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Saturday, March 31, 2007

The Namesake

I am yet to read the novel by Jhumpa Lahiri, but I am sure Mira Nair has done all the justice she could. The array of emotions one experiences while watching the movie can be evinced by the gasps of laughter and stifled cries in the hall. I don't know if first novels can be made into movies this great ( The Namesake was written after Jhumpa's Pulitzer Prize-winning short story collection Interpreter of Maladies). But Mira Nair has done it.

>>> Spoiler warning <<<
The opening shot is of Ashoke Ganguli (Irrfan Khan) , then a student of Calcutta University, traveling in a train destined for Jamshedpur, India. He was reading the collected short stories by his favorite Russian author Nikolai Gogol. A certain Mr. Ghosh makes acquaintance with him during the journey and urges him to "Go, See the world" when the train meets with an accident.
Scene II depicts Ashoke lying in a hospital bed, looking out of the window dreamily, with his mother attending upon him. This could as well be flagged as the turning point of Ashoke's life.
The story follows to a few years later where he is doing his Ph.D in Fiber Optics in the US. He comes to India and is arranged to meet Ashima (Tabu) and their wedding is fixed. The would be father-in-law asks her if she 'd be able to manage living in the US- it's going to be cold and lonely. Ashima replies quite simply- Uni thaakben na? ( Won't he be there ?). As if it were enough for her to leave her family behind to begin a new life in a strange country.
They begin their life in a small apartment where they try to adjust to each other and the world around them.

When their first child- a son is born and the issuing of a birth certificate requires a name to be given to the child, the Gangulis decide to give him the daak naam (=pet name) Gogol ( after Ashok' s favorite author) until his bhalo naam (=good/official name) is decided upon by his grandmother who lives in India,
thus planting the seeds of conflicts that arises in the protagonist's mind later. When he is 4 and goes to school, he wishes to be known as "Gogol" and not Nikhil Ganguli.
When Ashima complains, Ashoke reasons- America is a free country. Here the kids decide. Even if he decides to be called "Jimmy", there's nothing much we can do.

On his graduation day, Gogol (Kal Penn)shares an anecdote with his friends how his name "Gogol Ganguli" has become an impediment to the materialization of his desires.

Here's the namokoroner sarthokota (significance of the title). A person's name is his identity. His connection with his roots- his past and the very foundation of his future. It tells us who he is and where he comes from. And maybe to some extent- where he is going to be.

Gogol faces difficulties in accepting his pet name and now sees his good name Nikhil as a better alternative which can be compressed to "Nick".
A visit to the Taj Mahal and the witnessing of its splendor inspires him to become an architect. While he is studying for it, he befriends Maxine whom he invites over to meet his parents. His parents reservations about holding hands or even sharing a kiss keeps him guarded while they are visiting them. Maxine greets Ashima warmly, kissing her on the cheeks and calling her by her first name. (not really acceptable in Bengali culture). The subtle change on Tabu's crestfallen face is the mark of a mature actress.
On their way to purchase ice-cream, Ashoke recounts how he had survived the train accident by clutching at the pages of Nikolai's book, a shocked Gogol asks his father-: "Do I remind you of that night?!"
Ashoke replies- No! No! Everyday after that has been a gift.
And he understands- at least a bit of the sentiment his father had when naming their son.

Ashoke dies in Cleveland hospital after a massive heart-attack when Gogol is spending the weekend with his girlfriend. When he gets to Ohio to identify his father's body, he gets his head shaved( customary after bereavement). Ashima sees his son at the airport, caresses his bald head while she holds him in an embrace and says - Er dorkar chhilo na Baba.(It was not necessary Son ) Gogol replies - Aamar iccha korlo Ma ( I wanted to, Mother)
Thus begins a new chapter in his life. His journey towards finding himself. The differences between him and Maxine makes them separate out. When Ashima's suggestion to make up with her doesn't seem to work, she tries to make him meet a Bengali girl, Moushumi Majumber ( Zuliekha Robinson) who lives in New York. Going on a blind date, engineered by their mothers is a queer idea for both but they seem to have an instant liking for each other, despite the small hiccups Gogol had while trying to converse with her when they were kids. All he remembered about her was her saying in a heavily accented British tone - I detest American television.

They get married but not for long.
She has a French lover whom he discovers and she reasons- " I felt stuck like my Mom"
Her initial reflection:"Maybe it's not enough that we both are Bengalis. We are too different"- was probably a premonition.

