Two books, two movies and a long-ish drive. That was my extended weekend in a nutshell.

The City of Falling Angels by Berendt was a kind-of-gripping read; gripping the way Shobha De and Stardust is. You read it with the feeling that this should not really interest you; that it is somewhat voyeuristic and not in any way adding to your grasp of the world and therefore should not be eating into your precious me-time. But read it you will. Because the setting is historic, romantic, beautiful Venice and the characters are people who have made Venice their home. Now that’s a rarity – there are just 70,000 of them! Berendt takes us to the heart of Venetian society, into their drawing rooms and with a fascination for royalty and big names that only an American can have, he gives us a glimpse into a world that is completely closed to a passing tourist. He starts off with an account of the fire at the famous Fenice opera house and in an investigative journalistic style, tries to unravel the mystery behind it. By the end of the book, no conclusion is reached and the mystery remains a mystery and the whole thing is kind of purposeless (if it’s a mystery, shouldn’t it be solved?). Instead, Berendt gives us a lot of side plots - the case of the Ezra Pound papers and connivers who try to cheat his mistress of them; a hi-society struggle for control of a Save Venice charity; two sons fighting over a centuries-old Murano glassmaking legacy; a greengrocer who dubiously inherits a famous gay poet’s legacy. They make for interesting reading and what comes out is a picture of an ancient and crumbling city holding a deep fascination for outsiders (from Byron to Henry James to Berendt himself and the millions of tourists who cannot have enough of Venice) while the ever-decreasing number of insiders squabble and feud among themselves. The rising water levels and the rats and the rampant corruption, the smell and the Venetian scorn of the tourist – it’s not a very pretty picture. And at the end of it, you wonder why it should matter to you which American plutocrat controls a Save Venice foundation or who really owns the Palazzo Barbaro. I would just like to go to Venice, see its beautiful palaces and bridges, take a ride in a gondola, Casanova-style and click pretty pictures. Being the scorned tourist is fine with me. The insider stuff reads like a gossip column in any other city magazine.

Jhoom Barabar Jhoom was a long awaited movie and I finally got to watch it on DVD. Not least because 2 of my most favourite bloggers went ga ga over it while the rest of the critic world panned it. I was sure there was something in it that the world had missed. Plus, I liked Shaad Ali’s Bunty Aur Babli, a cool look at small town India and its aspirations and Saathiya, a lovely little love story. Plus, I kind of liked Abhishek Bachan after his roles in Yuva and B&B. Plus, I really liked the title track. So I went into it looking for a movie with a difference. And I came out really and truly disappointed. First of all, there was far too much music and dance. Ok, I get it, it’s supposed to be something of a musical. But the music wasn’t taking the movie forward! Abhishek I thought was a disaster. He replayed his Bunty act in a London setting and for the life of me I couldn’t understand why any sane woman would be attracted to him. Preity Zinta of course was withered and old and Botoxed and trying so hard to be her vivacious self. It is such a shame that the exuberant freshness of Dil Se and Dil Chahta Hai is gone. Sad what age does to someone. The one fresh note was Lara Dutta. Her prostitute act, though short, was noticeably different. This girl deserves more of a chance in Bollywood. As for Bobby Deol, the less said the better. He is so bad! All in all, the movie is worth watching only for one thing – the JBJ song in all its avatars is a visual treat and the dance sequences and Amitabh Bachan in his Mexican costume are pretty cool. The saving grace in an otherwise disastrous movie. But for that, we just need to switch MTV on.

Edward Luce’s ‘The Strange Rise of Modern India’ was the second book. Luce was FT’s correspondent in India for 5 years and this book is his reading of a country that has quite got under his skin. There is nothing spectacularly new in this for Indians – Luce explores the disparity between a rising middle class and the millions who still don’t know where their next meal is coming from; the caste politics that are making regional parties and coalition governments the norm; the inescapable corruption in Indian bureaucracy and government; the difference in the way the north and south of India have developed; the rise of Hindu nationalism and the Islamic response. Luce covers all of this through a journalist’s eye with anecdotes that are personal and catchy. And while these have been the subjects of deep study and comment already in a number of articles and books, In Spite of the Gods does provide an outsider view that proves interesting at times. For example, Luce comments on the Indian predilection for debate over action and the sense of intellectual superiority that governs Indian diplomats and the resulting frustration among foreign ones trying to effect a deal. It is an interesting book and an easy read. And for a more detailed review, check out http://jaiarjun.blogspot.com/2006/09/in-spite-of-gods-edward-luce-on-india.html

Om Shanti Om was the 2nd movie. I went to a theatre to watch it (something I haven't done in a while) and I found it absolutely delightful. Shahrukh is king in my books once again. Farah Khan’s take on Karz is exuberant and loud and funny and touching – all in one go. It’s her tribute to the movies of the 70s and I watched Rishi Kapoor singing Om Shanti Om, so easy and fluid, with much nostalgia. OSO is Karz-like in its re-incarnation and revenge story, yet it has shades of Dilip Kumar’s Madhumati as well. The movie is filled with references to older films, dialogues, heroes and their foibles and these insider jokes are pretty funny most of the time. Shahrukh and his new-found abs are as cool as ever (despite an age-ing face). Deepika Padukone is pretty and a possible star. Arjun Ramphal is menacing in his villainous role. The 70s is pretty neatly recreated and the junior artist Om Prakash, in love with top heroine Shanti Priya saves her once from a fire and fails to save her the next time. He dies in the process and is reborn as Om again, this time as the son of a superstar and therefore a superstar himself. A junior artist gets to finally become a star, albeit in another life. His past life flashes by of course…and the second half of the film is how he avenges the deaths of his previous avtar and his lady love with the help of a Shanti Priya look-alike and a ghost. The film is typical Hindi masala in parts and in parts is a Hollywood-style spoof on Bollywood. And just for that difference, it will be interesting to see how this movie fares at the box office.

The long drive was purposeless and effective at the same time. One because there was no real destination (or the destination did not really matter) and the second because it gave me license to day dream without much interruption. Music, a fast car and time…always an unbeatable combination.


UL said…
The seconds, book and movie, sure makes me curious. I really like the name "In spite of the Gods", as for OSO, I didnt know it was a re-do of Karz, in spite of the song, I really liked the story line with Karz. So this will be the next in my list of Hindi movies to see. Thanks.

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