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Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Homeland

I was not really a fan of most-talked about America TV show Homeland. I saw the first season much later, perhaps, together with the second season. I found it fascinating, especially how they located a fictional story within the context of real life crisis, using the names of real-life organisations, the CIA, among others. I also found Claire Danes awe-inspiring. I had always liked her, and she was brilliant here. There was another break till the third season, which I saw, all the episodes together, in a span of two days. Seeing a weekly TV show together, episodes after episodes, can give you a very different perspective about the whole thing. I liked the way they closed the Brody affair. In one sense, the saga of Homeland was over.

Then came the fourth season, and I was somewhat curious as to what they would do now, and I guess, I have lots of spare time. So, I am watching the series from the beginning, week after week, and I have some bones to pick.

While the plot of the season, set exclusively in Islamabad, Pakistan, is going from crazy to crazier, there are other issues I had problems with. First, the language. As far as I know, Pakistanis speak the sonorous Urdu. But the language the characters use is a very bad version of Urdu. It sounded more like Hindi, that too, as if it was translated from English by a software like a Google Translator. And, some of the minor characters speak the language with a pronounced American accent. Could not they find some local actors to play those small roles? Couldn’t they find a language coach? This is a basic courtesy to get the locale right. Or perhaps, the makers thought since the show is being watched by the Americans, no other language matters. They would read the subtitles. For example, when a bomb blast victim wakes up and asks for him mothers, this girl taking care of him says, Mujhe maaf karo (literally, I am sorry!). In subtitle, it is understood. I am sorry means, in English, your mother is dead. But in Hindi/Urdu, it does not make sense. Why should the girl seek forgiveness, when asked such a question? It’s completely bizarre.

To save the face, however, there are at least two Indian actors who can speak their Hindi, Suraj Sharma of Life of Pi and Nimrat Kaur of The Lunchbox, both get meatier roles and both speak almost correct Hindi, whenever required.

Sharma in particular is luckier. He gets to play another young, innocent and clueless boy in a midst of a larger conspiracy and he does it very well. And, then, he gets to kiss Claire Danes. How many Indian actors can claim to have accomplished this? Not that the physical activities between the Danes character and Sharma character were anything but erotic. It was really uncomfortable to watch our feisty heroine seduce a clueless young man to ‘turn’ him. He ‘turned’, to disastrous consequences.

There are four more episodes to go, and like always, Homeland is in murky waters.

A note on Art Malik, who plays a Pakistani minister. I was sort of surprised to see him grow old. I still remember him play the Hollywood blockbuster terrorist against Arnold Schwarzenegger in James Cameron’s True Lies. That was a movie.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Elizabeth Ekadashi

What’s with the recent crop of Marathi movies and their fascination with children? I don’t know where the trend started, perhaps with Shwaas (2004), the story of a blind kid and his grandfather, which was a certified box office hit, and India’s entry to the Oscars that year. Of course, there was the eternal favourite Shyamsi Aai (1953), based on the book by the great Sane Guruji.

Yet, in the recent times, we have seen a load of Marathi movies, with commercial expectations, that puts a child/or children in the centre of the narrative, and frankly, they are all fascinating. Off the cuff, I remember Tingya (2008), Shaala (2011) Khel Mandala (2012), Balak Palak (2012), and most recently, Fundry (2014).

None of these are children’s movies per say, if such a concept exists. They are films more targeted at the adults than children and position the child protagonist within a complex social cultural reality. In Tingya, it is about the rural community and the child’s love for the bull, in Shaala, a school romance during the times of emergency, in Khel Mandala, though a little muddled, the fate of migrant workers in Mumbai, in Balak Palak, to put it straightforwardly, the need for sex education, and in much-acclaimed Fundry, the evils of untouchability which still exists in the villages and small towns.

Now, comes another film with children at the centre, but with a larger theme surrounding it. The film is Paresh Mokashi’s follow-up of another Oscar entry from India, Harichandrachi Factory (2009), Elizabeth Ekadashi.

I found the title fascinating. The film is set in the temple-town of Pandharpur, where ekadashis (eleventh day of the lunar month according to the Hindu calendar), are auspicious and a large number of devotees of Vithalla (or Vithoba) come to take a dip at the holy river Chandrabhaga. But why Elizabeth? For that you will have to watch the film, which also involves a shiny bicycle, by the way.

My friends from Pune report that the film is doing well in the theatres and it is actually a fun film to watch.

The film has also been selected to IFFI 2014, and now, somewhat predictably, right wing groups have taken umbrage to the title. According to news reports, according to right wing groups, the title Elizabeth Ekadashi is misleading, and, predictably, it hurts the religious sentiments of the Hindus. The less we say on this subject is better.

