Saturday, December 8, 2012

Book Review: Once Upon The tracks Of Mumbai

The first thing that comes to mind when we think of Mumbai is its sprawling local rail system that binds different parts of the huge city. Railway tracks can aptly be called the life line of Mumbai. Many middle class and lower class citizens of Mumbai directly or indirectly depends on local trains for their daily survival. But except for some fleeting appearances here and there, never was there a popular book or movie that explores the life along these tracks to the full potential. Rishi Vohra is trying to do it in his debut novel Once Upon The Tracks of Mumbai by setting the entire plot of it in a railway colony. 

Novel tells the story of an autistic man, Babloo and deals with his cravings and attempts for recognition and acceptance in his family and society, who are busy with their own lives and are not interested in him. Vandana is the lady who understands and accept him for what he actually is. She is on the lookout for the perfect love oblivious of the fact that it is there right in front of her. Other motley group of characters of the novel are Sikander the opportunist who is always chasing skirts, Raghu brother of Babloo who gets engaged to Vandana against her wish, parents of Babloo and Vandana who are a bit too practical with their approach, Manjit Singh the taxi driver who saves Babloo from many a difficulties from time to time and the Rail Man. Rail Man is a character of mystery who serves justice on the tracks in night time. He is what Babloo cannot be.

The novel is basically a feel good story where a man fights against all odds and emerges victorious. The language is very simple and will appeal to mass. The characters are interesting and very life like. One point that I liked was the portrayal of the Rail Man. There was every opportunity for the writer to portray him as a superhero- a larger than life figure. That would have made this book totally different from what it is now. But much restraint is shown in this regards thereby keeping the realism intact. Babloo's dialogue, most of them contained in mono-syllables is very convincing of his condition.

Speaking about negatives, I felt two minor blemishes. Both of them relates to the narrating style that the author has adopted. The story is told in multiple view points. Some chapters are in first person- from Babloo's point of view. Some are told in third person. This happens when narrating events that Babloo has no chance of experiencing first hand. The shift is quite random. I feel it could have been organized a bit. Either entire story could have been told in the view point of the protagonist, or totally from a third person perspective. Another approach can be by spacing the shift in narration chapter wise. This is my personal opinion- correct me if I am wrong. Second trouble is with Babloo's narration- it just doesn't sound sometimes coming from a man of his state. 

Otherwise Rishi Vohra's Once Upon The Tracks Of Mumbai is a good and interesting story, easily readable and one that puts a smile on your lips after reading.

Book Source: Author

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Saturday, December 1, 2012

Three Interesting Plays- An Evening With Anton Chekhov, Afterlife Of Birds and Ms Meena

I used to be a regular spectator of plays, mostly in English and rarely in Kannada, presented at Rangashankara, Bangalore. But from last six months following this passion has taken a back seat due to several personal reasons. Couple of weeks back I happened to watch this collection of four short plays exhibited as An Evening With Anton Chekhov in Rangashankara. That prompted me to write this post about that play and two other plays that I watched sometime back, but never managed to write about in this space- Afterlife of Birds and Ms Meena. 

An Evening With Anton Chekhov is a collection of short plays by Chekhov basically dealing with frustrations happening to people while dealing with surroundings. Directed by Anmol Vellani, all of these plays has one male protagonist's monologue were he vents his frustrations about life, job, monotony, society, physical weakness, old age etc. The beauty is that never for a moment during the show audience are made to feel bogged down by the continuous cribbing, thanks to clever scripting and brilliant acting. We all had a good laugh. But we also identified with the plight of these men and sympathized with them. I am sure all of us felt within ourselves the presence of them at one point of time or another. 

Afterlife of Birds, an award winning play directed by Abhishek Majumdar deals with several important aspects of modern life- terrorism, loyalty, patriotism, importance of family and such. Major incentive for me to watch this play was seeing Revathy, one of the best actor in the country performing live. The play follows two narratives that meets at the end- one about the relationship between two women who joins LTTE together and another about the relationship between a father who is a bandwallah performing in the Republic Day Parade and his terrorist son who want to disrupt the parade as a suicide bomber. One of the best things I feel is that the play never tries to be judgemental about the politics behind terrorism. It just portrays certain situations where people need to confront their ideologies, live with them, or oppose them. 

A thought provoking script backed by powerful performances makes this play a must watch. Ms Meena is a play directed by Rajiv Krishnan and deals with the vices of materialism. The play is very colorful and told in a very retro style of way. People of Pitchampuram, a poverty stricken village, are eagerly awaiting for Ms Meena, formerly Asha, a popular movie star who used to live in that village before becoming so. She is coming back to film her last movie and has promised to deliver them out of poverty, but at a price. Performances and innovative presentation makes it worth watching.

Friday, November 30, 2012

Watching Life of Pi After Reading It..

I normally never like a movie based on a book if I have read the book already. The movie tend to compress the feeling of reading the book and seriously hamper it. And many times they try to alter the book and screws the whole thing up. Movie version of Love At The Time Of Cholera is the example of former and that of Around The World In 80 Days is an example of latter. But Ang Lee's Life Of Pi is an exception. 

I happened to watch it on 3D last weekend from Inox in Central Mall, J P Nagar. Much praise has been heaped on the movie already by those who watched it. All are going gaga over the direction, acting, special effects and the story in many platforms and I don't feel like repeating those praises. Let me just list out a few points that I felt after watching the movie version about why I loved the movie. 

The novel Life Of Pi by Yann Martel is probably one of the most difficult of the stories to make into a good movie. First of all it requires a mammoth effort to make it convincing due to the story line- that of a kid surviving in sea for months in the company of a Bengal Tiger. Another problem is the monotony that may arise after a while as there are only two characters to carry the movie forward and one of it has to be made entirely out of graphics. But to the credit of Ang Lee, he has made a movie that is convincing as well as interesting. 

