Monday, May 29, 2006

The Code decoded

The Da Vinci Code by Ron Howard is a page-by-page adaptation of the Dan Brown novel. After facing unprecedented protests in India, the movie finally released this week and has been garnering better reviews here than abroad, where it was unanimously panned.

Howard has retained the historical background to the events by chopping his scenes and pasting visions from the past, be it the bloody wars between Pagans and Catholics or the tale of Mary Magdalene. This gives the film a documentary feel and one cannot help thinking that Howard should have held tighter control on the narrative.

The sets are magnificent, part of which may be attributed to the film's shooting in scenic Paris. Yet despite the locale and the subject matter, Howard is not at home with the thriller genre. The sound effects are misplaced (which is unfortunate, considering the horrific effects church music can induce) and what could have been a spine-chilling movie is left being an experiment that tries to capture too many details at the cost of the film maker's craft. Howard would be well advised to stick to hero-against-the-world tales like A Beautiful Mind and Cinderella Man. Historical epics are just not his métier.

Ian McKellen who plays Leigh is his usual best; his delivery is pitch-perfect but the stunning volte-face his character pulls on the Langdon-Sophie team is lost on screen. But then again, that's more Howard's fault than his.

But the star of the movie is Paul Bettany who plays Silas. His faith unshakeable, Bettany breathes life into the anguish of a man who looks upon Jesus as a personal saviour out of a dishonourable past. Despite a villainous role, one feels a genuine sympathy for this man caught in the currents of church intrigue. A man willing to murder in the name of piety.

Another good performance from Tom Hanks, though a younger Robert Langdon might have added more punch to the character. Think Eric Bana or even the current James Bond, Daniel Craig. These are the people one hoped to see in the role. Hanks with his ageing visage and receding hairline does not really fit the bookishly sexy Langdon.

But Audrey Tautou shines as the halting, vulnerable Sophie, trying to grapple with the burden of a truth too much to bear. The lady still retains the innocent charm of an Amelie. The face, while belonging to an older person, instantly brings to mind that extremely lovable French girl looking for true love.

Overall, The Code might engage you only if you haven’t read the book already, as was the case with me. Otherwise, it's unlikely to contribute to a satisfying movie experience.

Saturday, May 27, 2006

Coetzee's cry against philistinism

Finished Coetzee's Youth this morning. The book, though fictional, is a sort of memoir and part two in his looking back on his early years. John's disenchantment with his job at IBM closely mirrors Coetzee's own and mine too, which is why despite his sleeping with practically every woman he encountered (and then couching it in existential angst rather than plain old desire), I looked upon him with benevolence, because I could at least empathise with the technical versus life of the mind bit of it.

Some of the statements were extraordinary, and I am certain it is those that are pointers to Coetzee's coruscating intelligence, the aspect of his personality that has made this not very writerly person garner two Bookers and (one) Nobel.

But the book was also a relief for me. Because if a person racked by the extremities of self-doubt can end up being a successful (and how!!) writer, there is hope for me still. There are long passages in which Coetzee, through John, questions his credentials of even aspiring to be a wordsmith, and the spark of creative inspiration. To be fair, Coetzee is not a wordsmith. You don't read his books to get dazzled by the quality of the writing (which is fine, because that makes him more approachable in a way). What Coetzee offers you, rather, are insights so sharp that you are left singing in appreciation.

Next on to Graham Greene's End of the Affair, which I haven't read still. It begins with this saying by Leon Bloy:

Man has places in his heart which do not yet exist, and into them enters suffering in order that they may have existence.

Chilling, and if I may be allowed to become John myself for a bit, what does one need to do, what depths does one plumb, to come up with prose so exquiste, so exact, so damn hurting in its truth?

Why WI clinched the series

I am NOT a cricket fan, but Brian Lara's comment just could not be missed. He attributed the Windies' win to Indian coach Chappell's sly remark:

India coach Greg Chappell had said at the start of the series that West Indies could not be underestimated and were a team, who could quickly turn things around, but... “At the moment, they probably seem to have forgotten how to win.”

West Indies skipper Brian Lara took offence to the comment and after clinching the five-match series against India 3-1 yesterday, he chose to respond. “It was a sly remark. The guys took notice of his comments and turned the tables on India. He (Greg) may be right but he was not right in the last two weeks,” said Lara with the obvious intention to rub it in.

As is the Indian wont, now Ganguly would begin to be sorely missed. He, who was everyone's unanimously decided on villain would now be the blue-eyed boy, the only one who can rescue India against the evil combine of Greg-Dravid.

Saturday, May 20, 2006

How Lodge got Dislodged

David Lodge was one of the several writers attempting to bring the life of Henry James to the written word in a fictional format, but his book was edged out in the race by the likes of Alan Hollinghurst's and Colm Toibin's that went on to earn critical and popular praise. Now in a Guardian series, he recounts how the tragedy struck him. Coincidences can be brutal but funny!

