Tuesday, April 18, 2006

I am now posting at ratheesh.livejournal.com.

Saturday, March 11, 2006

Children of Heaven

Today I watched the Iranian film Children of Heaven directed by Majid Majidi.

The film is the story of two children, Ali and Zahra, from a poor Iranian family. In the beginning of the film, we see Ali getting his sister's shoes repaired from a cobbler. He goes to a vegetable shop after that, and keeps the shoe-bag in a corner of the shop. A man collecting garbage takes the bag away mistaking it for garbage, and Ali returns home with a broken heart. Zahra cant go to school as her teacher would beat her if she comes without shoes. They cant ask their parents for a new pair of shoes, as they know that their father cant afford to buy one, and they may get a scolding for losing the old shoes. So, what should they do?

Ali proposes a solution - He asks Zahra to use his shoes. They are bigger for her feet, but she somehow manages to use them. Her classes finish earlier, and after the classes, she runs to Ali, who takes back his shoes and runs to his school. Ali is always late in school as a result of this, and the headmaster of the school catches him almost everyday. As days pass, Zahra finds another girl in her school wearing her pink-colored shoes; She follows that girl and locates her house. After some time, she comes back to the house again, with Ali to accompany her, but seeing that the girl's father is a poor blind man, the children return to their home silently. After few days, Ali sees a notice in his school, about a marathon race for children. The third prize is a pair of sneakers. He joins the race, hoping to win the sneakers for his sister. In the end, we see a disappointed Ali coming back home, as he won the first prize instead of the third, and there is just a trophy for the winner - no sneakers. But we, the audience know that his sister would soon get a footwear, as we are already shown their father cycling to home with a pair of new shoes in his bag.

Children of Heaven shows us how a simple story can be told in a brilliant and touching way. In the world of the children, the missing shoe is the most important thing. Both Ali and Zahra constantly think about it, and the girl especially finds her eyes wandering on the feet of her classmates when she walks in the school compound. However, in spite of their "tragedy", simple things of life still don’t fail to amuse them, like making bubbles out of soap. The affection between the brother and sister is shown in a moving way, reminding of scenes from Pather Panchali - Zahra finishes her exams early, as she knows that her brother would be waiting for her in the street, to collect the shoes and run to his school. Once, Ali gets a pen as a gift from his teacher, and he presents it to his sister to see the smile on her face. Through few sequences depicting search for a part-time job, the director also shows us the warmth of the relationship between father and son. The fact that the parents are actually loving and kind-hearted, and their children and struggling to hide their little secret from them, makes the story even more touching.

The acting performances of the children are excellent, and they have fully absorbed the pleasures and sorrows of the characters they play. The background music is minimal, and the camera is used to just show us what is needed. It was a beautiful experience watching this film.

Friday, March 10, 2006


Today we had an official team lunch at Gateway hotel, followed by a film, the Oscar-winning Crash, at PVR Cinemas.

Crash has multiple threads in its story, all being incidents happening in Los Angeles in a day's time. A middle-aged shop owner of Iraqi origin, is always paranoid that others are insulting and cheating him. In the beginning of the story, we see him purchasing a gun to protect himself. In another thread, a black man and his wife are insulted by a racist police officer. The incident leads to friction in the relationship between them, as the wife accuses her husband of cowardice. There is another thread about a young police officer, who complains about his colleague's racism, and wants to work independently. In another story, two black men flick a car and run away with that, discussing about racism and related issues in foul language. Next story is of a government officer (?), whose wife is constantly worried that black men will break the doors of their house and rob them. All these stories get interlinked just by chance, and in the end we see all characters attaining some sort of peace of mind.

I think the director wants to say that all the problems of racist discrimination in the society are just bubbles around our ego. In the climax scene of the film, we see two cars colliding with each other by accident, and the director shows how hatred grows in our minds just because of prejudice and little attitude problems. He also wants to emphasize that the basic nature of all human beings is good, and shows this through two memorable sequences. In one scene, the Iraqi shop owner is about to shoot a locksmith, who he believes had broken into his shop. The locksmith's little daughter suddenly rushes into her father's lap and at the precise moment, the gun fires. For a few seconds, the shop-owner as well as the audience are shocked. But then we realize that the bullet just missed the girl, and we see a sign of relief on the shop-owner's face. He returns to his home and tells his daughter that the little girl had come as angel in his life. In another sequence, the racist policeman finds himself risking his life to save a black woman whom he had insulted earlier. We also see the young policeman shooting at a black man, suspecting that he was taking a gun from his pocket, whereas he was actually trying to take out a small idol.

I liked the narration style of the director. Crash is an interesting film, however I cant say that it meets the expectations generated by an Oscar-winning film. It is a message-oriented film, and other than couple of touching scenes mentioned above, there is nothing much in it that can be called as memorable artistic experiences.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006


Watched Werner Herzog's Fitzcarraldo (1982) today. It has Klaus Kinski playing in the lead role.

