Friday, June 26, 2009

MJ


Little black boy, king of pop, moonwalker, suspected child abuser, the man with the thousand faces… MJ has finally taken a silent bow… on the 25th of June.

The superstar was all set to make a comeback during his tour starting July 13th, before the world could watch him moonwalk again, he walked away leaving nothing but a grim silence and a somnolent music in the hearts of his fans.

In a newspaper report on June 15th, it was reported that MJ was throwing tantrums during rehearsals. He would vomit, cry, faint… and that these sudden feats were actually pissing off the show producers. Nobody believed that the superstar was unwell, that it would take less than a month for him to pass away… that all these big bets, which were not even making the first page of the newspapers would have to die down soon. MJ wasn’t throwing tantrums… he was dying.

There will probably be a thousand candles burning in the memory of the superstar all across the world, a million hearts crying out for him, and a million voices uniting to sing his songs of peace.

Ever since the 80s we have seen MJs thousand faces, his changing skin, his altering looks that the newspapers have screamed about. Ever since the 1990s – we have looked at him as a child abuser… and then sometime in the nineties the Britneys and the spices and the Stings of the world started to overshadow him. The children grew up to become drugged stars themselves, more tantrums took over the world and MJ slowly got relegated to a memory – a man who once set the stages on fire but was having a quiet life away from the crowd now.

Over the last few years, we have seen more and more tantrums take over the world – popstars who have shaved their heads, bared their bodies, kissed each other on the stage to grab as much of footage as possible… but hardly have we had someone look back at a gang of ‘beat it’ boys dancing in an underground station or a thousand faces changing colour and still creating a common identity. Black or white, sinner or saint… MJ would always remain the inspiration that he has always been.


Sunday, January 25, 2009

To Remember or Not To Remember


Disclaimer: This article is written in haste because there’s just a 15 minute span within which I can remember it before it all disappears into a quagmire called memory – an exit point in this case.


Where am I?

Let me just check my Polaroid shots. Yes, I’m in a house. And what’s that gadget with a 21inch screen… the Polaroid tells me it’s my television set and the flat thing beside it is called a DVD player.

Why am I feeling so pissed off? Ok, there’s a DVD cover around… and who’s this tiny guy on the DVD cover? With muscles bulging out of his body and jagged rivulets running down his head? Ah… he’s called Ghajini. Is he called Ghajini? No, his film’s called Ghajini… ah, now I understand… I was watching a film.

Have I seen this guy somewhere? Was he the guy who was crying out loud because a kid was dyslexic? Was he? Was he? No… that guy probably said he was a thinking actor. This one doesn’t seem like that. And what’s all that scribbled on his body? Ok, let me check my
notes if there’s any info… ah here it is. This guy used to paint the walls earlier… ever since the municipal commissioner ruled out writing on the wall, he has been writing on his body.
And what’s that written on the top… wait, it’s all written backwords like a dyslexic… let me get a mirror…now I get it, it says “ I and my director screwed Chris Nolan’s concept. Thankfully, we didn’t remake his film otherwise he would have died of woe.”

Ya… I pretty much agree… Chris Nolan I remember from the old days before I started to forget. He made some movie called Memento which played half the movie clockwise and half of it anti clockwise… so that they met at a single point of time. Yeah, difficult but stunning. Had to see it twice to figure out what was happening… did this bald guy try to recreate Chris Nolan’s movie in anyway? I think I’ll need to play it again to find out…

Ok… the movie has started… there’s a sexy medical student who is saying ‘I’m a medical student’ time and again. She wants to prepare a case study on a bald guy who forgets everything within 15 minutes. Anterograde Amnesia it’s called… the problem not the student. Wait something crazy is happening… a cop has found the bald headed man killing half the men in town. The bald headed man doesn’t speak much… he just screams.

Is it a horror movie? Or some psychological thriller of sorts? Wait… let me check the back of the DVD… no it’s supposed to be a revenge drama. The bald headed guy wants revenge… someone killed his girlfriend before he could say “ hey I can write on my body”.
Ah… it’s moving backwards now… we’re getting into the past.

Some girl called Asin is coming up with a lot of asinine suggestions… he is trying to woe her. Nothing much in that.

Again back to present… he’s screaming and beating people up. Killing a few in the score.

Back to past. Someone killed the girl… what was her name by the way? (Asin? Ass in? Assinine? Can’t remember) And that someone is now beating him up… hey presto? The someone is called Ghajini! Now where did I hear the name? It sounds familiar.


