Roadrunner – An Amerindian Story

RoadrunnerThe image of America that I had in my teenage was that of a heaven. The stories I heard were plenty – that, in America, even beggars travel in Mercedes Benz, there is no poverty, you get a 1 ltr pet bottle of Coca Cola for Rs. 1 (yeah, in Rupees not in Dollars) etc. But not all stories gave such rosy pictures. Another set of stories told me that despite of being so rich, America has no family values or culture and their men and women are sex machines who are ready to have sex with everyone.

Watching the Hollywood movies and reading more about America in the late teenage gave another set of pictures. Drug peddling, racism, teenage pregnancy, school shootouts and so on. But it also threw out some old stereo types of the sex hungry females and culture-less families. And when I looked at it, I could draw a lot of parallels between my country and America. On both the good and bad sides. Then I realized that there isn’t much that I should be proud of or feel inferior of my country in comparison with America.

When I finished reading the book “Roadrunner – An Indian Quest in America” by blogger-writer Dilip D’Souza, I felt the same way again. Dilip draws parallels between India and America, oh and perhaps it’s not just about these two countries, but what the human kind everywhere in this world shares in common. It is a travelogue that takes you along with the writer while you go through the pages. Instead of going through the prominent tourist spots and presenting the boring details of such journeys, Dilip chooses to take the paths less traveled by travel writers. He talks to ordinary people, takes us through the extra-ordinarily ordinary places and gets you glued to the pages. He also observes both countries in terms of patriotism and liberalism and gives us a food for thought on the subject. And one story he has kept for us in one of the final chapters, based on a personal account, would shake us cold.

In Roadrunner, you won’t see a blind admiration or an outright contempt for America, both of which could be prominently seen in the books about America. The book is more than 300 pages long and I did skip a couple of chapters that seemed boring to me. I wish Dilip could have skipped some of the detailing in those chapters. I think in the web 2.0 era, writers have to learn how to engage readers in striking, but shorter lines. Dilip does that in his blog though.

Nevertheless, Roadrunner is a good read and as a person who has never visited America, I enjoyed reading it because it gave me a feeling of going on a trip along those long windy roads with the author.

Oh and about the package – it was a refreshing change that the back cover of the book did not have any newspaper quotes, or celebrity quotes saying “Great book! Thumbs up!! I would strongly recommend it to everyone” and such gimmicks. I like that. 🙂

Order the book in Flipkart here

Title: Roadrunner – An Indian Quest in America
Author: Dilip D’Souza
Publisher: Harper Collins
Price: Rs. 399

“My Friend Sancho” by Amit Varma

Being a regular reader of India Uncut, I didn’t hesitate to order my copy of blogger Amit Varma’s debut novel, “My Friend Sancho“. Even though Amit is the author of a popular blog that has a massive fan following, he never hesitated to put in his honest thoughts on topics that he wrote about. And he had taken a funnily sharp dig at many issues which I enjoyed by reading his blog. So when I heard Amit was coming up with a novel, I expected it to be unique on it’s own. The plot also, a tabloid journalist writing about an encounter killing, made it all the more interesting. But “My Friend Sancho” ended up as a huge disappointment.

The story can be summarized in a couple of sentences. A young journo goes to report a gangster-cop shootout and ends up witnessing an encounter killing. Then he is assigned to write about the victim, meets the dead man’s daughter and falls in love. Apparently, the hero is a Hindu and heroine, a Muslim (Yummy plot, right?). Story ends there. But even though Varma had a terrific plot to develop, he chooses to narrate yet another love story (yawn…) with a bit of humor (which eventually gets a bit irritating as we turn the pages) in a Bollywood-ish way. Well, I am unsure if Varma is eying an offer from Bollywood as his predecessor of such genre of fiction writing, Chetan Bhagat, who had one of his novels made into a Bollywood movie and the other ‘inspired’ a massive box office hit. The funny thing is, and I must say this, Amit Varma ends up writing a Chetan Bhagat book.

