India’s Daughter: Leslee Udwin’s Documentary on BBC

I SAW the video. Not in totality. Skipped and rushed through parts. Watched 59 minutes long video in about 20 minutes. Why did I not watch the whole thing? Two reasons – Usual dearth of time to watch a one hour long video which restates most of what I already know (shallow, but true), and it was a deeply disturbing video (deep, and equally true).

Putting my gripes with the documentary aside, it is disturbing to relive the case, to try and understand how the perpetrators of that crime think about their actions, to understand that they are not alone in thinking so, to realize that the lawyers defending them (people who value an explicitly taken weak argument) have no qualms going on record saying things like Indian culture has no place for a woman, to realize that an entire mass of educated bureaucracy, empowered legislative body, elected political system, and the similarly effected population of this country – failed Nirbhaya.

We fail the women of our country every day. Every time we step out on the street. Over and over again. By not standing up for them. By believing that standing up for them is like extending a favour. Or an act of heroism or bravado. And by “we”, I am including the women around me as well. But then, we don’t just fail the women. We fail the entire bloody community that we are a part of.

The documentary spends an inordinate amount of time projecting Nirbhaya as a good person, and the criminals as rotten to the core. A documentary about the subject need not have spent as much time profiling one woman. It needed to stand up for all women. Irrespective of them being virtuous, noble, humble or otherwise. Not all women who are raped and killed are Nirbhaya. They don’t need to be. They have their own identities. And their own freedom to protect. In this documentary of Nirbhaya vs. the society, somewhere, the brutality of the incident and the shamelessness of these criminals is all that is left. The issue, though, is much bigger. Nirbhaya is not India’s only daughter.

Way more disturbing, and probably a subject that needs a bigger debate, is the set of statements made by the lawyers. Is a “man” whose explicit biases include considering women as flower, precious gemstones, or fruit on the street, fit enough to be a lawyer? Was this a lawyer provided to the criminals by the state? Or, did these lawyers come to the fore on their own, given the popularity the case would’ve got them? Or, could these criminals really afford a lawyer on their own? There is a point in “Better Call Saul” (a TV Series) where a person, who while being guilty doesn’t really consider herself guilty of anything”, tells Saul that “you look like a lawyer that guilty people would have”. If these are state provided lawyers who have such “beliefs”, what chance do women approaching the state machinery for justice and fairness have? There is another one who is willing to put petrol on her daughter and burn her alive if she is found out and about with a boy. Now here is a thought – lets see if we can convince his daughter(s) or wife or mother to take this challenge head on. And then file a case of domestic violence and rape against these lawyers. And lets see if the judiciary will be able to stand up for what is right.

More often than not, and its my belief, a society at large behaves well out of fear. Not because of education or awareness or culture or something like that. Over a period of time, fear is forgotten and conditioning takes over. The conditioned behavior then becomes the benchmark behavior that differentiates right and wrong civil societies. Like eating beef. Or, drinking. India does not fear its law. It can be bought and sold for a 50 rupee note at times. On the other hand, people don’t jump lights in US because they are afraid of the law. Now, assuming that there were no penalties for jumping lights, would the average American still be standing at the traffic light, waiting for it to turn green?  My hypotheses, after witnessing NYC traffic, is that s/he won’t.

What do I want? Decisive, fast action. If established, a rape convict gets death sentence. If established, a dude jumping lights more than twice gets his license revoked. Hit and Run (like the Housing.com story (not sure if it’s true) or the Ambani story) – definitely license revoked, significant financial penalty, and a jail term. Why, after so many years, are we still debating about the punishments for these people? Why after so many years do people still have a doubt about Mr. Lalu Prasad Yadav’s corruption and subsequent punishment/ debarment from Indian politics? The failure of the judiciary, law and order and politics cannot be the reason why the whole Indian society can be called “sick” by someone who’s spent a couple of years in India. That it might actually be sick is another and a very important issue.

