A particularly pointless post…

What’s with Tamil cinema? No, let me correct myself! What’s with B-grade Tamil cinema? Most of them are stupid love stories made with unrecognizable actors with totally contrived situations and even more contrived fight sequences! Like the one that was playing some time back on Jaya TV. Hero and heroine are in love, but they have never seen each other. They run around the city playing hide and seek before landing up on the same train. The minute they see each other, they hug and kiss and live happily every after! And before you ask, I didn’t waste time watching. You know the entire plot in less than 45 seconds of the climax scene. That way, I must admit the story is conveyed with incredible effectiveness! Change channel, one more love story with an equally nonsensical storyline. Boy meets girl and falls for her. Girl’s father is the villain. You see, he wants the boy to first get a job and then ask for his daughter! Oh the scandal! After much argument, tears, running away, coming back “Kaathalukku Mariyaathai” style…dad says ok! And they live happily ever after!

No matter how many times you change channels and to which language, you’re met with much the same bullshit masquerading as love stories. Makes Mills and Boon romances seem like they deserve the Man Booker! Oh! You don’t know what they are? Good for you! Means you’ve never been corrupted by impossibly perfect heroes and heroines. Practically every Mills and Boon has the same plot, and the same set of characters. Just the names and places change. Let me enlighten you! Heroes are always tall, dark and handsome. They are dashing princes of a feudal era, or self-made millionaires, or hotshot executives. They are uniformly over 6 feet in height with straight dark hair and a regal demeanour. And did I tell you they are also sensitive, amazing cooks, don’t mind babysitting and changing diapers? C’mon! Of course it’s not possible! But you’re supposed to suspend disbelief people! Who asked you to use your brains? That’s meant for lesser mortals!

Oh! The heroine? Sure…here we go! She is not more than a couple of inches above five feet in height. You see, our publishers seem to have a problem with tall heroines? Perhaps they are too intimidating? They have jobs of course! A secretary, or a clerk or maybe, if she is particularly talented, a receptionist. She is shy…terrified more like! Of the hero of course. He’s Mr. Perfect after all. Demure, submissive and whatnot! She may or may not be dumb. But if she really is intelligent, she never uses it against her man. You see…we want our women to be traditional, yet modern!

The plot is quite simple really! Complexity is too difficult for our minds to grasp. Boy meets girl. They hate each other at first sight. After much fighting, the heroine trips over (or meets with an accident, or chips a nail) and hurts herself. And our dear Mr. Perfect is around to nurse her back to health! Now, what stupid woman wouldn’t want a man to wait on her hand and foot? Hell! I would! I’d even feign illness so he pampers me! And bingo! They fall in love. About 50 pages later (overcoming obstacles posed by jealous ex-lover, villain of an uncle, inheritance, etc etc.) they walk into the sunset holding hands!

And what happens after that? Shhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh! It’s a romance novel dammit! Not a tragedy!

Assorted thoughts…

I finished read “The Reluctant Fundamentalist” by Mohsin Hamid a few days ago. Okay-ish story, interesting style, but the character seems to lack depth. I am not very convinced about why he decided to turn anti-America. Was it because his girlfriend (was she ever that?) was too enamoured with her dead ex to be truly his girlfriend? Or was it because of the situation back home? Or maybe because he suddenly faced suspicion despite his American demeanour, his wine-drinking ways and his Princeton education? I don’t have the answers. It’s just that the book didn’t manage to touch my heart.

Sticking to the books, I am now reading “P.S. I Love You.” Mushy, depressing and ultra-romantic. Doesn’t quite sit well with my current mood. But, I’ll hold my judgement until I finish the book!

Over the past week, my thoughts have swung rather wildly from philosophy to literature to cinema to pointless pondering. One such pointless pondering involves a bit of introspection. Why do we, as human beings, constantly seeks acceptance and approval from others to simply be ourselves? Yeah! I am talking about myself. Guilty as charged! Ever ready to say sorry just to avoid conflict, wanting to please all and sundry despite being possibly the most unpredictable person on the planet and feeling miserable about not being able to live up to expectations, I understand now that I have hurt myself more than others have hurt me.

Someone told me about 10 days ago that my only flaw of character was that was overly emotional. He said that if I learnt to control my emotions and not allow them to rule over my rather intelligent brain, I would be a better person. I argued at that point that he was wrong, that emotions were good and that they made me human. But 10 days on, I wonder if he was right. Maybe…just maybe, I need to learn to be more practical and pragmatic rather than emotional and impulsive. Maybe I need to feel more confident about myself and tell people to go to hell if they didn’t like me for who I was. Just maybe. And maybe, like he said…there was really nothing wrong with me apart from being hypersensitive and emotional.

