Johnny Gaddar: Paperback on 70 mm

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First things first. Johnny Gaddar is a really watchable and enjoyable movie. Now, it’s a bit difficult to classify the movie as a mystery as there is hardly any suspense which is kept hidden from the viewers. And although there are a fair bit of twists and turns, there is a lack of shocks or ‘edge of the seat’ stuff to call it exactly a thriller. The thing which works for JG is that it retains an integrity throughout its two and a half or so hours. There is a story and the entire movie is about telling that story. There are no silly sub plots, no distracting love angels and absolutely no useless characters.

Another thing which Sriram Raghvan is quite clear about is the kind of story that he is telling. When you begin your movie by paying tribute to Mr. James Hadely Chase (him of ‘classic’ paperback thrillers with delectable covers) and Vijay Anand, you are assuring the critics not to fret over the non existent “deeper meaning” or the “sub texts” in the movie. In between JG also pays homage to movies of 80s like Parwana and Johnny Mera Naam and still manages to come across as a smart movie suited for the contemporary times.

Neil Nitin Mukesh (come on! Its not difficult to figure out his lineage from this name) makes a really promising debut. Although he appears to be a bit more dazed than required in certain parts, he is quite impressive for a first timer. He is also the most intriguing aspect of the movie. Its not just his character in the movie but also his look which makes it difficult to be convinced of the fact whether he is a good guy or a bad guy even after the movie gets over. I mean, the moment you see Dharmendra in the movie, you know he is a good guy but not so with Neil, no wonder that Sriram Raghvan went for a newcomer for this role.

The cinematography of JG provides a welcome break from the stuff that passes off as ‘thriller’ in India. So no camera breathing on your neck (Vikram Bhatt, please note!), no sudden turning and shrieking your guts out in the camera and no focusing on the shoes of the people waking around. The trick to good cinematography is not to put the camera behind a bush or under a chair but to transpose the viewer so that he can see it for himself without realizing that he is watching through the camera.
Another pitfall that JG manages to avoid is the use of jarring music to create a ‘thrilling’ effect. Though, more use could have been made of the brilliant soundtrack and at times absence of background music results in creating unnerving moments of silence in the theatre but perhaps this is what was exactly intended by the director. This also means that JG does not come across as a candyfloss entertainer like it was promoted but retains a rather bleak and somber mood despite a few really funny one liners. This is hardly surprising considering the fact that Sriram Raghvan is the guy who gave India its first true modern dark movie in Ek Hasina Thi.

There is no doubt that JG is a high quality product and recommended for the sheer novelty in its treatment if nothing else.

PS: This got published in December 6, 2007 issue of Filmfare. I never got to see that issue but did get 500 bucks for it. Small joys of life!

MIRACLE MAN: short story

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Monday, August 22, 2005, The Times of India Late city edition, Mumbai

“THE MIRACLE WORKER or THE GRIM REAPER?”


When Akhil Patni saw this caption above his photograph on the cover of Bombay Times he could not repress a dry chuckle. Not because the report was very pleasing but that it extended to four columns with the full blown photo meant that he was going to be a very recognized face; not that he was a very unknown till now.

May be you have never heard of him but the high and mighty of Bombay city swear by his name. A lot of celebrities in India in the past have been influenced by god’s men be it Osho or Asaram. But in the last two years more than a dozen hot shots have “surrendered” themselves to Akhil Patni. These include people from Bollywood, a couple of politicians and even a few very high ranking police officials. According to the man himself, “he has helped these people in making peace with themselves and get closer to the supreme power.” He also claims to have cured a thousand people of various incurable diseases. But what makes him more intriguing is the fate of his detractors. About six months back, Hemant Diwedi the renowned fashion designer had in a party accused Patni on his face of fooling people and fleecing money from them. Ten days later his body was found rotting in his Vile Parel Flat. The flat was locked from inside. The police is till date clueless about the cause of death. A month later Marthand Shivhare an additional professor at IIT Powai had mocked Patni and his antics when giving a lecture on Science and Miracles in a convention. Forty eight hours later his face was 70 percent burned due to a tragic explosion in the Institute Chemistry Lab where he was working alone. He is still recovering in a hospital. The investigation s have showed that it was an accident. And recently in the last week Ashok Contractor had charged Patni of using his political connections for securing a tract of land outside Mahim by influencing the bidding. Contractor passed away Saturday night in his sleep due to a cardiac arrest. According to sources, Patni wants this land to build his ashram.
On asking for his comments on these terrible incidents, the response of Patni was that everything happened according to the will of God and that some churning is necessary for securing a balance in the world. Whatever be the causes behind them, these incidents have made Patni not only a more respected figure but also much feared one. The police are investigating if there is connection linking Patni to these ‘misfortunes’. Though, many people claim that Patni has extraordinary powers which he uses for the benefit of his followers and teaching a lesson to the infidels, Patni himself refused to answer the question if he had any such powers.

