Tuesday, March 21, 2006

I Am Back

after an unintentionally long hiatus. A lot has been happening at my end, so let me first write about all these 'happenings':

My Trip to India

Its been 2 years since I left India. Hence obviously, I was in urgent need of a break, and the vacation couldn't have come at a better time. I opted for an Emirates flight, connecting through Dubai, since my plan was to reach Cochin directly (its barely an hour from the Cochin airport to Thrissur, where I stay). Unfortunately, my flight from Dubai was at 4:00 AM, and I was left sipping gallons of coffee at the Dubai airport for almost 6 hours. I, of course, had to lug around the bottles of liquor and sacks of chocolates that I'd purchased from the duty-free shops wherever I went, and so I wasn't too keen on roaming around inside the airport.

I hate to admit this, but our countrymen are terrible at doing something as simple as standing in line, and waiting for their turn; they almost need to be threatened to stand in line for any damn thing. Somehow, the very folks who at JFK airport had obediently scuttled into line like well-trained puppies (I figure there is something about the U.S of A that intimidates a lot of our countrymen!), created a huge commotion at the Dubai airport. I had observed many of these (expectedly, predominantly Mallu) gentlemen and their families behaving themselves at JFK, so I'd not expected the chaos that now followed. Instead of following the seat numbers being read out loud and clear by the crew, these folks chose to make a race of who would enter the damned aeroplane first. In between, a Mallu-looking and Mallu-sounding (you know what I mean) bald man in a blazer that looked as if it had been bought at least a decade ago, chose to pick a fight with a hapless flight attendant over a rather large-looking suitcase that he insisted on carrying with him into the flight, despite the attendant (by now desperate) offering to check it in for free. Thankfully, his supervisor (I think) soon arrived and put her foot down, much to baldie's chagrin.

The flight itself was, thankfully, uneventful; so was the entire Customs process.

A lot of friends had commented that the first thing I would notice in India after stepping out of the airport would be the dust. Well, they were wrong. It was the traffic that unnerved me - the vehicles zipping in and out at perilous speeds was really alarming, despite me being used to driving much in the same way for more than 6 years. Strange, but true.

The heat levels have definitely increased though; and the load-shedding scene is terrible. In fact, the weekend I came, the frequency was every half-an-hour - can you imagine? One had to shave/have dinner/whatever within half-an-hour, or one would get stuck halfway through. I really can't imagine who came up with this notion of cutting power every half-an-hour. I mean, why 30 minutes; why not 1 hour or 2? But No - from when I was a child, load-shedding has to be for exactly 30 minutes; it's almost part of our daily routine now.

Monday, March 13, 2006

Is it Plagiarism if

I steal from what I myself wrote, 3 years back? No, I'd say. Read something interesting on Rediff today - a brief slideshow on upcoming movies that are based on books. This is something I love to do - read a book, and then analyze how well it would translate to celluloid - which actors to cast in the characters, how to present a particular scene etc. Of course, I 'think' Indian, and so I naturally think of Malayalam, Tamil or Hindi actors.

Being too lazy to make up a fresh list, here I pilfer something that I'd submitted to an old Prem Panicker discussion board on books, movies 'n cricket approx 3 years ago. The article is reproduced below (please excuse the tendency to use bigger words; I was smaller then ;) !!), with some small updates:


1. 'Rita Hayworth: The Shawshank Redemption' by Stephen King: An awesome story about a prison escape. I know the movie has already been made, and that too with somebody as good as Morgan Freeman, but somehow, I felt something was lacking in the telling of the tale: you know how it is, the movie can never be as good as the book. Imagine the movie with Mohan Lal (or Naseeruddin Shah, I can think of nobody else) instead of Freeman and Shah Rukh Khan as the new prisoner - WOW! a must-watch, wouldn't you think ?
Update: Boman Irani as the jailor, I'd add.

2. 'The Horse Whisperer' by Nicholas Evans: Yet another beautiful book mutilated by Robert Redford & co - with the right actors and director, what a movie it would make. From the time I have read the book, I have been thinking of who could do the character of Tom Booker (in the book) – keeps coming back to Anil Kapoor, at least for me; who else could look as good as the ole-westerner-from-town (remember him in that excuse for a movie Trimurti) ? And as the heroine, it would have to be either Madhuri Dixit (a natural choice with AK) or Tabu (for the sheer skill required). Another brilliant premise, even if I do say so myself :). If you haven't read this book, get hold of a copy immediately.

