{Of all lies, art is the least untrue - Flaubert}

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

The Time has Come...

As the cliché goes, the time has come. I will be on a trip, starting today, to Bangalore, Hassan, Belur, Halebedu, Kalasa, Kudremukh, Hornadu, Mangalore, Udupi and back to Bangalore. I don't know much about the places, just read about them on internet. I am taking my camera along for company. I will be back to Hyderabad next year. So, its the last post for this year.

About personal life, it went fine, but I am sure it will take some drastic turn next year. Professional life was good too, may be because I don't care much about it anymore. This year was not a good year for me film-wise, I was able to see about 80 odd films out of which 20 were Bollywood/Hollywood types. There are few films that I saw this year, that changed the way I look at them and were immensely satiating. Here are few of them:

Fat Girl: I was surprized by the audacity of this film and the way Anaïs say, "Don't believe me if you don't want to". Highly recommended.

Ten: It is the most experimental film I saw this year. Out of the ten episodes, there are few that are alarmingly heart breaking and true. Dancer in the Dark closely follows as runner up in the experimental category.

3 Women: The performance of Shelley Duvall is extraordinary. Either she acted too well, or she is like Millie in real life.

Week End: An example of art of the extreme type and film making of the highest order. Its disturbing as heavens and funny as hell.

Kinsey: I always felt that biopics are not film-material in any way but this film proved me wrong.

Late Spring : Another film by Ozu that proves that you can make same film with same cast year after year without losing an iota of novelty. The last scene where the old man peels an orange is even more painful than the farewell of Noriko.

Code Unknown : Its a crumbled masterpiece that shows us how fragmented and interconnected our lives have become.
I have a feeling that I am missing some films in this list, but one can always write next year !

Few directors I discovered later this year

Robert Altman : A truly American director. He visualized our society as a troupe sitting under shade and sunlight of a big banayan tree stage, with life of hopes and dreams crossing each other, ruptured and reared by the sentiments of family, sex, politics, race, cast and condition.

Mike Leigh : A truly British director. I saw three of his films this year, Naked, Secret and Lies and Vera Draka. Although we know he has mellowed down in all these years, but what strikes in his films is the human chord, the perfectly believable characters, the sentiments without going sentimental.

Brian de Palma : A true successor of Hitchcock. The Prom party scene in Carrie is like a greek tragedy (In Indian tradition, one can vaguely equate it to the story of Kannagi), everything good and bad is destroyed, and the climax says that this tragedy lives on. And above all, orgasmatic crucification of Carrie's mother by flying knives.The Museum scene in Dressed to Kill, is a great example of how camera can do all the menacing and peeking. Its also an example how a simple hooking scene between strangers can be turned to art. Reviews of his films here.

In Bollywood films, I liked Jaan-e-man, Khosla ka Ghosla, Lage Raho Munnabhai, Gangster and Taxi no. 9211, in that order. I found Rang de Basanti, Omkara and Dor quite overrated, in that order.

Reading wise it was a bad year but I think it was better than the previous one. Thats all I read.
1) The Sorrows of Young Werther
2) The Old man and the Sea
4) The Importance of Being Earnest (text here)
5) The Overcoat, The Nose and Dead Soul
6) The Stranger
7) The God of Small Things
8) Short Stories (Parinde and Kavve aur Kala Paani ) by Nirmal Verma (Anubhuti profile here)
9) Poems by Nagarjun (Anubhuti profile here)
10) The Quilt and other stories by Ismat Chughtai (more links here)

and Alok, I still include short stories along with novels :)

Happy New Year to all !

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Gong Li

Now it is the time to write something about her. I was almost enticed by her small role in 2046. Doomed gambler of love, thats what she plays. I find something sensual of higher order in smeared lipsticks (I even liked Urmila Matondkar's lipstick smearing act in Pyaar Tune Kya Kiya). 2046's final passionate kiss is very erotic, potently dangerous and doomed like love. But nothing come close to the way Gong Li leaves the frame in 2046, with out of bound lip color. I don't remember it fully but I found camera almost fixed on her hand wearing a black glove, carrying a purse and her hips as she climbs down the stairs or may be she walks out on a paved road. At that time, I gave all the credit to Wong Kar-wai. But the next film (The Hand segment of Eros), although also by Wong Kar-wai, proved how she can elevate and blur the line between desire, love and pain of its impossibility. The Hand is more explicit and shorter than 2046 and In Mood for Love, and so it might not work on their level (also, we have the same by Kar-wai many a times), but Gong Li makes every thing delectable, delicate and delicious. Gong Li has power to utter words in a way they mean both rejection and approval, with a firm face, and it all points to a dangerous territory ahead. She is just opposite to other excellent actress, Isabelle Huppert. While Huppert is so bland, covert and distant that what ever little precise emotion she displays gives sublime pleasure, Li displays an oriental mix of emotions, spicy and suppurated, its both pain and pleasure to watch her simmer and sigh.

I saw Raise the Red Lantern last week and the younger Gong Li as as good as her consummated version. The film starts with her close up where she accepts her fate and then she moves on a journey of power, family politics, sex, betrayals, deaths and finally madness. The film, shot in beautiful reds, is a mix of traditions, entrapment, soap opera and alienation, works like a Kafka-like parable. Gong Li's Songlian tries to play the game of the house like the other sisters, trying to be as sinister as them, but eventually loses everything, but in all this she becomes our window to the dark secrets of the house of red lanterns. She elevates this visual treat to something universal and bigger than its parts. Gong Li's Songlian longs for VIP foot massages and the red lanterns, not for the company of the master but for the power it brings along, and as the game becomes more complex, she single-handedly injects ghostly hysteria into the film. Li manages to became a living ghost in the house, a token of all the misdeeds and family secrets, consumed by both. She has gift to fill atmosphere either with unbearable longing, or amorous danger, or both. I must see, To Live and Farewell My Concubine soon. And I think she must work with Almodóvar and Lynch at least once. In Lynch's film, she can even speak Mandarin, it wont obscure the film further.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Robert Altman and American Cinema

When an artist dies, instantaneous interest is generated in his works among general public and his works are revisited by critics. I had not seen any of the film by Robert Altman, till he was alive, although several times I was just about to rent his films (last to last week, I shortlisted two films by Robert Altman and two by Mike Leigh, and decided to rent the later two), but I was intrigued by his films as they appear from reviews (great opera of a wide and varied ensemble cast with a central event having small scale character studies in particular, and American culture in general). I must admit that I have a general prejudice against American films for no solid reason, given a choice I will always choose the other.

Earlier this year, I compiled a list of directors to watch, country-wise, and intentionally left American directors. If this a confession box, let me confess, I have not seen even a single film by John Ford, Terrence Malick, Francis Ford Coppola (saw one of the Godfather, many years back on TV, I don't remember anything from it, not even the score by Nino Rota), John Huston, Howard Hawks, Robert Aldrich, Michael Curtiz, Vincent Minelli, Sam Peckinpah, John Cassavetes, Brain De Palma, Buster Keaton, Nicholas Ray, Sergio Leone, Andy Warhol. I have seen on film each by Orson Welles (its The Trial, not Citizen Kane) and Douglas Sirk. So, the only American directors which I have seen are Martin Scorsese, Woody Allen, Stanley Kubrick and Billy Wilders. In the contemporary directors I score bit better. I am more or less alien to the genres of Film Noir, Musicals and Westerns.

So demise of Altman, not only generated interest in his films, but American Cinema in general. To cleanse some of my guilt, I have planned to watch films by Altman for 2 weeks and following is the list I came up with, and in that order.

The Player
Gosford Park
McCabe and Mrs. Miller
Brewster McCloud
3 Women
Short Cuts

Planning to write short notes on these films once I complete them. This list is based on reviews, trying to get a mix of his old, new and cult films, and more importantly the availability of films here. If you want to recommend any more Altman films (or any American director and films), please do so. You can help a poor soul in guilt-reduction.

A heartfelt obituary to Altman here. A more comprehensive one here. Altman's sketch by a fan here.

Vera Drake

The tagline of the film says - Wife. Mother. Criminal. , but for sure Mike Leigh is not interested in trifurcating Vera Drake into these boundaries or joining these three into one character. Its the humanity of Vera and the film that touches us. Here is a simple story of a old woman who helps young woman out, alongside being a mother, wife and a daughter.

