Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Rakta Charitra and Other Inroads into Culture!

The only reason I thought I would watch Ram Gopal Varma's latest gory offering Rakta Charitra part 1 was because I wanted to make sense of the second part. Now why I wanted to watch the second half is very obvious, for it is Suriya's first Hindi film. And as you all know, I have a huge sized crush of him! But what I thought would be a chore left me quite impressed.

I switched off my TV just now after watching the film and had to write this. The movie is everything you have heard it is: gory, very violent, dark, vintage RGV stuff. The frames look similar to those from 'Satya', 'Company' and his other films. Most actors look menacing and have a grimace permanently pasted in their eyes. The background score is again loud. But as with the two films I mention above, Rakta Charitra is disturbingly good.

I have never liked Vivek Oberoi much, there was something about him that I didn't want to pay money to watch on screen. But he knows how to act, I must say. His performance, as a guerilla style rowdy, then as a suave politician is smooth. Abhimanyu Singh is great too, as the deplorable Bukka Reddy. Then there is the spurt of blood in every second scene; you can almost hear the liquid gush. It is touted as the most violent film in Indian cinema; it must be, given how someone dies in almost every scene. But the killings make sense somehow, with the conspiracies and political games that the characters, inspired from gangster and film stars turned politicians in real life play. There are typical RGV dark corners everywhere along with generous doses of the rest of his trademarks.

What I found terribly irritating was the voice-over that sounded like something from the age of DD's Mahabharatha serial. It is loud, as is the score, and sounds very forced and fake. RGV tries to shove the Mahabharatha parable in the film down your throat, with the aforementioned voice over and mantras almost constantly ringing in the background. To me, the Hindi sounded very South Indian too. I don't know if that was deliberate, given that the story is set in Andhra Pradesh politics, but it sounds more like a poor dubbing of a South film.

RGV does what he does best, with gangsta meets politicians to the background of much dishum-dishum and bang-bangs. One made-for-boys film! LOL!! As for me, I can't wait for the second part and Suriya!

In other explorations into upping my cultural database, I have been reading much. Fatima Bhutto's Songs of Sword and Blood, an account of her family's violent history, reads like a fiction thriller. I re-read Moth Smoke on my train journey to Bangalore last week, came back, picked up the latest issue of Granta on Pakistan, read Mohsin Hamid's short story A Beheading in it, and promptly, fell back in love with his writing. The story is online, at

I went back and read all that he has written online. Found his articles a little usual, but I love the way he writes entire novels in monologues so smoothly. I love that he breaks the expected rules of writing. In Moth Smoke, there are multiple first person accounts, while The Reluctant Fundamentalist, a book I finished in a noisy room in New Jalpaigudi, West Bengal last summer, is an entire story delivered in a monologue. Love love love the book.

That brings me to the topic of Pakistani culture. Let's get past the shared history talk. We are a bigger country, yes, but as I see it, they make use of what they have in a better way. I envy them their culture. There, I said it, so sue me. I could never get enough of India's music, different cuisine and the people. But as far as writing goes, I prefer the Pakistani writers. Here's how.

I was introduced to Amitav Ghosh's writing in college and after the initial hiccups trying to get used to his writing, I went on to read all of his books. Except Sea of Poppies, never managed to get beyond 20 pages. Then there is Vikram Seth, who I didn't read after enduring half of Two Lives. Kunal Basu's Japanese Wife was nice, though his Racists disappointed me. I talk of fiction only here, and of the big writers, the ones on a 'literary' plane. And I don't include several names here, I know. Save for Chetan Bhagat (hardly literature), none of these writers have acquired a cult status, though all are fantastic writers.

On the other hand, take Mohsin Hamid. His Moth Smoke is supposedly a cult in Pakistan. Then there is Mohammed Hanif, Aamer Hussein, Hari Kunzru, Daniyal Mueenuddin, the others. Most follow the coming-of-age story route, but the liberal strokes they have taken with the narratives is what I appreciate. I am hooked to those.

No writer can be better or worse than another; they can only be different. Just maybe there is a more identifiable, more relate-able brigade in Pakistan for a generation like mine, a generation that is often in limbo, between home and other places, between what it thinks and what it feels, between a modernity increasingly hard to keep up with and a traditionalism that it knows is never in totality regressive or orthodox. Perhaps Pakistan just does a better job at playing up its cultural beings. Even Noam Chomsky thinks the media there is freer and more liberated than in India. That and I like them their music.

I have written about it previously. I love the fact that we have Indian Ocean, Swarathma, The Raghu Dixit Project and others to follow but I envy them the Coke Studios. The music that comes out of collaborations there is fantastic. Sigh! I am hooked to Overload and Meesha Shafi and Zeb&Haniya too.

So, much culture has been happening. On another impulse, I picked up a M Hohner's Puck Harmonica yesterday, a C Major one. It's less than three inches long and is super cute. One day, the disjointed notes that come out of it will turn into music. I have promised myself that! :)

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