I’ve been trying, over the past week to be less emotional. In the past, I have shed tears that I now realize were entirely unnecessary. I realize that those tears, however justified, conveyed that I was weak and made people take me for granted. But today, I make this solemn promise to myself: I refuse to live life by someone else’s expectations. I refuse to be burdened by those ideals that someone else has of a perfect woman. I also refuse to be compared in any way with anyone who is not me, no matter how perfect the person may be! I promise myself that I will just be me!

The Immortals of Meluha – A Review

Despite strong recommendation, I almost passed up this book at Odyssey the other day. You see, I have a problem with book recommendations. The last time I listened to someone, the book turned out to be a waste of my precious 300 rupees! So, I took every book on the list Praveen sent me with a pinch of salt. I picked each up, carefully read the blurb, then a couple of pages and then decided to buy…or not! But my! What a book this one turned out to be! It’s after a very long time that a book has delighted me the way this one has managed to. So much so that I have actually decided to write a review! This is perhaps the first time I am writing a review of a book, since book reviews have always reminded me of that horrible time in school when the librarian would insist we write one for the books we borrowed during the weekly library hour. I hated the chore and invariably copied the blurb down, like everyone else, even if I had actually read the book. But this time, reviewing is straight from the heart.

The story starts at the Mansarovar lake at the foot of Mount Kailash, and depicts Shiva staring thoughtfully at the orange sky. The first few pages, his conversations with his best friend Bhadra, his confusion about the right path, his determination to do his best, whatever that might lead to…all of these immediately appeal to your senses. Actually, the idea of a God being nothing more than a common human with common flaws, is quite delightful. I have spoken of my discomfort with the deification of Ram before, but in this book there is nothing of the perfection that we tend to so commonly associate with a God. If anything, Shiva is a normal man, not even a perfect one. He is an average Indian male with his share of insecurities, his problems, his fears… yes, his love for Sati, his desire to get her, and even his mischievous sense of humour, often laced with a subtle sexuality (oh! the scandal!) and a clear-thinking, rational mind. As a reader, I couldn’t help falling in love with him simply because he is so normal. As someone who is tired of perfection in Gods, this book was a total delight! The first of a trilogy, you don’t see Shiva as the God of Gods. You see him as a man, a passionate lover, a perfect dancer, a fierce warrior, an expert swordsman and a fair and honest human being. In fact, he even has a troubled past: as someone who ran away from a call for help!

The second character that appeals in the book is, undoubtedly, Sati. Forced to be an outcast for no fault of hers, she silently bears her fate with a certain stoicism. But, there is nothing resigned about her demeanour. She struggles to contain her attraction to, and eventually love for Shiva. She fights to retain the delicate balance between passion and duty. She is an extraordinarily beautiful woman, well-read, compassionate, a consummate dancer and an expert warrior in her own right. Anything Shiva can do, Sati can do better! Except, as the legend goes, dance. There is even a reference to the legend with Shiva offering to teach Sati dance.

Then there are the Chandravanshis, painted from the outset as a vile race, ready to consort even with the wretched, sub-human Nagas for victory. The vision we have of them at the end of the book, however, is completely different. They are the very antithesis of the Suryavanshis: their motto being: Shringar, Saundarya, Swatantrata as against Satya, Dharma, Maan of the Suryavanshis. The passion of the Chandravanshis, their temperamental nature, their confidence about their sexuality; all of these contrast sharply with the somewhat prudish, rule-obsessed and extremely disciplined Suryavanshis. Together, they form the Yin and the Yang, the heart and the mind, the masculine and the feminine. Each of the characters, while drawing heavily on mythology, is also a complete human in his/her right. Each has his flaws, his problems, his strength and his weaknesses. And the author stays faithful to the original myth, while still managing to make his characters look believable.

The book is definitely a page-turner, written as it is, in the manner of a thriller. No high-brow stuff, thank you very much. The author sticks to simple English and does not try to cater to an elite audience. This simplicity of narration is perhaps the strength of the book. It managed to catch your attention without descending to the level of pulp fiction. He manages to tackle the complex concepts of divinity and duality, of Dvaita and Advaita in simple terms. Our hero comes across as someone who believes in action rather than in obtuse philosophy, while still appearing extremely intelligent. In fact, in several instances, Shiva ribs the Suryavanshis and their priests, asking if they never talk in simple terms, if they always believe in talking in riddles!

