Category Archives: Opinion

May 2010 in Books

Trying something new. I forget too much of the stuff I consume, and I think I need to note things down so I can remember them better. Will hopefully be doing this every month for books and films.

Reading this month was sadly light. There are tons of books lying around which I am yet to read. Usually I tend to at least consume a fair number of comics per month, but that didn’t happen this month either. Will be trying to change that in June.

Terry Pratchett – Going Postal: Reread, for the fourth time, if I remember right. Still my favourite Discworld book. By this, the 33rd book, Pratchett is like a well-oiled machine, and Discworld runs pretty much on its own steam, but in this one, he shakes things up properly, introduces a new main character, employing different tricks from his bag, even restructuring the presentation to an extent. Moist von Lipwig is a find, the best new character Pratchett has created in a while, the charming cad who has more depth than just that. In both this book and its sequel, Pratchett essentially compresses the timeframe for a major societal change into a few days and makes the whole book come together better and makes the story flow smoother. I could have said I reread this in anticipation of the upcoming movie, but really, I just love this book to bits.

Warren Ellis – Frankenstein’s Womb: A very short, pleasant read. A history lesson mostly to do with Ellis’s new obsession – the hyperconnective tissue of culture. Much like Do Anything, except further back in the past (and obviously not featuring Jack Kirby’s robot head). With some rather marvellous artwork to boot. Well worth a read, and perhaps a couple of rereads. Beautiful artwork.

Warren Ellis – Two-Step: An old pop favourite. Amazingly fun cyberpunk-ish action thriller/romantic comedy, with Ellis channelling both his inner juvenile and Garth Ennis (one might argue they’re the same). Conner and Palmiotti’s artwork is heavily inspired by the MAD practice of inserting as many background jokes into panels as possible. The combination works out to be a heady kinetic romp with plenty of hidden jokes to go over later. Apart from some unpleasantness with a couple of male rape jokes, this one’s a keeper of a book. Sadly overlooked among Ellis’s more famous creations. Take a look at it here. (Link mildly NSFW. In short, there’z boobies.)

Tomorrow: May 2010 in Movies.

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Notes on Kaminey

I have no inclination to do a proper review of Kaminey this late, and, looking at the sheer number of reviews out there, you don’t need another review, and neither do I. These are just notes. Some spoilers ahead.

  • It’s a very good movie, but not a brilliant one. Could’ve been plotted more tightly. I don’t think it should’ve been shorter, but that more things should’ve happened in the same amount of time. Apart from the scripting, I don’t have any major complaints. The music was used well, the camera was used carefully and lovingly, the editing was appropriately intense. (Also, could someone tell me where I could find the song that was used in the climax but wasn’t on the OST? That was nice.)
  • The film crashes into the climax rather than leading up to it. The climax felt dissociated from the rest of the movie. Which brings me to …
  • The plot of the movie did not feel inevitable like a good pulp story should. You should never have to doubt why this happened in this way. With Kaminey, right in the first half hour, I was wondering why some things were happening as they were. If pulp feels arbitrary (which it always is), it makes it too easy for the house of cards to fall. All of which is a roundabout way of saying – lazy plotting. Not very lazy, but I expect better from Bhardwaj.
  • The characters were fine. They made me think about their motivations. Again, not always brilliant (Amole Gupte, for example, does a lot of good work with a character who’s barely sketched out beyond formula), but worth talking about.
  • Shahid Kapoor did a really good job with his dual role. There were moments when his innate Shahidyness showed through (mainly in Guddu), possibly due to his training in the Bollywood star-based cult of personality, but Bhardwaj managed to turn him into the actor whose potential I saw back in Jab We Met.
  • One of the best parts of the movie for me was the homosexual/homoerotic relationship between Charlie and Mikhail (played by Chandan Roy Sanyal as a weird, sensual and rather scary guy). I liked the ambiguity about whether these two were in an actual relationship or had a mutual unrequited love for each other which they couldn’t express due to being Indian manly men. This mirrored the escape route Bhardwaj seems to have left for the insecure straight male who wants plausible deniability and will insist they were ‘just bros’.
  • I admired the directorial choice of leaving Guddu mostly ineffective right to the end. Someone else might have shown him doing something, but, apart from a couple of half-hearted kneejerks, he remains a sap.
  • Sweety (Priyanka Chopra) was the most interesting character in the movie. Shady, playing her cards very close to her chest, fiery to a fault, her brother’s sister to the core. She should’ve been given more screen-time.
  • The choice of interval was odd. It might’ve made more sense a few minutes later, just before the daybreak scene. But I think it was a legitimate experiment on Bhardwaj’s part, just one that didn’t quite work for me.
  • The plot was not a difficult one to understand. As my cousin said to me when we were talking about the movie afterwards, this might be the new Matrix in that it might become fashionable to say that it was a difficult movie but you managed to understand it. It’s not. If you didn’t understand what was happening, you’re a moron. Understanding it doesn’t make you unusually smart. You just had to pay attention.
  • It should be silly to feel good about something that is only right and should be ubiquitous and normal, but I felt happy seeing the words “based on an idea by Cajetan Boy” at the beginning of the movie.
  • I’m going to watch the movie again, sometime. I’m not in a hurry to do so, but I think I should. In spite of what griping I’ve done, it had the unquantifiable ‘It’ factor.

