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 planning to do so for a few weeks now, but reality interfered with his plans, as always). Here's an 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 - prototypical, crude, highly imperfect 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.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

टौर-टस/कछुओं के लिए

देखो कैसे चढ़ते धड़ धड़ 
बस में कछुओं के झुण्ड 
पीठें भारी, दबे तले  
झुके बिचारे मुंड 
फिर भी हँसते हैं 
फ़ब्तियाँ कसते हैं 
धकियाओ चाहे जितना 
टस से ना मसते हैं 

कभी-कभी कितने इंसानी लगते हैं 
ये बच्चे भी!

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

More Miniscule Musings

  • As a heartfelt 'thank you' to their Soviet once-overlords and for being subjected to their magnanimous, random-acts-of-senseless-kindness over several decades, this Polish town decided to give back - by means of a wonderful, charming statue of the great Vladimir Ilyich. (Apparently it's even become a tourist attraction now.) Here is the news item and the statue in question

    Now chuckle to your heart's content!

  • Jon Stewart's leaving The Daily Show! As a long time fan, this is a little surprising, though not completely unexpected (NF and Vatsa were among the show's audience once with Jennifer Aniston as guest). Of late, the show was losing its edge, the writing seemed halfhearted and its thunder was stolen by the Stephen Colberts and John Olivers. However, credit must be given to Jon Stewart's championing of a new form of journalism; and for showing that farce, absurdism and satire can be as potent as serious investigative reportage.

  • The Grand Budapest Hotel employs all the by-now-classic stamps of a Wes Anderson handiwork - a fairy-tailish setting; children as miniature adults and adults as oversized children; precious character pieces that you can't not adore etc. etc. - but it leaves you feeling cold. True, it's his most visually arresting film and the art direction is stunning; but in the end it feels more a triumph of style over substance. This is especially true if The Grand Budapest... is compared to Anderson's oeuvre as a whole which includes the absolutely delightful Rushmore, The Royal Tenenbaums, The Darjeeling Limited and the likes. However, as one of NF's favorite filmmakers, this film's success in the prize/festival circuit can't help but please NF.

    Cheers!

  • Here is an excellent, well written profile of Walter Pitts - an early AI trailblazer - focusing on the human interest angle of scientific research and the sad, true story of his incredible, raw talent and his homeless-to-genius-to-alcoholic-to-penniless-dead-guy life trajectory. Also starring as main villain, is Norbert Weiner's wife Margaret, whose machinations would make Lalita Pawar proud.

  • A portrait of the mathematician as a hero: This is the New Yorker's profile of Yitang Zhang - the mathematician who put a finite bound on the prime number gap (the bound in question being 70 million). NF has written about his amazing achievement before, especially his dogged pursuit of the problem despite being brutally, brutally underemployed for several decades.

    If you can look past the very dramatic, filmy-with-bordering-on-the-hagiographic profile (imagine a lonely genius looking through a rain drenched window dreamily etc. type stereotypes) it comes across as surprisingly informative and well researched. NF can personally vouch for Zhang's self effacing, shy but very funny personality since he had the honor of attending his talk at Stony Brook last year. (An example of his shy, somewhat deadpan sense of humor was seen in a post-talk question to the effect that "You proved prime gaps are finite but why did you give a (ridiculously high) bound of 70 million?" Zhang was quiet for a few seconds and then smiled and said softly: "I was tired.")

  • It is very, very heartening to see Bill and Melinda Gates win the Padma Bhushan this year. The Gates' Foundation has done incredibly good work, not just in India but all over the developing world. Personally, NF has been cheering on this new avatar of Bill Gates for some years now and if within the next few decades Bill and Melinda Gates don't win the Nobel Peace Prize, one could be forgiven for thinking that only the future Henry Kissingers are under contention, for having underperformed against their yearly evil benchmark.

