Saturday, November 30, 2002 : Learn!slrs

‘India and World Literature’—Salman Rushdie’s introduction to The Vintage Book of Indian Writing: 1947-1997, edited by Rushdie and Elizabeth West, as reproduced in the 9.8.97 issue of Frontline, which commemorated the golden jubilee of Indian independence.

Explore this! Art and Could this be my favourite website?slrs

Steven Soderbergh has remade Andrei Tarkovsky’s 1972 SF film Solaris, from the Stanislaw Lem novel. J Hoberman raves in the Village Voice:

Solaris achieves an almost perfect balance of poetry and pulp. This is as elegant, moody, intelligent, sensuous, and sustained a studio movie as we are likely to see this season—and in its intrinsic nuttiness, perhaps the least compromised. : useful site that aggregates reviews of new films and music, primarily from the American media. It differs from and MRQE in that it considers only the most reputed publications, including online ones.slrs

Friday, November 29, 2002

David Thomson is the author of A Biographical Dictionary of Film, which many regard as the best book on cinema. His top ten films of all time, from The Independent.

Thomson’s profile of Martin Scorsese appeared in the same newspaper on the great director’s 60th birthday.sll

Thursday, November 28, 2002

I have come to be a regular reader of Frontline—which I believe is India’s best newsmagazine. It is a fortnightly from the publishers of The Hindu. The editor N Ram deserves a pat on the back for keeping it sober and serious, covering only those issues in the news that deserve attention. None of the sugar-coated packaging of news (in other words, sensationalism) regular in the other mags like India Today, Outlook and the dumb The Week (from Kerala’s own Malayala Manorama empire). Frontline shares its sobriety with its parent newspaper.

Newspapers are regarded to be important tools in the democratic process, but somehow I find them a criminal waste of time. The only good use they are to me are for pure information—like the day’s TV programmes, for example. The unprocessed information termed news that is found in them is only a kind of drug to make a stupid readership feel they are exerting themselves in a worthy intellectual task. How many avid readers of newspapers have the patience to read through a whole book? Somewhere in this exaggerated worth attributed to newspapers I sense a malaise that taints our times.

This malaise is only growing—especially with the advent of 24/7 TV news channels desperate to find sensational issues to keep an audience with delusions of gravity glued to the ‘idiot box’. Thus I find colleagues in my office discussing in graphic detail the contours of the latest sensational murder—gleaned from hours of Aaj Tak and Zee News—with the pride of one who is making a flamboyant display of his learning; while I have less respect for him than for the adolescent salivating over memories of the silicone-enhanced morphology of Pamela Anderson on display in the previous night’s episode of ‘Baywatch’.

But most of these ‘news junkies’ will find it an arduous effort to read through an issue of a publication like Frontline. Because they cover in detail real news, because there are real issues that demand discussion and deliberation. Because the only eye-candy to be found in those pages is perhaps a photograph of burqa-clad Afghan women queuing for rations, and not the décolletage of the latest starlet who has made it big in tinsel town.

Interesting articles I have already read in Frontline’s latest issue, apart from regular news coverage, include those on this year’s literature Nobel winner Imre Kertesz, on painter Apurva Desai, A G Noorani’s book review that introduced me to the fascinating political writings of Hans J Morgenthau (which reminded me why at one point of time I wanted to do my graduation in Political Science), and the Hindu Right’s attack on Kerala’s secular intellectuals like writer Zacharia.

One thing though: I don’t claim to have a balanced perspective on current affairs as I had not been following the news at all over the last couple of years, and though my liberal leanings sympathise with Frontline’s position on most issues (the news articles themselves are opinionated as in a newspaper editorial, sometimes fiercely so), the magazine’s strident opposition to the Rightist forces of Hindutva and its anti-US stand on both the Israel / Palestine and Iraq situations, sometimes seems too grating to feel like an unbiased stand. Or maybe I’m wrong and N Ram knows better.slcw

Monday, November 25, 2002

This weekend’s work:

Got a search facility for Salon. You can search for entries containing given keywords. Also got a Categories section, which is supposed to produce a page showing all the entries in Salon that I have listed under that particular category. However, at present the results for both the search and categories do not include entries from June, July and August, since Blogger refuses to re-publish those archives. That will hopefully be remedied soon.

