Monday, October 09, 2017

Book: 4321 by Paul Auster

43214321 by Paul Auster
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

"4 3 2 1" is the coming-of-age tale of Archie Ferguson, with four dramatically different yet parallel versions of his life, his relationships and his experiences in the 20th century. That's creative in itself and while its length may make Paul Auster's 17th novel seem long-winded, his attention to detail and his control over the multiple narratives ensures the reader is enthralled throughout. This is a long read and it took me a month to finish. Worth it? I think so.

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Monday, August 21, 2017

Book: Orange Is the New Black - My Year in a Women's Prison by Piper Kerman

Orange Is the New Black: My Year in a Women's PrisonOrange Is the New Black: My Year in a Women's Prison by Piper Kerman
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The hit Netflix show piqued my interest in the memoir that inspired it all. Piper Kerman's narrative of some 13 months in prison is a more subdued affair - there is no lesbian sex or prison riot, almost everyone makes her feel welcome, she never spends any time locked up (at least in Danbury) with her ex-girlfriend, and fiance Larry is a really nice guy who waits patiently for her to get out of prison. While the show gave us many more interesting characters, a few with recognizable characteristics appear just in passing in the book. And yet, this is a poignant memoir where the reader accompanies Piper through the whole prison experience. The show on the other hand relegated Piper to the sidelines by Season 5, giving viewers a diverse range of characters and much more drama. Not that I am complaining. I liked them both.

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Monday, August 14, 2017

'Gunda' turns 19

I accepted the movie challenge thrown by Anupriya Kumar and watched the cult classic "Gunda". Users on give the 1998 Bollywood film an average rating of 7.6/10 and it ranks 214 on the list of top-rated Indian movies of all time - higher than “Raajneeti”, “Rustom” or “Sultan”.

"Gunda" is, erm … different. Each character speaks in silly rhyming couplets for the opening sequence and much of the film. This is all the more bewildering because the lines are delivered randomly during scenes that would be tragic in any other cinematic context - such as a woman being raped, a villain cradling the lifeless body of his brother, or sporadic stabbings.

At its heart, “Gunda” is a revenge thriller, involving coolie Shankar (Mithun Chakraborty) caught in the middle of a gang war between weirdly named dons Bulla and Lambu Atta. Lambu Atta is out of the picture before you can ask “What does Lambu Atta mean?” - leaving Bulla as undisputed villain and connoisseur of all things evil. Shankar ends up in Bulla’s crosshairs after helping the incompetent police arrest his henchman.

Double entendres abound, and there are plenty of heaving bosoms, pelvic thrusts and penis/gay/Viagra references to give any self-respecting censor board chief nightmares.

The basic plot, without giving away too many spoilers, sees our hero losing his sister, father and sweetheart to the maniacal villain and his bananas-and-other-things-obsessed cohorts. To ensure that the bloodthirsty action is evenly spaced out, director Kanti Shah inserts titillating songs to give audiences a welcome break from all the rapes, castration and throat-slashing gore.

Animal lovers rejoice, there are plenty of non-humans on display. A pet monkey who insists the hero’s sister ties a rakhi on him. And Bulla takes his house-trained leopard out for walks: it deserves a Nobel Peace Prize for tolerating Bulla’s tuft-of-hair brother (Shakti Kapoor) who keeps insulting it by calling it a tiger. There is a special appearance by two stray dogs whose blissful dreams on a beach are disturbed when Shankar appears, in hot pursuit of an evil politician with an uncanny resemblance to former minister George Fernandes. There’s also a wailing baby in the mix. Shankar and Bulla play catch with it, occasionally allowing the monkey to get in on the fun.

As for the visual effects, they are out of this world. Backdrops (airstrip, port, desert, coal mine) change in an instant; brothel charpoys swing from the sky in the director's homage to Salvador Dali; the baddies indulge in one-too-many somersaults because they feel like it; an on-foot Shankar keeps overtaking a VIP convoy just to demonstrate Einstein’s Theory of Relativity.

Not to forget Shankar uses his bare hands to clobber hordes of Bulla henchmen who attack him with machetes, swords, knives of various sizes, revolvers, rifles, grenades, machine guns, auto-rickshaws, Ambassador cars and even a helicopter sponsored by Deccan Aviation. If you must know, Shankar escapes all that with barely a scratch. His victims are not so lucky.

