Monday, November 30, 2015

So Meta, It Has Stasized

Attention Conservation Notice (h/t the great Cosma Shalizi): A (very, very) long, meandering, frequently digressive piece on, and an unapologetically hagiographic review-of-sorts of, Mani Kaul's Siddheshwari; featuring factionalism in Parallel Cinema, Shahrukh Khan and self indulgent navel gazing (not in the same order). To expect a cogent, critical, objective analysis from this piece would be tantamount to expecting a leg break from Anil Kumble; or anything but from Venkatesh Prasad. 

You have been warned.

(A part of NF still thinks ending the post here - right after detailed instructions on how to read it have been enshrined - would be cool (so second order meta!). Thankfully NF isn't a teenager anymore and has been declared free from cleveritis for some time now.)


Mita Vashisht as Siddheshwari

When someone asked him where they could find his films, he once said: “It’s good you haven’t seen them, but heard about them, you know; as time goes by the negatives of most of my films, which are in very bad shape, are getting worse, and there are very few prints anyway that are still alright…so, as I get more and more known, fewer people see my work. There will be a time when there won’t be any work left, and I will be gone, and people will be saying, ‘Mani Kaul, Mani Kaul, Mani Kaul’...” 
NF has whined often about discovering his heroes only after they've been dead for a while - Nirmal Verma, Manohar Shyam Joshi, David Foster Wallace were all part of this list, which now has the dubious distinction of adding yet another newcomer: Mani Kaul (the only hero who has been spared this treatment has been William Gibson - forever long may he live). Truth be told, while NF got around to finally watching his first Mani Kaul film a few months ago, he had been meaning to do so for many years now - having bought a three-in-one DVD of his films (Uski Roti, Duvidha, Nazar) from NFDC a few years back. That DVD still lies atop his bookshelf - its dust-laden cover, having never been in danger of being opened. That his films are supposedly challenging and not for the fainthearted, filled the prospect of viewing them with dread and subliminal anxiety.

In an eerie twist however, when he did finally see Siddheshwari, his universe was so jolted, so awestruck he was that he felt paralyzed to get the word out, since a post about the film, with an even remotely similar scope felt intimidating beyond belief. And hence this post has been more than two months in the making - the fact that it's finally being put to paper isn't about slaying personal demons or climbing mount impossible; but is more of a mad rush for self preservation - the sooner NF gets it out of his head, the quicker the end of his obsession with the film. It probably also has to do something with a newfound ambition NF's been suffering from, which causes him to think he can do justice to the subjects he's going to write about, making said prospect of writing filled with the aforementioned dread and subliminal anxiety. (There are some other posts several months in the making too - the utterly, utterly delightful Frances Ha being another one of them, with NF given to swooning over the mere mention of Greta Gerwig - levels hithertofore reached only by the likes of Fatima Bhutto (O heart, do be still!).)

NF finally took the plunge after watching Bollywood celebrities pay their respects to the great master soon after his demise. Rajat Kapoor, Anurag Kashyap and Mita Vashisht, straddling arthouse and commercial cinema alike, were natural candidates; but it was Rakesh Omprakash Mehra's account of stumbling on to Siddheshwari at a local theater that gave NF courage. Unaware of Mani Kaul and being a fan of Siddheshwari Devi - the legendary thumri singer from Benaras - he went in hoping to see a documentary (which the film ostensibly is); and so transfixed he was by what he saw that he watched it again and again and again obsessively - about six times in over a month!

This was the final push NF needed.

Table of Contents:

Ostensibly, Siddheshwari is a 1990 National Film Award winning documentary about the life of Siddheshwari Devi - a famous classical singer from Benaras; but this sentence might just be the most misleading description of the film ever - as Rakesh Omprakash Mehra was to discover. Mani Kaul preemptively assuages the lay viewer who is soon going to be hit with a barrage of wantonly, obscenely beautiful imagery, the meaning of which will be forever, maddeningly out of her grasp, by including a very helpful 'Table of Contents'. Urvashi curses Arjun for scorning her and then relocates to earth as a Gandharva; Siddheshwari's childhood with her mausi (maternal aunt) who trains her daughter (though not Siddhi) in classical music which Siddhi osmotically absorbs, eventually astonishing the guru so much that he takes her under his wing after Siddhi is evicted by the aunt; her musical peregrinations (literal and metaphorical) over boat rides over Ganga due to the patronage of the local ruler; and eventual fame and acclaim.

