Wednesday, January 24, 2007

notes on an unexamined life.

Reading Zadie Smith the other day made me – well, happy, because I like Zadie Smith and very much enjoy and envy her beautiful/clever/successful/bohemian thing, and it made me think about how, in fact, the perfect novel has never been written, and how it never will be unless the perfect human being comes along. It’s because of what Zadie quotes and gently dismisses as the idea behind moral criticism, which is that good books are only written by good people. I read that to myself and realised that this is pretty much at the core of my appreciation of books. And about people. The complexity is in the idea of goodness, of course, and what constitutes it. I’ve mentioned it earlier, but I think it bears repeating: for me, compassion and humour are what make a good book, and I think both these qualities are what go into making a good person too. Good and interesting. Literature is a function of humanity, after all. Maybe. (thanks for the link, Uma.)

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Reading ‘Fever Pitch’ makes me a little sad because Nick Hornby always scares me into believing that being pithy is all it takes to get along in this world, and I can’t deal with that. Perhaps I will promise to write a book about my love for Arsenal FC, so that Cambridge will let me in, too? I have the right profile for it, even: un-English, un-white, un-male. Except for the last, I’d probably fit into Arsenal’s own club profile. Speaking of which, being too bereft of intellectual vim to blog about it in detail let me just STAND HERE AND CAPSLOCK ABOUT IT FOR A WHILE BECAUSE ARSENAL 2-1 MANCHESTER UNITED AND HOW OMG HOW O GUNNERS YOU ARE IN FASHION AND FORM AND I’M GOING AWAY TO JUMP UP AND DOWN SOMEWHERE. Dear Robin van Persie, your marital status breaks my virgin heart. * turns coy gaze to Gael Clichy, anyway *

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I’m a sucker for professional advancement.

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If you people haven’t been using Google Maps India, I suggest you go check it out right now. Just don’t use my comments page for judicious criticism or vitriolic abuse. Or anything at all, really.

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I watched ‘Guru’ last week. It looks like I am the only person in the world who didn’t think Abhishek Bachchan was All That. Perhaps the time has come to let the boy down gently. It doesn’t matter that he can’t act, not many people in Bollywood can and we are yet to let the fact bother us, but the gratuitous praise heaped upon him for a performance where he couldn’t even be bothered to remember when to be paralysed and when not to be is taking it a bit far. Enough, I say, but I can’t care. I have received the love of Daniel Craig into my heart, and naught shall touch me hence.

I wonder if the real Mrs Gurumurthy had multiple sclerosis, though.

Also world, plz to get over the engagement thing. You aren’t going to be invited, suck it up and move on.

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SRK’s KBC: yea/nay?

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'Gimme Shelter' is the greatest fracking rock song ever written: yea/nay?

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That’s all, unless you want to know what I think about Alberto Gilardino’s ankle injury in this weekend’s Lazio match, and you naturally don’t, because it is not broken and Milan is sucking and Gila’s kind of mediocre, anyway. (If I promise to write a book about Milan, will they let me in to the University of Milan? Or will my body be found in a ditch off the Milan-Turin autostrada with my cold stiff fingers clutching a photograph of an innocently smiling Silvio Berlusconi?)

Monday, January 08, 2007

high precept and low practice

Be patient with the market, we are told, be patient with the faith and good things will come. The market has done what the government never has. It has sent Bisleri into the heart of drought, it has planted phones in the wilderness, it has flown paupers into the sky, it has washed your tomatoes and put them in cellophane with a use-before date on it. The more you cede to it, the better things will get. The market has proved its prowess. It has blown barriers, mindsets, ideologies, empires. It wages on, relentless, powered by its intrinsic dynamics. But the market is not a creature of our choosing, remember. You never get to elect it, you cannot send it packing. It is not a democracy. It is not a welfare state. It is not an entity of selfless promise. It is an entity of profit. It will not, and cannot, do what the State does, or should. It certainly will not do what we meant our State to do, it bears no liabilities to us as our Constitution and all of our structures of State do, or are meant to. The market will not fetch water to the last man. It will not inoculate and educate our children. It will not bother with the correction of societal prejudice. It will not be held to the lofty ideals of man — liberty, equality, justice. If those serve the cause of profit, yes.

Not otherwise.


The Demons We Also Feed. Sankarshan Thakur in a hold-your-horses editorial for Tehelka. Nothing newsy or ballsy, but then neither is the glittering pile of 'India Poised' rhetoric that marks all the other yearly round-ups. I was particularly moved by this part. It put me to thinking of the end of His Dark Materials, when Lyra claims her life's work of building 'the Republic of Heaven.'