And this is where my problems with the documentary begin – If I were to evaluate the video purely on the merits of a documentary, I don’t think it’s the smartest or even that its one of the better documentaries that I have seen. Its research is shallow, the narrative manipulative, and there is a level of continuous unrest at the back of your head because it doesn’t seem real quite often. A lot of the footage seems a little too edited and doctored (and not just in a documentary-ish way). There seems to be a little too much of prepping the people for their dialogues. Like when Jyoti’s tutor narrates events from the past, it does not come naturally. Sometimes, the anguish comes through, but often, it seems scripted. It capitalizes on strong emotions, not the quality of probing and gruesome research I was expecting to come across. It is so high on emotions that you cannot follow the logical train. I am not doubting the intentions, but when you’re putting a documentary on BBC, I believe the research also needs to be more comprehensive.

Of the 6 convicts, there is only who’s interviewed (probably an issue with the permissions, though it does make you wonder what the other 5 inherently believed in) – Mukesh Singh. Mukesh was the driver of that bus. The one expert on India is someone who’s brought from outside – Maria. There is but one psychoanalyst who gets airteime, and two defence lawyers get a lot of airtime because of their controversial statements. Amod Kanth of Prayas (NGO) is roped in to provide some input on juvenile cases.

There isn’t much in the story that is new. There aren’t conflicting viewpoints from a legal or psychoanalytical point of view. What leads to this? How are people so comfortable with themselves after doing something as heinous as this? Even after realizing that there life has come to a premature end because of this extremely inhuman act of theirs?

Did you, like me, at some point feel that the “rapists will kill rape victims from now on” is more an argument that is fed to the convict? Considering that this research would have been done through several conversations and interviews, do you think prompting has a role to play in how people respond to questions? Like – “people outside are saying that a your being sentenced to death will lead to more… “.

A big shout out and hugs to Nirbhaya’s parents for being able to not let rage take them over completely. The fact that they still are able to have a sane conversation about all this tells you what strength they have. If only people could learn some of that.

The documentary starts narrow, stays narrow, but generalizes everything to “India”. There isn’t much that is new. Nirbhaya case was one that brought a large populace to the streets demanding justice. Before and after that, there have been many more rape cases, maybe none so brutal (I don’t agree that an outright murder of a raped woman is any less of an eventuality than what happened with Jyoti). Those cases have not been talked about. And hence, while in spirit, you may want to take a stand that Nirbhaya Case = India, there isn’t enough evidence in this documentary that supports it.

It is a decent containerization of an event that shook the nation and some of the socio-cultural aspects around that particular incident. The fact that it shook the nation at large should tell you that India is not “sick”. That there is no need to give up hope. There will be moments of despair. Bad things happen. They happen everywhere. What is shameful is the way we act and the way some agencies try to sweep it under the carpet.

And that brings me to the ban. I am somewhat speechless. To debate this ban in parliament seems such a pointless waste of state time. I am sure the government concerns are not about the glorification of criminals (apparently). Rather, they must be worried about the poor portrayal of India. Sir! Humble request Sir! There are other bigger problems to worry about. Like bringing this damn bloody case to its conclusion. One of my managers used to tell me – if you have time to complain about something, you have time to go do it. The inaction of years and decades cannot be shoved under the carpet by imposing bans on documentaries, even if you think they are one sided. Something that is not true here. Acknowledge your damn failures and fix them. Put safety measures in place, and not just for women. Do an overhaul of the legal system. Work towards creating opportunities for everyone. Ensure high quality public transport that does not stop working because its 11 in the night. Come down upon police that won’t take a case because “bekaar ke lafde mein kya padoge saab”.

Stop wasting precious parliament time on debating stupid bans for heaven’s sake. You’re not a twitter celebrity looking for attention and retweets. You are the bloody government. Stop acting like a teenager who can’t take criticism. Stop acting like a gully ka goonda shouting “mera bat hai, mere rules honge”. Maybe you don’t realize this. But a big change that has happened in the last few years – there is a new country called Internet and its identity is very similar to that mythical demon Raktabeej. For every voice that you suppress, a hundred new pop up. And you are neither its prime minister, nor its constitution. Stop sulking and suit up.

