Not wisely, but too well Monday, Jul 31 2006 

Omkara

“I have no spur / to prick the sides of my intent, but only / vaulting ambition, which overleaps itself.”

-William Shakespeare, Macbeth I.7

[Warning: possible spoilers]

Given the rave reviews that Vishal Bharadwaj’s Omkara has been getting everywhere I look (see here and here and here) I can’t help adding my dissenting voice. Not that I disagree that Bharadwaj is an extremely promising director. But watching Omkara, I came away with the same impression I had watching Maqbool – I wish he’d leave Shakespeare alone. One admires his ambition, but one can’t help feeling that he’s overleaping himself a little.

First the good bits. Omkara features some seriously good acting. Konkona Sen Sharma’s justly acclaimed performance as a down to earth village wife has to be seen to be believed, and Saif Ali Khan is astonishingly good – projecting an uncouthness and a sense of barely suppressed violence that one didn’t think he was capable of. The other performances don’t come close, frankly, but they succeed because the actors are well cast. Ajay Devgan broods and looks intense (which, let’s face it, is all that he can do) but it works because he’s Othello [1]. Kareena Kapoor giggles and simpers and gets all silly and tearful, but this makes for a surprisingly convincing Desdemona. And Vivek Oberoi already has enough practise playing the loyal second in command expelled from his master’s good graces from his Company days to play the honourable Cassio with aplomb. (more…)

Little boy lost Tuesday, Jul 18 2006 

Khaled Hosseini’s The Kite Runner

[some spoilers]

I’m not, in general, a big reader of bestseller fiction. Every now and then, though, I’ll get to feeling guilty about my snobbishness and slum it by reading something that’s sold over a million copies. Sometimes I’m even impressed.

Not so with Khaled Hosseini’s The Kite Runner. Hosseini’s much-discussed novel is a trite, predictable tale, which tugs at your heartstrings with all the desperation of a twelve year old boy trying (and failing) to keep his kite in the air. (more…)

On the tip of your tongue Tuesday, Jul 18 2006 

A Poem at the Right Moment: Remembered Verses from Premodern South India

At the centre of every poetic tradition is the idea of poetry as a fundamentally oral art. From the earliest times, poems have been meant to be verbal – to be spoken aloud, recited or sung – and even today the way a poem sounds remains central to our appreciation of it*. Yet in the days when the written word was inaccessible to most people, poems were not just spoken aloud, they were memorised and remembered, and were passed on from person to person by oral means. (more…)

Multi-Story Tuesday, Jul 18 2006 

Georges Perec’s Life, A User’s Manual

“Hold infinity in the palm of your hand / And Eternity in an hour”

-William Blake

Begin anywhere. Take the first object that happens to catch your eye and describe it in exacting detail. Then take each one of these details and think about all the other things they connect to – facts, stories, anecdotes, histories, people. Beginning to get really long, isn’t it? Never mind. Now think about the person the object belongs to. The story of his or her life – all the people he or she has known, all the experiences he or she has had. Next, think about all those people, and all the objects and places associated with those experiences. Feeling overwhelmed yet? And you’ve only got as far as one object in one room. Think about all the other objects in the room. Think about all the other rooms in the building. Think about all the other buildings in the city. It’s an endless exercise, this. And well might it be, for what you’re describing here is not the life of one place or one time or one person; what you’re describing here is Life itself. (more…)

The Painted Veil Tuesday, Jul 18 2006 

Olga Grushin’s The Dream Life of Sukhanov

“..his tranquil daily life gave way to a dream full of ominous forebodings, and his mind began a tortured slide towards insanity…Were all these strange occurrences in the story merely the result of the hero’s unbalanced mind – his private hallucinations – or did he lose his sanity as a result of strange occurrences that were indeed real but that, thanks to some dark gift of clairvoyance not unlike the artistic intuition of genius, he alone of all his friends and family could perceive?”

– Olga Grushin, The Dream Life of Sukhanov

It is one of many sublime joys of Olga Grushin’s debut novel, The Dream Life of Sukhanov, that everything you need to understand the book, everything that can be said about it, in fact, is already contained within its pages. Like a good crime novelist, Grushin holds nothing back, but still manages to keep you guessing. And indeed, The Dream Life of Sukhanov, is, in a sense, a suspense novel, a quest for someone who has gone missing under mysterious circumstances, except that the person the protagonist is looking for is himself. (more…)

Double Take Tuesday, Jul 18 2006 

Jose Saramago’s Seeing

To read the first chapter of Jose Saramago’s new novel Seeing, is to experience a strong sense of déjà vu. As the novel opens, a group of more or less ordinary people are living out a more or less ordinary day. Then, out of the blue, something exceedingly strange happens to them. They don’t know what to make of it. At first they think it’s just an isolated incident, but by the end of the first chapter it becomes clear to them (and to the reader) that the problem is much more widespread. A national crisis of unimaginable proportions is beginning. And no has any idea what’s causing it. For the rest of the book this crisis will be fleshed out in painstaking and realistic detail. We shall follow the fortunes of a small group of people as they struggle to make it through this unexpected calamity. Along the way, human nature shall be exposed, questioned, explored. (more…)