Ululation in Collective Unconsciousness

As a Bengali I have heard ‘ulu’ and even tried to join in to emit this high pitched, almost howl, vibrato along with my mother and aunts during auspicious occasions and community rituals. One of the most auspicious occasions and a community event for a Bengali is the Durga Pujo. The fun, frolic and festivities have started already amongst the Bengali Diaspora all across the globe, and we will be ushering Ma Durga into her earthly abode with a long drawn and deep bellow of Shankh (conch) and a million women’s ulu in different sharps and flats.

I have always regarded ulu in its present form as a Bengali customary ritual during festivals and for worshipping the myriad Gods and Goddesses that we believe in. So when I stumbled upon where ululation came from it fascinated me to learn that the word originated in Latin and was practiced in Africa, Asia and some parts of Europe.

The origin of ulu and how it diffused into other cultures is still unknown and there is not much written about the practice of ulu anywhere. Nevertheless ulu is popularly known to have originated in Sumer. The ancient Egyptians ululated as did the ancient Greeks and the Hebrews. Zaghareet, ululation again, is well known in Levantine society and it focuses on the sound as an exotic terrain and is often associated with ferocious war cry, unlike in other cultures where ulu is more of a celebratory sound produced in unison by the women.

Its interesting to note that despite seeming differences in culture, religion, way of life and the conflict thereof that plagues the world today, we have unconsciously adopted and perform similar rituals and partake in festivities and community ceremonies much the same way. And it makes me wonder, are we that different?

Carl Jung’s collective unconscious increasingly sounds true to me and its not just limited to universal symbols like the ‘great man’ or the ‘tree of life’. The unconscious mind has transcended race, colour, religion, miles and miles of distance and has formed a bond where we share and celebrate differences in our sameness. The Gods must be having a laugh then, to see us divide ourselves in orientals and occidentals, black, yellows, coloureds and whites, white collar and blue collar, slaves and masters, pretty and seemingly ugly (thats the worst differentiation), smart and the clever and the list is never ending.

This Pujo I can only hope that Ma Durga grants us the wisdom to bridge the ever widening chasm of vacuous and mindless intolerance and bless us with the ability to honour and rejoice in each others uniqueness. Because there is no escaping that bound by our collective unconsciousness and at the heart of it all, we are kindred spirits.

Advertisements

Half Pants Full Pants – A Review

Half Pants Full Pants is an assortment of childhood memories that will take you back to the TV series classic Malgudi Days. The story is set in Shimoga, a small town in Karnataka where the Author, Anand Suspi, hails from. The little snippets of memories stitched together make a tale of innocence and the shedding of it as we grow up.

Everything from the title of the book to cover design of coins will take you back to the 70s & the 80s. The flair with which he has penned the tales is at once heady and simplistic, again taking us back to the childhood days when everything was uncomplicated and simplistic yet marvelously exciting. The narrative is laced with the Author’s native language, which makes the book believable and lovable.

The book reiterates and cements our belief (our generation growing up in the 70s and 80s) that we had the most magical childhood. Away from all the gadgets that hold kids captive between four walls, in these modern days, into the lap of nature, with friends, exploring around, building stories, making memories.

Reading the book took me back to my days when we did similar things if not the same. When we cycled around with friends, created our own little games up, when owning a TV was a luxury, having a phone was almost unheard of and once we hit our teens, we wanted to be as cool as our cousins in the city.

The last chapter emphatically brings out the message of ‘Cool Vs Fool’. How we outgrow our little towns, go to big cities and end up showing off a little bit, albeit with good intentions, only to be proven that our ways could be cool but definitely not wise. I hope that the book is read by many, its not just reliving childhood it also points out about how smart and worldly wise our parents really were.

The book is divided into two parts, Half Pants is about when the Author was a child and Full Pants is stories from his teens until his first job days. Interestingly the child part of the book is written in short chapters, short sentences, almost like he was reliving his days again. While Full Pants stories are more defined, bigger chapters, more flourish in writing and language.