This table of contents is absolutely key to understanding the film - so much so that its exclusion will result in complete and utter bafflement - and yet its importance is easy to miss on a first viewing, as NF was to discover. In fact, NF strongly suspects that this table of contents was the stand-in for a screenplay - Kaul's untethered, rich, insanely imaginative visuals seem impossible to be tied down systematically in a detailed script. If so, he wouldn't have been the first - Wong kar Wai - another example of an ultra-stylish director prioritizing lush visuals over plot, relies only minimally on detailed screenplays.

The film is a radical inversion of what a documentary supposedly is and arrogates to itself the right to reimagine the idea of being Siddheshwari. More a montage of exquisitely beautiful images in motion tied only loosely by chronology, mythology and musicology, it feels like a plotless, surreal dreamscape propelled only by the powerful voice of Siddheshwari Devi; and an impenetrable-at-first internal logic that begins to make more sense on repeated viewings. NF has no hesitation in acknowledging it as the most formally inventive, authentically avant garde Indian film he's ever seen, with its slow-swooping camerawork, cinematographical wizardry and all round technical excellence putting to shame even current films - commercial and arthouse.

Fact, fiction, myth, music, the impossibly narrow gorgeous alleys of Benaras, whispers, oblique dialogues - all meld together in a jumbled, impressionistic collage to induce a state of mind that affects you viscerally - on a level so low that conscious thoughts find the gates barred for entry. The camera lingers on its subjects' profiles, then languorously shifts its gaze to the ghats and steps of Benaras and the richly hued doors and windows it houses, acquiring sepia tones when transgressing reality; donning rich colours when merely accentuating it. Mita Vashisht is impossibly ravishing and looks every bit the Urvashi whose curse would turn Arjun into a eunuch. The style is dazzling; the effect, hypnotic.

The sheer density of visual poetry per frame in the film is unprecedented. It is gloriously, glacially, majestically, powerfully, stunningly beautiful. It looks the way Nirmal Verma reads. NF finds it useful to think of Siddheshwari as a ninety minute long thumri music video with visuals so lavish and style so breathtaking that it'll turn Tarsem Singh, Chris Cunningham and their ilk green with envy. 

And what an inconceivable, perfect, even subversive ending that inverts, yet again, the identities of subject and object. The only other equally satisfying, artistically impeccable ending that shook NF to the bone was Kieślowski's Three Colours: Red's. Indeed, in terms of technique, the only valid comparisons to be made are those with Tarkovsky and Bela Tarr; and heavily biased as NF is, he feels the former's Stalker and Kubrick's 2001... to be the only films that are as visually powerful and formally accomplished. The magnitude of the achievement is every bit as stratospheric as Ray's Apu Trilogy - among the greatest that Indian cinema, arthouse or otherwise, has ever produced (though on an artistic spectrum, the farthest possible from Ray's Indian neorealism - quite self-consciously as it turns out; for Ray was famously dismissive of Kaul's "anaemic" and "aesthete" brand of filmmaking).

(For those who would think that Indian parallel cinema was a monolithic movement against formulaic, popular cinematic traditions will be sorely disappointed. Not only were there several parallel movements, there wasn't much love lost between them, though it is said that there were two towering masters - Ray and Ghatak - who along with their numerous disciples (Kaul and Shahani were supposedly in the Ghatak zone) dug themselves in two camps: neorealism (Ray) and non-neorealism (!) (Ghatak). Shyam Benegal and Govind Nihalani despaired over Kaul and Shahani's branding as 'parallel' filmmakers, Kaul thanked Ghatak for curing him of the 'disease' of realism.)

Normals and Tangents

This brings NF to the curious case of Amit Dutta who's fast become the Ted Chiang of avant garde filmmaking - a bona fide freak as far as prizes per unit artwork is concerned. His short FTII thesis film Kramashah (tr. To be continued/In sequence) was introduced to NF by Somnath Pal - an old friend and budding filmmaker whose fan NF's been for years. By the end of the film, NF sat thoroughly destroyed and completely bewildered by its sheer brilliance, being totally unable to get a handle on what the fuck it is and how the fuck is that even possible. 

