Saturday, June 30, 2007

Another rainy day


I can thank the rains or blame them, but for once, last weekend was spent peacefully at home as the roads around me once more gave way to a gush of water and life in Mumbai came to a familiar grinding halt. As usual I was again confused if I like living in Mumbai or not. After all, a peaceful day at home with the perfect excuse of rain is a rare blessing. My only complaint is that this should have happened on a week day to grant some respite from the monotony of office.

I utilized the day in watching three movies - all three of them interesting to watch, if a bit depressive at times.

The first one was Como agua para chocolate (Like Chocolate for water), a 1992 Mexican movie based on a book by Mexican novelist Laura Esquivel. It is actually a story of a young girl's love struggling against tradition (No! not in the traditional Bollywood style). The incomplete love manifests itself in her cooking, which becomes a mode of communication between her and her lover. Like other South American writings, an element of magic realism is dominant in the story in form of magical effects of food, ghosts, etc. I think Sir (!) Rushdie took inspiration from the plot when writing down the character of Alia (Saleem's aunt) in Midnight's Children. A very different movie.

The second one was a 2002 French movie Irréversible by Gaspar Noé, the Argentinian-French film-maker strongly influenced by Mr. Kubrick. The most impressive part of the movie is its tagline: Time destroys Everything, and the director shows that emphatically by moving in backward frames - starting with a violent, dark present and weaving back to a happy, dreamy past. The plot depicts revenge for a rape, but it is in a way a story of time. The movie is jarringly depressive with its frank graphics, and on a clouded, rainy day threatens to push one into a gloomy state of mind. Monica Bellucci, unlike her other movies (especially Malena), is less impressive and beautiful, though really there is very little role for her.

The third movie was the very popular 2005 film - V for Vendetta, which was very entertaining to watch. This movie depicts the Big Brother in one of his variants, and is set in a future Britain. The central character V in this movie is the rebel who single-handedly tries to overthrow the Big brother rule. The film is an adaptation of a comic book series by Alan Moore and David Lloyd. Interestingly, Alan Moore refused to watch this movie because of his disappointments with the previous adaptations of his works (From Hell, The League of extraordinary gentlemen). I don't know if the movie would have disappointed him and the readers of the original comic, but to me it was a thriller - a nice perk from the darkness of Irreversible.

Friday, June 29, 2007

Unscreened...One Small day

When the days are long, no good movies are playing in town, and South Bombay looks too far, one can still look dearly forward to the evening if one works not too far off from Prithvi (Prithvi theatre for the Non-bombayites)

The place is charming to say the least - even if one is not able to get the tickets for a play, it is easier to come out of the disappointment sitting in the quaint cafe sipping coffee and eating a delicious sandwich. Thankfully, when I went there yesterday I was able to enjoy both the play as well as the sandwich, not to mention the soft lighting and a softer drizzle. The little bookshop thrown in to the experience was what a marketing guru would call 'customer delight'. Such are the rare moments when I truly enjoy being in Bombay and am able to ignore the excess of people and paucity of roads in this city.

It was a play by Anish Trivedi (apparently of the 'Still Single' fame, which is a play I have not yet watched) - he also acted in it along with Dipika Roy.

The play had no story - only a depiction of a man and woman's conversation as they get thrown together in unusual circumstances. They come from two worlds far apart, but each with a slightly twisted life. For a hour and a half, they keep the audience entertained through their sharp blurbs on each other, in between keeping a little place for romance (of course).

