Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Authors Romesh Gunesekera and Capt Elmo sharing a private moment outside the audi in the Asian Civilizations Museum (Monday, 28 August 2006) Posted by Picasa

At Home in the World--Romesh Gunesekera

“I don’t know where my home is,” said Romesh Gunesekera, answering a question on being an immigrant writer. “I think writers are one of the worst people to ask this question,” he added.

The well-known Sri Lanka-born novelist and poet, now living in London, was speaking at a gathering at the Asian Civilizations Museum’s auditorium yesterday evening. Captain Elmo Jayawardena, novelist, philanthropist, and a pilot with the Singapore Airlines, moderated the open discussion.

“When I was very very young, reading all sorts of books that I used to come across, I was never where I was reading, I was where I was fantasizing,” he said.

Romesh Gunesekera, now 52, broke into the English literary scene with his novel, Reef, which was shortlisted for the Booker Prize in 1994. His other books are Monkfish Moon, a collection of short stories touching on the ethnic and political tensions that has maimed Sri Lanka since its independence from colonial rule, The Sandglass (1998), and Heaven's Edge (2002). His latest book The Match (2006) is a psychological thriller.

Romesh, very much like the pictures he is usually seen in, is curiously tall and remarkably slender. He has a boyish Harry Potter like intelligent bespectacled face, but his unruly mop of salt and pepper makes him look like a monkish boy wizard who has grown a tad older in his troubled fantasyland while he has been busy spinning yarns for the folks.

“I happened to know Sri Lanka much more and much better once I was an adult, and was writing my books, than at the time when I was living there (in Sri Lanka),” he said.

Though Romesh was born in 1954 in Sri Lanka, where he spent his early years, he has lived an immigrant’s life. He lived in the Philippines before coming to Britain and settling there in 1971.

All these geographical shifts have equipped him with authorial ammunitions. Unlike many writers, he said, “I don’t write autobiographically. I write auto-geographically.”

From his first book itself, he has created a scintillating oeuvre, setting him on the path of an award-winning writing career. Reef won a Yorkshire Post Book Award (Best First Work) and was shortlisted for both the Booker Prize for Fiction and the Guardian Fiction Prize.

In Reef, a young Sri Lankan boy named Triton who is sent to work for a marine biologist, Mister Salgado, narrates the book. They are forced to leave Sri Lanka because of the worsening political circumstances, and making them move to London where Triton opens a restaurant.

The Sandglass (1998), his second novel, centres on the character of Prins Ducal. Ducal is a Sri Lankan businessman who is searching for the truth of his father's death. The novel was awarded the inaugural BBC Asia Award for Achievement in Writing and Literature. His novel, Heaven's Edge (2002), is set on an island in the near future. For his brilliant work, Romesh received an Arts Council Writers' Award in 1991.

“So, of course, it (Sri Lanka) is a very important part of my identity but where your children are and where your family is also a big part of your life,” he said.

Though Romesh lives in London with his English wife and two daughters, he travels widely for festivals, workshops and tours. In recent years he has held writing residencies in Hong Kong, Singapore and Denmark. He became a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature in 2004.

Taking the discussion on passport identity further, he remarked on a lighter note, “These days, when I get out of a plane anywhere in the world, I feel relieved that I have been able to make the journey.”

But different countries did touch him somewhere deep down. “I actually find different landscapes do make my heart go a little faster,” he said.

Romesh’s journey from Reef to The Match has been outstanding. He himself likens this journey to that of a bookend, with Reef at one end and The Match at its opposite side.

“It (Reef) was written sadly a long time ago, sadly because it was written in 1993 when the sad troubles of Sri Lanka started. And connected to that I suppose is the fact that since then the stories that I have written have in a way tried to grapple with the tragedies that have come afterwards,” he said, connecting his stories to that of the parallel history of Sri Lanka, which has been quite violent.

As in the Rushdian sense of colonial and immigrant writing, in Romesh’s writing too memory plays a great role. Rushdian memory is fragmented, the mirror of memory is broken, flawed and yet it is able to make a powerful narrative that clashes with the narrative that politicians set out to describe: “The shards of memory acquired greater status, greater resonance, because they were remains; fragmentation made trivial things seem like symbols, and the mundane acquired numinous qualities.” (from Imaginary Homelands)

Literary critic Susheila Nasta has written that “in many senses Reef is a novel of remembering whose preoccupation is as much with the fragments of memory, the recollection and naming of things past, as about Sri Lanka itself, the beleaguered ‘island’ where it is set during the 1960s to 1980s, a period of brewing political, ethical and religious turmoil.”