Not many can take out 90 minutes to watch the dazzling brilliance that Siddheshwari is. But to not take out 20 minutes to sample how truly path breaking Kramashah is, is simply inexcusable. Here is the full film, with subtitles:

Siddheshwari however, is the rosetta stone that helps unlock Kramashah. While substantially original, it bears Kaul's distinct cinematic stamp - gorgeous shot selection; exquisite camerawork; a preoccupation with Indian folk tales and myths; elliptical, oblique dialogues and slightly out-of-phase whispers with their curious mix of literary and folk Hindi; and an unabashedly (for lack of a better word) avant garde sensibility that remains obdurately, authentically Indian. Kramashah could not have been possible without Siddheshwari in the same way Smells Like Teen Spirit would've been impossible without Surfer Rosa. This is not to deny Amit Dutta his fiery originality but to underscore that flying off a rooftop to aim for the moon often ends with you legs up in the garbage dump, as Rajat Kapoor's short Tarana (Kaul's Dhrupad's bad copy - that it won the National Award is a scandal!) reminds us. It took Rajat Kapoor twenty more years to craft an homage that is true to the spirit of his mentor in Ankhon Dekhi. NF admires his tenacity and persistence since most ordinary mortals would've jumped off a cliff after the embarrassment that Tarana is.

Amit Dutta (in general) and Kramashah (in particular) are spiritual successors of the legacy of Mani Kaul (in general) and Siddheshwari (in particular).

On a somewhat tangential note, Shahrukh Khan produced and Amol Palekar directed the remake of Mani Kaul's 1973 Duvidha, in turn adapted from the cult Rajasthani writer Vijaydan Detha's short story. The same SRK was no stranger to Kaul's art by the way. Back when he was a mere mortal, his repertoire of films comprised an incredibly artsy portfolio - ranging from Pradip Krishen's oddly titled (and somewhat pretentious, though don't just take NF's word for it) In Which Annie Gives It Those Ones (starring Arundhati Roy as the protagonist Annie), Ketan Mehta's Maya Memsaab and Mani-fucking-Kaul's Ahmak - an adaptation of Dostoyevsky's Idiot (no NF hasn't seen this yet). Here is a completely unbelievable news item from 1992 (archived from 2012) on Shahrukh Khan's then incipient rise and features this golden gem from SRK: 
"Yaar," he says, laying bare his carefree air, "shooting for Mani was something else. I didn't understand the movie but I loved the art film environment..."

Watch Kramashah, it's only 20 minutes long and is gloriously, unforgivably gorgeous. If it's up your alley, be fearless and take the plunge, for Siddheshwari is a high risk high return proposition - if it's a miss, you'll know it after having watched Kramashah, if it's not, it'll be a film you will never forget for it will paralyze you with its beauty. It will make a fan out of you of Mani Kaul, of his vision of avant garde cinema; and not least - of Siddheshwari Devi's mesmerizing art which you, like NF will begin listening to on a loop. Of so much ink that NF wasted in this post, not one sentence was about how Kaul uses Siddheshwari Devi's divine thumri to devastatingly good use. NF just hasn't developed the vocabulary for that. If you don't think you can watch Siddheshwari, just to sample what you've missed, watch this stellar, stellar scene where the guruji lays supine on this bed and plays the sarangi; and just observe how slowly, lovingly the camera moves around the room, as if sculpting in time.

For the brave and fearless, here is the full film (no subtitles though). Viva friggin' la!

Sunday, October 18, 2015

The Galactic Pot Dealer

A lot of people view Philip K Dick as a hack writer; and yes, there is a lot of merit to the argument. NF himself has been quoted a few times saying something to this effect. Mostly, the type of people who hold this view take writing as a craft very seriously and on a lower, sentence-by-sentence level, PKD is very hackish - no doubt about it. (A wonderful, perhaps apocryphal incident involves someone looking at a remarkably low quality pulp fiction journal and wondering who'd ever read it, to which PKD retorted that he was one of those who wrote it.) In fact, it's a common complaint against science fiction and fantasy writing in general, held presumably by those in the literary fiction camp, who are very self conscious about what they're writing - sometimes so much so that they go to great lengths to make their prose rather ugly and/or purposely un-self conscious. 

However, there are times when PKD breaks through his self limitations of uninspiring writing, vapid dialogue and plot-twists-of-varying-degrees-of-efficacy. One may wonder how much of it is a mere law of large numbers (he wrote 44 novels - at least once every year) and how much is truly great writing. 

