Monday, January 12, 2009

Humour from Pakistan

For a change something funny coming out of Pakistan.

Thursday, January 08, 2009

"Those who suffer, suffer alone"

An excerpt from The Book of Disquiet. A cautionary tale (or an ironic comment) about too much inwardness?


Whether I like it or not, everything that isn't my soul is no more for me than scenery and decoration. Through rational thought I can recognize that a man is a living being just like me, but for my true, involuntary self he has always had less importance than a tree, if the tree is more beautiful. That's why I've always seen human events - the great collective tragedies of history or of what we make of history - as colourful friezes, with no soul in the figures that appear there. I've never thought twice about anything tragic that has happened in China. It's just scenery in the distance, even if painted with blood and disease.

With ironic sadness I remember a workers' demonstration, carried out with I don't know how much sincerity (for I find it hard to admit sincerity in collective endeavours, given that the individual, all by himself, is the only entity capable of feeling). It was teeming and rowdy group of animated idiots, who passed by my outsider's indifference shouting various things. I instantly felt disgusted. They weren't even sufficiently dirty. Those who truly suffer don't form a group or go around a mob. Those who suffer, suffer alone.

What a pathetic group! What a lack of humanity and true pain! They were real and therefore unbelievable. No one could ever use them for the scene of a novel or a descriptive backdrop. They went by like rubbish in a river, in the river of life, and to see them go by made me sick to my stomach and profoundly sleepy.

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Catching up with Bollywood


I went to see a hindi movie in theatre after a really long time. The last time was "Mangal Pandey" a couple of years back and it was a really traumatic experience. I saw Rang De Basanti and Taare Zameen Par both last year on DVD and regretted having missed them on big screen. I had some serious problems with the "political" content or the "message" of Rang De Basanti and how it went about delivering it but it was still heartwarming to see a mainstream Bollywood movie trying a little harder. I loved TZP too and was really glad that it became such a big commercial success and a general topic of discussion. I don't know how much was it able to change people's perspectives but if it made them think critically about how our schools and colleges behave as if they were factories and how dehumanizing competition can be for children, it still served its purpose.

Now coming to Ghajini, I actually rather liked it. One of my friends had warned me about it saying that Aamir Khan has moved into the Sunny Deol's "Haath nahi hathoda" territory so may be it was because I went with lower expectations and consciously tried not to think about those two earlier films. The romantic track was wonderful, very natural and spontaneous. It was nice to see a new actress getting so much screen space and opportunity to shine and she did a really good job. I liked the way the love story was cut short by tragedy just after the wonderful song "Kaise Mujhe...", it could have been even better if their mutual acceptance had remained in their hearts before the tragedy struck. But that's probably only me with my masochistic leanings.

It is still hard not to express disappointment over a nice opportunity wasted. The story about memory loss could have gained some depth if they had concentrated on how the awareness of passage of time is essential to grieving and moving on and how without it the wounds never heal, even the emotional closure that craving for justice and revenge provide may prove illusive. Then there is the idea of identity, how to form relationship with other people based on trust and how all this is linked to memory, and who knows even an allegory about the dangerous effects of "live for the moment" philosophy. I mean, I wasn't looking for a course in existential philosophy but these things do cross our minds when we sit alone and think. Memento also didn't veer into these territories so for me it was ultimately a shallow film, a clever puzzle yes but ultimately uninteresting and shallow.

I was trying not to think of Rang de Basanti all the while but that scene after the protest in which he breaks down is hard to forget. Specially when, as in this film, he just screams and growls and moves his hands randomly all around. I really hope he doesn't let all the success of Ghajini get into his head and treat it as just temporary distraction.

A Wedenesday

This took me completely by surprise. Extremely impressive and very cathartic after a terror-filled 2008. An excellently made thriller with a stirring and provocative "message" in the end, all the more disturbing because it comes straight from the heart. I can't think of a better film which captures the psyche of ordinary people after so many senseless terrorist attacks that India saw in 2008. It gets even more impressive when you realize that it is the work of a debutante director (Neeraj Pandey). I am really looking forward to whatever he does next.


This was just a random choice, not something I expected to like and it was exactly what I expected it to be - shallow and dumb moralizing about the evils of modernity. I didn't think it was unfair. I am no fan of fashion industry. It is dehumanizing, exploitative and alienating (just like many other jobs such as, ummm, software programming?) but there is a difference between moralizing, using your received ideas and cliched opinions and criticising something on ethical grounds which requires thinking through your ethical principles and applying them to reality.

Singh is King

Inanity. Beyond any commentary.

Next up on my bollywood catch up (planning to see): Chak De India, Jhoom Barabar Jhoom, Oye Lucky! Lucky Oye, Jodhaa Akbar (?), No Smoking, Jaane Tu...Ya Jaane Na (?)

Question marks are because I feel ambivalent about these films. First because of Aishwarya and second because of teenagers.

Monday, January 05, 2009

Self Help

Nice article on the growing menace of self-help books. I liked this comment about the "law of attraction", a very common motif in these books:

"This law posits, quite simply, that thoughts become things. If you ask the universe for what you want, focus on having it, behave as though it's already there and are open to having it then the universe will deliver, whether the object of your desires is a new dishwasher, clear skin, a baby or a million dollars. Guaranteed. Thousands of books now exist based on this simple principle, many of which have spent months on the New York Times bestseller list.

Offering structure and guidance in an increasingly secular society, these bibles can easily be regarded as merely repackaging the same inspiration historically provided by our languishing religions; to consider the Law of Attraction as merely a new, benign, more digestible name for prayer. But there is a crucial difference between the two - while prayer by its very definition acknowledges that ultimate control lies outside of the self (and atheists can equally substitute fate, destiny, gravity or particle physics for a deity in that construction), positive thinking and the Law of Attraction invest ultimate control in the individual, suggesting that by using thought, said individual can effect seismic shifts in their outer world, with nothing whatsoever attributed to social structures, cultural roles, interaction, genetics or dumb luck. The Law of Attraction posits that thoughts create reality, investing in the individual both extraordinary power and extraordinary responsibility. Egocentricity is central. Craving becomes having. Wanting becomes deserving. "

Female Gaze

Well, not really because the camera is still standing in for the male gaze but this is still a very interesting shot!

Still is from the 1970 french film Les Stances à Sophie. Photo copied from Glenn Kenny's blog.

I am curious about what the feminist film theorists have to say about the recent trend in bollywood movies of male actors shedding their clothes and the camera objectifying their bodies. (The contours of Aamir Khan's naked torso are on national news.) So is it the film makers acknowledging the existence of a female spectator finally?

Friday, January 02, 2009

Bigger Than Life

This is another film on my to-see list - Nicholas Ray's Bigger than Life (or "Delirium of Madness" as the Spanish poster has it). Martin Scorsese heaps a lot of praise on this film in his documentary on the history of American cinema. Film Forum is screening it this week and they have put up a nice page full of quotes and links about the film, including one to the original new yorker article which inspired the story. Hope it gets available on the dvd soon.