Thursday, December 28, 2006


While I am breaking my head here figuring out packing, random administrivia and apartment viewings, Bill seems to have gone and spent one idlyllic weekend in the Shire. What do I do with this guy?

Friday, December 22, 2006


Went crazy buying books as I discovered that I can ship them all to London. In an attempt to educate Bill, picked up Khasakinte Ithihasam in English. Spent sometime revisiting Khasak and thus figured that there's enough to do in Khasak for a weekend, so here.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Its still movie time...

Last post on the film festival. Promise.

Louis Malle's Ascenseur pour l'échafaud (Elevator to the Gallows): Probably the most satisfying noir feature that I have seen in a long, long time. And this was apparently Malle's first movie made when he was twenty four! A self-assured ex-military man, Julien Tavernier kills his boss as he(Tavernier) happens to be having an affair with the boss's wife. He nearly leaves the scene of the crime but comes back in to pick up something, and gets stuck in the elevator. The rest you will have to go watch the movie. Top three reasons why you should see, no, own this movie (Bill, darling, have you gotten me anything for Christams yet?):
3) Henri Decaë's cinematography (there is a classic close-up shot of Moreau lit only by the lights of Champs-Elysees which is simply oustanding. Btw, I have always maintained that Paris should be shot only in black and white but more about that some other time)
2) The beautiful, beautiful Jeanne Moreau and
1) Miles Davis (So I am illiterate but I did not know that Miles was going to be around when I went in to watch the movie. And when the trumpet sounded during the opening scene, it felt like my first ever bit of warm brownie with vanilla icecream. Ok ok, so the word I was looking for there is orgasmic)

Bergman's Fanny and Alexander: No, I will leave this one alone. Will just say that it was amazing to see this finally on the big screen.

Rituparno Ghosh's Dosar: Well, to tell you the truth, it wasn't half as bad as I thought it was going to be. Nicely shot, Konkana was good, the movie itself was good here and there, but think Ghosh tries a little too hard to mimic well, you-know-who when he should be quite okay just by sticking to what he does best. Oh well, Bill's mom is happy now that dutiful daughter-in-law has watched one Bong movie at the fest. Btw, expected to see the entire Bong population of Kerala at the movie hall but was pleasantly surprised.

Now, for some disconnected schtuff about the film festival:

- Yeah yeah, I saw some "celebrities" too. Adoor Gopalakrishnan I met! And Revathy sat next to me using Fanny and Alexander. She, you know, actually seemed to like it!

- So I haven't been to international film festivals in India but from what I have seen in Chicago, NYC et al, it seemed to me as if the audience who turn up at these things almost invariably belong to certain demographics and I have no reason to believe that it would not be the case here in India. Like for example, there's apparently some sort of we-also-have-one film festival in Chennai happening right now and I can see film students, industry people, retired Hindu readers, and you know people like that. Here in Kerala though, whats surprising is not that the movie halls get filled 45 minutes before the show, its that the audience include people from all walks of life. The army officer's wife who came down from Ooty just for the week. The kid who lives two blocks down who thinks Nykvist = God. The uncle from State Bank who's a great fan of Rocha. Two maamis from the Agraharam who are hooked on to Iranian movies. The comrades from the party zonal office who seemed to know everything there's to know about movies from Latin America. Etc. Only in Kerala. Only at home. So shoot me.

- People are very very good about cell phones. They bring them in but you never have more than one going off inside the theater during a screening. Because everyone turns around and shouts at the unfortunate guy while setting their own phones to vibrate. Did I tell you I love home?

- Never underestimate the Don. Never. If you happen to go into the movie hall a little late and are unable to find a place, you will always find one of the Don's comrades who will find a seat for you. And it does not matter if there's a bandh - the comrades will get you home.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

More movie minutes

Spent one super religious weekend with BM and Shilpi visiting a few thousand year old temples. Showed face to both Siva and Vishnu as well a couple of Nandis with a lot of attitude and dropped in on the 60 ft Bahubali on the way so that when the time comes, recos will come from everywhere. Got back late on Monday and missed a few good movies; so went overboard and watched four movies in the last 36 hours. All four halls were packed, with the balcony seats filled a good 45 minutes before the show.

