Sunday, December 27, 2009

Movie Review: 3 Idiots

Chetan Bhagat's Five Point Someone may not be called a literary masterpiece, but it sure is entertaining with its guffaws and its Indianized English. I read the book a while back, and I was highly impressed by the author's straightforward and vitriolic views about the sagacious education system. Bhagat had introduced Ryan Oberoi to play the role of the rebel, an anarchist who wanted to do away with the grumpy system of education system prevailing in India. Ryan was never his protagonist; he simply played the second fiddle in the book. It was Hari, the mundane narrator of the book who was the hero. But things turned topsy-turvy when Bollywood walked into the scene to dramatize the already dramatic story Five Point Someone. And then when in the book everything went happily ever after with the three idiots, namely Ryan, Hari, and Alok, Bollywood begot its own idiots Farhaan (R. Madhavan), Raju (Sharmaan Joshi) and Rancho (Aamir Khan)the great for its new cinematic endeavor 3 Idiots .

3 Idiots can be summed up in one word as extremely majestic. It surely will make you laugh your guts out with its slapstick jokes, its funny sequences, its bathetically emotional scenes and make you to shed a tear or two in the emotional sequences. In short, 3 Idiots is a perfect desi dinner for your bulbous eyes which has all the spices in almost perfect proportion. The genetically modified melodrama has all it takes to hit the Indian audiences hard, and I see it topping the charts in no time. The movie definitely followed a major part of the book, only the incidents were either jumbled or heightened for greater effect.

3 Idiot' is a laughter riot right from the first scene where Farhaan fakes a hear attack while onboard an Air India flight to the last scene where Chatur finds out that his role model Mr. Phunsuk Wangdu is none but his college rival Rancho. I especially loved the portrayal of Raju's glum family in black and white. Despite scenes of hilarity, 3 Idiots does suffer from backlogs of vague emotions which seem at some portions of the movie vaguely put on, unorganized and unneeded. Another thing that stuck me was the heroic character of Rancho. I know it doesn’t look good for the perfect image of a movie if its hero fails to live up to the standard and flunks in exams or scores 5 point something, so Bollywood made Ryan Oberoi (of the book) alias Rancho become the class topper thus bringing forth the idea that we cannot still accept a flawed hero in our movies. In the long run, the act actually exemplified the character of Rancho and brought out the real essence of the movie. But the child delivery scene in the movie was definitely overtly exaggerated. I don’t think Chetan Bhagat has ever imagined his Ryan to do a child delivery with the aid of his friends. Since everything is fair in Bollywood and war, such sacrileges add to the vivacity of the movie's plot.

3 Idiots is a star studded affair which presents us with the grand acting skills of stars like Boman Irani as Professor.Viru Sahastrabuddhe or Omi Vaidya as Chatur Ramalingam. But Kareena Kapoor seemed a little unwanted as Pia, she didn’t add to the character of the fashion designing student Neha of the book, instead she is here a smart would be doctor who falls for the charm of Rancho out of the blue. One thing that stuck me about the movie is the way the real ages of the stars have been camouflaged fruitlessly. Even though Aamir Khan is a perfectionist as an actor, he seemed a little too old to be an engineering student in his early twenties. Nevertheless, the movie is a first hand example of great filmatography and fabulous humor. Like all Rajkumar Hirani' movie, this one has treats for all its viewers. The peppy song "Aal izz well" reminds us of his Munna Bhai movies.

The dialogues used in the movie will definitely come as eye openers to brainless muggers. 3 Idiots deftly bring out the very quintessence of Five Point Someone bringing to light the fatal flaws of the Indian education system. And though at some pint Aamir Khan does look like a know-it-all holy spirit inculcating others with his words, he does reciprocate Chetan Bhagat's ideas that the Indian education system lacks creativity and spontaneous love for knowledge. I hope Aamir's words reach the generation next and come as a harbinger of a utopian vision of a new educational system in India. Movies with messages such as this one should be taken as ground breaking attempts to change society.

The movie is an absolute delight when it comes to music. It features a galaxy of beautiful songs shot in great locations. I personally loved "Behti hawa" and "Zoobie doobie".

Overall, 3 Idiots is a wonderfully heartwarming movie that teaches us to stop being mentally troglodytes and introduce creativity in our minds. I give the movie a 3.5 rating out of five.

