Sunday, June 25, 2006

Krrish invokes mixed reactions

Rakesh Roshan's Bollywood bonanza Krrish, his sequel to the super hit Koi Mil Gaya, starring his star son Hrithik Roshan, has been one of the most awaited movies of the year in Bollywood circles. For months, it has been promoted as India's first Superhero movie. The action sequences and special effects were tauted as the best Bollywood had ever seen. In fact, Roshan Sr said in an interview that "It (special effects) is not like Hollywood. It is Hollywood."

For me and many watchers, Krrish has been special also because it was extensively (60%) shot in Singapore. Singapore Tourism Board (STB) invited the Roshans to shoot the movie here and promote Singapore, hoping to repeat the Roshan effect on Indian tourists what they had seen in the case of New Zealand (Roshan's earlier film Kaho Na Pyaar Hai was shot in NZ and it had apparently increased the tourist influx to NZ many times over).

I haven't seen the film yet but the reviews have been kind of mixed.

Rajiv Masand says in IBNLive: "Yes, Krrish may actually be Bollywood's first stab at a superhero story, and the intention is commendable, but the effort leaves a lot to be desired." He adds: "My biggest complaint against Krrish is directed towards its screenplay: It stinks."

Sukanya Verma says in "The production values are shoddy. SFX team of Marc Kolbe and Craig Mumma's shabby use of super imposed background is annoying and distracting. Cinematographer Santosh Thundiiayil could have opted for a darker, slick look. Instead, he lends Krrish an extra-bright and powdery appearance befitting a detergent commercial. Siu Tung Ching and Sham Kaushal's action gets no points for originality. Most of it is borrowed from Matrix flicks and is repetitive in nature. Surely there must be more to a superhero than surging from one pole to another. This gratification comes to you only in the tail end of the movie. Krrish neither has the sleek aura nor the deep-rooted ideology of superheroes. What it does have is a super spirited performance from Hrithik Roshan, which is likely to appeal to kids. And that's worth a three-star cheer."

Raja Sen in has another view to offer: "Do the Krrish writers succeed? Not really. While luxuriously taking up almost three full hours of screentime, they plod through an extremely derivative landscape. Ideas are borrowed from a bunch of movies -- the few people who have watched John Woo's Paycheck will feel some déjà vu -- and effect-shots from a million more, including The Matrix films, Spider-Man, and Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon. And watch out for the distinct Batman hangover when he actually dons the mask. Krrish is mired by predictability. There are no big revelations, no sudden surprises. There's also no real character involvement, the viewer not actually caring enough about Krrish but just, like the protagonist himself, caught up in all his contrived coolth. However, the fact that it's exactly what the KMG fan expects is the reason the sequel will actually succeed. I'd bet on a sequel to Krrish."

That is a bit positive. More positive is Diganta Guha in The Hindustan Times: "Technically, Krrish is perhaps the best in Bollywood history, whether in terms of action, special effects, cinematography or sound. There's little for the actors to do but deliver their bit and let Roshan Sr take the credit for a brilliant package...The sleek action sequences by Hong Kong-based Tony Ching Siu Tung and Sham Kaushal set a new trend, and combined with the special effects by US-based Marc Kolbe and Craig Mumma, they are a treat to watch...Krrish is a breath of fresh air into the staid world of Bollywood, much like Sanjay Leela Bhansali's Black. Watch it for its own sake and feast your eyes on the spread Roshan Sr has laid out for you."

Wah! That is a wonderful review for Krrish. Roshans must be happy to read this but the site looks like the official promotional site of Krrish.

Surprisingly, none of the above mentioned reviews have mentioned, not even once, the breathtakingly beautiful scenes from Singapore and how well Roshan has exploited their picture postcard prettiness!

In fact, on the other side of the Singapore River, Singapore's Today film reviewer had some complaints against Roshan's portrayal of Singapore in "A prosaic portrayal: Krrish makes Singapore look uninteresting" (June 24, 2006):

"There is a good reason why so many Singaporean film-makers choose to set their films in Singapore's grittier spaces: There is little that is interesting about Singapore's snazzy side. And that is one of the problems with the blockbuster-wannabe Krrish — the first Bollywood film to be funded under the Singapore Tourism Board's $10-million Film in Singapore! Scheme."

"It doesn't make Singapore look terribly interesting."

In this sequel to the 2004 hit Koi Mil Gaya, Hrithik Roshan plays Krishna, a man with supernatural powers — his father was, wait for it, empowered by an alien called Jadoo — who falls in love with Priya (Priyanka Chopra) and follows her to Singapore. The problem is, Priya initially wants only to exploit his powers to score a hit show for the TV station where she works. So, Krishna and Priya go traipsing through Singapore's most prominent places in their courtship. Audiences get to see Shenton Way, Sentosa, Chinatown and Boat Quay filmed in the most prosaic ways. Buy a postcard and you'd get the same picture."

