Archive for February, 2010

Down by Law is a film with all the trademark qualities of the film making of Jim Jarmusch, and the style that has given a fillip to independent film making in America.

Set in an urban prison, it is a film about endings, beginnings and friendships that strike root at the most unusual places. As the tag line of the film goes “It’s not where you start – It’s where you start again”.

For me this film stands out for Jarmusch’s unique approach that combines the sheer absurdity of life with comic moments, leaving in its aftermath glimpses of profound wisdom. Much of the work of playwrights who championed the cause of Absurd Theatre seem like signposts that lead up to this final destination.

Conventional Jarmusch motifs like lives played out on the margins and chance encounters are crucial to the action in the film. Also on display are Jarmusch’s trademark long camera movements that always give his films a panoramic viewpoint.

Like much of Jarmusch’s work, the film is also shot in black and white and made on a shoestring budget.

In terms of performances, the touch of brilliance comes from Roberto Benigni. International audiences of course most appreciate Benigni’s work for the part he played in Life is Beautiful. But even before he won global acclaim, he stands head and shoulder above the rest in Down by Law – the film that also marked the beginning of his body of work in Hollywood and his association with Jarmusch.

Stellar performances are given greater depth with interesting camera movement, great scripting and brilliant dialogues. All of this combines to make Down by Law a ‘must watch’ for those who enjoy cinema with layered meaning.

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Brick Lane

Posted: February 13, 2010 in Books
Tags: ,

I finally completed Brick Lane by Monica Ali after almost a year of attempting to read it. The book that has its action situated in a real neighbourhood called Brick Lane in London first captured international headlines when the residents of the area protested against the attempts to make the book into a film. Most of them were Bangladeshi immigrants, who were against the portrayal of their community in the book, and did not want this characterisation to gain further notoriety with a film.

The hullabaloo surrounding Brick Lane notwithstanding, I found the book a very average read. While Monica Ali arouses interest with her slightly exotic locale and writing style, she does not fare as well in her attempt at being a story teller. The book begins at a medium pace, petters down to a snail’s pace, and is finally saved only by a riveting conclusion. This should explain why it took me a year to complete the book, and I finally managed only because I persisted with dogged determination.

The other huge failing of the book is Ali’s inability to inhabit the world of any of her characters or even experience a degree of warmth towards them. As a result, you never feel with her protagonist Nazneen, who remains till the end a curious exotic spectacle, even for someone who has been raised in the Indian sub-continent.

Compare this with the creative creation of another great South Asian character Gandhi, in a film by the same name. The character goes beyond ‘spectacle’ value to reverberate with universality across races and even generations. Herein lies its greatness, and it is this quality of a timeless classic that one never feels with “Brick Lane”.

While it be argued that Nazneen does not have the greatness of Gandhi to begin with, my reference is more to the empathy for characters, which is ably demonstrated in a lesser known book like Andaleeb Wajid’s Kite Strings.

Yet, the book’s saving grace is Ali’s refusal to accept predictable resolutions in response to the crisis situations that arise in her book. In this, she creates a work that marks many departures from the norm in the context of diaspora narratives.

I’d go with a rating of 3 stars for this book. It’s also still worth a read for those wondering what the controversy around Brick Lane was all about.

It was a special day for me this morning. I walked into Landmark to see “Chicken Soup for the Indian Romantic Soul” on display, with my name amongst the contributing authors.

Not a huge achievement (and yes, I agree with those who think that Chicken Soup has been oversold), and yet sometimes life is about celebrating the little things that make you smile. So here’s to “Chicken Soup for the Indian Romantic Soul” because I felt really good to see it in print this morning 🙂

I watched An Unfinished Life for the second time this weekend. Watching the film again reminded me once more that it is the triumph of a film maker who revels in the art of story telling, tinged with an ancient eternal wisdom that never fails to rejuvenate your soul.

As in Lasse Hallstrom’s previous films Cider House Rules and Chocolat, An Unfinished Life is not about lives played out in black and white. It is a story about the pain and joy of existence, told in lines that have all the twistedness of living.

So as in Hallstrom’s earlier work, the strength of An Unfinished Life lies in its script. Even when the plot is predictable, words are alive with meaning, in a script that makes you laugh and cry. Of course, befitting a film set in the picturesque Wyoming mountains (but shot in Canada), the film is also rich in visual meaning, and every image has a life of its own.

Against this canvas, Hallstrom etches the lifelines of a father mourning the life that was taken away from him when he lost his son. The unfinished life that is the son’s becomes the father’s, till he learns to live again.

The visual spectacle is the backdrop for moments of insight. Take the moment the beautiful battered girlfriend makes the stunning confession, “You stay because you don’t believe you deserve better.”

Another favourite moment is the concluding scene shot as a fade out of the father in conversation with his friend against the mountains, looking back at his son’s life. In the voice over, the father’s voice tells us “Griff really liked flying. From there it always looked like there was a reason for everything.”

All these instants of living are brought together with outstanding editing that cuts and joins scenes at all the right places. In this it tugs and lets go of your heart strings at the right moments, in a way that only a master story teller can.

In terms of performances, this must rate amongst the outstanding films of both Robert Redford and Morgan Freeman. Jennifer Lopez plays her part too. But it is Redford and Freeman who come together to give the film its depth. Sometimes in their gait, sometimes with just with an expression in their eyes.

All of this combines to give the film a spiritual quality, which like the Wyoming Mountains will draw you back many times.

I did a guest post on Uniquely Priya’s Blog the other day. This post is important to me because it’s the first time that I’ve introspected on the making of Ginger Soda Lemon Pop.

You could read more about what I discovered about myself while writing for Uniquely Priya here.

I met Anamika over lunch yesterday, and we discussed my drifter’s bucket list. Amongst other things, her surprise that I wanted to learn to play the guitar.

“Why the guitar?” she asked me.

I told her, “Well, I’ve always to learn to play a musical instrument. The guitar is not very noisy to learn and it’s easy to use after that.” (or something to that effect)

But her question got me thinking. I realized that the drums were the musical instrument that I’d always wanted to learn. But, I’d kept putting it off because it was noisy to learn and difficult to use after that unless I joined a band.

I realized that once more I was putting off something I really wanted to do for something that was more practical.

So in the spirit of following my heart, I have decided to learn to play the drums instead of the guitar. Simply because even if it’s not practical, it’s something that I’ve always wanted to do.

Enough of doing what’s right for me… And more of simply following my heart for its own sake.