Another man who was reading this report intensely was Inspector Madhav Godbole. Sipping a cutting of tea, sitting in a creaking chair in Bandra West Police Station, he was more revolted than amused by the story. “these fucking newspapers make a miracle out of that motherfucking, two cent bastard. I am telling you Nagre, this Patni is no more than a fucked up goon. I am going to put him in his place and when I whip that bastard in my lock-up I’ll see if he can show his magic tricks to me.”
Head Constable Siddarth Nagre silently nodded his head in approval. He was not sure if Godbole was really angry at Patni or generally taking out the frustration that he had with his life. The only reason why the file on Patni was lying on Godbole’s desk was because he was considered one of the most inefficient officials in the department and some people high up in the power ladder did not want much progress on this case. And what was worst was that Godbole knew it. What he also knew was that he was 48 years old, had two departmental inquires pending on him on the charges of corruption and was sitting in the same chair since last eight years. People took him for granted. He could not remember the last time anyone had talked with respect to him; even his wife took all the decisions regarding family matters without informing him. Last night she had told him that he should be at home on Sunday as some people will be coming for fixing the marriage of their daughter. His daughter- the only soul on earth that he really loved but that did not mean she treated him any different from others. She also believed that her father was good for nothing and which Godbole often reflected was not entirely untrue.

But this time it was going to be different. He was not going to let them make fun of him. He was going to earn respect. “I’ll show those motherfuckers….”thought Godbole. The zeal with which he jumped from his chair surprised everyone. “Nagre take two other constables and start the jeep. We are going to nail this Patni motherfucker down.”



Friday, September 2, 2005, The Mid Day After Noon Edition, Mumbai

GODMAN ARRESTED
The Mumbai police around 8 o’clock in the morning arrested the well known godman Akhil Patni. He was arrested on his alleged involvement in a series of tragic incidents including the mysterious death of fashion designer Hemant Diwedi. Further information is awaited regarding this matter.



“So mister Miracle you have no idea how Hemant Diwedi died, haan?”barked Godbole at Patni who was sitting in a chair surrounded by four constables, Godbole and Nagre.

“No sir, none at all”

“not even a little bit, a tiny, a slight vague idea?”

“no sir not even a tiny, slight vague idea”

“Well, then let me tell you. Diwedi died due to internal bleeding from his intestine. He suffered from a medical condition known as Hyperdomatcticillia which was not as threatening a disease as it sounds but apart from occasional surges of intense pain, it makes the intestine vulnerable to certain chemicals like *******. Now, if a patient is suffering from Hyperdomatcticillia and he takes a substantial amount of ******* then it may result in the rupture of intestine leading to internal bleeding and death within 10 to 15 minutes. But the point is if the amount was substantial then it must have shown in the postmortem report but it did not.”
“Do you know why?”

“I have no clue what you are talking about, Inspector.”

“The reason being that even a miniscule but regular intake of *******every day can aggravate the condition to such a state that one day it will snap but the amount would be too little to show in the post mortem.
Now, we come to the interesting part. You were aware of Diwedi’s medical condition as his doctor Rishab Shukla is a disciple of yours as was Diwedi when you assured him that you’ll cure him of his pains using your powers.”

“so you mean to say I administered him *******everyday. But how could I? He did not come to me after he insulted me in that party.” Patni ridiculed his logic.

“Well, Mr. Patni we have no doubts that you are quite resourceful. Do you know that that Diwedi used to get milk delivered at his door step every morning and two days after his body was found that delivery man disappeared” said Godbole matter of factly, lighting up a cigarette.

“These are all coincidences inspector. You cannot link me up to his death in anyway. I think whatever happened was the wish of the all mighty. He punishes those who deserve it.”

“Well, Mr. miracle he punished Marthand Shivhare also, didn’t he? That was also an act of god no doubt. And the fact that the lab assistant who was officially absent that day is the brother of your organizing man Deshmukh is again a mere irrelevant coincidence.” He blew the smoke of cigarette in Patni’s face.