On a summer afternoon, shortly before the completion of my novel, my agent and I made a pilgrimage to Lamb House, now a National Trust property. There we met Colm Tóibín, whose presence was the first ominous inkling either of us had of his intentions. The custodian of the house kindly allowed us upstairs, normally closed to the public. Both of us made surreptitious notes, Tóibín's, it seems, enabling him to write the passage in his book in which Henry James, in his bedroom, can hear his young guest and the object of his adulation, Hendrick Andersen, undress in the adjoining guest room.

Colm Toíbín told the same story, with more amusing details, in an article in the Daily Telegraph in March 2004, when The Master was published. He described going to visit Lamb House,
on a bright Saturday afternoon two years ago, when I was close to completing a draft of my novel about Henry James ...

Suddenly ... a voice called my name. It was a London literary agent whom I knew. She was with one of her clients. She asked me what I was doing in Lamb House. I said that I was writing a book about Henry James.

"So is my client," she said. She introduced me to her client, who was standing beside her.

"Are you writing about this house?" the agent asked.

I told her I was. As I spoke, I noticed a neatly dressed man whom I presumed was American listening to us carefully, moving closer. "Did you both say you are writing books on James?" he asked. "Because so am I." He shook our hands cheerfully.

By this time a small crowd had gathered, marvelling at three writers pursuing the same goal. We were very careful with each other, no one wishing to say exactly how close to finishing we were. We were also very polite to each other.

Tóibín does not identify the American writer, but one may safely assume from his cheerful demeanour that he was a scholar rather than a rival novelist. For me there are other intriguing features of the episode, and the two reports of it. If we put Tóibín's "two years ago" and Heyns's "a summer afternoon" together, it took place in the summer of 2002. I also visited Lamb House with my notebook and pencil that summer - on August 1, to be precise - privately, by appointment.

Skinned Alive

Been reading Edmund White's Skinned Alive. Interesting collection, with An Oracle the best so far (I am yet to read Reprise, Palace Days and Watermarked). His Biographer was developing nicely, until White decided to abruptly cut it short and make it a short story. Had he taken it along, it could have become a good book. Charles deciding on Tremble after all the contradictions was just the beginning of the fun, but White halted it there. Too bad!

Oracle was deeply touching. Ray's loneliness after George's death and his (futile) efforts to escape it. George kept telling Ray all through his illness: "You must look out for yourself". He chided him for not getting tested; irresponsible, that's what he said Ray was. After his death, Ray makes a trip to Greece on the invitation of Ralph, a friend. There, he starts on a binge of secretive sexual encounters with a gigolo, Marco, who cannot speak a word of English. Marco is the gruff jock, strictly heterosexual, who does it only for the money. But as time passes and Ray begins to develop feelings for him, Marco too grows tender with him. Ray, too happy with this development, decides to sell off his assets in the States and move to Xania (the Greek town) and open a guest house, possibly with Marco.

On the night before he is to leave, he invites Marco to the palace (Ralph's extravagant mansion) and hands him a note which he has got translated to Greek. In the note, Ray confesses to
his love for Marco. And that he would return to Xania in a month's time.

After reading the note, Marco bends his head for a minute and then speaking in perfect English tells Ray he loves him too but Xania is too small a place for him. Excited, Ray asks him if he would be willing to emigrate to the States. To which, Marco says, "Some day," and adds, "But you must look out for yourself", and saying that, walks out of the house.

The story ends with Ray crying and laughing to himself at the same time, wondering at the surreality of George speaking through this unlikely oracle. The ending, though sad, gleams in its redemptive quality, reminding Ray of the need to stop looking for dependencies.

Great work!!

Saturday, May 13, 2006

Spoof spook

Well, the blog's going desi, people. Here for the first time ever, you are invited to a review of Ramu's latest horror flick: Darna Zaroori Hai.


Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Capitalism and its contents

When reading reports on the rehabilitation of Narmada oustees, have you ever paid attention to the terminology used? Medha Patkar, clearly the face of the agitation is always referred to as NBA activist, as though she was just like the others, one of the many agitators. The media, I think, derive some comfort from this blurring of hierarchies, even those that are too clear to be blurred. The entire world knows that Medha is the leader of the movement and not just another activist. What kind of democracy are media organisations perpetrating by calling her only an activist and not a leader or at the very least a superior? I would term this willful blinding by media organisations hypocrisy because these very hierarchies are very staunchly adhered to in any media setup. Why then do we still like to hold on to communist notions of equality when reporting news??

On a different note, did you know that the ITC Maurya Sheraton in New Delhi dishes out a bottle of mineral water for a cool 150 bucks?? When my sis shared this tiny nugget with me, I was, to say the least, flabbergasted. But then, I was reminded of the ITC's human initiative in Indian villages, the e-choupal, which is a network of kiosks meant to protect poor farmers from unscrupulous agents. The programme is driven from ITC's profits, and clearly, the cycle of profitability is inextricably linked to the 150 rupees ITC's hospitality department charges for a bottle of water from the cream of affluent Delhi society. Who says capitalism is discriminatory? Look beneath the surface and you might be pleasantly surprised.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

The intruder

Five days after K lost his younger brother M to a speeding truck, he began seeing a tiny boy in his bathroom. The boy was around 4 or 5 years old and alternated between hip summery colours and sombre shades of grey.