Thursday, November 21, 2002

A small poem for my old friend Ismail Aldayyaffin who is a homeless Palestinian who was with me at the Lagos Medical College, Nigeria.

What if my brother is’nt telling the truth
And is hiding a gun behind his booth
I would be a fool to
Stretch my hand to touch his brows
and ask, are you full.
In his growing pain he may
squeeze the trigger and
let the hot fire
snaring in his gut
drive in the facts into my head
because truth is not important.slcw

Today is my birthday. I am thirty-one now.

Where I am now:

◊ Realised what I am supposed to do as a painter.

◊ Accomplished nothing in my art in the market sense of the word.

◊ Accomplished so much in developing my art in the spiritual sense.

◊ Have few people whom I can call my close friends.

◊ On the brink of financial success which is needed for my art to stay free from the pressure of the market.

◊ There are people around me who address me as son, husband, father, friend, lover, enemy, teacher, partner etc….

◊ Realized that existentialism of the west is not what we understood—what we call by that name within us is a different thing and must learn fast to address this. Then great art and philosophy will emerge from Bharatam, instead of the recycled ones we are making now.

If any one in your circle receives messages of this sort tell them to stay away from it. As an ex-Nigerian expatriate I can guarantee you Nigerians are very good at creating scams like this. Please pass this caution to everyone you know. Especially because we Mallu's are susceptible to any prospects of easy money.

Dear Partner to be,

First, I must apologise to you for using this medium to communicate to you about this project and it is my great pleasure in writing you this letter on behalf of my colleagues and myself.

I am a highly placed official of Government of Nigeria and also a founding member of the ruling party in Power now, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).

DESCRIPTION OF PROJECT: My committee - The Niger Delta Development Corporation (NDDC)-which is in charge of managing and supervising the disbursement of oil sales revenues for the Nigerian government which covers payment to foreign and local contractors, who had executed contracts for our country. The revenues under our control runs into several hundred of millions of dollars and using my position as Executive Director in charge of projects, I and other colleagues in the NDDC are currently in need of a foreign partner with whose bank account we shall transfer the sum of Forty Nine Million Five Hundred Thousand United States Dollars($49.5m). To do this, we will need your cooperation as a foreigner who could front to receive the fund on our behalf.

SOURCE OF FUND: The amount represents a percentage of the total contract value executed on behalf of my ministry by a foreign contracting firm which we over-invoiced. Though the actual contract value has been paid to the original contractor, leaving a balance to the tune of the amount aforementioned, which we have in principle secured approval to remit by telegraphic transfer (T.T) to any bank account, you will provide.

PROCEDURE: Since the present government of Nigeria is determined to pay every foreign contractor all debts owed so as to maintain good relationship with foreign governments and non-governmental financial agencies, however, by virtue of our position as civil servants and members of the NDDC, we cannot acquire this funds in our name. This is because as top civil servants, we are not allowed by law of the land to own or operate bank accounts outside our country for now. We have decided to include our bills for approval with the cooperation of some officials from the relevant government establishments. We are seeking your assistance in providing a good company's account or any other offshore bank account into which we can remit this money by acting as our main partner and trustee or acting as a sub contractor. This will involve the swapping of account; changing of beneficiary name; and other forms of documentation.

I have the authority of my partners to propose that should you be willing to assist us in the transaction, your share of the sum will be 10% of the U$49.5million, 80% for us while the balance will be set aside for refund of all expenses incurred during the process of the transaction.

The transaction, although discrete, is legitimate and there is no risk or legal disadvantages either to ourselves or yourself now or in the future as we have put in place perfect machineries that will ensure a hitch free transfer into your account upon acceptance.

The transfer will be effected to your account within ten-fourteen (10-14) working days as soon as we reach an agreement and you furnish me with a suitable bank account and company name and address with all your contact numbers including fax number.

Expecting your response and thank you for your cooperation.