As someone who's read more than his fair share of PKD, NF was taken aback at rereading a classic - The Man in the High Castle - an alternate history so well realized that it's hard to believe that it's by the same writer who wrote The Man Who Japed or Galactic Pot-Healer or Game Players of Titan or several other really forgettable works, whose plotlines NF has dutifully forgotten, with only murky, vague, not-so-agreeable remnant impressions. 

However, when PKD does manage to make magic happen, the impact is enormous. NF has powerful memories of reading Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, Ubik and A Scanner Darkly - incredibly high quality fiction - all of which NF enjoyed thoroughly. He's more confused about his later writing - The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch and The Transmigration of Timothy Archer - he didn't enjoy them so much (the latter particularly), despite their undeniable literary merit.

All this is also curious because it shows that a description on a lower level (sentence-by-sentence level hack writing, which PKD is guilty of) can be totally overturned or may be wholly inadequate to describe the same system at a higher level (the big, complex philosophical themes that PKD often writes about). Indeed PKD's oeuvre, when viewed from this higher vantage point has much more merit than a lower level description based on mere literary qualities will suggest.

This "phase change", so to say, is common in physics and is by now a firmly established part of modern science where it goes by the name of emergence. Lower level descriptions don't segue continuously into higher level descriptions. That's why knowing physics doesn't automatically make you a good biologist. That's why phenomenology is not reducible to morphology. That's why David Foster Wallace said "Fiction's about what it is to be a fucking human being." 

NF would like to see some emergent literary criticism take shape, where the critic pays close attention to which level in the overall hierarchy the writer is being critiqued at. Perhaps an $n$-tuple of scores may be assigned to each writer, ranging from lower to higher levels. PKD will get really low scores for lower levels but high scores at higher levels to compensate for mere bad writing. A similar fate awaits Dostoyevsky, though he will outscore PKD at all levels (a uniformly better writer in a mathematical sense). This however, is not the same as multidimensional scoring, though the operation will be mathematically similar. 

Will this ever be a part of mainstream literary criticism? Will you want lit crit to be done this way? Is this a regressive way to look at literature? Is it even desirable? Won't the ghost of Robin Williams haunt your dreams yelling Carpe fuckin' Diem

Not sure, though PKD could definitely tell an engaging story where it was being done all along until some misfit stumbled upon this alternate reality on the very last page.

Thursday, October 08, 2015

Even Pitchfork Swears By It

In a brilliant, incisive, all-over-excellent piece, the incredible Rob Sheffield celebrates Kid A's 15th birthday in Rolling Stone. Here's the full article: How Radiohead Shocked the World: A 15th-Anniversary Salute to 'Kid A'.

It's a terrific essay and thank heavens that much like pornography, you know great writing when you see it.

Examples: Here's the confusion that swept over devoted fans:
Whether you loved or hated Kid A, it gave undeniable entertainment value. All through the miserable fall of 2000, the debates raged on. Is it a masterpiece? A hype? A compendium of clichés? Will it stand the test of time? Why aren't "Knives Out" or "You and What Army" on this album? Where'd you park the car? Is Al Gore blowing it on purpose? Why didn't the umpires toss Clemens after he threw the bat? Where's "Pyramid Song"? Who let the dogs out? When is the second half of this album coming out — you know, the half with the actual Radiohead songs? How did they get away with that in Florida? Is this really happening?
Understandably, there was initial bewilderment and backlash: 
The funniest review came from Select, the best Britpop mag of the era: "What do they want for sounding like the Aphex Twin circa 1993, a medal?"
However, only Radiohead could pull it off:
That was part of the romance of loving Radiohead — this band always did have a tendency to over-egg the pudding. I mean, if the trees you're singing about are "plastic," you probably don't need to add that they're also "fake," least of all in the title. But it's that hyper-adolescent overstatement that makes the "fake plaaa-haaastic trees" line — and the song title, and the song — so emotionally powerful. "Fake Plastic Trees" would have been easier to take if it had been called "Green Plastic Trees" or "Blue Vinyl Trees" or something — more subtle, more adult, more intelligent. But it would have been a lesser song... 
At that point, it seemed like Radiohead were the only Nineties band left who still wanted to be a Nineties band —
The entire article glows with several such rare gems and has been casually, effortlessly sprinkled with deep observations about the then ascendant alternative scene.