I’m still not clear on what Shankar does for a living. He never wears the coolie uniform he wore in the beginning. But he’s definitely wealthy enough to pay for the bright yellow suits, cars, and rocket launchers that Shankar seems to produce out of thin air. But then this is a film that is designed to make you think and ponder over the meaning of life. Not like the other rubbish Bollywood churns out.

The ball is in your court, Anupriya. "Student of the Year" (SOTY) awaits.

(An earlier version of this post incorrectly stated that "Gunda" had turned 21)

Tuesday, August 08, 2017

Books: "Alex" by Pierre Lemaitre

AlexAlex by Pierre Lemaitre
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The second novel in a trilogy by French crime writer Pierre Lemaitre, "Alex" (2011) was the first to be translated into English and drew obvious comparisons with "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo". A woman is abducted, tortured and kept in a cage with some hungry rats for company. But an unexpected twist in the tale turns the police rescue mission into a hunt for a serial killer. Gripping, gory and with enough thrills to keep you reading till the end. A Hollywood adaptation is in the works. Meanwhile, I will be on the lookout for more translations of Lemaitre's work.

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Sunday, August 06, 2017

Books: Look Me in the Eye: My Life with Asperger’s by John Elder Robison

Look Me in the Eye: My Life with Asperger'sLook Me in the Eye: My Life with Asperger's by John Elder Robison
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This is a moving memoir about living with Asperger's syndrome. John Elder Robison, who wasn't diagnosed till he was 40, describes a painful childhood due to his inability to pick up on social cues. Having a dysfunctional family didn't help. His only comfort: an uncanny ability to tinker with machines and make them work. I found some chapters a bit repetitive, but there is little doubt that younger brother Augusten Burroughs is not the only writer in the family.

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Saturday, July 29, 2017

Book: Transmission by Hari Kunzru

TransmissionTransmission by Hari Kunzru
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Hari Kunzru's second novel is the story of Indian programmer Arjun Mehta who loses his dream job in America when the IT bubble bursts. He will do anything to stay in the United States, even if it means creating a computer virus featuring the dancing figure of Leela Zahir, his favorite Bollywood actress. "Transmission" seems to have underwhelmed readers, but I think it's underrated. On the whole, this 2004 novel is a compelling read and not just for geeks. Its biggest flaw - a caricaturish British entrepreneur who gets caught up in the havoc unleashed by Mehta.

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Sunday, July 16, 2017

Book: The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls

The Glass CastleThe Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is a powerful memoir about growing up poor in the Walls household - with eccentric non-conformist parents who had no interest in feeding their children. The Walls siblings moved to a new town within the United States or slept in the car each time their charismatic but alcoholic father lost a job. Jeannette Walls' story is one of resilience and coping with hardships in an unsympathetic world. Looking forward to the Hollywood movie adaptation releasing in August 2017: Brie Larson as the adult Jeannette with Woody Harrelson and Naomi Watts playing her parents. I smell some Oscar buzz already.

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Wednesday, July 05, 2017

Book: The Complete Stories of Evelyn Waugh

The Complete Stories of Evelyn WaughThe Complete Stories of Evelyn Waugh by Evelyn Waugh
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This underrated British writer is a master of short fiction. The enthralling collection includes the story of an explorer who is lost in a remote Brazilian jungle and finds himself the prisoner of an illiterate native who wants him to read aloud the works of Charles Dickens - a storyline that was later expanded into Evelyn Waugh's novel "A Handful of Dust". Waugh's body of work would have merited a higher rating were it not for the dull opening story, but I persevered and my patience was rewarded. My only other grouse was the inclusion of fragments of incomplete novels, which serves no purpose and detracts from this otherwise brilliant collection.

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Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Books: "Me Talk Pretty One Day" by David Sedaris

Me Talk Pretty One DayMe Talk Pretty One Day by David Sedaris
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

David Sedaris is at his wry best in this collection of autobiographical essays that mostly deal with his moving to Paris. All the essays are enjoyable but my favourite is one where American tourists travelling on the Paris Metro mistake him for a pickpocket.

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