This Video Hurts the Sentiments of Hindu’s [sic] Across the World


Title: Sita Sings The Blues

By: Nina Paley

I loved Nina Paley’s brilliant animated film Sita Sings the Blues. If you’re reading this, stop right now—and watch the film here.

Paley has set the story of the Ramayana to the 1920s jazz vocals of Annette Hanshaw. The epic tale is interwoven with Paley’s account of her husband’s move to India from where he dumps her by e-mail. The Ramayana is presented with the tagline: “The Greatest Break-Up Story Ever Told.”

All of this should make us curious. But there are other reasons for admiring this film:

The film returns us to the message that is made clear by every village-performance of the Ramlila: the epics are for everyone. Also, there is no authoritative narration of an epic. This film is aided by three shadow puppets who, drawing upon memory and unabashedly incomplete knowledge, boldly go where only pundits and philosophers have gone before. The result is a rendition of the epic that is gloriously a part of the everyday.

This idea is taken even further. Paley says that the work came from a shared culture, and it is to a shared culture that it must return: she has put the film on Creative Commons—viewers are invited to distribute, copy, remix the film.

Of course, such art drives the purists and fundamentalists crazy. On the Channel 13 website, “Durgadevi” and “Shridhar” rant about the evil done to Hinduism. It is as if Paley had lit her tail (tale!) and set our houses on fire!

The Hard Edges of Modern Lives


Title: Dev.D

By: Anurag Kashyap

This new film is the latest remake of Devdas, but what is equally interesting is the fact that it is in conversation with films made in the West. Unlike Bhansali’s more spectacular version of the older story, Anurag Kashyap’s Dev.D is a genuine rewriting of Sarat Chandra’s novel. Kashyap doesn’t flinch from depicting the individual’s downward spiral, but he also gives women their own strength. He has set out to right a wrong—or, at least, tell a more realistic, even redemptive, story. If these characters have lost some of the affective depth of the original creations, they have also gained the hard edges of modern lives.

We don’t always feel the pain of Kashyap’s characters, but we are able to more readily recognize them. Take Chandramukhi, or Chanda, who is a school-girl humiliated by the MMS sex-scandal. Her father, protective and patriarchal, says that he has seen the tape and thinks she knew what she was doing. “How could you watch it?” the girl asks angrily. And then, “Did you get off on it?” When was the last time a father was asked such a question on the Hindi screen? With its frankness toward sex and masturbation, Dev.D takes a huge step toward honesty. In fact, more than the obvious tributes to Danny Boyle’s Trainspotting, or the over-extended psychedelic adventure on screen, in fact, as much as the moody style of film-making, the candour of such questions make Dev.D a film that is truly a part of world cinema.

New York Cricket Club


Title: Netherland

By: Joseph O’Neill

Literate Indians should be familiar with Ashis Nandy’s remark: “Cricket is an Indian game accidentally discovered by the English.“ A Trinidadian Indian by the name of Chuck Ramkissoon, in Joseph O’Neill’s superbly inflected novel “Netherland”, is also fond of making bold pronouncements on the behalf of the game he wants to introduce to the U.S. “I’m saying that people, all people, Americans, whoever, are at their most civilized when they’re playing cricket. What’s the first thing that happens when Pakistan and India make peace? They play a cricket match…”

It’s now my turn to be bold: “Netherland” is more of an Indian novel than the recent, much feted, Indian fiction. This is not only because O’Neill’s novel feeds our national obsession with the game. Nor even its exquisite description of what transpires on the playing field: “…. where the white-clad ring of infielders, swanning figures on the vast oval, again and again converge in unison toward the batsman and again and again scatter back to their starting points, a repetition of pulmonary rhythm, as if the field breathed through its luminous visitors.” No. My pronouncement is based on the fact that the Indian characters in the book are highly individualized and yet fully global in their identity. “Netherland” is not a sociological-historical epic thesis, nor is it a shallow, cynical report on injustice in the hinterland. Rich in observation, reporting as much on the interior life as on the life outside, it is a captivating literary achievement. A masterpiece.

The Desperate Passion of Ben Foster


Title: 3:10 to Yuma

By: James Mangold

I could barely recognize Ben Foster in 3:10 to Yuma, but I was blown away just the same by him as in his star making turn from Hostage. What makes Foster so special in Yuma?