After watching the movie, I started appreciating the book better. I was comparing the visual images that the novel created in my mind with that of what I watched on screen. And they were matching. I can now see that Yann Martel, while writing the novel has given everything, every detailing, imagery and vision for Ang Lee to picture the movie brilliantly. And Ang Lee has followed the writer faithfully without omitting anything that can tamper the soul of his vision making a visual master piece. That is where a book and its movie version compliment each other perfectly.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Ayalum Njanum Thammil: No Spoonfeeding Thankfully

There was a time when nothing could go wrong in the hands of Malayalam movie directors- during the middle of 1980s to middle of 1990s. Priyadarshan, Sathyan Anthikkad, I V Sasi, Padmarajan, Bharathan, Sibi Malayil- all these directors and many more, were making movies spanning diverse genres and diverse sensibilities. Then there was a sudden dip in the quality. Even many acclaimed directors had started making movies that were an insult to the sensibilities of the audience. Most of the movies started revolving around a super star or depended on tasteless humor treating the audiences mentally retarded. It is only in the recent few years, Malayalam cinema started slowly coming out of this pit riding on new generation movies. But even in its difficult times there were a couple of good directors who consistently delivered good movies. Among them Lal Jose is one director who has what you can call a Midas touch. 

Lal Jose has consistently delivered interesting movies, without repeating himself and always showing the audience something that they never saw before. Along with that he always included a message for the viewer to take back home. Best thing is that this message is never told in a preachy way but comes embedded in the story itself. His heroes and heroines treaded the path of normalcy, never bothering to touch the sky. Every one of his character actors delivers their career best performance in his movies irrespective of the length of their role. All his movies take the middle path between art and commercialism. It is with all these expectations that I went to watch his latest movie, Ayalum Njanum Thammil (Between him and me) last weekend. And he delivered again. 

Ayalum Njanum Thammil is a coming of age story of a doctor, Ravi Tharakan portrayed by Prithviraj. At the start of the movie we see him deciding to perform an operation seemingly without parental consent on a small kid. It proves fatal to the kid and to escape an irate crowd, he absconds. Three characters whose life he has touched meet in the aftermath, recounting their experiences with him. Ravi used to be a care free young medical student who passed his exams with great difficulty. He is compelled to work in a rural hospital to get his certificate and there he meets Dr Samuel. Dr Samuel’s idealistic life slowly transforms the home sick and wayward youngster into an idealist doctor. On the way we are exposed to several malpractices in Medical profession due to the commercialization of health care. 

Prithvi gets the role of his lifetime and he never disappoints. Yesteryear actor Prathap Pothan who came back to limelight with a chilling portrayal of the villain in the movie 22F K, does the strikingly contrasting role of Dr Samuel. He is the show stealer in the movie with his soft, but stern articulation and sensitive performance. Narain as the friend of the hero, Samvritha as the heroine of his failed love story, Ramya Nambeesan and Reema in two small but pivotal roles, Salim Kumar, Mani and Sukumari… each of them has done great. The movie focuses only on the central story. All other subplots and characters are there just to show the change that the protagonist undergoes, even his lovestory is treated as such. The abrupt ending without much detailing makes the story more compact. Also this proves that Lal Jose considers his viewers as clever as him and knows nothing has to be spoon fed to them, which is also a welcome change.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Diwali And The Key To Happiness

In Kerala, Diwali is not traditionally celebrated with much dhaam dhoom as in other parts of India. That is the reason why I never associated this festival with crackers. We in Kerala celebrate Vishu and it is in this occasion that we normally burst crackers. I used to have lot of enthusiasm for this activity when I was a kid, but with time bursting crackers had become the least of priorities. So from the last six years that I am in Bangalore, I have never lighted a cracker for Diwali even when the whole neighborhood was enjoying their high decibel fun. 

But this year turned out to be different and how! What makes it more fun was that there was no plan till the last moment and it was just a momentary decision that made our evening the most enjoyable one in last few months. Diwali was a working day for us as the company management decided to give us off on Monday instead of Tuesday in which Diwali fell. My better half M went to meet my close friend and colleague V's wife S who stayed nearby. S had made some delicious Gulab Jamuns, and invited me too to join them after working hours. So evening I went there with V, who had got a huge box of assorted crackers, but was in a mood to gift it to kids. We four had jamuns and coffee, chit chatted for some time and then me and M took leave. 

We walked back and was about to reach our home when M remembered the key. She had kept the key at V's home when she was there. We had to walk back all the way to get the key. But when we reached their home, the plans changed. The decision was taken to burst crackers, at least some of that he had in stock if not all. We burnt the candles, took out the sparklers, rockets, wheels and had a great time. Our house key turned out to be the key of happiness this Diwali.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Book Review: The Bankster

As the title indicates, Ravi Subramanian’s latest novel The Bankster deals with the intricate world of international banking and the crimes associated with it. I have never read any of his previous books- The Incredible Banker or The Devil in Pinstripes. But I feel like reading them after reading this one. That I think in itself is a great achievement for a writer. These days many Indian writers are pushing their limits and are trying to achieve the heights scaled by several popular fiction writers of the West, in terms of content, genre, plot and quality (the tag John Grisham of Banking on the book cover of The Bankster is an evidence). Though the quality of writing in many cases is debatable, I feel the effort itself deserves a pat on the back. And with writers like Ravi Subramanian, the distance to be covered in this regards is getting shorter.

Bankster is a word coined from the words Banker and Gangster. The novel is about such a group of Banksters (bankers who uses their profession as a cover to perpetrate crime), their victims and people out to stop them at any cost. Narrative crisscrosses many national borders. The first act is in Angola where a rogue CIA agent buys blood diamond. Then we are told about a father in Kerala who lost his beloved son to the nuclear accident in Chernobyl and is hell bent on preventing any such atrocity happening again. After that action shifts to Mumbai, to Great Boston Global Bank, an international bank where everything seems compliant and efficient on surface, but deep inside something sinister and nasty is cooking. A chain of cold blooded serial murders disturb the peace and steps in Karan Panjabi, a journalist and former employee to uncover the truth. 

Spanning 358 pages, The Bankster is a fast paced thriller and in every page something happens that keep the reader engaged and thinking. The setting is chillingly realistic and gives a feel that such heinous crimes are possible inside the seemingly spot free and sophisticated banks. The best quality of the book is that even a novice like me does not feel bogged down by the narration that uses practices, procedures and terminology used in banking sector to move the story forward. The climax is good, considering that the suspense that build up from starting gets culminated logically and believably. No loopholes are left opened. 