Friday, November 14, 2014

North East in Google Doodle today, Friday, November 14, 2014. On the occasion of Children’s Day/

Dan Brown

After three early novels, American author Dan Brown finally achieved a cult status with the publication of The Da Vinci Code (2003). The rest, as they say, is history. For the 50-year-old author, however, his romance with the written word started early. “I wrote my first book at the age of five,” he told an adoring crowd, mostly comprising of screaming youngsters, during the Penguin Annual Lecture 2014, held at Siri Fort Auditorium in New Delhi on 10 November.

Of course, he dictated the novel, and his mother wrote it for him. “It had cardboard covers and had a print run of one,” Brown said, holding the ‘book’ with the cardboard cover, for the benefit of his audience. On it was scrawled the title, written obviously by a child’s hand. And the title? “The Giraffe, the Pig and Pants of Fire”.

“And, of course, it was a thriller,” he quipped.

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Avijit Ghosh wrote a very generous review on the talk, Brown’s first visit to India, in The Times of India. HERE.

On the other hand, Mayank Austen Soofi wasn’t impressed. His review HERE.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Meeting the demands of a Booker-winning title

Dibyajyoti Sarma

In a world where the market for printed books is gradually taken over by ebooks, a global literary award like the Man Booker Prize is equally a business opportunity for the publisher of the award-winning book, as it the triumph of the written words.

Traditionally, for a publisher, the Booker Prize is the beginning of a bestselling title. For example, author Hilary Mantel’s winning novels, Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies, exceeded a million copies in their UK editions, published by Fourth Estate. The same way, Granta, the publisher of Eleanor Catton’s 2013 winner, The Luminaries, sold 300,000 copies of the book in the UK and almost 500,000 worldwide.

The rush for the book starts as soon as the award is announced, and ideally, bulk copies of the book should be available with retailers, both physical bookshops and online, and ideally, the award-winning book should sport a new cover or jacket, proclaiming the honour received.

This is how it is achieved, which itself story of remarkable achievement in print.

This year, the Man Booker Prize was conferred on Australian author Richard Flanagan for his ‘savagely beautiful’ novel ‘The Narrow Road to the Deep North’, published by Chatto & Windus (Penguin Random House Group), on 14 October, 2014.

For the publishers and the printers, the work starts much before, from the time the Booker shortlist is announced. The printers for each of the shortlisted book remain on standby, awaiting the results. As soon as the winning title is declared, the press goes on an overdrive, not only printing additional copies, but also printing a new jacket/cover, featuring the ‘winner’ label.

According to Neil Bradford, divisional production director, Penguin Random House, UK, the publisher of this year’s winning title, the weeks leading up to the announcement are the most exciting of the year for publishers. “Preparations are made to maximise the benefits of the victory. ‘Winner’ jacket flashes are designed, approved and put in place. Paper is purchased and delivered, and dummy purchase orders are in place ensuring an immediate response to the news,” says Bradford.

Now, we come to India’s contribution to the Booker Prize.

‘The Narrow Road to the Deep North’ was printed at Replika Press, based in Sonipat, Haryana, winner of this year’s PWI Post-Press Company of the Year award. As soon as the award was announced on October 14, Replika Press was issued the challenge to deliver 18,000 copies by October 17, directly to customers and warehouses in the Delhi area and beyond.

“Frankly, if you can’t get worked up about the Man Booker Prize, you are in the wrong business. I do get worked up about this and expect the same of my suppliers,” says Bradford, adding that Replika stood true to the expectations. The result is for everyone to see, and Bradford is all praise for Replika’s work ethic, not just in the quality of its work, but also for prompt delivery within a tight deadline.

The book is a Demy sewn hardback, 464 pages in length, with a four-colour jacket printed on uncoated paper with embossed lettering. To do this within 72 hours would have been a tall order for any printing press. Replika kept its word and within time, this despite the fact that it was election time in Haryana, which had cut down the manufacturing time to no more than 60 hours.

“Our supplier for the Man Booker Prize Winner 2014 was Replika Press. We knew that they qualified under all the necessary criteria having worked miracles during the period when, first of all, ‘Slumdog Millionaire’ and then the phenomenal ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ dominated the bestseller charts around the world,” says Bradford.

He lauds the printer’s work ethics, saying, “Replika wiped sleep from their eyes, leapt from their beds and raced into action...” He adds: “I cannot praise enough the efforts and professionalism of Bhuvnesh Seth, his sons Sanandan and Vikaran and their colleagues. Once again they have illustrated the increasingly massive contribution of Indian suppliers to the book publishing world.”