The film is clearly divided into two parts - the one where Vera do what she thinks right, and the other where law do what it deems lawful. The debate whether she is right, or law lawful are skipped, there is no statements of sorts. The moral fulcrum of the film lies in the eyes of Vera, played with amazing beauty by Imelda Staunton. In one of most absorbing performances, Imelda Staunton plays Vera with so much common-ness that her quagmire mirror the times she live in, and also to some extent touches the ideas of social acceptance of personal morality. When asked by a detective whether she performs abortions, she says that she don't understand what he is saying, she says she just helps out wretched girls in trouble. No doubt, she is part of some bigger game, which caters the upper class and she is being used, but Vera assistance to girls and women who need some help, is purely personal. Like other such films (Talk to Her, Dancer in the Dark), Vera looses the battle with law.

Towards the second half, the film veers into full fledged melodrama, like the complete turn in Vera's life. Although Vera understands her fate, but she is more worried about her family, and Leigh paints this film about humanity with master strokes, with the help of an excellent cast. The leading among them is Imelda Staunton, whose one look, when the detective come to arrest her during the Christmas party, is more than devastating in a split-second, to say the least. That one look provides such complex feeling of care for the family and acknowledgement of the danger on the doorsteps, danger that will not only engulf her and her respect but her family also. Others in cast are also excellent, especially the odd couple Ethel (Vera's mousy daughter who works in a Bulb testing factory, played by Alex Kelly) and Reg (a lonely neighbor, whom Vera invites at home, played by Eddie Marsan). Reg provides the emotional high point of the film when he thanks Vera for the Christmas party and declares it "Smashing", its seems to be the sincerest form of gratitude to Vera (and at the time Vera needed it most). He, later in the film, even defends Vera for her stand in his simple statement, 'It's all right for the rich if you've got six kids, but if you can't feed them, you can't love them.' Mike Leigh is master in making such credulous characters without even a hint of caricature or stereotyping.

At one point, I thought that Leigh has set up stage for first gaining sympathy for all-good Vera, innocent mother helping all others and then using this sympathy to bring forth emotions as Vera is convicted. But I think there is something wrong in this logic. Her decision to do abortions may be because of several reasons (at one point when the detective asks her whether she was raped when young, she starts weeping) and Vera's goodness is not to cover that up, never in the film, her goodness tries to cry out of a scene. I am not too sure about this, one line of thought may be that she could be made not so good (having some rough edges) and then the response to her actions may be more equivocal than for the all-good Vera, but having said this, Vera's character comes out so real and believable, every detail of her character smells of stoic compassion, that I would not like to doubt director's intentions.

This film is not without a moral center, it is not neutral or just observational, but the film is more interested in the nature of family, humanity and morality. Vera Drake is a film about an issue, without either being condescending, preachy or falsely pretentious but more importantly, its a story about a good person and her world (society), and what it takes to be so. Vera Drake lets us believe that such people exists.

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Secrets and Lies : Brenda Blethyn as Cynthia Rose Purley

She sometimes blurs the line between a fool and a clown, both of tragic melodramatic shades. In a long shot (about 6 mins or so) of her first meeting with her daughter, Brenda Blethyn's Cynthia Rose Purley acts and laughs and cries and mutters sweetheart (with 'H' silent) all the times. A viewer is left puzzled on what to believe and what to dismiss, much like Hortense (Marianne Jean-Baptiste), her lost daughter. But inspite of all this, we are made aware that she is acting like everyone in distress acts, not to cheat but to protect herself, and in all this mess her humanity surfaces, behind the surface of Secrets and Lies. Blethyn acts as a pivot to Mike Leigh's film not like a central character but a character who is lost amongst others. In the birthday party sequence, we can see the discomfort on her face, the uneasiness to accept a multi-bedroon apartment, which she tries to fill in by uttering inanities like the one who try to fit in between some indifferent people. Rejected and ignored by all, the mother in her is still alive and kicking, but so are the secrets, and so are the prejudices.

At one point in the film, Cynthia says "You gotta laugh, ain't ya sweetheart? Else you'd cry", and Brenda Blethyn, while acting, takes it as a rule to be Cynthia. Brenda Blethyn lets her raw and bare kitchen-sink-slice-of-life act remain so, even in her catharsis scene she remains same Cynthia speaking innumerable 'sweethearts' and 'darlings', does not give a sign of character volte-face. No close-ups for her, no staged dialogues, she is our own sitcom heroine, injured and failed like a dysfunctional family. Although I liked the film (compare the brutal nihilism of Naked to the uneasy tenderness of this film) with some reservations (I found few scenes towards the end out of tune), but Brenda Blethyn's performance is invaluable and becomes almost priceless on the second viewing.

Friday, November 24, 2006

Boredom and Unhappiness

Rajeev posts some quotes by French author Céline. I was reminded of early last year when Alok sent me some of those. The one that I liked the most was:

“Living, just by itself - what a dirge that is! Life is a classroom and Boredom’s the usher, there all the time to spy on you; whatever happens, you’ve got to look as if you were awfully busy all the time doing something that’s terribly exciting - or he’ll come along and nibble your brain.”

...Awfully busy in doing something terribly exciting.... I usually find myself doing that, at least pretending. Going to Nature camps, Salsa classes or 10k runs for no purpose but to fill in time with some physical exercise. I fear boredom will nibble me anytime. No amount of reading or movie watching or talking to friends or smoking make me wiser than boredom. Yes, there are rare moments of bliss, when I fearlessly sit alone and even boredom deserts me.

The second one which I found very insightful is:

“Never believe straight off in a man’s unhappiness. Ask him if he can still sleep. If the answer’s ‘yes’, all’s well. That is enough.”

I don't like when people say they are unhappy (Although I have done it several time, but I don't use the term 'Unhappy', I find too strong or may be I fear it). I have become very skeptical of other people's unhappiness. Is it lack of comfort or lack of perfection in their bourgeoisie picture of life or just glitch of irritation or boredom. I believe that if a person is living, he/she is at least marginally happy. Living has some inherent gratification in itself. If you don't look for bigger meaning and bigger pictures, I believe that life is not inherently unhappy or unpardonably painful. There are unhappy lives, we must acknowledge that but pure unhappiness is as rare to find as pure happiness.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Small Notes on Two Films


Don can be described as a roadside tea served in a high-end cool-interior coffee shop. The tea looses its open-air taste, and it costs more. Or it can be described as a tea-stall mass number remixed for Buddha Bar. Or see it as a thinking item girl, who can neither dance nor think well. There can be several such analogies but the point is this film has no charm of material it imitates or rediscover or re-interprets, and it is not saying that it does not have its own charm, which it has, although only at a few places. One more thing which came across my mind is lack of character artists in Hindi films today. We don't have anyone like Mac Mohan (working) today, so that part of Mac goes to an unknown and becomes nothing. I seriously think that small parts should be given to known faces, audience have such a little time and volatile memory to accommodate a newcomer. They could have casted a newcomer in the place of Boman Irani, who was really funny when he should be damn evil. Look at the old Don and we have all the smaller parts to known faces. Also, one more thing which I might not be able to express clearly about the films of DON era. I saw them as a child and while seeing them I used to do little calculations about the good and the bad and try to pick up hints who is the real bad guy, the way camera zooms to some of the characters to give as hints and at times those hints are false (You get all the such tricks when you see bunch of them). So eventually you have the whole kit (at least you feel so), and try to make your own guesses, not only about the evil guy but about plot twists and turns, and when director (or screen writer) beats you in that kids play, you feel strangely satisfied, and add that extra twist in your rules book so that you can apply it for the next film. The new DON turns the old to be either too intelligent or too dumb and the fun of the game is lost. Also remakes of such types, broadly they can be done in two extreme ways. One way is like offering tribute to your favorite deity, write him/her love letters and take it all seriously. The second way is a meta-movie, which is a parody of the old film. I think neither of the two will work. The first one is too religious and the second one is too blasphemous, too intelligent. Farhar Akhtar tried something in between (more towards the former approach), and now we know that too doesn't work.