Fitzcarraldo has lots of similarities with Aguirre - The Wrath of God (1972), an earlier film from Herzog and Kinski. Kinski plays the role of Fitzcarraldo, a queer personality, who is obsessed with opera, and wants to build an opera house in the dense jungles of Amazon. He doesn’t get the necessary funding for this, so he takes up a contract to get rubber from the forests of Amazon, which would bring some money to him. He buys a small steamship, and along with his crew, he starts his voyage over the Amazon and its tributaries. He has to face not only the challenges posed by nature, but also the dangerous arrows from the Indians residing in the jungle.

It seems it took more than three years to make this film, and the crew of the film had to suffer more hardships than the crew of the ship that we see in the movie. Amazon has two tributary rivers flowing in parallel, and at some place they are so close and are separated by just a small hill. There is a scene in the film where the ship is dragged from one river to the other, over the hill. It seems this was done without using any special effects! All this "behind the scene" history makes Fitzcarraldo a great achievement. At the same time, it is also an engrossing and memorable film, even though I would place it behind Aguirre - The Wrath of God.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Rang De Basanti

I watched the new Hindi film Rang De Basanti yesterday. This film is directed by Rakyesh Mehra.

Sue (Alice Patten) is a film student from Britain who wants to make a documentary film on Bhagat Singh, Chandrashekhar Azad and other Indian revolutionary freedom fighters, inspired by an old diary of her grandfather who had been an officer in the British Army. She comes to India to make the film, and after conducting few screen tests (reminded me of the Indian Idol program coming on Sony channel) to find suitable actors, she settles with few students in the Delhi University, who she feels would be able to do justice to the roles. However, the students (played by Aamir Khan, Siddharth, Sharman Joshi and Kunal Kapoor) have absolutely no empathy towards the story of freedom fighters or the struggle for Independence, and their intention is just to have some fun during the filmmaking. A young frustrated political leader (played by Atul Kulkarni) soon joins them to play the role of Ram Prasad Bismil.

When Ajay Rathod (Madhavan), a friend of these students and a pilot with Indian Air Force dies in an aircraft crash, the story takes a turn. The students find the defense minister responsible for the death of their friend, for keeping the old aircrafts with technical glitches in the force, risking lives of the pilots. The students are shocked by the insensitivity of the government towards the issue, as the ministry is trying to twist the tale and attribute the accident to the pilot's error. Feeling inspired by Bhagat Singh's tale which they have been acting in, the youngsters see the ministers in the place of British officers. The rest of the story shows how the five-some "avenge" their friend's death, vaguely reminding of films like Chanakyan, Anniyan and 4 The People.

Rang De Basanti is a film worth watching, for multiple reasons. It is a well-made and well-packaged film, with brilliant photography and editing, and good music by AR Rehman. The performances by the five actors are natural and the development of comradeship between the students is portrayed in a nice way, with not much of Bollywoodish melodrama. Rakyesh Mehra's narration style seems to be inspired from the "Indian English films" by Nagesh Kukunoor et al, but is still fresh and interesting, and it was good to see him interweaving scenes from freedom struggle in sepia colors along with the present-day scenes, drawing parallels between them at various places. The climax scenes made me wonder whether it was so simple to do all what the students did, and the actor who played the role of the officer in All India Radio irritated me. However, there is a touch of difference in handling all scenes, like freezing the visuals on the smiling faces of Aamir Khan and Siddharth in the climax, while allowing the audio track to continue.

If compared with average Hindi cinema, Rang De Basanti stands far above, and makes an interesting watch.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Fairy Tales of Hermann Hesse

Hermann Hesse's Siddhartha is one of my favorite books. I have Steppenwolf and Narcissus und Goldmund with me, but somehow I couldn’t read them yet. Recently I read stories from the book The Fairy Tales of Hermann Hesse, translated by Jack Zipes. If the author of Siddhartha has written fairy tales, then definitely they wont be ordinary ones. There are 22 stories in this collection - Many of them have a plain but beautiful narration style resembling fairy tales, and give Hesse's views regarding spirituality, social life and human character.

My favorite story in this collection is Augustus, which has traces of Siddhartha on it. It is the story of a man called Augustus. He was born to a poor woman, and his father had died just before his birth. His mother gets a boon from an old man that whatever she wishes as the very best thing for her son, would become true. The confused woman wishes that everybody should always love Augustus, and the wish becomes true. Augustus grows up as a handsome young man and everyone around him love him, whatever he does. However, the boon makes him an arrogant, heartless person who doesn’t care at all about others. As days pass, he gets bored of the love of other people and feels life as uninteresting. He doesn’t find peace of mind. He decides to suicide, and it is then that the old man meets him again. He takes back the boon he had given and asks Augustus to choose an alternate boon for the rest of his life. Augustus is a bit skeptic and doesn’t have much hopes for his life, but he finally chooses a boon - instead of everybody else loving him, he wanted to be able to love everyone else! The new boon changes his life. He finds peace of mind, but the world around him treats him like a fallen person.