Me Talk Pretty One Day

For years, we have been mocking Indian English as a bastardisation of the original, as an inept way of saying the same thing while fuddling up the essential structure that gives it meaning. And most examples we see of this gross attack by Indians on the English language (apparently as revenge for the English occupation of our country) seem to justify this rejection of the form as a valid mode of expression.

But this hasn’t dimmed its popularity. The malleability of this hybrid, made of more languages and dialects than one can pinpoint, means that it serves the basic need that makes people use language – to communicate with one another. And while we the purveyors of correctness find it, at times, difficult to comprehend, this might be because of our preconceptions of the language, the ones that force us to use English in one particular manner, exclusive of any other. In general, we even choose (usually consciously) between the two major modes of English accepted worldwide – the English and the American (that these constitute only two is another preconception, which is, in one word, wrong). But this isn’t necessary. For those not entirely proficient with the accepted form of language, it is more important to put forth the thrust of the communication in a way that it can be understood by the target. If it isn’t, they have a hundred other manners of speech to choose from. We, on the other hand, do not. Or we think we do not.

And so the hybrid has grown into what could be classed as a pidgin – if only it could actually be classed. When heard on the street, it picks up on the emphasis on speech rather than the writing, which is manifested in posters that say ‘Child Bear’ when they mean ‘Chilled Beer’. It affords us amusement, but to the person on the street, it signifies [a] intrigue, [b] comprehension (he is, after all, the target) and [c] a drink, cold at that. And while it might be ambiguous when put into writing, it possesses a palpable clarity when spoken. After all, both “Leave me to the corner” and the phrase “corner boys” can actually be understood.

But this is merely work-going (kaam-chalau, as anyone should be able to tell you). The true class of pidgin comes through not when it is forced on the user, but when it is chosen. It is, therefore, the high-school and college students, along with young upcoming professionals, that make it come into its own when they, who should know better, choose to ignore the meepings of self-proclaimed custodians of linguistic purity and tear the language limb for limb and put it back together in an unselfconscious lingua franca that might not rival its parent in elegance, but does possess an underlying sense of humour such that grammarians haven’t spent hundreds of years trying to wipe out.

English is a beautiful language to write in, to read in, and, in fact, even to use. But when it is the mundanities of your day you wish to talk about, such as your mother making a vegetable market of your head, or your tiffin not falling well enough that day (see, in-jokes galore), I prefer the pidgin. And actually, I think linguists should pay a bit more attention to it than they do. Sometimes I swear, if you listen carefully, it’s a language all its own. Mother promise.

Current Music: Richard Galliano – ‘Libertango’

Memento vs. The Prestige

I keep telling my friends the reason I like The Prestige more than Memento. I have become tired of doing so (because so many believe I have no right to have this preference), and I will note it down here once and for all.

Memento is, in essence, a technique. It has plot (a fairly hackneyed one – but that seems intentional because it is heavily based in genre), and it has style, but it lacks thematic content. The straightforward (though backwards) chronology also works against true complexity. You get its point in first watch, and repeated viewings are essentially a geek’s exercise in spotting clues – it might be fun, but that’s all it is.

The Prestige has an advantage over it – a proper, complete story. Now this might require explanation: Experimental techniques in a medium tend to stand on their own in their first appearance. The pioneer has generally concentrated on the technique, and everything in the work apart from the technique tends to fade into the background. In that first instance. What is then done (by the pioneer or by another artist) is to apply the technique to a new work – this time, you will have content as well as style, not just the latter.

Memento has plot details, but little in the way of story. The characters (one of whom is a tabula rasa around whom the others interact) are drawn in broad strokes, with the final plot twist not actually having to add to the character anyway.

Memento was the technique (as was Following), and The Prestige was the later work. Nolan had a story – replete with plot, theme, characterization. He used his technique to bring out the correlations in the story, the thematic details that needed to be set beside each other, the twists that the plot needed placed at intervals irrespective of their place in a linear chronology, and the way the director had to keep track of the characters, so they made sense in both chronologies (the linear one and the one shown).