Amit Varma follows Chetan Bhagat not just in writing a Bollywoodish story, but he also tries to run off from cliches yet sadly end up falling in a new set of cliches. Look at the often-occurring sentences like this. “I exaggerate frequently, as in the last sentence” or, “okay, I made that last one up myself“. Regular readers of India Uncut would find Varma banking upon his own set of cliches in this book. The book starts off very well, like I said with a terrific plot to develop. The tabloid, the young journo’s professional life, the ethics of journalism, cops, encounter killing and most of all the cop – Mr. Thombre, meeting with the dead man’s daughter etc. It all goes very well, but sadly ends in the first few pages. As the hero meets the heroine, its just a ‘written-for-bollywood‘ story.

I just don’t understand the whole package of the book too. The lizard that makes to the book cover doesn’t have much to do with the book. It just pops up in a couple of times in the book, at odd places, with Amit desperately trying to make it funny.

As for the positives, the only character that would hang around after reading this book would be Thombre, the cop. And if this book is ever made into a movie, I cannot think of anyone but Saurabh Shukla for portraying this role. I also liked the way the novel ended, with a conversation just beginning with a “Hello“. That is a welcoming change than the hero chasing the heroine’s car, stopping it in the traffic, kissing and all that mushy stuff like in the other Bhagat’s novel. errr… I meant the original Bhagat’s novel. The book is an easy read that you wouldn’t need to carry a dictionary along, again like the other Bhagat’s novels. I read the entire book in a train journey from Trivandrum to Thrissur.

The problem with the new generation, pop-fiction authors like Chatan Bhagat or Amit Varma is like I said above, they end up making a new set of cliches while trying to write-off the old ones. Those who like Chetan Bhagat’s books will definitely like this book. And those who have read India Uncut, go for this one without much expectation and treat this as a commute book.

PS: I just bought a copy of blogger Sidin Vadukut‘s debut “Dork“. I don’t know why, but after reading MFS, I am less enthused to read bloggers in print. 😐

‘Happy Husbands’ and ‘Bodyguard’

Do not ever go to watch a movie by public opinion. That is what I learned after watching two Malayalam movies recently. I heard Jayaram-Indrajith-Jayasurya starrer “Happy Husbands” is a laugh riot and a good watch, but I was left bored. With a stupid script and dialogues, it would easily top at the list of Razzies, if there was one for Malayalam films. Checkout the scene where psychologist girl chasing Jayasurya or Indrajith playing innocent before his wife etc – this movie is a so damn waste of money. It is not even worth of the air condition inside the theatre, because it is just another torture than the heat outside the cinema hall. Plus, I have one thing to tell Suraj Venjaramoodu. You are fast becoming the most irritating comedian ever in Malayalam cinema. Jagathy Sreekumar did not rule with his Trivandrum slang, but with his talent. You also have to find some other ground than trying to bank upon the Trivandrum slang. Get a life!

Then there was Dileep-Nayantara starrer Bodyguard. I never thought that director Siddique would disappoint people at this level. Considering his previous comedy hits, I went to watch this movie with much hope. Disappointment again. The movie goes on well but as the first half comes to an end, the story takes a pathetic turn. And then it is an utter waste of time and money. Siddique even takes a Kuch Kuch Hota Hai line in his story and by the time you figure out what is happening in the stupid story and script, the movie ends and you leave the cinema hall wondering, “what was it that I just saw?” The only saving grace of the movie was Nayantara with her beautiful looks and the way she moves in the dance scenes is a treat to your eyes. You can see a professional playing there. Except for Nayan, the only other good thing about the movie is the song “arikathaayaaro”, composed by Ouseppachan. All other songs are just passable.

(Image courtesy: and

Is This It?

I went to see Michael Jackson’s (or I’d rather say Sony’s) “This Is It” on last Saturday with much expectation. But I was left disappointed. I brought along my 4 nephews with me, but even they were not so happy about the film/documentary. I thought I would get to see the glimpse of, to quote MJ himself, the “person, not just the personality”. But it is mostly just song and dance. Though you would initially get charged a little with some of his popular songs, the enthusiasm would soon die down as this is nothing close to what an MJ show really is (compared to what I have seen in his live show videos of course) 🙂 . You would soon lose interest in watching him sing and dance. But the movie does give us a glimpse of what a great show it could have been if “This Is It” happened. And what a great performer MJ was, organizing every single detail of the show to make it sound/seem perfect.

