Archive for April, 2006

I first heard of this book when the Training team was trying to organize a book sale within our company. One of our staff called up to recommend that we include this title among the books on sale. Till then, I had never heard about Chetan Bhagat or the particular book in question, and that could perhaps be a statement on how up-to-date I am with contemporary Indian literature.

If you also happen to be among those for whom the name Chetan Bhagat does not ring a bell – he is an IIT-IIMA alumnus. He currently works with an investment bank in Hong Kong, but his claim to fame is the book that he has authored while he was not working. And this is ‘Five Point Someone’. As the sub-title to his book suggests, the book is about the protagonist’s mis-adventures at IIT.

The nice things about the book…it is contemporary, makes for light reading, and Chetan know how to tell a joke. I don’t know whether all IIMA types have a similar style or narrate similar jokes. His style reminds me of a friend I had many years ago, and he too was from IIMA.

The book brings the IIT campus life alive in a very real way, and it’s peppered with IIT vocabulary. This starts with the title of the book. Life in IIT is all about GPAs. And where the perfect GPA is 10, five point something would be a little below average.

And why do all these IIMA-IIT types refer to their campus as insti???

Needless to say to say if you studied in IIT/IIM, you would relate to the book more than most. But even if you did not, you would still identify.

One of my favourite parts is when the protagonist is asked about whether he liked his four years at IIT. He thinks about it and says, “I don’t know. There are things I’d rather forget. But I met my best friends here, and hopefully this place will get me a job.”

Isn’t that what college is like for a lot of people? Even when you do not learn an awful lot, you do end up making some awesome friendships there, and they always stay a part of you.

Having said all those nice things, the book would not make it to my list of ‘great books’.

Chetan Bhagat does have a great sense of humour, but he still has to learn the crafting that comes with being a writer. The book seems to have been written with one big burst of energy, leaving glaring loopholes in plot and narrative.

For instance, the protagonist’s friend meets with an accident – he is close to death, but survives. The accident is so serious that the boy will always walk with a limp. The news is kept from his parents for two months and he returns from the hospital to the hostel without their knowledge. Fine, fine…but the question in my mind was – considering that they are perpetually broke college students…who paid the bills?

And there are other similar twists in the plot that are worthy of Bollywood. Incidentally, there is a plan to make this into a film. I think that it would work extrememly well in this medium. And of course, I  would  love  to see Amir (as Ryan), and Saif (as Hari – but a thin version) playing the main roles (yeah, yeah DCH) . But, there’s no role for Akshay here – the third role (Alok) is just not him.

Another problem is narrative. Chetan is fine when he speaks as Hari. But, he just can’t pull off being the voice of any of the other characters. And while changing the voice in which the book is told is a good concept, you need  to be  a good writer  to pull it off.

And that’s when it hits you. Chetan  has a good  sense of fun. But, he still has to grow as a writer.

Growing beyond the Bollywood frame of reference might help a bit.

But more importantly, you need to think about your plot. And then, you need to craft the copy. The  basics of  good writing – as any good  writer would tell you.  Anything else is sloppy work.

On the whole, I would give this book a six point something. And while it’s not a ‘great’ book, it does make for fun reading.

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Well, as it happens, I  am not a Steve  Martin fan. I have enjoyed some of his movies. But, I am not a Steve Martin fan…if you can see the distinction.

But, this Friday, we did go to ‘The Pink Panther’ – with Steve Martin in the role first made famous by Peter Sellers.

I know that I enjoyed Pink Panther very much when I was a kid. Of course, I never analysed it much. I just remember that I laughed a lot. And after that, I could recognize the Pink Panther cartoon anywhere.

So, I wondered about how I would react to the new version.

The film was playing in Rex, and while the theatre was not packed, the audience had a lot of the original Pink Panther fans who understood a good comedy. This included grandfathers, middle-aged parents  and thirty somethings (almost middle-aged parents). There was also the new generation of college kids. You could recognize all the categories by just looking around, but also by their responses to the film.

Incidentally, it was the perfect kind of audience for a Pink Panther re-make.

If there could ever be a replacement for Peter Sellers in Pink Panther, it is possibly Steve Martin. His comic timing is incredible. Incidentally, he also worked on the screenplay for the film.