Sunday, February 01, 2015

The Reading List: 2014 (Feb '14 to Jan '15)

List of books read during the last year:
  1. Neuromancer (William Gibson) (reread)
  2. Count Zero (William Gibson) (reread)
  3. The Marriage Plot (Jeffrey Eugenides)
  4. Mona Lisa Overdrive (William Gibson) (reread)
  5. Disgrace (J M Coetzee)
  6. पंद्रह पाँच पचहत्तर (गुलज़ार) (tr. Fifteen Five Seventy-Five (Gulzar))
  7. Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman (Haruki Murakami)
  8. Dr Zhivago (Boris Pasternak) (reread)
  9. The Hobbit (JRR Tolkien)
  10. Sharaz De: Tales from the Arabian Nights (Sergio Toppi)
  11. Artemis Fowl (Eoin Colfer)
  12. Artemis Fowl: The Arctic Incident (Eoin Colfer)
  13. Libra (Don DeLillo)
  14. Artemis Fowl: The Eternity Code (Eoin Colfer)
  15. पीली छतरी वाली लड़की (उदय प्रकाश) (tr. The Girl with the Yellow Parasol (Uday Prakash))
  16. Artemis Fowl: The Opal Deception (Eoin Colfer)
  17. Artemis Fowl: The Lost Colony (Eoin Colfer)
  18. Artemis Fowl: The Time Paradox (Eoin Colfer)
  19. Holy Fire (Bruce Sterling)
  20. Artemis Fowl: The Atlantis Complex (Eoin Colfer)
  21. और अंत में प्रार्थना (उदय प्रकाश) (tr. And Prayer in the End (Uday Prakash))
  22. Artemis Fowl: The Last Guardian (Eoin Colfer)
  23. Autobiography of a Corpse (Sigizmund Khrzhizhanovsky)
  24. Breakfast of Champions (Kurt Vonnegut)
  25. The Maltese Falcon (Dashiell Hammett)
  26. तुग़लक़ (गिरीश कर्नाड) (tr. Tughlaq (Girish Karnad))
  27. Dubliners (James Joyce)
  28. अग्नि और बरखा (गिरीश कर्नाड) (tr. Fire and Rain (Girish Karnad))
  29. India: A Million Mutinies Now (VS Naipaul)
  30. The Black Company (Glen Cook)
  31. American Pastoral (Philip Roth)
  32. A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (James Joyce)
  33. Dance, Dance, Dance (Haruki Murakami)
  34. The Eye of the World (Robert Jordan)
  35. जूठन (ओमप्रकाश वाल्मीकि) (tr. Leftovers (Omprakash Valmiki))
The prospects of reading heavily in the next year are going to take a severe downward hit. NF thinks the numbers for 2015 might be in the 15-20 range <*shudders*>.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Bleg

NF strongly enjoins all those reading this to please pitch in and start a scholarship fund to immortalize the legacy of this forgotten, yet incredible sportsman

If enough of us mobilize, our contributions could be declared tax deductible. Please do support us in this worthy campaign!

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Miniscule Musings

  • In what continues to be NF's morbid fascination with brutal, genocidal regimes (which, admittedly doesn't augur well for his state of mind in the long run), here is another brick in the wall.

    Just when you finished the three blood soaked volumes of The Gulag Archipelago, thought you knew all about the Soviet horror show (starring the Gardener of Human Happiness, Stalin himself) and began to act blasé, you come across yet another forgotten gem that teaches you the virtues of humility. See for instance the article Comrade Stalin's Secret Prison at Open Democracy (Russia section) and shudder all over again at the 'torture dacha' Sukhanovskaya (apparently there were 52 different kinds of tortures perfected there) - not hidden away in some half forgotten Siberian tundra but perched atop a Moscow suburb! Many legendary people passed through its gates (the bloodthirsty Yezhov met his end there himself!) though hardly any are left to wax nostalgic about their wonder years there. Here are some cherry-picked gems from the fantastic piece:

  • Executed prisoners’ ashes were usually either used as potash fertiliser, thrown into the sewers or dumped on a city waste tip.
  • Some prisoners who were classified as not only ‘enemies of the people’ but also ‘personal enemies of Stalin’ were beaten up one last time before their death. “Before he’s off to the other world – smash his face in!”  He [Beria] loved visiting Sukhanovka and had his own office there, with a personal lift to take him down to the cellars to take part in interrogations.’ 
  • (According to the historian Lidia Golovkova) Which regime does Lidia Golovkova think was worse: Stalin’s or Hitler’s? ‘I think they learned from each other. For example, the special prison trucks that were used to transport prisoners, where the exhaust pipes were turned inwards and the occupants died of carbon monoxide poisoning on their way to the crematorium – those were invented by the Soviet Cheka. The Nazis were just perfecting the technology when they installed gas chambers in the death camps.’
Just the way Tarkovsky learned from Bergman - right?
  • NF's old friend and animator-in-chief Somnath Pal is discussed in the supremely cool Kyoorius design mag! (Hat-tip: Bejin Hakumei.) Also featured are his stunning artworks and formidable skills in name-dropping that would warm the cockles of Nirmal-fuckin'-Verma's heart. Do read the entire piece here: Somnath Pal: Freezing Stories into Frames.