Friday, December 18, 2009

The Humorist
Barnali Saha

The man was sitting in front of the fireplace in his study throwing little balls of paper into it and was watching them burn. An almost tattered sheet of paper was sitting on his lap and he was tearing small bits from it and balling them. A leather bounded notebook lay open on the table next to the fireplace. The paper lacked even a single scratch from the pen, which the man was holding in is fist like some lethal weapon. It seemed that he had nothing to say or just that he didn’t know how to say it. The white sheet seemed to echo all the unspoken thoughts ringing in Miller Travis's mind, and he seemed not interested in marring its virgin beauty.

He was sitting upright in his chair, his head lost in thoughts and his mind consoling him that may be he would come up with something before the deadline. A few scraps of paper were lying on the ground; he had just torn away the three pages of pedestrian humor he had written. It lacked in compression and objectivity and was a no good article. Unsatisfied and beleaguered, he was trying his best to find out a streak of humor. There were deep wrinkles in his forehead; it was obvious that he had aged a lot more that he should have. At thirty-two he looked close to fifty with almost bald head and gray hair in the temples, the patina of wrinkles covering his face and his sunken eyes all accentuating his older age. Once upon a time Travis was a humorist who used to regularly write a humor column of great repute in the New York Times

Miller Travis was born in Cincinnati, Ohio to a not so well to do family of big tradition and small riches. His father, Robert Miller was a poet, his grandfather was a failed actor, and his great grand father, who was long dead by the time our protagonist was born, was a first class doctor who had amassed much wealth and tradition in his time. And that noble man had failed to expend his wealth in one lifetime left a part of it, rather a small part of it, to his future generations. One must agree that great grandfather Travis was one great man, for he had left such an enormous amount of money that the future generations almost had to demote their occupational levels to relatively nominal posts at the fringes of the fortune they had in hand.

Early in his life Miller's father introduced him to the al fresco. On several hot Sunday afternoons, father and son would head down to the bank of the little stream and sit there for hours until evening dawned and the biting gnats disturbed their sojourn.  On such lazy trips he would recite the sonnets of Shakespeare or the odes of Keats and his eyes would be swelled with deep seated imagination as his voice would touch on his favorite lines. Young Miller loved their trips and even though his father seldom published the poems he wrote after their excursions, he was forever enthusiastic to catch the charm of nature. On one such trip as his father recited, with bathetic emotionalism Keats's Ode to Autumn, Miller felt a stroke of humor inside him. And when his father had ended his monologue and stared at Miller with a questionable glance, Miller discovered that he wanted to be a humorist. And with that thought the bright prospect of another diminutive profession dawned on the Miller family.

Now, there are several humorists readily available in town, but Miller never wanted to be a stand-up comedian in a play or a joker in circus. He wanted to make skillful use of humor in the form of writing, and thereby create literature of exquisite value with his magic words. However, the transition from dream to reality is a big leap, and Miller realized the significance of this Brobdingnagian task of making dreams come true when several of his humorous articles and prose pieces were returned by the local newspapers with comments like "not up to the mark" that they "have decided to pass on." And that even though "there were some moments of extraordinary and lovely humor" they had found the voice of the writer a bit distracting. Criticisms as it is are hard to digest, they are the stale, rotten eggs you never wish to smell in your life, but inevitably, at some point of your mortal existence, those rotten eggs of cynicism are thrown at you.  And when Miller Travis faced the stinky weapon of mass destruction, he revolted back with great spirit.  For several months he burnt the midnight oil and read the great pieces of humorous literature. From P.G Wodehouse to Nikolai Gogol, re read it all with laborious cogitation. And after years of reading and pages of writing and a MFA degree from Columbia University, Miller finally managed to grab a job as a weekly columnist in The Daily Star, a local newspaper. His journalistic abilities flourished with time. After working at the Daily Star for almost five years, Miller applied for a job at the New York Times. He presented some of his best humorous articles about politics and social norms at the interview and managed to get a weekly column at the newspaper which paid him $1 for a word. But Miller was happy; it was exactly what he had wanted from his life, a job at the prestigious NY Times. He toasted to his success and joined his new vocation with enthusiasm.