Of course, the plot was drawn on the usual lines that left you a little incredulous at the end…typical of the Pink Panther movies. But, Pink Panther is not always about a ‘logical’ whodunit…it’s more about an ‘incredulous’ whodunit that leaves you thinking – “I would never have guessed!!!”

But above all this, it is about the comic element to it all…and that is what keeps you hooked to the film, not the plot.

Incidentally, that is the part that Steve Martin does really well. And that’s why I believe that the film continues in the Pink Panther tradition.

Still, I not a Steve Martin fan. But, I do believe that guys like him and Jim Carrey have a special talent…

Basic Instinct II

Posted: April 22, 2006 in Cinema
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1992 means different things to many people. If you are 30 and grew up in India, 1992 was probably the year when you faced the Mother of all Examinations – ICSE, CBSE or SSC, as the case maybe. And your results in that landmark event decided  your college or your High School and a lot of what happened thereafter for the next five years.

But, if you loved the movies, 1992 was also the year of Basic Instinct. And along with the ICSE exams and the event of going to college, Basic Instinct was among the events of the year. Bodyguard and “I will always love you” was another one.

I don’t recollect whether the film won critical acclaim or major awards. Yet, the film stands out in the genre of the psychological thriller. Sharon Stone and Michael Douglas came out with brilliant performances in a plot of many twists and turns, and left you guessing till the very end.

Of course, above all else, the film saw the coming of age of Sharon Stone. As she crossed and uncrossed her legs, and delivered her dialogues in a husky undertone, her performance ensured her name would be synonymous with the all time top notch performances of the psychotic female killer. Seductive, intelligent, powerful. She was Sharon Stone

It was also the  reason why she won the MTVs award  for  “Most Desirable Female”. Her opening lines ran… ” So do you find me desirable?” or something like that…delivered in inimitable Sharon Stone style.

And now, 14 years later, Basic Instinct II returns to Symphony. The first part played here as well.

But, as the reviews warn, Basic Instinct II does not really live up to the original. The twists and turn are without the precision and logic of the first part. Again the conclusion seeks to leave you guessing, but it remains only an attempt in that direction.

Needless to say, David Morrissey is a poor replacement for Michael Douglas. It’s a pity that Douglas refused to star in the sequel.

And then, there is Sharon Stone. She turned 48 this March and you can see the wrinkles. Yeah. she has style, substance, elegance etc etc etc… And compares well with a woman her age… but she does not compare well with herself at 34. And there lies the problem. To compete with yourself is sometimes the most difficult thing to do. And that’s why it frightens me the most.

Yes, 14 years can make a lot of difference. And sequels are not always a good idea.

I first experienced Beckett around the time I turned a teenager. The play was Waiting for Godot. At that time, I did not know much about Beckett, but I was looking forward to watching Naseeruddin Shah perform.

Well, as it happens, we left the theatre even before the play was over. Naseeruddin Shah was disappointing on stage. And my mother’s friend, Lakshmi, was horrified at an audience who could laugh at cruelty.

Many years later, I met Beckett in college. No, we did not study the text as part of our undergraduate education. But, one day, I happened to stumble upon Wendy doing a lecture on Absurd Theatre for the Master’s students. Beckett and Waiting for Godot were central to her lecture.

Wendy, of course, was awesome as usual.  I suddenly understood Absurd  Theatre in  a  new light.  The  absurdity of  life reflected on stage through the absurdity of theatre. That was interesting. And the waiting for Godot as the eternal inertia that humanity as a race seems to be caught in. I had truly never seen it that way before.

A couple of years later, I studied Beckett when I began on Master’s. By now, I was ready for him. Beckett no longer puzzled me. I was fascinated by the art used by Beckett. And yet, while it fascinated me as a concept, I could not see its theatrical strength.

Last night, I went for a conference hosted by  the Alliance Francaise to mark Beckett’s hundredth anniversary. The conference was to kick off a series of events and film screenings that will be staged over the next two months.

The panel discussion was followed by a screening of Beckett’s play Crabbe’s Last Tape, written by Beckett. I liked it very much. The film was the typical Absurdist piece, and yet it was not set in emptiness.