  • Courtesy, The Believer magazine, here is an excellent example of long form journalism (something that's now being revived in India by the incredibly awesome The Caravan magazine) about Ramanujan - his lost notebook, his batshit crazy genius and obnoxious habit of writing down pithy answers to seemingly never-to-be-asked-in-the-near-future questions (though in his defence, they were composed under divine duress). Overall, a very well written piece, though alarmingly radioactive levels of exotica make their appearance, especially when the writer goes to SASTRA and Erode, Ramanujan's birthplace. Here is the piece in full: Encounter With the Infinite.

  • The ever-excellent Scroll.in continues to produce astounding reportage. Here they opine on the finest five Hindi books of 2014 -  an idiosyncratic, somewhat middle-of-the-road non avant garde based list which also features the veteran hardboiled writer Surender Mohan Pathak's latest! 

    NF's salivating already!

  • While NF has been a fan in general of Anurag Kashyap and his brand of Hindie filmmaking, his output, admittedly has been a little uneven, especially when it comes to his inability to tie together brilliant sequences of scenes into a coherent, cohesive, narrative whole (this problem is at its most vexing in Gulaal). In general, NF would quibble sometimes with his self indulgent, 'style over substance' filmmaking when in one of his bad moods. 

    Ugly however, is ironically enough, a breath of fresh air! It gets everything right - the style is just right and the script oozes substance - tight, indie filmmaking at its best. Do watch it and be amazed at how radically modern Hindi cinema has emerged from its populist trappings.



Tuesday, December 23, 2014

More Good News From The Prime Number Front


The picture of Paul Erdos with a ten year old Terence Tao thinking over a problem will make your day! (See story link.)

Friday, December 12, 2014

Brief Interludes With Hideous Men

NF's corporeal form will be locatable in Lucknow from December 13th to January 7th. Those who can, please drop by to say hello.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

A Golden Age

This is a post that's been around two months in the making. It would've started off simply enough - as a gushing, celebratory, fanboyish review of Rajat Kapoor's Ankhon Dekhi, of how stunning, brilliant and even more, extremely important the film is - perhaps the closest Hindi cinema has ever veered off to achieving perfection. None of the above is hyperbole, Ankhon Dekhi is probably among the greatest Hindi films NF's seen - don't be fooled by its disarming simplicity, its modest understatedness, its charming parochialism - and while the chest-thumping, self-important mantle of "genuinely great" is a weight too heavy to be borne on Ankhon Dekhi's lithe shoulders, this self effacing beauty is definitely Rajat Kapoor's towering masterpiece - a career that has given us the fabulous Raghu Romeo and Mithya before. Its stellar ending and philosophical scope make it a fitting tribute to Rajat Kapoor's mentors and the most famous abstract Hindi filmmakers nobody's ever heard of - Mani Kaul and Kumar Shahani.

If only it were all so simple! As time went by the post became longer and more complex, acquiring a shape and scope so vast that capturing it gave NF the howling fantods ('the jitters' in non DFW speak). Adding to the complexity was series of powerful, jaw dropping Hindi films NF was floored by, including Ritesh Batra's The Lunchbox (a staggering achievement, breathtakingly beautiful - pure cinema at its best! Along with Ankhon Dekhi, it should be a serious contender for being in the all time greatest); Hansal Mehta's Shahid (spare, lean and absolutely devastating); and Ashim Ahluwalia's Miss Lovely (which has to be seen to be believed - a moody, abstract, arthouse take on the seedy world of underground Hindi horror/porno cinema of the '80s - glorious, dazzling, blisteringly intense).