In contrast, to further explore the metaphor of the bookend, The Match, written almost a decade later, testifies to a better chapter to Sri Lanka’s history. “When I started this book (The Match), I actually wanted to begin a different set of experiences still connected to Sri Lanka but more of its happier side—and that has been Sri Lankan cricket, which I had not written about in my world of imagination. So I wanted to do that. And also I started (writing) this in 2002 when things were going rather better.”

For the first time, Romesh has used cricket as a backdrop to tell his story in The Match. And he is surprised by his achievement where he has masterfully married a sport into the narrative that is in the heart of every South Asian and Englishmen.

“I had never thought in my wildest fantasies (and I fantasize quite a lot) that I would ever write something in which any kind of sport will be of any consequential value. I had never thought I would write a book that would have cricket anywhere in it.”

So was this sport easy to write about? Did cricket come naturally to him? “I had played cricket when I was younger but I never was a cricket enthusiast. Now I watch it like a drunk, at least some of the matches involving Sri Lankan cricketers.”

He said that he did not set out to narrate to his readers the life stories of Sri Lankan cricketers through The Match. Yet, he mentioned, he complimented him for being able to integrate their (the cricketers’) life stories in his novel. It was not intended at all, he clarified.

How did he manage to write as capaciously as in two separate genres, as it were, asked Deepika Shetty of Channel NewsAsia, producer of the book show, Off The Shelf? She was referring to Heaven’s Edge which, one the one hand, is more like a magic realist work and The Match, which, on the other, employs the realistic mode of narration.

So, how does he manage to swing his pen between these two genres? “I try to write a different book each time but probably it does not work out,” he said. “Most writers tend to have a set of themes, interests or whatever and with each book I tried to be as realistic as possible.”

Romesh does not feel that Heaven’s Edge is a magic realist work at any rate. He said: “Heaven’s Edge was a very strange and different book. I wanted to write about something in the future. I wanted to invent everything. So many people see a Sri Lankan terrain in it. Sri Lanka is not mentioned there. And I invented a lot of the landscape, the country, what was going on in the country, so it was quite a relief that such a book in a sense was written in which everything was invented.”

Fielding a question from the audience, Romesh explained his idea of literature.

The value of literature lies in the fact that it helps us understand how different each individual is, he said. How simple but true!

Talking about the colonial heritage of the English language and whether he felt comfortable in writing in English, especially as a writer of colour residing in a country like England, he said, “English does not belong to anybody today.” His claim validates what Rushdie had once written: “To conquer English may be to complete the process of making ourselves free” (from colonial rule).

Romesh never felt any different from other writers in England as he saw there, he said almost in jest, so many native writers who succeeded and so many others who failed. “It would have rather seemed arrogant had I written some somewhere else (other than from London),” he admitted.

He gave the example of a native Briton, a white man, who always wanted to write something but didn’t know what to write about. Finally, to Romesh’s relief, his friend has written a book on India and it is doing rather well, he said.

Did he have any favourite authors? Romesh took a philosophical approach to this question. He said that one has favourite writers at an impressionable age. When he was of that age, he used to like reading the works of Faulkner, Scott Fitzgerald, and Graham Greene, among others. But that does not mean that he necessarily revisits those works.

About contemporary writers, he said he met a large number of living authors and it was almost impossible for him to read the works of his contemporaries (because they were so many). But sometimes he has to read some of his colleague’s works when he shares a panel with them during literary festivals and publishers send him copies of their books in advance.

From favourite authors the discussion segued into a discourse on the process of writing and the prospects of getting published for emerging writers.

For aspiring writers, he advice was the age old recipe: hard work, perseverance and of course a dash of good luck. “There are many more avenues for writing and getting published now,” he said. “But if one is aiming to get a break with a big publishing house, clearly the competition is extremely tough there. Thousands of people write and send in their manuscripts and big publishing houses can publish only so much.”

When Captain Elmo asked Romesh for tips on the process of writing, especially for a writer (Romesh) who had to work while living with a wife and children, Romesh almost burst into a guffaw. “Writing a book is like making a baby, and if you have not got it yet then perhaps you never will,” he said.

Perhaps that was a comment in a lighter vein but Romesh definitely knows what writing is and what it means and what it entails: “Writing, I guess like reading, is about stopping time. Only then do we realize that we do live forever, in a way, as our consciousness rushes in to fill the black hole of a rounded full stop.” (from Sandglass).