“Can’t be anything more.” Neither the smoke nor Godbole’s tone bothered him.

“OK Mr. Patni, enough of your coincidences. I am going to beat the motherfucking shit out of you. So if you want to tell me anything or show some magic trick, now is the fucking time.”

“You have a beautiful daughter, Inspector.” an ominous smile flickered on his lips.

“All right then, since you want to get your ass whipped, here we go……” Godbole raised his hand to strike him but restrained himself when the phone rang.

Nagre picked it, what followed was a brief moment of silence. Cautiously he kept the receiver back.

“Who was it Nagre?” barked Godbole.

“it was……eh…….. from… your.. home……. sir” He seemed to be stopping after each word.
“….. There is a bad news…. Your daughter… she passed away…..”

After a brief moment of shock, Godbole leapt for his service revolver. “I am gonna kill this motherfucker……die you motherfucker…you deserve to die”

“it was only an accident sir…….pure accident”, the words were barely coming out of Nagre’s mouth.

Two constables tried to restrain Godbole as he lifted Patni by his collar. The third one not knowing what to do picked up his Rifle and alternately pointed it at Godbole and Diwedi.

“..she got an electric shock… unfortunate accident sir…” Nagre desperately tried to reason with him but by then Godbole was already pointing his revolver at Patni who remained unperturbed. And then the shot was fired…………




It’s better to laugh and forget than forget to laugh: review of “The Book of Laughter and Forgetting” by Milan Kundera*

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AMUKH, also a disclaimer: It does not reflect well upon a reviewer to discount his credentials in the beginning itself. But a student is more likely than anyone else to get away with it. So anyways, here it goes. This is a great book to read, one to sip slowly and savor the taste but perhaps not an ideal book to review. This would be true for many other works of Kundera as well but definitely in lesser degrees than this one. As the book proceeded so did my perplexities and by the time I finished the book I found myself to be in doubt about my adequacy to review it. But then I guess I’ll never be sure until I try.
One obvious temptation that I might succumb to is to flash clich├ęd one liners. But then when Kundera expresses something extremely complex in one beautiful line, its very difficult to resist trying to pay tribute to him in a similar fashion.
Since this is supposed to be book review and not an essay or a research paper, so I’ve tried to stay true to the book and not tried to fish out one particular theme and discuss it in the framework of the course structure. So while there are a few references to Walter Benjamin’s Storyteller and Soshana Felman’s The Storyteller’s Silence, themes which do not form part of the course have also been dealt with. Also, since I do not have the training to critically comment on the writing style, no such attempt has been made.

‘The book of Laughter and Forgetting’ is a multi layered book. It is divided into seven parts. Each with different characters (though Tamina appears in two of them) and each dealing with a particular theme (though sometimes overlapping and some of them repeated). “It is a book about laughter and about forgetting, about forgetting and about Prague, about Prague and about the angels”




LOST LETTERS
If life for the dead resides in remembrance by the living of their story and justice for the dead resides in the remembrance of the injustice done to them (Soshana Felman: 15), then punishment for the dead resides in their forgetting. After Clementis is charged with treason and hanged, the propaganda section makes him vanish from history and from photographs.
To have memory is to have lived. No wonder then that most tourists on a holiday spend their time in capturing the scenes on their camera for recall in future than enjoy it in that moment with their naked eye. After all, if you can’t remember it, it never happened, right? May be this is the reason why Mirek wants to keep a record of his ‘potentially’ subversive political activities. For him this remembrance is an act of defiance and hence he says, “the struggle of man against power is the struggle of memory against forgetting”.
Kundera laments the transitory nature of public memory in which one catastrophe is soon replaced by another bigger and more ‘magnificent’ one, so that in the end “everyone has completely forgotten everything”. This also means that history is no longer the slow unfolding of events against the common background of which, the lives of individuals may be followed. Instead, it has become “an amazing adventure enacted against the background of the over familiar banality of private life”.
This does not sound very different from the complaint of Walter Benjamin in Storyteller that (individual) experience has fallen in value while (un-noteworthy) news and dissemination of information keeps on growing in volume. Of course, since the value of the information does not survive the moment in which it was new and therefore no on would remember anything.