The movie seems to be carefully edited. You do not see a tired, sick MJ in the film like the news reports after his death mentioned. You always get to see his happy face and his enthusiastic, energetic self. Also the movie is very badly edited, as scenes fading from one to another not leaving any emotional moments or something that emotionally moves the fans or the viewers. It also ends with a weird ending, not quite a tribute to MJ, who, if given a chance, would have done this a lot better. Like many of the MJ fans have mentioned, this movie seems to have been made just to make money out of Michael Jackson’s death.

To sum it all, the movie is not worthy of watching in a theatre. Perhaps in a DVD, yes, but that is only if you are a hardcore Michael Jackson fan and can trade some bucks just to see him sing and dance.

(Image courtesy: Wikipedia)

Ritu – Movie review

Movie name: Ritu (Seasons)
Director: Shyamaprasad
Story & script: Joshua Newton
Music: Rahul Raj

It has been some time since I have watched a movie in theaters. Watching a movie in theaters has its own advantages and disadvantages. If the crowd around or with you is annoying enough, you lose the mood to enjoy the experience that only a cinema hall can provide. So, I usually skip most of the movies until it comes on CD. But Shyamaprasad is a favorite director of mine. There are only a few films which I go to watch by the director’s name and Shyam is one of them. I have been religiously following his films ever since his Door Darshan tele-serial days. So I decided to go to watch his latest film, Ritu, and I didn’t even call my friends to come along to avoid any kind of distraction and immerse myself fully into the movie.

Ritu tells the story of three friends and what the time has done to their relationships. The backdrop is of IT sector. Ritu is Shyam’s first work with an original story and screenplay (by Joshua Newton) and it is a youth oriented movie. So obviously the expectations were sky high. But when the movie ended, I was left with no emotion except the deep disappointment that I had. Regardless of the talented new faces, Ritu fails to strike an emotional chord.

Look at the scene where Sarath (Nishant) sees his father’s death in the hospital. There is a good scope of making you feel the intensity of the scene or the stillness of that moment. But you look at it with the same blank mind that you had from the beginning of the movie. You would want to force yourself to feel something about the scene, but with no luck. See the whole composition of the scene, the ridiculously looking doctor (who gives a good laugh to the audience by his ‘acting style’ right from his first appearance), and I couldn’t really believe that I was watching a Shyamaprasad movie.

Flashbacks seem to be a favorite technique in Shyamaprasad’s movies. It has worked very well in his movies and telefilms too. Take “Peruvazhiyile Kariyilakal” or “Akale” for example. But the flashbacks actually flashes at you in every single minute of this movie in the first half. Sarath drives – flash back, he keeps on driving – flash back, he halts – flash back, he looks sideways – flash back. Flash back, flash back… it flashes on your face repeatedly! I would say a good technique is to choose a few flashback scenes and fit it in appropriate parts, rather than flashing it all on our faces one after another.

Another thing is that Ritu focuses on multiple stories but not in a “Crash” or “21 Grams” or “Babel” way. Those movies, even though they tell stories of different lives, it all connects to one single thread beautifully. But Ritu wants to touch everything that the IT world (or shouldn’t I say competitive corporate world?) has made an impact on. The cleaner guy’s story is a good example. We get to know from his first appearance that he is a displaced citizen because of the internet city. We see his plight when we see the way his boss treats him. Or the scene in the elevator where he looks alienated among an executive crowd. Those were good enough, but wait! They had to make him talk about his plight by himself to make us “feel”. But what felt through the “scenes” were not felt by the “dialogues”.

