Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Steig Larsson's Millennium

Spent the better part of the entire previous week devouring Steig Larsson's excellent Millennium trilogy. And at the end of it all there is a sense of contentment, of a finality and a feeling that all is right with the world, or Sweden at the very least.

The series is a staggering acheivement on several counts,which is all the more surprising because it breaks quite a few rules of genre crime fiction writing at several places. Larsson shows a tendency to employ digressions at key moments, which drag you away from the plot to explain, say, the backstory of a lesser character or completely unrelated trivia. It is also written in an extremely matter of fact style with very little embellishment (it could be because of the fact that the work is translated from Swedish). But these elements work perfectly in Millennium helping create a keen sense of anticipation in the reader at key moments only to suddenly whisk them away to a more mundane place leaving them gasping for breath.

What places Millennium a few notches above your standard issue crime thriller is the quality of its lead characters. Lisbeth Salander, it fiercely independent female protagonist, is an exasperatingly difficult person to deal with - she is more intelligent than everyone else around her, anti-social, a victim of horrific atrocities with a temparament that is liable to explode at the slightest hint of provocation. Mikael Blomkvist, is in many ways the exact opposite. He is a reluctant celebrity, a pathbreaking journalist with almost infinite patience and quite the ladies man. The promiscuity in general displayed by the characters, apart from the horrifying tales of misogyny, would be quite a shocker for the lay Indian reader. Not that India is in any way devoid of crimes against women, but the general impression of life in Scandinavian countries in our minds would probably be best described by high per-capita incomes, midnight suns and a sanitised lifestyle almost bordering on the boring.

Not since I read Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell has a large work of fiction so consumed me (I tend to think of any book that goes beyond 500 pages as a large work of fiction.) I read the books in about five sittings with a strange nervous energy egging me on. Such was the lure of Lisbeth Salander and friends. My favorite book remains the first installment of the series- The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, for its leisurely depiction of the Scandinavian landscape, the weather and the lifestyle in addition to being a genuinely scary and disturbing crime investigation.

Highly recommended.

PS - Hat Tip to Jabberwock for the strong recommendation in his review. I would have steered clear of these books otherwise, especially given the corny titles.

Friday, November 27, 2009

On Dravid

A superb article on Rahul Dravid by Suresh Menon in Tehelka. This line sums up Dravid's ethos quite beautifully.

"While Tendulkar dominates through attack, Dravid lets his domination remain a secret between the bowler and himself"

Friday, October 02, 2009

Thoughts on Inglourious Basterds

Going into a QT film assures at least one thing - it will never be a staggeringly bad film. Which is not saying much but at least you know where you stand. Quentin Tarantino understands, and appreciates, badassery like few other directors do. Or to put it more accurately, Quentin's films and characters are more consistently badass than most other directors. My favorite bits in all his films are the digressions characters choose to take during key conversation pieces and how it all ends with almost poetic violence.

The opening scene in Inglourious Basterds is a classic instance of how to build up to a denoument which the audience already anticipates. From the moment the farmer hears the hum of the German motorbikes approaching you know serious evil is afoot and that people will die before the scene ends. But its the treatment of the scene that takes the breath away. And of course it helps if you have a character like Hans Landa to work with. Chrisopher Waltz approaches the character like a chemist would when performing a titration experiment. His affect on people around him (and the audience) is slow, assured, awe inspiring and eventually deadly.

Sylistically Inglourious Basterds is a departure from Kill Bill, infact almost its mirror image in the sense that KB was a series of set piece action sequences with sporadic bursts of dialogue where as IB is a series of conversation set pieces with intermittent spells of violence.

