Saturday, February 25, 2006

Memoirs Of a Geisha - Book Review

Its a different book, most certainly.

Japan has held an air of mystique very successfully and is known to be a very closed and rigid society. The exotic women with stark white painted faces with heavily lined eyes and the pouted red mouth are so the antithesis of everything one is used to, that they greatly inspire curiosity and interest.

But having read the book, the story seems very familiar and unfortunately too real. A young girl from a small fishing village, Chiyo Sakamoto, is sold to a Okiya, a house of the Geishas, for training to be its principal source of income in the future. This is her story, of her trials and tribulations, her falling in love with the Chairman, her apperenticeship, her debut as a Geisha and how she eventually gets her man.

The part of the book that got me sore was her mizuage (look it up if you need to know) being sold off to the highest bidder.A story that in some concentrated or diluted version lies behind every exploited woman in the world.
Also the point all throughout the book that Sayuri (Chiyo's Geisha Name) gamely accepts what she has to do like someone who has to do like it were a humdrum yet necessary household chore. She'd rather sleep with someone she doesnt care for rather than a man who loves her (and saved her life a couple of times), because she does not want to screw up her chances of getting together with his bosom buddy.
At that point, I really felt she was doing the exploitation.

Of late, I'm getting to read a lot of Japan based books like- Crichton's "The Rising Sun" and "Angel Eyes". Crichton's book is basically based on a whole lot of research on the part of a paranoid United States, who believe that Japan will financially take over them someday and that day may not be in the far too distant future.
"Angel Eyes" gives a lot of insight about the seedy underground of Tokyo, the Yakuza and how there is a nexus between them and the corporations.
The more titbits of info emerge about this very fascinating country, the more it seems unreal and unknown.

The point that was consistent across all the 3 books was the very strong emphasis on the way people to people contact happens in a typical Japanese society. Gestures are so vital there, body language is so full of meaning that actual talk seems clipped in comparison. And just how painfully polite the people are how remarkably high their threshold of patience is.

There is a whole lot to look up to Japanese for apart from electronics, cars, Pokemon and Bey Blade franchise, for example how as a nation they bounced back from the devastation of the WWII. True Grit and determination seems to be into woven into everyone there.

All this said, when I look at the cartoons in Animax, I see that most of the stories feature this really young teenager, with a whole lot more endownments than is usual for a Japanese girl, very short swishy skirt and lots of getting dressed or bathing scenes. Some dark, disturbing obsession with young girls, in some level, continues to exist, even if there are no more 15 yr old Geishas around to bid for anymore.

But who are we to talk when so very many young girls are sold into prostitution for paltry sums in almost every major city or town in India? Atleast Sayuri's story has a happy enough ending.

Definitely worth reading, if atleast to get a sneek peek into Japanese culture.

PS: Now in posish to watch the movie and Comment on that. [Yaaay, me!! I Heart Ken Watanabe and I like Michelle Yeoh(who's malaysian not japanese)]

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Dissecting Hannibal

I worship the ground that Anthony Hopkins walks on.

He brings class and contained violence at the same time, to this wonderfully sketched character of Hannibal Lecter. Must be pretty obvious, but I hated Merchant & Ivory and all of England when I saw him in "Howard's End" and "Remains of the day". But sequential processing is hardwired to the very genetics of Indian junta, so let me not jump randomly at topics.

"Silence of the Lambs" is a great book, so is "Red Dragon" and "Hannibal". Thomas Harris is one very twisted yet brilliant man, to have come up with these three gems. Alas, he sold them off to Hollywood and they filtered out the very soul of the books.

"Silence..." by its very name is essentially the story of Clarice Starling. The psycho who kills women in a seemingly random manner and the kidnapped daughter of the senator .etc. are just circumstances added to the main thread. Its all about Clarice and her inner demons, loss of her father and her distinct sensory memory of the lambs in the night at her aunt's house.
About her finding an understanding soul in a convicted, vicious, cannibalistic, brilliant psychologist. Of course she's drawn to him. But why is he also drawn to her, when he openly states his disdain for her 'white trash' background?