Jaan-e-mann is one of the few Hindi films that I saw this year and came out satisfied, and even hopeful. If we see the whole film, there are several moments where it falls in the trap of conventions and cliches (especially in second half with the kid), but this film works as the revival of Bollywood musical, how music and narrative can be mixed with colorful imagination. Overall the film is not path breaking and all, but its quite conceptual in its musically over-the-top grand style. Here also, things are painted and clothes are designer, but they have an intentionally made-up feel with no intend to be real, which has its charm. Also the plot is so thin that we don't care about it, everybody knows what will happen and who will get the girl in the love triangle and cliches are there in place, but here shallowness has self-awareness. This romance is a costume drama, visual gimmick, a Broadway musical and homage to Bollywood. Here is a film where we sit to see the next song, the film moves from song to song, sometimes filling up for dialogues, sometimes for whole situations. There is a song, Kabool kar le, which is there to energize the routine situation, is filmed imaginatively and also works as the parody of all shaadi movies. Salman Khan is as self-aware and self-referential as the film, and he perfectly fits the bill, and so are Akshay Kumar and Priety Zinta. Even in this unreal and bizarre colored setting, somehow we feel the characters are not card board, this is I think, a big achievement. This film is interesting because it shows how cinematic medium can be used to elevate (if it sounds pompous read 'perk up' instead) the usual stuff without taking itself too seriously, most of the times. I sometime feel that life would have seen much more interesting if it had BGM, such movies strengthen that silly belief, as least for the time when you are in theatre.

1) Who-so-ever comments on this post, please write their favorite childhood movie. To start, mine is Mr. India. I have watched Mr. India more than 20 times and still have appetite for it.
2) Even if you feel its too difficult to answer the first question, feel free to comment. My blog can not afford to loose a comment ;)

Friday, November 10, 2006


Nothing can cure my melodrama
There is no convalescence
My emotions, inane,
unbearable, without essence

Behind my walls, I must silently weep
I must smolder to avoid burning
Behind my back someone should stand
Support me without ever turning

Hope might forsake me, but not a tear
I must cry out what I can not bear
I may be happy if I don't care
For this, I should not look here or there

For this, I should stand tall and not see
Exactly like a wisdom tree
Dry eyes wide open, without a wink
They are allowed only to think

Again I go to bouts of fear
Again the sad music starts far and near
Though I think, my heart and soul are clear
I don't know what comes out as tear

I must believe in the goodness of soul
I must see life as a whole
I must understand my life's goal
For God's sake, I must exert some control

I doubt this can ever be done
I even doubt the moon, and the sun
It may be done at the point of gun
Knock me down, let me be the one

Nothing can cure my melodrama
No morning, no light, no season in sight
In the curl of a sea, in my bed, towards right
I weep alone in my own delight

The sublime fruits of knowledge hang high,
Some are sour and some are sweet
Lying down in perversity of soul and circumstance
I need some salt, so I weep

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Kafka's World: Gretes and Gregors

Grete, sister of Gregor Samsa, in Kafka's Metamorphosis, is an interesting character and this story is not only the story of Gregor's physical transformation, but also about Grete transformation, her growing up, her loss of innocence, her moving from love for his brother to protective attitude to logic of indifference. Its also her rise from a younger sister to a breadwinner of the family. Its her story of growing up and playing violin for young men and stretching her limbs in the afternoon sun. For Gregor, the story ends in the dark room, for Grete, it swings afresh in sunny breeze.

After Gregor's grotesque metamorphosis, Grete was the only one who looked little composed. She tried to help him, while her mother was afraid and her father was angry. She gave Gregor food, and later left-over food. A few days later this attitude grew protective and it cut off Gregor from other people. At one level, it looks like she want to stop the embarrassment of Gregor and his parents, to cover up the family-shame. Or is it pride of smugness that she only understands him, which undermines the cognizance of others and puts Grete in a special higher ground, may be some sort of self-appointed slave owner, who takes pride in the responsibility and safeguards her right for it. In the short story, Grete even becomes angry if some body else takes care of Gregor, she makes Gregor her own property and as any private property, she owns him and leaves him when it does not satisfy her needs, under the blanket of possessiveness. Grete's help eventually cuts Gregor of any help. She becomes her savior and like god leaves her one day, but unlike the god's world, there is always hope that everyone will fall one day (although, the next minute, this hope is thrashed with the rise of someone else) . And Kafka doesn't give her any benefit of guilt. Perhaps the most heart breaking point in the short story is to watch the way characters move from compassion to logic, pity to indifference, when they realize logical facts like 'a rotten limb should be removed to save the body', or 'worth of a person is its potential use' or 'we all need to survive somehow', or that nasty million dollar truth 'Life's like that', which can dumb any disturbing thought.

But the point that Kafka intelligently eludes is Grete's fate. Is it same as Gregor's ? or is it not ? In the center of a family politics and Kafka's ruthless diagnosis of the family illness, Grete stands as a 'current' lead and a 'potential' backstage extra. I think Grete is a victim-in-making too, but as any such victim she doesn't realize it, but enjoys her metamorphosis. Also it is not necessary to realize it, it might make life still more difficult to endure. Grete Samsa will get married or will continue to work or might turn into a lady bug tomorrow but how does it effect her today, what's the 'use' of Kafka's creation if it can't help any of the Gregors and the Gretes to escape from their fates. Why should we even read it. These are some questions that come to my mind. I have no answers. Why should I read Kafka and go to enlightened depression, may be because if I ever see a Gregor or a Grete, I will understand them or I will know that life machine runs for petty purposes, and my life is no exception and I, being so rational and benevolent in my eyes, had been torturous for years, to the knowns and the unknowns. Shall I do penance after I read Kafka or shall I change myself or shall I accept the my fate and of others too. One way to look at any art is a tussle between oppressor and the oppressed and an artist always uncovering the ways used my oppressor to oppress, but in Kafka's world both oppressor and oppressed are the same, at the same time, in the same space, living in some mutually acceptable sadomasochist harmony, a mix that let us survive. Does it tell me more about human nature or the world I live in or myself ? I think so.

Kafka's sketch taken from here.

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Back from Home...

I visited my hometown this Diwali, technically I did not visit on Diwali because I spent Diwali in train but it was by and large a Diwali holiday. So this is a mandatory post, my hometown's little blue diary. Almost nothing changes there in a big way but with different events in place, it takes different flavors, like any other small town. This was the election (for Chairman and Ward president) time, which is mixed with Diwali, Eid and a few murders, in short the atmosphere was delightful, full of rumors and heated. At every Gali corner, there were small crowds which discussed the prospects of winning and losing, the weak and the strong grounds, logical voting equations based on caste, power and religion, and of course money, which transcends all evils. There were women discussing the women candidates on the basis of their husband's image, might and power. This is a fun time for children, this vacation they fired crackers and collected pamphlets and party paraphernalia, apart from watching Malaysia in Don (or Don in Malaysia). The old people cursed congress/BJP leaders and doctors/lawyers in the same sentence, they only talked with pride of the relatives who left them for bigger cities or for better countries, in short, those who are well settled, according to them. The atmosphere is filled with songs of two kinds, the religious and the patriotic, both kinds sung by Lata Mangeshkar. This is as high as my hometown can get.

I came back to Delhi on 26th Oct and got to know that the elections were by and large peaceful with couple of murders and few clashes. Also I took the DVD of Children of Heaven with me, most of my relatives loved it. I like that film too but as usual I became a little suspicious of the film when it was unanimously appreciated. I did a promise to my cousin to write about him on the blog. Here it goes: He is 8 years old. While talking about Rang De Basanti with him, I asked him what would have happened if the heroes were not killed towards the end, he replied "phir to film kabhi khatam nahin hoti, teen ghante se jyada koi film nahin hoti". Kill them to end the movie, a closure is required at any cost. It was such a plain verdict. He did even better to describe the cast, "Aamir Khan, Saif Ali Khan ki behan, aur ek foreigner ladki" !

Apart from this, there are few things that are on the discussion list to avoid the void of 'Aur batiyiye...'. One was Munnabhai and the other was Afzal's hanging, to balance the comic and tragic scales of conversations. I did a secret poll (secret because no one knew it was a poll) and got some astonishingly predictable results. Everyone liked Munnabhai (much better than Rang De Basanti) and everyone wanted Afzal to be hanged asap, some even wanted to execute all of the suspects and even the whole community. Almost all of them are quite sure about their decisions and gave examples from history to support it. As it is evident, there is little coherence between their two decisions, Gandhigiri and Hanging (Actually, one of the person added a twist in the tale by saying that Gandhi supported hanging of Bhagat Singh, he liked Munnabhai for its entertainment value and I think he was advocating hanging for the same purpose too, although big words like terrorism and patriotism sounds better). I don't like to insult my folks but they are much like rest of the world.