"Perhaps to add interest to banality of the setting, the film also portrays a seedier Singapore that doesn't really exist. As Krishna steps out of Changi Airport, two thugs on a motorcycle try to grab his belongings. And if the film is to be believed, Clifford Pier is a hangout for motorcycle thugs who speak bad English."

Whatever the criticism and irrespective of Krrish's aforementioned weaknesses, the film is going to increase the Indian tourist inflow to Singapore. After all, millions of Indians seeing the beautiful Singapore shots in the Krrish songs playing on their telly day and night won't be able to ignore the charm of the lion city.


There is this interesting news that I want to share with you. My website, Kitaab, has been featured in APWN (Asia Pacific Writers Network, an initiative of PEN Australia). Along with my editorial, writings by my friends Fakrul Alam, Deepika Shetty and Jai Arjun Singh have also been showcased. Take a peek here.

India vs China: Is the world really 'flat'?

Sorry for digressing from my pet topic of books and writers this week. I find the India vs Chian debate extremely engrossing as it concerns our own future. A good debate on the two rising economies has been going on for quite some time now.

Here is an interesting podcast, which in fact provides a radically different view on this topic (TiECON East 2006: Howard Anderson Keynote on India & China: Is the World Flat or “Spiky”?)

Venture capitalist Howard Anderson, in this podcast, predicts the position of India and China in the next 20 years.

Anderson says that India has a temporary advantage and it might lose the game if it does not move towards development of proprietory software and increase its manufacturing base (Amartya Sen said the same thing in a BBC interview a few days ago). India already employs about 10,000 foreign workers (from US, Europe as it is suffering from shortage of skilled workers!!) and the salaries of its workers are steadily increasing--damaging India's cost advantage (No wonder recently Apple decided to shut down its outsourcing lab there; Another company, a British power company, also recently closed down its call centre business in India).

China is developing its physical as well intellectual infrastructure at a great speed. It seems to be at a more advantageous position.

Saturday, June 24, 2006

America on the decline?

While the media is agog with stories of China and India rising and becoming great economic powers, America's decline as a technological innovator (and obliquely as a power) is also being discussed a lot these days. Recently, Newsweek ran a cover story on this theme titled, Can America Compete?

Writes international editor of Newsweek, Fareed Zakaria:

"Well, Americans have replaced Britons atop the world, and we are now worried that history is happening to us. History has arrived in the form of "Three Billion New Capitalists," as Clyde Prestowitz's recent book puts it, people from countries like China, India and the former Soviet Union, which all once scorned the global market economy but are now enthusiastic and increasingly sophisticated participants in it. They are poorer, hungrier and in some cases well trained, and will inevitably compete with Americans and America for a slice of the pie. A Goldman Sachs study concludes that by 2045, China will be the largest economy in the world, replacing the United States.

It is not just writers like Prestowitz who are sounding alarms. Jeffrey Immelt, CEO of GE, reflects on the growing competence and cost advantage of countries like China and even Mexico and says, "It's unclear how many manufacturers will choose to keep their businesses in the United States." Intel's Andy Grove is more blunt. "America ... [is going] down the tubes," he says, "and the worst part is nobody knows it. They're all in denial, patting themselves on the back, as the Titanic heads for the iceberg full speed ahead."

"Much of the concern centers on the erosion of science and technology in the U.S., particularly in education..."

In another relevant story, "The fast-fading luster of the American story" in IHT,
Nathan Gardels and Mike Medavoy conclude that America's soft power (its cultural exports) is on the wane. I have been thinking along these lines, and their ideas strike a chord with me--didn't somebody great minds think alike?

"This vast influence of American culture in the world is what Harvard professor Joseph Nye has called "soft power."

Now, however, we are witnessing a mounting resistance, particularly from Asia and the Muslim world, to the American media's libertarian and secular messages.

There is also resistance to the mere fact of America's overwhelming cultural dominance. Josef Joffe, the publisher-editor of the German weekly Die Zeit, has put it directly: "Between Vietnam and Iraq, America's cultural presence has expanded into ubiquity, and so has resentment of America. Soft power does not necessarily increase the world's love for America. It is still power, and it still makes enemies."

If, as Nye has said, politics in the information age is about whose story wins, America's story, which has won for so long, is losing its universal appeal.

Fewer and fewer are buying into the American narrative. Needless to say, that has big implications for America's storyteller - Hollywood - as well.