It was the tape that a man made of his life. And yet, there is a contrast between the manner in which the protagonist tells the story in youth and in old age. And so Crabbe, the protagonist, reacts to the story of his life that he told in his youth, and even tries to rewrite it.

I am still not convinced of the power of Beckett in terms of theatre… But, I suddenly saw his strength on film. Here, where the camera catches even  the movement of the eye, Beckett  can  be extremely  powerful. And these are the essence of Beckett… here meaning is conveyed by the rolling of an eyelid, a grimace, repetitive movement, silence vs the absence of silence and the use of brooding darkness. With a powerful actor, all of this can work very well on stage.

And so I found that unlike a lot of other theatre, Beckett works very well as cinema. It is before it’s time in another way as well – it seems to be written for cinema.

To Be a Writer

Posted: April 17, 2006 in Writing

Sometimes, I feel that it is a privilege and a curse to be a Writer.

You work for hours, days, months, years – sculpting, sculpting. You delve deep into your spirit – not always to find experiences, but definitely to draw out and then draw for an audience the laughter and the pain of life.

While doing this, you need to pay attention to your choice of expression. The attempt being to use often quoted, worn out words in novel ways.

And of course, the tale must not be too short or too long.

So the writer sets out on one endeavour after another. Again and again and again.

But, will the writer be successful? Well, who is to say?

Still, the writer crafts a tale. Now, it is the need of an idea to express itself. Success  – if it comes – is purely incidental.

Maqbool

Posted: April 14, 2006 in Cinema
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Maqbool happened to me this afternoon. Another small budget film – without much hype and hoopla. But, in essence, it’s what great cinema is all about. Even if it did not do too well at the box office.

The film directed by Vijay Bharadwaj is said to be inspired by Lady Macbeth. And I love the way that Macbeth is used – only as inspiration. It is not Macbeth in the Indian context, but there are traces of Macbeth… And that’s what appeals to the lover of English Literature within me.

But, Maqbool is not just about literature, it is more importantly about good cinema.

The story is one of love and betrayal set in the mafia turf of Mumbai. There is Abbaji – the Don – who reigns supreme. But, there is also the Don’s mistress Nimmi and his right hand man Maqbool. It is the  story of how Nimmi turns Maqbool against the Don who raised him. But, it is also the tale of the love of Maqbool and Nimmi… And  in this, their destruction.

The complexity of the characters draws you to a well told story. And Vijay Bharadwaj has found actors worthy to play the part.

Pankaj Kapoor is brilliant as Abbaji. And Tabu easily plays out the different facets that are Nimmi. Strong, yet vulnerable. Cunning, yet naive. Wicked, yet innocent. Vengence, yet love.

Irfan is brilliant as Maqbool. It surprises me that I’ve never heard of him in the mainstream media before or after.

And yes, the traces of Macbeth are there. Not as a blind adaption. But, in traces. You see it in Tabu’s character… The traces of guilt that haunt the protagonists… And as their characters slowly unravel.

Vijay Bharadwaj remains till the end firmly in command of his script… And in all the little twists and turns… The audience is left wondering… Now what???

It’s great to see how Tabu has matured as an actress. I also look forward to other great films from Vijay Bharadwaj.

What will I be?

Posted: April 13, 2006 in The Working life

Today, I find myself thinking about all the professional aspirations I had at different times of my life. Funny, how the things that you start out are finally not the ones that you are left with. But, that which lingers on, albeit by accident, becomes the integral fabric of your life.

An so, here are some of the things that I aspired to when I was a child and then half-woman…

To be a Missionary – Surprise, surprise! Yes, I was very religious as a child. I held on to this one till the time I turned 16 (that equals to standard 10).

To be a Lawyer – I held on to this one till I entered college. I was about 18 at this time.

To be a Journalist – This lasted till I worked in The Hindu during my second year in college.

To make Documentary films – This one still persists.

But in all the different quests for a profession that I could call my own, I have always known that my true calling was to write. Today, my corporate career only supports that.

There are other fields that interest me – photography, film making, theatre, music, dance, media research, academics.

But, I am aware that my true calling is ‘to write’, and to write well. I hope very much that I fulfill this.