Saturday, June 30, 2007

newsflash: world lacks imagination

All over the world, women are turning into Jane Austen freaks for the pleasure of escapism, Empire waistlines, and impossibly devoted and eminently suitable fantasies. I mean, what? Do most women really go no further than a Pavlovian reflex at catching a glimpse of a nice man when they read Austen? Really. I'm not trying to devolve that into a 'feminists v/s asshats' question. If you're going to blame Colin Firth and aggressive paperback marketing for the rash of Darcy-centric paraphernalia then, uh, shouldn't you be blaming market forces, and not literate adult women, for repurposing Austen into Regency romance?

I fell into the trap of expecting Austen to be a sympathetic romantic when I first read her, which is probably why I refused to count myself as one among her legion of fans in my early teens. It was a little disturbing to re-read Pride & Prejudice sometime after I hit voting-age and find that every word of it rang hilariously, scathingly, frighteningly true - if you ignored the darkly frowning sexpot that comes up to untie the Gordian knot for our heroine, rescuing her from almost-certain poverty and social ostracism that life as a single woman might have reduced her to.

Reading this thread at Pandagon, in response to Traister's rather single-note article, was quite fascinating. Some people blogged in with very cogent objections to the classist Austen worldview. There's no denying that, in taking the comic tone, Austen limits herself to operating within the acceptable spheres of feminine respectability, both for herself and her protagonists. I hardly think this discredits her powers of imagination. The horror of having Elizabeth die as a penniless spinster-governess, uncared for and unloved by some tiresome family of rich brats, must have loomed a little too close for Austen's comfort to have her thrash it out in a book. There are limits to everyone's ability to laugh in the face of dread.

But surely Austen isn't yet so single-purpose that women now seek nothing in her books apart from the comfort of a mannered, self-conscious society and hunks in top hats. Or has the world changed all that much over in its individualistic, liberated corners that the real fears of poverty and social disapproval don't haunt the lives of the novel-reading class of women any more? I can't believe that. Degrees of female freedom may vary, but surely no society is quite so liberated and equal opportunity that reading P+P at a certain age isn't discomfiting for a single woman in possession of a modicum of self-awareness? And not just in a touching, hilarious, 'oh god, I know that, that's my family, and my sister, and my neighbours' sort of way. I think that's what Bridget Jones was supposed to highlight, in the way Bridget obsessed over dying alone and being found three weeks later half-eaten by Alsatians. But Bridget Jones' Diary was, at its heart, a well-meaning, happy little fable of the underdog winning the day, while P+P has a hard, immovable core of unpleasantness that even the feather-light epilogue [house! servants! non-embarassing connections!] need not dislodge, depending on what time of the night you're reading.

And as with most institutionalised suffering, it just seems so pointless. Chattering relatives. Disheartened parents. Suspicious co-workers. Overly fresh male acquaintances. Complete lack of social mobility. Institutional disapproval. All of which are much harder than a sheltered, genteel existence can teach you to cope with. And for what?

I don't like Darcy. He's an almighty cop-out. But he has his uses, and we all recognize that. No one, least of all a reader with the slightest respect for comedy, can blame literature for trying to bring a modicum of order to life.

Sheesh. And they say nice guys have a job of it.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

does he makeit up as he goes along?

Someone on a social networking site that shall go unnamed insisted on calling Disney's favourite pirate 'Caption Jack Sparrow,' in complete innocence of the implications.


"You look somehow familiar... Have I threatened you before?"

Jack : "Why is the rum gone?"
Elizabeth : "One, because it is a vile drink that turns even the most respectable men into complete scoundrels. Two, that signal is over a thousand feet high. The entire Royal Navy is out looking for me, do you really think that there is even the slightest chance that they won't see it?"
Jack : "But why is all the rum gone?"

"He was actually telling the truth!"
"I do that quite a lot. You people are always surprised."

"Nobody move! I've lost my brain!"

"Permit me to lend a machete to your intellectual thicket."

"You look somehow familiar. Have I threatened you before?"

