Monday, October 10, 2005

Ramazan Razzmatazz

The holy month of Ramzan (Ramadhan) comes with its whole shebang of rules and rituals and cirumspects many of the liberties we (Muslims) take in life for granted. Sunrise and sunset become matters of faith, and time, suddenly measured in minutes and even seconds, acquires the power of dividing the line between hunger and bellyfullness. Working amid the ebb and tide of energy, sometimes the fasting stimulates fervent action by allowing utilisation of seemingly unlimited and uniterrupted supply of time and sometimes it enforces a sagacious laziness induced by a somnolent metabolism. We are at the mercy of the mood: heightened spirituality might sometimes puncture the alacrity to read and watch. And we yield oursleves to the demand of the moment. What esle can we do?

I've been reading, between fasting and feasting, Suketu Mehta's Maximum City (I had been waiting for the paperback edition which is now out), a magnum opus on the tumultous Bomaby, Urbs Prima in Indis, and All the President's Men, Woodward and Bernstein's famous chronicle of the Watergate scandal. The latter is for a project that I am doing and the former, for sheer pleasure.

Mehta has written an eminently readable book, and if you want a fresh take on contemporary India, it's the book for you. I would go so far as to say that it is an update on Naipaul's A Million Mutinies Now, only it has much less stolidity and much more drollness. What more can you ask for in less than S$20? The most interesting chapters in the book, revealed so far to me during my random readings, are the ones on the beer bar girls and on Bollywood. Mehta has uncovered many of the shenanigans of Bollywood and the pirouetting secrets that makes its 3.5 billion global audience go mad about it. There are also stories about the mafia bullets that fly over Bollywood. It's a fascinating view of Bollywood that he had failed to give in an National Geographic cover story early this year. Now I understand why Vinod Chopra was mad at Mehta. You have to read the book to get all the juice.

I also watched a couple of movies on DVD that were on my list for a long time: The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, Red River, Shane, Sunset Boulevard, Million Dollar Baby. In my humble opinion, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, is the classiest western I have ever seen. Red River was impressive, especially the relationship between John Wyne and Montgomery Clift, which was so much about love, defiance and the courage of conviction. Shane was ok but I guess it stands the test of time because of its essential humaneness: a stranger--a disavowed gunslinger--comes around to help and protect a loving family from the powerful rancher thugs. Once his job is done, he leaves for another place where he could help some other needy people. Shane is the quintessential do-gooder, the Gandhi with a gun.

Sunset Boulevard is, of course, in a league of its own. What interested me most, in fact more than the angle on the life of a fading silent-era film star and themes of love, jealousy, fame, and the cruel ways of the world, was the angle on the frustrated and hapless writer. I don't view myself as a pessimistic person but I can't help thinking that it has captured the essence of being a writer, especially a failed and out-of-favour writer. The screenwriter's death, the opening and closing sequence of the film--the rest in flashback, is a sad reminder to all writers of their fate if they ever ran out of luck. The difference between success and failure can be as grim as death.

Million Dollar Baby succeeded in stirring the right emotions, and tears, at the soulful moments. Clint Eastwood has helmed the movie with perfect elan, and a certain sophistication of understanding and represting the human condition is writ on every frame of this film. The best part was the voice over by Morgan Freeman who acts as the narrator of the film. This is not a movie to perk up your mood but it might reach your soul if you open yourself to it.

I also saw a movie in a multiplex: Into the Blue. No, this was not on my list. I just wanted to be entertained. In the past few months, Hollywood has become so infantile in its content and presentations that I had been left with little or no choice. I have been avoiding the theatres for months now as no Hollywood film was strong enough to rouse my interest. To cure myself of melancholia, when I stepped into the theatre, I was to choose among The Myth, Four Brothers, Dukes of Hazzard and Into the Blue. I finally settled for Into the Blue. If not a gripping story, at least Jessica Alba's curves could hold my attention. That was guaranteed and I got more than I had expected. But that is no compensation for a good story well told. No wonder Hollywood has its worst year in 2005 in the Asian market. Hollywood watch out! Don't forget that content is the king. I don't don't know how far King Kong can save it from an ignominious year at the box office. I have my doubts.

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