Speaking about the negatives, the characterization is a bit shallow. You will find characters spanning a wide spectrum. Like the idealist Krishna Menon, to characters with grey shades like Nikhil and outright evil personified (I cannot take their names as it will be a spoiler). The writing never makes us feel about any of these characters. We are never made to enter their universe and see things from their perspective. Ultimately they end up just being pawns of the game that the author is describing and nothing more. Ifwe observe masters of this genre- John Grisham, John le Carre or Jeffrey Archer, we can see that they never rush with their plot. They take their own sweet time to develop their characters and plot, thereby making the reader care about them. But inspite of it, I would say The Bankster is a must read for people who like good thrillers. 

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Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Orhan Pamuk’s Snow: Tiring But Insightful

In Orhan Pamuk’s acclaimed novel Snow,a middle aged writer on political exile returns to his home country only to find that everything that was once familiar to him is changed. The novel set in Kars, a border town in Turkey, is a multilayered story dealing with subjects as varied as the conflict between East and West, religion, belief, God, secularism,love, art and power. The book has a snail-like pace, but rewards the patient reader with several profoundinsights about the topics it deal with. It makes us think about real people living and dealing with issues in a world where the gap between politics and religion is getting narrow by the day. Ka reaches the border city of Kars (Snow) as a journalist to investigate the suicideof several young girls and also to report on the mayoral elections. The previous mayor was killed and this time Muhtar Bey, of anIslamic party is the popular candidate expected to win the election. Radical Islam is slowly getting popular in a nation governed by seculars. The secular government has banned girls coming to educational institutes wearing head scarves. Political Islamists claim this as the reason for suicides. Ka has one more personal agendato fulfill- returning to Germany with his old lover Ipek, ex-wife of Muhtar. Heavy snowfall blocks the road for three days and there occurs a chain of events that change the life of everyone in Kars. Ka witness the death of an official and a drama troupe with the help of secret police and ex-military personnel conducts a coup. These events makes everyone involved introspect and find what is really important to them in life. More than the plot, it is the characterizationthat makes this novel interesting. Each person in the story is integral to the plot. Every one of the characters is strong willed and has their own value system according to which they act. Some of themlike Blue, the enigmatic terrorist and Sunoy, the actor who leads the coup, pronounce their beliefoutright. But some of them like Ipek or Kadife, her sister reveals it through their actions. Snow that falls incessantly and blocks all the exitsto Kars is also an integral character in the drama. Sometimessnowfall is contributesto solitude, sometimesto happiness and many other emotions according to the occasions. Ka gets back his ability to write poems in Kars and later he organizeshis poems that ‘come to him’ in Kars in the shape of a snow flake.Orhan Pamuk’s Snow is a profound novel that can be tiring but also insightful to readers who are ready to invest their time and effort.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

A weird dream

I have had my share of weird dreams. Flying snakes, war scenarios, cob webs, oceans, guns, dragons, whales, pirate ships, mountains, ghosts… you name it, I’ve seen it. I’ve even dreamed waking up, doing my regular chores and going to office, only to wake up and find that I’ve to do it all over again. But these days I’ve acquired a knack of forgetting my dreams just moments after waking up. So there are mornings when I ponder hard about that great dream that I had moments before, but all that draws in my mind is a blank wall. Last week one early morning I saw this dream that lingered a little while in my mind even after waking up. I don’t remember the whole episode but just some highlights and the ending, as it caught me totally off guard. I am not a person who believes that dreams point to one’s future or analyzing the images and the symbols in dreams can give insights to one’s psychology. But if any of you can make any deduction with this one, I don’t mind you sharing it with me. I saw myself at a relatives’ place. They are very close relatives of mine, or so I should assume by the manner I behaved with them. (Now don’t ask me how I am related to them. I don’t have any idea, nor am I remembering any of their faces.) Time is late evening and I have to return from there to Bangalore. Bus starts at 10 pm, but before that I have to pick the rest of my family from a nearby place. Many people are entering the household, greeting me and chatting with me. I am looking at my watch and noting that it is time to go. Then I noticed that these guys have a dog at their home. And what a dog it was! I should call it a hound... such a ferocious and mean looking dog. I saw it standing on its hind legs and effortlessly placing its forelegs on the shoulder of a man. And then it was time for me to move from there. I collected my luggage, bid farewell to the people there and walked towards the place my family was. I walked some distance and looked back to see the hound and another dog following me. The other dog was a dwarf compared with the hound. Its barking was more of yelping and was irritating. It tried to run behind me and when I threw an imaginary stone at it, ran back and hid behind a tree. All this time the hound was peacefully strolling behind me with an indifferent look on its face. I was about to reach my destination, just few more meters will take me there. The hound increased its pace. It was just behind me within seconds. I turned back to face it with a slight tension in my mind. The hound stood on its hind legs, placed its forelegs on my shoulders, looked on my face with a friendly expression and enquired: “What time is your bus?” “Ten O clock” I replied calmly.

Monday, October 8, 2012

SPIRITual Bliss And A Bewildered Friend

A couple of years back, I had met this guy from North India who was on a short term assignment to Bangalore. He was a pale, lean and tall person, so naive that I crossed a busy Bangalore road and had to wait for ten minutes for him to cross. I had spent a couple of days with him and had took him around our locality to show the place. Everything in Bangalore- food, transport, culture, language, people- was all very new to him. If you are from Bangalore, you probably will be familiar with the sight of men fallen on ground in deep drunken stupor- in a real SPIRITual bliss. That day when I took him to a crowded market there were three of them lying just some ten meters apart. When my friend saw this sight that was alien to him, he stared for some moments, then looked at me and whispered nervously: "They are not dead. Are they?" "No, they aren't... I hope they aren't", was my reply. ...who knows?