In the beginning, everything was working just fabulous for him. People appreciated his creativity and he received rave reviews for his marvelous write-ups which combined the wide-eyed imagination of a rustic with a mordant city dweller's social criticisms. He made friends with great intellectuals and drank with some of the brightest men in New York. Travis attended book parties, discussions and interviews, in short he did all those things a literary luminary should do. But then everything turned upside down when he decided to volunteer for the Iraq war. His urge to see the action first-hand took him to the crux of the battlefield. Travis served as a supply truck driver and while delivering the supplies he imbibed with the exciting first-hand action the macabre side of a war. He saw dead and injured shoulders, civilians with their limbs broken and twisted like twigs; he saw bodies of children lying around, dead and burnt. His friends back home who had thought that a humorist like Travis who successfully derived humor from all aspects of life might be able to have a column or two of his Iraq experience. But their ideas proved utterly long when two months later Travis retuned home with PTSD. The war sight came as a shock to his senses and he began suffering from irritability, hyper-vigilance and hyper tension.  The condition worsened over time and Travis began having horrific nightmares. With PTSD haunting his life, Miller's ability to concoct humorous articles steadily worsened. His new articles were drab and unexciting; the humor was seemed put-on and stupid in some cases. The disheartened readers emailed The New York Times about the wild and irrational articles of Miller Travis. The directors of the paper contacted Travis with an ultimatum that if he failed to write a truly humorous article up to the taste of The New York Times for the weekender, he would lose his job. And since the time he had received the email, Miller had locked himself in his study trying to write something.

After almost twenty hours of forces incarceration, Miller Travis had no luck working. He just failed to get anything going and rejected all the drafts. He sat on his chair, his hands cupping his drooping head, the nerves pulsating rapidly in his temples. HE felt like a failure. For twenty hours he had been trying fruitlessly to discover a dollop of humor in his drab, whitewashed study. There were no true sentence, no real wit in him. All his creative abilities seemed to have died a sudden and horrific death. Travis looked at the clock in the mantelpiece. It was four thirty, but he didn’t know whether it was the beginning or the end of a day. Travis stood up and tied his gown, put on his sleepers and walked out of the room.

Travis lived in the top floor of a six storied apartment building with a small enclosed terrace which looked across the Manhattan luxury. He went to the terrace and soaked in the sights and sounds of the city. It was almost daybreak; the sky was a vast canvas of some unknown artist who had put several shades of red, orange and pink with care. The diffused lights from the sky brought out the soft beauty of the sepia tinted city that lay before Travis's eye.  His eyes suddenly fell down at the small green field surrounding the apartment building. The field was covered with thousands of dried fall leaves that the tree next to the apartment building had shed. The leaves looked so sad, so withered. They seemed to be staring at the vast sky with their listless eyes. They were like a sea of silent corpses lying in a battlefield after the war was over. Travis stared at them wondering how much life the leaves had only a few months back when spring was in full swing. The tree next to the building which was verdant with leaves stood specter thin, its bare branches screaming disgust. As Travis looked at the sight underneath his apartment, he realized the futility of existence. That everything in this world ends up in a big lump of nothingness to a sea of fruitlessness and hopeless exhilaration. It is strange that every year, everyday, with the march of seasons, with the end of days, with the movement of time, nature fills our staring eyes with false hopes of perfection. Travis understood that every year at that particular time the battered field would look the same only to be turned green and juicy in spring and then reduced again to a sea of fallen, dead leaves with the advent of winter. There was so much humorousness in nature; it is always fooling you with its sleight of hands. It was a manipulative necromancer ever challenging us with its deceptive devices, but we always fail to understand its illusive strategies, its unspoken challenges or winks. Travis could feel the invisible and illusive hand of nature tickling his body. He suddenly began to laugh. After a futile day, he had managed to find the humor he was looking for, it was indeed the truest sense of humor--the humor of nature, the humor of life. Travis's laughs echoed in the corners of the sky and then died down to a wave of nothingness.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Short Story

