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!


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….