Songs of the Cauvery; Kalyanaraman Durgadas

33560834Loved the pace. Loved the visual storytelling. But visualisation isn’t easy, given that most items/objects are described in Tamil, which assume that the reader is Tamil or knows the language. In the beginning the author makes some effort to explain a few Tamil words, after that, it’s all on assumption.

Also, towards the end, the quotes of freedom fighters seem laboriously inserted. At places, it seems that an entire chapter has been inserted for the explicit purpose of quoting someone.

If you understand Tamil, you may enjoy Songs of Cauvery more than I did.

I wish I had a better start to 2017. 🙂

रायगडाला जेव्हा जाग येते; वसंत कानेटकर | Raigadala Jevha Jaag Yete; Vasant Kanetkar

It would be an understatement to say that this is one of the better and popular plays in Marathi, of all times.

Raigadala Jevha Jaag Yete is the play that explores the relationship between a Shivaji – A king as well as a father, and his eldest son Sambhaji – the natural successor to the throne. The play tumbles through the relationships and the roles of these two great personalities, the misunderstandings that distance and time had caused between this father and sun duo. For good measure, the key  character turns out to be the second son of Shivaji – Rajaram – the younger step-brother of Sambhaji.

रायगडाला जेव्हा जाग येते; वसंत कानेटकर | Raigadala Jevha Jaag Yete; Vasant Kanetkar

रायगडाला जेव्हा जाग येते; वसंत कानेटकर | Raigadala Jevha Jaag Yete; Vasant Kanetkar

Court intrigues and scheming for the succession struggle play an important part in this wonderfully crafted play. While a large reason of the popularity of this play may have been due to the characters in the play, that’s only the skin: the meat, bones, and the nerves of this play are in the exploration of the raw emotions and exchanges between a father-king and a prince-son (who have been estranged by distance and time) come to experience: partly because of the actions of the prince, more because of the schemes and the intrigues of the court.

The aphorisms and metaphors are a readers’ delight. The writing is pacy, even if you imagine the mighty Dr. Kashinath Ghanekar on stage delivering the performance, with his signature pauses and voice modulation. The event of the escape of Shivaji from Agra is used to perfection as a presentation of perspective; the text for each of the perspectives, of Shivaji and Sambhaji, are very compelling.

“शेकडो कोसांची पायपीट बिनतक्रार करणाऱ्या पोराचे पाय ओसरीवरून माझघरात जाईतो पांगळे होतात.”

The language employed is “Olde Marathi”, if I can call it that; the medieval usage of certain words, which have now, unfortunately fallen out of favour, is enriching to the entire context of the play. For a person, who is not well versed in Marathi, it was relatively easy to read (with some help from my mother, who was referred to throughout the two days that I took to read the book.

If you read Marathi, this is highly recommended.

Frontiers of Karma: The Counterstroke; Medha Deshmukh Bhaskaran

I really, really wanted this book to be amazing.

frontiers-of-karma-the-counterstroke-400x400-imadyqbnwftv6pgrIt did start with some promise, I will admit. Deeper into the story editorial fatigue seems to have set in. Without doubt this is a tough history to fictionalise, but this is not the first time it has been attempted (perhaps the first time in English). And any historical fiction brings in a bit of the author and her imagination no doubt. That is what a reader signs-up for, when he picks any historical fiction. Yet, when I consider the possibilities for this story, it fell short.

The book is more of a festival of adjectives, than anything else. Too much of looking at the skies and too many types of clouds. The focus of fictionalising is on embellishments and not the story.

Most of the rating of this book was shaved off because of the typos. In a book of 400 pages, a couple of typos, though unacceptable, is understandable. But after you lose count, especially of typos that can be corrected with a simple spellcheck, it simply makes you sad. Spelling mistakes break the flow of reading; distract attention, and displace you from the engrossed state that a reader should be in. I felt that the author, editor, and publisher have not taken enough care for a book that could have had a huge impact in the historical fiction genre.