And the hits they never stopped coming. Should this forever-being-planned post contain references to the dark BA Pass (is it a demented pastiche of/homage to The Graduate?); the paradigm shifting, path breaking Shuddh Desi Romance; the charming, simple but groundbreaking sisters English Vinglish and Queen; the delightful, just delightful Hansee to Phansee

NF's epic post was crushed under the heavy burden of chronicling the genius of our new Hindi cinema. But it's the kind of premature death he is willing to celebrate! Hindi cinema has never been so fearless, has never had it so good, has never wallowed in such surfeit of new, exciting talent. We're living in a Golden Age and like all such ages this one won't last forever but while its does, let's unite in singing paeans to its new set of wings!

Cheers! 

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

God is Dead

Grothendieck died on Nov 13th - five full days ago - and no sign of the apocalypse just yet!

Here is his obituary in The Telegraph. Here is another fine tribute by Steven Landsburg, an economist-mathematician at U Rochester.

NF doesn't feel qualified enough to add his two cents except to state the obvious: that Grothendieck was a stunning, staggering genius - easily among the greatest of mathematicians humanity has ever produced - our Newton, our Gauss of the twentieth century.

Here is Grothendieck's own assessment of his contributions (courtesy, Steven Landsburg and Roy Lisker):
Most mathematicians take refuge within a specific conceptual framework, in a “Universe” which seemingly has been fixed for all time – basically the one they encountered “ready-made” at the time when they did their studies. They may be compared to the heirs of a beautiful and capacious mansion in which all the installations and interior decorating have already been done, with its living-rooms , its kitchens, its studios, its cookery and cutlery, with everything in short, one needs to make or cook whatever one wishes. How this mansion has been constructed, laboriously over generations, and how and why this or that tool has been invented (as opposed to others which were not), why the rooms are disposed in just this fashion and not another – these are the kinds of questions which the heirs don’t dream of asking . It’s their “Universe”, it’s been given once and for all! It impresses one by virtue of its greatness, (even though one rarely makes the tour of all the rooms) yet at the same time by its familiarity, and, above all, with its immutability.
When they concern themselves with it at all, it is only to maintain or perhaps embellish their inheritance: strengthen the rickety legs of a piece of furniture, fix up the appearance of a facade, replace the parts of some instrument, even, for the more enterprising, construct, in one of its workshops, a brand new piece of furniture. Putting their heart into it, they may fabricate a beautiful object, which will serve to embellish the house still further.
Much more infrequently, one of them will dream of effecting some modification of some of the tools themselves, even, according to the demand, to the extent of making a new one. Once this is done, it is not unusual for them make all sorts of apologies, like a pious genuflection to traditional family values, which they appear to have affronted by some far-fetched innovation.
The windows and blinds are all closed in most of the rooms of this mansion, no doubt from fear of being engulfed by winds blowing from no-one knows where. And, when the beautiful new furnishings, one after another with no regard for their provenance, begin to encumber and crowd out the space of their rooms even to the extent of pouring into the corridors, not one of these heirs wish to consider the possibility that their cozy, comforting universe may be cracking at the seams. Rather than facing the matter squarely, each in his own way tries to find some way of accommodating himself, one squeezing himself in between a Louis XV chest of drawers and a rattan rocking chair, another between a moldy grotesque statue and an Egyptian sarcophagus, yet another who, driven to desperation climbs, as best he can, a huge heterogeneous collapsing pile of chairs and benches!
The little picture I’ve just sketched is not restricted to the world of the mathematicians. It can serve to illustrate certain inveterate and timeless situations to be found in every milieu and every sphere of human activity, and (as far as I know) in every society and every period of human history. I made reference to it before , and I am the last to exempt myself: quite to the contrary, as this testament well demonstrates. However I maintain that, in the relatively restricted domain of intellectual creativity, I’ve not been affected by this conditioning process, which could be considered a kind of ‘cultural blindness’ – an incapacity to see (or move outside) the “Universe” determined by the surrounding culture.
I consider myself to be in the distinguished line of mathematicians whose spontaneous and joyful vocation it has been to be ceaseless building new mansions. 
We are the sort who, along the way, can’t be prevented from fashioning, as needed, all the tools, cutlery, furnishings and instruments used in building the new mansion, right from the foundations up to the rooftops, leaving enough room for installing future kitchens and future workshops, and whatever is needed to make it habitable and comfortable. However once everything has been set in place, down to the gutters and the footstools, we aren’t the kind of worker who will hang around, although every stone and every rafter carries the stamp of the hand that conceived it and put it in its place.
The rightful place of such a worker is not in a ready-made universe, however accommodating it may be, whether one that he’s built with his own hands, or by those of his predecessors. New tasks forever call him to new scaffoldings, driven as he is by a need that he is perhaps alone to fully respond to. He belongs out in the open. He is the companion of the winds and isn’t afraid of being entirely alone in his task, for months or even years or, if it should be necessary, his whole life, if no-one arrives to relieve him of his burden. He, like the rest of the world, hasn’t more than two hands – yet two hands which, at every moment, know what they’re doing, which do not shrink from the most arduous tasks, nor despise the most delicate, and are never resistant to learning to perform the innumerable list of things they may be called upon to do. Two hands, it isn’t much, considering how the world is infinite. Yet, all the same, two hands, they are a lot….
Salutations!  