Bradford says Penguin Random House has contracts with both Replika Press and Thomson Press in India for the production of the company’s A, B, Demy and Royal b/w books. The book has been as a hardback and a trade paperback in the UK. Bradford said there will be a B format mass-market edition in 2015, to be printed by UK-based printer CPI.

Explaining the sudden rush to print extra copies of the book, Bradford says, nobody in right mind will hold huge quantities of books in the warehouse in the expectation that they will win. Yet, the winning title immediately generates a great demand, and there are chances that the available physical stock of the book would immediately be consumed. Once this happens, there remains a vacuum until the void is filled by reprint.

“Since the advent of the ebook, gauging the correct number of books has become increasingly difficult. The moment the news of the winning book is released, e-reading devices go in a download frenzy. The key is to have a flexible, responsive and, crucially, dedicated supplier that understands the business, communicates well and reacts to the situation,” Bradford says, adding that Replika stood true to all the expectations.

A ‘magnificent novel of love and war’, ‘The Narrow Road to the Deep North’ tells the harrowing stories of prisoners and captors on the Burma railway during WWII. With the win, Flanagan becomes the third Australian to win the prize, after Thomas Keneally (‘Schindler’s Ark’) and Peter Carey (‘Oscar and Lucinda’, ‘True History of Kelly Gang’).

Questioning the meaning of heroism, ‘The Narrow Road to the Deep North,’ named after a famous Japanese book by the haiku poet Basho, explores what motivates acts of extreme cruelty and shows that perpetrators may be as much victims as those they abuse. Flanagan’s father, who died the day he finished ‘The Narrow Road to the Deep North’, was a survivor of the Burma Death Railway.

In addition to his £50,000 prize and trophy, Flanagan also receives a designer bound edition of his book, and a further £2,500 for being shortlisted.

In the UK, the book was printed by CPI, in the repeat of the Replika story, delivering 80,000 copies within 72 hours.

The Replika story

Talking to PrintWeek India in December 2013, Bhuvnesh Seth, managing director, Replika, explained the success story. “We supply books which are on par with the international standards. Our quality control is not compromised. Our exports percentage to developed countries, like the UK, the US, and Germany is much higher. We have a strong presence in these countries. Now, over a period of more than two decades we have built a reputation among esteemed international publishers,” Seth said.

And the key to impress the international client? “First, you have to honour your word. This contract has to be sacrosanct. Besides, you have to be prompt to communicate, more so, if there is some delay. There should be no room for ambiguity on this score. Needless to state, quality and volume play a part. We are successful in meeting these requirements since we have all our operations under one roof. In UK, most publishers are aware of Replika’s body of work,” he added.

Booker trivia

The Man Booker Prize for Fiction is in its 46th year. PH Newby was the first winner of the prize in 1969 with ‘Something to Answer For’.

From 2002, the prize became the Man Booker Prize when the Man Group plc came on board as sponsor.

Since 1969, 30 men and 16 women have won the prize.

The Booker Prize initially awarded £5,000 to its winners. The prize money doubled in 1978 to £10,000, and today the winner receives £50,000. Each of the shortlisted authors receives £2,500.

The shortest winning novel in the history of the prize was ‘Offshore’ by Penelope Fitzgerald, at 132 pages, in 1979. Ian McEwan's ‘On Chesil Beach’ and Julian Barnes’ ‘The Sense of an Ending’ were just slightly longer.

The longest winning novel in the prize’s history was ‘The Luminaries’ by Eleanor Catton, in 2013, at 832 pages.

Eleanor Catton became the youngest winner in 2013, aged just 28. Previously, Ben Okri held this title, winning in 1991 at the age of 32; Aravind Adiga was 33 when he won in 2008. Salman Rushdie was 34 when he won in 1981. Kiran Desai had been the youngest woman to win the prize in 2006, aged 35.

Jonathan Cape is the publisher with the highest number of winning titles, with eight winners.

Two authors have won the prize with their first and, so far, only novels: Keri Hulme, with ‘The Bone People’ in 1985 and Arundhati Roy, with ‘The God of Small Things’ in 1997.


[A very different version of the story appeared in PrintWeek India, December 10, 2014]

Friday, November 07, 2014

Rang Rasiya

Talk about mixed reviews. The reviews for Rang Rasiya is out and they are decidedly mixed. Here is a sampling/

Rang Rasiya is not a consistent film, but one that tells a story of a pioneering artist and visionary, a story decidedly worth telling.