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Book Review: The Krishna Key

The Krishna Key by Ashwin Sanghi falls in the category of conspiracy theory fiction. The fact that it has to compete with such giants like Faucault’s Pendulum or Da Vinci Code makes the task of the writer difficult. But Sanghi has already proven his mettle in story telling with already a best seller Chanakya’s Chant in his credit. Thus the expectation from this novel is sky high. As the name indicates, the novel is an adrenalin ride based on the life of Krishna, the most enigmatic character in Indian mythology. It reads in between the lines of Mahabharatha, Bhagavatha and many other ancient scriptures and tries to tell a story of treasure hunters whose fate lies on solving the clues provided in them.  
The biggest issue with Indian history is its ambiguity. Our ancient history is never recorded in a factorial manner like Greek or Roman history. There are only loose versions of events and personalities spread over many epics, scriptures and folklores. Many incidents are exaggerated, many are subdued and most are allegorized thus leaving many black holes in the narrative. Half baked and prejudiced historic studies in Colonial times also worsened the ambiguity. This gives ample scope for writers to reinterpret the events and form conspiracy theories. Sanghi uses this to his advantage by using up almost all the conspiracy theories related to Indian mythology in his narrative.
A man claiming to be Kalki Avataar, the last of ten incarnations of Lord Vishnu, is on a killing spree. A Professor with expertise in Ancient Indian History is framed for the crimes. His only chance of survival now lies in solving a mystery from past. Along with him or against him in the rat race are some curious personalities with motives of their own- greed, love, loyalty, revenge and piety. An underworld don with a curious lineage, a stubborn lady police officer, a corrupt CBI officer who will do anything for money, a criminal lawyer and so on… Lead by Saini gathering clues from Indian mythology and History, they are on a dangerous journey to uncover a secret from past that can render every modern technology obsolete.
The Krishna Key uses every conspiracy theory and controversial historical theories perpetrated in the subcontinent to prove its point. In Umberto Eco’s novel Faucault’s Pendulum there is a very interesting observation about conspiracy theories. It is very easy to make a connection between too seemingly unconnected events if one has a superficial but wide knowledge and good imagination. In that novel some men starts making a new conspiracy theory for fun and it goes out of their hands, finally they themselves believing the lies. Here too this complex is evident. Every bit of historical information, however farfetched it may seem, is made to bear a connection to Krishna. I am not making this point to demean the work of its immense readability, because in this genre, this quality is a must to make the novel interesting.

The Krishna Key as I have told is very readable thanks to the fast pace, clever plot twists and diverse information thrown at the reader in regular intervals bewildering them. One negative point about the narration is its lack of good characterization. One does not feel a bit for Saini or any other character however deep distress they are in. But this deficiency is mostly covered up by the ambiance that Krishna Key creates in reader’s mind. It takes us into several mystery- laden and exotic places in the subcontinent. I would definitely suggest this novel to people who loves page turners.  

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Sunday, September 2, 2012

Acidic Wit: Stories by Saki (H H Munroe)

Saki is one writer who brings back memories of High School English classes- memories of several teachers with their different styles and methodologies, different (mis)pronunciations, mannerisms and different levels of interest they evoke. Saki or H. H. Munro was a regular story writer featuring every year in our English text books. Also if we take any anthology of English short stories, one story by him is a must. So when I saw a collection of Complete Short Stories I grabbed it eagerly and devoured it. 

The book contains stories from five of his collections. The first two Reginald and Reginald In Russia, features his famous character Reginald. He is a young guy, outspoken and infatuated with his own good looks. Theme of all these stories is his unfruitful and embarrassing (for others around him) social interactions. Third collection, The Chronicles of Clovis features Clovis Sangrail, another clever youngster always making elaborate practical jokes much to the discomfort of other civilized beings of society around him. The Beasts and Super Beasts is a collection that involves stories concerning nature. Other two collections – The Toys of Peace and The Square Egg are his early works and stories published posthumously. The stories are readable though comes nowhere near stories from other collections.

Just like many other story writers of his time, the stories by Saki are predominantly humorous. He satirizes the social structure of his times. What makes his stories different from his contemporaries is his scant regard to political correctness and absence of any contempt to his characters. Most of thestories are of pranks played by someone onan unsuspecting victim and in most of the cases the fun causes some sort of permanent damage tothe victim. We never see any poetic justice happening in them. The satire is acidic. Saki makes fun of the pompous upper class, aspiring middle class and struggling lower class alike. These stories thus make a striking social commentary of his times and also to some extent, of ours.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Weekend With The Wimpy Kid

I read Diary of a Wimpy Kid last weekend! It is the unlikeliest of the books that I pick for a reading, but I ended up reading it and that too in a single sitting with a 10 minute nap in between. The kid whom the book belonged to was seemingly shocked when I picked it and told me plainly it was not recommended for me as it was the tale of a naughty boy. May be she thought the story of a mischievous and selfish kid plotting against his friends and doing bad things will adversely affect me. But she doesn’t know that the damage is already done! She recommended another book for kids were a rat and his friends run a newspaper and do incredible things. As I could not get past the second page, I returned back to the wimpy kid. Sunday evenings are not to be spent with rats, however intelligent they may be.

When you read a bookprimarily meant for entertaining kids and you are of an age past30, it is tough to keep the inhibitions aside. You are dispassionate,not feeling much of anaffection to the built up and you go on looking for loop holes.And then I took the nap that I mentioned before. Do you know apeculiar thing? After taking a nap in a Sunday afternoon, your skill to appreciatethings takes a beating.I remember a couple of weeks back, a Sunday afternoon I slept and woke up to find a Mithun Chakaraborthy movie playing in TV. I watched it full and even felt it was ok. I don’t know if this is ever verified scientifically, but ultimately I enjoyed the book.