 

Should you watch it? Your choice. Do you want to? Would you have watched it otherwise? But don’t watch it just because it has been banned. Don’t watch it to find your moral high ground. There is nothing sensational and path-breaking about watching this documentary. Its not a thriller, edge of the seat variety. Neither is it boring. It’s only 60 minutes. It ticks off all the check-boxes. Its a reminder of one of the most often discussed events in the recent Indian history. At the end of it, it is a given that you will come out feeling extremely disturbed, that much is a guarantee. But still, it is like any other and many other documentaries. The subject it touches is a raw nerve. Unlike education, poverty, juvenile crimes, state of infrastructure, mafia control, etc. Banning it was idiotic though.

Just by banning it, government is telling you to go find ways of watching it. So, Leslee Udwin can thank Indian Government for popularizing a documentary which would have been otherwise watched by a few thousand people.

Advertisements

Theater Watch: Aadhe Adhure is a tragic and touching play

Aadhe Adhure is a brilliant play by a brilliant author – Mohan Rakesh. You have to read some of his works to understand what you might be missing out on by not having read enough hindi literature.

The play was staged by Prime Time Theater Company and stars Mohan Agashe, Lillette Dubey, Ira Dubey, Rajeev Siddharth and Anushcka as the Nath family – Mahendra, Savitri, Binny, Ashok, and Kinny, a family torn at the seams.

Binny ran away from her home at a tender age with a man she thought she was in love with. Ashok is an aimless young man. Mahendra himself has been an unemployed man, and is a house husband. Kinni is a 14 year old girl not happy with making so many compromises in her everyday life, and crossing the threshold of being just a kid. And Savitri is the bread earner of the family, a woman with many wishes and desires from her and a woman who is perennially unhappy with the fact that the others in the family are not doing their bit. Not enough.

The first half of the play takes you through the threadbare relationships in the family, with Mahendra deciding to leave the family one day (which he does quite often apparently), and Savitri deciding to not care about anyone else’s but her own wishes. The number of times things are left half said makes the plot intriguing and you keep looking for the dirt that has been swept under the carpet. The secrets that every family has, the unexpressed emotions that often explain the expressed ones better.

The second half introduces two new characters – Jagmohan and Juneja. Jagmohan is from Savitri’s past and Juneja is a friend/mentor of Mahendra. How the endgame takes you to a very subtle understanding of human desires and how people keep looking for something more than what they have. The meaning of “Aadhe Adhure” is revealed here. That is what the play is all about.

As a cast, Mohan Agashe who plays 5-6 different characters (including Mahendra, Jagmohan, Juneja, etc.) , Lillette playing Savitri and the Rajeev playing the son are the pick of the lot. Rajeev has the angst of KayKay Menon, the way he carries himself. Lillette is the center piece of the play and is wonderful in her portrayal of a middle class woman, conservative in her life but liberal in her mind and actions. Mohan Agashe, with his subtle changes across the different characters that he plays is phenomenal. The personality swifts from the forgetful but lecherous boss to the playboyish Jagmohan, to the pedantic Juneja, and to the broken/frustrated Mahendra are extremely well played out.

It’s a two act play, and the set (which is the Nath household) is detailed but static. In fact, it is one of the more detailed sets that I have seen in recent times. Maybe, because, it must be a fairly old play. And the set is true to a low income household from a few decades back.

This one is not a comical fun play. Rather, it’s a play that makes you think too hard, and I am sure the Experimental Theater at NCPA (especially the side balcony seats) is not the best place to enjoy it from. But it’s an excellent play and must be enjoyed.

 

I would strongly recommend watching this one.

Review: (Tata Motors) Vista D90

So, a few weeks back I got to know about the Vista D90 promo being run jointly with Blogadda, and one thing led to another, with my eventually getting to spin the Vista D90 around for a couple of days. T&C – few tweets and FB posts, followed by a blogpost reviewing the car. Expressed intent behind the initiative– instead of the “expert reviews”, the Vista team wanted a “user review’ of the car and they wanted to reach out to bloggers who apparently have a decent enough reach and audience. So, if you were to search right now, there would be a fair number of bloggers (about 30 I believe) who’d be talking about their experience with Vista D90.

