Sunday, November 6, 2016

A Dog Eat Dog-Food World by C.Suresh

And so I am finally done doing what I should have, more than a year ago.
Reason for delay, you ask?
Well, aside from the on-and-off relationship there seems to be going between me and ‘reading’ these last few months, let’s just say I am quite intimidated by books that fit easily into my pocket but are NOT books that are written by or written keeping in mind simple-minded folk.
Not convinced, you say?
Give you another example, you want me to?
Try Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad. (96 pages, that too double spaced!)
Only difference being, after reading Conrad’s peculiar little pocket dynamite, I was as scared and intimidated as I was before I picked it up.
But having finished reading C. Suresh’s peculiar little pocket dynamite, aptly titled A Dog Eat Dog-Food World, I must confess that far from being as intimidated as I was before starting to read, I am now overcome by a most singular smugness, a smugness that comes out in me when I feel I am able to identify with something, like no one else might.
Unlike what the synopsis on the back cover of the book claims, A Dog Eat Dog-Food World, atleast for me, did not come across as a pseudo-history of marketing management that bears no resemblance to the actual history.
Infact, it may well be one of those rare books that, in trying to capture the history of marketing management- metaphorically or otherwise- cuts so right to the chase that it ends up coming closer to the ‘actual’ history than most other tomes written on the subject by knowledgeable experts ever might.
The book begins with an explanation by the author on how history, in the form that is available to us, may or may not be the real deal, considering what gets recorded and what survives the passage of time is but a list of achievements of the few who either achieved something that required them to be ‘active’ or achieved something lesser but still ensured that what they achieved was ‘actively’ promoted.
As in History, so in pseudo-history, concludes the little prologue which I found overall to be humorous but agreeable, and also strangely informative.
(I use ‘strangely’ here because it IS strange when a chapter that has no graphs, no charts, and no details whatsoever of the chronological order of events or incidents that collectively form the term ‘History’, is able to impart- and is also able to convince the reader that what is being imparted is- historical information.)
From there we proceed to meet, one by one, the five main characters of the story, each of whom is introduced at different stages of the telling, perhaps so we, the audience, can enjoy better their standalone idiosyncrasies first before the story advances into more complex territory and pits them against one another even as the grand scheme of things becomes clearer with each passing page.
The premise is Dog and Cat Foods manufacturing, with Spike Fortune, his nephew Jerry Fortune and their Head of Marketing Tyke playing the masterminds behind the former, and Tom Rich with his nephew Jasper Rich forming the reluctant rivals who mastermind the latter. Fortune starts the business because he wants to lose all his money before he dies and doesn’t know how to, and Rich enters the race as prime competitor, because he has never been second to Tom at anything since school days.
The rest as they say is history.
Sounds simple, no? Of course it does.
And simple it is, but only if I am to think of it in one way- that this is but a simplified version of actual history, not just of marketing management but of the entire world of commerce as we see it in present day.
For, as much as I believe that stats and official records have their place of importance and cannot be refuted for a piece of satire that talks in Dog and Cat Foods metaphors, I cannot imagine the history of marketing management (and commerce in general) without a Spike, a Jerry and a Tyke in every place of business that received a mention in the factual history records, and- more so- a Tom and a Jasper in every competing place of business that perhaps didn’t receive a mention on account of it coming second.
Afterall, can it not be said that it requires some level of madness- some form of physical or mental disorder, to the conservative eye atleast- for a person to become an entrepreneur and then a competitive businessman?
And if that is acceptable, then can it also not be said that the men (and women) who made this History of commerce happen will most-certainly have been as- if not more- idiosyncratic as the five characters portrayed in this novella?
Now THAT is what the official records will never tell you. Which is still fine, as I know and acknowledge that functional academics are no place to read about the idiosyncrasies of highly successful people.
But THAT is also exactly what makes A Dog Eat Dog-Food World such a rare book.
Because, once it is stripped of its circuitous albeit lyrical writing, of its light tone, of its laugh-out-loud moments, and of its effective use of a narrative style that most authors would find hard to execute, A Dog Eat Dog-Food World is a narration of these unrecorded facts that are the reason behind everything that is wrong with commerce today.
It is about the sickening condition of today’s corporate environment where employees create invisible fires and douse them noisily to receive recognition and reward without having to do any credible work.
It is about the saddening advent of cellphones and how a piece of plastic and metal gets constantly shoved into our faces as an essential fifth limb that no human can survive without.
It is about 24/7 news channels who, in their need for one-upmanship, have graduated from impartially presenting current affairs to producing useless noise.
And most of all, it is about us, the consumers, the silent protagonists of both History and this story, who allow men of ambition to not just affect our needs and desires, but to outright decide and dictate them for us.
In conclusion, this is one novella I would urge any and every person to read, understand and laugh, then read and understand some more, and smile knowingly.
On a scale of one to five, I will rate this book a solid four, one point being deducted for making me chew on my words from the earlier paragraph where I mentioned that I was far from feeling scared after finishing the book.
For, now that I am done with the review and have read it back to myself, as a modern day consumer, I am suitably petrified.
To order the book click here.