First, Francisco Vargas's The Violin . Probably the only movie that I will get to see in the competition section. Shot entirely in black and white, The Violin opens with an unconnected but horrific scene of torture and rape, and then abruplty switches to the timeless story of three generations of Hidalgos as they are driven out of their land by seemingly ruthless soldiers. The elderly violinist Don Plutarco plays his fiddle with a string tied to the stump that was once his hand while his son Genaro plays the guitar and his grandson Lucio collects money from the crowd. In the village, Plutarco grows corn while Genaro is a guerilla who is transporting weapons to fight their oppressors. Before the weapons can reach the guerillas, the village is attacked and people driven out. Genaro's attempts to get the weapons out proves unsuccessful but it seems for a while that Plutarco can get past the roadblocks - with his violin he not only gets back to the village but also to the Commander who cannot seem to get enough of Plutarco's music. But the end when it comes is inevitable and the music has to stop. Nothing really changes but if there's any hope for change, surely it lies in the redeeming power of music and art.

From Mexico to the West Bank, the story of oppression and futile retaliation continues. In the Oscar winning Paradise Now, two auto mechanics in Nablus, Said and Khaled are chosen to carry out a suicide bombing in Tel Aviv and they go through the preparations like getting military haircuts so as to look like the settlers, and reading out final statements that are videotaped. The movie is a fast-paced suspense thriller that keeps you glued to the screen chewing your fingernails trying to figure out the ending (someone in the audience was nearly strangled when his cell phone went off in a pivotal moment) and at the same time, it potrays suicide bombers as misguided young men with aspirations and doubts like the rest of us. Quite an achievement.

Retro: Louis Malle's Lacombe, Lucien. A discomfiting coming of age story set in wartime France, Lacombe, Lucien is the story of 18-year old, hospital-cleaner Lucien who when turned down by the Resistance joins the Gestapo as a collaborator. The Gestapo works Lucien giving him small responsibilities making him feel wanted and appreciated. Seduced by power and authority, naive Lucien terrorizes his people and answers only to his German masters. Only after he falls in love with the beautiful daughter of a Jewish tailor does he begin to get second thoughts but by then he realises that its too late. Lucien is both victim and perpetuator and at the end, as the Jewish tailor puts it "we somehow cannot bring ourselves to despise him" regardless of his actions. Some very impressive direction and dialogues, this movie is truly one of Malle's best. Apparently, this movie created a huge controversy when it was released for showing a collaborator as the main character and after watching the movie, one can easily see why.

Homage: Andrei Tarkovsky's Offret (Sacrifice). (Homage for Sven Nykvist who passed away this year). Seriously, I mean, you want me to talk about Offret? Sorry, not happening. I love so many things the movie stands for and there's so many layers about the movie that I probably do not understand, but the problem is that at the end, this movie is a little too Christian for me. Too much of faith. That said, Offret must be seen. For a number of reasons but most of all for Nykvist, for the cinematography. The man is just plain incomparable. Period.

Movies for the next 24 hours:
Louis Malle's Elevator to the Gallows - Pretty sure might have to give this a miss thanks to a bandh but we will see. Some idiot's scheduled Fanny and Alexander and Volver at the same time, so its going to be the former. Promised the 13,000 nephews and nieces that I will take them to Asterix and Obelix: Mission Cleopatra which I am looking forward to but then I can't make it back in time for Dosar, so will have to make a choice there.

Friday, December 08, 2006

The Goat and other stories

The choices were between Omkara, a French comedy called La Chèvre, and a couple of Louis Malle films. The decision wasn't very difficult, I mean, you know of a better way to spend a lazy Friday afternoon than to stare at Gerard Depardieu on the big screen for a full 90 minutes? Really? So anyway, after the usual fight with the auto guy, landed up at theater a full 10 minutes early. You know, just in case. Shouldn't have bothered, there were about 40 people inside and most of them looked like students. Two women including me. I went outside and checked with guy at the exit. La Chèvre? Sure? Alright. Gerard Depardieu and there are two women in the movie hall! These Mallus are crazy, I say.