Do read the whole thing.

(Those who know NF personally, are probably aware that he's a massive, massive fan of Radiohead in general and Kid A in particular. Indeed it was Kid A that personally got NF through six weeks of his only foray into real life inside a Fremont cubicle. (He'd listen to it on a loop and would often gaze longingly at the clock, willing it to tick faster.)

Sadly though, Radiohead is his only favorite band he hasn't seen live yet. (GY!BE check, Mogwai check, Pixies check.) Circumstances seem to be conspiring to make this permanently so. Boo.)

This is how journalism is meant to be. Read the piece and feel its pulse. It's alive and it'll kick some serious ass yet.

Monday, September 21, 2015

लाला के लिए

I just finished revisiting Jani Dushman: Ek Anokhi Kahani and have revised my estimate of this film. I must admit that I was taken aback and was compelled to write to you. I beseech you, implore you, simply beg you to rewatch this film at the earliest. Be cautious though, for you may laugh so hard that Michael will need to call 911. There is more per frame WTFuckery in this film than I ever recall. Per. Fuckin'. Frame. And the megastarcast and their massive indifference to fate of this woebegone adventure is an experience to remember.

Please Lala, you have to do this.

Saturday, September 19, 2015

The Brooklyn Classic

NF recommends this brilliant piece highly, while somewhere (lurking in the dark corners of cyberspace) the eminently wry William Gibson chuckles; and Tyler Cowen approves. Read the full piece at Meet the Hottest Restaurant of 2081.

Here's some sampling to whet your appetite:
Nova's exquisitely perfect reproductions of extinct fish are years beyond any other plant-based replication of seafood in the last decade—revealed him as a trailblazer in the medium of engineered protein.
Savor this:
... rumors are that with his second revivalist restaurant, Nova is pushing beyond optimized protein to a new horizon, one that has been uncharted for years: real meat.
Here are snippets from the interview with the Master Chef: 
What I wanted to get back to again was this period of a certain kind of casual luxury, an era where everyone could afford to be inefficient, when eating meat was normal and natural, and we're taking the re-creation of that culture very seriously... 
You'll even get the bill written down on paper—we found a lot of these GREAT vintage Moleskine pads, very period—and you'll pay a separate small fee, like twenty percent, to the servers if they do a good job.
Very Gibsonian indeed! Do read the whole thing.

Saturday, September 12, 2015


Satyajit Ray and Ravi Shankar on the sets of Pather Panchali

Hats off to The Wire, where in a wonderfully penned article, Sharmila Tagore remembers her mentor Satyajit Ray's overwhelming genius on the 60th anniversary of Pather Panchali: What Satyajit Ray Left Us Is An Inheritance of Endless Possibilities. It's a rich, highly-erudite-yet-warm piece, peppered with intelligent observations and personal recollections. What a pleasant surprise to discover that one of the finest Indian actresses could also be such an astute, engaging writer! 

Satyajit Ray, of course, remains one of NF's all time favorite personal heroes (this list also includes Nirmal Verma and Girish Karnad) and he obstinately holds on to his old opinion that if all of Indian cinema were to be lost with just one exception - The Apu Trilogy - we wouldn't have lost much. 

Do read, if only to see how charmingly Sharmila Tagore writes. Highly recommended!

Saturday, September 05, 2015


NF has just gotten off binge watching four season 1 episodes of the web original, overnight IMDB phenom, mini series: TVF Pitchers, and boy, is it stunning! 

The show is about the much vaunted startup scene in India, in particular around Powai, Mumbai (wouldn't Bangalore have been a better choice? Oh well...) and not only does it look real and is very funny (the first episode: Tu Beer Hai (tr. You Are Beer) being a great example); it can also flaunt dramatic complexity and nuance when it wants to. Here's a longer, more in-depth review at Huff Po India: The Viral Fever's New Web Series Is About India's Frenzied Start-Up Scene.

It's also stylish, slick, and looks really fuckin' cool. 

The main actor is that same writer boy from Sulemani Keeda, which, come to think of it, occupies a very similar space in recent Hindie ventures. Its casting (including a very edgy, intense cameo by the ever awesome Rajesh Sharma), acting, writing, production values etc. are far beyond what you'd expect from a web original - in fact, it looks and feels better than anything on Indian TV. 