Friday, September 23, 2016

In the Light of Darkness- Radhika Tabrez

As most of you might agree, having to write a review of a debut novel penned by an acquaintance is- more often than not- an uncomfortable situation to be in. 
Of course, for most reviewers, it is also the easiest ‘uncomfortable situation’ to squeeze out of (after all, how difficult can it be to fit as many flowering-ly flattery and flatteringly flowery adjectives as one can come up with into a four para’d piece of generic praise that is aimed more at the author or at the association one shares with the author than at his or her book, right?)
But given that I am spending my time writing this review, and- more so- given that what I am reviewing now is only the first of many titles the author will get published under her name over the coming decade and beyond, I believe this situation rather warrants me giving honest albeit constructive feedback than me taking the easy way out of an uncomfortable situation.
In her debut novel, author Radhika Tabrez tells the story of Susan Pereira and Meera Vashisht, two women with disturbing pasts living together on a fictional island named Bydore. The former is a mother who has a strained relationship with her son whom she had sent away to boarding school as a kid and who has now grown up to resent his mother’s decision of keeping him away from normal family life. 
The latter is a young girl, a victim of domestic abuse who has been bruised both physically and mentally before she comes into the lives of Susan and the other inhabitants of Bydore.
The book narrates the events that made these two characters meet and subsequently become inseparable (‘They were family’, as the author points out in a few memorable passages in the chapters early on). It further narrates the events that bring Susan’s son Mathew back to Bydore and subsequently how each character who is fighting his or her own internal demons is given an opportunity by fate (as only fate and fairy tales can) to heal and to find peace in the company of one another.
While the plot is fairly simple and the telling linear, the author manages to put in some interesting passages, especially the concluding paragraphs of the first few chapters that can easily be recognized as quality writing. Even in the chapters that appear later, the one element that clearly shines through is Tabrez’s ability to describe pain and loss. 
The letter from Susan to her son is done quite well and spurs the right kind of sentiment inside the reader’s mind. I also liked how the writer tries to introduce humor in a few scenes where the characters involved are facing serious dilemmas. 
The writing in general flows smoothly- if only a tad slowly- and most sentences do not jar. The tone of the narration is even and also quite steady, something that I found appreciable given that this is a debut novel by an amateur Indian author.
However, what I say next is basis what I know of Radhika Tabrez’s capability as a writer and not basis the fact that this is a debut novel by an amateur Indian author.
Overall, I felt that In the Light of Darkness lacked a lot. The plot is too straightforward and so is the depiction of most of the characters, including the protagonists. I understand that at its core what the writer has aimed to tell is a simple story. It is however, the telling of it that could have been much more engaging had this simple story been shown through scenes and dialogue instead of employing a broad and omniscient style of narration. 
I believe this would have helped a lot in the readers feeling more for the characters and their circumstances. 
Events such as Susan’s death and few others that are pivotal to the story should have had a build up towards them and in absence of this they fail to make the kind of impact on a reader that the author would ideally wish for.
Halfway into the novel, I came across the below passage that I now consider as the best passage that there is in this novel:
Just as he was about to go inside, Matthew stopped suddenly, turned around and started scanning the crowd behind him, impatiently. His friends caught up with him a few seconds later. He looked at them in a way that meant goodbye; only he couldn’t bring himself to say the words. Finally, he spoke, his eyes unable to handle his remorse and bereavement anymore.
“Maanav… My mother is dead!” and he broke down.
I loved it because the dialogue at the end made the scene feel extremely real to me. Real, yes. But not ordinary- an important distinction that I felt the author should have made judiciously while writing other scenes, especially the key ones. The novel required more of this.
And now, for the benefit of the author (and also of others who might consider worthwhile the views of an as yet unpublished and unrecognized writer), I digress a little-
What makes an indie novel or film work?
Every time I attempt to articulate on my opinion in this matter, I am reminded of a scene in the last act of John Carney’s indie musical ‘Once’; a scene in which a side character is shown to be cooking in her kitchen. So, we have the actress who plays the female lead’s mother standing over a frying pan, sprinkling pepper into it, and then proceeding to run a skillet over it.
A five second shot, max. After that the montage moves on to shots featuring the lead actors.
Now that’s alright, don’t you think?
Guess again.
The problem is, you don’t even need to look closely to spot that what the actress is standing over, sprinkling pepper into and running a skillet over… is an empty fucking pan! So what you are basically watching is a character in a Hollywood film cooking invisible food.
A clear goof-up is what it is and not the only one that the film is full of. And Carney let all of these remain in the final film!
Now THIS is bad craftsmanship, don’t you think?
Well, guess again.
I have seen Once not once, not twice but atleast twenty times already (if not more).
It is a fantastic musical that makes you want to keep going back to it, both for the songs and for the innocence with which the love story between the two leads has been portrayed.
Yes, the ultra-low budget the director had to make do with shows at many places. The editing and the camerawork are shoddy. Some of the side actors are- as is evident in the scene I have mentioned before- either acting to act or hopeless at even that. But the film still comes together so well.
The reason being, Carney knew he wanted to make a good musical and therefore invested heavily in the elements that form the core of a good musical - the songs and the singers!
My point being, all things said and done about how one can perfect the art of writing/filmmaking, a storyteller must always remember that it is ultimately what lies at the core of his story that matters the most. Having a strong theme never hurts.
To conclude- both my digression and my review- In the Light of Darkness is a decent debut by Radhika Tabrez. However, I am of the opinion that the writer has a much stronger voice than this and has much stronger themes to write on.
I congratulate her on the book being published, which is no mean feat. I am however, more interested in seeing what she delivers next, considering that the experience from writing this book will only have made her a better writer than she already is.