The movie itself was exactly what I needed - light, absurd, laugh-out-loud every other minute, and Depardieu in almost every frame. A young, unlucky Frenchwoman disappears in Mexico and her rich father employs an private eye Campana (Depardieu) to find her. When the attempt proves unsuccessful, the father, acting on the advice of his company's psychartist recruits a timid accountant, the accident-prone Perrin (a very excellent Pierre Richard) to help Campana. The idea is that only someone as unlucky as Perrin will be able to find the kidnapped Marie as "he will slip on the same banana peels as she does". The movie then is about the escapades of the very straight, logical, macho Mr Campana and the super clumsy, moronic, unlucky Mr Perrin as they retrace the vanished girl's steps. A series of unfortunate but comic accidents ensue, most of them predictable but nevertheless extremely funny. Funny because both Depardieu and Richard are exact opposites and there's no sign of the excited French steretype anywhere - nothing ever shakes them. Couldn't help thinking that if Hollywood were to do this, they would probably have gone the other extreme and made this another of those unwatchable, loud and boisterous monstrosities that they churn out at regular intervals.

And oh, in case you were wondering, the story is that I discovered that there's some sort of a film festival happening in the neighborhood starting today, and in the interests of giving the couch some well-earned rest, managed to get myself a pass. Looks like my pass can be used at all the state film federation type theaters such as Kalabhavan, Kairali, Tagore, Gorky Bhavan (well, what did you expect?) and of course at the Nishagandhi open air auditorium. My weekend will have to be spent in Karnataka as tickets and stuff have been booked but the plan is to spend the rest of next week running from one theater to another. Auto drivers beware! For Monday, I am trying to decide between Forever Flows (Bangladesh), Sawdust and Tinsel (yes, there's a Sven Nykvist homage happening, so there will be a couple more of these), Four Women Barefoot (Argentina), and Goodbye Children (France).

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

The Anniversary "gift"

Home. 5.30 PM. On the couch as usual. Don comes in.

Me: You are early today.

Don: Yeah, your mom asked me to come early. Why aren't you ready yet?

Me: We are going somewhere?

Don: Your mom said we are. Go get ready now.

Me: But where are we going?

Don: I don't know ma. Ask amma.

Me: Some temple kya?

Don: No, No. That your mom has given up on, I think. Though you know this is a temple of sorts. Atleast in this state.

Me: I should have known. Amma!

Amma: Enna? Go get ready now.

Me: To go where?

Amma: Appa didn't tell you?

Me: Why would he? It wasn't his idea.

Amma: What wasn't his idea? He was only saying that we will get something for the anniversary.

Me: Yeah, he did. So he went to market and got me neymeen in the morning na?

Amma: No, no, we want to get you something that will remind us of the day.

Me: Well then, come, lets take a picture.

Amma: No ma. We have to get you something.

Me: Ok, lets get a book or better still, you give me the money.

Amma: Why? So that you can spend it all on some junket?

Me: Its better than spending it in gold that is going to be locked up for ever.

Amma: Who said anything about gold?

Me: My mom's seeing sense. Yipee! We are going out to dinner then? Excellent!

Amma: We are indeed going out to dinner. But we will take a short detour.

Me: But you said no gold!

Amma: There's ruby, there's sapphire and there's always diamonds.

Me: Yikes! I am not going anywhere.

Amma: Come na kaanama. Who knows where you are going to be next year? This year you are here and we will get you something.

Me: Oh so its my fault for being here. Ok, I will book my ticket and go away tomorrow. Then you can go to jewelry store and buy all the jewelry you want.

Amma: Muruga, why should be my daughter behave like this? What paapam have I done?

Don: You expect Karthikeyan to come down from up above now and work with you both on a compromise? I feel sorry for him. But then again, I have done this for more than 25 years, let him take over now.

Amma: Its all a joke for you! Both of you do what you want. No one cares about me in this household.

In an attempt to control the damage of our local Brahmaputra flood, I decide to go along and soon Don, Amma and I are at big, evil jewelry store. The masterplan is to spend a lot of time looking at different things until the store is about to close and then finally decide that I don't like anything that much. The plan seems to be working and an hour later three thin gold chains, one diamond pendant, one gold necklace (antique style) are all set aside so that we can decide on one later, and we are looking at some long, blue and gold necklaces. Rrnng.

Me: Hello?

Kid: Hey, happy anniversary and whatever.

Me: Ok, ok. When did you come back from London?

