Friday, February 22, 2013

Once Upon the Tracks of Mumbai - a Good Debut Novel

Mumbai is a city which refuses to date despite the number of books written and films made on it. Upon the Tracks of Mumbai, by Rishi Vohra, mayn’t be among the best works on the city but Vohra effectively brings a part of the city alive to his readers through the eyes of Babloo, an autist who negotiates the difficult world of Mumbai in his day-to-day life. What makes the book touchy is that Vohra has used the first person narrative to detail Babloo’s travails, a supercilious brother, indifferent parents and condescending people Babloo meets on local trains, streets of Mumbai etc.

However, in the middle of this indifference, Babloo finds solace in his love interest, Vandana, a resident of Railway Colony, like Babloo. Once Upon The Tracks of Mumbai is from the genre of books that just sets out to tell a good story. However, some of them succeed and some don’t. Rishi Vohra’s book certainly stands out as a tale well told. Another thing I noticed while going through the world of Babloo is that the book is immensely filmable – the situations are well described and characters skillfully chiseled out.

Rishi is a debutant author and his first book suggests that there is a lot in store.

Friday, February 8, 2013

Midnight's Children - the movie fails to stand tall

Some books lend themselves beautifully to movies and some don’t. Midnight’s Children appears to be one of those books that are hard to adapt to movies. I say ‘appears’ because I have not read the book but watched the movie last Saturday. I’m reluctant to criticize Deepa Mehta for the shortcomings of the movie because the defects a na├»ve movie watcher like me found in the movie would have been spotted by a movie maker of her calibre with three eyes closed. But  I have a few bones to pick with her for choosing Midnight’s Children for a movie-adaptation.

The story starts in Kashmir about 30 years before India’s independence and meanders its way through various incidents to Bombay where two boys are born exactly at the time India got independence, on 15th August, 1947; one rich, coming from the clan that migrated from Kashmiri, and the other poor, the love child of a poor minstrel musician's wife and a Britisher who is leaving India.

The two newborns are swapped by a matron as a tribute to her Marxist lover, condemning the rich boy to poverty and the poor to wealth - as a metaphor of social justice - forever altering their fates. The rich child is named Salim and the poor Shiva whose paths cross several times during their lives, Salim representing the accommodative, kind India and the tough India of Indira Gandhi, Sanjay Gandhi, the state and system embodied by Shiva. Their birth coincides with the birth of India and their lives move in tandem with India’s history (till Emergency) shaping their lives – which, I felt, was a larger metaphor of how the lives of people are shaped by lives of nations.

This is a rough sketch of the story. Amidst this there are many plot devices used to bring various angles into the story, like Salim’s ability to summon, in his imagination, a bunch of children (born at mid night during India’s birth/independence) representing varied social strata of Indian society, his ability to sniff danger etc. The problem with this kind of plot (and it has come to this after lot of snipping by the screenplay writer who was also Salman Rushdie) is that it's very difficult to effectively flesh out its naunces in visual form. (Many reviews have complained about how the film has turned out to be a very emaciated version of the book, which rids the film of the richness of its literary sibling.)

And the result is often that one incident leads to another without any logical dots linking them, reducing the film to a collage of multiple frames forming, maybe, a very broad thematic narrative but without any immediate connection with each other. Characters come and go and after the movie is over you feel many characters just disappeared from the story without any conclusive end given to them.

However, Rushdie’s background narration is where the movie scores. Some of the lines are just too haunting and told in curt, British accent.

Probably Deepa Mehta got swayed by the grand pull to become the first person to recreate the book on screen. The book was staged in 2002 and, according to many critics, it didn’t work. Mehta could have learnt from the precedence. Or maybe the movie was made for people who have read the book thinking that the audience, having read the book earlier, would overlook the oversights in the movie narrative and would see the movie for the sheer joy of watching what they have read.

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