And of course, any self respecting series about engineering graduates must have a Sourav Mondal character  - and what a great campy, fun Saurabh Mandal (from IIM Indore lest you forget) we get to see! 

@ Ra and SatyaVrat: You guys've got to comment on what's your take on this!

It starts here on Youtube. Do, do watch!

Friday, September 04, 2015

गुड गौली मिस बौली

नंफ़ : जैसे हिंदी फिल्मों में अक्सर हीरो, हीरोइन से प्यार करने का नाटक करते करते उसे सचमुच चाहने लगते हैं, मैं बॉलीवुड के बारे में बिलकुल वैसा महसूस करता हूँ.

... : ...

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Where Avant-Garde Meets Après-Garde...

... in that confluence lies Bajrangi Bhaijan, displaying the breathtaking, awe-inspiring, sheer power of pure Bollywood.

And why the fuck is no one talking about the art direction and mise en scène of the film? What a heady, potent mix of all styles - from naturalistic to kitsch; from interesting steadicam angles to '80s production designs; with a nod to old DD visual styles thrown in for good measure - often in the same damn scene! Who knew Kabir Khan was such a bag of goodies? 

Again, why the fuck is nobody writing about this aspect of the film in their reviews? 

To all design geeks: "Is it nothing to you, all ye that pass by?"

Sunday, August 23, 2015

पॉप क्विज़

बाबू पुरानालाल अपने नाम के विपरीत, कुछ ख़ास पुराने विचारों के आदमी नहीं थे. यही नहीं, उन्होंने क़रीब दस साल विलायत में भी गुज़ारे थे, जहाँ उन्हें कुछ विशेष दौलत शौहरत तो नहीं, पर घर वापसी पर एक ऊँची पैठ जमाने को ज़रूर मिल गयी थी. 

घर वापसी के बाद बाबू पुरानालाल देश के प्रति कुछ ख़ास जज़्बाती हो गए हों, ऐसा भी नहीं था. लेकिन ये ज़रूर था कि देश में उनके बड़े अच्छे दिन बीते. वे अपने काम में रूचि लेते थे, लोग उनका आम तौर पे सम्मान करते थे - और हाँ, उनकी बेहद पकाऊ और पेशाबी शख़्सियत के कारण उनका कोई दुश्मन वगैरह भी नहीं था. उनसे कभी आप पूछते तो वह यही कहते कि आम तौर पे वह अपनी ज़िन्दगी से संतुष्ट हैं, और उनके अधिकांश दिन बड़े आराम और मज़े में कटते हैं.

जब तट पर पानी बढ़ने लगा और लहरें इतनी ऊंची उठने लगीं कि अमीरों को अपनी मौज में खलल पड़ती मालूम हुई तब उनके कई दोस्तों, भाई-बहनों और रिश्तेदारों ने दूसरे देशों में पलायन करना शुरू कर दिया। कुछ सालों बाद बात इतनी बढ़ गयी कि खुद बाबू पुरानालाल के बच्चों ने भी खुद को विदेश के लिए रवाना होता पाया और अपने अड़ियल बाप से गुहार की कि वो भी देश से निकल लें. लेकिन बाबू पुरानालाल टाल गए - हँसते हुए कहने लगे - "अब जब सारे एलीट देश छोड़ के जा रहे हैं तो सत्ता की खींचतान में कम्पटीशन कम होगा - मेरे लिए तो यहीं बेहतर है."

कई दशकों बाद भी विदेश में सेटल्ड बाबू पुरानालाल की संतानें अपने बच्चों को बाबूजी की देशभक्ति की कहानियां सुनाते पायी जा सकती थीं. 


क्या बाबू पुरानालाल देशभक्त थे? क्यों? अथवा क्यों नहीं? सविस्तार जवाब दीजिये (10 अंक)

Friday, August 21, 2015

Bombay Velvet...

... is breathtakingly boring. 


Thought of the Day

"Depression is melancholy minus its charms."
Susan Sontag, great purveyor of all things Hungarian.

Monday, August 17, 2015

रगों में दौड़ते फिरने के...

रात के 3 बज रहे हैं और तुम इस मटियाले अँधेरे में एक ओर बड़े गौर से देख रहे हो. "क्या ऊब गए हैं", "कुछ तो नया करना है", "कुछ एक्साइटिंग करूंगा... कुछ मस्त", "बहुत हो गया तुमरा आलस ससुर!", "नया, एक्साइटिंग, इंटेंस… ज़बरदस्त!"

