Saturday, October 04, 2014

haider: Vishal triumphs with his third

What does one say when a man like Vishal Bhardwaj praised for his skills in writing dialogue surprises you pleasantly by becoming a scribe of visuals?

Should I be disappointed not to find as many memorable utterances in Haider as I had in Omkara or Maqbool, his previous adaptation of the Bard's works?

Should I not see how 7 Khoon Maaf had offered some hints that Vishal was working on being a chef in another form of cinematic cuisine?

Should I dispell all the little things that connect Haider to his previous work? The reflections and the mirrors (with all their metaphors) from Maqbool? The return of Tabu and Irrfan from Maqbool? Tabu sharing the mirror with a different man. Most of this is, of course, inevitable, because it's the same actress playing Lady Macbeth and Gertrude.

Should I wish that some lines of dialogue didn't see to explain the rather obvious visual cue?

Or should I just sit back and watch a filmmaker, who is a great craftsman, a wonderful music director, a good singer, a great writer with an appreciation for the spoken (and unspoken) word, paint an ode to Kashmir of the kind that we have not seen in years?

Should I just chuckle and wonder if the chutzpah riff (adapted with credit from Osho talks) is supposed to remind me of an offensive Hindi word (after all, nobody pronounces it the way it's supposed to be pronounced)?

While films like Talaash (the answer lies within) (the most recent example from my viewing) continue to explore the hues of Bombay, I don't remember any Hindi film in recent times that did what Haider has done for Kashmir. All the colour and beauty in the culture and fabric of the place comes up on the screen with a strange mix of verve and melancholy. In sharp contrast to every bright burst of colour is a lurking sense of dread and fear and sadness.

There's all this and more in support of the most loose of Vishal's takes on William Shakespeare. Yes, we have the obvious players, the creative adaptations (Rosencratz and Guildenstern are transformed into a pair of Salmans -- fans of Salman Khan -- running a video store; the ghost of Hamlet's father is interpreted as an appropriately named bearer of bad news; the adaptation of "The Mouse-Trap") and the delightful trinity of gravediggers, but the famous soliloquoy gets adapted to a form that might disappoint those keen on hearing a good Hindi version of "to be or not to be" and the skull of Yorick gets a political twist at a different point in the narrative. Moreover, it's only until after the interval that anything suggesting that the Bard was involved really takes shape. The first half is dedicated entirely to a gripping preparation of the milieu and ends with the "appearance of the ghost" (in a manner of speaking), rendered with an interesting flourish of the camera.

Perhaps this is why very few songs from the soundtrack actually appear in the film. If you were expecting to hear Vishal Dadlani or Suresh Wadkar, prepare to be disappointed. Perhaps this is also why khul kabhii seems a tad out of place and almost a throwback to the obligatory song sequences of traditional Bollywood cinema.

But these are just quibbles in the face of what is, in my opinion, one of the best films of the year. There is so much to relish in the craft -- the visual cues for exposition (hint: watch the nameplates outside the houses); the cameos (fellow screenwriter Basharat Peer appears as the Kashmiri suffering from the "New Disease" (itself a reference to 'Nav Byemaer' by Akhtar Mohiuddin); the examples of Chekhov's gun. There is so much to enjoy in the performances (Tabu, in my opinion, leads the list: it's almost like she was Heath Ledger's Joker to Shahid Kapoor's Batman). There's all the learning in the dialogue (for once, the subtitles slapped onto prints that run in the US were a welcome aid in my education). There are motifs in things people say (looking at things from someone else's point of view). And then there's the sight of Kashmiris stepping out during the crackdown with identity cards. The sequence at the square where we see Haider's new look. And the climax.

Time to see if I can get back to the movie hall and watch this again.