A nod especially to Melanie Laurent's Shoshanna who is hauntingly gorgeous in every frame she inhabits. The Basterds themselves were fun but, ironically, probably the weakest link in the film.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

On Interesting and Unreal Place Names

A lot of wailing and gnashing of the teeth has manifested itself over the years among the anti-cognoscenti in this country over the naming/renaming of landmarks and roads and places and other eyesores that pop up from time to time. The majority market share has remained with the Gandhi family with a spot of competition from assorted regional and mythological players. In my book its a crime at par with defacement by photoshop, another national pastime.

Indian cities are such a repository of exquisitely named places, its a pity that very few have been analyzed or dissected in great detail. For example the Kempegowda Bus Stand area in Bangalore, is popularly known as "Majestic". Someone coming across"Majestic" for the first time might imagine that the city probably has more places like it - "Splendid" perhaps or "Pathetic" or even "Far-Fetched". Another favourite of mine in Bangalore is "Michaelpalya" which is just a very cool name.

Its hard to think of any Indian city that I have been to and not found a name that's profoundly WTF and memorable. Agra's Chippi Tola ( a place that sells springs of all sorts), Gadha-Pada, Man-Tola and Raja Ki Mandi; Lucknow's Bakshi ka Talab and Narahi; Raipur's Lendi-Talab, Mumbai's Chinchpokli, Tulsi Pipe Road are just some that I can think of right now, but I am sure there are hundreds more.

Will probably do a more detailed list of all such names that I can recall, later perhaps.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

On Character Backstories

Dr Evil's is my favorite.
"The details of my life are quite inconsequential... very well, where do I begin? My father was a relentlessly self-improving boulangerie owner from Belgium with low grade narcolepsy and a penchant for buggery. My mother was a fifteen year old French prostitute named Chloe with webbed feet. My father would womanize, he would drink. He would make outrageous claims like he invented the question mark. Sometimes he would accuse chestnuts of being lazy. The sort of general malaise that only the genius possess and the insane lament. My childhood was typical. Summers in Rangoon, luge lessons. In the spring we'd make meat helmets. When I was insolent I was placed in a burlap bag and beaten with reeds- pretty standard really. At the age of twelve I received my first scribe. At the age of fourteen a Zoroastrian named Vilma ritualistically shaved my testicles. There really is nothing like a shorn scrotum... it's breathtaking- I highly suggest you try it"

The Advent of Jacky B

I wait
with eager anticipation
for a starson
to debut
last name Bhagnani,
if you thought that was tacky
his first name is Jacky.

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Watching Federer and Nadal

There is very little joy that I derive out of watching Rafa and Federer go at each other. There is just too much stress for me to enjoy the sheer quality they bring on court when squaring off. Each point bitterly contested, full of brute force, grace, speed, turns, impossible angles and above all the possibility of something unique.

For me the real genius of Federer's game is not in its precision or aesthetics but in the fact that Federer always plays on the outer boundaries of his abilities. Its exhilirating to watch because of the extreme risk it entails. You would rarely see Federer playing a safe shot. In fanboy parlance I tend to dig Roger Federer's game. And the Aussie open final left me bereft of all adrenaline and I lay slumped on my bean bag for almost an hour after Federer started crying on court.

I have always harboured a prejudice against Nadal for no reason whatsoever. Perhaps its because he is the only player who makes Federer look human on court - irritated, hurried, pensive, resigned even. To top it all Rafa is such an amazingly gracious champion that it grates. But the man has won me over this year. For all its star power the Sampras-Agassi rivalry was nowhere near to what Federer and Nadal have. The tennis they play against each other is for most part unreal.

The great era of M/s Borg, Connors, McEnroe et al had ended by the time I developed an affinity for Tennis. And men's tennis has thrown up players of serious calibre over the last three decades - Becker, Edberg, Agassi, Chang, Lendl, Wilander, Rafter, Stich to name a few. But I cannot imagine any of them posing problems for either Federer or Nadal. Sampras though might have held his own.

Friday, January 02, 2009

The New Year is Here

Yembire wishes its readers (almost entirely comprising a group of people who search for the word 'cinemascope' in google) an adequate New Year!