Now, the bald headed guy lives in a flat and his employees want him to live in a bungalow. No, he loves the flat. He can travel by lift. The medical student who calls herself a medical student has come back to him. She wants him to go back and finish off Ghajini. Ghajini? Now I was sure the name was familiar.

Ok… back to story. Bim, bam, bang, gong… one guy beating a hell lot of other guys. Lots of noise around… and someone has been saying ‘shoort tirm memary looss ka pasient’ time and again. It’s getting real tiring.


More boom, bam happening across the screen. It looks primitive… nobody has any gun, all beating each other up with metal rods… lots of blood.

Still happening…

And more…

Ok… fight still on…

And on..

And on…

Oh gosh… someone has died. Yeah, the guy who was Ghajini (Did I hear the name before?) has died.

Now, there’s a guy with full hair playing with kids and stealing their cakes… hey what’s the deal here?


Ok… end credits across screen.

End credits? Was I watching a movie? Wait a minute…


Where am I?
(Image source: www.masala.com)

Saturday, December 6, 2008

“Nice Planet. We’ll take it.”




Tragedies give rise to some of the greatest icons. For example, had there been no second world war, there wouldn’t have been any Great Dictator either. And had there been no depression, then people would not have been able to appreciate something like the iconic Modern Times. Art in its various forms reflects the society as it has been, is now and will be in future. Most of the art of this kind is intentional – the auteur approaches a subject with precision, crafts it gently in the façade of a mirror and produces a work that makes people sit back and think. And at the same time… there is art that is created for a particular purpose and somehow as the time and place changes, the same piece of art comes to reflect the present in such an uncanny manner that people sit back and wonder at the futuristic observations of the auteur.

When H.G Wells wrote “War of the Worlds” in 1898, he did not expect someone like a Tim Burton to mimic him and create “Mars Attacks” (1996) – a burlesque so original and so pure as to make the intended audience sit back and watch how Americans laugh at themselves and their icons. What Mr.Burton did not realise, and hopefully can now fathom the connect, is that someday the burlesque that he created is going to reflect a society that is going heavily wrong.


The story of Mars Attacks, a direct take on “War of the Worlds” and the science fiction movies of the 1950s and 60s showed the Martians sending a spy to planet earth to check out on the scheme of things. The spy, dressed as a lanky blonde (Lisa Marie), even made way to the White House pretending to show affection for the Press Secretary Jerry Ross (Martin Short) and leaving him dead in his room. A few days later after this clandestine visit, flying saucers begin to appear and signals are exchanged between the US authorities and Mars. While General Decker (Rod Steiger) wanted US to open immediate attack on the invaders, the President (superbly played by Jack Nicholson) and the scientist Professor Donald Kesler (Pierce Brosnan) wanted a meaningful exchange between the two planets. As a consequence, the Martians are welcomed with open arms and promises of peace. The country reacted in a mixed way - while the First Lady Marsha Land (Glenn Close) could not have bothered less, the journalist Natalie Lake (Sarah Jessica Parker) waited for the Martians to respond to the US invite. With the typical tone of “I-kind-of-rule-this-planet” the US authorities opened their dialogue telling the Martians how inhabitants of the earth were more than happy to see them land and if they have come in peace. Listening to the tirade, the Martians looked around boredly and decided to open fire. The next part of the movie, turning all the clichés that had beset the science fiction movies produced in Hollywood on their head, was a complete laugh riot showing the Martians attacking every possible symbol of the great American dream, blowing up the White House, taking pictures before temples before blowing them up and living through bullets, missiles and even Hip Hop. Just for experiment, they planted the heads of Natalie Lake and Donald Kessler on two dogs and watched them exchange words of love. While the Martians virtually won the war, the trusted Tim Burton came up with the unlikely heroes, as always, to save the world. As a consequence the invincible Martians were defeated through relentless relaying of western classical pieces over radio, television and all mediums possible. The point being – what cannot be defeated otherwise, can be defeated by culture shock.

Consider this movie in the context of the terror attacks in Mumbai. US has anyway been cautious since 9/11 s and India has always been waiting for the next bigger attack to sit back and ponder over whether to realign, restructure or get rid of altogether – it’s anti terror laws and policies. Tim Burton seems so right now when the Pakistani Government is quick enough to rule out the fact that ‘stateless actors’ who carried out the mayhem were not supported by the state even though they planned, trained, acquired weapons in the state itself. The US government asked the Pak to take notice and act in the face of recent terror attacks and while the Pakistani government and media went into a tirade over how the Indian media was blaming them and there was no real proof in spite of everything that points towards the Indian neighbour, the Taliban went on television to declare that they would soon take over Pak. This brings us to the basic point – what exactly is happening here? Are we so blind as not to notice the obvious? Do we need more proof at this point of time to show the world that the perpetrators of countless mayhem seem to emerge from just one place and it is not coincidental anymore? While they have several names like a Lashkar e Toiba to Deccan Mujahideen the outfit end of the day is the same and this particular country also harbours the names like Dawood who are well known in terms of criminal records and have also been suspected of being linked up with the attacks. And if that wasn’t surprise enough, we have had the Taliban going on air to declare that they will soon be ruling the country.