3. 'FireStarter' by Stephen King: Have heard that there is a movie on this too, but haven't seen it. Abt a man and his daughter who has the 'special' ability to light fires just by glaring at sumthin, the book is a helluva one to add to your collection. Kannathil Muthamittaal has provided a strong contender for the role of the daughter - Keerthana is one helluva actor. Another choice would be the girl who acted in Makdee - I haven't seen so many expressions in any actor after Manju Warrier. As the dad, well, I keep coming back to Mohan Lal or Aamir Khan (remember the rapport he shared with the kids in Hum Hain Rahi Pyaar Ke, Akele Hum Akele Tum). And the bizzare story would defnly excite Ram Gopal Varma, I think :)

4. 'The General's Daughter' by Nelson Demille: Un-put-downable, in one word! Please go by the book and not the John Travolta movie, as the movie is nowhere near the book. Just imagine Shahrukh Khan as the irreverent investigation officer and Kareena in the title role, with Naserruddin Shah as the General. Would be one helluva movie, wouldn't it ? And judging by Chalte Chalte, Rani Mukerji would make an ideal foil for SRK's irrepressiveness.
Update: Travolta did botch this one, for sure. I still think SRK, for all his nervous twiches and quivering eyebrows, is a much more decent actor than we give him credit for. And yes, he could definitely carry off this one, provided one strictly adhered to the book (the censor be damned).

5. 'The Green Mile' by Stephen King: Oops, this is my third Stephen King book, huh. And that too, an absolutely brilliant movie to boot, enacted beyond perfection by that chameleon of actors, Tom Hanks. Who would have the guts to remake this, one might ask. Hmm, what about a Malayalam remake, with Mammootty as the prisoner and Mohan Lal as the jailor ? Would definitely be an interesting twist, wouldn't it, a story of a cop and a prisoner, starring Mammootty and Lal, and Mammootty not playing the cop ? Here is one movie I wouldn't mind copying frame by frame, dialogue by dialogue. Priyadarsan, anybody?
Update: If their chemistry in Pithaamagan is any indication, Vikram and Surya wouldn't exactly be a bad combination either. Matching Tom Hanks here would be a tough ask, though.

6. 'Wish You Well' by David Baldacci: A feel-good story about two children and their grandmother. I cannot imagine anybody but Shabana Azmi playing the strong grandmother. The kids would be more difficult to select, though. My choices would be the Makdee-girl, once again and Suraj of Asoka fame. As for the lawyer Cotton, I think Jackie Shroff would be quite a good choice. Catch the book, if you haven't yet. (I was tempted to put down the author's own 'The Winner' here instead, and Kamal Haasan for the lead role, but I thought it would be too gimmicky for Kamal to do a role that demanded disguise after disguise).

7. 'The Evening News' by Arthur Hailey: If you want a movie about two strong characters, and Kane & Abel has already been morphed (badly) into Khudgarz (ugh!) and Annaamalai (ughhhhhh!), you could not pick a better novel. But unless the second character were conceived and enacted the right way, he could come away looking like a wimp (much like Jeetendra did in Khudgarz; well, the fact that Jeetendra would come across as a wimp even if he played Attila The Hun is another matter altogether!), and my man for the role would be Aamir Khan, with of course SRK as the more flamboyant 'other guy'. Its another matter altogether whether Aamir would accept the role, especially in today's post-Lagaan times. Also, the movie also deals partly with the Stockholm syndrome, not shown very much in cinema - kidnappers are the bad guys, aren't they ?

8. 'The Godplayer' by Robin Cook: All about a doctor who plays God - Dr. Thomas Kingsley. This was the first 'adult' book that I read, and o-boy, was I hooked. This character absolutely demands either the Big B, or Kamal Haasan; no one else could possibly fulfil the complex demands of this character. This is definitely one movie I would add to the 'must-watch' category. Plus it would be the first of its kind in India, a true medical-thriller, despite pathetic claims by Armaan to the same.
Update: The Big B needs to be controlled, as he is in Viruddh, and not let loose to ham like crazy, like he did in the first 40 minutes of Black under the pretext of eccentricity.