I hope the following two books (it’s a trilogy) make for better reading than this one, especially with the spellings.

Lokmanya: Ek Yugpurush (2015)

Potential “influencers” ahead. AKA Spoilers.

I highly recommend that you watch this movie. If you do not want to be influenced with what I think, read this after you have seen the movie. You have been warned.

*

I cannot write the review of this movie without invoking three other movies which I have watched, enjoyed, and respected. Sardar (1993), Rang De Basanti (2006), and Lincoln (2012). All in good time, but first things first. I hardly ever say this; I highly recommend Lokmanya: Ek Yugpurush (2015).

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In recent times, this movie has to rank the highest, as far as performances go. Subodh Bhave, who plays Shri BG Tilak, brings to you, an outstanding performance. To play Tilak’s role is automatically a challenge. To see a historical character come to life, in the way that the actor has, is a revelation. It is a stellar performance and more adjectives will follow. None of us alive will ever know how Tilak lived. Of what we know of Tilak, Bhave does due justice. To glean a character from flat documents and give us a sense, meaning, and a visual is a daunting task. Bhave does it, apparently effortlessly. The actor may have gone through much effort; nothing shows on the screen. Here, I invoke the first of the three movies I mentioned above. In terms of a powerful performance, Bhave is akin to Daniel Day-Lewis in Lincoln (2012). As enraptured as you are, if every other scene is giving you goosebumps, and you know it has nothing to do with the AC in the cinema hall, that is a powerful performance. I cede, that part of it has to do with my love and respect for Shri BG Tilak.

The production quality is outstanding. I am glad that Marathi movies are embracing production quality as an essential aspect of film-making. Art direction, equally is worth all that meets your eye. When possible, light has been used to dramatic effect. Angles of the camera are often philosophical. While I may have missed things, there’s nothing jarring, in the creative department.

There is no reason you would not want to watch this movie in a theatre. I highly recommend it. Especially for the performances.

*

All, is not good, however.

And this ails the industry more than it ails this movie. Consider Sardar (1993) — a biopic on Sardar Vallabhai Patel. It starts with a contemporary event (just like in Lokmanya: Ek Yugpurush, but gracefully gives way to the biopic and respects the audience, right until the movie ends). Lokmanya: Ek Yugpurush insists on violating the biopic. That is jarring. If you aren’t alert, you will miss that you will see two movies for the price of one: one an extremely high-budget, production and performance focussed movie on the life and times of Tilak, and the other a low-budget, shoddily directed, low-budget contemporary confusion of the new generation. The second movie is embedded to insult you — the audience; shooting from behind Tilak’s shoulder. The difference in the quality of the two films indicates two directors (although I don’t know it for a fact).

I am not against non-linear presentations. In fact, I love them. I finally invoke the third film I mentioned above: Rang De Basanti (2006). Period-shifting was done tastefully in Rang De Basanti. It perhaps had to do with the reuse of the cast. Irrespective, the time shifts in Rang De Basanti were not jarring.

I have to make special mention of a few things about this movie. Veer Savarkar was badly cast. Swami Vivekananda could have been better. Khudiram Bose was wonderfully cast and cinematically presented. I would’ve like to see at least one shot in which “Lal, Bal, Pal” — the triumvirate of assertive nationalists — were seen together.

If this is the harbinger of what we will see in the days to come from the Marathi Film Industry, I am mighty proud.

Do us, one favour, ye mighty producers and  storytellers. Spare us the social messages. The fact that you have to spell it out to us means two things: (a) you assume your audience is idiotic, (b) you have no faith in your craft.

Here goes my **SPOILER**

3-odd minutes before the end of the film, when Tilak replies to “what next” is the perfect time when the movie should have concluded. We don’t need a very well-defined, vocabularised, trivialised, dumbed-down version of Tilak’s legacy.