"Nobody move! I've lost my brain."


No, really, don't even bother, I know 3 was really bad, I watched it last Saturday. But let's not even try and underestimate the power of the Depp. As with Baldrick's trousers, nothing good may ever come of it.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

jhoom barabar jhoom

If what follows is tl;dr, a summary: Wow, I had an outrageously good time. After all, a couple of good yarns, a dinky dress or two, and the cobra dance. Is there anything else in life worth paying attention to? Overload! Overload! I FEEL SO ALIVE.


Full Story:

A hundred years from now, Bollywood will not exist.

Indian cinema will implode and morph into something we can only dream of at present. It will become something organic and edgier, perhaps. Independent, regional cinema will flourish again. We will give ourselves over to our traditional strength, telling well-plotted, emotionally honest stories in polished, complex ways, and be internationally renowned for it.

I know this because I have seen the future. It isn't Jhoom Barabar Jhoom, but it's around the corner from it. It's so close I can almost touch it.

Having seen a couple of brave, partially successful attempts at making an honest industry of Bollywood over the last month, like Metro and Cheeni Kum, I feel confident that we can only get better at keeping our shit together. In the meanwhile, we marvel and laugh at surreally enjoyable meta-Bollywood. Now nothing pretends to be real anymore. This isn't the year of the blockbuster meta-film, I know, because JBJ only follows on from its predecessors, Main Hoon Na and so on, but it is perhaps the best example of its kind in modern Bollywood - because it employs all the weapons in its arsenal without the sly deprecation and insincerity of the Khan vehicles of the last couple of years. There's neither cynicism nor sentimentality at work here. It's not a film about its stars, although stars it has aplenty. It's not about its locations, although there is some glorious work in Paris, Agra and London on sight here. You're not expected to treat them as something worth the ticket price, they're background. It's not about overtones, underlying meanings, or central themes. Its about story and song and the accidents of this big old piss-up in which human beings operate.

And it's Bollywood 1, rest of world 0. Bigtime.

It's annoying that people like Preity Zinta [hi, Lindsey Lohan at 30] couldn't be bothered to look interested for the length of the film, nor yet that some sagging in the script in the second half makes it slightly cumbersome in comparision to the first half. I'll pick Shaad Ali over Farhan Akhtar or - who is that other Yashraj disciple who tries to do the same thing? Nikhil Advani? - for writing, vision and craft. His lightness of touch is amazing. Apart from the moronic closing sequence, a counter-intuitive shot of his sutradhar [a truly hideous Amitabh Bachchan] pulling all the threads together for his pea-brained audience, I can scarcely think of an instance when he just didn't let the stories tell themselves. Because this is a movie about storytelling, too. The two main characters are on a train station talking at each other for most of the film [and involved in a gigantic dance-fight for the prize of the 'Mr and Miss Southall' title for the rest of the time. Can anyone be serious about hating dance-offs?] The song sequences are masterfully balanced between outrageous and endearing, and the driving bass and superb choreography feel really helps.

It's brilliant. For once I didn't feel sick about how overrated Abhishek Bachchan is. He was shaky in the first five minutes or so, but the later sequences have him really get under the skin of his character, a loud, smart-mouthed trickster whose signature line is, "Class hai mujhe." [His ringtone is a sexy female voice purring 'Ey, handsome.' He sleeps under a Chelsea FC duvet. I damn well wish Jose Mourinho had agreed to that proposed special appearance in this film, it's the only thing that would have added to its awesomeness.] Lara Dutta's great, too - she mixes her accents up here and there but they're all freakishly convincing, and her comic timing is excellent. And the second half contains perhaps the best portrait of subcontinental expat life I have seen in Indian cinema, because it isn't afraid of tempering affection with wit and snap, and thankfully doesn't fall back on the age-old Bollywood trope of poking fun at teh_phorenerz!! to prove Indian superiority.

And that, Karan Johar, is how you make an NRI film for adults.