Monday, May 2, 2016

Ant-Man (2015)

As all film genres go, with the amount of superhero movies that have seen the light of day already, it is hard not to admit, looking forward to one more superhero movie- no matter how big the bang and how ludicrously cast the star donning the suit- just feels bloody tiring.

The saturation level has been breached. I mean seriously, its exhausting.

After all, there are only so many ways that a building, or a block of buildings or a whole god damn city can be levelled (the worst way of course being the one Kal El opts for while defeating General Zod, in Zack "IMMA SLOWMO THE SHIT OUTTA THIS" Snyder's CGI orgy ode to the last thirty minutes of Matrix Revolutions)

Which might be why I gave this a miss for quite a while.

And now I figured, heck, if I'm idle enough to watch a piece of shit likeBatman v Superman: Dawn of Justice through till the end credits (Kickass batman, rest is as bad as what one sees every morning when one gets up and looks down before pressing the flush... just kidding... not as bad... I was trying to sugar coat... its way worse than that), I might as well watch something thats been receiving favourable reviews as well.

And behold, I loved Ant-Man.

Marvel finally seems to have found the answer to the big time saturation level breach that I mentioned earlier. And that is: Don't aim big. Aim small.


This is a good superhero movie, and more so, a good movie. Paul Rudd is likeable as the guy donning the suit and Michael Douglas is a great addition to the list of mentors who take up half the screen-time in every superhero origin film.

Forgettable villain, yes. But I'm not sure if making him more villainous would've helped much.

Aside from the fact that the film doesn't take itself too seriously, two other things that I was happy to note were:

- They've gone 'Small' with just about everything here. So no epic boom and crash scenes. Yay! Even the final showdown between hero and villain happens inside a little girl's bedroom. AND JUST THE ROOF GETS DAMAGED! JUST THE ROOF!

- References to the Avengers initiative blend in smoothly unlike the eyesores Snyder gave me through his terrible Easter eggs to the Justice League universe in BvS.
Thoroughly enjoyable watch. I give it three out of five.