So, to cut the long chase short, what did I think of the car and the experience? [Album Link]

The promo itself, I believe, is a great idea. Subject to you having enough clarity about your target audience. It’s a contest that should work quite well for the younger audience where a sizeable number might be looking to buy their first car. That’s the point where the opinions of people around you matters a lot. And I believe that me having posted random tweets and fb statuses and pictures about the car would at least remind you that there is another car that you may want to look at within your consideration set. Irrespective of your existing opinion of Tata’s car-set.

Two suggestions for the program – 1) Give a letter to the participants stating that the car has been issued to them by Tata Motors for the assigned period. I had a minor run in with a traffic policeman who wanted to understand how I, without being a Tata employee or a dealer employee, was driving this car around. 2) The promo mentioned 3 days, but in effect, it was about 48 hours or so. I am not complaining about the duration, except that the mismatch should be avoided. Even two days is good enough! 😉

The car now. Bunch of positives. Few negatives. And from there, it would depend on the relative pricing within the segment, and a bit of customer friendliness.

On the positive side, the engine is powerful, and delivers good acceleration. The thrust you feel, if you’ve been driving Maruti all your life (with the exception of Swift), might rattle you the first time. The car spikes on you in traffic. And that is the single biggest USP of the car.

The handling and control you feel while navigating stiff traffic is also very zippy. It’s a good car if you want to drive rash. And explains why most Indica/ Vista drivers on the road are so rash. It’s makes you feel comfortable as you cut your way through the traffic.

The car feels very solid and stable, especially at 40+ kmph speeds. All of you who have grudges against Mumbai roads where the smoothest of the roads isn’t smooth enough, and your car makes you feel that vibration quite a bit, this one holds you quite stable and still. I also liked the seat. The lower lumber support is helpful.

Compared to the earlier Vista variants,  this one seemed a little sharper in design. Slightly longer nose, and somewhat better rounded outer body. The alloy wheels looked good. More importantly, the turning radius was good. Had no problems taking sharper U-turns in and around the place. The ground clearance (which becomes a factor if you drive a City or a Cruze or one of those cars) is right, given the number of speed bumps it avoided near my apartment. It still needs to be tested in Bangalore though! The triple barrel headlamps looked quite impressive, though the same cannot be said for the depth of light in high beam mode. Good fog lamps. OVRM, follow me home headlamps, blah blah – technical razzmatazz to position the car as a premium hatchback against jazz et al. And most of them have been executed well. The dual color design also can be used as a way of keeping it interesting visually. Instead of the black that you can see in the image alongside, if it had been white, it would be pretty wicked, right? The USB/Aux points are conveniently located (I hate how they are located in my City by the way). And there is an additional charging point for the back seats, which is a rather nifty addition.

The dashboard is a major improvement on most cars in the segment I’d think. Definitely way ahead of Maruti cars and Polo. I haven’t driven Brio so I cant compare. Better than Santro/ i10 for sure. It’s almost a big car feeling, the way it is designed. My guess is that it has been adapted from the Manza.

The integrated Bluetooth works very well. Easily paired, it tends to connect well with your address book for instance. And the call controls are on your steering. The volume is good, loud and clear. The mic tends to avoid catching too much interference. And the car has been sealed rather well to cut out most of the outside noise. And it offers you a numeric keypad in case you want to dial a number from your memory rather than having to scroll through a handbook, for instance.

The mileage is good. Having done a fair bit of the 140odd kms that I clocked on this one inside Mumbai traffic (including areas like Goregaon, Jari Mari, Kurla, Powai, etc.), coming out with a mileage of 14+ is respectable. Considering it’s a diesel car, the economics are in your favor.

On the negative, The first thing that you’d is the overall space. Not bad, but not the best in class. It’ll probably not be a choice for taller people. And if you are tall family, it’s a no no. Because the passenger seat has a space issue. The storage box comes quite low and tends to hit your knees if you’re tall. The back seats are average/decent leg space, which will work for an average Indian family. The boot space/ dickie is small. Smaller than the Santros/i10s of the world I’d think. One way to overcome this is a smart move  from the guys – a 60-40 seat split at the back, So you can fold away 60% of the back seat and create extra storage space for a 3 member travel.