At first, K thought it was an illusion. Perhaps the memory of his younger brother was making him "see things". But as the frequency of the sightings increased, he noted that the boy hardly looked like M. To begin with, M was much leaner than this apparition. He was also much shorter. If he was not M, K asked himself, who was this kid trawling his bathroom with abandon? What the hell did he want, K racked his brain?

Despite dying to tell Mother about the boy, K wasn't sure for the first few days. She had taken M's death very badly. She had lost her appetite and spent her time morosely looking out of the window. K and M's father's death in an air crash two years ago had left an indelible mark on S. If she had carried on, it was only for the sake of her children's well being. But M's death was the final straw. S could not reconcile the cruel dichotomy of being an overprotective mother, especially in the aftermath of her husband's death and fate dealing her such a raw turn on the one day she allowed M to walk to the school himself.

Like most days, K woke up early that morning and went down to prepare his tiffin. Later, after making his mother a cup of tea, he returned to his room to get ready for school. As he was taking out his uniform, he felt a cold hand brush his elbow. He turned in horror, and saw, near the window, about five feet for him, the same little fat boy dressed in a black t-shirt and off-white shorts. His hair were neatly parted at the side and he smelt of baby powder. He was the least scary ghost one could have fathomed but suddenly, after reining himself for several days, K felt an urgent need to scream.

He rushed out of the room, and leaning over the railing, shouted out, "Mother, mother, this is real. I have actually seen one in the bathroom."

Mother came to the base of the staircase and called out, "What? What are you saying?"
"There is a boy in my room, a ghost. He has been there several days."

"K, what are you saying? How can there be someone in your room?" S struggled. "Go back and get ready. You'll be late for school."

Having waited so long to tell her, K was not going to let this pass. "I am serious, ma, I have seen him many times over. But I am telling you only now."

S, unwilling to engage herself in an argument, began climbing the staircase. Resignation marked her crease as she pulled her way up each step. Seeing her approach, M was reminded of the expression on Mother's face when M's body had first arrived home. More than anything, K was struck by the glass in her eyes. He saw the same tiredness define her persona presently.

K felt a terrible fear of failing to prove himself. "What if the boy didn't appear this time?" he wondered. Mother's every step came like a giant slap on his fragile peace. His fear of mother's disappointment was greater than that of any ghost.

"No," he said to himself, "she must see him. He must come. He will."

He returned to the room, and stood near the bathroom door in the same position that he had done when he saw the little apparition a minute back.

"Please," he muttered under his breath, "please come back."

Mother had reached the end of the flight of stairs and was inching towards his room. He saw her frame move forward in slow motion as if the tape of life was being prevented from rotating at its natural pace. He could not quantify the terror he felt at the possibility of the wraith not appearing.

She came into his room with a look that asked "What? Where?" He shouted out to her to come nearer, unnecessary, he thought, considering the size of the room.

"There ma, there he stays," he pointed out the corner of the bathroom where the ghost normally plodded.

She peeked inside the bathroom. Presently, the space K pointed out smacked only of a white bucket and a phenolic smell.

"There is nothing, K. Now will you stop making stories and get ready for school?" Mother said, and turned around to go back.

But K had seen something, and retorted, "There it is, ma, just look."

She turned, and sure enough, a little boy in blue trousers and pink shirt passed through the bathroom door. He wore polished leather shoes and a striped tie. He looked at them with studied indifference, as though they were routine diversions on his stroll.

S let out a gasp of horror and they both stepped inside the bathroom to check out. But the boy had vanished in the nothingness that lay beyond the dimensions of the bathroom door.

Mother was nearly giddy with disbelief. K tried to grasp her in his arms when she mumbled, very softly, "He looks just like you!"

"What ma?" K asked, though he'd heard.

"When you stood first in Class V, those were the clothes you wore when you went up to the stage to collect your Cup."

"Really, ma? You aren't kidding, are you?"

"No, no," she spoke, almost to herself.

"I don't believe this. It just sounds crazy. Are you saying that boy is me?" K was incredulous, not only on account of what Mother had said, but also by her surprisingly relaxed demeanour.

"Don't worry about him, he won't trouble you," she said. "Sleep with me from tonight."

As she began descending the staircase, K was still eyeing Mother with suspicion. What had gotten into her, he wondered? Just as he was about to say something, she turned.

"And come down soon. I am making us both a cheese burger, and let's drop you to school today, all right?" she smiled.

K, scratching his head dumbfoundedly, returned to the wardrobe and began arranging his uniform.