The Poet
Barnali Saha

The Poet
Barnali Saha

Matthew Jacob was a man of very few words. He was an ordinary, uninspired gentleman who lived his life based on certain indistinct rules that his mind had written for him decades ago and he had been following them without questioning like a well bred myrmidon. For so many years, he did not exactly know how many years; he had been waking up at a certain hour in the morning, eating cereal and milk for his breakfast and walking a good seven and half block from his home to his office. Jacob worked at a private car insurance company called United Auto Insurance in their customer service department. Jacob's whole day would revolve around the telephone. It is strange how an omni-directional device devoid of any element of life could be so dear to somebody. But Matthew Jacob loved his job. Everyday his heart would buzz as he would wake up at his fixed morning hour and sip in his dark coffee wondering who would make the first call to him. It was not that the calls that he received through out the day were happy calls of Christmas wishes or holiday greetings, in most cases the calls he received happened to be unhappy or unpleasant calls when people would talk about an accident in the highway or a car wreck near the central park and if the day were good, about the procedure of procuring the insurance and how much coverage would a certain annual scheme offer. You see, there wasn’t anything in those calls to look forward to, but it was the sheer joy of using the telephone and talking into it that made Matthew Jacob yearn for more. It was these modest elements of daily life--the waking up in the morning, the walking to office, the short nap in the afternoon in the privacy of his cubicle, and talking on the phone that made Jacob's life the way it was. In one word an outsider can sum up his life as serene. People in office often wondered how Jacob managed to be so calm and unassuming while living in a city that is known for its exhilarating tickles, fashionable lives, nighttime parties, discotheques and hot carnal pleasures. It seemed odd and even uncanny that when the dusk light lathered up the city Jacob would walk back home alone in the darkness while his co workers and the rest of the New York City would plunge in a sea of new found pleasure. But Jacob laughed at their quaint ideas of clichéd New York life in his mind. It was not that he did not love the city or did not care about the incessant revolving faces that thumped the Broadway, it was just that he associated himself to the other side of the city, to that other character of the town that nobody would dare talk about. Matthew Jacob was more like the cold snowy evenings of winter when the whole city covered in a blanket of white snow would look so sad, so secluded. Many a times on those lonely evenings Jacob would look out his apartment window and stare at the snowy alley laid before his eyes and try to hear the hidden voice of the city.  There was something in that snowy cover that made the city suddenly seem vivacious to the eyes of Matthew Jacob. He wondered if the city had a living heart, if it was a being of flesh and blood forever trying to make its human entry in the consciousness of its inmates. Thus, even if people swooned over some hot new bar, a new restaurant or the lights in the Times Square, Jacob forever adored the secluded wet look of the city.

It would be wrong to say that Matthew Jacob had no knack for entertainment. There was a certain kind of hidden pleasure that he had been indulging in for quite sometime. It so happened many years back, Jacob forgot exactly how many years back, after a very bad day he had returned home from office. Beleaguered and totally frustrated, Jacob started doing a self appraisal of his life and what he lived for. After a terrible one hour of self examination, he discovered, to his surprise, that there was nothing, absolutely nothing whatsoever to live for in his life. He realized he had no friends, he hated going out, and he hated talking to the idiots in office who nagged him forever and that he had no girlfriend. After dinner that night Jacob spent ten minutes before the somewhat dusty bathroom mirror to discover that he was getting old and wrinkly. His hair had started to thin and there were unattractive bags under his eyes. That night Jacob could not sleep. The fear of dying alone in a city where no one knew him weighed heavy on him. In the moment of despondency, he brought out his diary and started writing a poem which he named On My Life. In the poem he wrote about his fears, his pains and his still unfulfilled desires. Jacob's pen went on, unruffled, for an hour or so and when it finally finished, he discovered to his disbelief that he had written ten complete pages about his own insignificant life. Jacob read what he had written, again and again. He felt a heavy weight that had just been removed from his heart. The next day he went to his office in unusually good spirits. To the surprise to his coworkers, he cracked jokes, ate donuts for lunch with them and even ogled at the pretty PR lady. "Is everything alright with you, Jacob?" a co-worker asked surprisingly. "Well, everything is just fabulous," Jacob replied with a big grin.