Bye bye, Bollywood. We'll always have the memories.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

chandler, heyer, wodehouse, and hurting hands

“What are you doing here? What have you come for?”

“Work,” said Psmith, with simple dignity. “I am now a member of the staff of this bank. Its interests are my interests. Psmith, the individual, ceases to exist, and there springs into being Psmith, the cog in the wheel of the New Asiatic Bank; Psmith, the link in the bank’s chain; Psmith, the Worker. I shall not spare myself,” he proceeded earnestly. “I shall toil with all the accumulated energy of one who, up until now, has only known what work is like from hearsay. Whose is that form sitting on the steps of the bank in the morning, waiting eagerly for the place to open? It is the form of Psmith, the Worker. Whose is that haggard, drawn face which bends over a ledger long after the other toilers have sped blithely westwards to dine at Lyons’ Popular CafĂ©? It is the face of Psmith, the Worker.”

At last, a Wodehouse I can appreciate; nay, verily adore. It is the face and form of Psmith that accompanied me on my recent visit to Kerala, so full of green growing things, temples and the kindness of relatives, and unlike with previous attempts at knowing and loving Wodehouse [Jeeves and Wooster – sadly flat unless enacted by the great Fry and Laurie; Blandings – largely falling well short of the standard set by the terrific, pitch-perfect “Lord Emsworth & The Girlfriend”] and did not disappoint in the least.

Psmith is the sort of character who can keep you company day in and day out as you ride your daily commute to your prestigious clerical job – and what job isn’t, these days, unless you’re the sort of person who gets paid to create something other than code? – and wonder at the comfort and stability of an undocumented life. Psmith is there to help you grow older without realising it. Like all good comedy, I fancy. Psmith is what the Rajesh Khanna character in Bawarchi would be if he lost the annoying three-fourth trousers and sanctimonious manner. After all, none of us really know what the hell we are talking about.

My waking hours have been filled with mid twentieth-century literature [and honest toil, which would not take very long to blog about] of the despicable, cheap-thrill sort. I’ve resigned myself to the nightmares and taken Raymond Chandler up wholeheartedly again. I read The High Window and The Lady in the Lake and The Little Sister and have grown fonder and fonder of That Man, Philip Marlowe, with his gigantic soft spot for humanity and his constant struggle to keep laughing at himself. I don’t understand why mainstream literature courses still undervalue Chandler. Studying Salinger over Chandler should be made illegal. I don’t understand how [or if] people go through modern American literature classes without studying Chandler’s California. It is said that Quentin Crisp introduced Armistead Maupin to a friend as, “This is Armistead Maupin, he invented San Francisco,” and if there is any invented Los Angeles that deserves to stay alive in imagination it is Chandler’s LA.

I’ve also been reading some Georgette Heyer. ‘The Grand Sophy’ was ludicrously enjoyable until about three-quarters in, when our Regency heroine, a young woman of singular talent and competence, walks into the mouth of hell [or what they called regular London back then] to recover a debt for a young cousin and encounters the – usurer, I suppose, is the right word. What follows is a chapter of the most poisonous anti-Semitism I have ever read in my life – beaky noses, greasy palms, and other less pleasant stereotypes. The book’s first edition? 1950. I suppose this is what Jane Austen called a meanness of understanding. The rest of the book was ruined for me, and I don’t know if I’ll be able to pick it up again.

And all this because my wrists are beginning to warn ominously of the onset of carpal tunnel syndrome, which means sitting back and typing only as much as required to earn my honest wage. Thankfully football season is over, so the compulsion to blog does not war with medical necessity [and the talented little Azzurrini went the way of every talented Italian side ever and crashed out of their Baby Euro championship or whatever. And RM won La Liga. Can we say ‘bollocks’ please.] I could have celebrated my return to the blogosphere with the story of my harrowing wait for medical attention at Hyderabad’s most prestigious hospital, but if you’re at all familiar with this blog it should be fairly evident that I try to exercise discernment in matters of reality.

Ouch. Now to bed. What have you been reading?