तुम गौर से देखते हो, उलटते पलटते हो.… मुस्कुराते हो: "हाँ यार, यही करूंगा, बढ़िया आईडिया है"; और उत्साह में: "वाह लड़के क्या खूब सोचा है!"

पीटर नदास की पैरेलल स्टोरीज़ (समानान्तर कथाएँ), जिसे तुम स्ट्रैंड से 8 रूपये में एक दर्दनाक सेल में जूनूनवश खरीद लाये थे . 

(अट्ठारह साल का) भार महसूस करते हो - बकौल ए के हंगल, इस से भारी बोझ, "बाप के कन्धों पर बेटे का जनाज़ा", बस यही हो सकता है.  

और सो दे से.

Saturday, July 04, 2015

Imaginary (Sao Paulo) Memories


NF: Of course it's a market thing!
CK: ...
NF: Look, it's all part of the same general mechanism - there are markets where prices do all the work - the stock exchanges! Then there are markets where standardization has resulted in fungibility - say the commodities market. You don't care whom you buy from - you post a price and everyone who's selling a special type of, say wheat, will sell. The reason one price works in this case is because standardization means low variance in the quality of the product.
CK: <*bored*> ...
NF: However, there are some markets where prices are not enough - say the markets for schools, or organ donations - and yes marriage.
CK: ...
NF: You don't seem convinced. Allow me to quote Alvin Roth - one of my heroes:
Marriage is very much a matching market. You care who you’re matched to, and you can’t just choose who you want to be matched to; your proposal has to be accepted. And, yes, while prices play a role in so many things, a marriage is a very complex relational contract and it’s hard to specify it with prices. 
Many, many markets are not decided only by prices. And there are some markets where we don’t allow prices to play a role at all.
CK: ...
NF: ...
CK: But what about love?
NF: Ha! What an intriguing notion... how amusing indeed!

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Trinity No More

John Nash, along with his wife, were killed in a car crash in New Jersey. (Link)

This brings an end to a great, most eventful life. The other two members of the 'trinity' of game theory: Lloyd Shapley and Bob Aumann are not getting any younger either, with only the latter being in good health and active at work.

Bob Aumann, on numerous occasions (the latest being in Sao Paolo, with NF in attendance) referred to himself as "a humble servant", Shapley as the "high priest"; and Nash as the "god" of game theory. 

Perhaps no fitter tribute can be paid. 

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Heard it Through the Grapevine

NF: Hey you're here early?
ES: ...
NF: Well, I was about to clean up. You will have to excuse the mess.
ES: ...
NF: <*wears a guilty look*>
ES: Don't worry. This will not, and cannot change my opinion of you.
NF: ...
ES: It just cannot sink any lower.
NF: <*with throat choked with emotion*> That... means so much to me. Thanks!

Thursday, April 30, 2015

The White Ribbon

The air felt thick, pregnant with the sickly sweet smell of the memory that flooded The Boy and overwhelmed his senses. He could almost see those voluptuous bovine udders sway gently in the mild breeze atop the meadows - their slow, graceful motion redolent of those interminable, lazy afternoons when he and The Girl would lay side by side and gaze at the pendulous bulk wordlessly for hours.

The Boy stood at that same vacant spot now, gazing emptily in that general direction, vaguely aware of the absence of those divine appendages, whose mere presence once held some mysterious hold over his imagination. And while he stood uneasy, unable to perceive the cause of his own disomfiture, in the kitchen a mere few yards away, were being carved out those same udders in the service of his discerning palate - ready to gratify, to seduce The Boy's not inconsiderable appetite for all things flesh.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

This Court Shall Not Be Adjourned

Everyone, please join NF in congratulating his old chum Somnath Pal on the continued success of the film Court, in which he was the Production Designer/Art Director. 

This time it's the National Film Awards where yesterday it won the main prize - the Best Fuckin' Film! 

It's also being released on April 17th all over India - NF urges everyone to please go see it and transform it from a worldwide arthouse triumph to an indie financial success!

Here's the Wikipedia page for the film: Court.

Here is the ever awesome on the film's win at the National Film awards: 'Court' wins National Film Award as it gears up for its theatrical release.

