Thursday, January 22, 2009

A bunch of stale flowers

This book review written by yours truly was published in the magazine section of Sunday Express. It has been brutally culled in some parts and I do not take pride in using the word 'irritating'.

It’s a Faustian pact that had to inevitable go wrong. Aditi De, who edi­ted Multiple City: Writings on Bangalore, was spoilt for choice when she was assembling the anthology. There are contributions by writers as diverse as William Dalrymple and R K Narayan (not to forget Ramachandra Guha and Thomas Friedman).

The book is divided into four parts and there are plenty of pictures and cartoons. The first part, “Once upon a City”, tries to chronicle the city’s great past. The essays, barring R K Narayan’s, are yawn-inducing. Is history condemned to be narrated in a “live sports commentary” way?

However, what these essays couldn’t do in 35 pages, Clare Arni’s postcard collection achieved instantly — evoke emotion. This reviewer spent minutes together staring at those pictures and kept wondering “How on earth did greenery thrive on South Parade (now M G Road)?”

Another part, “Cities Within”, is easily the most engaging. As a reader, and more so as a non-Bangalorean, it’s hard to look the other way when U R Ananthamurthy says, “Some people ask me if it’s not hard for outsiders to get the ‘la’ sound in the word ‘Bengaluru’. That reminds me of how I have spent the better part of my life trying to learn the distinction between the pronunciations of ‘e’ as in ‘ye’ sounds in English. Let those who speak English struggle a bit with the word Bengaluru.” Another essay that made for a good read was Shashi Deshpande’s Mapping Bangalore. If not for Shashi, one feels, the nostalgia described is something which only magic can explain.

The next part, “City Scan”, has the best writers either waxing eloquent or grumbling about the city, yet it’s a colossal let-down. Reason: when the reader sees names like William Dalrymple, Mahesh Dattani, Anjum Hasan one really expects something outstanding. But Only C K Meena’s piece on the transgender community in Bangalore and Nisha Susan’s explanation to her boyfriend as to why she protests stand out. Even though Nisha drops the names of literary luminaries, they never stand out and, in fact, become an integral part of the narrative.

The last, and the least part, “24/7 City” is for people who have been living in seclusion for the last so many years. Case in point: who doesn’t know the IT industry is a billion-dollar gorilla? But no, you have to gulp down that bitter pill called NASSCOM figures to acknowledge the fact.

It’s also irritating to note the proof-reading errors. This is hard to excuse because one assumes that the essays have been rigorously read before they made it into print.

This book is a shining testimony to the phrase “great chance goes abegging”. One finds hard to feel the essence of Bangalore. Apart from a fleeting reference to bisibele bath, its recipe is something you will find only after ransacking Google. Apart from cartoons on the pub culture, which is all-pervasive, nothing else is to be found. Where is the euphoria that gripped Bangalore when Deve Gowda assumed the most important job in the country? Is cri­cket to be given a miss since it is more of a national religion than region-specific? In a city where malls sprout like weeds, how do you expect the reader to be satisfied with Pankaj Mishra’s ruminations of 1995?

Aditi De wanted to do what Suketu Mehta did to Mumbai — bringing it alive. Instead, she ended up doing what Lavanya Sankaran did to Bangalore through Red Carpet — dumbing it down.


The Band's visit: Directed by Eran Kolirin "The Band's Visit" is about one night in the
life of an Egyptian police band, Alexandria Ceremonial Orchestra. The band which visits Israel to perform lands up, what else, at the wrong address, Beit Hatikva. Now, these eight impeccably well-dressed men who are stranded spend a night and, consequently, break the monotony in hotel-owner Dina and her friends lives in their own droll way. This film doesn't insinuate towards Israel-Egypt relations. Case in point is the pidgin English the actors speak in. The scenes involving the band's conductor Tawfiq and Dina (played by the pulchritudinous Ronit Elkabetz) are something only magic can explain. It was refreshing for this reviewer to see Ronit in form after "Late Marriage". The scene where the rebel-in-the-band, Simon who sings Chet Baker's tracks to impress women, 'spoon-feeds' a guy on how to woo a 'gloomy' girl is something that will remain etched in the viewer's mind.

La Vie En Rose: Last two years have been hit by a deluge of biopics on lives of various 'flawed' musical geniuses like Ian Curtis, Bob Dylan, Ray Charles, Johnny Cash. However, this French film in which Marion Cotillard portrays the French singer Edith Piaf is markedly differently from the movies mentioned above. Am sure the jury was never divided when Cotillard had to be given the Best Actress Academy Award. Her performance falls into that exalted category called ineffable that only magic could explain. Piaf's (French for sparrow) life is such a potential goldmine to be shown on screen but Cotillard had the unenviable job of looking like a poor imitation of Piaf. She carries out it with elan for example in that scene where she says how Americans will never like her. Or that scene where she pleads for one chance to go on stage and sings that gorgeous track called "Padam.. Padam". The non-linear narrative doesn't make much sense for this movie. However, it's hardly a hindrance for the viewer considering Cotillard is the centrifugal force.


At 5:19 PM, Blogger lookwhosback said...

wow juggy.. so finally the day has arrived..and as someonw will agree, the piece was indeed very jaganesque. dollops of name dropping et al

At 12:13 PM, Blogger sowmitra said...

Nice one...yeah so finally u agreed that Red Carpet was horrible...

n Keep it goin dude!!!

At 4:44 AM, Blogger garcia kafka said...

@lookwhosback: Name-dropping, huh? I took extreme care while writing this article to avoid name-dropping so that I will not be accused so :)

@sowmitra: Well, stand-alone Red Carpet makes for decent reading, which I dont know why you failed to notice

At 3:50 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

jagan,bad editing - altho i found it ok- not with standing, i like the piece. crisp and succint, i found it. and intelligent,ofcourse.

do put up some new stuff.


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