We need to treasure our creators and innovators, and while I wish the film was carved by the blade of the edgier Ketan Mehta (of Mirch Masala vintage), I’m relieved that at least films like these are being made and -- in relation to the exposure important in context of the censorship debate -- that we’re getting to see them.

And one scene, in particular, involving a certain Indian cinematic pioneer gave me goosepimples.

One odd moment, however.

After Sen bares herself to Hooda and the two cavort passionately on the floor, painted merrymakers celebrating each other’s bodies while a song plays, the scene ends with a topshot, with their painted, naked bodies lying against each other.

And while she lies there brazen and defiant, Hooda awkwardly drapes a leg around his own thigh in an utterly-misplaced bid for modesty. Perhaps, then, our censorship issues stem from the fact that our women are just fine, but our men can’t quite deal with themselves just yet.
MORE HERE>

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A fun sequence displays India's first cinema show leaving Varma so impressed, he backs a movie by his protegee - Dadasaheb Phalke. Rang Rasiya portrays Varma as India's first cultural rock-star, adored, attacked, commercial, inspired, excited and challenged by a new consciousness he sees - and shapes. Vitally, Rang Rasiya emphasizes Raja Ravi Varma's commitment to the freedom of ideas which creates philosophy, science and liberated love, ephemeral, yet lasting - like the pages of his calendars.
MORE HERE>

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But the trouble is that ‘Rang Rasiya’ feels like a choppy costume drama marred by false notes and static ‘acting’ : the fluidity and the authentic sense of time and place needed for a film like this, qualities so beautifully woven through Mehta’s classics ‘Bhavni Bhavai’ and ‘Mirch Masala’, are missing. Both Hooda and Sen are presented as gleaming bodies on ample display we are meant to fall in lust with, and both are eminently drool-worthy. But in all this, the characters go missing. Varma deserves a deeper, more layered film.
MORE HERE>

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Randeep Hooda as Raja Ravi Verma is a great choice. He has a regal enough face (especially with that perfect nose), that can as easily look lecherous and manipulative. He particularly sparkles when he argues in court against the imprisonment of his thoughts and art and when he cruelly dismisses his muse's claim to a life outside his imagination. Randeep is so comfortable embodying the legendary painter that you believe him and want to support his fight almost all the time, except when he ages dramatically and somehow no one else around him does. And when he looks as uncomfortable as the audience in those unnecessary love making scenes.
MORE HERE>

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Ketan Mehta has amalgamated the essence of love quite aesthetically. A particular sequence, which also got the makers into trouble, is filmed in a beautiful way. It’s the portrayal of the ancient story of Pururava and Urvashi through Sugandha and Ravi Varma. Hindi cinema has taken a brave foot forward in Rang Rasiya, as it features frontal nudity, but there would hardly be any eyebrows raised or heads hanged in shame. This sequence is tenderly designed, amazingly shot, fantastically edited and gently eased off. It’s vibrant, touching and stirring.

But, the film has much more than just this sequence. The idea of making a film on Ravi Varma is compelling in itself. After all, he is the artist who gave face to gods on cheap posters and in a way made them available for all. Wasn’t this the highest form of social service? The posters with Hindu gods and goddesses that we purchase from market today were first conceived by him. He acted as the bridge between the deities and their worshippers, to say the least.

The film’s screenplay has been kept simple and it works because it doesn’t have complex scenes and maintains the right pace.

During the court room battle in the film, the magistrate, played by an ever-charming Tom Alter, very teasingly asks Ravi Varma, “Mr Varma, aap kanoon ke baare me kitna jaante hain,” and the man replies, “Utna hi jitna aap kala ke baare me jaante hain.” This statement is the backbone of the narrative.

In another moving scene, Kamini (Rashaana Shah), an untouchable, grabs Ravi Varma by hand and takes him to a place, where her community members are worshipping the poster designed by Varma as they were not allowed inside temples. She says, “Aap bhagwan ko bahar le aaye.” This dialogue is the philosophy behind the story.

During the dramatic climax, one of the loopholes of an otherwise fantastic story is when Ravi Varma says, “Jeevan ka uddaishya hai kala se sundar hona.” This is the resolution of the film.

No complicated dialogues and greater focus on the environment than the protagonist supplement for the correct feel. Yes, one can easily spot the problems with accents and over acting on part of secondary characters, but the premise has been laid in a manner which covers up for small glitches.
MORE HERE

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Rang Rasiya is bolstered appreciably by the strong performances by the two principal actors - Randeep Hooda as Raja Ravi Varma and Nandana Sen as his muse in Bombay, Sugandha Bai - as well as by the formidable supporting cast (Darshan Jariwala, Vikram Gokhale, Sachin Kedekar, Ashish Vidyarthi, Paresh Rawal, Vipin Sharma, Gaurav Dwivedi).