Sunday, October 26, 2014

(फुटलौंग) मंत्र कविता

ॐ जब-जब जब वे 
ॐ तब-तब तब वे 
जब जब वे
तब तब वे
ॐ सबवे... ॐ सबवे... ॐ सबवे 


Saturday, October 04, 2014

Shakespeare Wallah


That Haider (which NF had the privilege of watching on Oct 3rd) is the weakest among all the films comprising VB's Shakespearean trilogy is a testimonial not to Haider's failing as a work of art but more as a statement about how brilliant, stunning and not-so-much-as-paradigm-shifting-but-paradigm-fuckin'-bulldozing Maqbool and Omkara were. Haider's soundtrack is excellent, the acting, simply phenomenal (Tabu might've just staked her claim as among the all-time greats that Hindi cinema has ever produced; curiously enough, the great Shakti Kapoor's little daughter also puts in a remarkably self-assured performance); and the technically accomplished, slick cinematography can't fail to mesmerize. Overall, Haider proves to be an exquisite adaptation and shows a true master at the height of his creative powers. 

NF is reminded of Dostoyevsky's review of Anna Karenina in which for pages upon pages Dostoyevsky gushed over the merits of the novel and rapturously praised Tolstoy for his great gifts - only to begin an even longer new thread, sharply critical of the novel and of its numerous failings. In his characteristic immodesty, having praised enough, NF now begins to subject Haider to the same treatment; and so some somewhat scattered notes and observations, along with very minor spoilers follow:

  1. Why does Haider not pack the punch that Maqbool and Omkara did? Is it because Kashmir is not such a familiar tromping ground for VB (except for the minor Irfan Khan segment in Saat Khoon Maaf) as Bombay or UP? While considerable efforts have been spent in trying to preserve local Kashmiri accents, culture and idiosyncrasies, one wonders if this well-researched but ultimately foreign-for-VB-domain is the culprit for a certain choppiness that has crept into the adaptation.

  2. The comedy in the film seems forced. It is not integral to the structure, nor does it add to any of the aspects that the film focuses on. It seems an afterthought - much like the mandatory inclusion of a comic actor and some goofy-ass slapstick scenes in Ramsay Bros. horror films - more as an instrument of bleakness alleviation than as a narrative propeller. (The chutzpah/AFSPA connection was funny though!)

  3. While tackling difficult subjects implicating the Indian government in its repressive treatment of its own citizens and the ensuing militancy is not unprecedented in mainstream Hindi films (cf. Mani Ratnam in Roja and Dil Se... and Santosh Sivan in The Terrorist among others), Haider is unparalleled in its unflinching and unsparing depiction of the levels of violence and intimidation that Indian army unleashed in order to quell the rebellion in Kashmir. This is courageous and heartening for a mainstream Hindi release! We can all scoff together now at such half-hearted attempts to Bollywoodize terrorism as in Mission Kashmir and in Fiza (both curiously starring Hrithik Roshan whose Bang Bang is stealing away viewers from Haider! Boo!).


  4. Personally, NF appreciates Shakespeare much more now due to VB's work than he did in his mandatory school readings. In a sense, however, as was pointed out by NF's English teacher back during the Jurassic Age, Shakespeare does appear to have some uniquely Bollywood characteristics that are ubiquitous in his oeuvre (to be expounded upon later) but maybe that's just medieval theater.