Anish Trivedi had a quiver full of quips - 'Who do you look like - your mother, your father or the Colonel?' Even in his introduction of the play he made some sarcastic comments about how he was fascinated with authors whose characters had fantastic lives, while his own came from the real world - a statement I found uncalled for. Through the play I felt his asset was chiefly his arrogance, sarcasm and his attitude, which he played well and used to generate throes of laughter. In as far as acting goes, Dipika Roy was far more convincing and expressive and exhibited the multitude of emotions remarkably well.
The play was not exceptionally brilliant, but entertaining nevertheless. There is a charm to theatre which partly emanates from its rusticity and partly from looking at the actors directly without a screen. The way Pirsig puts it: ...the frame is gone. You are completely in contact with it all.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Das Leben der Anderen: The lives of Others (2006)

The very first word that came to my mind after watching this German movie was: 'Beautiful'. Even though the movie does not talk about anything pretty, it left me with a nice feeling, not unlike the way I felt on watching 'Life is beautiful'.

Set in East Germany during 1984, the movie depicts the world of Big Brother, where the GDR police Stasi monitors the private life of people, particularly the literary people. An ardent communist, Gerd Wiesler, is assigned the task of spying on a writer and gather evidence against him. In the process of listening to the writer's private world, Gerd slowly gets involved into it and attempts to save him from Stasi's wrath.

Of course the movie is an attack on the hypocrisy and corruption rampant in an all powerful party, but more importantly it is also a story of transformation. It shows the transformation of the writer from a neutral man concerned only with his cultural activities into a man angry and rebellious against the governance. And it shows the subtle transformation of Gerd from a stringent communist to a compassionate human being - his transformation manifesting itself a little after each session of listening in to the writer's house. Ulrich Mühe as Gerd has acted brilliantly, speaking as few words as possible and acting only through his eyes.

It is peculiar how the movie is based in 1984 - it reminded me strongly of the '1984' that Mr. Orwell conceptualized. Only he did it many years before the actual Big Brother found his way into real lives. It is ironical that a Big brother did hold people's lives in its grasp in the very year that this great author predicted.
The movie won the Academy award for Best foreign film this year, and even though I haven't watched any other nominations, I feel confident to say that it was not an undeserving Oscar like a few others that find their way unjustly into the list.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Life and Times of Michael K.(Kafka?)

Last weekend I read this Booker winning work (1983)from J.M. Coetzee. Its a story of the life of a simpleton called Michael K., who, before the book begins, is used to living on instructions - mostly coming from his mother. On her wish, he starts on a journey to her birthplace, carrying her on a cart, but she dies midway. Suddenly left without directions, Michael continues on the journey and begins to live like a savage. He is happy to be free, but living in a country torn with civil war, he realizes that freedom is fleeting. He is twice arrested for living as a free man and put into camps, where he wages his silent war with a society who wants to force its care upon him against his wishes.

Coetzee has done a wonderful task of drawing for the reader the man's reception of both freedom and camplife. While Michael finds enormous bliss in his unguided life, forgetting to eat for days and idly enjoying the sun, the camp makes him listless and his body violently rejects even the idea of camp food.

Throughout the book I often wondered if I was reading Kafka. Perhaps it was the directionlessness of Michael's life, or the detailed description of his every activity that brought the feeling. But at the same time, there were also several references to the Castle, which almost seemed to be taken straight out of Kafka's 'The Castle'. To be very sure, I am not a Kafka fan, even though I really like some books which have been described as 'Kafkaesuqe' - The Double and The Cave from Saramago featuring amongst my favorites. This book almost seemed to be excessively drawing on the Kafka line, which I found unseemly for a Coetzee who does have a strong style and identity of his own.

Nevertheless, it was an interesting work and makes one question the merits of a socialist regime once again, this time from the view of the beneficiary. Forced food and employment is not necessarily always welcome.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Things fall apart

I have been meaning to write this post since last week, but a busy travel schedule has kept me from it. Last wednesday, Chinua Achebe, the author of one of my beloved books, Things Fall Apart, was named for the 2nd Man Booker International award. Though I have read only one book from this author, this news delighted me immensely, for the honor is as much for the book as for the author. It is the most celebrated and widely acclaimed book from Mr. Achebe and has helped generate a lot of interest in African writing worldwide.