Here is the news item in Huffington Post India: 'Queen', 'Haider', and 'Court' Amongst Winners At 62nd National Film Awards.

Friday, March 06, 2015

(Not-so) Miniscule Musings

  1. The flowering of Pakistani writing in English post-2000 has coincided with the most brutal and destructive period in its political history. While such exquisite writing, when juxtaposed with the banality of barbaric, homegrown militants terrorizing the nation and the world at large may seem grotesque, this apparent conflict perhaps, has contributed to making this new wave so darkly funny. The Latin American boom of the '70s and the worldwide success of Indian writing in English in the '80s and '90s fall into similar categories (the '80s being in particular, incredibly violent, unstable and in general the most depressing decade in modern Indian history). All bear the hallmarks of an elite upper class, expressing in their own unique-yet-not-dissimilar writing, their black humor laden magical realist take on the sense of general hopelessness.

    This past month NF read two fabulous books - The Reluctant Fundamentalist and A Case of Exploding Mangoes - by Mohsin Hamid and Mohammad Hanif respectively. These two, along with Daniyal Mueenuddin (whose book of short stories In Other Rooms, Other Wonders, a few years ago, had received such adulatory, gushing, cluttered-with-superlatives praise that NF was totally overwhelmed) and Kamila Shamsie (the Big Four) are among the hottest writers these days. The Reluctant Fundamentalist is exquisite, clever yet sincere; and A Case of Exploding Mangoes is just savagely, bitterly funny. 

    Cheers to more fiction from the other side of the border! Bravo, you guys!

  2. Carla Miriam Levy (aka Filmi Geek) continues to produce outstanding film reviews of old Hindi films. Here is her take on Vijay Anand's mastery of the suspense genre as reflected in two of his finest films: Jewel Thief and Teesri Manzil. Much like the super contentious, never resolved debate on who's the best: Lata or Asha (an issue very much alive even in Pakistan, as we are reminded by Mohammad Hanif in A Case of Exploding Mangoes, where this question keeps cropping up in the most unexpected circumstances), old Hindi film fans (yours truly included) have long debated on which one is the best Vijay Anand film (though a tiny minority sticks with Guide). She is unable to pick one over the other although her indecision should in no way stop you from reading her excellent review. (For those who're curious, NF's always voted for Jewel Thief.)

  3. While this must be old news, NF can't help but share it (he'd been planning to do so for a few weeks now, but reality interfered with his plans, as always). Here's a particularly juicy excerpt:

    "A Marxist group called Kakumei-teki himote doumei (“Revolutionary Alliance of Men That Woman Are Not Attracted To”) is calling on supporters to march against the [Valentine's Day] holiday in Tokyo’s Shibuya district."

    As NF quietly wipes his tears off and throws his (rather insignificant) weight behind these guys (ganbatte kudasai, you guys!), he can't but help noticing the radical way in which technology has disrupted the dating market. 

    While the norm in most societies a century or so ago had been marriages arranged by families (half of humanity still practises this custom) more material wealth, longer lifespans and emphasis on individuality and human freedom, especially in the West, have meant freedom from familial control over whom to date and/or eventually marry. 

    Until now that is.

    The incredible explosion in online dating (almost all single people NF knows are on it - apparently, from anecdotal evidence (!) this trend is more pronounced in Europe than it is in North America) and AI assisted matching algorithms has, in NF's opinion, created a paradigm shift in understanding the evolution of human mating rituals. 

    From an economisty point of view, the AI assisted dating market is much more efficient (jargonically, a Pareto superior correlated equilibrium allocation) and is clearly better than relying on (somewhat) random allocations of imperfect singnaling games played in highly uncertain conditions. However, isn't AI assisted matching and eventual marriage another form of (AI) arranged marriage, in which humans have ceded their freedom to sophisticated AIs who recommend who's better matched to whom? In this light, weren't scheming parents of old, mere prototypical, crude, highly imperfect, sometimes even spiteful matching algorithms on two legs? Is the era of arranged matchmaking back? And should we even be mourning the demise of wild, potentially risky, hormone mediated encounters with strangers?

    There is this beautiful SF story out there waiting to be written about this Brave New World. If it were the Gilded Age, NF would commission Ted Chiang to tell that story. It would be simple, it would be beautiful and it would fill you with a childlike wonderment at our current pregnant-with-new-possibilities state of affairs.