The car feels very heavy at lower speeds. A typical diesel car phenomenon, but in the case of VistaD90, its enough to put you off. The initial acceleration is quite noisy as the engine makes a bit of a rattling sound. Once the engine settles down, it’s a lot more pleasant, but the first few minutes might push you on the negative side.

It is definitely not a car meant for women. Even though I come across as a sexist saying this, but that level of effort at gear 1 is not something that I have seen most women appreciate. Most of them tend to prefer cars that respond well to them at low speeds. That’s also going to be one reason why the conversion rate between test-drives and sales might end up on the lower side for this car. If Tata’s provide test drives they should ensure that people get to drive it on a secluded stretch at least once. Once you’ve taken the car to 80-100 range, you start seeing the real strength of this car.  But most test drives tend to stop at <40kmph, and in that range, this car will not impress.

The interiors need some work. The cup holders are tiny. They won’t hold a bottle. And incremental small stuff storage space is negligible in this car. Even my Maruti 800 had better storage options a decade back. The side storage in the doors is good for toll receipts, some papers, etc., but not smart enough to either hold CDs very well, or a bottle of water. People sitting in the back have no holder options.

The music experience is average. With 3-4 presets, you almost invariable want to switch off the presets and listen to the base. The bass is bad, and at louder volumes, the sound cracks. The speakers are in-the-doors, and the overall acoustics is not that bad. I just think that they should have gone in with better speakers and audio systems to maintain the premium feel.  A small noticeable glitch – typically, when my phone is paired with a car, and I am navigating on the maps, then the directions are audible through the car stereo. Here, you have to switch to BT streaming to be able to hear the instructions. Which also implies that you have to switch away from the music, unless you use your phone to stream the music as well. Perfect for iphoniacs, but not for everyone.

Probably because of the newness, I felt the gear transmission between gear 1 and 2 to be quite stiff.  Also, the reverse gear. But that should improve.

Endnote: The real USP of the car is the power and thrust. The stability, responsiveness in traffic etc only add to the experience.  The real negative is the early stage noise/rattling sensation and the space issues. Otherwise, for people looking for powerful drive at a reasonable value for money, this could be a decent buy.

Happy to drop more points if someone is interested. But overall, good fun experience.

Theater Watch: Nothing Like Lear

After Hamlet, the Clown Prince, the expectations from Rajat Kapoor and Atul Kumar’s combo (Cinematograph and the Company Theater) were high. Nothing Like Lear starts with a similar setup, but hardly anything similar in execution. Unlike the theatrics, the collective effusion and humor in Hamlet, Lear depends on the brilliance of Atul, since it is, but, a monologue.

I consider myself reasonably well read, but not enlightened in equal proportions. So, yes, I had read shakespeare’s dark work quite some back, but of course, I do not remember quite a few fine details and all the underlying tragedy. So, the first fifteen minutes were tough on me. I was trying to remember just as I was trying to be in the moment. The point where I let go of this trying to remember, I drew the same conclusion as I did the last time I saw Hamlet – these guys are brilliant. What an interpretation! For Rajat and Atul to merge so many characters, right from Lear to Edward to the fool to the sisters, into one actor and so beautifully, I fail to imagine what level of intellectual and theatrical brilliance would have been required.

This play is not the funny and hilarious kinds that Hamlet was. So don’t expect a laugh riot. There are the usual pepperings of jokes and fooling around with the audience. Bu this play is tragic. And there are times when the drama gets you.

I must mention here how effortlessly the clown moves from being just a clown to being a set piece in that epic tragedy, and Atul right now, would probably rate as one of the finest theater actors we have. Right up there with a Naseer.

I dont want to speak too much, for the real joy of the sunrise is in seeing it, and not just hearing telltales about the round burning globe of fire in some poet’s soliloquy. Go watch it. You may compare it with Hamlet, and say that Hamlet was better, but that does not make this one be nothing.

 

This, to me, is what theater should be – brilliant intrpretations, great execution, and out of this world performances.

 

4.5 on 5 for me. Hamlet was a 5, of course.