  5. Was it Tabu's incredibly awesome acting or was VB nodding to various feminist readings of the play in which Hamlet's mother and Ophelia assume more importance that the titular hero? One can only guess.

  6. Also very heartening to see are recent developments in Hindi cinema in which modern Indian Muslim life is shown without either scorn or patronage. Films of such character have been very few and mainstream depiction of Muslims has been perfunctory - much like the token black character in Hollywood films. A few older films like Garam Hawa, Mammo etc. had tried to rectify this but they were the artsy type and not-so-mainstream. However, recent films like Iqbal, Well Done Abba, Maqbool, Ishaqzade, Gangs of Wasseypur and of course Ishqiya and Dedh Ishqiya have done yeoman service to rehabilitate the image of ordinary Indian Muslim citizens as being...well, ordinary humans (funny it took so much time and effort!); and VB, his protege Abhishek Chaubey and unsurprisingly Shyam-fuckin'-Benegal are at the forefront. Haider is another installment in this series. Bravo!

  7. Please correct if NF is wrong but Salman Khan was most definitely not referred to as 'bhai' in '95. That happened way after he buffed up in Veergati for the first time.

  8. NF wanted to rush to write a long review of the film, having noticed details that other reviewers didn't catch on to; but the great Jabberwock beat him again by stealing his show, for example, by noticing the rich symbolism behind Irfan Khan's name 'Roohdar' - an obvious stand-in for the soul of the dead King who exhorts Hamlet to extract revenge. (In one scene, Irfan Khan makes it explicit by claiming to the Doctor (King) that while the doctor, mere mortal flesh, will soon die, he himself won't since he is the soul of the doctor.) I quote from his as always, excellent review, which I exhort you to read in full:
"Scenes such as the gravediggers’ goofy song “So Jao” are reminders of how similar Shakespeare’s work is to a certain type of Hindi film: the episodic structures with constant shifting of moods and tones, the melodrama and the cheerful bawdiness, the use of clowns as 'sutradhaars' who get to say unexpectedly profound things. Watching the “Ek aur Bismil” sequence where Haider confronts his uncle during the course of a celebratory song, even someone who knows his Hamlet might forget "the play’s the thing wherein I’ll catch the conscience of the king" and instead recall “Ek Haseena Thi” in Karz – but of course Shakeapeare’s “lowbrow” dramatic flair has influenced popular Hindi cinema for decades, and that Karz song is part of the tradition.


This is also one reason why Haider’s wildly over-the-top Rosencrantz and Guildenstern worked for me. Turning these two spy-buffoons into Salman Khan-obsessives in a video parlour (complete with the playing of “Tumse jo Dekhte Hi Pyaar Hua” on the car stereo in a grim late scene) was an inspired touch. It’s loud, cutesy, front-bencher stuff…and I think Shakespeare would have heartily approved of it." 
Haider is fine, fine film though not the best VB has ever made (that credit belongs, most definitely to Maqbool, though Omkara comes a close second). Its sometimes discontinuous, a little choppy editing won't please avant gardists or those suffering from the Somnath syndrome but for a mainstream Bollywood Hindi film, it's brilliant and a huge, huge step forward!

Take a bow VB!

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Very Good Sentences à la Tyler Cowen


From Wikipedia: (see link: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jigglypuff)

"Known as the Balloon Pokémon, Jigglypuff evolves from Igglybuff when it reaches a certain point of happiness, and evolves into Wigglytuff when exposed to a Moon Stone."


...

Since we're on this topic, here's another two-minute gem (courtesy: Bejin Hakumei)

Thursday, September 18, 2014

इक नया, हाइकू-नुमा संकल्प

लिखो रोज़ 
सुन्दर
वाक्य एक 

Monday, September 15, 2014

This Will Destroy You

Dedh Ishqiya is a veritable blitzkrieg of style, class, wit, wordplay, dark humor and overall brilliance. It's supported by what is certainly the most powerful starcast we've seen in recent years; a killer, killer soundtrack; the sharpest, cleverest, funniest dialogues you'll ever hear; and an exquisite plotline that spans everything from subtle literary nods to the now classic (and once scandalous) Ismat Chugtai short story Lihaaf; to highbrow, classic Urdu poetry, including references to modern masters like Bashir Badr (rendered in flawless diction by all the actors (the last time NF was blown away by such beautiful Urdu woven so seamlessly into a film's narrative was when he'd watched Muhafiz on a boring, never-ending Lucknow afternoon, courtesy Doordarshan)); to bawdy humor, (numerous) Mexican standoffs and its noirish-yet-goofy take on the semi rustic, lawless badlands of UP. 