The evening ended in a book signing session. By the time I had my copy of Heaven’s Edge signed by him, it was about 9:30 pm. Amid the din, I had to spell out my first name to Romesh but he was very gentle with everyone. While he was signing my copy, he was also looking for his glass of red wine that he had left somewhere on the large table where his books were doing a brisk sale. It was resting listlessly near the cash till, oblivious to the crowd of pushing elbows, books and plastic bags, a swig of undrained wine almost looking like a fat petal at the bottom of the glass.

Just before Romesh signed a copy of his book for me, one middle-aged gentleman requested him to sign a copy for his wife. “My wife wants to write. She has not written anything yet but would you please write something to encourage her,” he said. The man’s voice was immensely full of love and tenderness. Romesh obliged.


The Ram Gopal Varma of Indian Writing in English

Vikram Chandra is out with his new novel, Sacred Games. The book was released in Bombay and ever since Vikram is travelling the length and breadth of India promoting his new book. I have just read his zillionth interview, not even in a magazine, but on a blog. Though Vikram rocks as a writer (I still remember his brilliant writing in Love and Longing in Bombay), what is the need to give so many interviews? Just a personal opinion because even though he comes across in his interviews smart and sagacious, it often gets repetitious and adds to the reader’s ennui.

Now to the point of the heading. Why am I calling him the Ram Gopal Varma of Indian Writing in English?

My contention is simple. Like RGV, Vikram is also attracted to stories of cops and underworld characters. Both of them are fascinated with the city of Bombay. Both of them are sharp and daring in their presentations. Both of them are frank and outspoken. So there…

Nothing against him or RGV, but it is interesting how Bombay fascinates our writers and filmmakers. Rushdie, Naipaul, and now Vikram—all have written so much about Bombay. And Suketu Mehta has made a career out of this city with his book, Maximum City. His book has given a lot of dignity and humanity to a number of stock in trade Bombaiyya characters like the bhais, the dance bar girls, the pimps, the politicians, et al. Hope Sacred Games does the same and more, in its own unique, fictionalised way.

Though I look forward to reading Sacred Games, its sheer volume is going to be a challenge to me.

PS: Trawling through the reviews of this novel at his website, came across this review by Ashok Banker. He has also likened Vikram’s work to that of RGVs…what a coincidence!

The Devil Wears Prada

Last week, we saw this film--The Devil Wears Prada (DWP). We means, me and my wife. It was an outing after a long gap as my daughter is only eight months old and it was difficult to leave her behind and go for a movie show. The last time we saw a film together was, I don't remember.

DWP is a breezy comedy, and am sure by now you must would have read the reviews. I would spare you another review and also save my time.

In one line, in case you never heard of this film, it is about a trainee journalist (Anne Hathway) who interns with the fear-evoking but highly respected fashion editor of Runway magazine (Maryl streep) and in the end, prefers to be a humble earthling.

If ever watch this film, let me know what you thought of the ending. I found it forced, as if the writer was trying to find a counterpoint to where he had started off from.

If you are a Meryl Streep fan, you would love this movie. And if you had a bossy boss ever in your life, you will have a cathartic experience. And you might even emerge a happier soul from the show. Is that a recommendation? Yes, sure.

The day Pluto was murdered

The International Astronomical Union (IAU) General Assembly booted Pluto out of our solar system as a ‘planet’ in Prague on 24 August. They have reduced its celestial stature to that of a ‘dwarf planet’.

In plain language, to be a planet, a world must meet three criteria:

-is in orbit around the Sun
-has sufficient mass for its self-gravity to overcome rigid body forces so that it assumes a hydrostatic equilibrium (nearly round) shape
-has cleared the neighbourhood around its orbit

Worlds that meet only the first two criteria have henceforth been classified as "dwarf planets." An example of a planet would be Jupiter, which circles the sun supreme in its own orbit. On the other hand, Pluto, which shares the outer solar system with thousands of Pluto-like objects, has therefore been deemed a dwarf planet.

According to the IAU, the Solar System now consists of eight planets: Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune; and at least three dwarf planets: Ceres, Pluto, 2003 UB313 (nicknamed 'Xena').

The Singapore Science Centre held a short ceremony yesterday to mark the symbolic change in the status of Pluto yesterday afternoon (28 August).

The Centre is also exhibiting a brilliantly made IMAX film, not on Pluto but on Mars, Roving Mars, in its Omi-Theatre. It is breathtakingly shot, with images shot by actual Mars Rovers, footage from Cape Canaveral rocket launches and landscapes of Antarctica doubling as Mars. Amazing! You must see it, if for nothing, than for the launch sequence, which is a combination of film footage and pixar animation.

