Monday, July 24, 2017

Men Without Women

That’s what it’s like to lose a woman. And at a certain time, losing one woman means losing all women. That’s how we become Men Without Women.

The unpredictability of this author is mesmerizing. He begins without any pretext. So much so that the book does not have the usual long and irrelevant waste of pages known as the foreword. Before you know it, the setting is in place. You are already familiar with the characters. Or the central character at least. Which is almost without exception a lonely middle-aged man. The story moves at a brisk pace as you become intimate with the life of that lonely man and his thoughts. And then suddenly, as you turn a page, the story ends. But not before a twist which is delivered more often than not in a single line. A change of perspective or a change of heart.

I generally do not look at the foreword or chapter index of a book but head straight to the first page. So, I had no idea that this book is a collection of six stories. I was almost heart broken when the first story ended. I had wished to be with those characters for a little longer.

Perhaps that is why I liked the first story the most. First love, as they say, can never be surpassed.

As with most people who are well raised, well educated, and financial secure, Dr. Tokai only thought of himself.

Murakami has a beautiful way of building his characters. Though there is a common theme to these characters, each is very different and deep. There is no repetition or overlap. But there is always a dark, restless side to them. Sometimes it is so intense that it is incomprehensible, at least to me.

To be honest, not all stories were that great. But just like music, you don't care for the average. In the end you only care if there was a high point somewhere which made it all worthwhile. Some of the stories will stay with you and some won’t. As one of his characters says, remembering someone for a long time is not as easy as people think.

[This is part of a series of book reviews I am doing for Flipkart]


Sunday, July 23, 2017

Lipstick Under My Burkha

Sensible movies are rare. Sensible movies which are well made are rarer.

As I watch the women's cricket world-cup final,  I realize it is every bit as exciting as the men's world cup final. The skill and the attitude are as you expect at the topmost level. Yet many members of this Indian team hail from small towns like Sangli and Chikmagalur. Is small town India changing in it's attitude towards women?

Lipstick Under My Burkha is a story of four women set in Bhopal. Not a small town but not a city either. The direction is smooth and the acting sharp. But what is it about? What is it trying to say? What is the message?

I would like to steer clear of these questions. Or at least I will steer clear of discussing them. I believe they are meant for introspection and not debate. That was the feeling I got through-out the movie. It just shows us four lives. It stops just few inches short of a reaction. We wait for the characters to react, to fight back, to give us some catharsis. But it never comes. Perhaps it is not supposed to come in the movie hall but outside it, in the real world. Where we direct our own plays and act in it.

This movie will not generate a lot of chatter. Perhaps won't do well at the box office either. But it succeeds in making the audience uncomfortable. And that is value for my money right there.


Monday, May 15, 2017

Seasons of the Palm by Perumal Murugan

We glorify the grand and the majestic yet it is the everyday lives that are the most interesting. It is astonishing that the accident of birth leads to such different lives when we are essentially the same.

Sitting in a coffee shop, as I start reading Perumal Murugan’s story of a little untouchable boy I begin to feel the usual sympathy for him. But the story cuts me short. This is not about me or my distance from the characters in this act. It is only about a few friends who meet every day while grazing the cattle for their Masters. It is about the bond between a boy and a mute sheep which is stronger than any bond between humans, yet at the same time, more delicate than the morning dew. It is about a relationship between two boys which looks like friendship but can never be that because they are born unequal and will always stay that way. It is about the earth and a people who live by it. Understand it. Something that most of us living in concrete houses can only imagine.

Who likes things to end? But they do end, there is destruction waiting in the wings, and all that is left finally is sadness and desolation.

This is not a sorry tale. But gloom and disaster always lies about the corner. A lost lamb, a failed attempt at collecting some peanuts from another’s field, a day missed at work can always lead to terrible consequences. But there are consequences for the Masters as well.

The description of the countryside and all its treasures is mesmerizing and flows smoothly. The translation is of high quality. You forget that it is a translation and immediately get engaged in the story. The one sore point I have about the translation is of the use of nicknames like Tallfellow and Stonedeaf. These might be accurate in the cultural context of the original language but feel out of place in English. Much like the hurriedly dubbed Chinese action movies on TV.

Poor strong Belly – she talks tough, sings merrily, but a single fear sits snug and heavy in her heart.

Isn’t this true for all?

[This is part of a series of book reviews I am doing for Flipkart]


Sunday, May 15, 2016

Lessons from Sairat (सैराट)

Having seen Nagraj Manjule's first short film Pistulya (Review here) and his first movie Fandry, it was obvious that Sairat will leave you shaken. And that it sure did.