The climax was the most disappointing. I thought the movie would end after the conversation of Sarath and Varsha in the car park. Sarath talks about people changing like seasons, and he doesn’t want to see Varsha or Sunny ever again. The movie could have ended there, but no, they want us to know what would happen to Sunny in the matter of data theft, and what would happen to him and Varsha after 3 years, and then again a copy of Sarath’s book to convince us that he indeed wrote a book. Such a pathetic climax compared to Shyam’s previous movie Ore Kadal. Compare the climax of this movie with the climax of Ore Kadal. There, Nathan and Deepthi hugs each other and Deepthi’s kids walk up the stairs. We are not told whether Nathan and Deepthi would live together or what would happen to Jayan. It was left to the audience. But look at the climax of Ritu. I would say just one thing – sometimes you don’t need to explain everything and better leave it to the audience so that they can take something back when they leave the movie hall.

The only saving grace of the movie is it’s actors – Rima Kallingal as Varsha is the most talented of them all. She handled her role perfectly well for a new comer. Nishant as Sarath Varma comes to second. Asif has also done a good job as Sunny. Manu Jose as Jithu was quite natural. He and director M G Sasi as Sarath’s brother Hari are two characters with some life. They were really wonderful even though they had short roles.

Music by Rahul Raj is good. My favorite pick from the album is the song “Pularumo“, sung by Gayathri. The male vocals seem to go out of pitch in the very beginning of the song; in the part where he sings “oru kanaleriyunnatho“. I don’t know how the music director did not notice it.

The background music was disappointing. It comes with some rock guitars at one time, which would make us think it is going to take the movie into another pace, but it ends within a couple of minutes. It pops up again when we do not expect it and then again ends as soon as it is heard. I think we have so much to learn from Hollywood on how to use background music to add value to the scenes.

Shyamaprasad is very good at adapted screenplays. I think he would do a good job with a Malayalam adaptation of One Night at Call Center with the actors of this movie. Nishant as Shyam, Asif as Vroom and Rima as Priyanka would have made a perfect fit (don’t you think some of the scenes like the car sex of Sarath-Varsha remind you of Shyam-Priyanka’s love making scene from the book ON@CC ?)!

To sum up, Ritu is a deeply disappointing movie. I admire the writing of Joshua Newton by reading his English blog from a long time, but I think he has so much to improve on script writing after this maiden attempt. I have heard one thing about script writing from a friend who is a movie buff, which he quoted from a book. If a movie’s striking point doesn’t come up in the first 20 or 30 minutes, it is not worthy of watching fully. I think it is so true about Ritu.

“Kerala Kerala, Quite Contrary”

Kerala Kerala, Quite Contrary

Book title: Kerala Kerala, Quite Contrary
Shinie Antony
Rupa & Co.

When I received the copy of “Kerala Kerala, Quite Contrary“, the first story I read was written by Vinod Joseph, my friend and author of the much-talked-about “Hitchhiker”. What I generally see in the writings about Kerala by the people of Malayali descend who stays outside Kerala, is that they are always critical of Kerala. But Vinod’s short stories never go judgmental but observant. Whether it’s the “Stories from Simhapara” or the one in this book, “A matter of faith“, you can see a slice of Kerala and honesty in his writings. His story in this book, “A Matter of Faith“, tells about the growing Charismatic phenomena among Kerala Christians and it’s a good read.

The book, edited by Shinie Antony, is an anthology. There are 26 pieces in this book which describes Kerala through the individuals’ point of view – through stories, essays, excerpts from books and interviews. A few of these individual view points lack to see Kerala in it’s truest spirit, probably because most of the authors are outside observers who come to Kerala for an annual visit to their ancestral houses.

Take D Vijayamohan’s essay for example. His whole piece turns out to be an anti-Communist tirade. Even though he rightly points out at the old and idiotic stands of Kerala Communists like the one against Computers, he see evil only in the Communists and squarely blames them for the State’s problems. He never mentions anything about the successive Congress governments who are equally responsible. And he also has not seen what Communism (not the present-day Communism) has contributed to the social thread of Kerala. But we are not to be surprised because he is Malayala Manorama’s Delhi bureau chief.

But there are other interesting articles. “The Strange Sisters of Mannarkkad” by William Dalrymple, for example. It talks about how Goddess Bhagavathy and Virgin Mary co-exist in the village of Mannarkkad and Christians and Hindus pray to each others’ Gods. A rarity of religious beliefs which can most probably be seen only in Kerala. The other interesting reads include Satchithandan’s piece on evolution of literature in Kerala, Rtd. DGP Hormis Tharakan’s memoir, a history of Anglo-Indian community in Kerala, a speech transcript of Shahi Tharoor on development etc.