It was a pleasure to read this piece of ‘back to the 70s’ era. It has an aura of the ‘Wonder Years’ with a very R.K. Narayanesque style.  Guys just go grab your copy of Half Pants Full Pants, you wont be disappointed.

Blurb:

Half Pants Full Pants is a sort of childhood autobiography set in Shimoga of the 70s and 80s. Given the era and milieu that he grew up in, it carries a flavor similar to that of Malgudi Days. All the characters in the book are real and most of them are still in Shimoga, of course now in their mid-40s. Quite a few are from prominent families and are now active and important members of Shimoga. The book vividly captures the real childhood adventures of this generation of people in Shimoga. It’s a glorious reminiscence as well as a tribute to this wonderful town.

 

Jugnu by Ruchi Singh – A Book Review

jugnu

Can you love two men at the same time with the same intensity? A question that, is not to be brushed aside with a sneer. It’s a dilemma, which has plagued us from time immemorial and has kept us awake many a nights.
But yes, one of them is the forbidden love. But isn’t the forbidden fruit the more delicious of the lot? Just a thought, not be pondered much about.
In Jugnu (Firefly) too, Ashima is torn between the love of her life, her husband, Rohit and the sudden whiff of fresh air Zayd. What makes it maybe not so forbidden is the fact that she is waiting for someone in the hope that he will return some day, while the beacon of love and happiness is perhaps staring right in her eyes.
What makes her desire a taboo in the eyes of the society is that that she has given her heart away to a man who is younger that her and hails from a different a religion, a religion that is directly responsible for the absence or loss of her husband.
Without giving away the story, Jugnu is not the run of the mill love teenybopper love story. It is more than just a romance, it’s about human lives, the hopelessness of hope itself and how we manoeuvre ourselves in the face of tragedy. Ashima, on the façade is all strength and courage and bravado, who has lost herself in running the everyday affairs of the household and meeting demands of everyone around her. But she is a human being after all, who sparks up with passion and desire much the like the fireflies on a dark night.
The character, who in my opinion, stands out the most is Zayd Abbas Rizvi. Despite a troubled past he has grown as a person and has engaged himself in a more fruitful pursuit. Not many 24 year olds would be capable of what Zayd has managed to inculcate although he has been socially ostracised time and again. No matter how much he pays for his sins, it’s never enough for the society. Yet he is not embittered and is willing to give life a second chance, help people, find love and be happy. He has moments of nightmares and second thoughts, but then in his shoes who wouldn’t?
In many ways Zayd is the Jugnu in Ashima’s life. In the dark depths of misery and despair, Zayd is the firefly that lights up her world, lights up her mind to find the closure she is not ready to accept, lights up her heart with love and passion.
The other characters in the story are as believable as Ashima and Zayd. Though I feel the mothers in law have really earned a bad name in our country and perhaps around the world, hence a spiteful old lady, waiting for her son and blaming her daughter in law makes for a good yarn and more sympathy for the protagonist. But, since Jugnu did take a leap in many ways, this hackneyed mother in law character could have been better etched. .
I would have loved to see an older Ashmia with a slightly bigger son, falling in love with a man considerably younger to her – her dilemma would have been more pronounced.
Ruchi Singh, has very artfully created a setting, a location, which is not just a place but very much an intrinsic character that builds the storyline. The forebodingness, the solitude, the quiet all adds up to Ashmia’s loneliness and pain. The surroundings resonate her mood, her sorrow her entire being.
To add as a parting thought, this story would make a good Bollywood flick. Ruchi Singh start writing the screenplay.

FirefliesNightSky

Z for Zanjeer

zan1 zan2

 What better way to end the list if not by our own homegrown superstar Amitabh Bachchan. In fact Zanjeer (The Chains) propelled him to his super stardom and firmly placed him in a position from where he has been reigning as the supreme king of Bollywood ever since.