Things fall apart is a story of an African community (Igbo). Narrated from the tribal perspective, the book seams wonderfully the superstitions of the people and their unflinching faith in supernatural. To an outsider, the thought process seems illogical, almost fantastic at points, but for a native it is life as usual. The usual rituals, the usual sacrifices, the usual faith - to them their Gods are much more real than to most of the world that we read about. The turning point in the story is the advent of colonialization, arrival of Christanity and rapid conversion of the community, which leaves its identity shattered and broken.


The narration of the book is avant grade and the flow is arresting. The darkness of the book touches you at times, but then the author steers it away from depression skillfully. Towards the end, one cannot help feeling the deprivation of 'unification' and 'civilization', for it leads to the loss of essence and identity of a culture. Though written from an African perspective, it is truly a colonialization story, a narrative of a pain felt by each culture brought under foreign subjugation.


Mr. Achebe is a Nigerian author, and feels strongly about the marginalization of African values by Europeans, which is a theme which underruns many of his works. He has been awarded many honors, though passed over for the Nobel, which many of his fans feel to be an injustice. The Man Booker International award will certainly please most of the fans, as this award is intended to be a lifetime achievement award. The award itself has been freshly commissioned in 2005 and is give every two years. Mr. Achebe is the second person to get this award after Ismail Kadare in 2005.


Congratulations Mr. Achebe for the award. And congratulations to the Booker community for making such a fitting choice.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Everything that can go wrong in a day (and does)

  1. Beginning of a great day with an early morning flight - to none other than the city of 'Joy'. Of course I love to get up at 4:30 am (midnight?) and feel the lovely crisp air.
  2. Even better if the water supply decides to remain elusive - the sound of a few drops dripping from a dry tap is melodious at the least - heart warming at best. (Hello dear friend Murphy - nice to catch up with you!)
  3. Great flight - one kid sitting right in the next seat, another one in the row before and one more behind. Icing on the cake - at least one of them is the attention seeking brat who wants to keep the whole plane abreast of his presence. (the other two, true to their kid nature, whimper once in a while) The best thing about a morning flight is when bawling children sing lullabyes to you as you try to catch up on your lost sleep.
  4. Awesome food - what more could you want for breakfast but an overdose of oil - oily upma, oily neer dosa, served piping hot with an oily sambhar - Yummieeeeeee. (Sorry ma'am - North Indian breakfast is over. Nevermind, I am mad about south indian food rich in oil)
  5. A great landing into a hot city (which had reportedly flooded just 5 days ago) which has a predictably slow traffic. (Thank God for consistency!). Only and hour and fifteen minutes to reach office. Wow!
  6. The first words on landing - 'I think you should extend your stay and leave tomorrow' Why not, will you please sponsor a new set of clothes along with all the cosmetics I need?
  7. A crazy work day spent running around an alien office to ensure that I can wrap up before the last flight leaves.
  8. Lunch - Ah! More oil :-)
  9. Back at the airport - which is fabulous by the way - a great place to get stranded in. You guessed it - a delayed flight. I enjoy my time savouring all the delights which the 'Dum dum' has to offer.
  10. Further delay - and they want to finish the security check in at least an hour before the flight arrives.
  11. Sit next to a very sweet, though a little vociferous lady, who doesn't let go of the slightest excuse to curse the airline and compare it against all the others she has flown on. (You have Garlic in your veg food - Sahara doesn't do that...etc.)
  12. Dinner. Wow! The oil continues - and why would you ask for a substitute to rice? Rice is healthy for the body, especially if had at 10:30 in the night and served with koftas and paneer. (We don't have any breadrolls - and we are not even apologetic about it)
  13. Hovering around Bombay city in the night - takes only about half an hour to get landing clearance - what a pretty view. At midnight, the city just sparkles!