Friday, February 03, 2006

Kanaa Kanden

Yesterday I watched the Tamil film Kanaa Kanden starring Srikanth, Prithviraj and Gopika. Prithviraj, in his first Tamil film, plays the role of the villain named Madan, whose only aim in life is to make money. He is a moneylender-cum-deal-settler, and uses forgery and modern techniques efficiently to make money. Srikanth plays the role of a PhD scholar named Bhaskar, who invents a method to purify water. He doesn't want to commercialize his invention, and wants to do "service to poor people". Madan agrees to help Bhaskar to build a water-purification plant, but he has his own plans in his mind.

Kanaa Kanden is the directorial debut of cinematographer KV Anand, and I think he has succeeded in making a watchable film. Prithviraj's performance in the film is interesting. It is the first film of Srikanth I am seeing, and he seemed to be ok. Gopika looks cute, but in most of the film, all she has to do is to cry "Bhaskar.. Bhaskar" etc. Vivek takes care of the comedy track typical of commercial Tamil films. Songs are not memorable, and actually there is nothing really memorable in the whole film.

Saturday, January 28, 2006

King Kong

Watched King Kong today at Inox theatre inside the Garuda Mall. I liked Inox theatre, and watching the amazing special effects of King Kong at Inox was a very good experience. I liked the scenes of the ship approaching Skull Island, The crew making a narrow escape from the group of dinosaurs and the monster insects, The fight between King Kong and the dinosaurs, and the climax scenes. Of course, there shouldn't be "logical questions" in this type of a film, and all these "narrow escapes" need to be digested with a pinch of salt. However, the quality of special effects makes up for everything.

An image from kingkongmovie dotcom

The ticket prices are high (140 rupees!), but I felt that the experience of watching King Kong there was worth it. The only bad thing was a group of people sitting behind us and providing sarcastic comments for every scene of the film. I have seen such people at PVR cinemas as well, and I wonder why someone would spend so much money to waste their time giving idiotic comments just for creating nuisance for other viewers. I guess they might be Malayalee software engineers.

Today I tried kancheepuram idli at Shiv Sagar restaurant, inside the Garuda Mall. I became curious reading about it in the menu, and ordered for it. This idli has turmeric, pepper, cumin seeds and some other spices added in it, and it came wrapped in banana leaves. I was not very impressed with it. After that, we visited Bangalore Central (This mall was started some 1-2 years back, but I have never been there before), and I ate a nice masala dosa from the MTR food counter there.

Sunday, January 22, 2006


After yesterday's Stop Violence, today I watched another Sathya-inspired Malayalam film on Surya TV - TK Rajeev Kumar's Ivar (2003). This film is also the story of two goonda gangs in Kochi. Pambu Jose (Biju Menon) leads one gang, and in the beginning of the film we see Raghav Menon (Jayaram), an IPS officer, joining the gang of Pambu Jose as part of some secret "anti-goonda" mission. Raghav earns Jose's trust and soon becomes the right-hand of the gang leader. Raghav soon realizes that he has not only the goondas to fight with, but there are also other police officers, political leaders and ministers who are all supporters of Pambu Jose. How Raghav succeeds in his mission is the story.

This heavily clichéd film is photographed using a hand-held camera most of the time. This gives us an impression of walking along with the characters in many scenes; But at some places, the abrupt camera movements are irritating. Story is nothing new and it goes in expected lines. The dialogues are all bookish, and they don’t help much in character development. Biju Menon has given a convincing performance as the gang leader, and Jayaram has tried his best to look like an action hero. Anil Murali, playing the role of Hakkim, another goonda in Jose's gang, has acted well. I have seen him in several movies, playing the roles of villains, and I feel he has good capabilities to act and deserves better roles. Rest of the characters in Ivar are not very lengthy or worth mentioning. Overall, I think Ivar is a film watchable for once.

This weekend was mostly spent in front of television. Today morning also I watched a Malayalam film, Simhavalan Menon (1995) directed by Viji Thampi, which was inspired from the Hindi film Gol Maal (1979). Madhu and Jagadeesh play the roles Utpal Dutt and Amol Palekar had played in Gol Maal. Simhavalan Menon was nowhere near the Hindi original, but there is a funny scene of a birthday celebration in this film which I enjoyed. Madhu's character wants all people to talk 100% in Malayalam. Jagathi sings "Happy Birthday" and Madhu glares at him, asking him not to use "aangaleyam". So, Jagathi sings in Malayalam: "santhosha.. janmadinam.. kuttikku...". The way Jagathi acted in this scene was funny, and I really liked this scene.