Before Zanjeer, Amitabh had a series of flops with which his career in the movie world took a nosedive. When director Prakash Mehra cast him, everyone in tinsel town warned that he was making a grave mistake but he took his chances and what followed was record-breaking history. In the era of romantic comedy, here was a movie with a disgruntled and intense hero, who has been dealt a losing hand by life. Bachchan became an overnight star after Zanjeer and with its success a new era ensued.

Vijay Khanna, witnesses the murder of his parents and this traumatic event scars him for life. He keeps to himself, has no friends and is a loner. Fast-forward twenty years, this little boy has joined the police and an honest officer at that, while most of them are corrupt and tainted. Vijay soon befriends Sher Khan (Pran) and learns that all the underhand dealing by the underworld goes on under the king pin Teja, (Ajit).

zan3 zan4

After a few twists and turns and of course some song and dance numbers, Vijay is not only framed and imprisoned but also finds a lady love Mala (Jaya Bhaduri). Soon he finds out the truth behind his parents’ murder and that Teja the menacing villain was the perpetrator. Everything ends on a positive note as evil is finally vanquished and good reigns over evil.

zan6

 Zanjeer was released during a time when common man was beleaguered with corruption, theft and injustice. This movie was like a catharsis to their pent up frustrations. Zanjeer led to a spate of such movies that shows the Hero fighting relentlessly for justice. Amitabh too became an icon for the ordinary man depicting their everyday struggles.

zan5

I leave you with a trailer of Zanjeer (The Chains) (the video quality is not too good)

Y for the Yellow Sea

yellow yellow1

We are at the fag end of the A to Z listing and the first thought that came to my mind was “You, Me and Dupree” but I have done quite a few Hollywood flicks so refrained from doing the same. I have missed out quite a few movies from quite a few countries and as I kept racking my brain, I was hit with The Yellow Sea, a Korean Movie with a lot of angst, pain and pathos, a reflection of our depressing society that almost drives us off the ledge.

The Yellow Sea is the second chase movie by the director Na Hong Ching. The basic difference between his first and this movie is that this one is a noir shot on large canvas and superbly brings out the violence in humans which, just creates more chaos than solving anything.

Gu Nam is a Chinese taxi driver with Korean descent who is hopelessly in debt because of his gambling addiction. His wife goes to Seoul to provide some monetary relief but unfortunately she just disappears. Lovelorn, lonely, dejected, broke, he is saddled with a daughter who he can’t take care of and sends off to his mother’s place. To add to his troubles are his neighbours and friends who chide him for losing his wife to perhaps another man. Fuelled with a mix of loathing, jealousy and insecurity he takes up a contract for killing a man in Seoul because it promises to pay well and diminish all his troubles. Gu Nam smuggles his way to Seoul and as one day he anxiously waits for his target to arrive, the unexpected happens and he is chased by his own gang and the Korean police. Though Gu Nam is not the most likeable man, the audience starts to sympathize and empathize.

The Yellow Sea starts off slowly and gains pace as the movie moves forward ending in a feverish crescendo. There is a lot of gore and brutal violence and amazingly there are no guns. The movie is laced with whooshing knives, brandishing hatchets and a numbing pain caused by blunt animal bones.

Where the movie makes a mark is it provides characters with more than fifty shades of grey, breaking archetypes and absolutes and almost identifiable (if not the blood and gore) making even the worst of them likeable to us.

Here is the trailer of  the Yellow Sea

X for Xiao Cai Feng

xiao2 xiao1

Movie titles with X are not easy to come by, at least not the ones that I would like to talk about and share. As I was browsing through my collection I chanced upon Xiao Cai Feng, a Chinese movie set during the cultural revolution of 1966-1976. The message that comes out strong and clear  is that no matter what impositions are placed in the name of ideology, religion or politics, human nature will most certainly find a way to get around it.