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Adaptations

Perhaps, like many others, I am delving into this topic too much and too often. But after nearly bashing the screenplay adaptations of books, I have come accross articles and movies which have compelled me to give the industry of adaptation some more thought.
One of them is the interesting series run by the Book Forum on 'Fiction into Film'. Apart from some recommended adaptations, the series also presents view points from different ends of the adaptation traiangle: the director, the screenplay writer - and of course the author. Some interesting quotes from all these angles:



Authors:

...That was another surprise: how many changes were made in the editing. Whole subplots and characters were shed, and with them some of the subtleties of characterization and ambiguities in relationships. What it gained, however, was a focused, driven plot...

- Tracy Chevalier, Author of Girl with a Pearl Earring, adapted in 2003

The decision to hand over one’s own work to strangers packs all manner of trepidation: They’ll fuck it up, I’ll look like an idiot, and If it’s a great movie, no one will remember it was a book being just the first three that come to mind

- Jerry Stahl, Permanent Midnight adapted in 1998

Directors:

It turns out during shooting, despite all your enthusiasm and planning, you discover too late that you have not carefully thought through one of these favorite scenes, and you end up defeated by it

- Janes Ivory, Director of adaptation films like A Room with a View (1985), Mr. & Mrs. Bridge (1990), and Howards End (1992)

Good literature succeeds on terms exclusive to literature. Good cinema succeeds on terms exclusive to cinema. The better the book, the more literary, the more the screenwriter must alter, adapt, or simply jettison the source material in order to conceive a work of cinema, although I very much enjoy the challenge of creating cinematic equivalents to literary effects


- Alexander Payne, Director of adaptations like Election (1999), About Schmidt (2002), and Sideways (2004)

Screenplay Writers:

In adaptation, the basic material is spelled out ahead of time; the better the book, or play, the more respect it seems to warrant. For this reason, it is often more enjoyable to work on material that falls short of excellence. Piety is not of the essence: More bad films have been made from masterpieces than from potboilers

- Frederic Raphael, Screenplay writer for adaptation of Far from the
Madding Crowd
(1967).

And here is a lovely comment from none of the ends in particular:

If you liked the book, don’t see the film. Why let the images that the words
stirred up be overruled by some director? No matter how painstakingly a writer
describes his heroine, each reader sees her differently. But on the screen,
everybody sees Sandra Bullock

- Tim Krabbe, Author, Adapter

I guess each of them has been articulate in bringing the adaptation dilemma to the forefront - what I don't understand is 'Why cause this dilemma'? There are perfectly cinematic books nearly jumping to be turned into movies (like Devil Wears Prada), while there are books like 'Women in Love', which are best left alone and not touched by a movie maker.

In the movie 'Adaptation' (yes, a very descriptive and simplistic naming!), Nicholas Cage in the form of Charlie Kaufman shows the frustration of the screenplay writer who is trying to write an adaptation which respects the author. Though it never says so explicitly, the underlying theme of the movie is : Once you get a screenplay, Forget the author! It is your work now. Twist it, shake it, churn it and make it picturable.

Of course at the same time it is imperative for the author to let go as well. It is like surrendering a child to the governess and let her take over. But how many mothers are able to do this without remorse? And how many governesses are capable of being perfectly curt with the mother? Then why hand over your child - because you want to make it famous? Well then, if your book is already famous, then let it develop on its own feet rather than sign up for an adaptation.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Good Adaptations - Book Forum

I recently came upon this link which recommends some Book to Movie adaptations:
http://bookforum.com/inprint/200703/257

Thought it might be an interesting extention to my discussion on movies, especially adapted movies.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Seeing Red - Lolita (1997)

I had almost forgotten the flow of the book. It has been more than 7 years that I read it. I had remembered only the central theme and the shocking narrative.
So it was a while before I could correlate the story to what I had read years ago. But once it came, it was almost like a tumbling down. That's the thing about memory. It is difficult to attune it to something in the past, but once it does, it just takes out the entire file and puts it on your lap.