You will see the lift-off, followed by the sequence of rocket stages falling away, and then the payload goes into a spin, and is finally shot into outer space like a bullet. The IMAX experience is great.

Friday, August 25, 2006

We're not just passing through

WHEN one of my Indian friends, working across the Causeway for many years, decided to come here in search of a job, I remarked on how globalised he had become. He was an Indian living in Malaysia and was now crossing over to Singapore to work for an Australian firm!

The world is now the playground for a growing swathe of immigrant workers. Once, the Chinese and the Indians were inundating other countries, especially the affluent West; now, Americans and Europeans are travelling to the East to work in emerging economies like China and India. The East Asian tigers including Singapore have long been magnets for itinerant westerners.

But while the governments of these countries might welcome foreign workers, the local population may not be so enthusiastic, especially towards the Asian imports.

At Sunday's National Day Rally, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong noted that some Singaporeans felt bitter about having to compete with foreigners for jobs.

This feeling is common in many countries. When jobs get "Bangalored" (read: outsourced) from rich western countries, the average citizen feels threatened. But when interdependence among countries and people is the order of the day, countries need to be open to foreign talent — otherwise, it will simply fly to a more hospitable destination.

Read the rest of it here.

Deconstructing the Tablighi Jamaat

But What Do They Preach?

by Zafar Anjum

The Tablighi Jamaat ("group of preachers") has been in the limelight since 9/11 for all the wrong reasons. Britian’s MI5 and America’s FBI have been alleging that it is the recruiting ground for wannabe Islamic terrorists. The organization has once again come into sharp focus after the recently foiled plot to blow up transatlantic airliners. UK’s security services have found that at least seven of the 23 suspects under arrest on suspicion of involvement in the transatlantic airliners plot may have participated in Tablighi events. The organisation was also found to be linked with two of the July 7 suicide bombers. The jailed shoe bomber Richard Reid had supposedly attended its sessions.

In their defence, the Tablighis completely disavow any links from anything other than Islam. The Guardian ("Inside the Islamic group accused by MI5 and FBI", Augsut 18) reported a Tablighi defend the organization in these words (when asked about the association between Tablighi Jamaat and terrorist groups): "Tablighi is like Oxford University. We have intelligent people - doctors, solicitors, businessmen - but one or two will become drug dealers, fraudsters. But you won't blame Oxford University for that. You see, it does not matter if someone speaks in favour or against this effort. Everything happens with the will of God."

Though Olivier Roy, the French scholar on Islam, has described Tablighi Jamaat as "completely apolitical and law abiding," is it really an innocuous religious organization as is claimed by its followers? Or is it a silent and hidden breeding ground of Islamic terrorism? To assess this, we need to look at its background and activities.

The Tablighi Jamaat was an offshoot of the Deoband movement and it represented a commitment to individual regeneration apart from any explicit political program. According to American scholar Barbara Metcalf, the movement began in the late 1920s when Maulana Muhammad Ilyas Kandhlawi (d. 1944), whose family had long associations with Deoband and its sister school in Saharanpur, Mazaahiru'l-`Ulum, sought a way to reach peasants who were nominal Muslims being targeted by a Hindu conversion movement.

The basic strategy of the movement is to persuade Muslims that they themselves, however little book learning they had, could go out in groups, to remind the lay Muslims to fulfill their fundamental ritual obligations. Participants were assured of divine blessing for this effort. Tablighis not only eschewed debate, but also emulated cherished stories, recalling Prophetic hadith, and of withdrawing from any physical attack. A pattern emerged of calling participants to spend one night a week, one weekend a month, 40 continuous days a year, and ultimately 120 days at least once in their lives engaged in tabligh missions. The thrust of the movement is not clearly on conversions but on bringing the "wayward" Muslims back to the fold of practicing Islam.

This does not mean that all is well with the Tabligh movement. Its ambitions might be noble but sometimes it harms the interests of the Muslim community in no ambiguous terms. This may not be deliberate, but it nonetheless has deleterious effects.

And now with the Jamaat’s emphasized association with terrorism, it is facing its strongest moment of criticism, though it has been on the radar for some time now.

More here in The Outlook Magazine's website.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Remembering Netaji

I attended a seminar titled "The Forgotten Army in a World at War: Subhas Chandra Bose’s INA and its Effect on Asia’s Independence" this Sunday afternoon, organized by Singapore’s Institute of South East Asian Studies (ISEAS).