This is pure confusion. And it is so confusing because sitting right over the bomb itself all of us have been wondering about whether we can keep diplomatic relations intact. Act in the face of terror is what we end up saying – but neither do they give in nor do we coerce. And we the people, those of us who travel by public transport as well as those who end up paying huge sums for the security of a five star hotel, would keep on thanking our luck for not getting killed for just another day. It all seems like a scene from “Mars Attacks” where the diplomats ask just like the US President Dale, “Why can’t we work out our differences? Why can’t we work things out? Little people, why can’t we all just get along” and the perpetrators in question answer like the Martians, “Ack ack ack ack ack”. Perhaps, all that we are awaiting for is culture shock to relive us of our differences or our enemies.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Mumbai - November, 26




When I started this blog, I thought I would move away from just creating a space detailing out the stories of my travels and daily drudgery and keep it restricted to just art, literature and celluloid depiction of dreams. However, having a space to write – where you get heard by at least some people – also comes with the inexplicable desire to give vent to your deep seated anguish. This might be a step towards breaking my self-inflicted rule – but there are times when you are so helpless, chained and restless that you can’t help but try to do your own bit even in the smallest way…

Yes… I am talking about the cowardly act of terrorism that was inflicted on the city of Mumbai yesterday night. And as I write these lines – there are still people trapped in a hotel in Mumbai waiting for either death or rescue to rid them of their miseries…

I wish I could be more coherent – as the Pakistani Prime Minister was when he spoke about how we are fighting the same war. I wish I was as coherent as the British Prime Minister was when he said that UK was all for the war against terrorism. I wish I could replicate Barack Obama’s measured speech when he said that US was looking forward to support India in this long-drawn battle. But… this is my land and these are my people…and I can only be as coherent as a common man who witnesses his own family burning before him.

Yesterday could have been just another peaceful November night with a nip in the air and the promise of another thoughtful quarter in the financial capital. But yesterday was meant to be different… and some cowardly, brutal creatures (yes… you read it right… these characters who are dying in the name of religion can hardly be called human anymore. Religious? Could be… though my untrained mind can hardly ever fathom what kind of religion they follow) had decided the fate of the financial capital long before we could even imagine it. Yesterday… November 26, 2008… they meant to strike at the heart of everything human. Just like they had struck at the heart of US during 9/11.

In case, you are still appreciating the daily soap, the story here is a dirty one. Some creatures (if you watched the news at some point of time, you may have seen the still shots of their ugly, snarling faces) decided to open fire at 11 locations across Mumbai. Not content with injuring innocent civilians, they took several hostages – mostly foreign nationals – in two of Mumbai’s biggest hotels. According to the bulletin that is rolling now – the hostages at Oberoi are still trapped inside the building waiting for their fate to come upon them. The official death toll is 125, the official list of injured stretches on to 327, the chief of the Anti Terrorist Squad has laid down his life in the war… and I wish… we could offer something more than just condolences.

If you have been to Mumbai ever in your life, you will probably appreciate my feelings about the city. It is a city of dreams – a city that never sleeps, a city where if you ask a direction someone will abandon his work and guide you, a city where you can always find a decent rickshaw driver to take you to your destination in the middle of the night, a city where people create destinies every minute. Mumbaikar, the term that typically identifies someone who has been born and brought up in the city, is a curious fellow. He is money-smart, speaks in a filmi language, acts like a superhero every day on his way to work beating the mad-rush at the station and jostling his way through the super-crowd in the train, and is a die-hard romantic at heart when he skips from office early and spends time with his family at the Choupatty (beach). A Mumbaikar is a superman and more… he is superhuman. He lives. And we live with him… watching him grow, watching him prosper, watching him live our dreams. Mumbai has been on terror alert earlier, Mumbai has witnessed bomb blasts that had ripped people’s bodies… and Mumbai had stood there, steadfast and unbeatable. A spirit so large and so full of vigour that it only fits a leviathan.

