Textually Yours

Te echo de menos

Posted in barcelona, musique, traveling, women by arpitaincuba on January 26, 2009

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Barcelona es cara de mi corazón

Even in El Barri Gòtic it would not end. It gnawed at me–the anxiety of travelling alone as a single woman. I would easily forget about it till Urdu would be whispered in my ear or a hand would reach my waist. And then, immediately all my senses would be heightened and I would switch to the cautious mode. The fear of being a target often ruined traveling alone for me.

However, I enjoyed the anonymity of traveling.  Being a brown girl in Barcelona did not necessarily connote that I was an Indian girl from India who spoke Hindi and understood Urdu. It did not imply that I was one of the several Pakistani illegal immigrants frequently Riberia. Nor did it signify that I was of Indian descent from United States studying in Spain.

Traveling puts you out of context and I used this to my advantage. Some days I would pretend that I did not understand a word of Spanish. I would smile coyly at the Catalan shop-keepers and walk away while they deperately tried to sell  Spanish bizarreness to me.

But  when curiosity had the better of me I would ask questions about Catalunya, in Spanish verbs that were conjugated completely in the past. Cheer svelte gay men on bicycles. Protest independence for the Basque with the estudiantes.

And when I had enough of pretending I would walk into a Döner Kebab joint and order Chicken tikka masala in Hindi and read Salman Rushdie. All for 5 euros.

Yes!  Barcelona was my schizophrenic dream come alive.


How queer!

Posted in India, phillum by arpitaincuba on January 26, 2009

Dostana premiered on Thursday. It was a marketing tactic that would enable the verdict to travel “word-of-mouth.” And it was successful. The film was a “blockbuster hit,” and people would not stop talking about it.

I enjoyed it. It was a slap stick comedy with sometimes witty come backs, and ridiculous parodies of other Indian films. However, what I was fascinated by was this “word-of-mouth.” Here was a mainstream film, with the top-notch industry heros,  who were PRETENDING to be gay. As a consequence, the film had several annoying homophobic moments. But it did something else. It brought queerness out into the open. Middle class India was now talking about alternate sexualites.

My mother, on the phone from India, could not believe how many conversations she had about queerness, and homophobia since the release of this film. Yes, the conversations are more about how Abhishek Bachchan was hilarious in the film, but there was  also a discussion about alternative sexualites. Conversations about queer sexualities in the public domain is BIG. I say it is big because growing up in middle class India, in a city like Lucknow, I had no conversations about queerness till I was in my mid teens. We don’t talk about such issues. But now we are! What a BIG small step.

Amulya Gopalakrishnan, writing for The Indian Express, words this perfectly:

And the most enormous change is that Dostana names the unsaid, replaces ambiguities and evasions with the power of public utterance — it confronts wide and various audiences with ostensibly gay characters. And who knows, perhaps laughter and cheesy uplift can subtly wedge the door open in ways that a serious, p.c., full frontal take in non-mainstream movies like My Brother Nikhil may not manage. Dostana might not be the great leap forward for gay mainstreaming, but perhaps, picture abhi baaki hai.

it will not end

Posted in India, phillum by arpitaincuba on January 26, 2009

The talk about Slumdog Millionaire.

This weekend I had another heated argument about this film. My friend was outraged that Danny Boyle was making a profit off of the slums of India. He is not the first one. It is a shame really.

Third world poverty is fetished by the media, and Danny Boyle is doing the same.

The film is clearly made for a Western audience to consume this fetished poverty. As a South Asian person, it was a little annoying to watch the film with its major flaws because it became apparent very soon that the film was made for people not from South Asia. Even though it was about them.

De cara la pared

Posted in musique by arpitaincuba on January 22, 2009


The gulabi gang and this hullaballoo

Posted in admiration, frustration, India, san francisco, women by arpitaincuba on January 22, 2009

a still from a film about the Gulabi Gang

a still from a film about the Gulabi Gang

hot PINK

Celebrated as the “bad-ass sari vigilantes of bumble-fuck India,” the Gulabi Gang is a fierce women’s group belonging to the lowest socio-economic strata of rural Uttar Pradesh who have taken up lathis(a cane that is traditionally a symbol of self-defence) to fight against female exploitation, unemployment, government corruption, male alcoholism, and crime. No doubt this is a group that deserves all the admiration for their efforts in community created solutions and resistance in action. However, I’m more concerned about how they might get exploited as “commodities of cool” here. When I observe the youth culture in the urban landscape of San Francisco, I notice that resistance is consumed more often as a fashion commdity.Images of Che Guevara and Chair Mao on Urban Outfitters shirts, and the keffiyeh around every pale necked hipster is an evidence of the appropriation of social justice figures

As my friend, Rosie right fully said–appropriation is the king to the wannabe intellectuals in United States. Appropriation is their intellectual capitalism.