I was reading Tehelka on the flight back to Hyderabad. I was dismayed to see all the other free newsstands cleaned out by airport passengers but their stand left forlorn and full. I don't wish to be a-pimpin', but seriously, where is the love for the contrarian in this country? Please, dear readers. Next time you're at the airport, do something to deplete their stock.

current musix: goran bregovic and ofra haza - elo hi (canto nero)
hebrew prayer-pop meets balkan folk, and what a fine combination. this song is the only thing that is keeping me from playing the chris cornell james bond song on REPEAT.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

babel

The time has come to talk of Brad Pitt, and significantly, how indifferent I am to him. I liked him in Fight Club, but everyone else in that film was better than he. I hated him in Troy, but I hated everyone else in that one, with the possible exception of Eric Bana (who is, hello, no extreme thespian, but brunet wins versus blond every time in my opinion – and in my opinion, Troy was principally, perhaps solely, noteworthy for the hairdos.) Watching Le Pitt cry into a telephone at the end of Babel left me utterly unmoved. I realise he wasn’t cast for his dramatic abilities, but watching the aforementioned Bana, for example, in a similar scene in Munich, face crumpling as he talks to his daughter on the phone, was utterly moving in a way that Pitt, even with the help of a rough-greybeard-hiker look and a thoroughly harrowing storyline behind him, was not.

Discount all my opinions on film henceforth, for I am a sucker for Spielbergian manipulation? Eh, maybe. I didn’t like Babel. I liked some of the craft – the muted bleakness of landscapes as diverse as rural Morocco and Tokyo is lovely and very horrifying – and the subtitles (because subtitles are love) but on the whole, no cookie. There’s an abundance of ambition in this film, which alone rates it above single-point-agenda, tab-A-slot-B storytelling à la Crash. Oh my god, Babel is the least tab-A-slot-B film ever. It’s exciting in theory. But it turns out that being swung like a pendulum between extremes of sheer boredom and mindless terror leave one feeling not so much depleted as cheated. I don’t believe I’m ready for a post-Aristotelian disavowal of catharsis just yet. Is it too trite to expect art to make sense of life, especially in a film that is about the breakdown of communication?

Let me take a step back. There are four bewitching stories in the film, each one fully-developed and for the most part, beautifully acted. There isn’t disorientation so much as wonder at the way we swing from a Moroccan goatherd’s hut to a soap-opera American suburban home to hotspots in Tokyo. There’s also a Mexican wedding. (I need to emphasize the existence of the Mexican wedding. And Adriana Barraza and Gael García Bernal.) And nannies cry. Young men are foolish. Flies buzz. Children masturbate. Lives are caught in the process of destruction.

It’s a vast canvas, full of disparate strands. A Big Film is a choice that nine out of ten filmmakers with skill and craft and two braincells to rub together would make when presented with the notion of making a film about the barriers of language. So many other aspects spring to life when you look at the problem: culture, politics, economics. I don’t get it, though: why these four stories? Why subtitles? The multiplicity of languages is the whim of an irate god (sidenote: for moral lessons about man’s arrogance, we should all stick with the Greeks) in the biblical Babel story. These distances are really no one’s fault. I’ve known my grandmother all my life but I can’t understand a word she says anymore because Parkinson’s has impaired her speech so badly. Civilisation fails us in these small ways every day of our lives, and there’s no pattern to it, no sense. Perhaps it is merely my holiday mood talking, but shouldn’t cinema, I don’t know, grapple with these problems a little more? Babel just wasn’t confrontational enough for me. And the ideas fell short of the frame.

It was resonant in parts, most so in the story of Chieko, the deaf girl – which also gave me the creeps because I couldn’t turn off my wariness of male obsession with Japanese schoolgirls in time. (I know if you’ve read any other review of the film you will have heard oodles about how brilliant Rinko Kikuchi, the actor playing Chieko, is. So let me submit, merely for the record: I think Rinko Kikuchi is pretty fracking brilliant.) But after fraying my nerves with each passing hour, it came down to me being unmoved by the plight of Le Pitt on the phone with his son. And hoping that Alfonso Cuarón has actually done better with Children of Men.

Unrelated footnote: I miss a hi-speed Internet connection like the deserts miss the rain. Also, please never get a pedicure in Bombay unless you can get your pedicurist to bind your feet in impenetrable plastic wrap before you step out of the salon. One sets oneself up for heartbreak any other way.

Monday, January 01, 2007

welcome, double oh seven

It's been seven years since my first New Year's celebration apart from my family. My classmates and I had a slumber party at a friend's place, made roast chicken (these were my pre-vegetarian days) and carrot halwa and waited, as the clock ticked by, for Y2K to make the world explode. I was fifteen.

It's been six years since I sat on a terrace in Bandra with my best friends in the world, watching for the sunrise -- in the wrong direction.

It's been four years since I spent New Years crying in the corner of a large party because of a boy.

I spent this evening drinking rum with my grandfather, and slurping gelato on Carter Road with a friend. It's been great. Quiet, but great. And I'm extremely happy to say that it's been ten years, at the very least, since I brought in the New Year watching a telly special.

Now for 2007. How have all of you let the year in?