And that’s why I like The Prestige better. It isn’t just a series of events organised around a money shot, it’s a good watch too, and more complete.

Note: Previously posted in my tumblelog. This is for archival purposes.

Little ’Uns, Tykes, Brats, Chits, Whelps and So On

Apparently it is now selfish and self-centred not to want to have children (see comments section here – it was amusing to watch Jai’s casual comment on a dog’s ugliness escalate into people comparing other people to Nazis for not thinking that wanting a child automatically makes one a saint). It would be alright if this was one individual being her/his usual, egregiously stupid self, but that is, rather sadly, not the case.

Most people I know can’t quite understand why someone might not want to have a child. Before I tried explaining it to a surprisingly large number of people, I didn’t think this was very hard to comprehend:

  1. I don’t want to have children.
  2. I have no wish to be mired in a mindboggling number of dirty diapers (I tried to count once, but it was inhuman, the continuous flow of warm, smelly wetness).
  3. I can’t really tolerate the personified-human-ego phase of children for more than … say … five seconds.
  4. I don’t like teenagers.
  5. And I don’t. Effing. Want to. Have children.

I don’t think wanting to have an actual life is particularly selfish. After all, these same people don’t berate me for not doing social work, or for being a consumer. But children – apparently the only way one can be a true person is by having children.

But why does anyone want to have children anyway? For their personal increased happiness. For the feeling of achievement (in the absence of any other) of having brought another human being into the world and for having raised it to a certain socially determined age without having it break down … too much, at least. For transferring their own stunted emotional growth, combined with that of another such person, into a new creature made for that express purpose so that one day they might stand back and say, “There, now how does that make you feel?”

How is any of that selfless? It’s not as if the yet-to-be-conceived child is actually clamouring to be born. It doesn’t give a fuck.

So essentially, I think that the burden of explanation should be with those who want children, rather than those like me who do not. And I think it should be a damn good explanation at that.

But no. Apparently, it is some sort of gift to humankind when someone brings a child into a world that is overpopulated and undernourished. As if the earth itself, while dividing its already deficient rations into even smaller parts, is going to praise you for having had the monumental courage to have … erm … shagged without a Johnny.

It would be different if I was a woman. Then, all of the above would still be true, but at least I would have had the firmness of resolve to go through it even with the knowledge that I would have to break my back for nine months and then push a 6-to-8-pounder out of an opening which is, well, smaller. That, while still selfish, is at least an achievement. But something I do? No.

Around the time my sister had her baby (which, if you’re curious, is where I get my experience of dirty diapers from), I thought this stuff through to the extent that it would be relevant to my own personal life. My niece is a gorgeous little kid, and it is one of the biggest concepts in my life that she is going to be a person someday – an entire person. What my sister is doing sounds monumental to me, and I admire the hell out of her for that. But taking full responsibility for another human being is a daunting task, and the returns for that seem not entirely worth the risk.

It’s going to be demanding, it’s going to take up your life, and, with a very few exceptions, your child is not going to be as successful as you want it to be, and it is, most probably, going to love at least one of you less than you think it should. That, frankly, smacks of masochism to me.

But once you have done it, you can’t escape the consequences – having a child means that you have responsibility over its life. You have brought it into the world, and it is your duty to make sure that it fares as well as it possibly can. Anything less is at best negligence and at worst a crime. I love my niece, but that is a choice. This choice wouldn’t be available to me when I have my own child. I love my niece all the more because I have a choice not to. My child having a father who doesn’t want to love it is not an idea I’d like to entertain.

So, since I see nothing beneficial to anyone in particular in my having a child, I have chosen not to. To interpret this as my being scared of responsibility would be, while not quite wrong, rather simplistic. I just think this is not something to be taken as lightly as I see it being taken. It is not a pretty sight. One would think that people would learn from their own experiences of being a child, but most seem to block it out, which is perhaps an ancient defense mechanism of our genes to make us perpetuate them.

But most people dismiss my opinion with one ghastly sentence: “That’s what you think now.” I know that, but for some reason they think they know more about what I will think in the future than I do. Their rather sublime explanation is that I am too immature for this, because I don’t want to have children. One would imagine the fact that I have thought about it rather than accepting it as my sacred duty because people tell me it is would count for something.* Apparently not.

[ * Better put by a commentor on Aishwarya’s LJ, what they are really saying is “mindless conformity is what adulthood is all about!” ]

All this argument does is remind me of the religious nitwits who, in their inimitable and simplistic patronising manner, assure me that I am not actually an atheist, I just think I’m one.