It seems correct to say that there hasn't been in recent memory, any film that has be so self-aware of its use of language, in the way it consciously hinges its narrative on wordplay and verbal stylization. For a more in-depth piece on the film's use of Urdu, read this fabulous essay by Shoaib Daniyal. Some extracts are reproduced here to incentivize you to read the full article:

In a twist typical of the film, fist fights and gun brandishing suddenly give way to poetry, as Khalujaan picks up the word “wādā” (promise) used by Jaan and starts taunting him using a sher. A gangster by profession and somewhat removed from the world of poetry, Jaan retorts as best he can by racking his brains and coming up with the only sher he knows on “wādā. This change of playing field from violence to poetry, though, can only end badly for Jaan. His verse induces derisive laughter from Khalujaan who then points out that Jaan’s original sher spoke of “bādā” (wine) and not “wādā” at all.
...
Jaan’s battles with Urdu lead to some curious results. Throughout the movie he uses some high vocabulary (“shamsheer” for “talwār” and “gauhar” for "hīre-motī”) but slips up on the simplest of Urdu words, mispronouncing “Ishq” as “Issak” or “shart” as “sart”. And not only Jaan, for all the other characters, this High Urdu is just a mask put on to impress. Khalujaan, who is otherwise a talented poet, talks to his closest friend Babban in their common earthy register of Bhopali Urdu. 

It is safe to say that the marvelous Dedh Ishqiya totally killed NF! He's still reeling under, grasping the immensity of what's hit him! 

Abhishek Chaubey has directed a film that may just be <*gasp*> even better than his first venture. And with it he joins the ranks of brash, new, extremely exciting young directors in Hindi cinema now - all of them hailing from UP (ha! take that) - Vishal Bharadwaj, Anurag Kashyap and Tigmanshu Dhulia. 

Take a bow Chaubey! You've converted NF into your total fanboy!

Monday, September 08, 2014

शांतता! कोर्ट चालू आहे

Chaitanya Tamhane's film "Court" wins two prizes at the Venice Film Festival 2014 - Best Picture in the Horizons section and the 'Lion of the Future' for best debut! Here is the Hindustan Times news report. Here is a glowing review by Variety.

NF's old friend Somnath Pal was part of the winning team and did production design for the award winning movie! (Follow his blog here.)

Bravo Somnath! And congratulations!

Monday, September 01, 2014

Quiet Flows the Don

Libra is quintessential DeLillo - terse-without-being-minimalist, exquisitely paced, wonderfully evocative without being overly descriptive; and very powerfully unsettling, although NF believes he has not quite understood the book on a satisfactory level yet, that more readings perhaps are required to understand why the book moves him the way it does.

Having become somewhat familiar with DeLillo's oeuvre now (White Noise, Underworld, Point Omega and now, Libra) NF has begun to appreciate the infrastructure of his worldview - that of technology, mass media and political violence arrogating to themselves, the role of mediating our narrative; our collective, worldwide conversation - a role played in the past by writers and intellectuals like Dickens or Tolstoy. NF has come to feel that it is DeLillo's powerful influence, much more than that of the wordy and maximalist Pynchon's, that pervades the pages of William Gibson, sharing as they both do, their desire to channel the emergent effect of technology's impact on human societies. (Gibson's insistence however, is more cosmopolitan and hard-tech obsessed, while DeLillo's theater is more literary, soft-tech Americana.)

NF also had a chance to read his autobiography, albeit a mere seven word one, courtesy the wonderful Brain Pickings of Maria Popova. (For other seven word autobiographies including those by William Gibson and Daniel Kahneman, visit here.) Here it is, typifying the simplicity and depth of his expression:

      Bronx boy
wondering
             why he is here.

