Sunday, May 16, 2010 0 reflections

El secreto de sus ojos - Review

One of the many reasons movies from France, Italy, Spain and other parts of the world make it so casually into the 'Best Foreign Film' category of the Academy awards each year is because more often than not, they are based on a novel. It is essential to understand that while an excellent novel is rarely translated into a fitting onscreen equivalent (rare exceptions like 'The Green Mile' and 'Lord of the Rings' notwithstanding) when they do make that critical jump, they become masterpieces. So perhaps it was this fact, that 'El secreto de sus ojos' (meaning – The secret of his eyes : the film from Argentina that won the coveted 'Best Foreign Film' at the recently held Academy Awards) was based on the novel 'La pregunta de sus ojos' that made me want to see it considering every year that award goes to some film and we don't really watch each of them.

And so the story goes like this. A young married woman – Liliana Coloto – has been brutally raped and murdered. Her husband, Ricardo Morales, is shattered. Investigating the case is federal justice agent Benjamin Esposito along with his alcoholic assistant Pablo Sandoval. Despite an amazingly spot on lead, Benjamin struggles to track down the prime suspect – Isodoro Gomez – and bring him to justice. Also affecting Benjamin's case is his hopeless attraction to his newly assigned department chief Irene Menendez-Hastings. As it turns out, despite various valiant efforts – one involving a breathe taking 5 minute single frame shot – Benjamin is not able to redeem Ricardo's loss. Despite capturing Isodoro, the man walks free thanks to some major connections being managed by the heads at the top. Benjamin is left with an incomplete case, an unfinished trial and an unrequited love.

Years fly by. Benjamin, now retired, is conjuring up the words to write a novel based on this incomplete and rather disturbing case. Try as hard as he may, he is not able to put past the broken face of Ricardo and the tragic end of Pablo. In sheer desperation, he meets up with Irene again and without a care about the historical accuracy of the events, he begins to recollect the facts so that he can put his novel together and bring some sort of closure to the one case that has haunted him for so many years. It is during this journey, that something his late friend Pablo had once said sitting in a dimly lit bar comes back to him. About how a man can give up anything, can change and redesign any abstraction in his life, but if there is one thing he cannot erase – it is his passion. Either for a game, a person, an art form or – as Benjamin realizes shockingly – a memory.

'El secreto de sus ojos' isn't a thriller that takes us into a world of crime and investigation the way shows like CSI do. In fact I found it to be more a love story in its nucleus than anything else. It is in Benjamin's passionate love for Irene, that he is able to comprehend why Isodoro did what he did. It is in the same passionate vein of truth that Benjamin learns (in the most brilliant climactic sequences I have seen in a while) what Ricardo chooses to do what he does. Passion – the real ingredient in any good dish.

Needless to say I have not read the source for this movie 'La pregunta de sus ojos' but if I ever get a translated version of it, which I am quite sure might not have the same essence of magic to it, I certainly intend to dive in. 'El secreto de sus ojos' is a brilliant movie with a timeless message about a man's passion and the lengths to which he will go to keep it alive.

Thursday, May 13, 2010 2 reflections

A 1000 splendid suns : a review

A thousand splendid moments!

It isn’t easy for a novel to make the reader’s conscience move. And not just in a way that the final few lines of the book moisten the eyes and cause a mild, albeit real, choke in the throat. It has to be a fabric of words that has gone beyond the need to convincingly narrate a tale and brought the fictional characters to life in such a way, that the reader feels – really
feels – what they feel. When they are hurt, s/he feels the pain; when they rejoice, s/he joins in unconditionally. Their triumphs and failure are mirrored in the most natural of ways in the kind of life the reader is leading. On days when they are blue, the reader finds solace in that shade of a morose emotion too. On days when they struggle to keep their sanity alive, the reader applauds them, cajoles them and eggs them on with that unique channel of loud silences only a good book can establish between these two pristine entities. Such a book – dear reader, is Khalid Hosseini’s second offering after his first masterpiece ‘The Kite Runner’ – ‘A thousand splendid suns’ (ATSS).

When I bagged the book at Frankfurt airport last summer I was never in doubt of the kind of quality I could expect from Hosseini. Having read his debut novel and having blinked away the moisture in my eyes at the end of it whilst embroidering it with a genuine smile, I was sure that ATSS would certainly do the same – if not in the same hue – but in a way quite similar. And boy was I right! As I read the final few lines of ATSS yesterday, I couldn’t help blurt out ‘Goddamn man!’ and find myself feeling hurt, happy, content and frustrated – all at the same time. If a book can stir up these kinds of emotions, then I think the author has succeeded.