Anderson K. Eseimoku

North by Northwest

I went to see this film with Neslie and another friend. I didn’t know that I was going to see a Hitchcock film. It was only during the title sequence (very imaginative) that I realized that it was North by Northwest.

As the film progresses we realize Hitchcock’s commitment to entertain the viewer without being cheap. In a lesser director’s hand this film would’ve been slapstick comedy.

In suspense and action, this film in my opinion is a thousand times better than the best James Bond film (Dr No, my choice). One of my favourite parts is the crop dusting sequence. Visuals at the beginning of that sequence are stunning.

The first evaluation I do on any film is of its casting and in North by Northwest it is exceptional. And I would like to say most of the good Hollywood films do well in this department. But in bad films they do disgusting job in casting. (For an example: Madonna as Eva Peron!!!??? or, in most of the Stallone films where he is cast in roles that need some acting!!!)

Cary Grant was good though with a stiff backbone and awkwardly held arms. He reminded me of Gregory Peck, one of my old favourites. Both of them have similar stiff body language and both are damn good-looking.

As with casting, there is not a single sentence or a word in the film that is out of place.

The music score is like any other Hitchcock film. It is eerie and macabre.

All in all a damn good entertainer with a touch of Kafka but with a happy ending. Hitchcock is such a good man that he doesn’t want his film to end in a way that justifies someone else’s philosophy. He used Kafka where he wanted, the way he wanted. Then he closed his film the way he wanted. That’s what I call good direction.slfr

Sunday, November 17, 2002

I and Neslie are going to start a small business in Ernakulam. We already leased an office space opposite to SATM at Warrium road.
Actually there are four partners in the business. The other two are my friends. Rajesh and Sunil. You might have seen them at our house at Kaloor. We are planning to start as a training centre and then develope it into a production centre as well. Hope everything will workout well.
why I am posting this in salon?
May be several years from now I may look back at this entry and recollect the mood I am in right now.
Or as I expect, if I hit the jackpot and this thing takes off in a big way I can always comeback here and feel how small I felt then.
I want to make it really big Clement. I know my art will suffer. But honestly this is what i feel.

Saturday, November 16, 2002

Films playing here in Pune right now include Insomnia (Christopher Nolan of Memento fame, with Al Pacino) and Road to Perdition (Sam Mendes of American Beauty, with Tom Hanks). Both have garnered some rave reviews.


This is probably old news back home, but I came across this only now. In July, Malayalam film actress Samyuktha Verma, along with friends and family, were taken into custody for several hours of questioning by the mighty US’ Joint Terrorism Task Force, after a passenger on the Chicago-NYC flight found their excited behaviour suspicious and alerted security, causing the authorities to call in two fighter jets to escort the plane to La Guardia Airport! Ms Verma may perhaps have found consolation in the NYT dubbing her ‘the Julia Roberts of Malayalam-language films’ in their report on the comic mess-up. Julia Roberts. Apt?

Asian Film Connections intends to be a forum ‘where contemporary, culturally significant feature films from China, India, Japan, Korea, and Taiwan are promoted through on-line video clips, press kits, filmographies, and critical analyses contributed by film scholars and critics from Asia as well as internationally.’ A pity this site’s India section is on hold at present for lack of funding.

Their article on Malayalam cinema.slrs

‘The British Film Institute presents ImagineAsia: A Celebration of South Asian Film.’slrs

A survey of ‘Contemporary Malayalam Cinema’ on the bfi website—by Dr C S Venkiteswaran, who is faculty at the Centre for Taxation Studies (!), Thiruvananthapuram. I remember reading his articles in The Indian Express. This article is intended for a forthcoming bfi publication titled Contemporary South Asian Film and Television: A Survey.

One of the most enigmatic figures in Malayalam cinema during the period was John Abraham (1937-1987), in whom Ritwik Ghatak (the great Bengali filmmaker and his teacher), saw 'the future of Indian cinema'. As erratic and unpredictable in life as in his films, John's works are imbued with a deep humanity. In a way, they dealt with the very impossibility of being human and creative.

Good to hear from Fobbin that there are interesting things being done in Malayalam films even in the commercial mode.