Kid: Yesterday evening.

Me: So you liked the place?

Amma is looking at some jade and gold necklace and whispering to Don.

Kid: Oh yes. It was awesome. Spent a lot of time walking. Got caught by cops for randomly walking around late at night.

Me: Hmm..So when are you moving to London? And you know, paying our rent?

Kid: What?! We will see about that.

Amma is holding the blue and gold necklace and talking to friendly salesperson now. Don looks a little dazed.

Me: Hey, hang on. Amma, you want me to try that kya?

Amma: No no. You talk. Take your time.

Me: Ok. So hey, I was saying that you should move and pay our rent as your brother doesn't make any money

Kid: Well, you married him. Your problem.

Me: True enough. So what else did you do there?

Kid: So I caught a play at the West End. Pretty impressive. Globe season was over. So couldn't do that.

By now, all possible buys are in one place and Amma is fingering each of them and talking diligently to salesperson.

Me: Oh thats sad. So you tried all different cuisines?

Kid: Yeah man, ate everything possible I guess. Sushi and Moroccan and Lebanese and Ethiopian and hajjar Thai and Vietnamese.

Me: Good good.

Kid: Liked all other places but Canary Wharf is awesome man. Out of the world stuff.

Me: But as your brother will say, it has no soul!

Kid: He says that? Guess that's typical.

Me: Yeah

Jewelry and salesperson have disappeared. Amma and Don have settled down on a couch and are having coffee. Don looks a little sick. He is staring at me.

Me: Appa, you alright?

Amma: Yeah, he is fine. The coffee doesn't go with him. He is a tea drinker na?

Me: Ok. So what were we saying?

Kid: Hey, I went to Cambridge too.

Me: Why?

Kid: To meet some school friend of mine.

Me: Was it nice and stuff?

Kid: Yeah but my friend said that this place dada's supposed to go to na, she said its like 40 minutes on bike from the station! Does he know about this?

Me: Better don't tell him. This friend of yours, is she like you or what?

Kid: What do you mean?

Me: Like you know does she sleep till 2 in the afternoon every day?

Kid: What? Why?

Salesperson is coming back. Looks jubilant.

Me: Well, most people say its like a 17 minute bike trip from the station. If she's like you though, she will probably fall asleep on the way and take 40 minutes!

Kid: Yeah yeah.

Salesperson hands something to mom which suspiciously looks like a bill. Oh my God!

Me: Hey hey I gotta go now. I will talk to you later ok?

Kid: Ok.

Me: Whats going on here? Whats that?

Amma: Nothing ma. So we decided to get the diamond pendant, and the blue and gold necklace. Did you want something else also?

Me: What?

Amma: You liked them na?

Me: Well, No.

Amma: Here we go again!

Me: You said Yes to this?

Don: Whatever you want ma.

Me: I want nothing ok?

Amma: Don't be stupid. He has the bill made out now.

Me: Excuse me? You call than an excuse? Hello? Whats wrong with you?

Amma: The question is whats wrong with you!

So it went on. Don finally brokered the deal and we didn't buy the diamond pendant. But now, I have become the "proud" owner of a blue and gold necklace that I will probably wear twice in my lifetime.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Scenes from a Marriage: The Paper Edition

Me: Hello?

Bill: Hey. You are going to throw me in the Thames, I hear.

Me: Yeah.

Bill: How scary. The crocodiles there are all waiting for me I am sure.

Me: Its not funny.

Bill: No, you really are going to throw me into the river. Of course.

Me: No, no we cannot live in London.

Bill: Why?

Me: Because we cannot afford it.

Bill: Nonsense. Last time I checked London was full of colleges. Imperial, Kings, hajjar. Lots of students live there.

Me: But you are not a student. Neither am I.

Bill: Wait, my advisor told you I am graduating? When exactly did this happen?

Me: No, I mean you won't be a student when you live in London.

Bill: I will be a post-doc. Its close.

Me: Regardless, the point is I am not a student and I do not intend to live like one.

Bill: Then don't.

Me: Then you have to take up a real job. We cannot afford it.

Bill: Well, What you are really saying is that you cannot afford the lifestyle you want. And so I have to take up some vague Canary Wharf job because then you can live in Mayfair.