Today’s movie is called Xiao Cai Feng, which is almost an autobiographical account of the filmmaker-author Dai Sijie. The central characters are two teenage boys, Ma and Lou, scions of urban reactionary intellectuals, who are sentenced to the far reaches of the mountain village for reeducation. Here their books are burnt and they are sent toiling in mines and sometimes climbing thousands of steps along the mountainside with buckets of foul liquid oozing onto their backs.

“To think that this is the dump where we may spend the rest of our lives,” says Ma, when they first arrive at the village where no one has ever seen a book before neither have they ever seen a clock. But the two boys do take advantage of their intellect and knowledge and there are a few humorous incidents, especially when their camp enforcer tries to throw away the violin thinking it’s a toy, Ma plays a sonata and tells him that it was composed in honor of Chairman Mao – therefore the violin becomes an acceptable instrument.

xiao7

In the absence of any education the camp heavy starts relying on the two for their smarts. In fact they are allowed to go to the nearby village to catch North Korean and Albanian dramas and report back the story of the same. Since there are no radios, newspapers or books the two boys become the source of entertainment and the eyes for the outside world for the entire camp.

Things change when they meet the grand daughter of an ancient tailor who is much revered in the next town. The two boys are enamored by this feisty beauty who is as illiterate as the rest of the town. To be around the young beauty the two take recourse to educating her. Soon they discover a stash of banned books written by foreign decadent writers such as Dumas, Balzac and Flaubert. In secret they begin reading to her exposing her to a world she never knew existed. She is influenced to such an extent by these books and her impressionable innocent mind is so moved, perhaps by Madam Bovary (me thinks), that she decides to leave the town on her own much to the dismay of the two boys. Their intention was to come close to her through the books but on the contrary the written words and stories were so overwhelming that she decided to explore life on her own leaving everyone behind.

xiao4 xiao5

In many ways Ma is modeled after Dai the author director who amidst hard labor did not lose his sense of humor. In one way the movie is explosive without going over the top, humorous without being absurd and romantic without being melodramatic. It’s all about life wrapped in a story about a country that the West imagines more than ever these days.

MCDBAAN EC020xiao6

W For The Wave

wave2 wave1

Can Autocracy rear its ugly head and Fascism rule the land? We will say No because we can never fall prey to it and we can never stand up for it! We can say with conviction that we will not be pulled into it and the world will never succumb to it ever again. The horrors that took place is Germany so many years back is a lesson to us all and it will never occur, in our world as we know it, ever again.

Today’s movie is based on the true incident of a psychological experiment that went horribly wrong in a Californian High School in 1967. The German movie The Wave is based on this experiment. It is a seductively cautionary tale about the roots of fascism and it warns us about the dangers of a volatile political scenario of today’s world.

Dennis Gansel, captures the intoxicating power of conformity and crowd mentality in this powerful psychological drama “The Wave” or Die Welle with Jurgen Vogel as the charismatic teacher Rainer Wenger.

The middle aged, unconventional social sciences teacher Rainer Wenger is disappointed that he does not get to teach the class about anarchy but he is given the topic autocracy for the project week. Disgruntled he dives into preparing for his class on the subject but he find out without much ado that his is an indifferent and passionless class and as one student puts it aptly “What is there left to be against? All we want is to have fun.” Wegner tries to approach the subject with a textbook study of fascism and asks the class if dictatorship like Hitler’s would be possible in Germany today. The utterly disinterested students either say no or they don’t care. Hitting a wall with them Wegner tries to make the lesson more interesting.

Therefore he elects himself as the leader and demands that the students address him as Herr Wenger, obey all his orders and salute him. We see that the class jumps in with enthusiasm at the idea. They soon have their own dress code of white shirt and jeans, develop their own salutation, and create a logo and a motto that says “Unity through Discipline”. They call themselves “The Wave”

wave5wave4

Unfortunately things escalate within a week and much to the surprise of Wenger himself that HE indeed likes this adulation and total power over his students. The movement takes on a cult status and soon students from other discipline join in to the Wave bandwagon. The movement gives the students something to believe in, an idea that they can bring in change, usher in social equality, until it all goes awry. As tensions increase, “Wave” graffiti appears all over the town including the Town Hall. The highly charged atmosphere in the school culminates in a fight at an inter school water polo match.