Not because it told us something new. It does not have anything that you will not find in a newspaper every other day. But it managed to make it real for you in those three hours. It somehow takes a small newspaper article about something which happened in an unheard-of village and makes it a part of your life, your experience. That is the hallmark of brilliant cinema.

"लई इगो हाय तुला"

Everyone views great art through their prism, mine is this. Sairat is about the ego. The more successful and powerful you become the more it grows within you. The only person who can keep it in check for you is the person you love. If that person is strong enough to fight with you and make you fight with your own ego then you are saved. Otherwise it will end up eating you and everyone around you.

"Your mother is a quiet women, she makes me listen to my own voice. And it is a voice I do not like much lately." - Trumbo

This ability to be the conscience of someone else is hardly ever respected or praised. But it is a rare gift. I am not saying that you cannot be your own watchman. That you always need someone else you point out your failings. Most people manage to play both roles. But it is particularly hard for people who are most focused and driven. They, almost by definition, do not have any room for a contrarian viewpoint. And a balancing act is most important for such men and women, because they are the ones who are capable of most damage.

Also, if your long lost relatives - with whom you had a great fight the last time you saw them - happen to suddenly show up on your doorstep and are looking grim and silent, smell a rat and get the hell out of there.


Sunday, June 21, 2015

Hot girl walks into a bar

When does a look stop being an act of appreciation of beauty and start becoming harassment? Growing up in India with all the taboos and cultural stupidity regarding the opposite sex, this is not an easy question to answer. Oh our culture teaches us to treat women with respect. Oh most women are very happy in their marriage, just look at the low divorce rates. These statements confuse me a lot. What does it really mean to treat someone with respect? Let me try to understand it with the help of a couple of characters.

Hot girl walks into a bar hotel

'Level headed' guy, 'Confident when with friends' guy, 'Thinks he is better' guy and 'Will play people for fun' guy are sitting at a table. They are very different people but united in their complete lack of guts when it comes to talking with girls.

We allow for a moment's silence where everyone at the table takes in this new development. From top to bottom, lingering at the curves a while longer. Only the 'Thinks he is better guy' does not join the others in doing this. Yes, of course, because he thinks he is better.

Confident (when with friends) guy is the last to break the eye-body contact. He blows a low whistle or offers a few expletives to set the tone. Looking at this reaction, (thinks he is) Better guy realizes that in his pride he has missed something quite unmissable. For the rest of the conversation, he will be focusing on stealing glances and opportunities to stare at the aforementioned object. Confident guy is continuing with description of her breasts and how tightly her clothes were hugging them. (Will play people for) Fun guy ventures that he could clearly make out the outlines of her bra, and that it was silk for sure. Level headed guy is silent till about now. He, being level headed and all, makes a rational assessment of the situation. With a rack like that her boyfriend must be f***ing her at least twice a day, he summarizes. Further expletives are let out by the Confident guy, partly in anger (directed towards the yet unseen boyfriend) and partly in pleasure (imagining the twice-a-day event).

Fun guy, strategically shifts the conversation to why is it that such girls tend be not with us. Specifically, he adds, what is stopping any one of us, from 'getting' this particular hot chick? Level headed guy suggests the receding of their hair lines or advance of the waist lines as probable causes. This is generally ignored. Better guy forwards the age old wisdom of beautiful girls being so dumb as to choose stupid partners. This is very well received by the audience resulting in downing of beer glasses and ordering of a fresh round.

Meanwhile fun guy ploughs on with his instigation, covertly directed at the Confident guy in order to get some action going. 'Degree hain, job hain, bike hain, l*** hain. Aur kya chahiye sa** ko!'. In fact some of the guys around the table have amassed much more than that - like a wife and kids. But that is quite understandably left unsaid. 'Look at the way she is looking around, I bet she is ready to f*** the first guy who goes up to her', Fun guy continues. This finally has the desired effect and Confident guy brings down his empty mug with intent. Others smell blood. 'Abhi usko ja ke hi bol de', level headed guy chips in. Confident guy gets up and pushes his chair back. But the confident feet have other plans. They wobble and the confident body sinks to the ground for the lack of chair at the said location.

Let us pause and come out of the bar/hotel for a moment. What has happened so far? Have they treated the girl with respect? Maybe they have not treated anything so far, except their eyes perhaps. Thoughts are only a problem when they get converted into action. Right?