The story and summary of ATSS can be found anywhere on the net. Hence, going into those details again would be rather futile. What I do want to emphasize on, however, is how the book exposes the deeply scarred lives of women in Afghanistan. The paradigm shift that takes place in Kabul, from women holding important positions in government offices, to being beaten mercilessly with a broken antenna by a Kalashnikov wielding Talib official for straying out of the house without a male companion, is truly gut-wrenching. It is in these shocking contrasts, that ATSS finds success as both a story and a journey of ordinary humans caught in extraordinary circumstances.

We follow the trails of the
harami child from Herat – Mariam – whose illegitimate father Jalil sacrifices her life for his ‘social status’. We are led into the wild and nauseating world of a quintessential male chauvinist of a demon called Rashid – who despite being almost thrice as old as Mariam, marries her and gifts her a lifetime of physical and mental abuse. We are hand held into the warmth of young Laila and Tariq’s world of friendship and love. A blossoming couple who, despite being the future of Afghanistan, become symbols of man made cruelty and inhumane bestiality. We watch, speechless, as Laila’s and Mariam’s paths cross in the most unexpected of ways, as they both end up taking a journey from being spiteful and angry women put together by fate, to becoming soul mates to each other when confronted by a common, rather lethal, adversary. Every kick, slap, shove and smack they receive, feels like a blow on the reader who absorbs their grief with the helplessness of Laila’s daughter Aziza and the despair of Mariam’s vacant eyes. It is in these excruciatingly gory episodes of human suffering it is that we are witness to human glory as well. Whilst we are the silent audience of a once graceful and gorgeous Afghanistan turn into a sorcerer’s den at the hands of Koran thumping arrogant Mullahs, we are rudely introduced to a life most of us know probably nothing about. ATSS is a story that highlights that one fundamental fact that human cruelty has no limits. But then – human love too has no borders. If humans can seem unconquerable with their vile ways, there exist humane pockets too who are able to live a life of cowards, but die like heroes. True and valid heroes.

In Hosseini’s ATSS, every woman suffers at the hands of an ignorant and violent man. As Nana, Mariam’s bitter and abandoned mother tells her…

“Learn this now, and learn it well, my daughter: Like a compass needle that points north, a man’s accusing finger always finds a woman. Always. You remember that, Mariam.”

While ‘The Kite Runner’ explored the depths of honest friendship and the true value of it in a war torn nation, ATSS celebrates the wonder that is being a woman in the darkest depths of tragedy. I found myself feeling disgusted on several occasions for being a man as I was shown the ugliness that hides behind the veils of fake morality and miscued ethical compasses we men,we arrogant self appointed masters of all that is holy and decent, carry around as our guiding lights. In a world where a large section of the educated society sits oblivious to the grief of those who are a hundred times less fortunate than themselves, ATSS comes to us as a stinging slap in the face. And it is in such moments – such splendid moments – that I fell in love with the book. Each time I got smacked, the more I wanted to read that sentence again. Nothing like an ounce of truth in a world hell bent on giving us fiction, isn't it?

The message ATSS delivers is timeless. If I had to summarize it, it would be that any land that does not respect women has no future, no hope and deserves no mercy. A message that gets more relevant with each passing day. A message, as I bask in the masterpiece that ATSS is, I hope will be heralded to millions of splendid readers.

"One could not count the moons that shimmer on her roofs,
Or the thousand splendid suns that hide behind her walls. "

Thank you, Mr. Hosseini. I share your pain and I sincerely applaud your effort in sharing it with folks like me. ATSS now officially is in my all time favorites!

PS: A few more quotes from the book I thought worth plugging in here.

"And yet she was leaving the world as a woman who had loved and been loved back. She was leaving it as a friend, a companion, a guardian. A mother. A person of consequence at last… This was a legitimate end to a life of illegitimate beginnings."
"And the past held only this wisdom; that love was a damaging mistake, and its accomplice, hope, a treacherous illusion."
"She would never leave her mark on Mammy's heart the way her brothers had, because Mammy's heart was like a pallid beach where Laila's footprints would forever wash away beneath the waves of sorrow that swelled and crashed, swelled and crashed. "
"Mariam lay on the couch, hands tucked between her knees, watched the whirlpool of snow twisting and spinning outside the window. She remembered Nana saying once that each snowflake was a sigh heaved by an aggrieved woman somewhere in the world. That all the sighs drifted up the sky, gathered into clouds, then broke into tiny pieces that fell silently on the people below. As a reminder of how people like us suffer, she'd said. How quietly we endure all that falls upon us."
"She remembered Nana saying once that each snowflake was a sigh heaved by an aggrieved woman somewhere in the world. That all the sighs drifted up the sky, gathered into clouds, then broke into tiny pieces that fell silently on the people below."
"Mariam always held her breath as she watched him go. She held her breath and, in her head, counted seconds. She pretended that for each second that she didn't breathe God would grant her another day with Jalil."
"Perhaps this is just punishment for those who have been heartless, to understand only when nothing can be undone."