But the creatures… the unmanly, cowardly scum of the dirtiest soil wanted the city to look up and panic. And along with the city they wanted the entire world to panic – so the natural process was to target the innocent foreign tourists who had been staying as guests in the five stars. “Do you have a UK or a US passport? Then come with us to the roof… when the NSGs and the commando troops look up at the sky they shall see our bullets rip through your bodies…” And my God how they have succeeded! How they have succeeded in getting attention from all international news channels – how theyhave lived up to their names as serpents of the netherworld by making the financial capital come to a standstill, by spraying bullets to an odd four hundred innocent people and still continuing to do so…how they have succeeded in making every foreign guest a scaredy cat who would think twice before alighting from his or her flight…how theyhave succeeded in making us suspect our neighbours and their intentions.


In India, we have always been tolerant. And at times tolerance has even reached a point of ignorance. We are a confused country. We have confused leaders. We fight with poverty and opulence, we fight with bursting population and growing infertility, we fight with demons of our past and a future of economic freedom... we fight for every rupee against a strengthening or weakening dollar. We try and educate ourselves to take on the world and yet we worry about how the rest of our population will grow - will they find good schools? Can they prosper? We fight with darkess and light.


Amidst our daily wars, we fight with violence and non-violence. Our heritage and our culture teaches us to be tolerant. We have been tolerant of every invader who have come our way, we have preached non-violence and unshackled ourselves from the colonial rule, and we have been tolerant enough to run a bus to Pakistan and say, 'we believe in friendship.' We have done all that and by God we have succeeded, but for you… the one who counts the bodies and rejoices in it… we made a mistake. We tried to look beyond your façade of a terrorist and tried to find a heart, a family, a mother, a brother… we forgot that you have been ripped away from every human relation the day you were born. We forgot that you had never been as born as human, and therefore there was no reason to treat you or believe you to be human either. Look at our literature, our cinema, our art… we have always tried to see beyond the gun-toting militant. With forensic precision, we have tried to untangle you from your gun, with a painter’s mind we have tried to place you in the midst of normal colours, with a common man’s mind we have tried to believe that you… the scum of the earth… will change. You will perhaps look back at your families, at your parents and realise that it is a sin in every religion to kill innocent people. We were wrong. We gave you more attention than you deserved. There was no point in trying to locate your terrorist psyche… you belong to death and that is where you will be placed. The scum will always remain scum and need to be discarded… there’s no point in looking beyond it.

We have seen your face… in the rugged still shot carrying an AK 47 and snarling at the world. We wish you’re covered in blood now, and may you not find a religion where you can hide the blood that you have shed. And so do we wish for anyone who tries to hide their madness in the name of an all forgiving God. And by God… we will remember your face… every Indian will remember your face and so will every British and so will every Israeli family who you have taken hostage tonight. We will track you, we will look in every nook and cranny, in every bunker, in every house... and we will find you. Lashkar e Toiba or Deccan Mujahideen, it won't take time before we find you because from today you will all look the same. And by God we will see the end of you.


To check out the news on Mumbai, access the following sites:







Sunday, November 16, 2008

Tiger Tiger, Burning Bright


“Friends, Indians, countrymen – lend me your reading habits
I’ve come to bury Adiga, not to praise him”


Recently Aravind Adiga made us proud by winning the prestigious Booker Prize 2008. With predecessors like Salman Rushdie, Arundhati Roy, V.S Naipaul – Adiga is definitely in the big league now. He even managed to get a call from hot shot literary agent David Godwin (whose claim to fame was flying down to India and landing up at Arundhati Roy’s door for “The God of Small Things” when both were nobodys) and is presently looking into the nitty gritties of getting the right deal for his book in other foreign markets.

Now somebody said ‘nothing succeeds like success”. As a natural consequence, three days after Adiga flashed his winning smile in the newspapers, I went to Oxford bookstore and picked up my copy of “The White Tiger” for not less than the price of a medium sized pizza and some garlic bread with extra cheese. What was even surprising was that I finished it within two days – a true miracle by my standards.

Usually the prize winning books that I buy remain unread for years. I buy them because they have won prizes. They remain unread because I get used to them being better appreciated only in bookcases. On the rare occasions, when I find myself reading one of them I am usually late and some other contemporary writer ends up winning the same prize the next year and I need to buy one more volume to satisfy my literary hunger.