Dear director, from the moment when, I think, you should have shut down the film, (and you didn’t) you undid everything that could have qualified as the classiest film ever. It never is and never will be easy to capture the life of such a great personality; hats of to you, nonetheless

*

Watch this movie. If you love a performance, this is a must watch.

Dr. Prakash Baba Amte – The Real Hero (2014)

What do you call a cross between a biopic, documentary, and a feature film? Well, whatever you call it, that is what Dr. Prakash Baba Amte – The Real Hero is. Someone on Facebook or Twitter reviewed this movie in a single sentence, a phrase almost: Great movie, bad title. (Or something to that effect, It is a big pain to search in Facebook, so, I will not try). The reason I put up that phrase is that I agree with it. At the same time, I cannot, in the absence of any authority, tell you what it should have been called.

I loved the movie.

Dr Prakash Baba Amte The Real Hero

Somewhere in my head, I loved it even before I entered the theatre. The lead role is played by Nana Patekar; I have great respect for that man. Very few people can make their presence felt without saying a single word. As far as intense performances go, he is one of the best. I am not a big fan of Sonali Kulkarni; I have always thought she has a tendency to over-emote. Note: I said over-emote, not over-act. After this movie, I have changed my opinion about her somewhat; except for a couple of scenes, she has done a good job. She feels real.

There is obvious dramatisation in the movie, but it has been used for good effect. That effect, is, however, to dilute the stark reality of the life of the protagonist. In its raw form, I doubt if we city-dwellers could have digested it.

Marathi movies and production quality: If I ever review a Marathi film, production values have to account in the review. US location and you use the Kohinoor hotel, in Andheri East, Mumbai? Fair enough, lack of budget, I am OK with it. Take some effort to mask the obvious. That’s my only peeve about the movie, really. The only reason, why I took away one star in my IMDB rating.

I will not even begin to question how Dr. Prakash Amte lived his life; I accept the hanging of saline bottles on tree trunks because I have no idea about how he lived his life. This movie gave me an insight into his life. The fact that I know that Nana Patekar is good friends with Dr. Prakash Amte, I took up the entire film on face value. And while I am an otherwise stoic person, I experienced the travails and cried in this movie.

There. I said it.

Something has to be said of the tears, though. They were never gushing; the eyes were swollen on continuous basis, even when I laughed during some scenes. The movie is a festival of faces. The protagonist’s faces and those that keep making their way in and out of the movie, lending credence to the protagonists. It’s a festival of places. It’s a festival of emotions. Not the festival of fire-crackers; however; a quiet one — one of emotions, motivation, and resolve.

Parts of the movie are gory. If you have young children, avoid taking them to the theatre. Your children might ask questions, you may not find it easy to answer. But the gory-ness is in perfect context and adds useful meaning to the film. And because it is the truth, more so.

The following note has nothing to do about this movie, but about Marathi movies in general:

I have no idea why, but this movie has English subtitles. (At least at INOX, where I saw it). That was a master stroke. Non-Marathi audiences can enjoy the film in almost the same way that Marathi audience can enjoy it. There is so much more in this film than meets the eye, but it cannot be included in this review.

Definite watch. It’s tax-free (if it matters to you). These are the filmmakers I would want to become wealthy and cross the magical Rs. 100-crore mark.

If nothing, it is an insight into a wonderful and an inspirational life. But do not attempt to live such a life; one thing that will become obvious after you see this film, it takes much more than simple motivation to live such a life.

These movies are not descriptions of social markers. They are a life-size question marks that we often see in mirrors. Enough said.