Adding few links. Read Arundhati Roy's take on Afzal's Hanging (Its a long one, I haven't read it fully yet) and Bhagat Singh's take on Love.

Friday, October 13, 2006

Isabelle Huppert

In an essay by English author Julian Barnes on Claude Chabrol's 1991 film Madame Bovary, he talks this about Isabelle Huppert.

Where other actresses give us a sort of pouty boredom that yet seek to flirt with the audience, Huppert offers severity, anger and an irritaion raised to the condition of nausea. She gives Emma a lucid awareness of her own condition: "She is a victim who does not behave like a victim." Huppert has a capacity to empty her face of expression in a way that both alarms and seduces; like Charles, we blunderingly want to make things right for her. And this harshness and frustuation are in place most of the way: She has the control and seeming lack of vanity to hold back her moments of full beauty to match those rare times (With Rodolphe and Leon, never with Charles) when the catching of happiness seems impossible.

I liked his description. Apart from her being the most enduring and intrepid actress, one thing that I always admire about Huppert, irrespective of the character she pays, is self-awareness (in lack of a better word). What ever she plays, a expert teacher or a homocidal post office worker, there is always an air of self awareness. She can never pass as a fool, even if she is playing one. Although she don't behave like a victim, she knows she is, quite well. Even in films like Ma mère, she courageously maintains that cold awareness of what she is, before being a mother, a prostitute. Although with her age, she might have lost that excruciating freckled innocence, but still maintains cold self-awareness that distances a viewer from her immediate pain for any quick sympathy and helps him/her to think about her character's condition. In 8 Women, which is all a campy black comedy, a satire and a parody, Huppert again plays her character with fearless cognizance. I will always remember the last act of The Piano Teacher, where the camera moves towards her face and the screen is filled with such pain and self-loathing that it hurts. Her harshness for self, grows into empathy in audiences, without her screaming for it.

Monday, October 09, 2006


No don't weep, keep your calm, lets take it as objectively as possible, these things happen. Lets not lose the temper. calm down... ya, thats better.

I want it extremely sentimental, sentimental to the point that it is laughable. There should be a made-up layer of imitation, easy to tear apart but difficult to ignore. It should seem as if I want to give them what they want but actually I don't. Is it clear. Any questions.

Put the ages in bracket. It might seem cold, but let it be. Don't manipulate with descriptive words. Don't say that young kids were brutally killed. Say 3 persons are killed at so and so place. Put the ages in bracket.

Your profile is better, slender neck even better. Keep those bones stretched out, sob slowly, drain all the emotions out of your face, just sob, slowly. Camera is not at your face. Don't think it is. Clear.

Touch her. Move slower as you proceed. Remember camera is synchronized with your actions. Your are being shot. The beginning of touch is her shoulder and you have to decide the destination as you move on. slow or fast, you have to decide. We will take only one take. Obviously you don't know the girl. For the girl there are no instruction. If she can manage, try to be as cold as possible. You can make that sound again. Louder... ok, leave it.

Slowly open that window and stare at the sun. Stand there for the while. Close the window fast, get in the sheets and stare the wall for a longer time. Don't close your eyes. Act like you are watching a movie on the wall in foreign language. You are interested but not understanding. Cover you face with the sheets. Still, no movement. Do it one more time.

We are not here to portray any reality. You are all fragments of a farce. You are all parts. Don't embarrass yourself by performing the real. Lets rebuke, but don't have any fun out of it.

Be as real as possible. As if you are living the moment. Express yourself with subtle emotions. Read the lines again. Don't overdo it. Think of a similar situation. Think and act. You look great. Any more questions.

Don't think. Just be. Emotion no. 341. Mild leg movement. Hands in hips pockets. Smile towards the end.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Beware of Poshlust

In these times, its very important to understand what Poshlust is and avoid it. Poshlust is everywhere, in every perceivable intelligent field; it is there disguised in the form of literature, films, art, social sciences and religion. Now, it may not come as handy and as easy to spot as self-help, but it is cloaked in most beautiful, wholesome and subtle robes. It might not always seem banal and commercial. It is packaged as carefully as radioactive waste and it is as harmful as that, if not disposed (read attacked) properly. It might be intentional but it can very well be unintentional byproduct of lack of talent, skill and, of course, laziness. We attribute our understanding of this Russian term mainly to Nikolai Gogol and Vladimir Nabokov, the former gave its vivid description in his magnificent novel Dead Souls and the later explained what it is. Here is an excerpt from Nabokov's interview where he explains the term:

"Poshlust" or in a better transliteration poshlost, has many nuances, and
evidently I have not described them clearly enough in my little book on Gogol,
if you think one can ask anybody if he is tempted by poshlost. Corny trash,
vulgar clichés, Philistinism in all its phases, imitations of imitations, bogus
profundities, crude, moronic and dishonest pseudo-literature - these are obvious
examples. Now, if we want to pin down poshlost in contemporary writing, we must
look for it in Freudian symbolism, moth-eaten mythologies, social comment,
humanistic messages, political allegories, over concern with class and race, and
the journalistic generalities we all know. Poshlost speaks in such concepts as
"America is no better than Russia" or "We all share in Germany's guilt". The
flowers of poshlost bloom in such phrases and terms as "the moments of truth",
"charisma", "existential" (used seriously), "dialogue" (as applied to political
talks between nations), and "vocabulary" (as applied to a dauber). Listing in
one breath Auschwitz, Hiroshima, and Vietnam is a seditious poshlust. Belonging
to a very select club (which sports one Jewish name - that's of the treasurer)
is genteel poshlust. Hack reviews are frequently poshlost, but it also lurks in
certain highbrow essays. Poshlost calls Mr. Blank a great poet and Mr. Bluff a
great novelist. One of the poshlost's favorite breeding place has always been
Art Exhibition; there it is produced by so-called sculptors working with the
tools of the wreckers, building crankshaft cretins of stainless steel, Zen
stereos, polystyrene stinkbirds, objects trouves in latrines, cannonballs,
canned balls. There we admire the gabinetti wall patterns of so-called abstract
artists, Freudian surrealism, roric smudges, and Rorschach blots - all of it
corny in its own right as the academic "September Morns" and "Florentine
Flowergirls" of half a century ago. The list is long, and, of course, everybody
has his bete noire, his black pet, in the series. Mine is that airline ad: the
snack served by the obsequious wench to a young couple - she eyeing ecstatically
the cucumber canapé, he admiring wistfully the hostess. And, of course, Death in
Venice. You see the range.

There are vague pointers to find out whether the given material is a poshlust or not. The problems with postulating such list are multifold. First is personal perception that cannot be generalized. Second is the inherent incompleteness of such lists, they miss a point or two and overemphasize something more than the other, when both are equally important. So these are public notes, just for me. I might be appending and updating them from time to time. They might be themselves poshlust but that should not stop you from reading them.

1) First you should ask this question. Whether it is directed towards a specific audience, a group of special people. If the answer is no, it might not be poshlust. One might rightly argue that textbooks of medicine are aimed for doctors. But everybody can read them; they are not propaganda or perceptions to please people or a knowledge show off. Also do not take this argument for generalization. In a way it is against any generalization, as it is against any toning and trimming to make it to accessible for any special world or for that ever-elusive concept 'general audience'.

2) Do not discard works because of the subjects. I am atheist so I will not read about religion is as philistine as to say, I am religious, so I will read only about religion. Subjects and topics are never poshlust. The content could be. One might prioritize based on interest in subject. The last sentence is an example of poshlust. It is generalized common sense, disguised as wisdom.

3) In films and literature, showing poshlust does not necessarily mean that they are poshlust. If they indulge in poshlust, then they are. Observational poshlust can be high art.

4) Wallowing talks about what is 'new' and 'fad' in shops and eateries is mostly poshlust. Also, it does not contradict to point 3. Talk about food and attires are not always poshlust. Poshlust always stinks of sophisticated knowledge about shopworn things and so-called exotica.

5) Generalizations masked as reductionisms, enumerating all the point of views to be politically correct, sophisticated diplomacy of language may result in high-end and impenetrable poshlust.