PS: Would've loved to see what Edgar Wright could've done with this material had he not walked out during production. His style of direction still shines through in some scenes despite his absence.

Catch trailer here:

Sunday, May 1, 2016

Son of Saul / Saul Fia - Review

I believe this film will stand the test of time as one of the most effective depictions of life inside Nazi Prison camps.

Dark, as it should be, grim and shot in a manner that induces near-suffocating claustrophobia, Saul Fia is one horrifying experience that has not been made to bring the audience to tears, unlike other films that have already broached this subject before (on a much bigger scale too).

Through his film, László Nemes captures the POV of a single prisoner, Saul Auslander, as he salvages the body of a boy whom he takes to be his son and attempts to find a Rabbi to bury it. Saul, who works as a Sonderkommando (a special group of prisoners, made to work at the camp for a few months before being executed), burning bodies of his own people at the Auschwitz Crematorium, views this as his only opportunity to redeem himself.

Saul's perspective is narrow when we meet him at the beginning, as would be the case with any person put in a position as bleak as his. And his quest to give what he believes to be his son's body a proper burial narrows it down even further.

Saul's vision is limited and his face the face of a man whose appetite to know more has withered away completely. Beyond a point, it is evident that he is least curious in even watching what is happening around him, so long as it doesn't concern or affect his own petty quest.

And to make the audience experience effectively this hopeless narrowness, Nemes uses long takes that do not cut before making one feel squeamish atleast three times in a row and fills up every frame of the film with Saul- either his face or the back of it. Saul is the point of focus in almost all the shots, whereas the inhuman activities occurring inside the gas chamber, the crematorium and other parts of prison are either partially or completely out of focus, or only shown through quick glimpses (although the sound more than makes up for the absence of visuals, I should warn you).

Half hour into Son of Saul, I felt my stomach had already gone hollow. And the rest of the film only increased that sickening sensation.

Géza Röhrig who plays the protagonist is one heck of an actor. To pull off something this intense without a hint of overtness, especially in the long takes, is no mean feat.

I found the film difficult to watch in places due to the jerky camera movements, however, given the theme, I understand that such shots were intentional and necessarily so.

Overall, Son of Saul scores an easy four out of five on my rating scale. A deserving Oscar nod for best film (foreign language).

Yes, the film left me dry-eyed, but not for lack of empathy towards the characters. Empathy being the ability to understand and share the feelings of another, I should say it was actually the opposite. I empathized too well with Saul's tearless-ness to shed any myself.

Harrowing but recommended.

Catch trailer here:

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Spotlight (2016)

Watching any piece of biographical journalism on film these days takes me back to the first time I watched two contemporary films that belong to this genre. 

It may not be that I claim these two to be the best of the lot (All the President’s Men clearly wins that race), but what I am certain of is that these two, for me, represent two extremes that can exist within the boundaries of good filmmaking, particularly in this genre. 

I am, of course, talking about Michael Mann’s The Insider and David Fincher’s Zodiac.

Now, I could (and I should, but I won’t, owing to a serious lack of inclination to write anything these days) put forth atleast half a dozen points to prove my argument of how these two films veer towards opposite directions even if both are excellent pieces of journalism-related filmmaking.

However, in the interest of keeping this post about the film that I have referred to in the post title, I shall only mention one:

Mann’s film is about a journalist wanting to air on his news channel a whistleblower’s account against his tobacco manufacturing employers. Fincher’s is about a journalist and an amateur detective trying to track down a serial killer on the loose.

So, going by the plot lines I have just mentioned, the first should be flat, cold and calculating- given the little or no threat to life that there is to the characters involved. And the second… well the second should atleast be filled with emotional turmoil.

Only, if you were to think so, you would be totally wrong. 

The Insider is anything but flat or cold or calculating, whereas Zodiac is- like every other film of Fincher’s- exactly that.

Watching Spotlight, this year’s chief contender and ultimate winner in the Best Picture category at the Oscars, made me think of the two films at various points.

Starring an adequately wrinkled Michael Keaton and an adequately toned down Mark Ruffalo amongst others, the film follows a four-person investigative team called Spotlight that works for The Boston Globe newspaper as they probe into multiple occurrences of child sexual abuse by Catholic priests in Boston area, only to find that the occurrences aren’t singular at all, but systemic to the workings of the Catholic church. 