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An Open Letter to Sir Salman Rushdie by Raja Sen

Posted in Literature by arpitaincuba on January 20, 2009


Dear Mr Rushdie,

I was born in the same year Midnight’s Children was released. While you irrevocably changed the face of the Indian novel — all the while tweaking its nose — with spellbinding verbal pyrotechnics and tremendous magic realism, I took my first steps. There is no way to softpedal the kinship I feel with that novel or any of your subsequent and former words, and I have grown up, humbly and inconsequentially, in the ever-expanding shadow of what you have written. Handcuffed to your words, so to speak. This might be a major publication and they might title what I am now writing as a column, but I, sir, am a groupie.

Which makes this unsolicited yet crucial missive far far harder to write. While whooping with immeasurable glee in the news that you will finally be writing a sequel to my favourite book, Haroun And The Sea Of Stories, I must confess that my jaw fell unflatteringly open when I heard of the upcoming Midnight’s Children cinematic adaptation. I gasped and huffed and puffed, and it took me a while to collect my thoughts and address you as I am now.

The story of Saleem Sinai is a multilayered work of astonishing brilliance that is, in its original form, impossible to translate to screen. Not that great films haven’t come out of unfilmable novels — Kubrick based a career on doing it bloody well — and I must say I had a ball at the Barbican a few years ago when I saw the RSC perform their own version of the novel — written by you alongside Tim Supple — which was most entertaining. The Doors playing in the background, referencing Apocalypse Now, somehow totally gelled with that delightful stage interpretation, and Zubin Varla was a terrific Saleem.

You, of course, know this. You are preparing to roll up sleeves and muddy your hands with screenplay again, tackling the project afresh — after already having been through a few gruelling, revolutionary drafts. You’ve always hoped that Midnight’s Children would find its way onto the screen, and felt justifiably heartbroken when India, fickle mother, didn’t allow the BBC to shoot its series in the country. You want to do it bigger and better and get that fantastic novel the movie it so completely deserves, and for that endeavour all us fans of the book wish you the very, very best.

Thing is, Whimsy is the single hardest feel to capture adequately on screen. There are filmmakers who excel at high drama and those who make slapstick seem genius, but absurdity isn’t everyone’s game at all. And Whimsy, in my irrelevant opinion, is what runs through your work the strongest, the raft which helps us float from heavy allegory to incisive satire, the unifying current in your sea of stories. And here I must say, running the risk of being offensive, that the director you have attached to the current project can’t quite do Whimsy.

You know better, obviously. And while I don’t mean to belittle Deepa Mehta’s cinematic achievements — I personally feel Fire was a raw, more honest film than it is given credit for, and some sequences of Earth were indeed striking — I somehow do not see her suited to an adaptation of this fantastico-political masterpiece. Midnight’s Children is a film that craves as much wit as wisdom, as much madness as metaphor, and despite the fact that Ms Mehta’s intimate acquaintance of India may possibly help the project, the very idea fills me with trepidation. And I’m not alone.

The fear is indubitably one of eventual misrepresentation. The film might be an art-house success, win a bagful of awards and, most importantly, reach far more people than the book has touched — but this wouldn’t be worth it if the film can’t capture the book’s marvellous, untamable spirit. The nightmare is that audiences will get a film distinct from the novel and assume that’s what the book is. Like your friend Ian McEwan might have observed when his Atonement was turned into a very well-shot pile of pap, which rocked the boat all the way to the Oscars but severely let the book down. Or Vladimir Nabokov, who was co-credited by Kubrick as screenwriter on Lolita but felt completely helpless as the bushy-eyebrow’d director went wild with the script.

