Friday, July 22, 2005

Phavourite Phoren Phlix

There is nothing quite like that feeling as you sit in the darkened theatre, surrounded by the hubub of pre-movie conversation, and the lights dim, the curtains rise (in India anyway), something flickers on the screen. For We Who Love The Movies, this is a moment of anticipation unlike any other, the laws of diminishing returns never apply, the nebulous thrill never quite loses its edge.

It never really matters what movie you're watching - it could be some ho-hum mega movie or a true masterpiece, that moment is always there to relish. It is like...umm...the almost-burnt crispy portion of tandoori chicken. The finished article may be of varying quality, but you have to admit that the crispy bit is delicious, every time. Anyway, it is a magical moment, and if you don't know it...well, not everyone is perfect.

Many a time have we sat in one cinema or the other, and eaten the crispy bits of tandoori chicken. Let us all join hands before it is too late and salvage this post from the clutches of Chicken, Tandoori. This post is not about TC. It is about movies. Phoren ones. Seeing a good movie is pleasure enough, if it happens to be in a language you don't understand, and it has subtitles (slurrrp...weird, neh?), it is that much more satisfying. And the list of favourite foreign flicks is (classified by language):
  • Spanish: Amores Perros (Love's A Bitch). A tale of three interrelated tales, set in Mexico City, with a certain gritty feel to it. Y tu mamá también (And Your Mother Also) was also enjoyable - about love, friendship, desire, growing up, death and so on.
  • Iranian: There are many stalwarts here apparently, Majid Majidi, the unbelievable Makhmalbaf family, Jafar Panahi, Abbas Kiarostami and others. Badkonake Sefid (The White Balloon) was unbelievably enjoyable, and very very poignant.
  • Chinese: Clear all-time favourite movie, watchable again and again and again is Chong qing sen lin (Chungking Express) by the very talented (lyrical, almost?) Wong Kar Wai. Set in Hong Kong, two love stories that keep running into each other, and into a fast food joint. See this one. Buy it. In The Mood For Love is also fantastic, lovely background music.
  • Russian: Remember seeing only one of these, that too an old, incredibly long (200 minutes!), sometimes monumentally dragging Andrey Rublyov by Tarkovsky. This biopic charts the life of an (apparently) great icon painter, through a period of Russian-Tartar strife. It contains some of the most impressive shots and cinematic techniques one can recollect. This movie makes the list, simply because of one outstanding scene, involving a bell. Briefly (and probably inaccurately), the Tsar's troops spare the life of only one child in the village because he knows the secret formula for mixing the metals to make the alloy used in some stupendous church bells that his father used to make. The Tsar commissions the bell, and under the supervision of the kid, hundreds of thousands of peasants toil (think of the Saruman-Isengard-factory scenes from "The Lord Of The Rings" trilogy) to melt and shape the metal. All of this is pretty mundane stuff initially, but as the date for conducting the User Acceptance Testing of the bell comes closer, the audience is really set on the edge, the suspense is incredible, and the denouement comes with a palpable sense of joy and relief. Very rarely happens.
  • Japanese: This guy and his movies are very good (especially Madadayo), but the award goes to Tampopo. Really funny, and enjoyably weird, in the manner of the Japanese. Mix of Western (as in cowboy), the Food Network channel, erotica.
Of course, there are others. We have not even touched many areas of the world, but that will have to wait.

Friday, July 15, 2005

Friday Verse Thingy (Redux) - 2

Non-English pomes. A bit maudlin' (some would go so far as to say Mawkish). Popular ones, but (as Mr. W.T.Srinivasan was wont to advise Master W.S.Swaminathan), it doesn't hurt to revise the syllabus ever so often.


Had never heard of the poet, till that fateful day when we watched a film in which Rani Mukherjee recites a few verses of another poem by him...umm...on (as it were) Kamal Haasan. The pome presented here is perhaps the poet's most famous, although he has written several others.

Banalata Sen
    - Jibanananda Das

For thousands of years I roamed the paths of this earth,
From waters round Ceylon in dead of night to Malayan seas.
Much have I wandered. I was there in the grey world of Asoka
And Bimbisara, pressed on through darkness to the city of Vidarbha.
I am a weary heart surrounded by life's frothy ocean.
To me she gave a moment's peace -- Banalata Sen from Natore.

Her hair was like an ancient darkling night in Vidisa,
Her face, the craftsmanship of Sravasti. As the helmsman,
His rudder broken, far out upon the sea adrift,
Sees the grass-green land of a cinnamon isle, just so
Through darkness I saw her. Said she, "Where have you been so long?"
And raised her bird's nest-like eyes -- Banalata Sen from Natore.