“Memory can change the shape of a room; it can change the color of a car. And memories can be distorted. They're just an interpretation, they're not a record…”**
Distortion of memory; both public and private is a central idea in this first part of the book. So the Czech who cheered when the Russians drove out the Germans only to find themselves fighting the latter’s grip on their country are rebelling “against their own youth”. After they are crushed and the Russian tanks roll into Prague, the Communist propaganda erases the images of their struggle “from the country’s memory, like mistakes in a schoolchild’s homework.”
One way in which the establishment dealt with subversion was by destroying the past of people. By making a person like Mirek disown his words, actions and beliefs, they would leave him without a past, a man condemned to become a shadow.
Mirek of course is not a passive observer to the alteration of his memories. He is actively engaged in modifying memories of his youth just as a novelist might rework his novel by rewriting its beginning. He wants to get back the love letters that he wrote to his ugly girlfriend so that she can be erased from the pages of his life. She is a reminder to him of his weakness, of his own hated youth which he desperately wants to destroy.
Again, he would not run away from his imminent persecution. Not only because he feels responsible for the grandeur of his destiny which is leading to a glorious destruction of his life but also because by going to prison he is refusing to let him be erased from the public memory. He is going to leave his body as a stain on the sparkling unblemished history that the Russians are building. He is going to cement his place in history. And in this way he shall have his revenge.


MAMA
Mama is aware of the failure of her memory. It conjures up her past in patterns which she knows to be false but instead of acknowledging this before her son and his wife she instead imagines a story which would make sure that she rises in their eyes by sharing with them her glorious youth as she sees it now.
For Karel, the resemblance between his mistress Eva and Mrs Nora of whom he has an erotic childhood memory provides a leap from childhood to manhood. A leap across time and space.

THE ANGELS
If the first two parts of the book deal primarily with the tricks and turns of memory, then this part is dedicated to the eloquence of laughter. Kundera offers that laughter much like pain pins down the person to the present moment. A person bursting out in ecstatic laughter is without memory and without desire; he cannot think or care about anything beyond his laughter; beyond that moment.
In Kundera’s world angels represent coherence and rational meaning, while absurdity and confusion are under the dominion of devils. So laughter would seem to be devilish act because it denotes the absurdity of things, things deprived suddenly of their supposed meaning. Laughter is the ultimate destroyer of meaning.

LOST LETTERS
Kundera returns to the idea of old memories preserved once again in lost letters. But unlike the first part where the motive is to get rid of the uncomfortable past, here Tamina desperately wants to hold on to her past, the memories of life with her dead husband which are contained in her diaries. For her past is the reference point for present and without that present is a “nothingness moving slowly towards death”. Lacking a proper photo of her husband, she tries to revive his image through her memories. However, even the strongest of emotions or memories become faded over the years. Then again there are times when one’s refusal to let go of the past starts distorting it. Tamina loved her husband too much to admit that she could forget his face, that “what she considered unforgettable could ever be forgotten”. In My Name is Red, Black is shocked by the revelation that for a dozen years he had been recalling the face of Shekhure, his beloved different than it actually looked. Tamina is equally horrified by her memorys betraying her.
Tamina (a human being) and Goethe (a writer) stand on the opposite ends of the spectrum. While a writer craves for an audience to display his thoughts, writings and memories, for Tamina the mere thought of others reading her diaries is paralyzing. For her if the exclusivity of her memories is lost, she would become a stranger to her own memories.

LITOST
Litost is a state of torment created by a sudden sight of one’s own misery. A young budding poet after breaking up with his girlfriend has a fling with a butcher’s wife. She is a small town woman of ordinary looks but the student poet is convinced by the others that it is exactly that ordinariness, the delightful mediocrity of soul which makes a woman lively and real. However, she refuses to yield to his persistent efforts at coitus. It is only too late that the student comes to know that the only thing holding her back was the fear of getting pregnant and not the immensity of their love as the student had imagined in his grand romantic fantasies. When this realization is dawned upon him, he is thrown back into the depths of litost.