The first review of a Malayalam film posted on Salon got me started on a web search on Malayalam films. Found some interesting sites and articles.

Tuesday, November 12, 2002


This is an entirely different movie as far as Malayalam movies are concerned. It provides enough clues to new directors, about the trends that are going to be dominating popular Malayalam movies in the near future. I am not going to list the shortcomings of this film, which are plenty. Everything about this film is new. New actors, new theme, new approach to situations.

The story is about a young goonda who once raped a novitiate nun, who in turn is rejected by the order when she is found pregnant. To escape ridicule from the locals she is staying with her lawyer’s friend in Cochin, who happens to be a famous soap actress. The heroine somehow had to use the help of the young goonda, but both of them do not recognize each other. By the end of the film he realises that she is the one whom he had raped and also that his son is alive in an orphanage. Now the goonda wants to change but he can’t because all such movies say so. In the end he dies (?) trying to save her.

Actor Vijayaraghavan is good as a corrupt police officer, but tends to overact occasionally. Casting of hero and heroine is good, but that of most of the other characters are below average. Gangster characters are presented almost naturally. But they tend to act in a way that is not improving the movie in any way. Like I always believe, never leave your movie to the actors. Don’t let them go solo. If you do so, what you get is a compilation of clippings, of good acting from your actors, but not the movie that you planned to make.

I don’t know whether the director of this movie really understood Tarantino properly. Because some of the characters and subplots in this film are not at all necessary. The truth is that the director doesn’t know how to use that method, of plot within the plot and charactors crashing into the scenes used brilliantly by Tarantino.

As I said earlier despite all the shortcomings I liked the film. It will definitely set certain trends in future Malayalam films. It is not a great film, but it will certainly inspire young moviemakers to try and experiment with form and content in cinema.slfr

Tuesday, November 05, 2002

Margaret is an American studying in Pune. She is very pleased with her India experience. The following passage from her blog is testimony to that:

"Margaret, why did you not want to take a 30-hour train ride?" you ask. Seek and ye shall receive. Trains in India are kinda dirty and broken, sort of like everything else. We were riding second class non-a.c., which is only a small step above cargo. The seats are '70s era vinyl, and they're bench seats, so you're pretty much cheek to cheek with the people next to you. Now, this would be uncomfortable enough. But to add an extra dimension of fun, the entire ride smells like poop. Why? Because people shit on the train tracks. The entire ride, back and forth, I never went more than seven or eight minutes without seeing someone outside dropping trou with their feet on the track to use this nationwide toilet. It's disgusting. Like, I'm sort of getting used to the whole idea that there's poop all over the place here, but I'm still having a hard time with actually having to see the people shit on the railroad. Yeech. If these close quarters and the all-India poopfest weren't enough, people wander up and down the aisle begging and hocking stuff. I can understand selling food and drinks and crap. But socks? OK, maybe your feet get cold on the train...even though it's 90 degrees. Key chains? OK, maybe you, uh, need a key chain. But whips? Who the fuck buys a whip? Who buys whips in general is one question, but who buys whips on a train? Then cue the 9 jillion beggars. I just couldn't take 30 hours of it.

Flattering. No?

saw malayalam film called violence, in the line of sathya.
tell you about it later

indiabike is a good resource for info on Indian two-wheelers. They also reproduce reviews and comparison tests from the Indian car & bike press.slrs

My earlier object of desire: the Enfield Lightning 535. Haunted my daydreams ever since I spotted her on a Fort Cochin street one evening. Now I hear Enfield has stopped production of the model.

By the way, Royal Enfield has a good website.

I need no one to tell me which looks better, but there is more to life, isn’t there? Or is there? Which has got to be my brand of Zen?

Enfield Thunderbird; Yamaha Enticer; Bajaj Pulsar

Monday, November 04, 2002

Now here’s a surfeit of film lists: the Village Voice’s Take One poll of 50-plus critics at the end of 1999 to select not only the best films of the year, but also of the century and of the decade, as well as the best directors of the decade. The individual critics’ selections are also listed.

