for – I am possibly not a novelist. Years of blogging has made me comfortable with the idea of writing memoirs, but I am by no means good at it right now. I like being given prompts that make me reminisce and write about things I’ve experienced and done. But coherence isn’t a defining trait of that writing, and if I actually decide to write a memoir, that’s something I’ll have to work hard on.

The other issue with writing memoirs is, I lack the ease with which several other bloggers rivet their readers. Their leaps of logic and faith and succinctness doesn’t come naturally to me. Most writers seem to jump to the kind of writing style that works for Hussain Zaidi, and I personally get rather annoyed with that kind of writing, and instead aim for an Agni Sridhar-ish style. I lack his erudition and am not a born raconteur as he was.

Novels are just not my thing. I don’t like the long gestation period, and stories of that size feel too heavy for me to think about. I don’t like how I have showing is much, much harder than telling in that medium. Novels don’t lend themselves to crispness and snappiness easily.

Besides, writing something of that size is incredibly lonely. It is easy to keep writing, but it’s hard to write on point. It feels like it’s a billion tiny pieces of an incredibly large jigsaw puzzle that doesn’t fit in my mind. And it’s hard to keep receiving feedback, if you don’t have an editor.

I do rather like coming up with short stories, but again, I dislike how hard it is to communicate mood while showing and not telling.

What I really like is screenplays and sketches. Some people do it so easily, especially those who are also performers. I don’t have the luxury of being part of a group of performers yet, so in the absence of the kind of environment where I can collaborate, discuss, perform and have it all feed into my writing, I like going for shorter length on those things, which can fit quite comfortably in my head. I like writing ads and other kinds of sketches that last under four minutes.

I would ideally like to write longer, layered sketches that have interlinked jokes and callbacks and that wrap themselves up better. That requires collaborators, because things like that won’t come easily without someone else to hash things out with.

I rather like the idea of screenplays. They feel like novels with more show than tell. I find it easier to write scenes with screenplay-like directions because I can just write it as I see it in my head. With a novel, there’s this translation of a scene playing out in your head to words, and there’s quite a bit that gets lost in transit. There are different challenges with a screenplay, but the format makes it so much easier to get started and go somewhere with a story than when you’re limited to just prose.

A good compromise seems to be a graphic novel. It’s much less effort to actually get things going, provided you have someone to illustrate your panel ideas. The format also comes intuitively given I’ve been raised on a diet of Tinkle anyway.

I also like writing standup bits. Desk jokes and one-liners come easily. I’d ideally like to write for Weekend Update or something like that, though that’s a little more boring than an action-packed sketch where things happen.

I really need to improve how I write dialogue. I try to listen to how people talk and I’m constantly surprised by how different it is from how people in movies talk.

So… yeah, I need to religiously spend time on writing, because I’ve kind of figured out what I want out of it. Now it’s all about gaining enough confidence to write longer and longer stuff. Hopefully something good will come out of it!

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