Saturday, January 21, 2006

Stop Violence

Watched the Malayalam film Stop Violence (2002) today on Kiran TV. This film is the directorial debut of scriptwriter AK Sajan. In this film, there is a scene in which a group of goondas in Kochi sitting in a room and watching Ram Gopal Varma’s landmark Hindi gangster film Satya on television. I don’t know whether the director wanted to remind us of Satya for some thanksgiving purpose. Anyways, Stop Violence follows the form and tone of a Ram Gopal Varma film, like Satya, Company or D, and probably it would be the first Malayalam film in this genre.

The film shows the story of the "crime life" at Kochi. The main characters of the film are Goonda Stephen (Vijayaraghavan), a police officer who also operates as a goonda leader (!), and Sathan (Prithviraj), one of Stephen's most trusted assistants. When Sathan is appointed to protect a family from the attacks of the opposite goonda gang, he meets Angel (Chandra Lakshman), and that comes as a "turning point" (as clichéd as it could be) in his life.

Prithviraj in Stop Violence

Stop Violence would have become a memorable film if AK Sajan had at least succeeded in his imitation of RGV. He shows us few nicely edited, fast paced visuals, shows lot of blood and murders, but he fails in developing a novel and interesting storyline and characters. The first hour is comparatively neat, but later the film falls into clichés, and Sathan's confession and change doesn't go well with the cold-bloodedness in his character that we were shown in the initial scenes. Towards the climax, Sathan appears as a very decent man, talking nicely constructed dialogues, and we would almost feel that he is Prithviraj himself. The only interesting points in the film are the amusement in watching a Malayalam film in the RGV format, and to see Prithviraj giving a convincing performance as Sathan in the first half of the film, especially considering that this was only the third or fourth film in his career. Vijayaraghavan also gives a good performance, even though he has been doing such roles for ages. Chandra Lakshman (this was her first film) acts naturally in many scenes, and I think she is being wasted in soap television serials these days.

This film was initially named Violence, and it seems the censor board felt that this name would encourage the Kerala youth to indulge in violence, hence they asked the producers to add a "Stop" in front of "Violence", so that it will give an instant strong message to the Malayalees and purify their minds.

Friday, January 20, 2006


I watched the Hindi film Apaharan directed Prakash Jha. The film shows the story of Bihar's "kidnapping industry" (!), and it is one of the umpteenth films that attempt to take a look at the social injustice, corruption in politics, etc. Ajay Devgan plays the lead role of an unemployed young man named Ajay. His father (Mohan Aghase) believes in being a good and responsible civilian, and he is not willing to budge from the path of honesty even to help his son get a job. Ajay, in a desperate condition, tries his luck at kidnapping, and soon emerges as an assistant of the Don Tabrez (Nana Patekar). The rest of the story shows how Ajay returns back to his father's ideals.

Nana Patekar and Ajay Devgan in Apaharan (nowrunning dot com)

Prakash Jha has made this film sincerely, with very minimum of the Bollywood masala ingredients. Ajay Devgan and Nana Patekar have given fine performances, even though their characters are repetitions of several other similar roles they have done earlier (Ajay Devgan in Company and Nana Patekar in almost half of the roles in his career). Bipasha Basu is the only female character to appear in more than a scene, and her role lasts for no more than few scenes, thankfully.

The main problem with Apaharan is that it doesn't tell anything new. It shows the same old stories about violence, corruption, politics, etc, which we have seen in so many other Hindi films. Even the actors that play the roles are no different. How many times have we seen Yashpal Sharma playing the role of a goonda? Even the background score is uninteresting. Overall, the film made me feel terribly sleepy.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Salaam Namaste

Yesterday I watched the popular Hindi film Salaam Namaste starring Preity Zinta and Saif Ali Khan. It was a forgettable film except for the climax scenes which created vomiting sensation (I guess the climax was intended to be comic).

Preity Zinta and Saif Ali Khan in Salaam Namaste
(Image from nowrunning dot com)

When Aditya Chopra made Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge in 1995, he was actually starting a new genre of Hindi films. Neatly packaged with good editing and visuals from beautiful locales (mostly from foreign countries), these films tell the story of rich people (mostly NRIs) who have the so called "modern outlook and lifestyle" but still keep the "Indian traditional values" intact (especially in the climax scenes of the film). Stuffed with enough melodrama and posh fashion shows, these films are directly targeted at the metro audience and the Indians living in the US. Kuch Kuch Hota Hai, Kabhi Khushi Kabhi Gham, Yadein - several such idiotic films were made in this category and they made tons of money. Even critics liked such films, and I remember Times of India gave a "four star" rating for Kuch Kuch Hota Hai.

I know what is to be expected from these kind of films. But I still watch such films hoping them to be some "good time pass", and then end up wasting time and money.

Friday, January 13, 2006

Man without a Past

Today I watched the Finnish film Man without a Past directed by Aki Kaurismäki. This film was the winner of the Grand Jury Prize at Cannes 2002.