"Hannibal" provides those answers. Details of who Dr.Lecter essentially is, his background story, the loss of his sister, his witnessnessing the soldiers' cannibalism and the understatement of the kind of trauma that would make a clever brooding boy into "Hannibal the Cannibal" .etc. are found aplenty in this last installment of the trilogy.
Indirectly, we also get the implication that Hannibal sees something of the sister he lost in Starling and hence the extreme feelings with regard to her seem to wash over him. He himself is never ever sure if he wants to love her, kill her, save her or eat her.
But it ends with the finale so open to interpretation that its very exciting.
Hannibal and clarice sitting in a tree...

The movie version of "Silence of the lambs" was good. Very good.
"Hannibal" seems like a partial rendering. Ok, so the man is creepy and souless, he is also pulled towards this dame who's getting the worst of the FBI's inner politics. Why no scenes for "Just why is that?" Also "Hannibal" is showing off Mason's loss of face, quite literally, than is required by the script-just to increase the gore value. And the botched ending where the heroine emerges unscathed and away from the anti-hero who is flying away, minus a hand - absolutely opposite to the harmonious ending of Mr.Thomas Harris [why are u not suing?]
Ray Liotta, still rocks :). Julianne Moore is no Jodie Foster.

But Anthony another matter altogether. This guy is old. Very very ancient. Yet, when he kills, moves swiftly and is physically dangerous- You believe it.
He also turns on the charm, so very well. There is simply no dimension to this complex and difficult character that Mr.Hopkins missed in his portrayal.

So full points to Thomas Harris and ANthony Hopkins, Boo to the rest.

Read the novel, Dont watch the movie.

Saturday, February 11, 2006


I mean it.
See the damn thing. It is very gross and bloody, not to mention extremely twisted. But it is still compelling (or is it just me?)

Funda is about choices. A whole set of situations where the supposed farce of a choice exists- sounds like a definition for Life I think (or is it just me?)

Some random (that is what one thinks initially anyway) junta are put together just like the junta in your family are put in with you. Everyone starts off with “Where am I ?” and few other typical questions which can also stand for the deep introspective and metaphysical questions that everyone has at one point or the other…example “How did I get here?”

Then you are made aware that you are given some things read latent assets – intelligence, looks, money (A Tape, photos and the saw -in the movie); but that you also have some limitations and constraints that prevent you from operating freely read debts, disabilities, skeletons in the coffin, guilty secrets, liabilities in general (in the case of the film - chains that bind to the pipe at one end and the ankle at the other) and that you are put here to do certain things which you might not want to do if you really had a choice about it – here we think of the careers we picked so it would mean better things for your family rather than what made you happy, about the things we do every day that you would so give everything to just stop doing (in the movie its – kill the other guy, or just cut your own foot off). Motivation for picking the painful job is some invisible carrot dangling in the air (The promise that his wife and little girl will not be killed)

And orchestrating all of this, is some methodical, efficient and oh so very cold creature, with its own compulsions and motivations, that also keeps a constant watch over you all the time read God or the entity that humans believe in. The trapped duo even scream out to that master puppeteer, pulling their strings, at many places, but receive no response…rings a bell?

Think about all those times you cried out starting with “Oh God, Please…” and then nothing.

The most torturous part is figuring out - Why? Why is this happening? Why Me? Don’t we ask ourselves the very same questions all throughout our lives? Only in this movie’s case, at least at the end, one comes to know just why these things happened and why these guys were picked. Sadly, we may not ever get the answers to our questions, only some consolation terms like ‘Karma’.

And finally when all the twisted choices have been forced on the victims, they have been taken for a full ride and made to believe in a trail of wrong assumptions, they desert each other and it is revealed that the key to the shackles were with you at the very beginning but you let it gush down the drain.

The craziest part is that all of this sadistic torture teaches one to appreciate life more, teaches life lessons, actually helps. Just like we are told our hardships help in building our character.

I like this movie. Some, who watched it with me, felt only mental and psychopathic people will like it. I definitely don’t think so. I think the trick here to understand what it is supposed to convey, its underlying parody of life, rather than just take it as a psycho movie with thrills – its face value.

I thank the guy that lent me the DVD. What I don’t thank him for is for his having given me the psycho’s whereabouts even before I could physically take the DVD from him…and ruining the last great surprise that the viewer is supposed to get.