DeLillo also participated in a BBC documentary about his work (though it seems surprising that someone who's so averse to publicity will have starred in it so prominently). In it, the writer comments about the themes that attract him, the strange coincidence that links him to Lee Harvey Oswald (spoiler: The Bronx) among other musings and reenactment of scenes from his fiction. Watch it here:


NF's playlist now features Ratner's Star, Mao II and Cosmopolis next and enjoins those with an excess of time, to give DeLillo a try!

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Miniscule Musings

  1. NF has gushed about the awesome writing of Vikram Chandra before, especially his sprawling, beautiful ode to the Bombay criminal underworld: Sacred Games. Hence it's even more gratifying to know that greats such as James Gleick have joined the fan club! Here's Gleick's review of Chandra's "Geek Sublime" - a book about Chandra's ruminations about literature and...programming! Turns out that not only is Chandra an excellent writer but also a serious programmer (a few others with such a unique skill set include Charles-fuckin'-Stross and Neal-friggin'-Stephenson). Gleick's review is excellent and will make you want to read the latest from Vikram Chandra, in which he muses on Chomskyan generative grammar; Panini's anticipation of the same some 2500 years ago; the roots of programming languages; beauty in poetry as understood by ancient Sanskrit texts; the cosmology of Abhinavgupta and so on.

    And here's Vikram Chandra on Wired today: What India Can Teach Silicon Valley About Its Gender Problem.

  2. This is how William Gibson coined the term "cyberspace" - first in his paradigm shifting short story collection Burning Chrome - and then in his truly revolutionary and powerfully disruptive work Neuromancer. This three minute video features Gibson at his witty best - self deprecatory, wry and really funny! 



  3. And here is a collection of eleven funniest papers written in professional economics journals as compiled by Yoram Bauman - the first standup economist comedian. Though personally, NF knows that economic theorists are a funny lot (in particular game theorists are among the funniest professional groups that NF's come across - much more so than say applied mathematicians (but don't just take NF's word for it - he might be biased)) the list of works - some of them famous enough (examples being Krugman's paper on interstellar trade; and Avinash Dixit's on Seinfeld) but others, a complete revelation - examples being "Macroeconomic Policy and the Optimal Destruction of Vampires (Snower 1982)" and "On the Efficiency of AC/DC: Bon Scott Versus Brian Johnson (Oxoby 2009)". NF can't resist quoting a couple of lines from some of these papers. So here's Krugman:
    This article extends interplanetary trade theory to an interstellar setting. It is chiefly concerned with the following question: how should interest charges on goods in transit be computed when the goods travel at close to the speed of light? This is a problem because the time taken in transit will appear less to an observer traveling with the goods than to a stationary observer. A solution is derived from economic theory, and two useless but true theorems are proved. 
    Many critics of conventional economics have argued, with considerable justification, that the assumptions underlying neoclassical theory bear little resemblance to the world we know. These critics have, however, been too quick to assert that this shows that mainstream economics can never be of any use. Recent progress in the technology of space travel… make this assertion doubtful; for they raise the distinct possibility that we may eventually discover or construct a world to which orthodox economic theory applies.

    And here's Avinash Dixit - who's among the most naturally witty people NF's personally come across. A few years back, the econ blogosphere was set ablaze by his paper "An Option Value Problem from Seinfeld" with what is most definitely the greatest abstract ever: "This is a paper about nothing". 

    Here's a little more:

    In an episode of the sitcom Seinfeld (Season 7, Episode 9, original air date December 7, 1995), Elaine Benes uses a contraceptive sponge that gets taken off the market. She scours pharmacies in the neighborhood to stock a large supply, but it is finite. So she must “re-evaluate her whole screening process.” Every time she dates a new man, which happens very frequently, she has to consider a new issue: Is he spongeworthy”? The purpose of this article is to quantify this concept of spongeworthiness. 
    When Elaine uses up a sponge, she is giving up the option to have it available when an even better man comes along. Therefore using the sponge amounts to exercising a real option to wait and spongeworthiness is an option value. It can be calculated using standard option-pricing techniques. However, unlike the standard theory of financial or many real options, there are no complete markets and no replicating portfolios. Stochastic dynamic programming methods must be used.