The film tells the story of a middle-aged man, called M, who had come to Helsinki looking for a job, but gets beaten up by a set of robbers and looses his memory because of a head injury. He doesn't remember anything about his past - not even his name. He tries to build a new life for himself. Even though he lands up in troubles now and then, he faces everything with a calm mind. After some time, his wife (actually, his ex-wife, as their divorce has already been approved) responds to an advertisement published regarding him in the newspaper, and M comes to know who he is/was. However, he decides to continue his newly discovered form of life.

(Image from collectivechaos dot org)

The film has a touch of humor in every scene and dialogue. We see characters facing tough situations with face expressions suggesting as if nothing significant has happened. We see M renting a house, which remotely looks like one, and his "landlord" talking about money most of the time. We see the landlord's pet dog named Hannibal who is appointed by him to keep an eye on M. We see people living inside broken metal boxes in the outskirts of the city, making it their home. Then we see M going to a restaurant to drink free water, and the hotel manager providing some leftover food for him. Then there is a scene in which M goes to open a bank account, and witnesses a bank "robbery", where one man whose account had been frozen by the police forcefully takes money from his account. We see a funny scene where the a police officer and a lawyer (who represents M) arguing against each other very politely, "going by the law books". Then there is the bank robber again, who hires M to distribute the money to his employees. In the climax, we see an interesting conversation between M and his ex-wife's boyfriend, who is scared whether M is coming back to her life. There is also the character called Irma, a Salvation Army officer, who appears to be very strict but is with a kind heart and helps M a lot, with whom eventually M decides to live with.

There is a certain warmth and kindness in the portrayal of all characters that makes them likeable, however insensitive their face expressions be. Days come and go, and we see people facing life as it is. The film shows it all without making it look too philosophical. Man without a Past is a different kind of film, and an interesting one.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Detective Films of Malayalam

I like reading detective fiction and watching detective films, however bad they are. The thrilling sensation of adventure and problem-solving - it somehow immediately pulls me into the story and keeps me engaged in. Sherlock Holmes stories, of course, have been my favorites in detective genre. Among Indian works, I like stories of Byomkesh Bakshi and Feluda, even though these stories are many a time indigestible, with several unbelievable coincidences helping the detectives to solve the mystery. Still, they have a special charm of Indianness which makes them likeable. In Malayalam, I haven't read many detective stories or novels; I think the most interesting one I have read is the good old Viruthan Shanku, which is regarded as one of the earliest detective fiction works in Malayalam. But then, even in historical fiction works like Dharmaraja, there are elements of intrigue and suspense.

My most favorite detective films in Malayalam are Mohan's Mukham (1990), Padmarajan's Kariyilakkattu Pole (1986), Pavithran's Utharam (1989) and Shaji Kailas's The Truth (1998). In Mukham, Mohanlal plays the role of a police officer looking for a serial killer who murders three women in the city and is after the fourth one. Kariyilakkattu Pole has Mohanlal again, as a police officer, investigating the murder of a celebrity (played by Mammootty) and has few brilliant questioning sessions featuring Lal and the three suspects. Utharam is not exactly a detective film. It has a journalist (played by Mammootty) trying to find the reason behind his close friend's wife's suicide, which leads him to findings that are totally unexpected. Utharam was based on a script by MT Vasudevan Nair, and probably it is his only work in the detective genre. The Truth is loosely structured compared to the above three films. Its presentation is too commercialized and its story is filled with too many incidents that it doesn't have enough scope for character development; But still, it is one of my favorites because it has few interesting twists and turns and is technically brilliant.

I vaguely remember an old black & white film called Lottery Ticket (1970) which I had watched long time back in Doordarshan. It was about a missing lottery ticket, and Adoor Bhasi starred in it. In addition to the old-age charm, Lottery Ticket was also a well-made film, especially if we consider the time it was made.

KG George's Yavanika (1982) was a landmark film in the history of Malayalam cinema. Yavanika also shows us the story of an investigation, but it is much more than a detective film.

One more film that would probably come in my list is GS Vijayan's Charithram (1989), which was inspired from the Tamil film Puthiya Paravai (1964) starring Shivaji Ganeshan (I am not sure whether that one was based on an original story, or whether that was also a remake). Charithram was not exactly a detective film, but it has elements of suspense and was presented nicely. The main character (played Mammootty) of the film is having a haunting past, which reappears in front of him when his younger brother (played by Rehman), who is supposedly dead, comes back alive.

Jagathi, Mammootty and Mukesh in Nerariyan CBI (image from nowrunning dot com)

The most popular detective films in Malayalam would be the CBI series films from SN Swamy- K Madhu - Mammootty team. I have watched all the four films in the series (Oru CBI Diary Kurippu (1988), Jagratha (1989), Sethuramiyer CBI (2004) and Nerariyan CBI (2005)). I had liked the first two films immensely when I watched them some 10+ years back. Oru CBI Diary Kurippu was a trend-setter when it was released and I guess it was the first full-length investigative thriller in Malayalam, giving no importance to romance, songs, or anything else. A nostalgia had developed in me for the CBI films, which probably biased my views and I liked the third and fourth films in the series when they were made after a gap of 15 years.