THE ANGELS
Violence on memory and through memory which was hinted at in the first part is dealt with in some detail in the sixth part of the book. After the Russians occupied Czechoslovakia, they started a systematic campaign not just to alter the history and the ‘archives’ but through these also something basic, something far more important: memory. “You begin to liquidate a people by taking away its memory. You destroy its books, its culture, its history. And then others write books for it, give another culture to it, invent another history for it. Then the people slowly begin to forget what it is and what it was.” And of course the rest of the world would forget the people who have forgotten themselves, even faster.
When Soshana Felman hails history as being “above and beyond official narratives, a haunting claim that the dead have on the living”, she seems to be forgetting that history is merely an ephemeral account of ephemeral changes and it can be as easily appropriated by the victors as the philosophies of justice.
Benjamin would of course suggest that history of the oppressed can be traced from the “tradition of the oppressed and the silence of the official history (the victor’s history) with respect to the tradition of the oppressed” but if Suyodhan can be branded as Duryodhan (the evil one) for eternity by the Pandavas then the hope of redemption of historical accounts is not all that promising.

In A Hundred Years of Solitude, when Macondo is affected by the plague of insomnia and memory loss, Aureliano discovers that to ensure that people do not forget the names of things and their use, they should put up inscriptions on all the things, describing them but he did not foresee the situation when people would forget the meaning of those words. “Thus they went on living in a reality that was slipping away, momentarily captured by words, but which would escape irremediably when they forget the values of the written letters.” This is perhaps the reason why Kundera (actually he quotes one Hubl here) says that it is not required for the Russians to take away the language, because when people have lost their memory, the words also lose their meaning and a language of meaningless words would “become folklore and sooner or later die a natural death”.
Something exactly opposite of this happens to Kundera’s father in the last years of his life. The words slip away from him, so that every attempt to define his thoughts results in the same sentence: “that’s strange”. The result is the astonishment of knowing everything and not being able to say anything. Kundera compares this to the silence of the silence of the Czech historians who have been forbidden not to remember by the Russians. Indeed, this is also the silence of the Storyteller who returns mute from the First World War and has no words to share his experience.

What haunts Tamina is not the desire of remembering but the remorse of forgetting. The reason why she cannot let go of the past and move on is because she cannot accept and cannot forgive herself for forgetting her dead husband.
However when she is taken to the island of children everything that she considered significant and serious, her body and her sexuality is rendered trivial and laughable. On this island sensuality becomes absurd, innocence becomes absurd and vocabulary decomposes. And finally in this kingdom of absurdity Tamina can stop looking back and feel lightness. She is free.

THE BORDER
This is where Kundera ties up the loose ends in the book. Border is of course, the geographical division between countries; between one’s home and the alien. It is also the border between life and death; between attainable and that which is beyond reach. It is also the border between coherence and absurdity; between love and laughter.
Jan is about to leave Prague and take up a position in US. His other friends have done so in the past and they still keep fighting for the freedom of their homeland. But all of them also know that after crossing the physical border, the bond tying them to their country is just illusory. It would be quite easy for them to stumble across the border where they stopped caring about their people and it was merely an enduring habit that prevented them from doing so.

The woman Jan loved most told him that she held on to life by thread. She was not suicidal but merely reiterating the fact of the fragility of human life. Life and death are separated by a border of few millimeters. Even a very little push would suffice to find one on the other side of the border, on the side where everything- love, faith, beliefs, history, memory- has no meaning. Simply because everything is unattainable.
There are three kinds of women in a man’s life. First are those of realized affairs and passing amours; the attained. Second are the women we wanted to have but who eluded us; the unattained. Third are the women (the girl Jan meets on the train, the girl i’ve loved the most) we like and are liked by but we would never have because in relation to them we are on the other side of the border; the unattainable.

Laughter as the ultimate destroyer of meaning was first encountered in the third part of the book. Its source is traced here. When things are repeated they lose a fraction of their meaning. And after a maximum acceptable dose of repetitions, they are eventually rendered meaningless and cross over the border by evoking laughter. Laughter denotes meaninglessness. Therefore, laughter is the enemy of love; of poetry, it is the enemy of erotic; of arousal, it is the enemy of grief; of mourning. It is a barrier between man and the world. It tears us away from the world and throws us back into our own cold solitude.


UPARANT, mostly a Postscript: After the Russian invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968, Milan Kundera lost his position as a professor at the Prague Institute for Advanced Cinematographic Studies and all his books were removed from public libraries. He settled in France in 1975. In 1979, “The Book of Laughter and Forgetting” was first published in response to which the Czech government revoked his citizenship. I guess some people can neither laugh nor forget!

* Translated from French by Aaron Asher, first Published in Great Britain by Faber and Faber Limited in 1996.
**Memento, 2000 (Director: Christopher Nolan)