6) Anything that sounds of general wisdom, smugness of being at a higher plane, superficiality justified because of its commercially viability, self-righteous social commentary passing as literature, lifestyle mixed with spirituality, spirituality mixed with work ethics, anything advocating conformity, any textual or filmic pamphlet which says human happiness is anyway purchasable or human sorrow is anyway disposable, bourgeois mannerisms propagated as etiquette, forced melodrama passing as seriousness, particular experience pretending as general psychology, is invariably poshlust.

7) Vulgar imaginations, illogical rants, sexual fantasies, mundane observations, unimportant details, unrealistic plots, dour descriptions, rock and roll are not poshlust. They can be easily pushed towards poshlust by flavors of sanctimonious smugness, message, acceptable conclusion and obsession to sound deep, real and true.

As poshlust is evolving, its becoming as hazardous as and for human species. Finding the traces of poshlust is a meticulous exercise. Poshlust of higher order make people worship false gods with unshakable conviction. Like the baggage of cultural capital, it is dangerous. Our antennas should smell when we see something excessively respectful by general acceptance. We should get the hold of it, preferably by its slender, spuriously beautiful neck.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

2nd Anniversary Post: Bigger, Longer and Uncut.

As of now, I feel two things, either what I am writing will be worth posting or it will be trashed. The other questions are secondary, at least as of now. I am also thinking one more thing constantly, as I write this, whether I should think it to be readable material to others or not (my apologies, if I sound pompous, let me pour today) and an associated thought that runs through my mind and it seems now, it is not a new thought, I have thought of it over and over in different forms and at different times, the thought of whether to think about my potential readers (again pardon me) or to completely forsake them, and absolutely abandon the thought that these words will ever be read by anyone except me. In order to free myself from these thoughts and proceed, I make a quick compromise, as always, and a quicker mental note of that compromise of posting it, if it sounds good. I keep the compromise as vague as possible, intentionally. As you might have found out in all this blabbering, the main point of self-doubt. Should I, whether I should, Will I etc etc. All futuristic fears. But a hidden fact is more profound, it's some sort of self vindication and may be self appreciation. See, I know this, and well too and I can write also. That ugly feeling, the celebration of mediocrity.

This post is supposed to be a mixed post. It will be a mixture of personal and fantasy. Nothing that I write here, will be purely true or purely false, because I believe neither of the two exists and therefore neither of them can be written. It will be mixed because I would like to talk about topics which are not worth a post but can not be left out too. They are marginal and necessary both. So it's not a post about a certain thing and it is also not a post about nothing. One way to see this post is group of discarded posts or discarded paragraphs from posted posts, in last two years. I may seem pompous and pretentious, but let it be.

When I first read Camus' The Stranger, I was almost shocked by the stylistic and narrative simplicity of the first part because just before it, I have read an essay by Camus (Its called Absurd Man), which was exceptionally difficult to understand and I left that one page essay in between. But as I read the first part of The Stranger, I thought what Camus was conveying by such a deceptively simple language, with no philosophy, just simple unadorned dead observations. There emerged some clarity of vision, after reading the second part of the book, which is not tough to follow but tougher to understand than the part one. The first and the foremost thing that come to the mind is the difference between the life lived and the life observed. Meursault, who was obviously happy in the first part and he has no reasons for anything, but in the second part, although he was not doing wrong things which he did in the part one, he was unhappy, may be because he was forced to analyzed the life lived. I don't know much about existentialist philosophy and stuff, but I felt that Camus is pointing to a fact of life. Its an example of literature being philosophical without explicitly being so, its such a hopeful proposition, its hopeful because it works for casual readers like me and it draws one to read more too. On a second level, there is always a danger of a novelist becoming a philosopher. A single page of 'Absurd man' might be having lots of truth and xxx philosophy but Camus must write a 100 page 'The Stranger' to tell what it is and in all this he must maintain his style and structure, not compromising on the tenets of art. Fiction is what liberates, it's accessible and it's universal. No doctrine of stone headed philosophy will ever humanize the inhumans. It's the fiction, mix of real and imaginary that will set us free. Gogol could have written the character of scoundrel Chichikov without the fabrication of a thousand absurd characters, but Gogol knew that the background picture must be complete and hence he fills in all the blocks before he adds his anti-hero to complete his portrait. Camus might have discussed in whole philosophy in essays but a stranger and a fall are indispensable.

One more thing at the point and it's about my double standard between two mediums of art - Literature and Films. I think a work of literature should stand by itself; it should create a world of its own. It should stand alone, unparallel, holding unto itself, should create its own language. I don't want a slice of life or an episode in a novel but the whole pie. Even though, a novel tells a story about one day in the life of a person, it should hold a world view. As you see, I have stellar expectations from novels. It does not mean that they should run into pages. I am still to read anything which is more than 200 pages (Dead souls is the only exception, it almost killed me, I completed it in several night outs, smoking like a pipe. Although I strongly believe one should not smoke while reading, you measure pages by butts). That's why Kafka works for me, he did not write much, but even his short stories create a world of their own. I also don't like exotic touches in a novel, mentions of cultures and recipes and the foreign words. And that's why I hate Indian novels, which start with a big extended family, most of the effort for a foreigner will go into mapping the family tree, the criss-cross plot amongst them, this is not what I meant by creating a world of its own. Given all these stupid prejudices, my pathetic reading speed, and television menace, I don't read much and enjoy my ignorance. When it comes to films, I am ok with a slice and don't look out for worlds of its own. I think, it's not because of any bias from my side but may be because of my limitations as a reader. I also believe it's partly because of the advantages and limitations of these mediums, but I can't clearly enumerate them.

I am really interested in stupid statements. Consider this statement. Since an author observes every detail of the characters, their attires, their features, body shapes, hair, and the way they move and talk, why a critic not allowed to do so about the author while reviewing 'his' work. Although absurd and laughable, this is an idea and if put in better and overblown (try using some 'ism's) words, it might seem perfectly ok. See this logic. This movie is not good because the white subtitles are put across white background, not able to get what the movie want to say, this movie is not recommended. There are loads of such arguments, if put in better cryptic language will sound very plausible. We can say the following about the subtitled movie. Although a good film, it's hard to follow owing to its technical difficulties. Bravo. Any stupidity can be justifiable by the 'effective' use of language and that's why if a writer seems artfully logical, think twice.

One more mental fight that I constantly indulge in about style and content, although I haven't read much to think about it in any concrete terms but I enjoy this mental debate and it's a big time pass. It's always fun to read about Flaubert's obsession with style. It always fun to read about his eccentricities on how he would try to attain perfection with a limited number of syllable and how he will play with patterns and sounds till they become perfect and how much a single punctuation will mean to him. This obsession made his contemporaries call him a stone figure, trying to sacrifice all for style. After this thought comes an associated depressing thought, an almost defeating thought. I think of the futility of such an effort if the people do not care for it. How many of the good readers will care about this precise music in dead words. I know that this idea is and was revolutionary and it did help in the growth of literature at the turn of the century but thinking a lot about poor Flaubert gives you a static depression. May be a creator does not write for others, or as Nabokov will put it, an author never caters to masses but even there should be individuals who should be great readers, good alone will not do.

My speed of reading is pathetically slow, and if I were reading something that is interesting to me, I will make it even slower. I have come to believe by now that the speed of your reading is directly proportional to the speed of your mind and I think slow, slower when I am interested. I have tried to justify this design flaw by saying that one should give proper time to a creation. When it comes to books, you can steer the speed but even in films I try that, I will see the first 40 mins and then turn off the player and sleep and give it its time ( or give me some time) and then start it the next day. I will not listen to commentary track for 2 days before I have made something out of it. In effect I will try to diffuse and spread a film for a week attention. It seldom works fine. At times you lose track of what you are thinking and a week is a long time for other things to happen, and other things are always more important. Last year while making a plan on how to see a film, I took some basic precautions like switch off the mobile, switch off the light, watch alone, take something to eat before hand and , concentrate on the film, which worked but later I realized that what I am doing is just making the atmosphere of a theatre.