Yuma contains two of Hollywood’s finest: Russell Crowe and Christian Bale. Bale is excellent, Crowe a little too relaxed to be cock-sure-dangerous. Both are unable to provide the powder-keg relationship that the movie demands.

Into this void steps Ben Foster. He plays Charlie Prince, sidekick to Crowe’s dangerous and celebrated outlaw Ben Wade. When Wade is captured, Prince is infuriated. He initiates an effort suffused with desperate passion to rescue his boss.

Playing Prince with a mildly effeminate gait, Foster quickly becomes the movie’s beating heart. What struck me in particular was that Foster was able to balance method acting with just plain good acting. He plays his character organically but isn’t above drawing attention with controlled staginess.

Gradually, Foster’s willingness to control a scene blend in with that of Prince’s. Is the character manipulating his circumstances in the movie or is it the actor playing a fine hand? Foster is so entertaining, the answer is immaterial.

One Chai and a Wills Navy Cut


Title: Outside In

By: Pablo Bartholomew

Pablo Bartholomew’s beautiful photo-show “Outside In” opened in Manhattan a few evenings ago. The exhibition is being held at Bodhi Art in Chelsea. Black-and-white photographs from the seventies and the eighties—reflecting Bartholomew’s engagement with people and places in Delhi, Bombay, and Calcutta.

These are not the pictures that made Bartholomew famous. The undying image of the father brushing the dust from the face of the child he is burying—that was the iconic photograph from the Bhopal tragedy in 1984. It also won for Bartholomew, still in his twenties, the World Press Photo’s Picture of the Year Award.

The images in “Outside In” do not commemorate grim tragedies or celebrate well-publicised public events. Instead, they are documents that offer intimate recall of a period and a milieu. Please click here to look at these photographs.

People who share a context with the photographer will have their own private reading of the scenes. For me, they evoke days when happiness seemed only one chai and a Wills Navy Cut away. There is charm and candor in these scenes. And because the young believe they will live forever, there is nothing defensive or stuck-up or overly self-conscious about their faces and postures.

Even the language of the captions is true to this spirit: “Self-portrait after a trippy night…”; “Nona writing and Alok zonked out…”; “Hanging out with the Maharani Bagh gang….” The exhibition catalogue has a fine essay by Aveek Sen that has also been published in the latest issue of Biblio.

Brown is the New Black


Title: Loins of Punjab Presents

By: Manish Acharya

I’m coming to the party late—last weekend, for the first but not the last time, I watched Manish Acharya’s comedy, Loins of Punjab Presents. Behan____, what a film!

I will not rehearse the synopsis or plot, partly because of the lateness of the hour, but also because it is available here. Instead, let me note quickly that the comedy keeps ticking, and the attention to detail in all matters, from the plot to the casting, makes this film a pleasure to watch.

Let me use one scene to make a point about where the film is coming from. Ishitta Sharma, playing a demure, Gujju girl called Preeti Patel, is one of the competitors in the Desi Idol competition in New Jersey. We have watched her sing beautifully, and we have watched her stay silent, eyes downcast, as her family-members make fools of themselves. But there’s a moment later in the film, when an older, wily competitor, played with classy ease by Shabana Azmi, tries to manipulate her. And suddenly, in the blink of an eye, Preeti Patel turns upon the Shabana character. It’s as if she always had a dagger hiding in her hand.

When I saw that, I thought that there was a similar strength in the movie I was watching. It’s all laughs but it has a quicksilver intelligence within. It is a declaration of independence by the desi diaspora—and what is great is that it celebrates this freedom by mocking, and loving, almost everything in sight.

Winding Up


Title: Time to Leave

By: François Ozon

A couple of evenings ago, my cousin Debika and I were discussing how we’d react if we were told we had just a few months to live. She said she would try and do everything she liked in that time, and surround herself with her family. I said that I’d be inclined to save people I cared for the pain of watching me die—whatever that took. Ironically and unexpectedly, shortly after this conversation, we found ourselves watching François Ozon’s remarkable film Time to Leave.

The film begins with its protagonist, Romain, discovering that he is terminally ill with cancer, and deciding not to bother with treatment. He does not tell his friends or family of his condition. He is rude to his sister, and drives her to tears. He tells his lover, Sasha, that he does not love him, and drives him to move out of their house. This is a transparent lie, but though we see it, Sasha doesn’t. He confides to his grandmother—marvellously played by Jeanne Moreau—because she is like him, and “will die soon.” But even in this winding up, complications ensue.