America's soft power is losing its luster for several reasons."

Now read on to know those reasons. The piece is thought-provoking.

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Minorities in Malaysia

I seldom write about politics here in my blog but this one is special. Fellow blogger, Sharanya Manivannan, sent me this link to her open letter to the Prime Minsiter of India. Sharanya forcefully talks about the despicable state of minority rights in Malaysia-- a real cause for concern. Reading her account makes me shudder at the dangers of radical Islam. Only yesterday I read the news that some Muslim clerics in Malaysia wanted to impose a ban on general Muslims from attending religious festivities of other religions. Thankfully moderate Malaysians have criticised such remarks. The same spirit and more needs to be shown for minority rights as well.

Read the open letter here.

A discussion on this topic is already on at Sepia Mutiny.

Fishwick does a la David Davidar and Dalrymple catches big fish

Michael Fishwick of Bloomsbury has done a la David Davidar. The publisher and cheque-writer has turned a fairly successful novelist. When I read about him here, I got reminded of David Davidar. Davidar was the CEO of Penguin Books India when he sent off his novel, The House of Blue Mangoes, to the most famous lit agent in London, of course under a different name. Fishwick did the same thing, and you know, he sent his ms to the same agent! Pure coincidence! Looks like Atundhati Roy's agent is the publisher's favourite too.

In the same interview, we get to know that Dalrymple has signed a huge deal with Bloomsbury that has caused some controversy in the publishing industry:

"But he stiffens at mention of the Dalrymple deal. "It wasn't wildly more than he was being paid at HarperCollins," he says sniffily. The reports ignored the small print, he adds. The £2m is for five books. "His last book sold 50,000 in hardback and will have sold 200,000 in paperback. All William's books sell 5,000 or 6,000 copies a year and have done since I first published him in 1987. So, in terms of where you are going to put your money, it is as safe a bet as you can think of."

Last Words

Harper Lee's has been a curious story. She did not publish anything after her first hugely successful novel, To kill a mocking bird.

Here is some light on her rather mysterious life:

Harper Lee's last major interview was given to Roy Newquist in March 1964, for his book 'Counterpoint'

"I never expected any sort of success with Mockingbird. I was hoping for a quick and merciful death at the hands of reviewers, but at the same time I hoped that maybe someone would like it enough to give me encouragement - public encouragement. I got rather a whole lot, and in some ways this was just about as frightening as the quick, merciful death I'd expected.

[My next book] goes ever so slowly. Many writers really don't like to write ...They loathe the process of sitting down trying to turn thoughts into reasonable sentences. I like to write - sometimes too much because when I get into work I don't want to leave it. I'll go for days and days without leaving the house. I'll go out long enough to get papers and pick up food and that's it.

This was my childhood: if I went to a film once a month it was pretty good.

We had to use our own devices in our play, for our entertainment. We didn't have much money. We didn't have toys, nothing was done for us, so we lived in our imagination most of the time. We were readers, and we would transfer everything we had seen on the printed page to the backyard in the form of drama.

It takes time and patience and effort to turn out a work of art, and few people seem willing to go all the way. I see a great deal of sloppiness and I deplore it. I think writers today are too easily pleased with their work. This is sad. There's no substitute for struggling, if a struggle is needed, to make an English sentence as beautiful as it should be.

I want to do the best I can with the talent God gave me. I would like to leave some record of... small-town middle-class southern life. All I want to be is the Jane Austen of south Alabama."

John Updike, Terrorism, and the Future of Books

These days terrorism is a hot topic for novelists. Both Yasmina Khadare and John Updike have come out with new novels that have terrorism as their central themes. While Yasmina Khadare's novel is titled "The Attack," Updike's is simply called "Terrorist."

Here's a review of Updike's novel by NYT's Michiko Kakutani:

"Unfortunately, the would-be terrorist in this novel turns out to be a completely unbelievable individual: more robot than human being and such a cliché that the reader cannot help suspecting that Mr. Updike found the idea of such a person so incomprehensible that he at some point abandoned any earnest attempt to depict his inner life and settled instead for giving us a static, one-dimensional stereotype.

"Terrorist" possesses none of the metaphysical depth of classic novelistic musings on revolutionaries like "The Secret Agent," "The Possessed" or "The Princess Casamassima," and none of the staccato, sociological brilliance of more recent fictional forays into this territory, like Don DeLillo's "Mao II."

However, this is not going to dampen my spirits. I look forward to reading these two novels.

Here is another link (podcast) to Updike's speech on the future of books. Quite interesting!

Thursday, June 01, 2006

In Lust We Trust?