Duniyadari (2013)

Just when I was relaxing, feeling good about Marathi Cinema doing quality production and tangentially effective story-telling, along comes Duniyadari (2013). In less than five-odd minutes of the start of the film, the protagonist is supposed to go to SP College. You have the undivided attention of this movie-goer. SP College is my alma mater.

alma mater: noun (one’s Alma Mater) the university, school, or college that one formerly attended. ORIGIN mid 17th cent. (in the general sense ‘someone or something providing nourishment’): Latin, literally ‘generous mother’. [Italics, mine; just to give you a context of the post that follows]

Duniyadari_poster

So you are telling a story linked to my generous mother. You will of course forgive the current scandal – which I had nothing to do with – but my niece is affected and out on the streets, protesting and such; which, is a prerogative of every college student in India; and perhaps the world. I believe, that while you are in college, at least one such issue has to come up, where you can participate protest. When I was in SP College, the Mandal Commission had come out. We protested against that. Eventually, most of us will pay lip-service to social issues; but this is the time when you can express yourself as much as you can. Kudos to my niece! But, let us not talk about that for now, for this is a review of a movie.

So, this movie is about a few college going kids, who become friends due to certain unintended circumstances and towards the end of the movie – it all becomes quite lopsided and queasy. I’ll explain.

ENDNOTE:

Don’t take my word for it. Here’s an “opposite” review. Read it before you read any further.

[FAIR WARNING: Guaranteed spoiler and influencer ahead]

Guy meets girl, falls in love, rest of his friends tease him. Standard. Some stupidity with a police officer and the revenge is to entangle the daughter of the police officer in a love game. [Long ago, we saw something similar in Tezaab] – the bet to entice a girl to fall in love. And of course, the bet works (with some implausible stupidity) and the protagonist is now conflicted between his real love and his wagered love. There’s some wishful slapstick comedy (which has been the survival mechanism of Marathi Cinema for a few years) that is extremely weak and in effective to buttress the plot. Because Marathi Cinema needs to be shown as progressive, there’s a small scene of physical intimacy – do not get your hopes up – you don’t get to see anything. The assumed prudery of the assumed audience is intact. I forgot to mention, this movie is set in the 70s apparently. The art director was probably born in the nineties. If you were 20-something in the 70’s, be ready for a shocker. In the late-eighties and early nineties, I often went to Alka Talkies – I can assure you – it was nothing like what has been depicted in the movie. SP College is along Tilak Road – and it could not have the amazing open space as depicted in the film. It is probably the same building that was used in Munnabhai MBBS. I don’t care. If you wanted to show SP College, and did not get permission to shoot there, call it something else! It’s fiction!

I’ll get back to my favourite concept that I use when I watch movies. Suspension of disbelief.

It didn’t work!

Let’s forget the art direction and the SP College and the Alka Talkies. Some repetition assured.

Dumb guy gets slapped because of mistaken identity – slapper eventually apologises for mistaken identity – slapped guy gets intimidated by rival gang – finds credo – and therefore finds place in slapper gang – falls in love with a medical student (SP College is and has never been anywhere near a medical college) – gets slapped by an inspector for a misdemeanour – gang wants revenge on inspector – entice daughter of inspector – she sees through the plan – yet falls in love [Erm. Where are the feminists?] – hero is conflicted – gang leader (non-hero) goes through love crisis – somewhere in the middle of the movie we get to know that hero’s nose bleeds “may” be life threatening [Prison Break?] – enticed daughter of inspector is advised to go find love elsewhere by our nose-bleeder with some heavy wordy dialogues (which none of us normal Maharashtrians use in our daily life) – in the meanwhile, just when the train is about to leave the station, you should have asked me to marry you, says the heroine (of course when he did try to ask, she didn’t allow him) – suddenly a guy [Who is called MK – and you will never know why; and BTW – he is some sort of professor] who commits suicide in a train is the hero’s mother’s lover, who, you have just learned that she sacrificed everything for legally sanctioned rape, i.e. marriage. [Topically speaking, very relevant] & [I assure you writing this is not easy] – and then, phew – our hero is dead all his male and female lovers [not homosexual @ men] are back on the stone benches [Flash-forward] where they smoked cigarettes (which I can assure you they did not do it very well, which anyway was ruined by the sub-titled warnings of how harmful smoking is; no mention was made by the surgeon general about how harmful failing in college and betting on enticing daughters of local inspectors is, which, if you ask me, is more detrimental than smoking). Friends getting together for a memory makes sense, but you know what gets to me? What makes me tear up the few remaining hair on my head?