I read on somebody's blog a quote by Cicero that says "I criticize by creation, not by finding fault". I myself always criticize by nitpicking and I understand the futility of such criticism. The only purpose served by such criticism that finds fault, is to fill in pages and to feel good about that. Why I didn't like 'Life is beautiful', it should not be criticized because several scenes rang untrue and unnecessarily funny and manipulative but because it is ghastly disrespectful. Hot favorite 'Shawshank Redemption' is bad because it promotes hero worship and optimism of worst sort, and the film is against freedom and equality. People don't criticize by creation because of several reasons. First and foremost, because it's very difficult to turn your back from what you have said if you hit the basics, no patchwork can fully undo that. Secondly, it is simply too difficult to criticize by creation, quibbling is easy and we can comfortably defend it. If you go by what I just said, Shawshank Redemption promotes hero worship. I also meant that I don't like hero worship which is big statement and can't easily be refuted, once said. One of my Tamil friends always laments that Tamilians are a clan of hero worshippers. But next time when he will appreciate Rajnikant by his mass appeal, he is surely in big trouble. Criticism by creation has big traps ahead, so people fear from it. I like the first half of Rang de Basanti because of the fun and lightness but I don't like the second half because of the conclusion it delivers, this types of criticism are trash and will never bring any desired change. But, I know, we will continue to do so, because it a lazy and trouble-free way to fill pages.

I have a huge soft corner for films of Bergman. I can say that I didn't like Saraband that much but if someone says that he hated it; I will immediately come to defense. Even his obviously flawed films like 'Autumn Sonata' are very dear to me. It's because I feel that I stepped into serious cinema only after watching Wild Strawberries. It had all what I wanted from Cinema. It has great evocative photography, real melancholy, nostalgia of regret, philosophy, truth, honesty and humanity. When I saw this film, I thought what they wrote in reviews was all true. It was an uplifting feeling of Eureka! I still owe my little understanding of cinema and the knowledge of huge potential of films as a medium to Bergman. I once read on imdb where a newbie after seeing her first Bergman film wrote something like, "Now I know what they are all trying to achieve, when they make a serious movie". This statement is not as pompous as to say that I have an orgasm after watching the film but its really true observation.

Sometimes, it looks like that one decision might have changed the whole film. I always wonder what Chinatown would have looked like, if Polanski would have succumbed to the pressure for a happy ending. In certain films, happy or sad ending does not matter much, and in some films, like most of Fellini films, director manages both. When I think of certain films, especially Chinatown, it becomes almost necessary to have a sad ending with big void of nothingness and how brilliantly that film manages it. With the hero, audience feels without any power, as if they lost a fortune. This is the power of cinema.

Code Unknown makes an ultimate statement about the relationship of actor and director. This is the scene where Georges surreptitiously photographs passengers on the Metro. It's a dream of a Bressonian director to shoot his actors like this. But Haneke must have seen a deceit in that and probably that's why that episode was put in the movie. To me it looked like an attack on the unsuspecting public, there was something sacrilegious about it, a sort of profane voyeurism. Now interpolating back from public to actors, it still remains a bit profane, directors know that, I think. It's justified for sake of art, but still it is so.

It happens with everybody. When you start seeing movies, you begin with reading reviews. Especially in India, where most of the films are not available or we have no knowledge of them. You gradually know that there is better cinema somewhere, you learn name that you can not pronounce. About 3-4 years back, there was a constant joke that I have to bear (with pleasure), it was about the ratio of films I have seen and the reviews I have read, it tends to zero. After my great efforts, it still tends to zero, may be a better zero, one shade lighter, two shades brighter. And I have been blamed to frame my opinions on reviews (that is partly true too). I must confess I love reading reviews and I owe them a lot. I have not watched a single film if they were not there to guide me to watch and later what to get out of it. I read reviews of Color Trilogy for 2 years and then I watched it, it was all speculation. I read the plot of Talk to her and thought of how it will be. Love and coma. It was such nice period of imagination and supposition, and a pure hope that I will see them soon. When I remember myself reading about Aguirre, I still get a sensation of madness, Aguirre in Amazon, deadly waters, lovely daughter and all. When reviews are written by someone who loves them, the magic is recreated. Reading about Mulholland Drive where reviewer admits that he loved it but did not get it, is the truest confession for the love of cinema.

When you are writing about a Bresson film, you usually run out of adjectives and in dour posts and views (like the ones on this blog), you perm up the mundane matter by magniloquent adjectives. At best you can come up with 'simple', 'pure', 'earthy' and 'spiritual' and a little more thinking can let you reach to 'transcendental' or move towards 'grace', anyway you will look stupid if you use 'Bressonian' to define his films. Someone said "There is nothing to writing; all you do is sit down at a typewriter and open a vein." But the problem remains, which vein to open, how to open it, how many to open. In case of Bresson, the problem has an extra dimension, why to open the vein when it is so beautifully and economically opened by images and sounds. Any writing on Bresson's film will not be able to say more about the film than you have seen, and rightly so. They will flirt more about Bressonian themes, Bressonian methods and in some cases, his other films. And I have heard about Bresson and Bressonian in more film reviews than any other director or approach. That's his influence and that is what Bresson all about.

In being John Malkovich, of the entire film, I love the chimp scene, the scene where a chimp frees Lotte and where he remembers his past. In normal terms, we can just have a big laugh at that sequence but at a more aesthetic level it's perfectly beautiful and extremely innovative. In accordance to the theme of the film, we are thrown into the chimps mind and his fears, emotions and desires. It's seemingly weird but absolutely truthful, at the same time. Another such scene which is apparently laughable but eventually insightful comes from Winter Light, the scene where the Sexton says that he suffered more than Jesus, it's at once laughable, but eventually it turns out to be sad. Weekend, Naked Lunch and That Obscure Object of Desire are filled with such apparently laughable episodes. Of all other things, these sequences test our patience for a reaction, our tolerance for art and above all they rebuke our hurry to get into quick judgments.

Some time back I read an interview of Lars von Trier where he talked about Slave Owners. The concept goes like this. To control slaves, we need slaves who can work as slave owners. The good ones usually do that. And it is because of those slave owners, slavery lives endlessly. Without slave owners, everyone will be fighting for themselves but as soon as some well intentioned good slaves come to picture, they become the instrument of manipulation by the owner. This may look like a thought of dangers of goodness but it is actually a thought of being together in front of such type of oppression and do not act emotionally. Our goodness should not come in the way to be used by the oppressor. It is, no doubt, a radical thought but it comes second in the ideas that totally shook me. The first one is by Fassbinder, "Love is the best, most insidious, most effective instrument of social repression" and now when I think, these two statements look closely related. Also, if any of these statements look to be against goodness or love, then you are mistaken; they are against their power which can be used for manipulation.

I know that this post is going nowhere near conclusion but its time to wind up. This post is written over long time, and mainly when I had a fever last week. During that time I had lots of time by myself and started to jot down this post. It's a cleansing post to get a lot of things out my mind. I think I feel lighter after writing it. Thanks for reading.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

This Film Is Not Yet Rated

Last night, I was reading about this documentary on MPAA ratings. In the Guardian Review, there is a very good observation and which I find very correct too.

Some cynics say that the purpose of commercial cinema, like that of the press, is to over-stimulate the public's infotainment gland, and leave residual unsatisfied desire - so that the advertisers can sell their product.

Contrary to the title, this film got NC-17 for its graphic sexual content. More reviews here.

When you see all this in Indian context, things become little murky and look like a big hogwash. Indian Film Censor Board has only three ratings, U, UA, A - too broad to make any sense . From the rating system, one thing is definitely clear is that our kids take one year more to mature than their American conterparts. To compare how they work we can see 3 recent movies, Kabhi Alvida Na Kehna was U, Golmaal was UA and Omkara was A. Gunda was also given A certificate. What difference does it makes. Omkara can be a UA or U, if it removes those gaalis. Last time when my relatives came to Hyderabad with their kids, we discussed which movie to see. My aunt wanted to see Omkara, but to her big embarrassment, her kids cried in chorus, its an adult movie. We went to Golmaal instead. This reminds me of a joke about the MPAA R rating which forces the parents and the kids to see the movie together, embarrassing both.

Take a look at the site of Central Board of Film Certification. To me its seems a little funny.

Friday, September 01, 2006

Some Links.

1. I was reading about this book on Shakespeare which argues that Shakespeare has the major role in forming our idea of personality. Looks like a great book. Here and here are some reviews. Here is an excellent chat with the author, Harold Bloom, in the Charlie Rose show. Its a big book, but I will like to try it someday in my life. Read Chapter 1 here.