However, when I watched Oru CBI Diary Kurippu two days back, I was surprised to see how primitive the investigation scenes are in this film. Near the climax of this film, the criminal's blood group is known and he just has to be identified from a list of four or five suspects. Instead of doing this in the most obvious and simplest manner, the CBI officer goes through a round-about way: He is so sure that the criminal might have tested his blood sample at a free malaria camp organized by the panchayat! So, he goes through the panchayat records and find the culprit, it seems! Jagratha is neater, and I think it is the best one in the CBI series. It has a bit more of Sukumaran's portrayal of the arrogant, corrupt police officer - complete with his inimitable mannerisms and dialogue delivery - which we miss in the later films in the series.

In spite of all shortcomings, the nostalgia effect is still strong, and the CBI films would be still among my favorites.

Sunday, January 08, 2006

Fascinating Stories

I read the book Fascinating Stories, a collection of 17 short stories by Bibhutibhushan Bandyopadhyay, translated from Bengali by Ashoka Dev Choudhuri and published by Sahitya Akademi. The translator has written and talked about Bibhutibhushan widely, and this representative collection tries to "..bring to life the face of Bengal as it was at the beginning of the 20th century".

The translator says that Bibhutibhushan concentrated on the central passion of the story and let the writing style take care of itself. So, the construction of sentences in his work may look as loose and parts of his work would look superfluous, but still building up the overall emotions in the story. However, this poses a problem for the translator, as "..one is faced with the dilemma whether to present him in bright, smart English or to communicate his ideas and feelings in a style which has something of the flavor of the original". In this book, the translator has chosen the latter approach. Another challenge with translating Bibhutibhushan's works, Ashoka Dev Choudhuri says, is finding an appropriate English version for the author's language, which, in spite of being simple, creates a magical world that is the hallmark of the great writer.

Three stories in this collection - The Palmcake Festival, Bama - My Savior and Khuku the Menace - I have read in other collections of Bibhutibhushan's stories, like in A Strange Attachment. In A Strange Attachment, the title story was the only ghost tale in the collection. However, in Fascinating Stories, there are as many as six stories (The Ghosts in the Spicebags, The Medal, Casting a Spell over a Tiger, The Story of Kashi Kabiraj, The Haunted Bed, The Sword of Rankini Devi) that are related to ghosts, spirits and the supernatural, which was actually one of Bibhutibhushan's favorite themes. These make a very amusing reading.

The translator mentions that Bibhutibhushan didn't enjoy writing about "dramatic and unexpected things" in his stories. He leaves many of his stories at a loose end, like in The Woodcutter, which just provides us "a slice of life but more than that perhaps instill in us a sense of continuity and tenderness of life". Even in his ghost stories and in stories like Bama - My Savior which would have been written by a different author in a totally different fashion, like a thriller probably, Bibhutibhushan doesn't give too much emphasis on creating drama; His main focus is on portraying human emotions and character. The translator says - "His distrust of the dramatic is a part of his benevolent view of life which hates to highlight social clashes and conflicts. He is painfully aware of the inadequacy of the world we live in, the poverty, the social ills and the injustice we suffer everyday, but like Chekhov and Tagore he accepts with a tinge of sadness both the inadequacy and the varied richness of life and nature".

Stories like The Palmcake Festival, For a Handful of Rice, Borobagdini Died and My Teacher Bidhu Babu show people struggling for their daily meal. Often the misery of people is shown from the view angle of little children, their hopes and dreams, like in The Palmcake Festival. In other stories, we see images of a lazy day of life in rural Bengal, which makes the reader "share the happiness of the truant boys roaming about the fields in gay abandon in a glorious summer morning in Bengal". In Hazards of a Master Angler, we see a group of children giving a try at fishing, and in A Difficult Day for Harun-al-Rashid, we see two children collecting jackfruits for their teacher's kitchen, as a bribe to him for not caning them in the class.

Reading these stories was a good experience. However, there are several printing and formatting errors in the book (as is seen in most of the books published by Sahitya Akademi), which came like "pieces of salt in the payasam".

Saturday, January 07, 2006

Yet Another Remake from Priyadarshan

Last weekend, I had purchased the VCD of the Malayalam film Boeing Boeing. Two days back, I watched this film, for the fourth or fifth time. Directed by remake-specialist Priyadarshan, this film is inspired from the 1965 English film with the same name (I haven’t seen this film), but obviously, there is no reference given to the original in the Malayalam film.

I had enjoyed Boeing Boeing when I first watched it in 1992 or something. The film is a nonsense comedy, and most of it is picturized in a single room, with limited camera movements (cinematographed by S Kumar, in one of his earliest works) making it look like a videograph of some stage-show. However, it didn't hinder me from enjoying the film, since the theme of the film didn't demand much more than that. The performances by Mohanlal, Mukesh and Sukumari, and the situation-comedy had made the film interesting. However, I cant say that I liked the film that much when I watched it two days back. Probably, I got tired of it after repeated viewing, or the raw look of the film irritated me a bit - I don’t know.