I guess one of the reasons I started out and even finished “The White Tiger” was because it was a true page turner. I worship page turner writers – because it is difficult and a tricky task to keep people hooked to your book. Give me a Sidney Sheldon novel any day and watch how I recede to the corner of my room deeply engrossed in it. When I bought Kiran Desai’s “The Inheritance of Loss” and tried to spend a lazy afternoon in the company of Sai – it turned to be the right medication for my insomniac tendencies. Similarly, when I tried reading ‘ A House for Mr. Biswas’ during a three day train journey, the bookmark never moved from page 116 till the end of my journey. Rushdie makes me dizzy at times, but I guess that has always been his desired impact. Trap your reader in a maze of words so that he can never get out it. Not even when the book’s finished.

Usually when people like me end up paying a price equivalent to that of a decent Dominoes lunch for a novel by an Indian English author - they expect a certain sense of complexity in it. It matches our mental construct if the novel turns out to be richly embroidered with vocabulary, makes the chief protagonist travel half the world in search of something elusive and has the term ‘diaspora’ printed all over it. Yes, that’s a novel that people like me would spend some money for and probably leave unread and immaculate as ever in their bookcases. For page turners there are always haunts like the railway station or the second hand bookshop or the flight terminal. Needless to say Coetzee’s ‘Slow Man’, Peter Carey’s ‘True History of the Kelly Gang’ and Amitav Ghosh’s ‘Sea of Poppies’ suffered the same fate in my hands.

The first thing that struck me as I was reading ‘The White Tiger’ was how could Adiga have won the Booker Prize? The novel is not a picaresque by nature, but the protagonist Balram Halwai does travel from Laxmangarh to Delhi and then to Bangalore and has his series of adventures in the process. Eventually, I realised that I was not the only one to get surprised. The Guardian correspondent Sam Jordison too had been quite baffled when Adiga walked away with £ 50,000 instead of Linda Grant.

However, there are a few things which pointed towards Adiga being a possible winner. Even though Indian by birth and looks, he had travelled, studied and worked in Australia from a pretty young age. I guess staying out of the country is a necessity if you want to win international prizes (even though Arundhati Roy largely proved me wrong), because it gives you the first world perspective that international prize judges may just appreciate and understand. You need to travel, go through the experience of being a non-entity in a foreign land and then hanker for the roots that you had happily snipped off at one point of time. And once you have hankered well, you may just end up writing a book from a largely autobiographical perspective about a non-entity in India travelling as a non-entity to the US and crying his/her heart out for remaining a non-entity for ever. Add with it a few Indian terms – ‘mesho’, ‘mashi’, ‘pishima’, ‘dadu’, ‘macher jhol’ and you have the winning formula of the occident taking notice of you and appreciating your literary inclinations. Rushdie differed from the formula, Arundhati Roy differed and strangely so did Adiga.

When I started reading “The White Tiger” it sounded as hypocritical and populist as I expected it to be. The novel begins with a letter to the Chinese Consul by a driver-turned- murderer-turned-entrepreneur and the continues till the end of it. Epistolary? Not really, it was just one letter continuing throughout 60 0r 100 thousand words he had written. So, yes, it was not meant to be different. Driver-turned- murderer was not something new. Rushdie had already explored that territory in ‘Shalimar the Clown’. Driver turned storyteller was not new neither – such instances are steeped in Indian mythology. Think of Lord Krishna for instance, who heard and saw it all and yet was content with driving the chariot of his buddy Arjun. But a India steeped in darkness… yes, that was a territory that remained uncharted, at least to the prize judges. I guess that is where Adiga scored over others – he presented an India without a ‘choice’, a country that lived up to all the darkness that are reflected in the human development reports and tarnished the images created by software giants and BPOs. India was not just Bangalore with call center executives and software engineers trying to chart out a better life catering to the US populace – India was a lot more.