wave3

Much like the rise of Nazis it is the disenfranchised that latch on to feel powerful for the first time and those that seem the most damaged become the lieutenants. As the self – propelled program evolves; one of the troubled students translates his newfound feeling of pride into a dangerous obsession, which makes the Wave twisted and almost evil. The brilliance of the film lies in the climatic scene when the agreeable Rainer’s countenance hardens and contorts into a scowl as he realizes that he has become the dictator he detests so much.

wave6

The Wave shows us the Confront of a movement not necessarily fascism but about any movement that creates a community, that gives people a pride to belong in it. The concept is appealing because we can find our calling in this idea that lifts us and makes us believe that we can make a difference, only that some movements just get out of hand.

What makes this movie even more chilling is the not the fact that it’s been played out in Germany but that it makes  abundantly clear that the roots of fascism can grow anywhere.

Here is the trailer of The Wave 

V for Valentin

V2 V1

Can one be a hero only by showing strength, might and power? Or is it heroic to fight the everyday little battles in our lives and emerge victorious? Well, maybe not in a conventional way but then what kind of heroism is expected from an eight year old!

Valentin is an autobiographical account written and directed by Aljendro Agresti, incidentally he also stars in this along with the little Rodrigo Noya. Valentin is a sweet and moving tale of a little boy’s yearnings to have a functional family. Unfortunately his circumstances force him to conjure a world where he dwells in peace with his rocket ships and playing astronaut.

Valentin leads a solitary life with his grandmother, who never tires of telling the eight year old that his mother was a Jew and hence not a good woman. In reality she suffocated the mirth out his father’s life leaving him commitment phobic. His philandering father did visit him occasionally with an ever-changing array of girlfriends but unfortunately his abusive nature was the marked highlight of his visits. On one such occasion Valentin’s father brings a girlfriend, Leticia, with who he immediately connects and yearns for her to become his mother.

Leticia and Valentin become friends and there is an instant rapport between the two. Valentin tries to convince both his father and Leticia to get married but the poor lad’s good efforts come to a naught. The couple split and his father is furious with him for letting out some of the secrets which led to Leticia backing out of the relationship. Valentin is heartbroken as well and this leaves him with a stronger desire for familial love and affection.

In his loneliness he becomes close to the Catholic priest who in one of the sermons pays tribute to Che Guevarra which enrages the congregation and results in them walking out in protest. Valentin witnesses all this but cannot fathom the reason for so. Neither can he fathom his father’s utter hatred for Jews. But these are circumstances beyond his control. The adult world doesn’t function like the child’s world and the child in most cases have to succumb to the unrealistic wishes and fancies of the adults.

The little boy despite all odds, perseveres to get a family but then an unthinkable happens (I will not spell out what it is) and it seems he will be left with only his memories. Fortunately the piano playing neighbour is sympathetic towards his cause and agrees to connive with him and they hatch a plan to make his dreams come true.

The movie underscores the fact that in today’s world of ephemeral marriage it’s the children who suffer and try to grapple with the adverse situation. All the money and power cannot help if families are falling apart and drifting away. The most important element of our society today is not money or career or status or prestige, rather it is the longevity of marriage.

Valentin is a sweet, moving Argentinian movie about a wonderful boy who struggles to realize his dream of a family, who struggles to adjust to situations beyond his control, who struggles to get around the secret and half truths yet comes out victorious and emerge a Hero.

V3Here is the trailer of Velentin 

U for Usual Suspects

usual 2 usual1

The A to Z list is not complete without the mention of the path breaking suspense thriller “Usual Suspect”. It’s a sensational and mind-boggling, modern day noir about crime and a mythic gangster boss who no one has seen.

Brian Synger directs and ensemble cast in Usual Suspects, written by Christopher McQuarrie. It starts with an explosion in a ship in San Pedro California where 27 people were killed and a million dollar cocaine stash goes missing.