A still from Garam Masala (Courtesy nowrunning dot com)

And then, yesterday I watched the remake of the remake, Garam Masala, the Hindi version of the film from Priyadarshan. It is mostly a scene-by-scene remake of the Malayalam film, but Priyadarshan has added a comedy scene from his another film - The scene where the heroes go to a restaurant with a girl, fight for paying the bill, and then realizing that they are pick-pocketed, both of them request the other to pay the bill - I don’t remember from which film this is taken; Probably it is from Aram + Aram = Kinnaram. The female cook in the Malayalam film (played by Sukumari) changes to male in Garam Masala, and is played by Paresh Rawal. Besides this, the film has a posher look compared to Boeing Boeing, as is expected from a Hindi film. Akshay Kumar and John Abraham do the roles played by Mohanlal and Mukesh respectively in the original. Obviously, they are no match for Mohanlal and Mukesh in comic timing and dialogue delivery and it would be very unfair to do any comparisons between Boeing Boeing and Garam Masala. But it has to be said that John Abraham disappoints most.

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It is really funny that Garam Masala appears in the list of "10 best films of 2005" published by rediff. It is not that anyone would take such gimmicky lists seriously, but when I was going through this list, I often wondered whether it was the list of 10 best films or 10 worst films. The first nine films in the list are Hindi, so I was thinking that this is a selection from Bollywood films. However, the tenth film is Perumazhakkalam, so it is indeed a selection from all Indian language films. I must say that this list is one of the biggest jokes published in rediff recently.

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Ramjirao Speaking has been one of my favorite Malayalam comedy films. Hera Pheri, Priyadarshan's Hindi remake of this film, was released when I was staying in Tapti hostel. After watching the film, many of my North Indian hostel-mates commented that it is very "different" and the best Hindi comedy film made after the Hrishikesh Mukherjee days. I think probably this would be true, considering that the "* No.1" series films from David Dawan are the only "other" comedy films to consider. However, when I watched Hera Pheri, I was disappointed. Priyadarshan had told in some interview that he had made some changes "to suit the tastes of Hindi audience", but I couldn't digest these changes, and felt that Hera Pheri is a poor remake.

I am afraid - Will the Malayalam movies like Vadakkunokkiyanthram, Nadodikkattu and Ponmuttayidunna Tharavu also get Priyadarshanized?

Tuesday, January 03, 2006


A Kerala village with green paddy fields, large ponds with shrubs around it, a river and a boatman. An empty country road covered with a layer of dry leaves. Yellow bamboo plants on both sides of the road. An old lady is walking through the road, carrying a large black umbrella, folded, in her hand. Probably there is a cloth bag in her other hand. She is wearing either a blouse and settu mundu, or chattayum mundum in traditional Christian style. Her face and expressions clearly reveal almost everything about her emotions and character. She has a bit of all humane limitations - jealousy, greed, arrogance - that can be expected from any person. She is mischievous, and enjoys gossiping and creating trouble, just for fun, and her reputation in the village also is in line with that. If we see such a character in a Malayalam film, who would be playing that other than actress Philomina?

Philomina was typecast in such roles, and she played hundreds of such characters - As a servant at rich houses stealing food and grocery from the store room, A distant relative of the hero or heroine who has come for a short visit and in turn spreads some rumor, An aging grandmother of the house, who likes to see things a bit more lively, and so on. She had several memorable roles in films like Kudumba Puranam, Godfather, In Harihar Nagar, Njan Gandharvan, Venkalam, Kireedam, Kauthuka Varthakal, Churam, Peruvannapurathe Visheshangal, Mazhavil Kavadi, Thalayinamanthram, Sasneham and many others. The last film she acted was Meerayude Dukhavum Muthuvinte Swapnavum, in 2003.

Philomina passed away yesterday. I think we will miss her natural acting and portrayals of the quintessential Malayalee villager.

Friday, December 30, 2005

Thavamai Thavamirundhu

Yesterday I watched the Tamil film Thavamai Thavamirundhu, Cheran's directorial venture after the critically acclaimed and popular Autograph.

The bulk of the story is shown through flashbacks, just like in Autograph. Mutthaiah (Raj Kiran) and his wife Sharada (Sharanya) live in a village with their two children. Mutthaiah owns a printing press, and works there. That is the only source of income for the family. They are poor, but Mutthaiah sends his boys for higher education, and he hopes that they would grow up and become engineers and doctors.