9. 'Long Lost' by David Morell: A story about a long-lost brother, and what a brother he turns out to be !! I would want SRK and Hrithik Roshan for this one. Would be interesting for the sheer shock value that Hrithik would cause by playing such a character. And SRK because, although the other character is more well-etched, his is the more demanding role. Again, one for the Ram Gopal Varma camp. And with no songs, please.
Update: Interesting, that Hrithik is indeed playing a 'grey' character (Bollywood lingo for a villain who's villainous only 'coz his dad was alcoholic, his mom was raped (& then died of blood-cancer), and he himself was then left all alone with the big bad samaj; as opposed to someone like Amrish Puri or Shakti Kapoor, who are lechers and evil from birth) today, in the forthcoming Dhoom-2.

10. 'Outrage' by Henry Denker: A riveting courtroom drama (much before Grisham's times) about a trial involving a colored man murdering the rapists of his daughter. Would be interesting if the Indian version were set in Mumbai, immediately after the Masjid demolition, and the defendant were a Muslim, wouldn't it? With Aamir Khan as the lawyer and Nasseeruddin Shah as the grief-stricken father, would be one for Mani Ratnam among the Roja-Bombay series. Unfortunately, the plot sounds lazily like Damini, but I still think the movie would stand a good chance at the box-office :)
Update: Sounds interesting even now !!

I'd also love to see a movie made out of Khaled Hosseini's 'The Kite Runner', but the book is so serene and beautiful, that no actor could possibly do justice to it.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

This Post Has No Title

Let me be very honest here: I ogle at beautiful women. When a good-looking girl, dressed well and wearing the right accessories walks by, I do stop (metaphorically speaking) and go 'WOW !'. I believe that most men would do the same. To put it in another way, it would take conscious effort for a guy to see a beautiful woman and not at least think a 'WOW!'. IMO, any claims to the contrary by a guy would be hypocritical, to some extent. But,...the buck stops there.
  • I do NOT stand leeringly, mentally undressing the woman.
  • I do NOT sing degrading songs like 'aati kya khandala' or other such nonsensical stuff (have a bad singing voice anyway).
  • I do NOT pull down my zip and expose myself, nor do I scratch my crotch suggestively.
  • I do NOT attempt to touch the other woman.
All of the above constitutes sexual harassment. What we call eve-teasing in India is, in fact, sexual harassment. Eve-teasing is a disgustingly innocuous-sounding phrase, somehow bringing to mind the image of cute little boys pulling girls' pigtails in a playground, whereas the truth can hardly be more different.

A number of my friends and relatives belonging to the opposite gender have had adverse experiences in Mumbai, Chennai, Bangalore, Thrissur - everywhere, in short. All of these experiences were told to me in confidence, and I will not narrate any of them here. In any case, Annie says it all in this moving post - I can hardly add a word to it without destroying the effect.

As to the insinuation that women somehow invite sexual harassment, the very fact that not even a woman clad in a burkha is spared should be proof enough. Of course, please keep in mind that this accusation is made by our so-called custodians of Indian culture, which dictates that women are supposted be treated like goddesses. If that isn't hypocrisy, then what is ?

This is in support of the Blank Noise Project.

Monday, March 06, 2006

A Brief History of Book-Reading

It all began with Enid Blyton - I do remember that much. The 'library' at Hari Sri School (today the much, much bigger and popular Hari Sri Vidya Nidhi School) could hardly be called one then; it was more like a couple of bookshelves, adorned with what seemed to be a dusty vestige of somebody's book-collection. Since we were all too young to choose a book for ourselves, each one of us was given a book to read - a battered Enid Blyton, in most cases. If my memory serves me right, I got a Noddy. Thus began my association with books.

Getting back from school, rushing out for a game of cricket and completing homework seemed almost monotonic when compared to the sheer pleasure of curling up with a book in one's hand. Soon enough, a book was part of my entourage wherever I went. I finished off the usual suspects - the 'Five-Findouters' and 'Famous Five' series by Enid Blyton (its incredible what a vital part of my childhood reading she was) - from my school library pretty quick, and was soon searching for more books to devour. The 'Secret Seven' series did not appeal to me much, perhaps because I started on these after the 'Famous Five' series. Rummaging through the dusty paperbacks, I discovered a 'William' book hidden at the back of a bookshelf. Unfortunately, the school library seemed not to have any more William books. Fortunately, we had a public library membership, mostly unused until now except for a couple of magazines that a tall man on a cycle delivered every now and then, which I now proceeded to make full use of.