Theatre Review: Munshiji Ki Gudgudi

I watched Munshiji ki Gudgudi, a play based on stories written by Munshi Premchand, performed by Ekjute – Nadira Babbar’s Theatre Group. Now, as an author, Munshiji needs no introduction as one of the greatest writers of Hindi Literature, one of the biggest proponents of Progressive Literature of his times, a man with rock-solid hold on the nerves of Indian society, especially the middle class and rural families. What we often miss while reading his serious satirical works, is the immensely witty and humorous side of his personality, as can be seen in some of his stories.

This play is a set of four short stories – Darogaji, Bade Bhai Saheb, Rasik Sampadak and Aansu ki Holi. With the exception of the last one, the first three can be put in the genre of comedy. The last is a quintessential Munshiji story with sarcasm, messages, comedy and a dash of rustic brilliance.

Darogaji – It’s the story of a daroga (inspector’s) encounter with the husband of her ex-lover, when the old flames are being reignited at her house. This particular story had five major characters, of which the protagonist (Darogaji) performed average, while most of the other characters (barring the lover’s husband) were below average. The performances seemed very loud at times. However, the narrative and the underlying plot are quite hilarious, which saves the play. And this can be considered true of almost all the stories – average performances, some hilarious moments, good narrative.

Bade Bhai Saheb – This particular story will always suffer with the problem of comparision. The last I saw, it was a part of Katha Collage-I, where Naseeruddin Shah and team performed this story. The performances of Jameel and Imaad, under the direction of Naseer had taken the play to glorious heights. However, this particular version, directed by Sanjay, was hugely influenced by Naseer’s version. The body language, the histrionics, the actor’s way, the narrative – it all seemed to be a desperate attempt to ape the protagonists of Naseer’s version. While the lead actors did put in a good show, the younger brother seemed out of place, since he did not look younger than the older brother. More importantly, when a 13-14 year old is narrating the story from his viewpoint, his playfulness and body language go hand-in-hand with the way he looks. This is why cast selection is extremely important to the success of a play, movie, sitcom.

Rasik Sampadak – Good one. About an old magazine editor, who is a widower finding solace in the company of women. It’s about the editor stretching his imaginations to such extent where he paints the picture of a woman in his mind based on some mindlessly sensuous poetry written by her, only to find himself in a rather embarrassing situation once she actually lands at his office. In this particular play, the protagonists were quite good in terms of performance.

Aansuon ki Holi – The last one, probably the best (but the least comic) was a story dripping with Munshiji’s style and substance. A strong satire on the people who stretch festivities to such level where they forget what real occasions in life are. They forget the values that they stand for and the reason these festivities exist in our lives. The story is about a certain individual who does not celebrate any festivity (such as Diwali, Holi, etc.). However, now that he is married and his brother-in-laws are visiting him on Holi, he has a tough time warding off the threat of being submerged in the holi colors. The story takes a sudden towards the climax where Srivilas (the protagonist) explains why he stopped celebrating festivals. Good performances overall in this play as well.

Few global comments about the play(s) – I think the cast selection could have been better. There were places where you could see the role of protagonist being played better by one of the other guys. In almost all the plays, the directors chose to be the lead themselves, which I think is a serious mistake when you are young and amateur. My guess is that it becomes increasingly difficult to monitor the overall setup unless you stand outside and have a look.

The second flaw was the lighting and stage setups, which was far from being optimally utilized in many cases. Even in a play like Bade Bhai Saheb, where the distinctions between the older and the younger brother are quite clear, a stage contrast should/can be created to highlight the difference in people/ideologies. But then, what do I know about theater after from being a loyal visitor.

The third flaw was the duration – Unless you are sure why a story should be a 20 minute story or a 30 minute story, you should not stretch. One got a feeling at times that the play could have been shortened a bit at certain places, and delved deeper into at certain places.

The biggest positive – it’s a play directed and enacted by young theater enthusiasts who are still learning the trade. If they are able to do this good a job so early in their learning curve, I am sure they will become good theater personalities.

The other big positive is the choice of stories. Its difficult to find stories that fit your sensibility as well as your style of narration. To that extent, I think the team had done a good job.