The seminar was to celebrate and remember the achievements and sacrifices of Subhas Chandra Bose, reverentially called Netaji, and his army of freedom fighters, the Azad Hind Fauj (Indian National Army) which was founded in Singapore in 1943.

The INA drew recruits for its 100,000 strong army of men and women from amongst the Indian immigrant community of Malaya, Singapore, Thailand, Indonesia, Vietnam and Burma, including ex-British Indian Army soldiers languishing in jails as Prisoners of Wars.

Netaji’s life has been no less interesting, almost a cloak and dagger story that climaxed into a controversial plain crash, some still believing that he survived the crash and lived for many long years in cognito.

Professor Sugata Bose, Gardiner Professor of Oceanic History and Affairs at Harvard University and the great grandson of Netaji provided a scholarly analysis of Netaji’s quest for freedom during the world war.

In a short 30 minute documentary film, Prof Bose also depicted Nataji’s life as a revolutionary. Netaji was born in 1897 and revealed an independent streak right from the days of his student life. He studied philosophy at Cambridge University (Great Britain) and despite being selected for the coveted Indian Civil Services, he joins the Indian National Congress (INC) in 1921 to fight for India’s independence from British rule.

By 1939 he got disillusioned with INC and in 1941 escapes from under strict British surveillance at his house in Calcutta as a Muslim insurance salesman. He arrived in Berlin, married a German woman, and ever met Hitler to enlist his support in his fight against the British. Finally, Netaji arrived in Singapore through Tokyo and assumed the leadership of INA on 4 July 1943.

Under his leadership, the INA fought a number of bloody battles with British and American forces on Indian soil in 1944 and Burma in 1945. In his paper, The INA: Its Contribution to India’s Independence and Asia’s Resurgence, Mr Prasenjit K Basu of Khazanah Nasional demonstrated that INA’s success in turning the British Indian army against their rulers was instrumental in making Britain free India.

Netaji's family and country were coterminous, said Professor Bose.

Interestingly, Netaji had made a daring submarine to Submarine transfer with a Japanese crew near Madagascar, while travelling from Europe to Japan.

When Netaji arrived in Singapore, he was given a hero’s welcome and people sang this song in his praise:

Subhashji Subhashji Subhashji Aa Gaye
Hai Naaz Jis Pe Hind Ko Wo Naz-e Hind Aa Gaye

While addressing the public on July 4 in Cathay Theatre, he gave a call for Total Mobilisation for a Total War. All he promised to the patriots was bhook, pyaas and maut.

He gave the slogan of Delhi Chalo, which mobilised the masses. His strategy was to attack the British both from inside and outside.

One of the most revolutionary things that Netaji did was the founding of the Rani of Jhansi Regiment in 1943, a women-only regiment. Jenaki Thevan of Singpore was made its leader.

During the Bengal famine of 1943, in which about one third to half of Bengal’s population died, Netaji offered to send rice from Burma to Bengal, but the British not only suppressed the news, they never allowed it happen. Churchill said that while he would bomb all the Germans to death, he would kill the ‘vicious’ Indians by starving them to death.

Netaji proclaimed the establishment of the Arzi Hukumate Azad Hind in Singapore on 21 October 1943. Nine countries around the world recognized this government including Thailand and Ireland.

Singapore’s Indian businessmen, initially a little tight-fisted, finally showered Netaji’s govt. coffers with contributions. The Chettiars of Tamil Nadu were great contributors.

Whenever Netaji addressed the public here, his speech was translated into Hindustani and Tamil. His official flag was the tricolour with Gandhiji’s charkha with the image of a springing tiger, reminiscent of Tipu Sultan.

Netaji wanted India’s national language to be Hindustani, a mixture of Hindi and Urdu, written in the Roman script.

Interestingly, his slogan, Jai Hind, was coined by him and his friend and fellow struggler, Abid Hussain. Abid had travelled with him from Germany to Asia and had kept him company throughout. Ambassador Abid Hussain, who was also present in the seminar, is the nephew of Abid Hussain.

In December 1943, when the Japanese Govt, handed him the control of Andaman and Nicobar Islands (whom he wanted to rename Swaraj and Swatantra), he visited the Cellular Jail where many nationalists had achieved martyrdom.

In 1944, he moved his headquarters to Rangoon. Indians in Burma also helped him generously. One Abdul Habeeb Saheb donated millions for his cause.

