A woman with the potential to make it big. It is not that she cannot: she simply will not.
The closest anyone has come to being an adopted daughter.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Double whammy

July is a cool month, and that's not because Fardeen Khan was born in March. I generally love July; well, I will perhaps not make love to it but I'd still be happy to maintain a platonic relationship forever.

This July has been quite kind to me, though: over the past few days I have read my best book and have watched my best movie of the year. Of course, I italicised the 'my's because it's fashionable to do so, but let us not deviate.

The post will, however, contain truckloads of spoilers. No, I won't write 'spoiler alert' in capital letters multiple times and surround them with groups of cute asterisks, but don't tell me I didn't warn you. Some warnings need not come in size XXL.

The Book: The Casual Vacancy by JK Rowling

Yes, I have waited this long to read this. I know it has been a heinous crime, especially since I have been gaga over the woman for over a decade; I should ideally have brought out of my fan-boy avatar and gobbled it up ages back. I should ideally have been the target of what Ms Shalini Sharma has threatened me with in the comments section of this post.

Anyway, now that I've read it, I cannot not review it (yes, I know this is poor English; I'm just trying to be cool). The Casual Vacancy is, contrary to most reviews, a brilliant book. Not just a good book, but a brilliant one. And there is a reason that I've written the word 'brilliant' in italics; that too, twice.

Let's get into serious stuff now. There have been speculations that there is not an iota of the Harry Potter magic in the book. To begin with, there wasn't supposed to be any. It was supposed to be harsh, brutal, (insert similar objectives of choice here), and was supposed to hit you straight on your face.

It was supposed to toy with that horrible thing called conscience that comes to bother you when all is going well. It is supposed to provide you with a peek into the serious issues of the Occident we're blissfully unaware of: the poor exist everywhere; poverty is not an absolute term but one relative to your surroundings; the increasing criminal tendencies among teenagers; and the extent and intensity of the menace that drug-addiction is.
Image source: Wikipedia

With the Potter series Rowling showed us how well she can handle teen psychology; with this one she has arguably gone a step ahead, taking out all the rosy aspects, and presenting the raw, abrasive side of the angry British teenager.

And she does not restrict herself to teens either. Rowling has explored into the nooks and corners of human psychology across all rungs of society with absurd ease. She has dealt with the various strata, genders, ages so skilfully that you're sucked into the book before you know what you're dealing with. Not only can you relate to the characters but you can also be one of them.

Of course there are contrasts with the Harry Potter series. Barring Severus Snape the people in the magical world are generally black or white. Not in Pagford, no: which is why this is a fantastic book for adults in the first place.

When Rowling had announced that she would write a book on adults she did not mean she would write one on sex and violence. What she had possibly meant that this would be a book on real characters - more real than the ones she had already written about. She would be direct, brazen, and ruthless in portraying them. And she has done exactly that.

It is a book that begins with a death and ends with two more: Barry Fairbrother is the only person who is depicted as almost white - but, hey, isn't that how we typically refer to the dead as? Contrast that to the way Krystal Weedon is remembered after her demise - and it's easily evident how differently we react to different people.

Recall the way she had described Robbie's death: she had always been hinting at it, leaving the reader gaping - introducing characters one by one - making the reader think "now Gavin will pick him; surely Shirley will provide him with a shelter..." before the inevitable actually happens, hitting the reader with a blow we've all faced multiple times in the boy wizard's adventures.

Then there's the storytelling bit. The Casual Vacancy should be made a handbook for everyone trying to write a novel: the brick-by-brick laying out of the story; the unfolding of the labyrinthine assortment characters in a gradually planned seamless flow; the controlled release of pent-up emotions the way a master kite-runner lets go of his string with clinical precision.

Take a bow, Ms Rowling. You've nailed it again. And before I miss out, Pagford is not St Mary Mead.

As Diptee had told me, it is a depressing book. On the other hand, as Bimbabati had told me, it is a beautiful book.

Yes, I was left crying. And smiling. At the same time.

The Movie: Ship of Theseus by Anand Gandhi

The very fact that Anand Gandhi wrote the dialogues of  Kyunki Saas Bhi Kabhi Bahu Thi (or 82 episodes of it, to be precise) and the screenplay of Kahaani Ghar Ghar Kii did not really push me to watch the movie.

The review assumes that the reader has a prior knowledge of what is meant by a ship of Theseus, or, in other words, Theseus' paradox. Wikipedia provides with a more-or-less decent description of what it's all about. Mind you, you can still watch the movie without that extra bit of knowledge, but it will probably be as useful as watching a soap (or washing a soap).

Image source: Wikipedia
Let me put the basics out of the way first. Each and every actor in the movie has been cast remarkably well: I could not think of a single performer who has looked out of the place in the movie. As if that was not enough, everyone has pulled off spectacular performances.

Not going overboard is the trademark of any good actor: however, not looking like a block of wood on screen takes as much effort. The balance is what the best actors try to seek throughout their careers, and few manage to achieve.