Movie Review: The Namesake



I saw the movie more than a week back. However, I was thinking of writing the review only after I have read the book as well. As Diamond would have it, the book has taken steam in the last day or so, and the review has been pending a while.

Yenniways, back I am. To talk about Gogol, Goggles, Ashoke, Ashima, America, India, Bengal, and all their Namesakes.

Of all the classical literature I have followed, somehow, I never ended up reading Nikolai Gogol. Dostoevsky, Chekhov, and Tolstoy were as much a Russian repertoire as I could get comfortable with. Anyways, the plan is to read and figure out if I have also come from Gogol’s overcoat.

The movie seems to have impressed a lot of people, but yours truly wasn’t really impressed. And for a change, the biggest disappointment was Tabu, who just doesn’t seem Bengali enough. IrfanKhan is extremely convincing in his accent and demeanor of a Bengali. Kal Penn disappoints (with due respect to his comic timing and my appreciation of his several other movies). Others don’t really have a role.

The Namesake is the story of Gogol Ganguli (or, Nikhil Ganguli) (Kal Penn), the namesake of the great Russian author Nikolai Gogol, with his unique name bestowed upon him by his father Ashoke Ganguli (Irfan) given his love with Russian literature and a past haunted by an accident.

However, rather than getting into the story, which I will definitely get into in my other post on the book review of The Namesake, I will focus on the movie.

The things I did not like about the movie (there are n number of blogs talking about how good the movie is!)

A. Settings

  • Calcutta (then, and now Kolkata) of 1974 hardly seems authentic.
  • Ashoke’s accident occurs in 1974, and he is bed ridden for one year. He goes to the US for 2 years, and that would take us to 1977. Getting married in 1977, and with a son who is nearing 25+ years at the time of going to Maxine’s house in New Hampshire, would take us to something like 2003+. I am surprised that neither Max nor Gogol had a cellphone. Surprisingly, no one in the movie had a cell phone till the time Moushumi flips one open. And even at that point, she is the only one with a cell. Everyone else uses landlines all the time.

B. Performances & Characterizations

  • Tabu’s accent is just not Bengali enough. Her accent reminds me not of a Bengali turned American, but the recent metro English movies like 15 park avenue, etc. where the artists add a musical tinge to their English. “What Rahul! I tell you. These kids no! They are just taking our generation down the drain. You don’t trust me? How mean?”
  • Kal Penn doesn’t look young enough to be a 14 year old (at the time when Ashoke gifts him the book). And he never seems irritated enough! More importantly, the story belongs to him. Somewhere Mira Nair has gone wrong in showcasing the conflict between Nikhil and Gogol.
  • His sister’s character is totally sidelined. With her first half looks, it was a good ploy, but the second half is where she should have had a role to play. However, the book is about Gogol. And Gogol’s sister probably is not important for Gogol’s existence.
  • The events are simplified a bit too much – Gogol’s hatred for his name is long drawn phenomenon where he doesn’t hate the name as much as its strangeness, its un-indianness or something like that. The trauma on his face (for the first 5 minutes after Ashoke tells him about the accident) is lost without any further analysis. And guess what – changing his name from Gogol to Nikhil is the most important thing he has done ever.
  • The divorce between Gogol and Moushumi just happens. Moushumi’s side of the story is never explained. And she does look pretty hot in some of the sequences. So my sympathies are with her. Not with the confused brat Gogol.
  • Breakup with Max! but why? What went wrong? In her own way, she wanted to be a part of the family. What went wrong there? No explanations given!
  • Gogol’s choice of being an architect. Again, too simplistic. What was he doing till the time he saw Taj? There is only one point where he is shown sketching. But what about the career shaping forces known as Indian parents, who want their kids to become doctors/engineers!!
  • I can go on and on and on. But the point remains. Some of the underlying struggle of being a namesake, a fact that haunts Gogol forever, are hardly dealt with.

I feel, as I write this review, and as I walked out of the theatre, that The Namesake is another book turned movie gone average, a fact I would never understand. When a novel is written, the authors usually creates exquisite detail around who a person is, their life, their environment, their dresses, the walls, the colors. Someone converting it into a movie, needs to be honest to the spirit of the book. But they edit and re-edit it. Thinking they are making more logical sense than the original. They underestimate the viewer. Moreover, they make the mistake of assuming that the viewer has read the book.