The story rewinds back to six weeks earlier when the Police call in for questioning five criminals who feature in their usual list of suspects they are ex cop Gabriel Byrne, sleepy eyed Kevin Spacey, entertaining henchman, Stephen Baldwin, Kevin Pollack and Benicio Del Toro. It is learned that the the police have no dirt on them and have to let them go. The five men, gang up together to take revenge of their unceremonious insult.

Soon they get to know that they have to work for Keyser Soze, apparently a nasty and evil crime lord who has his hooks from Belfast to Pakistan.

I will not say much lest it gives away the plot but all that can be said is that the actions happen in flashback while the Customs Agent interrogates Spacey. Everyone wants to know where Soze is but can Spacey tell him? Does he know him? No one who has seen Keyser has lived to tell the world about him. Audience knows as much as the police, and he remain to be a myth.

Get a DVD of Usual Suspects and be prepared to be blown over and befuddled by the twists and turns and a jaw-dropping clincher.

“The greatest trick the Devil ever pulled was convincing the world he did not exist”

Here’s the trailer.

T for The Devil’s Backbone

devil2 devil1

 What is a horror movie? Is it all about ghosts and spirits jumping at you in the dark, is it about loud and eerie noises and music that would make you jump out of your skin. No that’s just special effect. A horror story is about a ghost, spirit, whose life was filled with pathos, who was tormented by evil and now has a story to tell.

Guillermo del Toro’s The Devil’s Backbone at the very onset sets the premise of a ghost story when the narrator says, “What is a ghost? A tragedy doomed to repeat itself time and time again? An instant of pain, perhaps. Something dead which still seems to be alive. An emotion, suspended in time. Like a blurred photograph. Like an insect trapped in amber.”

With the backdrop of the Spanish Civil War, this movie is set in a leftist orphanage, in a rural area where the orphans of the left leaders and martyrs have been put up. Young Carlos is brought into the orphanage by his tutor because his leftist republic father is no more and he soon finds out that there is an ominous presence in that place. He is assigned the bed that Santi, who has now disappeared, use to sleep in. The orphanage also has Doctor Casares (Federico Luppi) and Carmen (Marisa Paredes) who run the place along with Jacinto (Eduardo Noriega) the groundskeeper and the lovely young teacher Conchita (Irene Visedo)

devil4

When Carlos arrives he sees a large undischarged bomb sunk in the ground. Though he is reassured that it will never blow off and he will be safe it’s presence is overpowering and reminds everyone at all times that no one is safe. Initially Carlos struggles to make friends and it takes the inmates too a while to adjust with the new boy. They tell him that they have heard eerie murmurs and felt a presence of a spirit. Carlos soon discovers that the mystery of the child who has disappeared is somehow connected to the basement, where the sighs and murmurs come from.

devil8 devil9

The movie unfolds as Carlos discovers the secret of the haunting. We discover that Carmen has some hidden gold that can save them in the very near future; Jacinto starts a sexual relation with Carmen only to find the hidden treasure. And as Carlos finds out that Santi was murdered and drowned, Santi too warns him that there is much misfortune ahead and many would lose their lives.

devil6 devil7

Soon we find Jacinto blowing up the safe to get the gold, the boys alluring him to the basement where the ghost resides and the ending  is almost a poetic justice. The Devil’s Backbone is a tale extraordinaire where the horror of the situation is not loud music and spirits that float in the air, the horror is very much real and alive in the garb of Jacinto. The horror is the evil the we humans are capable of doing, the horror is the war. Spirits just come to tell us a tale to maybe finish some unfinished business.

devil3 devil5

The Devil’s Backbone has a magical realism about it where everyday world has an impact and is changed due to an event that seems imaginary and fantastic to be real. It is a must watch movie where fantasy, ghost, reality all merge in one allegorical symphony.

Here is the trailer for one of my most favourite movie, one I can see a million times and still be awed. Decide for yourself!