Ashima decides to sell their house in the suburbia and return to India to continue her pursuit of Indian Classical Music (Vocal). But gets to know about Gogol's estrangement with his wife and wants to stay back but he says he can manage. He comes across the book his father had gifted him on his graduation day- The collected stories by Nikolai Gogol.
On its first page are written the words- "The man who gave you his name , from the man who gave you your name"

>>> Spoiler Warning Ends here <<<

Our generation has its own set of difficulties and frustrations- the Ivy League B-school that we want to make through or the 120k package that has just slipped by or the perfect mate who could have been but did not. Our parents had a world entirely different. Their responsibilities, their aspirations, their trying to come to terms with reality. How much of it do we understand? Or even acknowledge the efforts they had to put in to make us what we are today.
The closing statement -"To our parents- who gave us everything" totally did me in.

When a movie or a book or even a piece of music composition touches me, I make it a point to spread the word. I believe if I tell 10 people about it, at least 3 will bother to have a look and at least 1 will feel the way I felt. And the experience can be enriching... and sometimes enlightening.

Shoehorning a novel that spans across three decades into a 2 hour movie is hardly an enviable job. The time changes might not appear smooth sometimes. But show me a better adaptation and I'll believe that it could have been possibly done.

You have to watch "The Namesake" to know why it deserves raving reviews. Period.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

What Kind of Blogger Are You?

You Are a Life Blogger!

Your blog is the story of your life - a living diary.
If it happens, you blog it. And make it as entertaining as possible.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Don't get mad, get even!

I wonder if cricket is not going to be a major contributing factor in the increased divorce rate of India surpassing all other reasons, namely:

Poor communication
Financial problems
A lack of commitment to the marriage
A dramatic change in priorities

Or at least a few break-ups among the committed ones. Studies show that premarital (or early marital) variables can predict which couples will do well and which will not with accuracies of 80% up to 94%
(e.g., Clements, Stanley, & Markman, 1997; Fowers, Montel, & Olson,1996; Gottman, 1994; Karney & Bradbury, 1995; Kelly & Conley, 1987; and Rogge & Bradbury, in press).

Oh don't worry. This not my Anthropology thesis. Let me put things more simply. Take any random couple from urban India.

He knows I am not well and he did not even care to call and ask how I am doing.
I called up at his office, his phone was busy.
His status icon shows he's online- but he has not even messaged me.
I know he is going back now home now and he still hasn't called me yet.
He does not care what I feel about him.
He makes no effort to fulfill my expectations.
He doesn't love me.
I have wasted three years of my life.
I can't live with such a monster.

Today the deciding match of Bangladesh VS Sri Lanka will influence the position of India a lot in the World Cup and my boss is not even letting me go home early. Shit! I can't even think straight.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Born Free

..and why it has remained my favorite for years now.

The movie is based on the best selling book penned down by Joy Adamson, about her self, her game warden husband, George Adamson and an orphaned lioness cub, Elsa in Kenya.
When George has to shoot a man eating lion and its mate, he discovers that they had three lioness cubs which he brings back to his wife. They raise the cubs until they are big enough to be shipped to a zoo. But the smallest of the litter finds a mother in Joy who feeds her the best bits because she can not fight to have a fair share of her meal.
On Joy's insistence, George let Elsa- Joy's favorite- live with them until the mating calls of a lion tells her there is a life beyond what she is living with Joy and George.
Other perils in the form of game -hunters surface when one of them mistakes Elsa resting on a tree as a wild lioness and is about to shoot her but is stopped from doing so by someone who recognizes her collar.
Joy's aversion to sending Elsa away to a zoo confronts them with a new challenge: to train a lioness to survive in the wild who has been tamed to become a house-cat and who considers hunting only as a sport. A hilarious episode where she is chased away by a wild boar evinces the fact that she is yet to learn the rules of the jungle.
Elsa is left behind on several occasions to be allowed to adjust to her natural habitat but each time she returns injured. Eventually the patience pays and Elsa realizes what is expected of her and learns to hunt.
Born free is an extraordinary adventure of a lioness born in the wild and how she learns to be the "pride' of her race.

The book was targeted for pre-teen readers and I still remember vaguely the first time I had watched the movie as a kid.
But it has been a joyful experience to live over and over again and is probably one of the best of my home video collection.

Trivia :

#Elsa's grave is located in Meru National Park, Kenya.