Artist Yusuf Arakkal in his piece complains about the Malayali’s lack of ability to appreciate art. What he fails to understand is that, from an audience/appreciator part, the appetite for Art – especially modern art – generally comes along with money. In a crowded place like Kerala (or India for that matter), where people strive hard to feed off their families well than themselves, art comes secondary or the last thing in their lives. They don’t have time to study or appreciate art and it’s different forms. People in America or France can, perhaps. So it is obvious of artists to migrate to other countries or other cities of India where their art will be appreciated and bought off for some grand bucks. The majority of people in Kerala do not have that luxury so Yusuf will have to excuse. It is changing though, as the number of richest people increase (or rather, the rich becomes more richer) in the cities of India. So Yusuf can stay there and sell off copies of his paintings (which he probably means by “appreciating art”) for thousands or lakhs of rupees, but his complaint is not so valid back at home, given the constraints. And it is not a Malayali phenomena but an Indian phenomena generally.

Musician Rama Varma has a piece on music in Kerala that writes about Sopaana Sangetham, which is originated in Kerala to the present-day musical reality shows. There was nothing more than a sentence about Kerala’s folk music tradition though. He also explains Karnataka Sangeetham doesn’t mean “music from Karnataka” but “Karna-Ataka-Sangeetham” which means “Music pleasant to the ears”.

Another interesting piece is by Cardinal Varkey Vithayathil who openly says, “I would also like to explode the myth – that Syrian Christians in Kerala were originally Brahmin converts. I doubt there were Brahmins in the first century in the Malabar Coast.” This comes as a blow to the caste-Christians (mostly Syrian Christians of Kerala) who proudly claims to have Brahminical ancestry.

Overall, this book is a good read for both Malayalis and non-Malayalis and I would say it is also a slice of India that this tiny state decorates in it’s southern end.

Review: Slumdog Millionaire

Finally I have watched the much-talked about Oscar nominated movie by Danny BoyleSlumdog Millionaire and it is a thrilling and grippy movie. Slumdog Millionaire is a good entertainer at it’s best, but not a great movie or worthy of the talks it has going on about it. Because the movie is too much Bollywood-ish in it’s story line. But it is not surprising as the director Danny Boyle has mentioned drawing influence from many Hindi films including Company and Black Friday. Priyadarshan saar – please note this, as you seem so angry at Danny Boyle, that the director himself has credited his influences before somebody else has mentioned it. Ever cared to credit One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest for Thaalavattam? Or… oops! I forgot!! There are way too many movies by you which have lifted story lines from Hollywood movies and made in Malayalam!!!

What is beautiful about Slumdog Millionaire‘s story narrative is the way the Q & A sessions connects Jamal (the lead character played by Dev Patel) back to his memories. It was a beautiful narrative to show how Jamal connected the game show questions to the events of his own life. But I think that Boyle did not need to bring in another narrative with the questioning scene in the police station. That was overdone.

Minuses and pluses

– The lead actor Dev Patel doesn’t sound like an Indian at all. At his best, he looks like an English man’s kid left at the slum in his early teenage. Dev does a horrible job of portraying the slum kid with his British accent which would not go away no matter how hard he tried (and we can see in the film that he tried hard). The movie shows Jamal serving tea in a call center, perhaps to add credibility to his British accent, but that doesn’t save him the embarrassment.

– I have one question. The youngster who plays Jamal’s brother does a good job and looks very native. Why wouldn’t the casting crew find someone of that sort? I am not blaming Dev Patel. I would rather blame it on the casting crew of the film.

– The game show’s anchor (played by Anil Kapoor) wants Jamal out of the show. For what, we do not know. We could understand if it was part of such game shows, planned by the entire crew, but the crew is actually happy at Jamal winning and the anchor is not. Why? The movie doesn’t give us a clue. And he throws him out to the cops at the end of the show. Excuse me?

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