September 29, 2007

'The Road': The last gasps of humanity

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Cormac McCarthy's The Road is a book you just cannot take at face value. Simply put, it's plot describes a man and his son trudging down a road amidst the wasteland that earth has become after a natural (human-triggered?) disaster. It is about seeing a cold, dying world through the eyes of this duo, and all the horrors within:
Where all was burnt to ash before them no fires were to be had and the nights were long and dark and cold beyond anything they'd yet encountered.
To say that The Road is about an imagined situation where the world is taking it's last breath would be oversimplifying it. McCarthy's style is bare of frills and fancies, even allegorical, but his message is clear: it is humanity which is dying. Worse still, it is humanity which has brought upon this self-destruction.

The boy is never named like the man and the other 'presences' in this book (they never evolve into 'characters'). It only goes on to show that in the nightmare that the world has become, names and identities don't matter. What matters is survival. And the boy is of an era where nothing exists. Everything we take for granted is something of a folk tale for him.
Maybe he understood for the first time that to the boy he was himself an alien. A being from a planet that no longer existed. The tales of which were suspect.
Even all the principles and thoughts are nothing but a hazy memory:
You won't wish us luck either, will you? the man said.

I don't know what that would mean. What luck would look like. Who would know such a thing?
What the survivors are walking towards on the never ending road is not some lost Atlantis, but just the fact that by moving on they will continue living.

The Road is unsettling but that's its purpose. We are all too ready to take our greatest gift from God - Earth - for granted.

Prospective readers be warned, there is no window of hope in this stark novel, except the hope of survival. The only hint of a future is the boy's ability to stay alive.

September 25, 2007

Way to go, Team India!

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I am not about to forget the gripping, nail-biting final cricket match played yesterday between India and Pakistan at the Twenty20 World Cup. Till the very last moment when the ball was in the air, you didn't know whether it was India or Pakistan that would take home the Cup. And one must admit, both teams deserved to win. Finally, when India picked up the Cup, not even the most staunch cricket critic in India could help but feel proud for his country. So, hat's off to Young India. And I have a request for the BICCI selectors: let's the boys play their game, and keep the politics to yourself so that they can continue playing the way they did.

Here's a video of that last crucial wicket.

See the gripping final over.

September 2, 2007

'King of Bollywood': The emergence of a star and a global phenomenon

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I consciously avoided Anupama Chopra's book on Shah Rukh Khan, 'King of Bollywood: Shah Rukh Khan and the Seductive World of Indian Cinema', at first. I abhorred the idea of what I presumed was an attempt to cash in on the SRK brand (the gaudy cover didn't help either). But then, word got around and people were raving about it - people who are not SRK fans. It's ironic because I am one and a steady one at that.

The first thing that impresses you about the book is that it is not about Shah Rukh from a very personal, emotional viewpoint but rather from an industry's perspective. Anupama writes about how Indian cinema evolved right from the beginning. There is rarely a period she misses out on as she talks about how popular Indian cinema became Bollywood, an exportable phenomenon by India. She describes it as:
There are only two rules: There must be love and there must be songs.
Shah Rukh did not initially consider films, concentrating on theatre and TV where he felt the real acting happened. However, Fate had a different role for him, and he finally fulfilled his dream of ruling the city of Mumbai - though now he rules over many more.

Anupama describes how Bollywood turns from a hierarchical network into a corporate-style industry and how this helps SRK achieve his global superstar status by wooing the hearts of the Indians abroad and the liberated Indians at home. There is no doubt that Raj of DDLJ is where SRK the superstar was born, though he had proved his acting (in his own style) earlier in movies like Baazigar. Anupama writes:
Raj resonated with the aspirations of a post-liberalization 1990s India. Shah Rukh became the personification of the collective ideals and longings of a country undergoing social upheaval.
The book's first few chapters are about Shah Rukh's intense struggle with life, especially after losing his father. After a series of misfortunes, SRK is ultimately thrust into the film world, which is particularly taken by his incessant energy, which gives a signature style of acting.

Even after achieving a star status, life wasn't smooth all the way. First he fielded threats from the underworld, and then his home productions flopped. The downpoint of his career was:
At least one distributor suggested to Shah Rukh that perhaps he could compensate for the distributor's financial loss by dancing at his friend's wedding.
Of course, SRK recovered and reigns as King of Bollywood, but even if you are not a SRK fan, the book gives you an inside view of how the industry works, though Anupama does not go too deep. The book is about a star's ascent to superstardom and the industry's ascent to global fame.