Take 2 (2000)
Take 3 (2001)sll

Rather late in the year for this, but what the heck? Time’s Best of 2001: in cinema, tv/ads, books, design, sports, music, theatre and comics.sll

Time magazine made a selection of America’s best people in different fields at present. Here is the Artists & Entertainers section. Best actor: Sean Penn; novelist: Philip Roth; movie director: Ang Lee; movie star: Julia Roberts; rock band: Sleater-Kinney; songwriter: Lucinda Williams; singer: Cassandra Wilson; artist: Martin Puryear; and more.sll slrs

Adoor Gopalakrishnan’s top ten Indian films.sll

In association with the ImagineAsia festival, the British Film Institute have compiled a list of the top 20 Indian films ‘from the views of experts, critics, academics and practitioners’. Topping the list is Sholay—but what I can’t figure out is how a list that has John Abraham’s Amma Ariyan at no 9 have Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge at 12. Other undeserved inclusions in my opinion are Bombay and Lagaan—all the more so when there is no mention of Mrinal Sen, Aravindan or Adoor. I would even go so far as to say that Pather Panchali and Mother India are rated too highly. Yes, that’s what I said.

The long list of Indian films that were considered but failed to make the final cut.

On the Pakistani top ten list, you’ll spot this intriguing name: Haseena Atom Bomb. Not quite the type of bomb the Indian defence establishment need lose sleep over.sll

André Bazin: the French critic who practically invented film studies.

It's no exaggeration to say that Bazin is the single thinker most responsible for bestowing on cinema the prestige both of an artform and of an object of knowledge. While scattered attempts had been made before to define the "essence" of cinema..., Bazin's ideas were to prove the decisive ones in establishing its credentials as a separate and legitimate field of intellectual enquiry. In one of his essays from the 40s Bazin projected that distant day when film studies would enter the university curriculum – and it was Bazin more than anyone else who played the role of midwife.

Which are the finest documentary films of all time? Peter Matthews selects the following in Sight and Sound:

Robert Flaherty's Nanook of the North (1922)
Luis Buñuel's Land without Bread (1933)
Alain Resnais' Night and Fog (1955)
Jean Rouch's Chronicle of a Summer (1960)
Abbas Kiarostami's Homework (Mashq-e Shab, 1990)sll

The archive of online features from Sight and Sound magazine: read a case for an Abel Ferrara film to be considered as one of the best in cinema of the last three decades; another one for Kieslowski’s Blue; and one for Kiarostami’s docu Homework; J Hoberman’s take on one of my favourite films of the last few years—Three Kings; Spielberg confirming his status as ‘the greatest cinematic orchestrator of our time’ with Minority Report; and much more.slrs

From the British film Trainspotting:

Choose life. Choose a job. Choose a career. Choose a family. Choose a fucking big television. Choose washing machines, cars, compact disc players and electrical tin openers. Choose good health, low cholesterol, and dental insurance. Choose fixed interest mortgage repayments. Choose a starter home. Choose your friends. Choose leisurewear and matching fabrics. Choose DIY and wondering who the fuck you are on a Sunday morning. Choose sitting on that couch watching mind-numbing, spirit crushing game shows, stuffing junk food into your mouth. Choose rotting away at the end of it all, pishing your last in a miserable home, nothing more than an embarrassment to the selfish, fucked up brats you spawned to replace yourself. Choose a future. Choose life... But why would I want to do a thing like that?


Bright Lights Film Journal's Banned Words.

MEDITATION, n. This is in some ways the most insidious of these terms. It is the most sentimental, pretentious, fanciful, and misleading of this little group. Example: "Peckinpah's The Wild Bunch is a meditation on violence." Translation: "Peckinpah's The Wild Bunch is an extremely violent movie, filled with bullet-riddled bodies, women beaten to the ground by grunge-faced old cowpokes, Mexicans massacred in churchyards," etc. This concept of meditation is a way of disingenuously stating a concept — most often, violence — while sidestepping its implications and of course the authors' (both critic of the piece and director of the film) involvement, even complicity in it...

Walking with the Wind: Poems by Abbas Kiarostami

How merciful
That the turtle doesn't see
The little bird's effortless flight.

Photograph by Kiarostami