More book reviews at :
Saturday, May 08, 2010 4 reflections

[Mother's Day Special] - The Eldest Kaunteya

So it is here again - Mother's Day. The day the world celebrates the word ‘Mother’. My introduction to it, like many fellow Indians, was only after the over-indulgent cross-culture exchanges that have happened over the recent years. Although I must admit I have sent a card or two to my mom, albeit aware that she does not know how to use a computer, it somehow never felt as a very relevant thing to do. Much like millions of others who are always quick to quip ‘Celebrating her for only one day in a year? How meaningless!’ I too am inclined to say that mothers are basically all of life itself. Without them the world wouldn’t exist. Period. However, I wanted to commemorate this blessed day with something, hmm, how do we call this…a little less orthodox?

So my thoughts ran to people who are not so blessed as the rest of us when it comes to the mother department. Why, there are even those who are aware of their mothers’ existence yet are in excruciatingly bizarre situations that doesn’t warrant a motherly embrace. Somehow it seemed fit to, for a change, think about those folks on this day. People who are deprived of a mother’s affectionate caress or the shelter of her warm forgiveness. And while on these lines, I thought of Karna. Something about this character from the Mahabharata always made me sad. If there really was such a being then he has my eternal respect. Given the kind of life he lived and the kind of death that was handed to him, somehow the context of the word ‘mother’ seemed a tad different in his tale. Despite knowing that the queen mother was his real mother and that he, in essence, was the first Pandava, he never really got his due. Maybe it was in that depth of loss, in that paradoxically aligned metaphor for a mother-son relationship that I decided to write something that hopefully was coherent enough for ‘Mother’s Day’.

To that end, here is my poem ‘The Eldest Kaunteya’. The scene depicted here is the evening of the sixteenth day of the Mahabharata war. Karna reflects on his life as he yearns for his mother’s presence and prepares for battle on the seventeenth day - the day he is killed in the battlefield by Arjuna at the command of his charioteer, Lord Krishna.

I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed looking at it from Karna’s possible perspective. It was, to say the least, a much needed creative exercise.

Sunday, May 02, 2010 0 reflections

A prophet's words

Dear reader,

Sometimes it is in the words from the past, can we find the path to the future. I look at the way India has become today and the more I read about the ridiculousness of how the truth is 'managed' in our land, the more I am drawn to look up literature from our history books to see if there was a clue somewhere - somehow - of the debacle India's condition is fast becoming. With misguided jingoism and an entire body of hollow 'intellectuals' who continue to paint bright colors on the most mundane and dimwitted of caricatures, I just had to look at something from our grand forefathers that could hopefully take me to the right perspective. And in that quest, I found Tagore's classic - 'Where the mind is without fear'. In these 11 sentences of word patterns, I could see such relevance to the kind of celebrated mediocrity and narrow-minded fanaticism that we are experiencing back home, that I doubt any of the current authors/poets can produce such fine literature about our future. If anything, all we have is a bunch of reactive self-appointed ambassadors who 'opine' on events rather than 'visualize' about what needs to be. As, in this brilliant example, Tagore did. I intend to read more of Tagore's work since I am convinced it will help me maintain my sanity in a time where the insane is the King.

I decided to start with this one.

Where the mind is without fear
By Rabindranath Tagore
Originally written as 'Chitto Jetha Bhayshunyo' in Bengali
Circa 1912

Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high
Where knowledge is free
Where the world has not been broken up into fragments
By narrow domestic walls
Where words come out from the depth of truth
Where tireless striving stretches its arms towards perfection
Where the clear stream of reason has not lost its way
Into the dreary desert sand of dead habit
Where the mind is led forward by thee
Into ever-widening thought and action
Into that heaven of freedom, my Father, let my country awake.

My respect for this visionary, nay this prophet, who not only saw the dream of an independent India but also drew for us such a wonderful road map to follow once freedom did find its way into our lives. A map we probably quickly abandoned once we were handed our liberty.

Saturday, May 01, 2010 0 reflections

An ode to May!

Here is a piece I wrote to honor the 1st of May. Or, as I'd like to see it, the first of what will hopefully be an awesome season! May you enjoy this, dear reader!

An ode to May!

May they come, one by one,
In red and blue and a hue anew,
May it smile in glowing style,
With cheerful wings of hope,
Sweetly humming all the while,
May all news come forth with glee,
May each day be cool!
May that dream you’d seen go free,
Come back dressed like a fool!
May your work be glorified,
With praises so sincere,
May your sweat be justified,
By all folks far and near.
May your home be paradise,
May your hopes be good,
May the truth just rise and rise,
As rightly it just should!
Hip-Ho-Hip-Ho, here we go!
Here’s the very first day,
May this month rock, ho-ho-ho!
Have a rockin’ awesome MAY!

PS: Delicious add-on -