There is very little chance of action here (much to the disappointment of fun guy). As mentioned before, no one at the table has the guts (or the balance) to go trouble the girl anyway. But what if they were not in a busy place. What if there was no one except them and her? If it was late night and no help was forthcoming? Would that have emboldened them? Probably. Now, if they had done something stupid (otherwise perfectly nice married guys) who is to blame?

The thoughts? So are thoughts really harmless? Or perhaps we would just say that being at such a place, at such a time, in such a dress, the girl had it coming.

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Thursday, January 22, 2015

Arrogant Geniuses

What has arrogance to do with genius? Nothing really. At least not in real life. But somehow onscreen they seem to be inseparable.

Arrogance we are taught is a bad thing. Good people are humble. So obviously we get attracted to arrogance like smoking of that first joint or getting wasted in defiance of our preachy family and friends. When Mark ridicules a girl in the 'The Social Network' because he can think faster than her (and perhaps speak faster than he can think), we love it as an audience. When Steve abuses a programmer for not thinking as big as he does in 'Jobs' we join in in the abuse and marvel at the grand ideas that the hero is capable of. When Alan in 'The Imitation Game' fires a few guys unceremoniously, guys who have toiled at the problem as much as he has, the whole theater erupts in laughter. I wonder what I will feel if my boss fires me for having a low IQ and the whole office laughs their heart out pointing at me.

Obviously we are not putting ourselves in the shoes of the people getting put down. We think of ourselves as the conquering hero. We get to be a brilliant scientist revolutionizing science itself. Or a passionate entrepreneur who changes the way people go about their very lives. When the canvas is so large a little fun at the expense of a dumb-witted guy is OK. Is needed in fact. To prove the authenticity of the intellect in question.

I'm a woman in a man's job. I don't have the luxury of being an ass - Joan Clarke in 'The Imitation Game'

Is it indeed a luxury? Would a genius look less of a genius if she is always pleasant and nice to people? If he is not socially awkward? I wonder how a Albert Einstein or a Swami Vivekananda will be portrayed on screen? They were undoubtedly few of the greatest minds the world has ever seen. But it is hard to imagine them as arrogant. Of course I am not saying that Alan Turing, Steve Jobs or Mark Zuckerberg were or are asses. They might be sugar for all I know. But Directors choosing to show them as crazed go-getters and we loving them for it, tells us something about ourselves.

Do you know why people like violence? It is because it feels good. Humans find violence deeply satisfying. But remove the satisfaction, and the act becomes... hollow. - Alan Turing in 'The Imitation Game'

I have had opportunity of really hurting people with words. And I have let my tongue loose on many a occasion. I have been on the wrong side of the deal often times too. That crushing feeling when you are smaller than the smallest object in sight. And I have realized that truly smart, really wise people don't do that. They just can't. In fact, it is so true that it can be a test to understand someone with. I think we have mistaken style for wisdom. And bling for style.

Any fool can know. The point is to understand. - Albert Einstein

If I become a genius I would like to be shown like Phalke in 'Harishchandrachi Factory'. A brilliant inventor and artist who is many times funny and always likable. Even in the worst of times he is never crass.

And yes, I believe genius is a matter of becoming. Not being.

[Pictures courtesy -,,,,]  


Thursday, November 06, 2014

Gone Girl

It was refreshing to see such a negative take on marriage. We always joke about how marriage makes you loose your freedom and how you have to sacrifice on all kinds of shit. But it is always accompanied by something that compensates it. Love, sex, kids, security, just the company. This movie was devoid of any positive side. It was what the idea of marriage can become if taken to the extreme. And it is a rather unnatural idea when you think about it.

Given a choice nobody will marry an ugly person. It might be an insensitive statement to make, but is it not true? So what would you expect to happen to a relation which is based on physical attraction to begin with? It will be as fickle as the attraction which started it. But we fight with it day in and day out. To add some substance to it. Kids are of course a game changer. But what of a long and successful marriage without kids? In the end what will become of the two people involved in it? When none of them is attractive anymore.

Actually the end is easy. It is the middle years when all the infidelity and such-likes happens. When both think they deserve better. It is like marriage is designed to ruin you. But somehow, by a stroke of luck, you might be saved. The more successful and genuinely happy marriages that I have seen look more like any other friendship rather than the added baggage that is part of the marriage bandwagon.

But like any other hard, near impossible thing (like rock climbing, deep sea diving, cliff jumping) marriage, if done right, can forge character. Of course it might be a tad difficult if the spouse is a psychopath. But in most cases they are not. What remains is letting go of your ego and being kind. Ah, but what seems clear in writing, is hazy in doing. What seems like an obvious thing in principle, is always the hardest thing in practice.