Singaporean author Gerrie Lim is back with a bang, and his new book is lustier than his previous outputs: It is befittingly called, In Lust We Trust!

Lim was a scribe in the US in the yester years and used to cover the music industry and later on the porn industry there.

He got famous with his book on the escort business: "His 2004 book Invisible Trade, an expose on the upscale escorting industry, is in its third printing and has sold an impressive 20,000 copies."

Lim has used his porn industry experience (of covering it) to write his latest, what looks like, bestseller. In an interview with Today, he made some interesting points:

"I think that a lot of us are inherently voyeuristic, whether we like it or not. The people who deny it are obviously lying. The fact that someone bothers to watch a reality show where people make fools of themselves is voyeuristic, not to mention more exploitative than pornography."

"Of course, adult entertainment has been demonised and there is no way around that. It's like writing a book about professional wrestling and explaining it to people who think it's stupid. Well, stupid is the point. It's funny and not real because it's not sports but entertainment."

"It's the same with porn. Adult actress Nina Hartley gave me a great quote when I was researching this book: "You've got to remember that porn is basically live action sex cartoons."

If you can't hold it anymore and read the whole stuff, go here.

The Birth of a Jehadi

In its latest issue, New Yorker takes a look at the phenomenon of Muslim Jehadis, in the context of the last year's London bombings. The article quotes from a British investigation report and shows respect for its conclusions:

"The report concludes that there is no consistent profile that could be used to help identify who might be vulnerable to such radicalization, and yet the biographies do show in some detail how the making of an Al Qaeda-inspired suicide bomber is an idiosyncratic narrative of push and pull. Alienation from citizenship or family and a loss of faith in secular opportunity create a pool of potential volunteers; preachers, recruiters, and Al Qaeda leaders take it from there. The British parliament’s main intelligence-oversight committee, in a separate report, admits that Britain has failed to consider adequately how it might reduce the number of potential recruits: “We remain concerned that across the whole of the counter-terrorism community the development of the home-grown threat and the radicalisation of British citizens were not fully understood or applied to strategic thinking.”

In the same issue, Margaret Talbot profiles the famous Italian journalist Oriana Fallaci and her views on Islam.

In the piece, there is this interesting anecdote about Fallaci' meeting with Khomeni:

"Fallaci continued posing indignant questions about the treatment of women in the new Islamic state. Why, she asked, did Khomeini compel women to “hide themselves, all bundled up,” when they had proved their equal stature by helping to bring about the Islamic revolution? Khomeini replied that the women who “contributed to the revolution were, and are, women with the Islamic dress”; they weren’t women like Fallaci, who “go around all uncovered, dragging behind them a tail of men.” A few minutes later, Fallaci asked a more insolent question: “How do you swim in a chador?” Khomeini snapped, “Our customs are none of your business. If you do not like Islamic dress you are not obliged to wear it. Because Islamic dress is for good and proper young women.” Fallaci saw an opening, and charged in. “That’s very kind of you, Imam. And since you said so, I’m going to take off this stupid, medieval rag right now.” She yanked off her chador."

Fallaci has written a lot on Islam and the West in recent years. The profile further notes:

"She writes that Muslim immigration is turning Europe into “a colony of Islam,” an abject place that she calls “Eurabia,” which will soon “end up with minarets in place of the bell-towers, with the burka in place of the mini-skirt.” Fallaci argues that Islam has always had designs on Europe, invoking the siege of Constantinople in the seventh century, and the brutal incursions of the Ottoman Empire in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. She contends that contemporary immigration from Muslim countries to Europe amounts to the same thing—invasion—only this time with “children and boats” instead of “troops and cannons.”

Meanwhile, in the NYRB, Michael Massing somewhat rises to the defence of two American researchers who have done a controversial paper on the Israel Lobby in America.

"Not since Foreign Affairs magazine published Samuel Huntington's "The Clash of Civilizations?" in 1993 has an academic essay detonated with such force as "The Israel Lobby and US Foreign Policy," by professors John J. Mearsheimer of the University of Chicago and Stephen M. Walt of Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government. Published in the March 23, 2006, issue of the London Review of Books and posted as a "working paper" on the Kennedy School's Web site, the report has been debated in the coffeehouses of Cairo and in the editorial offices of Haaretz. It's been called "smelly" (Christopher Hitchens), "nutty" (Max Boot), "conspiratorial" (the Anti-Defamation League), "oddly amateurish" (the Forward), and "brave" (Philip Weiss in The Nation). It's prompted intense speculation over why The New York Times has given it so little attention and why The Atlantic Monthly, which originally commissioned the essay, rejected it."

Worth a read as it gives interesting insights into the working of political lobbies in the US.