It is a fear encountered by another bearded visionary contemporary to your times, the great Alan Moore. (Just realised that you have more in common; he’s the only graphic novelist to be on Time’s list of the 100 Great Novels; you’re the only Indian novelist on the same) And while Moore continues to play havoc with the medium, he balks at Hollywood and sees his work turned into crowdpleasing blockbuster bile — and doesn’t even get a say in it. It’s a creative incubus, and this interview with the man where he ‘puts a curse’ on the filmmakers, expresses it best.

On the other hand, you have had no such disenchantment with the motion picture format. Bombay has ensured a lifelong love with cinema, with the larger-than-life, and with Bollywood, and you well realise the impact of truly imaginative cinema.

It’s just that there are so many people better equipped to handle the form. Guillermo Del Toro of Pan’s Labyrinth is the finest director alive when it comes to magic realism, a radical artiste who conjures up chimeras while sticking unbelievably close to the source material, as seen with his loopy, brilliant Hellboy films. Tim Burton is a master at blurring the line between reality and fantasy, while Alejandro Gonzales Inarritu figure-skates through the non-linearity so essential to all Rushdie narratives. Danny Boyle made a top-notch adaptation of Irvine Welsh’s Trainspotting, and, with Slumdog Millionaire, has shown he can shoot Bombay incredibly well. And then there’s the wonderful Terry Gilliam, but you’ve already had that conversation.

Of course, there is the argument that an Indian director would do more justice to the source material, being familiar with more of the basic nuances. I personally don’t believe that to be necessarily true, particularly for this iconic book that has had such an impact on readers everywhere. If you were inclined to work with an Indian filmmaker though, I’d tip my hat towards Vishal Bhardwaj, who did spectacularly with Omkara, his Othello adaptation, but, more crucially, Makdee, his children’s fantasy. Whimsy, again.

You, I reiterate, know better. You’re the boss, the shah of blah, and once you drop a word — or even nod in my general direction — I’ll forsake all objection and inhibition, and do what I can to visit the sets and perhaps, if I’m lucky, even work paisalessly as a stagehand or serf. Anything. And my sincere request to you is to watch Ms Mehta’s only attempt at Whimsy, Bollywood/Hollywood, and imagine what could be.

It’s just that I, like more than a generation of Indians, feel a kind of propriety towards Saleem and that glorious book. I have grown up with it and dreamt about it and playacted scenes from it and checked out my proboscis-profile in the mirror and…

And I watched Water again last week just to reassure myself and shuddered. John Abraham as Saleem Sinai? Oh. My. God.

All I ask is for an instant more of contemplation,

Much obliged,

Raja Sen
Writer. Fan. Midnight’s Grandson.

Why this hulla shor?

Posted in phillum by arpitaincuba on January 19, 2009

slumdog4604I saw Slumdog Millionaire two months ago, and found it average.

This exponential growth of the hype around the film, I find ridiculous.

Ten nominations for the Oscars is a little undeserved. Sure, A.R. Rehman is brilliant, and the cinematography was sophisticated. But other than that the film did not work for me.

Here is why:

A whole range of desi and videshi accents of Jamal
At the onset, the ” poop diving five year old Jamal has a “road-side” demeanor and a very “ghati” accent. No doubt the kid is from the slums. As time progresses, another child actor from a upper-middle class background, and an English medium education starts to portray Jamal. He delivers his dialogue with that “sing-song convent school” English and his body language indicates a certain degree of refinement. And then there is Dev Patel. Dev is from London. Jamal is suppose to be from the slums. So why does the slum dog develop a clipped Brit accent, and is unable to pronounce simple Hindi words properly?

Such inconsistency cannot be ignored!

The two very distinct parts of the film–one kickass, and the other vomit inducing.

I watched the first part of this film riveted. It was fast-paced, poignant, real, and engaging. However, all this came undone in the second part. The corny Latika love story, the dance sequence, and some strange belief in fate made me feel like I was watching a different film. From a detailed, and intense focus on the struggles of a slum child, it deteriorated to a formulaic masala film. The clichés of love and yearning were unbearable, the dance sequence unnecessary, and the whole reference to Godfather with the brother in the bathtub was bizarre.


M.I.A’s music felt disconnected with the urban-scape of India. It has an edginess no doubt but would be more suited to a film that is about the Diaspora rather than the desh.

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