Diary Of A Wimpy Kid is written by Jeff Kinney. Wimpy kid is Greg Heffley and the book is written as a diary with funny illustrations and caricatures depicting his struggles in middleschool. He wants to become the most popular kid and everything that he does for achieving it backfires. The book is really funny and will appeal to kids most. Even adults will find the story amusing. I love the parts about Cheese touch, becauseas kids we used to have that concept. If any one of us touches anything dirty, no one touches him. He can transfer the curse by just touching another kid. If you are an adultand happen to like this book, I will recommend two morebooks to you- “Tottochan, the little girl by the window” and “The Little Prince”.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Yathicharya: A Spiritual Journey

In Malayalam, there are many writers whom I really adore. But the one writer- doesn’t know if I can call him that as he is much more than a mere writer, who has really inspired me, is Guru Nityachaitanya Yathi. One of my close friends, an avid book lover as me, recommended his books to me and a skeptical me opened his book “Soundaryam, Anubhavam, Anubhooti” expecting a very spiritual kind of book. It was an experience! After reading it, I came to know how to read a book, how to look at art, at life and at world with an open eye, not to just see it, but to feel, understand and make it an experience as the title of the book suggests. His writing style is so passionate about life and art and so simple that you cannot help feeling a strange attraction towards the subject that he writes about. And talking about subjects, he writes with same passion and in depth about Poetry, fiction, philosophy, psychology, religion, society, people and many other topics. His (incomplete) translation of the autobiography of Neruda is one of the best Malayalam translations that I ever read. You cannot believe that a Sanyasi can translate love, passion and anger felt by the rebel poet and make the reader empathize with him.

“Yathicharya” is his travelogue on one of his visits to Europe and US. This book, I feel can serve as a good introduction if you are interested to read more of his books because essence of his philosophy, his interests and his vision can be seen here. His interactions and discussions with the friends, experts in various fields and totalstrangers constitute most of the narration. You will not find many descriptions about the places that he saw. Only those things that interest him are detailed. But the book is in no way boring as Guru does a good and interesting character sketching of every one whom he has met. A healthy dose of humor surprisingly garnishes otherwise serious proceedings. There are lots of pages devoted to thoughts of death. May be the reason is his failing health and the news of the death of some his near ones.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

The Warrior: A Journey to Higher Realms

The Warrior is a British movie made byAsif Kapadia, a director of Indian origin. This movie, set in India is his first feature film and had a crew of diverse nationalities. The movie was appreciated all over and was the official entry for Academy awards from UK that year, but was rejected as the dialogues were in Hindi, a language that is not indigenous to UK. The Warrior catapulted Irrfan Khan, who had appeared in minor roles and in TV serials till then into international fame.

The Warrior, set in medieval India, is the story about the redemption of a brutaland remorseless warrior working for a cruel landlord in Rajasthan. Warrior hasa son whom he wantsto mold like himself. But the son is not interested and is of a more compassionate and passive nature. Once while raiding a village, the warrior happens to point his sword to the neck of ayoung girl and has a vision of him on a snow clad mountain. The vision causes an abrupt paradigm change in him and he decides to abandon violence. He decides togo to the mountains that he saw in the vision and lead a peaceful life. But the landlord and his colleagues are not ready to let him desertthem. His son dies trying to save his life. He embarks on the journey alone. Rest of the movie shows his journey and struggles,the people he encounters on the way, the changes theymake in him and his violent past catching up with him in the end.

This is a perfect example of how with limited resources, a movie with an epic feel can be made. Many actors are local people and first timers, the sets are actual ruins and villages in remote areas of Rajasthan and more importance is given for character development and story-telling. With a story based on the theme of violence, there was lot of chance to portray graphic onscreen gore. But the director cleverly avoids it and concentrating more on the emotional core of the story. Even the most violent scenes- a decapitation and many killings are shown out of screen with just the expressions of actors revealing the ferocity of incidents. Irrfan, with his expressive eyes does a fabulous job in revealing the troubled inside of a changed man. All the other supporting actors also does a great job, even those in bit parts.

I love movies that make me to think. I always feel there should be another layer below what is revealed to the audience, something that makes him connect the story withhis life. The Warrior is such a multi layered movie. I feel this movie is about going the right way. It beautifully portrays the hardships that a man has to endure if he chooses the right path. Everything turns back against him, he loses his loved ones, his colleagues are out for his blood and in every crossroad he has to reconsider his decision, in a dilemma,whether he has done the right thing. But in end things always gets fine. The journey from the barren lowlands of Rajasthan to upper mountains ofKulu, is essentially a spiritual journey to higher realms.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Chinese Confusion

There was a time when I actually believed Jackie Chan movies were English. Well, as a matter of fact we watched them in English, but never knew they were dubbed versions of Chinese. As kids, for us Jackie Chan and JetLi movies were as authentic English as Arnold Schwarzeneggar's or Van Damme's. So it came as a surprise when I read an article about Chan's entry into Hollywood through WhoAm I? and Jet Li's as a villain in Lethal Weapon 4. Wait... These guys were never in Hollywood?

Bruce Lee was a childhood icon though the first Bruce Lee movie that I watched was Big Boss when I was in 7th standard. I never used to watch many English (?) movies then. I remember The Good, The Bad and The Ugly to be my favorite English movie for a while. Then again a surprising factoid claimed that it was originally filmed in Italian and dubbed in English.

The confusion about Chinese- English moviesstarted with my first Jackie Chan movie, continued with first Jet Li movie and still goes on whenever they show them on TV. My first Jackie Chan movie was titled Drugbusters. I went with expectation of heavy action. But the movie was about a bunch of funny guys doing nonsense for an hour and half. Jackie Chan comes in just two action scenes. That was actually a Lucky Starsmovie with Jackie Chan doing a cameo.

My first Jet Li movie was called Shaolin Temple and that was an undeniably great flick. Next week in the same movie house came another Jet Li movie titled Stuntmaster. I rushed to watch it only to find out it was same Shaolin Temple movie that I watched the last week. Later I realised that it is a common practice to re release movies with different titles just to mislead the audience. So we have Police Story 3 renamed as Super Cop, Crime Story renamed as Police Story 4, Wheels on meals reappearing as Spanish Connection and so on.

Bruce Lee movies are a bigger mess. As I toldearlier, Big Boss was my first Bruce Lee movie. Years later I watched the same movie as Fist of Fury. Another movie titled Chinese Connection reappeared in a DVD with the title... Fist of Fury! Two movies with same title. Way of the Dragon is also released as Return of the Dragon. Years after watching Game of Death, an ugly fact comes out that it has only 11 minutes of actual Bruce Lee footage in it. Remaining is a look alike with fake beard and mustache.