I’ll tell you.

Remember that inspector’s daughter who was a bet? And was eventually let go with some really complex word jumbles? She married another guy, apparently. Here’s the worst part:

That extremely mis-casted meatpack, who ended up being the husband of the better girl – **actually talks** to a stone bench at the end of the movie – thanking our dead nose-bleeding guy, that he let this wager-woman go. So that he could have her. Seriously. If nothing, for this one scene, you *have* to watch this movie.

So, let’s talk about the music. Rather, let’s not. I forwarded (not email, FF-button) most of the songs in the movie – they were in Hindi. The first one was, so I assumed the other’s were too. I fail to understand why we have Hindi songs in Marathi movies. Let me say that again. They were in Hindi. Why? I know the answer. Marathi poetry is dead. The acting was lacklustre, loaded with hamming for equal measure. The story has nothing to offer and mo message is intended. The movie completely fails to entertain and struggles pathetically between attempting to entertain or posting a message. The emotions are hammed, and at the end of it, the movie does one thing with great clarity: It does a dis-service to the audience that has evolved more than the industry has.

Duniyadari, the word, to my mind – is being worldly-wise. There were many worlds I experienced when I was watching this movie; I can assure you there was nothing wise about it.

How much do you value your 2-3 hours? If you really value them; avoid this movie. And if you are really set to watch a Marathi Movie, watch Ashi hi Banva Banvi, instead. It makes no excuses, unlike Duniyadari.

At least you won’t go to bed wondering what it was all about.

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy; John le Carré

12512131Culture. At the end, that word resonated for a while. Perhaps it is about the profession or perhaps it is about the ease with which we move around the world and understand the story. But of course, the book was not about that.

For a long time, I put off seeing the movie (based on this book) till I read the book. Finally, I have.

It’s an absolutely wonderful visual journey and I am inclined to say that is a visualizer first and story-teller second. Visualisation not just of the scenes or the details, but of the human landscape, textured with our tainted pasts, potential futures, and indeterminate emotions.

The language and presentation influences the thinking eye, if we do have such a thing, and ushers you ever so gently to the purpose of the writer. I am hard-pressed to think of many other writers who can do that. Few, but definitely not many.

I must say, I am very glad that this book reintroduced me to fiction and reminded me that good stories have their own place in life.

When you have a master story-teller, oh, even better.

 

Amongst Women; John McGahern

Wonderful read.

Amongst Women has been lying with me for sometime now and I have no idea why I ever picked it up or why I took so long to start (and finish) it. As far as searching and delving into human understanding goes – this has to make the list.
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On the face of it, it’s a relationship between a father and his children. When we talk about the children, there are three daughters who are always with him and two sons with whom he has a difficult relationship; the difficulty of the relationship is compounded with his personal history that we are never completely aware of. I wonder, however, if it is just that, or the underlying theme – the lack of male company – that the father craves, yet denies himself.This books a sine-wave-form of emotions of a family – very simply presented. But at almost every paragraph there is a subtle, in-depth exploration, which, as you progress along, you discover is never long-lasting. It’s a tease, almost, that leaves you to delve into your own thoughts. Things change along the time line whether you expect them to or not.

It makes you want to know people better.

Skyfall (2012)

Let me write this before I get influenced by many conversations that will now take place about Skyfall: I liked it.

Potential Spoilers Ahead

Now that I have got that out-of-the-way, I was disappointed by Javier Bardem – he looked ridiculous in that get-up and as far as Bond villains go – was the least intimidating of all. My personal issue? I like Javier Bardem. He is a very good actor. I raised my expectations. He stamped on those. Bérénice Marlohe’s role seemed to be furiously edited, and the women in the recent Bond movies who have received their politically correct place in what was always supposed to be a Bond movie, have not received their rightful place, either.