At day's end, like hush of dew
Comes evening. A hawk wipes the scent of sunlight fom its wings.
When earth's colors fade and some pale design is sketched,
Then glimmering fireflies paint in the story.
All birds come home, all rivers, all of this life's tasks finished.
Only darkness remains, as I sit there face to face with Banalata Sen.

The poem in Bengali is available, and a transliteration also exists. There is even a sequel to Banalata Sen, but not by Das.


Another old chestnut. See the movie, if you haven't already. Transliteration of this one, particularly hard to find, been, has.

Saddest Poem
    - Pablo Neruda

I can write the saddest poem of all tonight.

Write, for instance: "The night is full of stars,
and the stars, blue, shiver in the distance."

The night wind whirls in the sky and sings.

I can write the saddest poem of all tonight.
I loved her, and sometimes she loved me too.

On nights like this, I held her in my arms.
I kissed her so many times under the infinite sky.

She loved me, sometimes I loved her.
How could I not have loved her large, still eyes?

I can write the saddest poem of all tonight.
To think I don't have her. To feel that I've lost her.

To hear the immense night, more immense without her.
And the poem falls to the soul as dew to grass.

What does it matter that my love couldn't keep her.
The night is full of stars and she is not with me.

That's all. Far away, someone sings. Far away.
My soul is lost without her.

As if to bring her near, my eyes search for her.
My heart searches for her and she is not with me.

The same night that whitens the same trees.
We, we who were, we are the same no longer.

I no longer love her, true, but how much I loved her.
My voice searched the wind to touch her ear.

Someone else's. She will be someone else's. As she once
belonged to my kisses.
Her voice, her light body. Her infinite eyes.

I no longer love her, true, but perhaps I love her.
Love is so short and oblivion so long.

Because on nights like this I held her in my arms,
my soul is lost without her.

Although this may be the last pain she causes me,
and this may be the last poem I write for her.


Three rather interesting blokes ran their operations out of Persia and Anatolia. One poet/philosopher/mystic became the founder of his own sect/order. Another is apparently "...well known for inventing the method of solving cubic equations by intersecting a parabola with a circle..." and for his astronomical observations. Eventually, he made Eddie famous for translating his magnum opus into the English. Here, we deal with #3.

What Should We Do about that Moon?
    - Khwajeh Shams al-Din Muhammad Hafez-e Shirazi

A wine bottle fell from a wagon
And broke open in a field.

That night hundred beetles and all their cousins

And did some serious binge drinking.

They even found some seed husks nearby
And began to play them like drums and whirl.
This made God very happy.

Then the 'night candle' rose into the sky
And one drunk creature, laying down his instrument
Said to his friend - for no apparent

"What should we do about that moon?"

Seems to Hafiz
Most everyone has laid aside the music

Tackling such profoundly useless

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

One Hit Wonders

Radio stations get endless kicks out of playing OHWs, so why not a OHW book list? To qualify as an OHW, the most important condition is that the average bookworm should not know of any other book by the same author. And the nominees are:

  • Moby Dick by Herman Melville - Also called The Whale, apparently. No kidding, we always thought it was also called The Four Masted Schooner From Nantucket. Not sure if this really qualifies, Hermie seems to be the kind of boy who must've written more than this one book.
  • Dracula, by Bram Stoker - A genuine OHW. Nary a peep out of old Brammy after his magnum opus. Probably flitting outside our windows every night, looking for a way in.
  • Frankenstein by Mary Shelley - A remarkable woman by all accounts, and a remarkable book. An indication of what hanging out with the likes of George and Percy does to one's constitution and temerpament.
  • The Scarlet Pimpernel by Baroness Orczy - This is the quintessential OHW. No idea who the woman was. All that is known of her is that one J.R.R.T took one long hard look at the Orczy baroness and decided to name some nice furry creatures after her. Must've been something, eh?
  • To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee - Making a triumphant and successful entry into another list, is this classic.

Points to be noted, milard.
  1. 3 out of 5 are women
  2. 2.5 out of 5 are horror stories (a whale with a mind of its own, and a captain without one count as a 0.5 horror story)
  3. Couldn't think of anything else to note, but that didn't stop you from reading this note, did it?

Thursday, July 07, 2005

A    is for Alexandria

By all accounts, a great city. Right up there in the "...age doth not wither, nor custom stale her infinite variety..." bracket [Aside: What other cities qualify? Damascus? Varanasi? Baghdad?]. Alexandria captures the imagination of peoples all around the world, in many different times and contexts. She (can a city be anything but a she?) has been used in history, wars, literature, poetry and so on.