The topic of look alike takes us to an interesting phenomenon called Bruceploitation. Sudden and unexpected demise of the Dragon left a void in Hong Kong cinema. To cover it and make some fastbuck, production houses made movies with Bruce Lee look alikes. (Jackie Chan started his career that way.) I first noticed it in an advertisement of Fist of Fury which cautions audience about a movie released asFist of Fury 2 starring Bruce Li, a look alike. A few years later I was a victim when I watched Chaku Master starring Bruce Le, another imitator. But the best Bruceploitation flick that I watched is titled The Dragon Lives Again, in which a dead Bruce Lee confronts and wins against many other movie characters like James Bond, Dracula, Clinton Eastwood and others with the help of... Oh, you will never guess it... Popeye! It cannot get confusing than this.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Crime of Bol Bachchan

Bol Bachchan is an interesting phenomenon. As you may be well aware, it is the latest flick to come out of the assembly line of Mr Rohit Shetty and team. Personally I find most of his previous movies alright. They are fun to watch, though in no way worthy of remembering. Bol Bachchan was hyped as a remake of yesteryear classic Golmaal. Rohit Shetty claims that it is his tribute to the movie made in his style. But if you look closely at this half boiled effort, it is not only anywhere near Golmaal, but does not even come near any of Rohit Shetty's previous efforts. Faults are many. 

First of all, the movie is not funny. If I say that the only time i laughed out loud throughout the entire three hours was when they played the promo of upcoming movie 'Kya Super Kool Hein Hum', I am not exaggerating. The movie stars many of Comedy Stars participants and Judge Archana Puran Singh, of which the director is also a judge. The only fact that lift Bol Bachchan above the standard of Comedy Circus is the presence of Devgn and AB Jr. AB Sr's desperate attempt to revive his son's failing career by appearing in awful item songs is as pathetic as Devgn's forced English translations and AB Jr.'s queer turn. 

But the most offending fault of this movie is none of these. Hriskesh Mukharjee's Golmaal was made at a time when Hindi movies used to ride on larger than life heroes and one line story lines. This guy consistently made simple, light hearted movies devoid of any melodrama with his feet planted on ground realities. He made superstars like AB and Dharmendra to come down to earth and made stars out of down to earth faces like Amol Palekar. Golmaal made fun of simple human follies and ego clashes that we regularly witness in day to day life. When Amol Palekar and team tell lies and cheat Utpal Dutt, they and even the audience consider it as just childish pranks, and all of us gleefully join the mayhem.

Bol Bachchan never tries to built on these factors that made the original too good and ever loved movie. Here protagonists are super humans, there are lot of theatrical scenes with high melodrama, a subplot about Khandaani Dushmani, a pretentious religious harmony lesson, and lot of crude generalizations on LGBT community. While Golmaal is a movie that tried to come out of conventional movie making tradition, Boll Bachchan tries to immerse itself deeper into the safety of commercial viability and taking back Hindi movies back several decades. And that I feel is the biggest crime committed by Bol Bachchan. 

Thursday, July 12, 2012


And then he woke up... He woke up from that absurd nightmare of dark, terrifying, meaningless maze of terrors straight out of a B grade horror flick. He was astonished to find light all around. Light... pure, virgin and bright. Light... stalking the body like a thousand needle points, giving a pleasurable pain. The contrasting effect of dark, gory dreams and piercing light of dawn blew his mind away. He was not sure if he was awake or asleep. he wasn't even sure if he was alive or dead. And in that twilight zone he found solace that always eluded him for decades throughout his pointless, miserable life.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Book review: The devotion of suspect x

The devotion of suspect X is a Japanese mystery novel written by Keigo Higashino. It is part of a series of novels about Manabu Yukawa also known to friends as Detective Galileo, a physics professor helping police to solve crimes in his free time. In this novel he meets his match in his old college friend Ishigami, who inspite of his superior intelligence, chose to live a life of solitude as a Maths teacher away from all the fame and glory associated with Academics.

This book is actually the only book that I read in last three months. And I feel it was a reasonably good book for a comeback to reading habit. As I mentioned before, this is a mystery novel and what makes it different from other mystery novels is that in first pages itself the crime and culprits are revealed with all details. So it won’t be a spoiler if I mention that Yasuka Hanakoa, a single mother living with her daughter, Misato, kills her ex husband Shinji Togashi, when he stalk her and get violent. Misato assists her in the crime. Ishigami, who lives next door offers to help her in removing the dark stains of murder from her and her daughter. Detective Kusanagi comes to a dead end with the investigation when he seeks the help of Yukawa in solving the puzzle. Yukawa turns out to be an old friend of Ishigami and tries to rekindle the friendship. And then starts a battle of wits, a cat and mouse game using the grey cells in the brain.

The crime in itself is quite simple and straight forward. What make the novel interesting are the characterization and the twist ending. It is like watching Manoj N Shyamalan’s movie The Sixth Sense. You feel while watching the movie that it is just a very ordinary film but the ending changes your whole perception. Then you watch the movie again or the clues you missed in first viewing. Devotion of Suspect X is also a similar attempt. The writing style is very subtle and calm on outside, just like the mind of its protagonists. But the slow building up of tension keeps up the interest of the reader. As I have told before the characterization of the two main characters is what takes an otherwise ordinary story to a different level. Ishigami and Yukawa are etched in the minds of readers firmly even after keeping the book down.

On the flip side, other characters, even the most important ones, are not well developed. We never feel much about the single mom or her daughter, even when they are in deep trouble. The character of Detective Kusanagi is another disappointment about the book. There are some times when we feel that there is something more about this guy than what we read about him in the novel. But nothing is explored in that direction. (May be these are the problems of translation. Unfortunately I will never know.)   

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Wednesday, July 4, 2012

5 Things I Learned During Crisis

I hope I was missed. It is more than three months since I have posted anything here. There was a crisis in my life. I may share the details here some other time, may be at a time when I will be able to look back into all that happened in last three months and smile at them. But as they say, anything that does not kill you makes you tough. It was a learning period, when you are in the middle and lot of stuff happens around, things you wish had never happened, people you wish you had never met. Needless to say, I lost few things, but gained a lot. The crisis is unsolved yet and I am in no way sure of the outcome, but as of now, I am at peace with myself and the world. I am in a position now, to look back at things and analyze them, though it makes me feel sad. I thought I will make my come back post by writing about few things that I learned during this time. May be you can use them sometime.

