Archive for July, 2010

The Last One

Saturday, July 31st, 2010

31 July 2010

The valedictory column from a grateful editor

It has been an exhilarating ride, and a humbling one, and I thank each and every one of you who have read and engaged with Open

I founded and edited the weekly magazine Open. It started publication in April 2009. On the last page, each issue, I had my freewheeling column Rear Window. I quit Open in July 2010. This is the last Rear Window.

This is the last Rear Window you will be reading in Open, since I have resigned as Editor of the magazine. Maybe the column will appear in some form or another, under some other name, not necessarily as the dessert, in some other publication at some future date; I do not know. For I have made no plans for the rest of my life, except that I can have a long and relaxed couple of months after what has been an intense two-and-a-half years, putting together one of the finest journalistic teams ever seen in India (or so I would like to believe), and, with them, creating a magazine that (or so I would like to believe) stood out in the clutter on newsstands.

It has been an exhilarating ride, and a humbling one, and I thank each and every one of you who have read and engaged with Open, each one of you who has written in to appreciate some story we have done or the magazine’s format, and everyone who has dissented and been kind enough to let us know of what you disapprove of or disagree with. But all journeys, like life itself, and everything associated with it, must come to an end one day, and my journey has just ended. After all, even the universe, we are told, that began so flashily with the Big Bang, will one day collapse under its own gravity and disappear into a tiny black hole in an event that scientists describe as the very reverse of the opening showstopper, the Gnab Gib. Though, I am told, that’s a long time away.

We started Open as a response to what we felt was a universe of magazines that was boring and out-of-touch with readers in the modern context of proliferating media and extreme attacks on attention spans. Every story in Open, from the first day, went through a gruelling litmus test: that it had to fulfil at least three of five criteria: that it should either inform, entertain, engage, surprise or be useful to the reader. And, above all, we wanted not to bore. That, as I had written in the very first issue of the magazine, would be considered a cardinal sin. I hope we have lived up to that promise. We wanted to look classy: a preening little standout in a sea washing up noisily on the shores of your peripheral vision. I think we succeeded to a large extent, not wholly, not in full measure, but to an extent that gave us pride and built an internal culture of camaraderie and excellence that I have found rare in my 20-year career in the media. We loved the title of the magazine, and that seemingly innocuous four-letter word imbued our life, office relations and work style with a carefree and tolerant confidence that must be rare in any place where a person gets a paycheque at the end of the month.

I will not be there, but Open will stay. And, hopefully, keep blossoming and flourish. The magazine’s alumni will spread far and wide and take with them, knowingly or unknowingly, what they learnt or imbibed atOpen. As I look back at our humble beginnings in one room in South Delhi from today’s five-storey office building (with a smoking zone on the terrace where the air-conditioner almost never works), there are too many people that I would like to thank from the innermost recesses of my heart. In fact, I can’t think of anyone I don’t want to thank, for their courage, intelligence, commitment  and good humour. So I shall not name any individuals. Just a little wave of the hand at all of you and a quiet exit. Do wave back at me, please.

An Interpretation of Dreams

Saturday, July 24th, 2010

Jul 24, 2010

Christopher Nolan’s Inception is a disturbing puzzle about the difference between dreams and reality. It is guaranteed to achieve cult status.

You have no possession more personal than your dreams. If those could be stolen, you are violated at your innermost.

Whether you like it or not, Christopher Nolan’s Inception will be the most discussed, analysed and dissected film of this decade, and gain the uber-cult status that The Matrix trilogy enjoyed. The film, about dream stalkers, is a puzzle wrapped in a riddle swaddled in enigmatic throwaways that may lead to a coherent conclusion or not. It is a challenge to the audience that makes no compromises, even when you suspect that the writer-director may himself not be too sure whether it’s all making sense. He has this mad vision, which he is crafting as meticulously as a watchmaker. Will the watch tell the real time? Nolan keeps us in the dark, even with the film’s last shot of an iron top which we do not know will topple over or continue to spin for ever. Which, according to the film’s premise, should tell us whether what we are seeing is happening in reality or in a dream.

The reviews have been mixed: Roger Ebert has given it all the four stars at his disposal, the NYT is a bit confused and our own reviewer has used the word ‘psychobabble’. Leonardo di Caprio leads a team that enters people’s dreams and steals their ideas, except that this time, he has to insert an idea and make the dreamer think it’s his own. But when you enter someone’s dreams, you don’t have full control of the territory. So, as they fight it out in the first level dream, the dream hunters also drill themselves into deeper levels of dreams that can burrow into the most vulnerable levels of the quarry’s subconscious. So action happens simultaneously at three dream levels and ‘in limbo’, the interstitial space between the levels. And di Caprio’s subconscious, haunted by guilt over his wife’s suicide, puts a spanner in the works of the best-laid plans, as she appears at will to disrupt the assignment.

Nolan’s work (Memento, Insomnia, The Prestige, The Dark Knight) is characterised by the director playing God, as he puts together a pitiless jigsaw to confound the audience. This time, he has built a giant brainteaser that asks the question that has harried philosophers since time immemorial: the difference between dreams and reality.

Are we all part of someone’s dream? As Hindusim would remind you, Lord Vishnu is asleep on the great serpent, Ananta, which floats on the universal Milky Ocean. Vishnu sleeps, and dreams of us. So is hunger real, is pain an illusion, is the death of a loved one a scripted fade-out? In Inception, Nolan shreds that clichéd material called the fabric of reality and puts together a patchwork quilt that may or may not exhibit a reasoned pattern. It is almost impossible to crack the conundrum on a single viewing.

Yet, it is a frightening concept. You have no possession more personal, more uniquely yours than your dreams. If those could be stolen, you are violated at your innermost. One is sure the thought has crossed the mind of many totalitarian dictators, for dreams are a realm censors cannot reach, and reveal more than we ourselves ever can. Inception is a science-fiction action thriller, with enough car chases and explosions and special effects to satisfy the casual thrill-seeker, but it disturbs. And not least because the central question of dreams versus reality is answered so ambiguously.