2. I watched Mike Leigh's Naked last night and its a brilliant film and films like Trainspotting seems kid to it. It is consistently bleak and has brilliant dialogues. It stars David Thewlis and Katrin Cartlidge. After finishing the film, I was reading about the film and found out that Katrin Cartlidge died on Sept 07, 2002. I dont know but she reminds me of Isabelle Huppert in some ways, may be because of her choice of films. I have seen her in Breaking the Waves and No Man's Land, but in her role as a junkie in Naked, she is absolutely marvelous. Here and here are some obituaries. Here are some clips from Naked.

3. Most of you must have seen it, but you can indulge all over again in this excellent video. The journalist who asks the question to Stephen Colbert in the audition tape is Senior white house correspondent Helen Thomas. Before asking the question, she says, "You're going to be sorry".

4. Seems like there was a Blog-a-thon for Code Unknown. Here is an excellent review ( it too has links to all other reviews that participated in the Blog-a-thon). This review is particularly interesting.

5. Here (Click under "George Galloway's Talk") is a link to a hot-blooded speech by George Galloway, where he describes what waters the swamp of hatred.

6. And here in Keir's blog, an interviewer asks Camus a very important and relevant question.

Monday, August 21, 2006

The Circle of God

Yesterday news channels were filled with two recent religious news. Sea water in Mumbai has turned sweet and in North India, Lord Ganesha and other porous deities are thirsty again. I still remember the first Milk Drinking event when I was in my hometown and everyone rushed to the temples and sewage turned white, the good ol' Ram-Rajya has come back, "jahan doodh ki nadiyaan behti thi". One of my aunt said to her relative, who claimed that Ganesha didn't drink when she offered milk, you need to offer from heart. I was really confused because I believed what my grandmother always used to say about god, "Bhaav ka bhookha, Bhaat ka naahi" (Hungry of devotion, not of rice). Sometimes I feel, believing in such miracles comes as an exercise in abidance, like the hereditary baggage of religion itself and at times I wonder the necessity of religion in our empty lives, what if there are no ceremonies when people are born or when they die, no godly sand bag to hit on, things like that.

Recently on my trip to Hampi, I saw a similar thing. Inside Virupaksha Temple, there is a circle curved out of stone and who so ever can encircle his/her hands around it, is considered Bhagyashaali (the fortunate one). When I went to see it, there was a group of women trying their luck with it. The first lady tried to cup her thumbs and index fingers to enclose the circle of divinity She did it like a magician, swiftly and thanked her gods. She was a clever lady (I think she cheated). The other ladies saw her as if she is goddess of 2 min fame and the craze to try it and be the auspicious one, gripped the other ladies. The next lady started to cup the stone circle but was not able to. Either two thumbs will move apart or the index fingers, the loose skin joining the thumb and fingers stretched out. She removed all her rings and tried again, hard as if she could squeeze the stone with two fingers.

Someone in the crowd whispered, pray to god, remember your deity. The lady who did it successfully, came to her and said your heart should be pure and should have devotion to god. Think nothing but god. Pray. The other lady closed her eyes and started praying. Her faced filled with helplessness, took deep breath with every chant to god. The ladies behind her started closing their eyes and started praying for their friend in despair. Little ones were just curious of the result. She opened her eyes with a godly grace and cupped her small palm again around the circle and tried desperately. Closed her eyes and called for god to save her. Some people standing nearby chuckled and the embarrassment grew. Now her face turned into despair as if her lord has left her.

Nevertheless in devotion, she lowered her head on the stone and thanked god again and moved away. May be next time the circle with shrink or her palms will expand or her heart will be purer. No other lady from that group touched the stone again, till the next group came by for their share of disappointment and luck. The circle carved in stone stood there, some people passed the test, some failed, it stood there as a mark, a ritual, a trial of humanity, a circle of endless conformity.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

A Tale - 2

In a dark silent room of ones mind, with just enough light to see one word at a time, enough thought to form one sentence at a time, someone sits, word by word, truth is woven, the light in the room increases, the darkness is at time understood or at least acknowledged. No shouts of rhetoric will ever spoil that word of small truth, no god will ever pray for it, it will exist and it will survive. Several such pages will color a book, a picture of life might emerge, another image of life may get shattered, there is enough pain in the room and there is slight truth in that, and there is little joy in the room and there is ample truth in it. Someone sits, smells and sweats of imaginary, touches the real, sleeps on the paper and shits near by.

A written word transpires out of the living flesh, that is sure of its demise, that is sure of others demise too, it is sure that written will outlive him, even though that decaying body writes, flesh writes to raise above fleshiness, to put spirit to matter, to put some being into non-beings. Its not above anybody, it just raises onto itself. A win, a very personal success.

A thousand spoken words will not erase a single word that is written, not shout will ever blow the paper away, no book can imitate life but some will rise above it, will become portals to those silent rooms where they are written, word by word, flesh to spirit, puff of smoke to fire. No book will be greater than life but some will breathe like life. No book will ever move, but some will spread their fragrance. No book will ever speak but some will be put to tune, paper to sound. No book will ever capture the whole world, but some will capture the inexpressible. No book will change the world, but there will be some that will point to the problems and say it should be. No book will ever stop the people for interacting or expressing them but some will express and interact as no human can. No book will ever substitute any of your senses but some will become the extensions of them.

A though lying for eternity, unattended, unsaid, is there for a book to pick up, someone will pick it up and put it as it is on the paper by himself, devoid of himself.

The girl with decorated locks thought about the lie she told to the fish. There is no such book. A book that reveals all. Filled with memories of the unchained past, a love that never consummated, she took a pen and a pale paper, sat on the bare hills to fill the pages. A book may emerge, it may not. Fish of the far seas, went to the far seas, in search of the book of revelations, it found nothing, but swam the pacifics and atlantis, may be it can write something about the experiences sometime, the upstreams and downstreams of fresh water rivers, the salt of the sea, the world and its waters.

A Tale - 1

A frozen sea. Snow melts. Color changes. White to blue. Sun shines, painting yellow and sets with red smearings. Dark night, cooler than the day, quieter than the noon, slower than the dusk. Sea roars and breaks itself on shores. Life lives near by, it dies nearby too.

On the far side of the blue waters, a big boat with small people with books in little robed hands arrived, the boat was painted blue to match the sea waters, it had drawing of wild life, lofty hills to match the terrain and it had its peaceful music which didn't match the wilderness of the place it arrived. That peace obstructed the vastness of the wild, the music was no noise but no better than that. A stream of logic came with them, the sun should rise in east and should set in west, and an apple falls down. The oral truth became a written passage, more stringent, less fluent. The greens of forest, the dark greens of rocks and the colors of sea remained as they were. The truth has not changed but now it howled at them. The blue boat anchored. The little men walked on the sand with shells of gray white color, shells camouflaged to hide the pressure of foot that pressed them, the people lived there, and they died there too.

Little palms with books of wisdom touched the dirty hand of oral verity, Midas touch changed everything to words, note them down, no rote, no communication. A book opened the face of its folks, it said its art, it said its truth, and it said it's all. A garland around the neck, over the beautiful beaded breast, curved and dark, colorful flowers, was decorated. The suns of different seas saw it, changing their colors, falling in west every night without fail. A poem missed its tune, and the air missed its noise, better than the music.

A girl was asked to tie her hair because they fall too much. They spoil the cleanliness of civilization. They are decorated with flowers of the hill, the braids of locks married the words of books, the fragrance of the flower was fabricated, the smell ceased to grow, the girl rarely spoke, her hair became her identity, a mix of art and beauty, revealing some obscure truism, far from the noise of the wild. Smell, like that of the unwritten paper, is now killed by the precisely written word. It is not smelt, it written in some book, incisively, its an experience to read it, it reaches near the smelling sensation, can it ?

Sun of bigger truths now rises every day, without fail. The Gods of untied hair and oral truths have lost their noisy tune. At times, a fish from the far away sea comes to the shore, looks for the girl with untied hair, looks for the dark green of rocks. Once it made an effort to talk to a girl with a waist band of gold shining against the rocks behind that covered her deep dark navel, girl told her that fish lives in water, asked it to go back to waters and didn't answer anything about the untied past. She told the fish that whenever it sees someone with sweet voice and big ship, try to ask them about the past, there is a book which reveals it all. Fish never came back from waters, may be it read the book, could be.

Saturday, August 19, 2006

Not so bad !