The plot is simple, and the author seems to have made a conscious effort to keep it that way, shedding all the flab that mythological stories inevitably accumulate over the years. There is a sense of coherence in the plot, even for someone who grew up listening to the sanitized, TamBrahm version of Hinduism where every God had to be perfect and where there was no room for vices such as anger, fear, desire, or lust. Also, there is a certain lightness about the tone of narration and you chuckle with a quiet delight when the Chandravanshi king responds to the Suryavanshi request to hand over the terrorists in a letter through an emissary. “Please accept my deep condolences for the dastardly attack on Mount Mandar,” he says. Denying that he has any role to play in the attacks, he offers every help possible to investigate the case and help in bringing the criminals to justice. At this point, you are so sure that the vile Chandravanshis are the terrorists, that you can’t help remember our neighbours’ being charitable and offering to investigate the Mumbai attacks!

If you like Indian mythology, but are not so religious or dogmatic that you would object to humanizing a God, you should probably read this book. At the end of the book, you may not be as devoted a follower of Shiva as you used to be, but you will certainly see in him a friend, a philosopher, a fantastic dancer and perhaps even a man as near to perfection as one is likely to find in a real world! Definitely recommended, even if it is only as light reading.

The accidental writer…

A new year…a new beginning. Just as a new year often signifies a new beginning, it has, this time, signified the birth of my brand new URL. For long, I have been toying with the idea of migrating away from my existing domain amruthaupendran.com. Not that I have anything against my name, but that I think it’s time to detach myself from this and give this space it’s very own identity. Before you ask, of course this is going to continue to be a personal blog. And no, I am not planning to go anonymous. As I mentioned sometime back, the decision to blog under my real name was taken when I had no idea that it was even possible to stay anonymous and still be widely-read. After 4 long years, I will not go back on that decision now.

As I was contemplating the new URL, it struck me that I am a blogger, a writer, entirely by accident. Over a casual conversation, the suggestion to start a blog came to me. And I registered my first blog on blogger with an air of someone doing it out of sheer boredom. And then, something happened. As I wrote, I realized that this is what I truly wanted. I realized that this blog was getting to be my personal rant-space. Slowly but surely, I began to take myself, and my writing more seriously. Since then, there has been no looking back. The process of migrating to a new domain has been alarmingly simple. I wonder if something is going to break down somewhere. If it does, please do let me know at the earliest, so that I can do my bit of fire-fighting.

Enough said! It is with a sense of accomplishment and pride, that I present before each of you, my new URL. Please do leave a comment, write to me, send me an FB message, DM me on Twitter or call me to tell me what you think of it. Until next time…ciao!

Cupid’s Arrow!

I watched Manmadhan Ambu about two weeks ago, and haven’t found the urge to write about it yet. I think now is the time, because the film has sunk in better and I am in a better position to comment. I’ll try and break up this review into parts, so as to do justice to the different aspects of the film.

Genre

What is this strange genre that Kamal has been trying to perfect for the last 5 years? Is this a musical, a romance, a comedy or a drama? We have no clue but I found the mix both intriguing and interesting. For those people who think this wasn’t like Panchatantram, I only have one thing to say: If you walk into a theatre expecting Manmadhan Ambu to be like Panchatantram and come out disappointed, don’t blame Kamal for it. He would have named it Panchatantram 2 if he wanted it to be like that!

Story

Let’s face it! The storyline is mediocre. It’s about an actress who decides to take a vacation to Europe pre-marriage to get a bit of perspective on her relationship with her overly-suspicious boyfriend. The boyfriend in question, in the meantime, decides to hire a detective to trail her to figure out if she is having an affair. So far, so good. Nothing to write home about and nothing outstandingly special about the story.

Screenplay

This is perhaps the first time I am able to poke holes in Kamal’s otherwise water-tight scripting. Why does the flashback involving the start of Ambu’s problems with Madhan have to rewind three years? What happened in the intervening time? Why did Ambu choose to stick to the relationship for three years before deciding she need a break away from the prying eyes of her fiancé? One possible explanation is that she needed to complete her film assignments and that it took her three years to do so. After finishing her assignments, she could have decided to take that break before settling down to wedded bliss. But, this is not very clear and leaves the average viewer wondering about the timeframe.

Second, how do Ambu and Major end up falling in love? Where and how does that romance develop? I get the feeling that the deleted scenes featuring Kamal’s poem might have held the key to the developing of that romance. The film has suffered greatly because of the lack of continuity between those scenes. Somehow, we as viewers don’t really identify with that romance or that tenderness. We can’t understand why Ambu suddenly chooses to declare that she loves Major. I mean, how? If the deletion has harmed the script this much, I think Kamal should be very angry indeed!

Finally, I had serious problems accepting that the death of a spouse due to the carelessness of someone could be so easily forgiven. How can a man, knowing fully well that the woman standing before him has caused him immeasurable pain, forgive her so easily that he has no problems falling for her? It can happen, but without that time given to develop the transition, it seems unrealistic.