For readers who have still not had the opportunity to forego their lunch at Pizza Hut and invest in Adiga – the story is about a young boy in a village called Laxmangarh (in a state that so aptly connotes Bihar and is called the ‘darkness) called Balram Halwai. Born in a family of plenty and ruled by a matriarch, Balram witnesses his father dying of Tuberculosis at a village hospital where patients keep on waiting for the doctor to arrive. Just like Vladimir and Estragon in Beckett’s ‘Waiting for Godot’. But in the darkness, doctors do not come to Government hospitals – if you are not satisfied with Adiga’s chronicle, you could refer to the Human Development Report 2007 and that too would vouchsafe for the truth. Watching his father die in silence – Balram promises not to be taken by the darkness and move into light. Somewhat like the way Scarlett ‘O’ Hara said “I shall never go hungry again” in “Gone with the Wind”. But the journey from darkness to light is not a spiritual one – in India it takes skill, money and connections to go into the light. Someone like Balram, who idolises the local bus conductor for his khaki uniform and his command over the passengers, may just need to sacrifice a lot more than his present dwelling for the journey into light. That is when the story picks up – Balram Halwai, sweet maker by birth, coaxes his family for some money to learn driving and then joins the family of Laxmangarh’s rich and famous to drive their car. As his driving job takes him from Laxmangarh to Delhi, Balram shrewdly takes in everything that life has to offer. The prostitute with her hair dyed blonde, the diseased driver who tells him about all the secret nooks in the city of Delhi, the malls where the drivers are not allowed to enter, the room with roaches where he stays behind the shield of the mosquito net to maintain his identity and the drunk chote sarkar, his employer, who in spite of the goodness of heart remains the spineless pawn in the hands of his powerful family. To my mind as a reader, the entire story acts like a camera. Imagine the act of focusing on something, and as you slowly adjust your lens the particular object in your frame comes into focus – and then you snap. The novel works like that – as Balram grows up the novel slowly comes into focus and clearly divides India into two halves. For the rich man the easy way out is to bribe the Great Socialist and legitimise his business – but when the rich man’s wife runs over a street child in a drunken spree, it is the poor driver who is asked to take the blame. So, when Balram (who essentially is the anti-hero) decides to go into light – the road to enlightenment is through the murder of rather-decent and kind employer. Running as a fugitive, changing locations everyday with a bounty of seven lakhs in stolen money, Balram also realises that the common man is difficult to catch. Because every common man looks so much like the other – that they become indistinguishable in their commonness.

The novel, as the beginning suggests, is not just about moving from darkness to light. It is also about a common man without college education moving onto entrepreneurship. However, this is the only point that gets diluted towards the end. Adiga, even though quite an entrepreneur to have come up with an winning formula for his book, did not have entreneurship quotient to bring his book to a credible ending. The story fizzles once Balram reaches out and becomes an entrepreneur almost without putting in any effort. He puts the onus of such an easy way out to the city of Bangalore, a city that gives you the choice. However, as we all know, by all means the last part couldn’t have been that easy – not in Bangalore or for that matter anywhere in the world.

“The White Tiger” is an interesting book – more interesting because it has won the Booker. A novel so linear, simplistic, without frills and dealing with such commonplace things that you could almost feel cheated if you bought it for… well… the price of a lunch. After all, we are so used to books being complex and reflecting something other than what the regional news channels show us that we almost refuse to believe in the mundane. As I said earlier, driver-turned-murderer was a subject that Rushdie had dealt with earlier in “Shalimar the Clown”. But the story was different and so was the history of the driver who hailed from Kashmir and came with a deep-sated revenge harboured in his breast. We do not expect the driver to just ‘steal’ for money and that’s where Adiga catches us on the wrong foot. Leave aside revenge motives – the biggest reason a person can kill is to desperately want a better life.

“The White Tiger” is an interesting read - and we do hope some more such stuff from Arvind Adiga. After all somebody was seeing beyond diaspora and call centers when it came to Indian English writing.

Picture source: http://podularity.com/wp-content/images/adiga.jpg

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Fleming didn't have an internet connection


I have been criticised for painting an emotional character like Craig in murky colours. It is also true that I have been praised for putting in an honest thought about why I think Craig and Mark Forster screwed up big time by creating this 'working class Bond character'. So I guess it is time to put down a few more logical thoughts around this.

To start with the argument - in the entire Bond franchisee, why do you think James Bond has always been so devoted to Her Majesty's Secret Service? Is it because he is a true patriot? Or does the job also give him chances of being in good company, ask for the finest drinks every time he visits a five star (seven, eight... you can just count the stars here), drive the best of cars and receive the best of medical aids (along with pretty looking doctors) for all the bullet and knife wounds that he suffers. In truth - James Bond as an employee has perks that are enviable by the CEOs of any mid sized Information Technology company out there. Even though the risks are high and require skills of every kind (from flying a plane to the best ‘kisser’ award) nobody really asks him for a justification for breaking down a brand-new Bentley in the middle of Africa or pumping in a bullet or two without rhyme or reason. The bottomline is – Bond is given a responsible role with the perks associated, the government spends on him because he has the ability to deliver.