Exhibit A - History & Conquest: a Macedonian yuppie created her, the Ptolemies and Cleopatra (Mykingdomforanos!) trod her streets (well, they were probably carried in a litter or something, but you get the picture), the Romans treasured her(but also massacred her children), Persians and Byzantines and Arabs conquered her, the Ottomans neglected her, Napoleon and the British bloodied the sands for her, Rommel tried to take her and failed... Clearly, a lot of to-ing and fro-ing for one bit of real estate.

Exhibit B - Literature: Perhaps we will speak only of the most famous work(s) about Alexandria: Lawrence Durrell's magnum opus, The Alexandria Quartet. While TAQ is populated by a set of fascinating characters, the city itself plays no small part in the tale, it is always there, lurking in the background, a canvas on which Durrell etches his sketches. Or whatever. The problem, of course, is that TAQ deals mostly with the lives of the Europeans and Westernized Egyptians of Alexandria, the hoi polloi don't make too many appearances. Nevertheless, all 4 books are eminently readable, employ some very clever narrative devices (in theory, you can read the first 3 books in any order you choose!), and must surely rank as one of the great literary achievements of the 20th century.
En passant, we may note that E.M.Forster lived and worked in Alexandria, and wrote Alexandria: A History And Guide.
Has Mahfouz written about Alexandria?

Exhibit C - Poetry: One name towers over the rest: Constantine P. Cavafy. Was born, and died, in Alex. More about him here. Although much of his work was not published when he was alive, it got people's attention when it was. Auden wrote an introduction to the English translations, and there is a Cavafy Museum in his city. Incidentally, Cavafy also lurks in the background in The Alexandria Quartet. The volumes are replete with references to "The Old Poet Of The City" and other such Voldemort type names, all referring to good 'ol Constantine.

About Alexandria and Egypt, there is much more to say,
But then the blog won't see, the light of the day,
To borrow a stanza, many poems rhyme
This one don't.

Friday, July 01, 2005

Friday Verse Thingy (Redux) - 1

Some poems we love, re-posted from other lists and sites. This post may open a can of worms and come back to haunt us, so desu ne, precious?


This is a poem about an addiction that is healthy, non-fattening (thinnening, actually) and fulfilling.

Sex Without Love
   - Sharon Olds
How do they do it, the ones who make love
without love? Beautiful as dancers,
Gliding over each other like ice-skaters
over the ice, fingers hooked
inside each other's bodies, faces
red as steak, wine, wet as the
children at birth, whose mothers are going to
give them away. How do they come to the
come to the come to the God come to the
still waters, and not love
the one who came there with them, light
rising slowly as steam off their joined
skin? These are the true religious,
the purists, the pros, the ones who will not
accept a false Messiah, love the
priest instead of the God. They do not
mistake the lover for their own pleasure,
they are like great runners: they know they are alone
with the road surface, the cold, the wind,
the fit of their shoes, their over-all cardio
vascular health--just factors, like the partner
in the bed, and not the truth, which is the
single body alone in the universe
against its own best time.

A rather wonderfully crafted piece of work, no? Quite superb.
A couple of old, old, favourites.


Sea Fever
   - John Masefield
I must go down to the sea again, to the lonely sea and the sky,
And all I ask is a tall ship and a star to steer her by;
And the wheel's kick and the wind's song and the white sail's shaking,
And a grey mist on the sea's face, and a grey dawn breaking.

I must go down to the seas again, for the call of the running tide
Is a wild call and a clear call that may not be denied;
And all I ask is a windy day with the white clouds flying,
And the flung spray and the blown spume, and the sea-gulls crying.

I must go down to the seas again, to the vagrant gypsy life,
To the gull's way and the whale's way where the wind's like a whetted knife;
And all I ask is a merry yarn from a laughing fellow-rover,
And quiet sleep and a sweet dream when the long trick's over.

If you've grown up close to a beach, and/or are remotely interested in affairs nautical, this rhyme cries out to you.


The Lake Isle Of Innisfree
   - William Butler Yeats
I WILL arise and go now, and go to Innisfree,
And a small cabin build there, of clay and wattles made;
Nine bean rows will I have there, a hive for the honey bee,
   And live alone in the bee-loud glade.

And I shall have some peace there, for peace comes dropping slow,
Dropping from the veils of the morning to where the cricket sings;
There midnight's all a glimmer, and noon a purple glow,
   And evening full of the linnet's wings.

I will arise and go now, for always night and day
I hear lake water lapping with low sounds by the shore;
While I stand on the roadway, or on the pavements gray,
   I hear it in the deep heart's core.

Makes you homesick, dunnit?