I saw KANK yesterday and I must write about it asap because it is one of those movies which you forget soon, and with all honesty that I can gather, I must say it is not a bad movie that I thought it would be, given the big constraints it has, it has Shahrukh Khan and Rani Mukherjee - together, its directed by Karan Johar. As in one of the interviews, I heard SRK saying that it is Karan's most mature effort. Actually it is, and the most honest too. This honesty at times tips the movie to the other side which Karan Johar may not have even desired. Those of us who have seen Karan Johar movies (or its types) know that they are shot with excesses, everything is much more than required, the great Indian family throbs in every frame, love is too pure to handle, movie runs for hours, SRK overacts, every frames is lush green or blood red - color coded, excesses everywhere, and when it come to what we call substance, they have passionate confessions of love to parents or lovers and excessively choreographed songs. There is no denying that KANK has it all. We also know that a Karan Johar film is a cliché extended for hours. Given all that the question may become how well rounded the cliché is, but it is also not the case. So when I say KANK is not bad, what I want to say.

First of all, KANK has some decent performances, mainly Preity and Abhishek, it may not make the film any good but balance the Rani Mukherjee tear tub drill. I stopped hating (that doesn't mean that there is any love) SRK after Swades and here too amidst all the mandatory overacting, he gives moments, and more than that he is not a god here, he is ordinary man, a bit abnormal too and people may say (as the girls sitting behind me said), he is a loser, and he remains so till that supposedly happy ending. And here comes that honesty bit I was talking to before, to show his lover such a loser, bad tempered soul, KJ shows great courage. Perpetually irritated SRK is an opposite to his good old charms that irrirated us for years. KJ does suffer from Substance Syndrome, but at times he delivers too on a commercial scale. There is another bit about this honesty part, the spouses are not only shown loving their partners but their sides are presented equally, if not well. Actually when Preity Zinta slaps SRK (yes, she do), the whole theatre burst into clapping, this might not be the response KJ expected. Actually KANK puts Abhishek and Priety's arguments against the monumental Chopra's hogwash of love, reason against emotions, and in an unintentional, almost self destructive way, puts that evertrusted love in despair of disbelief, even KJ's reel romance looks anti-romantic, although in the later part of the movie, director tries to undo the damage but fortunately it was too late by then.

Apart from some good jokes that go to Abhishek, the humor is KJ types, lot of butt jokes and toilet sort of humor, its cheap but it works for me. At one point SRK's character even says something like "cheap is good', I totally loved the scene following it, it's cheap and done is bad taste, but it works for me. Actually, these are not the things that pain me in KJ type movies, its their smugness on paper-thin wisdom that kills me. 2/3rd of KANK is manageable in that respect; it has its paper thin wisdom but not so much of smugness. Its the last third where Rani Mukherjee starts to cry to dehydration and director starts giving her every filmic toy to console, the film drags and drags and at last SRK and Rani weep together (Rani's cry is inducive) and the film eventually ends. Is this film really a mature film, yes, for KJ, its really so. It is naive if one says that it shows honest efforts of saving marriages, but it does work to some extent if one says that it shows such efforts fail, surprisingly so.

Friday, July 28, 2006

A Queue

One of my old friends told me something that I didn't think about then. It was so simple a fact that one can easily over look its meaning, and some times we tend to consume the humor of a line and lose its seriousness and wisdom. Years later he met me again in a railway reservation queue and the queue made me think about what he said. I was ahead of him in the queue so we are not able to talk and as usual, when in queue we tend to become most time efficient, our time becomes more valuable miraculously. The goal of life become to be first in the queue and to get our work done before anybody does it. As the queue moves ahead, first in first out, our hearts go lighter as we tend towards our goal, a small goal, but that all we care then. People start bitching about separate queues for girls and never lose an opportunity to move ahead.

Last time, in my hometown, I went for a railway reservation. We all are waiting outside the reservation counter which was supposed to open by 8:30 am but the wise men in the crowd rightly predicted that it will open only by 9:00 am. By nine, the crowd turned into a mob, and they started banging the grilled gate of the office. As soon as it open we all rushed like mad inside with sole aim to be as ahead in the queue as possible. Amidst all this chaos, when someone pushed open the grilled gate, one hand got smashed the array of Xs. That man shouted aloud with all the motherly abuses he can think in the split second. A second later I found a respectable position in the queue and as the voices lulled, we all heard a man of over 30 bitterly crying in pain. None of us left our positions and used our precious time fill in reservation forms.

Only after few minutes, when queue queued up, some people who were less fortunate to get a good rank in the running competition, left the queue and made a circle of pity around the guy whose hand was bleeding. Some old men blamed the youth, women in their separate queue asked other about the incident, the person ahead of me said "I didn't open the gate, it was someone else". I, as usual, felt bad about the guy and myself, left with my confirmed tickets. While leaving, stopped, to see the guy, even thought to talk to him, but couldn't. But I was sure that in previous hour or so, I have shown my queue-character.

Now the thing that my old friend said, he said that "Real character is shown in queues". When I think about it now, sometimes it takes a gigantic meaning, like a world is a queue, all queued up, all in hurry, to get out of this queue to move to some other queue. and at times this thing stays on its ground, the literal meaning, a cliched proverb-type existence, at times as a moral rule to show your character in queues. Like every body else we don't like queues, more than our everlasting concern about increasing population, which is fashionably used as a reason for everything and more than the waiting time, something else bothers us being in a queue. Sometimes we search for special queues, like for those who search for a separate queue for the AC ticket, or for those who pay money to visit their favorite gods in better-off queues.

The real problem with queues is they stink of equality, which a normal human mind cannot stand. and that's why queues show real character, the character of respecting equality. The other prominent problem with queue is priority based on your action, if you come late, be at the end. Moreover in a queue you are left alone, no family to cheer you up, no friends to give you friendship benefits. After standing for a few minutes in a queues our minds with its tiny calculations make us believe that coming little late doesn't make us less equal and also, how can we be equal to the common man. What is given the name of wasting time is our contempt for equality. Standing in queue, left alone on the mercy of time, the efficiency of queue processor, we start losing our pseudo-importance, little bourgeois in us hits hard and our little mind helps it.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Packet from Past

Disclaimer: This post is mushy, personal and self indulgent. Posting it to keep the blog alive or as an obituary for a dead blog.

Last night, I cleaned my room after 6 months or so and found a packet which my mother gave me when I last visited home. It has some things which made last night so light and happy. First was my birth certificate, Baby Anand was born on 21st July, 9 lbs, very healthy. and it too has the dates of the vaccinations I got. It has my first snap (I think so) pasted too. It has my handwritings samples too. I used to sign every year on my birth certificate (Hey, I am still alive!). My first signature was the exact copy of my father's signature and later I copied some of my teachers and then classmates. There were few copies of Hindi Calligraphy from 5th and 6th std. It contained essays on "Swaadheenta Divas" and "Ek Mele ka Varnan", both of which had similar details. It has some news paper cuttings. Our local newspaper printed my name on few occasions, the regular annual result news. My mother used to say "iska naam to newspaper mein aata rehta hai". My father used to laugh "Kal to nahin tha, aaj aaya hai kya ?". My mother will carefully cut the newspapers and my father will laminate them to be kept in my blue file. It has some of my report cards. I failed in English in first unit test in Standard 2, I got 4 marks out of 25. I used to think that my class teacher can never fail me, it was arguably the first betrayal of my life. She got married next year to confirm my apprehensions. Later I realized the concept of young girls, budding wives and dormant housewives being perfect material for primary school teachers, in fact I told this to one of my professors while discussing the dismal state of primary education in India. My professor kept a detached look during the whole stupid statement of mine. Months later I found out that his beautiful wife is a school teacher and also realized how unfair it is for kids to deny that pleasure, the perfume on silks and the fancy dresses. There were some pics. The birthday pic where I wore a yellow shirt with black blazer, I looked like a smiling taxi, a Faustian bargain to look different on your birthday. The last thing was a black glass, which my friend gave me to view the eclipses. I and my friend, saw the sun in school, diamond ring and all. Later he gave me that, as he claimed that he had many such dark glasses at home. I saw all my childhood eclipses with that glass. As I grew I feared that a simple black glass may ruin my eyes, so packed it away, by that time eclipses were telecasted live on TV, no need for black glasses and no fear of hurting the eyes. Later I got specs from watching too much TV. I glanced the packet and its contents for the last time and closed it neatly. The kid in me strangely felt as if he has got his birthday present. He went to sleep, light and happy, only to grow up and grunt the next morning.