Thursday, October 02, 2014

exposition done nicely

After finding bearable exposition with Michael Connelly and being disappointed at finding Dan Brownian exposition in Michael Crichton's earlier books, I was relieved to find a nice sample of exposition in Neal Stephenson's Cryptonomicon:

(Now, standing there waiting to have his passport stamped, Randy can see it clearly. For once he doesn't mind the wait. He gets in a lane next to the OCW lane and studies them. They are Epiphyte Corp.'s market. Mostly young women, many of them fashionably dressed, but still with a kind of Catholic boarding-school demureness. Exhausted from long flights, tired of the wait, they slump, then suddenly straighten up and elevate their fine chins, as if an invisible nun were making her way up the line whacking their manicured knuckles with a ruler.)

But seventy-two hours ago he hadn't really understood what Avi meant by lanes, so he just said, "Yeah, I've seen the lane thing."

"At Manila, they have a whole lane just for returning OCWs!"


"Overseas Contract Workers. Filipinos working abroad--because the economy of the Philippines is so lame. [...]

See how he uses a flashback at the right place?

There's more than just good exposition to relish in this book and it's time I turned a few more pages. So much for all the regular reading material awaiting my attention.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

foot; know thyself

Q: what is a trochee?

A: a trochee.

Thanks so much, Randall.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

how precisely vague do you want to be?

Estimates are so popular in software development. You know they don't mean much. But those who ask for them defend them fervently and even make good arguments in their favour. Such people are the only ones who reap any benefit from them. These estimates helped them feel more at meetings where they always felt on the spot, because these people often knew even less than you did about what was to be done.

And then someone came up with guesstimate. It's a punny portmanteau and may have become more common, because it added colour to statements that had otherwise become bland. Ears perked up when they heard this word instead. Nothing changed. Things arguably just got obviously worse. When someone wanted a guesstimate instead of an estimate, who could blame you for taking the hint that you were supposed to just throw out a number. High numbers were (and still are) usually scare people, especially when you are talking about how long it would take you to finish something.

This is not to deny that guesstimate does not offer something that estimate does not. A guesstimate is an estimate "based on guesswork or conjecture" (source), it is an estimate that you would provide when you lacked enough information. Statisticians (who coined this new term) would appreciate the distinction, but corporate managers appreciated the sound of the word. The meaningful distinction was lost, because an estimate as practised in management often lacked enough information to begin with. A guesstimate was thus a sassy synonym.

Inevitably, the American propensity to derive a metaphor from the world of sports (preferrably baseball or basketball, both of which are popular in America) gave us ballpark estimate. This likely came from the use of a ball park or baseball stadium to convey a sense of an "acceptable range of approximation" (that and other theories are discussed over here).

It would not be unreasonable to expect to soon hear people asking for ballpark guesstimates. Had there been a larger popular area than the baseball stadium, we would have seen phrases based on it.

There is a lot of good advice about dealing with such requests. There's also good material for laughs and that same source also provides remarkably insightful explanations for useful things like Fermi approximations. Hmm. Now that's something to try out the next time there's a meeting to discussing and trading numbers.

Monday, February 24, 2014

drive to die another day

A family rides on a motorcycle. It's not just a husband and a wife. There are two kids sandwiched between them, fast asleep while their parents negotiate the snarl that is Indian traffic.

A family on a motorcycle prepares to subvert politeness and courtesy by squirming through a path traced between cars waiting abut and behind one another at a traffic light. The husband, wife and three children are banking on luck (which usually favours such ventures in this country) to get them past this point.

Young motorcyclists practise their racing and navigation chops on roads at the risk of scaring and confusing drivers trying to get home. These beacons of danger are wearing helmets. They're making sure they take all the precautions while putting others at grave risk. They also don't realise that physics does not take sides. All it takes is a little nudge to the equilibrium for us to hear squealing brakes and screams and watch another young life get snuffed in a matter of seconds. Or worse: someone maimed for life, left alive to regret their mistake forever.

Selfishness abounds regardless of the dimensions of the vehicle. Each person wants to rise above the unpleasant jam that he or she is faced with and does it by edging ahead and around, eventually creating another version of the jam further ahead. A motorcyclist and the driver of a cement roller agree in this regard. The larger your vehicle is and the more likely it is for it to create more mayhem, the more likely you are to go ahead and effect chaos. By circumventing the problem instead of confronting it and dealing with it by courtesy and fairness, they only contribute to its growth every minute of every day.

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