Now put yourself in the role of an employer and think of Bond (now read ‘Craig’) as the VP of your company. How would you feel if your VP - someone who enjoys the finest of wines and charges it to the company credit card, gets the best suite in the biggest hotel with a bill that ends up at your finance department and romances the hottest looking woman in the Consulate by flashing out a card that gives the name of your company – decides to travel half the world to find the ex-boyfriend of his dead girlfriend and ends up shooting down half of your sales volumes. Not a very rosy picture, right! I mean, you would think twice before keeping this guy on the job whatever portfolio he may have to prove that he had been good once. I mean think of the Lehmann CEO, the papers are speaking of the mistakes that he made and which eventually wrapped up his company. Wasn’t he somewhat like the working class Bond in someway? Or think of Enron makers – who decided to put environmental concerns aside and went ahead with the profit motive only to meet with disastrous results. Weren’t they ignoring the obvious? The basic point being that your actions need to be justifiable in terms of costs and results. Otherwise, it’s nothing but a mistake.

Now think of Bond and his actions. When Ian Fleming came up with his hot-shot super spy, he had his feet firmly in the ground. Thus Bond suffered hurt, was vulnerable to female affection and at times traveled by train. Fleming knew what he was writing about. In ‘From Russia with Love’ (the novel) Bond loses his girlfriend and even gets killed in the end by S.M.E.R.S.H agents. Every Bond novel follows a set pattern:

Bond gets a mission
Bond befriends a girl who he falls in love with
Bond is caught between his affection and his mission
Bond ends up winning the mission and losing the girl

Set around this pattern was the story of a man who was caught between his duty and his love. Thus the characteristic Bond dichotomy was the tussle between the head and the heart.

When the Bond movie franchisee came into being and the Broccolis took up the task of presenting the coolest spy, the characteristics of Bond, as Fleming had created him, had to go through a sea change. Bond became a cold killing machine who got his revenge at the end and ended up benefiting his employer. Thus the emotional Bond became replaced by a chauvinistic Bond who believed in perfection and getting his job done. His continued pretensions before Moneypenny, his refusal to get involved in emotions and his tendency to stick to just the bed and not the wedding party – gave Bond movies a distinctive flavour of its own. The difference between the novels and their cinematic renditions pronounce the difference - for example the short story ‘Octopussy’ begins and ends with a conversation, but the movie has Bond traveling half the world and getting involved with the mysterious ‘Octopussy’ who stays in Delhi with her devout female followers. Similarly, ‘Moon Raker’ the novel is just about a missile that Bond has to find. Compare it to the movie and you have Bond traveling to a space station and then making love in a space capsule followed by more fights in space. Throughout Bond films you have villains with interesting idiosyncracies and female leads with funny names (Pussy Galore, Octopussy). The novels do not have the same flavour – and Ian Fleming as one of the prime screenwriters of the Bond franchisee had endorsed that. The difference was intentional. Bond had to be larger than life on screen – and all the actors starting from Sean Connery to Pierce Brosnan fit that role. The only ‘humane’ Bond that had come into being prior to Craig was George Lazenby in ‘On Her Majesty’s Secret Service’ – a film where Bond gets married and his wife is promptly bumped off by the villains. Needless to say, the movie didn’t work.

When ‘Casino Royale’ was released with Craig, it seemed that the movie was a conscious attempt to stick as close to the novel as possible. Bond no longer had interesting gadgets to back him up and is so desperately in love with Vesper that he decides to resign from his job. Considering the minimal violence that was used in the film (in spite of the breath-taking chase) and the realistic way of presentation – Craig passed off as the character that Fleming had originally conceived of. But ‘Quantum of Solace’ as ‘Casino Royale Part-II’ is not viable. Because Bonds ends up with mistakes, kills endlessly and yet survives the pink slip. Why? ‘Quantum of Solace’ is a conscious attempt to be somewhere in between the Bond as Fleming created him and Bond as the movies had portrayed him for years. But the attempt isn’t convincing enough. Because considering the damages that Bond finally brings to the fore – you don’t feel that it’s viable to keep him in this particular post and arm him with licenses to kill and fall in love. Bond retains his 007 responsibilities but remains the inductee that he started out as in his last movie. You can’t match the two figures.

Also, look at the year in which we are getting a working class Bond! When Fleming wrote Casino Royale he didn’t have access to the internet, Bond couldn’t use a cellphone or drive a car which had all the gadgets built into it. The movies were futuristic – they made promises of what were to come and since Bond proved himself to be an able patriot he had access to the latest research materials through Q a little earlier. Getting a Bond that is ages old is regressive – ‘Bond with the Best’ (as the Reid and Taylor advertisement goes) is no longer true. Instead we are stuck with a guy who tries age old tricks to break into a house when easier methods are available. Are we watching The History channel? Also, this guy doesn’t believe in using second grade facilities. In ‘Quantum of Solace’ Agent Fields takes him to a shady hotel as it can be good hideout, but what does Bond do? He immediately drives out and lands up in the closest five star suite – ‘cause shady hotels do not fit the brand positioning. On the other hand, Bond is going after the most topical environmental cause ever – the fight over water resources. The basic point is – the Bond creators need to make up their mind as to where does this curious character fit in. Because, very soon it will no longer be recognisable.