An unexpected gift but with a pang of regret – a rose with a thorn- also a metaphor for life…(or is it just me? )

Just Me,

Wednesday, February 01, 2006


Few of us decided to do something special for Republic Day. We got lots of flags and decorated the whole of our office space in colored paper and the beloved tricolor. The rest just watched as if they were Jane Goodall with a bunch of particularly weird Gorillas. In fact, as the novelty of grown people clambering over tables and chairs in unsupported attempts to wish the decorations on th ceiling, they began to exhibit signs of annoyance. Typical India.

Someone wanted more reality in my posts, and I had promised to supply the same. The intention was to probably write up a ball-by-ball account of the Ladies Cricket Finals which, we lost, by the way. Something unexpected came up though, by way of free tickets to "Rang De Basanti" for all us Cricketers!

Bit of background though; I studied in the Arya Samaj school. To me the memory of the great Revolutionaries and their mentors, is sacred. Rang De spoke to that inner girl who bristled with pride and grief when she first came to know about a certain young man called Bhagat.

Coming back to the movie, I am certain that you do not want a synopsis.So I offer instead, my feelings about it. Firstly, any movie on nationalistic fervor, which is not made to appear c
ontrieved is most welcome. And if one were to comment on relevance of the fervor that the revolutionaries had in youth of contemporary India, I would say that there are many ways to ponder about that. One such contemplation has apparently led to "Rang De".

Secondly, the point that is distinctly not in our favor is the fact that we only look at the good that is inherent in us, when some foreigner were to admire it; in this case it takes a Sue from London for DJ and gang to discover the sacrifices that Indian youth had made, without any hesitation, just 6 decades ago.

Third comes the mention of the performances.
Atul Kulkarni shines like a beacon of a lighthouse in the darkest
stormiest night. His emotion-choked recital of Ram Prasad Bismi's "Sarfaroshi Ki Tamanna..." made my hair stand on its end. That is easily the best moment of the movie.
Soha was wooden, Aamir-a wrinkly antique and Madhavan- too plump. The rest meshed in the movie so well, they seemed real. Then, a note on characterization. The character of DJ, the student who passed out years ago, but lingers in the campus still where he is the big man, afraid of real world is in theory-very good. Lakshman Pandey, proud of India and its culture, who sweats it out for a Right-wing party (they have taken no pains to hide that the party being referred to here is Shiv Sena) out of idealism and backs the motley crew in filming and subsequently becomes one of the gang is a good foil for the lone Muslim boy, who considers himself Indian first and does not want to hate the Hindu majority. Sukhi as the gang's clown, who worships DJ is also very identifiable. Sonia as the lone gal and darling of the gang seems full of good possibilities but that hope is destroyed when at the end, she orders the men to kill and own up, while continuing with her life and not taking up any responsibility on her own.
Sue is the not-so passive observer and scribe.

On the whole, I loved most of the movie, but not especially the almost silly ending. The climax and the last parts of the movie fail to measure up to the lovely first half.

Akshaya is the one, who's the pro about writing on movies and interpreting them also. No doubt, he'd have had something to write about Rang De. Now that I have said most of what I wanted to, I will see what he has to say on his own and about this post.

Before Fin, here is the poem by Ram Prasad Bismi, only people without any knowledge of hindi (Sorry, any attempt on my part to translate this would be blasphemy) and the heartless will not be moved by these passionate sentiments:

Hai liye hathiyaar dushman taak mein baitha udhar
aur hum taiyyaar hain seena liye apna idhar
khoon se khelenge holi gar vatan muskhil mein hai
sarfaroshi ki tamanna ab hamaare dil mein hai

haath jin mein ho junoon katt te nahi talvaar se
sar jo uth jaate hain voh jhukte nahi lalkaar se
aur bhadkega jo shola-sa humaare dil mein hai
sarfaroshi ki tamanna ab hamaare dil mein hai

hum to ghar se nikle hi the baandhkar sar pe qafan
chaahatein liin bhar liye lo bhar chale hain ye qadam
zindagi to apni mehmaan maut ki mehfil mein hai
sarfaroshi ki tamanna ab hamaare dil mein hai

dil mein tuufaanon ki toli aur nason mein inquilaab
hosh dushman ke udaa denge humein roko na aa
duur reh paaye jo humse dam kahaan manzil mein hai
sarfaroshi ki tamanna ab hamaare dil mein hai

Inquilab Zindabad,
Jai Hind,