That very week Jacob procured a beautiful brown leather bound diary from the posh stationary store around the corner which cost him eight dollars and seventy five cents and a Parker pen to commence his new journey of being a poet. Every evening, after dinner, Matthew Jacob would sit on his bed and stack the two pillows one above the other to make a desk and write. Some nights when he was in mood, he would look at the starless city sky and write about love. In high school a girl named Mary Hopkins was his first crush. She was beautiful and had soft blonde hair and red cheeks. Jacob had adored her and had kissed her once, on her left cheek. But the girl was never serious; after high school she left Philadelphia and went to the South with her parents. Jacob never met her again, but in his imagination she often came sometimes like a femme fatale, sometimes like a benign Southern belle with deep blue eyes and he would write about her in abstract poetic verse. Jacob was never good with rhyming. When some poems dealing with mundane subjects like the advent of Christmas spontaneously rhymed well, other poems, especially those dealing with love, never rhymed.

Matthew Jacob suddenly felt a strange emotional transference at the age of forty five. He was never meant to be a poet, although on several occasions during his school and college years he had fondly spent his hollow time with Wordsworth, Keats and Robert Burns and being inspired by their mellifluous lines, often scribbled, mindlessly, a series of poetic lines, but those pedestrian lines never showed his genius as a poet. During his adolescent years he had wanted to be a preacher, and then after a long hiatus, one day at the age of forty five, he did a whirlwind and found a new vocation: he chose poetry to God. Those of you who think that an actual creative nature develops during the developing years should come down to Central Park just at the hour of dusk and soak in the play of magical colors in the horizon and feel the gentle breeze brushing your face. On such moments you would feel your heart spontaneously singing paeans to the last lights of the dying day. Whenever Jacob left his office early, he would rush to the Central Park and imbibe the setting of dusk in the New York City. And as he would stare at the sky his heart would compose lines of poetry, lines he would write down when he went back home.

One weekend, two and a half years later, Matthew Jacob composed his masterpiece. It was a six page poem about a lost traveler’s journey back to his home. It was wonderfully written, the lines rhymed, the tone was consistent and soothing. After writing it he felt proud and realized that it was time that he let people know about his innate talent. At office that week Jacob met Marcus, his boss, a prosaic, portly, red skinned British gentleman who had no interest in the romantic aspects of life. “Marcus” Jacob said “Do you read poetry?” Marcus was looking at the tax files at that time and looked up, surprised and said, “ Poetry, me? God! No. Why?”  “Never mind, I was just asking.” Jacob replied and left the room. But in an office where the inmates lack any kind of entertainment all day, the prospect of a juicy gossip often seems tempting. And so the next day when Jacob reached his office all his colleagues including Marcus began pressing him as to  why on earth would he talk about something as insignificant as poetry? Jacob felt irritated in the beginning, but then he realized that his colleagues who had never respected him might show him some admiration if he displayed his talent. “I write poems and that is why I asked Marcus about poetry,” he said. And soon after his words had dropped from his mouth, a pin drop silence seized the whole room. The men began looking at each others’ faces, open-mouthed, unable to believe that a car insurance company worker could be so romanticized by his daily life that he would compose poetry. Well, you cannot blame these people, most of whom were married and therefore, too engaged in family lives to even listen to a good song play in the radio or too engrossed in paltry pleasures like poker and wine to appreciate a thing of beauty. But Jacob had expected their reaction to be tad different. He felt embarrassed on seeing their dumb faces stare at him with disbelief. Jacob coughed to break the silence and tried to get back to work. “You should show us your work, why don’t you bring some of your poems tomorrow and we could listen to them at lunch,” a colleague said. Jacob realized his mistake and said, “No, no. I am not that good.” But then Marcus said, “Why are you always so chicken, Jacob? It’s just us, your friends. People share everything with their friends.” Jacob had to finally agree to them. For the first time in his life Jacob suddenly wanted to prove that he was not an insignificant bauble, that he was far more talented than those pedestrians at office.

The following day Jacob went to office, and at lunch brought out his diary to read his poems to his colleagues. His heart began to beat faster and his fingers shivered as he opened his diary. Every person was present that day and they surrounded Jacob as he sat in his cubicle with his poems in his hand. “Come on, Jacob, read,” said one. “Don’t keep us waiting,” said another in a terribly mawkish tone. Jacob cleared his throat and read:
“Unbeknownst to the mighty blue I have traveled lands afar, high seas and rocky mounds
My drooping eyelids have scathed the broad universe with unremitting ambitions
The traded turfs have traveled through time and are worn out like me
One unquenchable North Star rests high above, looking down at the earthly grace
The molten lava of the last rainy season ooze from the sinews of the mud
Unbeknownst to me I have been delighted, cradled and nurtured
When the weary feet stomped on the pricks, I saw brambles, new aspirations align.”