I won’t be surprised if in the next Bond movie, we find M searching a Monster database for the next best C.V with some interesting recommendations.

Picture source: http://www.indiana.edu/~liblilly/fleming/manuscripts.html

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Quantum of Bondness




INT: A PARTY

A lively evening in a party. A lady in a red noodle strap sipping wine at the bar. A man approaches in a black tuxedo, looks at her with piercing (soul searching?) blue eyes.

MAN: Bond. James Bond.

The lady turns, puts on a bored look.

LADY: Lost. Get Lost.


Cut


Nobody could have said that to a Pierce Brosnan. Not after those, "hmm, are you free tonight, then how about a ride in my Aston Martin" looks. But to the blonde, rustic, crash-boom-bam parkour-gang Daniel Craig? Well, the unthinkable might just happen. Someone in a red noodle strap might just turn her back and ask him to get lost. The reason... yes...you guessed... you can't distinguish between Danial Craig in "Quantum of Solace", Matt Damon in " The Bourne Ultimatum" and Van Damme in "Universal Soldier". After all the years and all the research that has gone into how James Bond was concieved and positioned, Daniel Craig is a 'never ending fighting machine' and stops at that. The quantum of bondness that has characterised the franchisee over the years is no longer there. At least for the first two movies "Casino Royale" and "Quantum of Solace".


Those of us, who tried saving some dough during schooldays from the weekly pocket money for a first row ticket to "Goldeneye" and then proudly fished out some more from the first month's salary for the gold class tickets of "Die Another Day" - "Quantum of Solace" is a tad different. There are craftily orchestrated action sequences, "Another Way to Die" sung by Jack White and Alicia Keys for the titles, breath-taking chases (in all kinds of vehicles), lively parkour, listening to information exchange in theatre auditoriums and hardly any witty exchanges. Yes, that's Bond. Blonde and unrecognisable to the core. 'Quantum of Solace' takes off from the premise where 'Casino Royale' ended. Bond, driven to madness and characteristic violence from the death of Vesper, is desperate to find out the face behind the betrayal. He travels from London to Paris to Haiti and finally to Bolivia to find the truth about the power-hungry General Madrano and Dominic Greene - the man who runs the mysterious organisation called Quantum. He has the beautiful Agent Fields (who ends up dead and swathed in oil after a ten minute screen presence) and the revenge-hungry Camille (Olga Kurylenko) for company.


Of course, there’s a rock-solid reason for this new Daniel Craig starring working-class Bond character. Bond isn’t Bond yet. He has just been promoted, he has tried to leave his job once, he has been suspended once and he’s about to enter the world of cold-hearted killers, business giants, megalomaniacs and environmentalist turned villains. He’s still the idealist who ignores his key result areas and tries to correct the big picture. He avoids red tape; he eliminates people who come between him and the cause and even gives MI6 a tough time in controlling him. Bond in his induction years is what gives “Casino Royale” and “Quantum of Solace” the only reason to justify their selection of Craig as the timeless spy. Bond is more human, more emotional, prone to mistakes and a total ram-into-everything character who goes a roundabout way to find the truth and leaves behind a trail of blood. We weren’t used to such a Bond, were we?
What happened to the chauvinistic, smooth-talking, well-attired double agent who won hearts simply because of his politically incorrect actions?

We are used to a Bond who loves his Martinis, his gadgets and his women. Even if we imagine that Craig is going through is ‘growing up’ years, then what makes him decide to have Agent Fields in bed, someone who’s already on his side? Of course, Craig is a ‘confused’ Bond, yet to grow up and yet to convince the audience that he is good enough to handle the gadgets and the women. As a consequence, what you are stuck up with is a man who jumps roofs, breaks into every building possible, kills without provocation and tries to imagine ‘M’ as the mother figure in his life. There’s no Q, no gadgets, no ‘shaken, not stirred’. Is it “Bond with an Oedipal Complex?” “Bond who has grown up watching Rambo movies?” We are not so sure.


“Quantum of Solace” has its moments, and scores over a lot of movies because of its breath-taking action sequences.

But…

All set and done…

Pierce! We’re missing you man… at least till Craig grows up!