The public library,
at least to me, was like a labyrinth of hidden treasures lying in wait for me to discover. There was no catalog in place, the odds of finding two books by the same author on the same shelf was pretty much the same as lightning striking the same place twice. The memories of rummaging through the dusty books of that public library and occaisonally coming up with such unread classics as an abridged version of Peter Beagle's remarkable 'The Last Unicorn', are remarkably vivid even today. And of course, if one searched long enough (as I did), one could discover the entire William series too (now, reading them in order is too much to ask for).

In between the weekly trips to the public library, I still continued to raid the school library and discovered other Enid Blyton classics, including the 'Wishing Chair' series (which was meant for slightly younger kids, but I enjoyed it anyway!), the 'Faraway Tree' series and inevitably, the fantastic School books, including the 'St. Clares' series and the 'Malory Towers' series. There were also occaisonal stand-alone books (about farms, circuses and the like) that were enjoyable too.

After exhausting Enid Blyton and William, I moved on to the Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew series. Now, I know these books had their fans, but to me they were boring, inane and predictable (especially the latter). The case-file versions of these books were slight improvements, but not enough to get me hooked. It was at this stage that I changed schools, and moved to a larger school (which inevitably had a larger library). Here, I discovered Asterix. My voracious reading habits had endowed upon me a vocabulary that was pretty decent for my years (especially for an average Mallu kid born and brought up in Kerala), and I had no trouble understanding most of the puns in the Asterix books. It was my first introduction to humour and sarcasm, and I liked it.

My cousins, visiting from Bombay, got me two new books - the first two books of the 'Three Investigators' series. Oh-boy, was I hooked !! The 'Three Investigator' series stood apart from the rest of the mysteries I were used to, in that they were written in a much more grown-up style, and were considerably 'darker' in intonation as well as content. Moreover, the mysteries were much more intriguing, and lead to me being introduced to the granddaddy of all mystery books - the Sherlock Holmes stories. Asterix, Jupiter Jones and Sherlock Holmes (along with Tintin, whom I met shortly) kept me engrossed almost for 2 years.

I read my first 'grown-up' book when I was in the 7th standard - it was Robin Cook's medical thriller named 'Godplayer'. The next 'grown-up' book I read is one that I have re-read umpteen times since - 'Kane and Abel' by Jeffrey Archer. Thereupon, its been quite a 'read-athon' - Sidney Sheldon, Arthur Hailey, Stephen King, J.H.Chase, A.Maclean, Dennis Lehane, Jeffrey Deaver, J.K.Rowling... I could go on forever !

Over the last 2 years, ever since I have been working at New York, I find myself experimenting a bit more. I never used to be much of a fantasy buff, but now with Tolkien's LOTR, and the 'Inheritance' series by the amazing Christopher Paolini (who wrote his first book when he was just 16, an age when most of us were secretly lusting after the neighborhood girls), I am on the verge of being a fan for life. I have also re-read many of the classics, and many of the books that I so enjoyed in my own childhood. Today, I experiment a lot more with new authors than I used to. I have also developed an interest in Bibilical stories, and this was before the advent of the 'Da Vinci Code' mania. Wonder why we do not have similar exciting/controversial stuff in our own mythologies (or am I just plain ignorant of such regional books).

This time, I fully intend to read a lot of Malayalam books - I am so ashamed that I have hardly read any, especially when I readily boast of my reading habits to all and sundry. I hope I can rectify this during this vacation (which starts next week - Hurrah !!!).

P.S: Amazingly enough, Enid Blyton, the author of so many of my favourite books as a child does not figure in the scheme of things here at all. Accusations of racism (sample: the semi-villainous golliwog character appearing in many of her toy-stories) and sexism have resulted in her books being banned here. Well, I pity the kids; they just do not know what they are missing (as somebody who has read both, let me tell you: J.K Rowling just about comes close to Enid Blyton at best, and that too, by a whisker).