After Jacob had finished reading he looked up to see the faces of his friends. There were no reaction in the beginning, they all blankly looked at Jacob, and some of them were smiling without any reason. “It was good, did you write it?” Marcus asked from behind. “Of course, he did,” said another colleague. “You should get these published in the New York Mirror. My daughter once said that they publish poetry on Sundays,” said Rob another co-worker, and as soon as he had spoken those words, the whole office began pressing Jacob to send his poems to the New York Mirror. Jacob had never wanted his works to be published and felt embarrassed, even insulted, by the behavior of his colleagues. He tried his best to turn them down, but failed. Marcus soon found out the address of the New York Mirror and Rob and few others made him copy some of his poems and write a cover letter. After a few hours, they accompanied Jacob to the post office to make sure that he sent the document to the right address. All the while Jacob followed their instructions, without questioning, he even thought that his friends were trying to help him be a published poet. But as he was leaving his office that evening, he heard loud guffaws coming from Marcus’s room. He went near the room drawn by the conversation, where he thought his name being mentioned a couple of times. “It was fun, isn’t it?” some body was saying. “Yeah, I laughed the whole day. Did you see his face when he wrote that letter?” “I hope the New York Mirror derives a good laugh of his poems too.” “I know they will,” Marcus said, “Uncle Jacob is getting all mushy and poetic, can you believe that? I think he copied them from somewhere.”  “Yeah, he must have,” some one said. Jacob couldn’t stand any longer; he felt warm tears soaking his eyelids. He rushed out of the office feeling dejected and sad. Never in his life had he felt so much like a failure like he felt that day. He realized he shouldn’t have shown his colleagues his poems in the first place and allowed them to laugh at his talent. That night Jacob tore up the pages of his diary and threw them in the trashcan.

Few weeks later a guest, namely the flu, decided to visit Matthew Jacob’s home. After the guest had attacked him, for several days he coughed and sneezed and lay paralyzed all day long wishing that somebody would come up and take him to the doctor. As the fever increased, he lost his ability to think straight. His organs burned in fever and he hallucinated. He saw that he was getting a Nobel Prize for his poetry and to his surprise; it was Marcus who was giving him the award. Then he saw himself reciting his poem, naked, in Central Park to a group of zombies.  He suffered for five days and on Sunday, June 11th 2001, he breathed his last. A couple of days later somebody from the apartment building called the police when the person realized that she had not seen Jacob come out of his room in a week, and there was a terrible rotten smell reeking in the corridor. The police discovered Jacob’s half rotten dead body from his apartment. His face was yellow and his body was swollen. No body came to his funeral and the police cremated him with the unidentified dead bodies. They had informed Marcus about the sudden death of Matthew Jacob, but had not heard back from him. Within a week a new person occupied Jacob’s seat in the office and just like that, the whole office forgot about Matthew Jacob and his poems. They got back to their usual routine and hardly talked about him except when they explained the duties of a customer service representative to the new man who joined the office.

On the following weekend, the New York Mirror published Jacob’s poem in their poetry section. They thought it was a brilliant piece and even sent a congratulations letter to the poet. Rob Marshall saw the poem in the paper and brought it to the office the following day. At lunch he shared the news of Jacob’s publication and laughed at it saying that the “copy-cat” had finally found a page in a paper to show off his writing skills. After the laughing session was over, they balled the newspaper clipping and threw it in the bin. That night it rained in torrents and the New York City life was stuck for sometime. At some unknown corner, in a pile of garbage, in the rain soaked city, a news paper clipping of a beautiful poem lay abandoned. The paper was almost frayed; the ink had dissolved in the water. Like the poet who had once composed the poem, his work was also annihilated by the cruel city which had once inspired him to be a poet.

Picture from internet:

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

The Little Red Book
Barnali Saha

© Barnali Saha (Banerjee), all rights reserved. 

P.S. Picture from internet.