Me: No, if I was by myself then I will be alright. I just need a studio and stuff. You are the problem.

Bill: I see. Then lets do this. You live in your studio in London. I will live in a student apartment in Cambrige. I will come over during the weekend or something. It will be like Chicago and Pitt.

Me: Great! Why didn't I think of that before?

Bill: See that's what you need me for.

Me: Yeah right. You idiot, listen. Why the hell do we need to spend money on two apartments an hour away from each other? And one of them inside the city of London? London isn't exactly Manhattan, Kansas you know.

Bill: Hmm... But then we can live somewhere in between na. The rents won't be so high also.

Me: Like where? Now you want to live in some UK version of Schaumburg, IL?

Bill: No, No Oh God No.

Me: So what I am saying is...

Bill: Yes, I know what to do! We live in Cambridge! Problem solved.

Me: And I with my 14-hour job take the 3 hour commute everyday while you bloody postdoc sit and stare at ceiling? Somehow, I knew this is where you were headed.

Bill: Well, its not my fault that you are some vague sales consultant.

Me: You want me to give up my job now?

Bill: Don't be stupid. Ofcourse not. After all, they are picking up the tab for our relocation, right?

Me: Among other things, yes.

Bill: All I was saying was that once we move and settle down, I am sure you can take up some better paying job near Cambridge, the place is full of tech startups.

Me: And what exactly would I do in a tech startup?

Bill: Good question. And what exactly do you think I will do in the financial district?

Me: I don't know. But they are ready to hire you right?

Bill: They will hire any one. They look randomly for people.

Me: Besides the point.

Bill: Anyway, these i-bankers aren't exactly the most interesting of people.

Me: So you will become all uninteresting if you hang out with them?

Bill: Well, it isn't a great work atmosphere. And maybe I will also become like them only.

Me: Nonsense. I know lots of intereting i-bankers.

Bill: Name one.

Me: Well...

Bill: See what I mean.

Me: Yeah, you wait till I tell Banker this.

Bill: Banker is the exception and he will probably tell you that himself.

Me: Hmm...So you work just for a couple of years and then move back to academia. Works na?

Bill: No, that is not how academia works. I do not know of anyone who got back to research on theory of programming languages after 2 years at an investment bank.

Me: But that doesn't mean..

Bill: that I cannot do it? You serious about this?

Me: Of course.

Bill: Okay, I will do it.

Me: What?

Bill: I said I will do it for a couple of years.

Me: Wait, what are you saying?

Bill: You can't hear me now? I said I will take up some job with one of the banks for a few years. We can live lavishly in London and do hajjar travel.

Me: Are you alright?

Bill: Yes. Just seeing sense finally.

Me: But what about Cambridge?

Bill: I will tell them that I can't make it there. If I feel like it, I will call them in a couple of years. Maybe. He He.

Me: What about your academic career?

Bill: What academic career? I haven't started one yet.

Me: But your visa is all done.

Bill: That's all logistics. Can be worked out.

Me: But you aren't suited for anything other than academia.

Bill: Says who? New avatar will happen. You wait and see.

Me: No, no, certain people are meant to do only certain things. You are meant to teach and do research and stare at ceiling.

Bill: Really?

Me: Yeah

Bill: You are sure about this?

Me: Yes I am.

Bill: Then you won't crib anymore and tell people about your useless, lowly paid postoc spouse?

Me: I will. Because its true.

Bill: Of course. You married me so that you can get sympathy vote from everyone about how useless your spouse is.

Me: That and to get my mom to stop crying.

Bill: Speaking of all that, do you know....

Me: Please, thats all amma's talking about nowadays. Its about how last year this time, we did this and that and how it is so sad you aren't around now. I want to run away only.

Bill: Yeah, my mom called me too. Apparently I have to get you something.

Me: I won't say No to gifts. Just make sure it doesn't arrive today.

Bill: Of course. Fuck. Its been a year.

Me: I know. Fuck.


PS: Yeah, new series. Don't worry, thirty years later I will do Saraband too.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Hussein, like the dictator

Barack Hussein Obama. Who would have thought that the next election is going to be about middle names? Not that I particularly care, but if I am going to root for anyone, might as well pick the charismatic Junior Senator from Illinois over the Senatress from New York.