However, having said all this, let me take some of the harsh words back. I am being overcritical because I had high expectations from the movie. I don’t remember having the feeling of walking out of the movie during those 2 hours. SO, its definitely worth a watch. It’s a decently narrated story in chunks. Its a collage of small snippets that Mira Nair tries to walk us through in her journey of understanding Gogol. Or, maybe, that’s her understanding of Gogol. It’s a reader’s interpretation!

Overall Rating -5-6 out of 10. Bulk of that 6 is Irfan Khan. And the fact that the movie is not a bore!

Theatre Watch: "One Small Day"

I happened to catch a performance of One Small Day at NCPA. Not quite sure if it follows the mood of watching an idyllic sunset at Marine Drive with special someones, but the play was good in some parts, and average in some.

Backdrops first – Directed by Jayant Kripalani, Produced by Anish Trivedi, and enacted by Dipika Roy and Anish Trivedi himself, the play traces the interaction between two very different, yet similar people, caught in a room together where the lady has come to kill the gentleman (in a self-redeeming effort of avenging her sister’s death).

First, about the cast and the people. Jayant is known for his wit, timing and acting, right from the days of the TV Series – “Khandaan”. Truly a man of great theatrical skills, Jayant lends his credibility and touch to this play. Anish, an ex-Investment Banker turned playwright, with his previous play “Still Single” going off the streets after an year of performances, started the Banyan Tree production company, and has a radio show on 92.5FM. Banyan Tree is one of the largest radio programming companies in India. Theatre, has been a recent foray for Anish and Banyan Tree. And for encouragement, the previous act (Still Single) did win him some good and some bad press. Dipika Roy has also been around in the theatre circuits for quite some time and has a list of impressive plays to her credit. Anish’s partner at Banyan Tree, she is Anish’s muse for sure given her role in Still Single as well as One Small Day.

Trivia: In the initial running of the play, Jayant was acting and Anish was directing. But for some reason, within a month or so, the roles were reversed.

Back to the play, which apparently is an inspired play. The original required people to take sides, define things as right or wrong, while Anish and Jayant’s effort is more on the humorous side. It’s not an intellectually challenging play, and plays for approximately 2 hours on the humorous/ satirical side of things.

Sheila (Dipika) barges into Bollywood Producer Hari Kapoor’s (Anish) office to kill him. His crime – Sheila’s sister Seema has committed suicide, after Hari failed to live up to his promise of casting her in a role. A heartbroken Seema ends up taking her life, but not before telling her sister why she is doing it. Having had a troubled childhood (after losing her mother at the age of 18, and father at the age of 22, Sheila raises her 14 year old sister all by herself. She has lived her life by the social norms of right and wrong, doing all the right things and sacrificing her “life” in return. She blames Hari for having lost the most important person in her life- Seema. Hari, over the course of a long conversation which fairly wittily tries to address the question of different personalities, insecurities, actions, motives, reality, people, emotions, individuality, sacrifices, choices, careers, and most importantly, the futility of it all, end up liking Sheila, and making out with her (not on the stage, of course! Indian audiences are not ready for that real a play as yet!). Sheila, however, having been pulled out of her shackles in the first half of the play, digs out Hari’s insecurities in the second half, and shooting him (not fatally, though) towards the end.

The play continues to hit upon the broken dreams and failed aspirations of each of the characters (Sheila, Sushma and Hari) and the roles they played in making them the kind of people they were. And the undertone used is –humor and sarcasm. The play is quite funny, with its wisecracks. However, the essence of a powerful script is that the audience should carry the play with them when they move out of the theatre. That does not happen here!

Background score used in the play is quite involved and in sync with the theme. The stage handling is very apt, and so is the use of the stage. The two actors have played their parts well. However, some of the estrangement and grief that two torn lives should have was missing in their performance.

Overall- a good effort. Can definitely be watched. Much better than spending a weekend on movies like “Just Married” or “HatTrick”

%d bloggers like this: