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Monthly Archives: June 2012

This side of awesome: A tribute to F Scott Fitzgerald

This side of awesome: A tribute to F Scott Fitzgerald

These tributes we write week on week can be quite tiresome. Often, we aren’t saying anything that hasn’t already been said. As for the writing we have to find the right balance between admiration and restraint. This means we can never do the written word equivalent of taking our T-shirts off and throwing them onto a metaphorical stage. Okay, we’d never do that. But with heroes like Fitzgerald, it can get pretty touch and go.

If you haven’t read any Fitzgerald or worse, are undecided about his awesomeness, (All sorts to make this world, I tell you), read on. First order of the business of being a legend – the writing. Fitzgerald is the author you read if you want to fall in love with language. He uses words to make shapes and sounds and he paints scenes so vivid, you wonder whether you were actually there. His stories are so damn visual that the written word becomes a captivating technicolour action film. And that’s me speaking as a representative of my generation,with its short attention spans and impatience. Dialogue is never just dialogue – it’s sharp insight into a characters soul.

And the characters, they’re so terribly lovely. His protagonists shimmer. Wholesome people are staid and boring; for Fitzgerald, only the fabulous will do. There is only room for the deeply beautiful, the deeply damaged. A Fitzgerald’s character is the last glass of heady wine that you probably shouldn’t have had and which you will definitely regret in the morning. He’s the comely, flirtatious, too smooth-to-be-true guy at the bar. Larger than life. Fantastic. Adventurous.

Fitzgerald has been hailed for chronicling the jazz age.  I wasn’t alive then so I couldn’t say that he did or didn’t but if the jazz age was anything like the world he portrays in his books then gimme some of that. Pulsing hot music, massive lawn parties, swing dances, beaded fringed dresses, flappers, cigarette holders, women who throw their heads back when they laugh, suave men who light your cigarette, refill your martini glass and open the car door for you. Still, despite the thrill of the world he paints, he manages to show the hollowness of its core. As a writer, he skilfully builds us up, to dash us cruelly down. Just like his characters, we revel at the height of good fortune and then we cry when we fall from grace. If like me, you enjoy books and films that make you cry with their portrayal of poignancy, truth and beauty, then you’ll be a sucker for Fitzgerald.

You know how at some point all of us have said some version of, “Well, wait till I’m rich and famous. Then you guys can suck it.”? Fitzgerald actually accomplished this. Except, in his case he did it for a chick. That’s right. This side of paradise, happened because the beautiful Zelda Sayre turned him down. He wrote it in the three years he was enlisted, and surprise, surprise, it was genius. He shot to fame. Zelda agreed to get with him. Boom. And now that we’ve raked out the trivia, key plot points and some fantastic dialogue was taken word for word from the writers life, so much so that he said once, “Sometimes I don’t know whether Zelda and I are real or whether we’re characters from one of my books.” Which means, if we were ever to meet him in real life, he’d be every bit as awesome as his work.

Martin Amis said that when we say that we love a writer’s work, we are always stretching the truth: what we really mean is that we love about half of it. That much is true. I’ve read The great Gatsby, the Beautiful and the Damned and Tender is the night. I loved the first two enough to want to have their babies. Tender is the night, on the other hand, was a disappointment. Sure, there were a couple of classic moments, (A Fitzgerald bad is still pretty good,) but it sounded like he was trying too hard. The narrative tone is defeatist, tired before its characters tire, disillusioned, discontent, despairing. And if you think about it, he was all of these things when he was writing the book. Somehow, this makes me like him even more. He is his characters. He’s beautiful, he’s flawed. He’s Dick Diver, brilliant but tired of it all too soon, he’s the arrogant Gloria Patch and her cowardly husband Anthony. His life reflects itself vividly in his art. Beautiful and crushing. Grand but terribly sad and hopeless.

– Sheena

We’ve seen this Jhalak before

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We’ve seen this Jhalak before

On Indian Television, adaption means three things. Add tears, add bright shiny colours or add both.  India’s version of Dancing with the stars, Jhalak Dikhhla Jaa is back on Colours. A set that looks like Jodha Akbar the sequel and judges like Karan Johar (who fits 50 Hindi words into one second, like he’s afraid to breathe), Remo (the only judge with anything of value to offer) and of course, Madhuri Dixit (Smiles. Then more smiles) and contestants that include the usual motley crew of saas bahu soap  actors and the random musician and sportsman.

The first episode was feel good with many compliments, points scattered like largess and warm slow-mo hugs. It was sugar rush stuff. The contestants are pretty boring and lackluster. Except my girl, Bharti. She’s extremely funny, in love with Remo and she aims to move like a skinny girl. I’m not biased but I absolutely hate Darsheel Safary, Archana Vijaya, Gurmeet Choudhary, Shibani Dandekar, Ravi Kishan, Pratyusha Banerjee and Gia Manek already.

The dances in the first and the second episodes were not spectacular, although they had potential. The hosts are the usual mix of annoying and pathetically funny.

But the problem I have, is that I can already predict what’s going to go down this season already. They’ve all been set up that way.

There will be a controversy over Isha Sharvani. She’s already a dancer and Jhalak Dikhla Ja is meant for non-dancers. Bringing a trained dancer to a show for nondancers is an obvious controversy pothole. The same thing happened in Season 1 with Mona Singh and Shveta Salve.

No season of Jhalak is complete without a contestant-choreographer fight. Every season, one star throws a tantrum to justify their low scores. Then casts accusing Kohl-lined glances at their choreographer.

The two people who will get enough votes to stick by for a while will always be a soap hero and a sportsperson. Remember how Karan Singh Grover made it to the finals despite the most ridiculous dancing? India loves soap heroes. And sportsmen. We get to watch someone with no clue about dancing, attempt to do it, with just the right amount sportsman’s spirit, hard work and humility. I mean, aaaaaw. There was the sweet heart, Mir Ranjan Negi and the endearing Baichung Bhutia. He even managed to win with his fancy footwork. This season it’s Sanath Jaysuriya.

At least one person will forget their moves mid-gyration/decide to opt out of the show. Just like that.

If they could introduce any new overtly dramatic stories, it would really make this season my watch-the-four-hundredth-repeats show.

P.S – I love Bharti.

Preach alert: How to read when all you want to do is not

Preach alert: How to read when all you want to do is not

This weekend I indulged in some serious guilty pleasure reading. I was struggling with Orlando by Virginia Woolf and suddenly I found myself scanning my roommates bookshelf. One Sophie Kinsella, several Mary Higgins Clark and around two thousand romances. I chose a slim volume called “The Brazilians blackmailed bride.” I know that enough of you have read Mills and Boons at some point so you know how the story goes. I was mildly surprised at how sexist it was (“She was weak, just like all women.”) but mostly I was surprised at how much I didn’t care that I was wasting my time reading a book like that. To be fair, it wasn’t bad writing, but the characters were terribly annoying and what they did was incredibly predictable. End of story. After they kissed on the last page I closed the book and pondered.

Bombay is not kind to the readers among us. We work ourselves to the bone, we get home smelling of sweat and trains and we’re always hungry, tired and trying to rid our lungs of all the exhaust fumes we inhale on a daily basis. I’ve heard several people say “I used to read a lot but now I barely get the time.” I get that. Are we really expected to curl up on the couch with Ullysses on a Monday night? If at all we read, we want it to be a light escapist soiree involving fluttering blonde women with names like Sophia and bronzed Brazilians who in my mind are built like Gaston from Disneys’ Beauty and the Beast. Does that make us stupid? No it doesn’t and there’s no shame in the occasional “The disobedient virgin’s secret affair. In Rio. They do it several times.” But as readers, we need to be disciplined.

Reading is not easy. I’ve always been a reader and sometimes I struggle like hell with the books I choose to read. Here are some things I’ve learned about the habit. I hope it will help you.

1. Categorise your books into those that will go fast and those that require concentration. Don’t read the latter in the train or when you’re tired. There are train books and there are non-train books.

2. If you’re reading something written several generations before you were born, trust me, no matter how exciting the plot, it will be slow at points. The best example I can think of is Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness. You’re several pages into the book before the narrator even gets to the Congo. It’s worth it, so keep reading. Be patient.

3. You don’t have to finish the book all at once. It can get to you. Take a break for a month or two and get back to it.

4.  Make time. If you are genuinely too tired during the week, give yourself three hours on he weekend.

5. Allow yourself the occasional indulgence. For every three Gabriel Garcia Marquez you read, you can read one “A summer in Copacabana.” That’s just good maths.

Opening sequences we love

Opening sequences we love

What’s better than a great TV show? A kickass title sequence that builds it up (buttercup)

Game of Thrones

Fresh prince of Bel Air

Mad Men

The Simpsons

Dexter

The Wire

Sorry for the inconvenience

Precious Readers,

We’ve taken a short break this weekend. It’s a long story that involves injured tailbones, erratic internet connections and being out of town (for both of us). But we’ll be back next week with great updates and in the meantime, here’s Life could be a dream by The Crew Cuts.

Lots of love.

Sheena and Sharanya

Before wizards, vampires and werewolves: A tribute to Enid Blyton

Before wizards, vampires and werewolves: A tribute to Enid Blyton

My earliest memories of books are centered largely around the Five Find-outers and Dog. I read the entire series and was very proud of it. I lost interest in the Secret Seven too soon, what  with all the unoriginal titles (Good job, secret seven, Hurrah, Secret Seven, Oh we are so cool, Secret Seven). And then came The Famous Five with their hidden treasure mysteries and the sea, mountain and castle of adventures.