1.     Face the heat: You got two options when shit hits the fan- run for cover or stay and face the heat. You run from any problem, it always finds a way to reach back to you. But if you stand and face it, in your terms and your way, there eventually emerges a solution. It may not be what you wanted, but some solution is better than no solution. At least you will not face the same problem again. And even if you do, you have some idea of how to tackle it again, because you stood up and faced it first time.

2.    Forget the convenient way, go for the right one instead: While facing any problem, there are many ways you can go about it. Normally people end up taking the first visible path that is seen in front. Because it is convenient. It is a well made path and you have a comfortable journey. The best thing is that you reach somewhere too. But most of the times it may not be the right path. The destination that you reach may not be the one where you should be because all you were looking at was the smooth, wide highway just in front of you. If you want to reach the right destination, you may have to look more intensely. It may be a path that is less travelled, laid with gravel, thorns and many obstacles, but which will take you were you really want to reach. Sometimes you may not even have a way to reach there and you have to make a new path. It is tough, but better than reaching a false destination and pretending that you have done a right thing.

3.       Let the life be principle-centered: All of us built our lives around some objects or virtues. We have lot of money-centered people amongst us, who is hell bent on making money their sole destination. There are luxury-centered people, God-centered people, spouse centered people, job- centered and alcohol centered people. What is your center? I feel we have to be principle centered. I feel I should have a set of well formed principles on which I build my life. My actions should be based on them. I told to someone last day, “I don’t feel the need of convincing you or anyone the rightness of my deeds. The only guy whom I should convince is that man in the mirror whom I see daily. If I am unable to meet my eyes with him, I know I am in some real trouble.” I believe principle centeredness gave me the confidence to assert it. But do not be too tight with your principles too. You will soon be an arrogant ego centered person. Every while let your inner man- the man in the mirror, audit your principles and let him to modify or scrap it for you. 

4. Keep your options open: No one can say what lies in future. Never shut a door fully unless you are clearly convinced it is out of bounds. Keep the good relations; give whatever support you can to anyone around you without giving a thought if they deserve it. Be open to everyone and every thing, because anything that comes to your life makes a mark on it. It is up to you how you interpret if the influence is good or bad. Let your life be flexible enough to accommodate diversity and it will surely pay one time or other.

5.      Money is a means, not the end: Money is never an evil. It is a necessity. Just like air and water is required to sustain life, in modern life money is essential to sustain and develop you. But undue importance should not be given for money. There is no point in killing a relationship for sake of money.

That's all for now, guys. Keep smiling.

Saturday, March 31, 2012

Damned: In Hell for an Eternity

When I read Fight Club, the first novel by Chuck Palahniuk, I felt that it was one smart modern novel. It entertains like a thriller, there is a superb climatic twist, and it makes one wonder about existence making it a worthwhile read for the time spent on it. That was the reason I picked up his latest novel titled Damned with much expectation. Damned, also like Fight club, is an irreverent take on the world but told with more humor and satire. It entertains as well as makes the reader think deeply about several small follies of our existence that we conveniently push below the rug.

Damned tells the story of a dead thirteen year old girl condemned to live in hell for an eternity. Spencer Madison is the child of a movie producer and an actress. Her parents travels around the world making movies and professing the green way of life and adopting poor kids from third world nations (no prize for guessing who they are!) . The novel starts when Madison wakes up in hell inside a cage. She supposes that she is dead due to marijuana overdose and that is why she ended up there. She befriends people around her, starts getting adjusted to the life there and ultimately becomes a popular figure there by acting as a bridge between living and dead. In between there are reminiscences about her life before death, her relation with her parents, classmates and her adopted brother Goran.

Though the novel deals with death and afterlife world, it is no way dark or depressing. Spencer Madison starts her life in hell as a teenager confused about her identity, frustrated about her death and irritated about abandoning her hopes. Every chapter starts with an address to Satan, where Spencer Madison introduces herself to Satan. It is actually a spoof of some teen novel where the girl speaks to God about her personal issues and problems.  But as the novel progress, she finds out that even in hell hope can still work. There are several ironic observations about life coming through Madison’s observations. Its irreverent sarcasm works in the favor of the novel, though at some points the story becomes dull and repetitive. Overall this novel will amuse if you do not have a problem with some obscenity included in it. But still it is a long way away from Fight Club.    

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Some Books to Read Again...

I had never thought seriously about re- reading the books that I read before. It may be because there are lots of books out there waiting for me, that I never read, and the thought never crossed my mind, when I am lost in a library to pick a book from my past and savor it again.  My subconscious may have considered reading a book a second time as wastage of precious time. But the last book I read, a very complex novel by Umberto Eco titled Foucault’s Pendulum, really initiated me to reconsider it. That novel as I told in my previous post was a labyrinth of information and subplots, and requires a very careful reading. Apart from that one, I found out that there are some other books that will be worth a re-read. 

The Autumn of the Patriarch by Gabriel Garcia Marquez definitely needs to be read again. I read it first when I was a teenager. It was a tough read, to say the least. The paragraph and sentence formation was complicated, like a poem. There were sentences so long that they covered many pages. When I started it, I was sure that I will leave it half way. But after some 50 pages I got a grip on the tempo of the story. From then on I enjoyed every sentence and every page of it till the end. This novel is about the life of a dictator, a life of unlimited power and immense solitude and the way it is written with long and intertwining sentences perfectly matches the ambiance of the novel. 

Another book that I read in the same period is Life is Elsewhere by Milan Kundera. It is about the life of a young poet in turbulent times of World War. I loved the book when I read it. But years later when I read an interview of Kundera, I came to realize that I have missed much in my first reading. I missed several references to historical incidents and many subtle ironical situations. So in light of these revelations, I feel a re-reading of Life is Elsewhere will do good.