Now imagine a movie where everyone acts that good and looks absolutely appropriate in her role. You get the basic idea, don't you?

Before we dig deep into the stories let us discuss the other aspects of the movie (I know I will sound like a show-off here). The dialogues (and subtitles) - Hindi, English, Arabic, and Swedish - never seem forced, and co-exist like kittens do in baskets on cute motivational posters people often have a tendency to share on Facebook.

The other aspect is the portrayal of Mumbai throughout the movie. Most filmmakers bend to the whims of the glorious, unforgiving city. Gandhi has gone the other way: he had made Mumbai bow to his camera and has made the city adapt to his camera and commands.

Let us now consider the stories one by one. The first revolves around Aaliya who, despite being visually challenged, is a remarkable photographer. Once she gets back her vision, however, she begins to doubt her own abilities and past creations.

Which makes us ask ourselves: what is vision? How important is eyesight? Do we need our eyes to see? Do we still remain the same person when someone else grants us their eyes? Is seeing the same as having vision? What if blindness is your main tool on your road to vision?

The viewer is left hanging, asking for answers as the movie shifts to the story of the erudite, (possibly) vegan monk Maitreya (oh, isn't he beautifully named?) fighting for the rights of animals using for testing of various products. When gets to know that he is suffering from a cirrhosis of liver he refuses to a cure that would involve a liver transplant and medicines - on the grounds that the medicines have been tested on animals before.

He decides to leave things the way they are and gets determined to embrace death. It is then he is up against one of the most potent lines Indian cinema has ever produced: "What is the difference between you and a suicide bomber who is so convinced about the fundamentalism of his thoughts?"

Questions like that would leave stumped. Even Ibu Hatela.

The second story probes and delves into the relatively unknown realm of human psychology - that too of an intellectual - the way few others have done before. It toys with the rather shadowy borderline between will-power and the desperate urge to cling on to survival.

Nawaj Kabi's performance was so intense that you could almost feel its weight holding you down with its force. It has been ages since an actor this good has set his feet in the industry. My apologies to you, Nawazuddin Siddiqui.

Gandhi's triumph, however, lies in the fact that he does not make an attempt to preach: he shows both sides to the audience, and leaves the judgement on them. It's not that he could not have. It's just that he did not. He simply considered the audience worthy of his movie. Wasn't that nice of him?

Navin (once again, note the name), on the other hand, is another thing altogether. The young stockbroker seems to be emotionless of sorts as the story starts, but new dimensions of his characters keep revealing themselves as the layers keep on unfolding. The single shot that shows him going meticulously through the entire process of helping his ailing grandmother urinate and clean the bedpan both before and afterwards makes one sit up straight and take notice of him.

In that one shot - with minimal use of dialogues - Gandhi tells us a lot about Navin's compassionate, kind, and methodious personality.

The story then leads us to the ghastly worlds of illegal kidney transplantation, of the intensity of Navin's resolution, and of human greed.

In the end everything comes to an incredible climax that leaves you hanging. Yes, I was the last to leave the theatre.


  1. Neeraj Kavi - though brilliant - is not as good as Nawazuddin.
    See, you even bestowed Nawaz's name on him :-)

    1. Indeed. But he blew me away yesterday. I hope somewhere down the lane we'll get a chance to see them lock horns on screen.

  2. Yes, it is a beautifully written depressing book. I loved reading it and yet I hated the fact that it made me feel so low. :)

    I will read the movie review after I see the film.

    1. Indeed. I guess she meant the book to be that way. She wanted us to feel low after reading the book.

      And do read the review.

  3. Alas. The book may still be found here, but the movie - alas.

    1. There's nothing a lass cannot acquire. The book is lying smugly you-know-where. As for the movie, we will see.

    2. the bubbles are still being popped.

    3. maybe ... maybe not ... only time will tell.

  4. I loved the book. It was also the first I read on the kindle and it even made me like the kindle! Did not read the movie review since now it's a must-watch!

    1. Few people, unfortunately, have loved the book to the extent we have. The reviewers have mostly got it wrong.

      Also, do get back to me after the movie!

  5. Was the book better than the movie?
    Do you like sentimental books more than humorous ones?

  6. As a reader(read regular) of your blog,i have the right to tell you that i was disappointed with no birthday post.
    I wanted to ask what you picked from the annaparashan platter that held a variety...

    1. My apologies, but at 36 I guess I've outgrown the concept of birthday posts. :)

  7. I have not read the book, neither I have watched the movie. I will try to do both quite soon!

    1. Please. What have you been doing all these days? :O

  8. I was planning to watch this movie for a long time and the fact that it released in only two theaters with single show timings didn't make matters easy - but I was completely blown away after watching it on saturday.
    Really want to watch it again (this actually happens rarely).
    By the way, nice review as expected (cannot comment on 'Casual...' - still waiting to read it.)

    1. You need to read The Casual Vacancy.

      I agree with you. This movie calls for a repeat viewership.

  9. Shall read the book.Feel inspired to watch The movie.Very well written posts.