Dialogue

Borderline philosophy (Nallavangalukku thimiru thaan veli), subtle provocation (featuring blouse hooks and pant zips), Ambu’s disgust at having to explain the connecting doors between her and Surya’s dressing rooms, Deepa’s declaration that the matrimony was bad but the alimony was good…many examples of Kamal’s take on relationships coupled with humour typical of him, complete with wordplay and wit.

Music

I liked it. I loved the way the songs have been set in such a way that they don’t really hamper the progress of the story. Of course you can’t compare DSP with Ilayaraja. Even entertaining such a thought is sacrilege. But, I think we should give him credit for having tried. The Neelavanam song is superb, both in the way it’s picturized and in the melody by itself. The others are peppy dance numbers. What did we expect when watching a movie with music by DSP? Carnatic music? He has lived up to the standard he has set for himself. Nothing more, nothing less.

Kamal’s musical adventure

Call me a die-hard Kamal fan, I don’t care! He was simply superb in this new avatar as poet! I flipped the first time I heard the Kamal Kavithai. Written in impeccable Tamil and recited by Kamal himself, there is nothing mediocre about this composition. Of course, this is not a song; it’s a dramatic dialogue. That’s what makes it more real. I found that this song was one aspect of stage theatre that the film adapted. And I loved it. The other songs, especially Neelavanam have beautiful lyrics, if only we stop to listen!

The small stuff

Apart from these, there were small things that worked in favour of the film. Usha Uthup’s diction, although a bit stilted, sounded a more authentic version of “Brahmin Baashai” than the crap we are used to in Tamil cinema. Madhavan’s characterization of the drunkard was too good to miss. Sangeetha’s almost-perfect comic timing was an added delight. On the whole, I think both Madhavan and Sangeetha outperformed Trisha and Kamal in the film.

Did anyone notice how Madhavan is ultimately stuck between two mothers? First, it’s his mother who creates the discord between him and his girlfriend. Then, he end up with a mother (Sangeetha) because he finds her babying cute and reassuring! Oedipus Complex? I have no idea! And, I must credit Praveen for this observation. He was mentioning this sometime when we were discussing the film!

On the whole, Manmadhan Ambu is far from perfect. It has many flaws and many problems. But, this did not really hamper my enjoyment of the film. This film is an experiment. But, this experiment was only about half successful. Maybe a few more cross-over films (between genres, I mean) will help Kamal perfect this genre and make him pace the screenplay out better. My final verdict would be that this is definitely watchable, preferably in theatre. Once.

Of marriage, MBA and communication skills!

I just saw this blogpost by Rashmi Bansal. She’s blogging after a rather long break and it’s good to see her back! But, to get back to the point, she touches upon issues that are varied and yet pertinent and most probably interconnected. As far as small-town, tier 3 B-schools are concerned, the truth is that today, a B-school degree is “buyable”. You don’t need any degree of competence or intelligence to actually acquire an MBA and apart from the top-rung institutions, not many B-schools offer quality management education. There are, of course, exceptions to that rule, but B-schools, by and large, money-spinners rather than educational institutions.

I think Rashmi is better-qualified to comment on the state of management education in India that I am. My concern for the moment is the plight of that girl who is a first-year B-school student and whose parents want to see her married to a “suitable boy”. As far as the marriage market is concerned, it’s a case of “damned if you do, and damned if you don’t.” A girl needs to acquire a decent degree, better still, a post-graduate degree to be considered a “saleable” commodity in the marriage market. After all, every man wants a smart, well-educated and articulate wife. Even better if the said post-graduate degree is a “professional” one! But that’s where we draw the line. A smart, well-educated, articulate, beautiful girl who has a degree or three must however, not be assertive or have a mind of her own. You’re damned if you choose not to study beyond the mandatory first degree because nobody wants a dumb bride! You’re also damned if you make unconventional life choices and study beyond the universally-accepted MBA!

So, the ideal scenario would be that a woman acquire those desirable traits to make herself desirable in the marriage market. And pray, what are those desirable traits? A post-graduate degree (preferably in management) but not more, articulate speech, beauty (a.k.a a bleached “fair and lovely” fairness), and a desire to be a doormat for the rest of her life! What have you? Do they even make women this way any more? More and more women I know are working not because they have to, but because they want to. More and more women are choosing to make careers and not just get jobs. But, the attitude of the men doesn’t seem to be changing. Ok! Perhaps I am being a bit harsh here. Men are changing, they are beginning to accept and even appreciate brains in a woman. But their parents still seem stuck in the 13th Century!

When will we, as a society get over this dual obsession: of acquiring pointless “professional” degrees nobody ever uses and of finding our children “suitable” boys and girls? When will we understand that the number of degrees you possess is no indicator of just how intelligent you are? When will we manage to figure out that intelligent is an asset and not a liability? If ever!