Archive for March, 2004

Delhi Diary

Thursday, March 4th, 2004

Mar 04, 2004

Before and After

The Oscars are upon us. We as Indians are of course primarily concerned with how Lagaan will fare. Right now, it clearly is the underdog, behind the French film Amelie, which has been a big popular success in the US, and No Man’s Land from Bosnia, which pipped Amelie to the post at the Golden Globes. But there is something fairy tale-ish about the whole Lagaansuccess story, from the way it has progressed from a goofy story idea to perhaps the biggest critical plus commercial success in the last 27 years (Sholay was released on August 15, 1975). Its capacity to charm the most unlikely audiences is almost uncanny. So who knows what can happen?

Among Hollywood offerings, the obscure low-budget Guy Pierce-starrer Memento, nominated only for the Best Original Screenplay and Editing categories, is, as far as I am concerned, The Film of the Year. It’s unlikely to be released in India, but the CD is available. A man hunts for his wife’s murderer, but he suffers from a brain condition that does not allow him to form any new memories. Every few minutes, his memory is wiped clean, so the only way he can pursue his mission is to write notes to himself that he has to read constantly to figure out what’s going on. A masterly destruction of cinematic structure, Memento starts with the hero’s most recent memory (his killing of the murderer) and keeps going back in time, revealing to the gape-jawed audience that nothing is as it seems, building to a stunning revelation at the end (and remember, the incidents depicted at the end of the film happen a few days before where the film begins).

It’s almost impossible not to see Memento more than once. And each viewing peels one more layer off this onion of a film, which is also a far more sophisticated study of memory and obsession than A Beautiful Mind, which seems to be a strong contender for Best Film. And the film’s lead, Russell Crowe (whoever thought Crowe was the right man to portray a mathematical genius needs to get his head examined) could end up with another Best Actor trophy. Which will be as undeserved as the one he got last year for Gladiator, for doing a Dharmendra role.

The Coolest Ones

I have no idea who said “cats are intended to teach us that not everything in nature has a function”, but whoever it was knew his cat. Having got a kitten for our six-year-old daughter some months ago, I can say with confidence that cats are the most pointless pets to have, next only perhaps to a tortoise. It will not guard your house, it cannot be taught to fetch your slippers, it will agree to be petted only at a time of its own choosing, it will destroy your furniture, and anyway it sleeps most of the day. In other words, unlike the dumb and slaveringly grateful dog, it is an intelligent, dignified and self-actualised creature. After all, aren’t all true friendships fundamentally pointless (that is, they are not based on any give-and-take)? Of course, as someone else said, “cats could very well be man’s best friend but would never stoop to admitting it”. I have come to respect this reticence.

20.02, 20/02, 2002

E-mail makes dissemination of information so painless (forward the mail to your entire address book, each member of which forwards it to his or her entire address book and so on) that it’s easy to forget that much of the info careening through cyberspace may be false. A recent example is a mail that made the circuit of the world last week. An Indian newspaper was enthused enough to print the mail on its front page on two days. The content of the mail: “As the clock ticks over from 8:01 pm on Wednesday, February 20, 2002, time will (for 60 seconds only) read in perfect symmetry. To be more precise: 20.02, 20/02, 2002. It is an event which has only ever happened once before, and is something which will never be repeated. The last occasion that time read in such a symmetrical pattern was long before the days of the digital watch (or the 24-hour clock): 10.01 am, on January 10, 1001. And because the clock only goes up to 23.59, it is something that will never happen again.”

Interesting, but untrue. We still have one last chance. 21:12 21/12 2112 and there was one more in the past 11:11 11/11 1111. Besides, the mail also cynically assumes that the world will end while we are still using four digits to denote our years. What about 11:11 am on November 11 in the year 111111? And so infinitely on…

Wild Oats Inc

Men will always be boys. In Kharagpur for an alumni get-together to celebrate iit’s Golden Jubilee, one could see the layers of mainstream behavioural imperatives imposed by years of corporate and family life peel off the moment the alumni entered the campus. CEOs and vice-presidents, entrepreneurs and academics reverted instantly to their hostel days, the happiest and freest years of their lives. A CEO insisted on going to look for the shack outside the campus which sold the local brew, Bangla. An academic was determined that he would not go back without climbing a tree. A senior manager wanted to teach the current students all the obscene songs he remembered. Late at night, in our hostel common room, a famous entrepreneur sat down at the drums and jammed with my hostel’s current western music team. The joy of that communion, the sound of all those songs we jived to so many years ago, Hotel California, Cocaine, Wonderful Tonight, Light My Fire, was electrifying. As the Eagles knew, you can check out any time you like, but you can never leave.

Sadly, the IITS are far more disciplined places now. You can be fined for playing cricket in a hostel corridor, you can be suspended for a year for drinking, you can be punished for carrying a girl “doubs” on your cycle, all functions have to end by 10 pm. This, for men and women who are the country’s best and brightest, men and women who are old enough to vote in our elections. I wonder how many entrepreneurs and innovator thinkers can be churned out by this Orwellian fetish with the straight and narrow.