With Malory Towers and Saint Claire’s, I was exposed to a whole different world:  Scones, Dinner bells, “Jolly old sports”, gullible French mistresses who always fell for classroom tricks and laughed about them later and prep (which is Enid Blyton for Homework)

In retrospect, I wouldn’t call Enid Blyton a great author. She was, however, a brilliant storyteller and I believe they probably invented the word prolific for her. I can’t imagine any other author churning out the amount of books Blyton has, and managing to be a part of so many childhoods in so many places and to at least two generations.

Blyton’s writing technique is fascinating in that there is hardly any. She wrote almost everything spontaneously, cheerfully winging it, without  plan, notes or structure. She thought of a few characters and everything else just came to her as she put her fingers to her typewriter. Disclaimer: Don’t try this at home.

She was born in 1897 in London, was married twice and has been frequently called a bad mother by her younger daughter. The BBC rejected her multiple times because her writing was considered ‘stilted and longwinded’. The fact that her stories are as happy, pleasing and refreshing as her real life was erratic and unfulfilled, makes them so much more fascinating.

While I admit that the sexism and rascism, which are a huge part of the controversy surrounding Blyton is all justified, to 7 year old me, it didn’t matter. I never read the subtext because I was too busy imaging being friends with everyone in her books; Who would I be in the Malory Towers series (Alicia. I wanted to be the talented, intelligent and popular one).  Her stories flowed seamlessly and even the tiniest bit of drama would have me worrying. I would find myself hoping that Fatty and his friends escaped Mr.Goon, that nobody would catch the girls eating in the dorm room at midnight or that the Famous Five would manage to get out of the cave they were locked into. I wished he characters lived and breathed in my world. I dreamt of my own club with its own secret password and I pretended I really was part of every adventure I read. That’s what books should do.

I devoured her books when they came to me and waited breathlessly for the next ones. I had a library card and my mother’s monthly trips to Flora Fountain were something of a big event. Now, a portion of my salary is kept aside for books, I have a shelf that can barely hold all my books, there are so many authors I love and want to be, and all of it began with Enid Blyton.

– Sharanya

The art of storytelling

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The art of storytelling

People are storytellers. Some are good and some, not so much, but people tell stories all the time. A bar fight, a stupid boss, a date, a bad batch of popcorn; everything is a story and people get dramatic and emotional while telling them.

Children’s literature is full of the most brilliant writing techniques and ideas possible. It requires a special talent to hold a child’s attention. In my brief stint as an intern/writer/Harry Potter junkie at a magazine called Disney Adventures, I learnt that the only way to amaze and interest kids is to be amazed and interested yourself. I wrote about artificial satellites, flag designs and the Olympics, when I was convinced that kids only cared about Pokeman and Hannah Montanta (which they did) but a bunch of drawings, hand-made friendship bands and “I love buzz lightyear and want to go to NASA” emails reinforced my faith in humanity (this was before Justin Beiber). Children will read and love everything, if you know how to tell a story.

Speaking of stories there is something to be said about the ones who can take a complex, fantastic tale and make it simple and child-friendly. Uncle Pai. Tinkle and Amar Chitra Katha taught me science, maths, geography and mythology in an 8-panel page. ACK is responsible for my having absorbed Krishna’s life to Anandamath and all of Indian literature’s classic stories: The gods had large biceps, maidens had large lustrous eyes and demons had long tongues: Ah the glory days. Clearly, Ananth Pai’s aim in starting this series has been fulfilled.

And then there is Dr Seuss commonly called The Genius (commonly called by me) where all of life’s lessons and philosophies came together in the most unfussy, simple way. Every time I write a sentence, I take a step back and wonder why it takes me so many words to explain one idea, when The Cat in the Hat, a Suess Favourite, has less than 250 words. Dr Seuss taught me brevity (although, I’m still learning, as is evidenced by the length of this sentence).

Then there were people who can just tell such an awesome story, it becomes actual formula in other books and art forms. I believe Earl Stanley Gardeners work (he wasn’t really writing for children but his books were a big part of my childhood) is the basis for all good courtroom dramas. I see traces of Perry Mason everywhere, from 1965’s Waqt through to 1993’s Damini and in 2004’s Aitraaz.

Stories, reading them, listening to them, watching them in film and television are important and they never leave us. As we get older, we begin to appreciate other good things about Art – Context, skill, craftsmanship, theme, subtext, metaphor, symbolism- but no matter how old you are, a good story gets you every time.

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