The Good Soldier Svejk is a satirical novel by Czech novelist Jaroslav Hasek. It narrates the escapades of a soldier named Svejk during World War1. This was actually the first laugh out loud novel that I read. Svejk is such an incompetent soldier that he continuously manage to irritate his superiors with his idiocy. But many passages makes us suspect that this guy is just feigning his incompetence to escape from war. This is the best anti war novel that I have read and a perfect read when mind is disturbed. In no libraries, I was able to get this book yet, unfortunately. 

Another man who is wary of war and wants to escape is Yossarian, but finds it difficult due to a catch in the military rules. He is the hero of Joseph Heller’s novel Catch 22. I received several recommendations for this fabulous novel in connection with The Good Soldier Svejk. And it was worth reading. Last day I saw its sequel in my friendly neighborhood library. I considered reading the sequel but then decided to first read Catch 22 again.

So these are the books that I am planning to read again. There are many others also- Amerika by Kafka, Midnight’s Children by Rushdie, Autobiography of Pablo Neruda and of course Foucault’s pendulum. But they can wait.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Foucault's Pendulum: On Conspiracy Theories...

I like reading books those challenge me- books those alter my perception about society and life, books those need the kind of reading that is introspective as well, like Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance or The Argumentative Indian. I like those fiction books that require a certain amount of exercise from the reader’s side to comprehend them fully. Though reading those causes quite a bit of stress on the intellect, it happens in a good way, like the brain has done a workout session in gym. A recent book that had such an effect on me is Italian writer Umberto Eco’s novel Foucault’s Pendulum.

The first book of Umberto Eco that I read was titled ‘How toTravel With a Salmon and Other Essays’. It was a satirical collection written in the style of self help manual laden with a generous dose of irony. But before that I had acquainted myself with Eco’s work, through the movie version of his best seller debut novel ‘The Name of the Rose’ starring Sean Connery. I was planning to read it and had even located it in my library, but the tiny font size made me change my decision. That was when I saw Foucault’s pendulum and decided to give it a go.

This novel is structured like a maze, a labyrinth of plots and subplots spanning centuries, linked and interlinked with each other. Novel begins with an editor, Casaubon hiding inside a periscope in a Parisian museum anticipating some horrible events that are supposed to happen at midnight. The story is narrated by him in flash back. Casaubon and two of his friends, Belbo and Diotallevi, work as editors for a vanity publishing firm that caters to authors who want to publish their manuscripts by paying. After encountering countless manuscripts about several conspiracy theories, they decide to frame one of their own as a joke. Helping them is Belbo’s personal computer Abulafia that has a program which rearranges text to create new connections. The conspiracy theory they develop named The Plan is about Knights Templar’s secret plan to take over the world by 1944. They comb several manuscripts, combine, arrange and rearrange all known facts and form an irrefutable theory about a secret weapon for which the whole of Europe- magicians, alchemists, kings, knights, priests, engineers, scientists, rulers and writers, were searching for centuries. Slowly the story which they were framing for fun takes over their lives. On personal front they have troubles when they start to believe that The Plan is a real thing. All hell breaks loose when secret societies start to get involved in it thinking that finally they got what they were searching for centuries. 

The novel that was released decades before Dan Brown’s Da Vinci Code, poses a serious problem to readers who are enchanted with conspiracy theories. What Eco has done in this novel is to construct a conspiracy theory by combining all major conspiracy theories about secret societies and spoof the human tendency to complicate things. He establishes that erroneously connecting facts can make convincing fiction. Most of the secret societies known in Europe make an entry in the story- The Knights Templar, The Rosicrucians, Freemasons, Elders of Zion, Assassins, Jesuits… all contributing in making of The Plan. Several historical figures are also mentioned in connection with The Plan, from Napoleon to Francis Bacon and from Shakespeare to Hitler.  Several critics have called Foucault’s Pendulum as ‘Thinking person’s Dan Brown’. But Eco maintains that Dan Brown is one of the characters of his novel- someone who feeds on conspiracy theories.

A word of caution to those who plans to read this book. It is a tough path to take. The novel is ambiguous in many parts, crammed with lot of information and several passages require an additional reading of history. If you are hell bent on knowing about every secret societies, mysterious persons and happenings described in the book, it is going to be a tough task. I would ask not to go that much deep. Just go on reading and even if you find that things are getting complicated, ideas are going above your head, keep on reading. Give more emphasize on identifying with the turmoil characters than getting to discover every nuances of the story. That way the book will be more delightful. 

Sunday, March 18, 2012

The curious incident of dog

Curious incident of a dog in the night-time is an award winning debut novel by Mark Haddon. The story is told in the form of a book written by a fifteen year old special child, Christopher Boone (‘a mathematician with some behavioral difficulties’ in his own words) about the incidents following the murder of his neighbor’s pet dog. The boy shows autistic behavior though it is nowhere mentioned in the story. He has a unique talent with numbers, facts and figures, but has difficulty with fathoming emotions and normal social behavior.

Book starts when Christopher Boone finds his neighbor Mrs. Shears’ dog killed in her garden. He is arrested for hitting the police officer who tried to question him about it. Though he promises the cops and his father that he will forget the incident, he plans to investigate it. Christopher lives with his father and is told that his mother is dead two years back. He starts maintaining an investigative diary, which is actually the book that we are reading. His father is infuriated when he sees the book and confiscates it. While searching for the book in his father’s room he finds out some truths about his past and comes to know that he was kept in dark. He also suspects that all these are linked with the murder of the dog. This sets off a chain of events that causes much pain to all concerned with him.
Though the plot is predictable and a bit bland, the narration style is captivating. Christopher writes his story devoid of emotions in a matter- of- fact manner. But his inability to connect with other people’s mental situations touches a chord with readers. The book emphasize on this difficulty successfully. I would recommend this book for adults and readers in their late teens. There are certain parts were expletives are used. So reader discretion advised.

Other two books that I read recently but do not deserve a separate blog post are The Comedy Collection and Life Ever Laughter. The Comedy Collection is a collection of comic pieces compiled from different sources by acclaimed Academy award winning actor Peter Ustinov. The book is fine for light reading, but as I had read many of the better pieces in the book, I felt a bit bored by it. Life Ever laughter is an autobiographical book written by American comedian Jerry Clower. He Is a believing Christian who does standup comedy. The jokes in the book are pretty good and told cleverly and that’s it about this one.