Randeep does not strike a single false note in a complex interpretation of a towering figure, capturing the highs and lows of Raja Ravi Varma's life with effortless ease.

Nandana Sen, too, is pitch-perfect as Sugandha. She is the ideal foil to the moody male protagonist, traversing an entire gamut of emotions - from the charmingly coquettish to the deeply conflicted and anguished, from moments of ecstatic love to the trough of a death wish - without losing her poise.

The surfeit of music, both in terms of songs and the background score, strikes a discordant note in a film that is otherwise well modulated.

Why must a film about art be overlaid with so much music? As difficult to grasp as that might be, very little else in Rang Rasiya is out of place.

This film has been in the cans for several years, but given the timelessness of the story it tells and the crucial issues it addresses, it has lost none of its relevance.

Rang Rasiya is as good a film as any you have, or will, see this year. Strongly recommended.
MORE HERE>

Rang Rasiya

Finally, after eons, Ketan Mehta's Ranga Rasiya is releasing in India today. A imagined bio-pic on the life of celebrated painter Raja Ravi Varma, who put faces on Indian gods and goddesses, was mired in controversy from the beginning, no less on the charges of obscenity, among others. The English version of the film, Colours of Passion was released, according to some sources, way back in 2008.
I had posted the pictures of my book on Facebook and lot of people had liked and commented on it. More than a month later, I wrote the feedback; I was struggling to put the book in Amazon.in. I am not a workman type, and it’s a constant struggle to present myself in front of the world./

Here is the note./

Thank you all my friends for your best wishes. My apologies for the delayed reply. My job is killing me, and I had other demons to fight, and I am not very good at being a zombie. There you are. Finally, the book is in Amazon.in. Please find the following link and please, please buy the book. I am sure you can afford it. Support this experiment. This is a micro-level self-publishing exercise, where once you buy the book from Amazon, I will have to pack the book and post it for you. If nothing else, I can send you a signed copy. I am likely to trouble you with more news about the book once I am human again. Thank you for your support.

Here is the link:/ http://www.amazon.in/Pages-Unfinished-Autobiography-Dibyajyoti-Sarma/dp/8192935507/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1415193712&sr=1-1

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

My new collection of poems is now on Amazon.in/
Please take a look, or buy/

http://www.amazon.in/Pages-Unfinished-Autobiography-Dibyajyoti-Sarma/dp/8192935507/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1414481591&sr=8-2&keywords=dibyajyoti+sarma

Monday, October 27, 2014

Constantine

I came late to the party. In fact, I started reading the Hellblazer series of comics long after the series ended after 300 issues, that’s almost 10 years, man, and long after seeing the Keanu Revees movie, Constantine, which I really admired.

I was sold out on Hellblazer. I loved the series. Most of it. Barring a few issues. And, I read all the 300 issues in a span of two months, every night. I was having John Constantine dreams, and I was loving it. I have read some of the issues more than several times since them. They are simply awesome.

So, I had to check out the new Constantine TV series currently playing in American television. I don’t want to express my disappointment at this moment, but the series is not a patch on the comic books. One thing is, despite being a visual medium, a graphic novel, like other written words, leaves a lot to imagination, and this is a must for an immersive reading experience.

This cannot happen in a movie medium. That’s one thing. But, if you completely transport Constantine from his English background, would he survive? I understand the need to do this. This is an American series and the audience needs an American locale. But this doesn’t gel well, despite Constantine’s showy British accent in the series. The magic and demons that Constantine encounters in the comic series are all spectacularly English. They cannot belong anywhere else. How would they bring out the story of Richard and Merlin, and God as the Shepherd, literally, and the brilliant Map, the self-appointed guardian of the city of London?

Then I had another problem. The stories, mostly stand-alone, featured in the first few episodes were not really related to the comic books. They were something else. And, why this is the Angel hovering around Constantine? And why is Chaz white and so meek?

Then finally, we got the first story of the comic books in episode 4, the story of the Hunger Demon, which incidentally occurred in the US, even in the comic book, and marked the first appearance of Papa Midnite. This was a two-part story in the comic book. It all ends in one single episode.

And what bothered me most was how they made Constantine the archetype hero, with rough edges and a heart of gold. Constantine in the comic books is much more complex. He is a good guy and an a-hole at the same time. In the TV series he appears much more simplistic.

I have problems with the TV Constantine.