Though the INA lost the Battle of Imphal in 1944, he said that these temporary failures will lead to ultimate success. “The roads to Delhi are many more,” he said. After losing the battle to telegram, cannons and automatic rifles (INA soldiers had muskets), they retreated on foot from Burma to Thailand under constant enemy firing—they walked on foot for 23 days!

On 8 July 1945, the foundation stone for the INA Memorial was laid in Singapore, with the motto of the martyr: Unity, Faith, and Sacrifice. The British with cannonfire later blew the memorial away in the last war.

Netaji’s patriotism and revolutionary ideals not only informed the history of India, it also had profound impact on the society and politics of the entire South East Asia. Professor A Mani and Professor P Ramasamy argued in their paper that INA affected the psyche of Indian immigrants of South East Asia who were mostly living and working in appalling conditions as plantation workers. Through INA, their minds were awakened and revitalized, which later affected the trade unions, politics and community organizations of South East Asia.

Three INA veterans, namely, Mrs Rasammah Bhupalan and Mrs Janaki Nahappan of Malaysia and Mr Ajit Kumar Guhatakurta of Singapore, who had fought under the command of Netaji, recounted their experiences of being a part of INA.

Subhas Bose’s saga lives on even after his reported death on August 18, 1945 but these veterans have kept the flame of Bose legacy alive.

Though he was said to have died in an air accident at Taipei on Formosa Island, The Hindustan Times'public probe concluded that “on present evidence it would seem improbable that Bose died on August 18, 1945, from burns he was said to have received in the air accident at Taihoku airport.”

Whatever the truth, Netaji’s legacy of freedom will always inspire the deep bonds that exist between Singapore and India.

(The Webcast of this ISEAS seminar will be available on this page from August 21, 2006)

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Lady in the water

Terrible reviews have greeted M Night Shyamalan's latest outing, Lady in the Water. The local reviewer had problem with the premise of the story itself--a tale of narfs and scrunts--supposed to be an Eastern bedtime story that no one has heard in the East.

Shyamalan is a fantastic director, and I like some of his trademark story telling techniques, his camera placements, lighting, and cinematography techniques. And you have to agree that despite his penchant for casting himself in his own films, in roles however minor, he has given us some of the most original movies of our times. Though in his current film, he makes a character mock at the idea of orginiality in films. The character, a film and art critic, the only human character in the entire film that gets killed, says at one point: There is no orgininality left in the movies. Quite true. And Shyamalan's successful portrayal (in the act of the critic's killing) of what he thinks of the critics.

To begin with, I never liked the poster of this Shayamalan film: it is mysterous but in a scary way. I think the poster communicates a different kind of message to the potential viewers, and I will not be surprised if this film does not do particularly well at the box office.

The film opens with a message: We must return to good, we must stop being bad, and the mythic characters like the narfs are here to help us.

There are two things that make this film different, at least from the point of view of Shyamalan's earlier films. The first is casting Paul Giamatti who is brilliant in the film. In fact, one reason I went to see this film was Giamatti. I liked this actor in Sideways and since then I have been wanting to see more of him.

The second is Shyamalan's use of cinematographer Chris Doyle, who has a vast experience of working with Hong Kong auteur Wang Kar Wai. There are many departures from his trademark shots taking and the visual narrative style. The result is an interesting change. The pace of the film, the shots, the camera movements are in alliance with the theme of the film which is basically a retelling of a simple story that we are supposed to believe in.

Initially, Shyamalan was supposed to do this film for Disney but reportedly Disney did not see any potential in this film. Shyamalan hitched his wagon to Warner Brothers. Critics have already panned this film, and some have even declared Shayamalan a spent force. I think Shyamalan's time is not up yet and he will keep surprising us.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

How much do you love me

There are very few actresses who are a pleasure to watch. Italian actress Monica Bellucci is surely one of them.

I went to see this french film, How much do you love me, just because of her. I was not disappointed at all. The director has made a clever use of her beauty and persona.

The story of the film is simple, or I would like to call it simplistic. A jerk goes over to Monica who is a prostitute and tells her that he has won a million dollar lottery. Without verifying his claim, Monica agrees to stay with him for a huge monthly salary. The guy, weak of heart, swoons with happiness, and his doctor friend, who himself leads a patehtic life, dies of heart attack when he sees a naked Monica. There are some nice comic sequences, the best is an argument on orgasm with the protagonist's neighbour.

And the most erotic scene in the film is not when Monica is shown naked or semi-naked. It is when she takes off her overcoat for the first time in front of the hero. The way she has done that scene, the erotic tension of that screen moment, is unforgettable.