The book is the shocking story of a man who is enamoured by a little girl of 12-14, marries her mother and after the death of the latter, takes the daughter on a road trip around the state and sleeps with her. Written from the perspective of the man, it seems to almost give an explanation of his actions and there are points when you actually feel pity for this pathetic man.

The movie of of course is a slightly dull version of the book, but does bring out the emotions of the book neatly. However, I had always remembered Humbert as a licentious man, enamoured with the coquettish Dolores Haze, I had never remembered him as a man in love with a young girl - which is what comes out strongly in the movie, especially in the last few scenes. Similiarly, I did not remember any color being given to the mysterious man Quilty who steals Lolita away from Humbert. However, in the movie, the last scene shows Quilty in a pathetic, pitiful and disgusting light, which perhaps was never a part of Nabakov's script.

Dolores Haze (or Lolita as he calls her) has been shown to be far from an innocent child. Her coquettish nature has been painted by the author in stark reds - both in her lip color and her nail enamel. It is curious how color red has always been the signature of the licentious.

Overall, I think, the performances were very good and the American landscape was beautifully captured as part of the road trip. The movie was worth watching, if only to see a very good book played out. Perhaps I should also see the Kubrick version sometime which is far more acclaimed - but I suspect Mr. Kubrick would have definitely put much more of him into the filming rather than going strictly by the book.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Paris, Je T'aime

There is often something catching about the French movies (strictly by my own sampling). Perhaps it is only because the better ones become famous and become available to a wider non-french speaking audience, but the handful of French movies that I have come accross have been captivating.


I have written one post on the French trilogy Trois Couleurs (Three Colors)(http://slidingsands.blogspot.com/2007/05/trois-couleurs.html), a set of three very thought provoking movies. I recently watched another French movie called Amélie or Le Fabuleux Destin d'Amélie Poulain (The Fabulous Life of Amélie Poulain), which was a comical and entertaining story of a mildly eccentric girl called Amélie Poulain. Almost all events in the movie are a comic exaggeration of the reality, from Amélie's mother's death, to her father's belief in her troubled heart condition, to her meeting with her beloved and finally the coming together of everything. Each event underlines her isolation from normalcy and her semi-retirement to an imaginative world. It is a story which depicts the modern Parisian life by drawing a caricature of it - sometimes one of the most effective means to bring out traits.
Adding to my experience of cinéma français, last weekend I saw another French movie - the first one in the theatre - Paris, je t'aime (Paris, I love you). The film is an assortment of stories - 18 in all , each running for 5-10 minutes. Each story has been shot in a different administrative unit of Paris (called arrondissements) and has been written and directed by a different person. One would think that such a disconnected set of story could be exacting and become boring after a while - but in reality it was extremely interesting. Each story showed Paris in a different light. Surprisingly, most of the characters seemed to be immigrants to the city rather than native French. Probably it was done to give a diversity to people.
The central theme of the movie was love - and it was a different kind of love in each story - it was the love for a child, love for a wife, love for a father, love for an ex, love for a lover and love for self. The stories were witty, emotional, touching, crazy and simple in turns and though a couple of them did seem odd and unconnected, the overall collage was very pleasing and entertaining. Couple of my favorites were Pere Lachaise (the story of wit) and Faubourg Saint-Denis (the disintegrating love of an actress and a blind man).
The movie brought back wonderful memories of living in the city of Paris. This city was one of the very few places where I have lived alone with myself in a way. Nowhere else do I think I have walked alone for long hours, sat in a park alone sippling coffee listening to music or caught a sandwich and sat staring at a monument. I often remember it as the place where I lost my passport and struggled to get another one. But at the same time, it was also a place which I scanned by foot, by train and by buses, holding a map and sometimes giving up in exasperation. The only place where I got out of the train on impulse and roamed an unknown area, and felt so much with myself. The only place in which I actually lived the idyllic dream of reading a book on a park bench, near a pond, with my hair swaying away in the cool and soothing breeze.
I do love Paris, in a way.