Melvil Poupaud plays Romain, and is magnificent – understated, yet effortlessly expressive. But it is Ozon’s storytelling that makes this film memorable. It is spare, focussing only on the essential, and revealing its essence. There is not a frame out of place in this heartbreaking film that ends, like Romain, too soon and in great beauty.

Vintage Vega


Title: Beauty and Crime

By: Suzanne Vega

Over ten years ago, Suzanne Vega hit a terribly sexy groove with an album called Nine Objects of Desire that made me seek out every CD she has done since then. She’s kept us waiting for six years for her new studio effort, but it’s such vintage Vega that the reward is well worth the wait.

The first thing to note on Beauty & Crime is that producer Jimmy Hogarth and mixer Tchad Blake  have tuned the album’s tracks entirely to suit Vega’s rather inflexible, breathy voice. With the sonic help, Vega is freed up to focus on enunciating the layers behind her lyrics. Yet Hogarth and Blake also manage to seed each song with finely crafted arrangements and subtle hooks that make them musically interesting.

Although Vega uses a large canvas to record her ruminations, her most touching songs are those that are personal. On “Ludlow Street” she quietly mourns the passing of her brother: “I find each stoop and doorway’s incomplete/without you there”.

On the superbly produced “Bound”, she seems to be confirming her longtime friend Paul Mills’s continuing interest in her after her divorce from Michael Froom in 2001. On “As You Are Now” she manages – against all odds – to fit in a parent’s love for her child in four sweet verses.

Independence Day


Title: Jashn-e-Azadi; Kashmir poll on azadi; 13 December: A Reader

By: Sanjay Kak; Indian Express-CNN/IBN; Various

I’m writing this on August 15. It is our Independence Day. A young Kashmiri Muslim told me in Srinagar a few months ago that this is the day on which everyone there tries to stay indoors. This is not because the people support Pakistan, but because they are most suspect on August 15. You are questioned, searched, and locked. If any of the readers have had a chance to view Sanjay Kak’s powerful documentary Jashn-e-Azadi (How We Celebrate Freedom) you’ll see how Sanjay, coming in to Srinagar for a visit around Independence Day, is struck by the fact that the only people present for the ceremony are the cops and members of the armed forces. (That’s Rave Out #1. For Jashn-e-Azadi.)

Last week’s announcement of the Indian Express-CNN/IBN poll, that an overwhelming majority of Kashmiris in the valley want azadi, also underlines the importance of a genuine rethinking on the question of independence rather than empty, nationalist sabre-rattling. (Anyway, that’s Rave Out #2. For Indian Express and CNN/IBN, as well as the good folk at CSDS who designed the poll.)

This is a good day for re-opening the pages of 13 December: A Reader, in which thirteen writers and journalists point out the injustice involved in the quick media-lynching of SAR Geelani and the denial of a fair trial to Afzal Guru. (This would be Rave Out #3, for the book, although wouldn’t it be great if the book weren’t needed?)

Snogworthy jams + social commentary


Title: Charango

By: Morcheeba

Once while eating dinner in Montreal, our friendly, intoxicated waitress plopped herself in my lap and proceeded to tell us about how obsessed she was with the CD that was playing – singing out the lyrics at an ungodly volume and flinging her arms about. Wow, I thought to myself, people who listen to Morcheeba sure seem to have a lot of fun, and promised to check them out.

Several CDs later, they are firmly one of my favorites. And their trip hop meditation, 2003’s Charango remains one of my most played CDs.

Morcheeba (Mor = more, Cheeba = pot) are brothers Ross and Paul Godfrey with singer Skye Edwards (who has since been replaced). Part trance, part ambience, Charango is full of smooth, snogworthy jams. And just as you surrender to its seductive groove, Slick Rick shows up with a rap called “Women Lose Weight”.

Lamenting his wife putting on weight after having kids and stalled by his mistress who wants a clean break before she shacks up with him, he decides the easiest way out of it all is to kill the spouse. Considering different ways to do the deed, he finally rams his car into her Chevy over a long lunch break one fine day. It is an unexpected, stunning, tongue-in-cheek social commentary that makes it a CD you won’t forget easily.