Saturday, February 11, 2012

Dirty Picture, Five Grains of Sugar and The Butterfly Generation

I gave “Dirty Picture” a miss in the cinemas. When it released, wife was busy with an out of town conference and I didn’t want to venture alone into a theatre showing the film and get strange looks from youngsters seated next to me. This is a bit silly but as I am growing older I baulk at being perceived in a particular light. Even by strangers. I had to wait for the DVD to come out before I could watch the film that has fetched Vidya Balan all the popular awards and turned her into some kind of a cult phenomenon.

I found it to be curiously lack lustre. I hate Chennai as a city. Whenever I have to go there on work I feel sapped of all energy. The weather is either hot or very hot. I found the film to be really low energy just like the city it is set in. It has a very shoe string budget feel about it and not in a nice way. Like the filmmakers cut corners at every given opportunity.

As for Vidya Balan, she did a much better job in ‘No one killed Jessica.’ For all the skin and paunch show, Balan has an intrinsic dignity about her that she lends to the character of Silk. While you appreciate her for cloaking her performance with this strange integrity, you know instinctively the director's vision of the character may not have been the same. He must have agreed to this particular shade only on Balan’s insistence. As an actor, she deserves the applause and the accolades but not for this film. The abandon this one required is missing. And all the male leads opposite her that includes Naseeruddin Shah, Tusshar Kapoor and Emraan Hashmi are disappointing. You feel bad for them for having been cast in this sad assed film.

I am not a big fan of translated works, especially on stage. So I didn’t have much of an expectation when I went to watch ‘Five Grains of Sugar,’ in Rangashankara. The play was originally written in Hindi by Manav Kaul and is a monologue by a young man who lives in a town that feels as if it is populated by only those who got left behind. Munish Sharma, playing the protagonist, sparkled on stage. He plumbed the depths to laminate his character with humour and pathos in equal measure. The direction by Nimi Ravindran was impressive. She allowed the actor enough space to negotiate the complexities of his character with ease. The lighting and the music aided her endeavour.

I did feel a little run down by the translation though. Arshia Sattar seems to have taken the easy route of translating and not transliterating the work. So when Raj Kumar attributes the adjective ‘grave’ to himself you know that the word for it in Hindi must have been ‘gambhir,’ if you have grown up speaking the language. Grave doesn’t quite convey the same meaning. Also, there are two poems woven into the script and they sound pretty mediocre in English. But once again the feeling they left me with is that they must have been marvellous in the original.

I felt really good after watching the play. Like I had gone back to my roots and emerged relatively unscathed by the experience.

Readers have reason to rejoice. Palash Krishna Mehrotra’s ‘The Butterfly Generation’ has hit the stands. I read the manuscript a few months back because I had wanted to interview Mehrotra ever since I read his first work “Eunuch Park,” a collection of short stories. I thought they were brilliant. The good news is that his latest matches up to the elegance of the first. Very few Indian writers in English manage this feat. Most get bogged down by a really disappointing second work. But ‘The Butterfly Generation’ kicks ass. His prose is as magical as ever and the narrative is driven by energy and compassion. The hard cover edition launched by the publisher may seem steeply priced but it is worth buying this one book than investing in six others by other writers.

Don’t let the price tag deter you. Order it from FlipKart.

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