#The making of the film was a life-changing experience for actors Virginia McKenna and her husband Bill Travers who became animal rights activists and were instrumental in creating the Born Free Foundation.

# They are survived by their son Will Travers and you can visit his blog here

Monday, March 05, 2007

Holi khele Digambar...

Digambar refers to Lord Shiva, and literally means "space clad" or "one who wears the directions" ,id est, without clothes. (Pitambar on the other hand means one who wears yellow(pit or peet) clothes (ambar), and refers to Lord Krishna.)

I remember watching the song (Holi khele Digambar...) on TV which was being telecast live from Varanasi (also known as Banaras or Kashi), the nerve centre of Hindutwa in North India.

I was listening to the entrancing song describing how Lord Shiva plays Holi with his companions and followers- the bhoots and pisachs when suddenly I found everyone ( Uncle, Aunty, Dida, Didi) looking at me. I realized I was drowsing while sitting on the sofa!

Lesson learnt: Never underestimate the power of bhaang

It is a drink or thandai made from milk, sugar, dry fruits like badaam (almonds), kaaju (cashew nuts), kismish (raisins), and spices like peppercorn and elaichi (cardamom), ( sometimes fresh/dried rose petals are added too :the Gulkand variety) The powdered buds and leaves of Cannabis gives the drink an intoxicating (in my case somniferous and laughter-inducing) effects. It all depends on the concentration.

A word of caution to the naive and curious like me: Don't have more than a glass even if it is insanely delicious.

Someone had opined- "Holi is a festival for hooligans." I don't recollect resorting to Hooliganism while playing Holi except once. It was in 2005- and I was playing it with my Jija ji ( Cousin sister's husband: I call him Dadai) and we played so long that I ran out of colors. I decided to take out eggs from the fridge and I broke them on his head. He was cool about it but when I said I was going to work up some mud from a puddle, he gave up , raised his hands and said :"I surrender"

Last year, on Holi I was stranded at Dumdum airport and we were coming back to Delhi after Bro's visa interview at Kolkata. So it was colorless. I thought this year wouldn't be any different. Only if I knew....

I went out to my TM's (Deepika Ganguly) place with a colleague where she treated us to the special Holi gujiyas and then asked her husband to offer us "bhaang". An elderly gentleman volunteered to say -" Bitiya is mein bhaang hai"( "Daughter, this has bhaang in it").

I just nodded to show that I was well aware and gulped it down- one whole glass and my first time. Come on ! I was not going to let go of the opportunity. And anyways I was not driving :P
Then we went to Rahul Da and Emon di's place where we were invited for lunch. It always bothers me how to address them. She is related to me : she is my mamato bonner mamato bonner mastuto bonn (don't bother).

And I know Rahul da too coz they worked in the same office in my department before marriage. I can either address them as Dada-boudi (Elder brother and sister-in-law) or Didi-jamaibabu (Sister and brother-in-law). For some reason, I choose a midway and have continued calling them Emon di (short for Didi: elder sister) and Dada (elder bro).Chuck it. It's so confusing. It's the feelings that matters.

It was fun spending the day there. The icing on the cake was Rahul da's Dida ( maternal grandmom) who reminded me of my own thakuma (paternal grandmom) when she was touching my face to feel it and bless me when I gave her a pronaam. (bending to touch the feet of elders to greet and show reverence).

All in all. It was a great day. And we cheered to Lord Shiva by screaming "Jai Bholenath ki" before drinking 2 more glasses of bhaang again after playing on the roof at Rahulda and Emondi's house.
It was wonderful to watch the newly wedded couple chasing each other to put color.

Finally, we ended up playing Holi with water. Soaking wet, a cold breeze and the sun shining bright. It was a strange combination. Dida joined us too and it was great playing with her. I loved the way she was relentless in trying to color my teeth. I kept a closed mouth and the only thing that was recognizable about me later were my teeth (see pic below). The rest of me resembled one of the Bhootnath's (another name for Shiva) followers: those ghosts.

On the roof. Can't remember why I was laughing. I only recall I just could not stop. It seems I found an angle of humor to everything. And it was one of those weirdest smiles I ever had. Hardly a care in the world. (Magnify at your own risk. I'm not going to pay for the hospital charges if you have a heart-attack)

Don't remember looking more ashen and ghostly or feeling more awesome either. That was Holi for me .. maybe for a long, long time to come. And the first and the last time I had bhaang.