The elder son, Ramanathan (Senthil) gets a diploma from a polytechnic, and gets a job at a nearby factory; For that his father had to deposit fifty thousand rupees which he borrows from a moneylender. Ramanathan starts indulging in life, and soon his father decides that it is time to get him married and finds Latha (Meena - A new actress, not the glamour doll) for him. Latha is not very happy to stay with his parents, and after an year Ramanathan fights with his parents and shifts to a different house. Ramalingam, the younger son (played by the director Cheran himself) is more sensitive and respects his parents' emotions. He falls in love with his classmate Vasanthi (Padmapriya) in engineering college, but is unable to present and explain the whole thing to his parents, who are already upset with the elder son's deeds. Ramalingam does something to aggravate their misery further - he runs away with Vasanthi to Chennai. He struggles for a living in the city for an year.

One fine day, Ramalingam finds his father at his door. Mutthaiah had come to know about his son's story and has come to offer financial help to him. Ramalingam breaks down in front of his father, and he wants to make up for all his mistakes and to stay with his lonely parents. Soon, he manages to get a job at Chennai. Vasanthi stays under her in-law's care at the village, while Ramalingam stays at Chennai and visits the village once in a week. The rest of the story shows Ramalingam's efforts to bring happiness and peace in his parents' life.

A scene from Thavamai Thavamirundhu (Courtesy nowrunning dot com)

Thavamai Thavamirundhu is around 200 minutes long, and it covers the period from 1970 to 2005. The film shows a wide variety of landscapes, brilliantly photographed by MS Prabhu - It starts from a remote Tamil Nadu village covered with palm trees and vast empty lands, then goes to the city atmosphere of Chennai, and finally, to a posh apartment at Madurai, from the balcony of which we can see the tall gopurams of the Meenakshi temple standing majestically. Even though the film is shown with present-day scenes (in black and white) interwoven with flashbacks, the overall story follows the classical narration style of old tales. The story and characters are nothing really new - We have seen these characters in several Malayalam films like Kutumba Puranam, Kutumba Vishesham, Valsalyam, or even in Tamil films like Anandam. But Cheran narrates the story sensitively, with almost no melodrama, and has made it a touching viewing experience. It is a film with a message, but the message never shows up as too explicit, and it is mainly the story and characters that find prominent place in the film.

The pillars of Thavamai Thavamirundhu are Raj Kiran and Sharanya, who have given outstanding performances, capturing even the minute expressions and thought-reflections of the old couple, and made their roles memorable. Cheran himself has given a fine performance, and Padmapriya and other actors also have performed well. Even a small role like that of Latha is played nicely: The scene in which she visits her brother-in-law's apartment and scrolls her eyes through the rich surroundings with jealousy - is a perfect example. The background music by Sabesh Murali underlines the emotional intensity of the scenes.

Cheran comes out as a better director and actor in Thavamai Thavamirundhu compared to his previous film, and his sincerity and dedication is seen in every inch of the film. However, I think he should have tried to make the film shorter by editing few scenes from Ramalingam's college life and romance. Besides, Cheran and Padmapriya looked too old for the characters of college students. Towards the end of the film, Ramalingam's entry to success seemed a bit abrupt. But, Despite all of its shortcomings, Thavamai Thavamirundhu is an immensely watchable film.

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

CI Paul

In the Malayalam film Vellanakalute Nadu, there is a role of the brother of the character played by Shobhana, the heroine. He had only three or four scenes in the film, if I remember correctly. But I liked the way CI Paul, the actor, played this character. I had watched this film from Christ College auditorium, as part of some free film show. I still remember the scene where CI Paul bursts out at Jagadeesh and team, and kicks the vessels and temporary cooking arrangements that they had setup in his compound, without his permission.

CI Paul never got any roles in his film career that can be called as challenging. Most of them were minor ones, lasting only few scenes, and often with a touch of comedy. But I think he portrayed these characters in a natural way and made them memorable, however small they are. The "good" police inspector of Nadodikkattu, the food inspector of Mithunam, hero's father in Darling Darling - these are some of the characters that come to my mind now. And of course, the role of the hero's (played by Sreenivasan) father-in-law in Vadakkunokkiyanthram, and the scene in which Sreenivasan beats him mistakenly, and then asks "Achchan eppo vannu?", respectfully.

CI Paul passed away on 14th December. I came to know about this only last week, from Mathrubhoomi newspaper where his relatives had put a notice about the 10th day rituals.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005


I read the short novel Parineeta today. This Bengali novel by Sharat Chandra Chattopadhyay is translated by Malobika Chaudhuri and it was published by Penguin to coincide with Pradeep Sarkar's film based on the novel (The cover of the book says that it was a film by Vidhu Vinod Chopra, who was actually the producer and co-writer of screenplay of the film).

Lolita is very young in the novel compared to the film - she is just thirteen when Shekhar "marries" her, and also Shekhar's father, Nabin Roy, is not given too much of a villainous image in the novel. There is no melodramatic climax either, which had spoiled the film. I felt that the novel has a kind of innocent charm which was missing in the film.

Parineeta is a readable novel, and we can finish reading it in an hour or two. But, I felt that there is nothing very memorable in it, except for a character study of the main character, Shekhar.