My friend, (thank you for the tickets!) was quite disappointed with the plot. To my mind there wasn’t a plot, as such. To my mind Skyfall is a set up for the next Bond movie. I do not remember the last time, they announced on the credits that, “Bond will be back soon” (I may be wrong – but this hasn’t happened before.) But let’s speak about the plot a bit. A list of undercover agents is now out in the open (something like what we saw in Mission Impossible – the NOC list) and Bond works to get the list back. It is fair to assume that after all that Bond does in the movie, MI6 do get back the list. (It isn’t obvious.) After 50 years, we get an idea about his past life.

They undid the gadgets and the girls, but not the guns. And at times I was reminded of Die Hard – with the volume of the firepower.

The movie ended on a wonderful note, introducing us to a character we have known for long. There is a circularity of the stories that we seem to be missing. Non-linear story-telling is in vogue, and so is Bond-bashing. Someone decided that he had to be corrected politically, and we are now paying the price. There is hope because of M. We are hopefully coming back to the Bond we know, because of what happens at the end of the movie.

But the coolness of James Bond is intact. No doubts there. Should you see this movie? If you love James Bond, you will; I do not have to tell you. If you don’t care, you don’t care. Right?

Skyfall was a trailer. A 140mins trailer. Wait for the next one. The few ingredients missing were added in the last few minutes.

Wait for the next one.

Haroun and the Sea of Stories; Salman Rushdie

I do not remember the last time I was grinning, smiling, excited, and as eager to know what happens next – as I was – when I was reading Haroun and the Sea of Stories by Salman Rushdie. For a while now, and age probably has got something to do with it – I have ceased to call things – life-changing. Perhaps, as we go along in our life and get to know that lesser life remains, perhaps there is less of life to change.

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For two days, I lived an experience similar to that when I used to read story-books, a long time ago. That experience has a few determining qualities:

First, it creates heart-wrenching curiosity to know what happens next. There is excitement due to the dark shroud of dread, fused with a bright tube of hope. You feel all the emotions that the author wants you to feel. There is a sense of freedom in those slavish moment.

Second, the experience allows you to allow yourself to allow irrationality that we have absorbed from this world. And after we have allowed this willing suspension of disbelief, the fantastical journey becomes your own and you travel beside every character as you do with people in your everyday commute.

Finally,  it remains with you. Stories told well have a lasting impact on you. Think about the grandmother-generalisation, if you will. Her stories are the ones that have remained with you for ever. Grandparents in general and grandmothers in specific are prone to developing skills of good story-telling.

This is the first book by Salman Rushdie that I have ever read, and like most others, I know more about his infamous book and the surrounding controversies than anything else. If you have been following my reviews for a while, I usually refrain from superlatives, but this is the work of a genius.

Potential Spoilers Ahead

The story runs at three levels. In order that they were revealed to me: The first one and the most enjoyable is the story itself – the vents, the characters and their lives and accidents. Below it, not very well camouflaged is, a political and social level, which an adult will want to uncover. The partially concealed metaphors make you want to probe within the store of your mind about relationships, meanings and linkages. The last one, is philosophical. This is a layer that can be said to be common in almost every book, because of the subtle nature of philosophy and its ability to be found almost anywhere. Yet, in this book, it stands strong. It is forceful and has an enduring after-taste.

The meat of it, however, is still in the story and the adventure. It is fully fantastical, curiously exaggerated , and a challenge to your imagination at all times. The language is young and flows like child-like curiosity and mischief.

It is not, as I have now stopped calling things – life-changing – but it is definitely a book that may allow you to change your perspectives about some things in life.

In the worst case, it is a beautiful story – and this is such a wonderful worst case to have!