And so, what begins as an inquiry into one case of a priest being accused of molestation quickly turns into thirteen as they start digging; and then into a staggering eighty seven, as they go deeper.

Dealing with a subject as sensitive as this, I thought Tom McCarthy has does a fine job of sticking to a script that is focused solely on the efforts of team Spotlight without straying into greyer, more sensational areas that would’ve certainly made the film much more controversial while not adding anything to its artistic merit. McCarthy uses all elements, right from a steady background score, muffled cinematography, authentic-sounding dialogues and subtle actor performances to maintain a near-neutral tone in the narrative that rises only on a few occasions.

Which is fine, as it still makes for an interesting watch.

And yet, while watching the film I could not help but wonder how different and, more so, how much more effective all of this would’ve been had it been helmed by either Fincher or Mann (or atleast the Mann from the 90s). Because, I found the film to be surprisingly underwhelming for one that has just bagged an Oscar for Best Picture.

Yes, it is indeed commendable how the director succeeds in bringing out such restrained performances from an A-lister star cast (I particularly liked Stanley Tucci and Liev Schreiber who bring depth into their presence despite their limited screen times)

But it is also not a good sign when the performances are so restrained that you are not able to find a single shot in the film you could deem as memorable and affecting, except one:

Don’t get me wrong, on a scale of 1 to 5, I’d give this film a definite 3.5 on any given day. 

I am just not sure how much of it winning at the Oscars can be attributed to it being a fantastic film and how much of it is merely owing to the fact that it deals with a subject matter that a primarily Christian audience would find sensitive. 

Worth a watch.

Catch trailer here:

PS: On account of the latter being pure fiction and not biographical unlike this film, I have refrained from comparing Spotlight with Barry Levinson's Sleepers, even though the two revolve around child molestation in institutions where children are easily silenced. However, if I were to compare, I would go with Sleepers as the better film.

Saturday, February 20, 2016

Review: A Valentines Day Story by Percy Wadiwala

To read the story, please click on the chapters below: 
Chapter I- The Girl                          Chapter II - The Boy

‘A Valentine’s Day Story’ begins just as every other Elveren narrative that I have had the good fortune of reading on account of my *cough* Honorary *cough* role as first level proofreader for young master Wadiwala: with a leisurely panache that sets the tone for the rest of the tale and assures the reader of this being no more an amateur piece of literature, than is any of P.G.W.(the original)’s noteworthy works.

What it also assures the insensitive and ungrateful audience of is that what is to follow demands from them, one and only one thing in return- to enjoy the story.

Surely that is no big ask, is it now?

Well of course, I must admit that to relish this manner of mature and deft story-telling, one would have to set aside all that is arduous and crippling, harrying and suffocating and- not to mention- outright boring, in his life. One would need to shed all that worries him, all that ticks him off and all that makes him want to smash his head through a six-inch thick concrete wall, before he is in any position to enjoy the tale.

In fact, let me do the honour of going a step further and describing to you, oh hardhearted reader, the most appropriate setting for reading an Elveren adventure, which is- sunset, at the beach, next to the waves, on a recliner, chilled Pina colada in one hand and a print of the story in the other. 

Enticing enough, no?

And yet I must state to you, with tremendous sadness, that there are so few a people who give a damn and there are so many who are so quick to move on without paying heed to such an undemanding request as is, of this talented writer. 

A simple request to just read what he is offering to you for free, even when what he is offering is, essentially, a premium piece of literature that deserves accolades equivalent or greater than those heaped upon the public school storytellers from the glorious days of our literary past. 

And fucking Cheat’n’Bugger is a bestseller for people! The horror!

Alright. I see ire seeping into my wordage. So let me finish the review before the good stuff gets drowned in the filth. 

Aided by a select handful of premise-perfect illustrations that etch certain lines, scenes and character descriptions into your brain with most singular precision, the author once again provides, for our entertainment, a breezy peek into the 'Wodehouse-esque' universe of Midgard-Caledonia with its peculiar inhabitants and their peculiarly idiosyncratic doings that result into some of the wittiest dialogues I have come across in my readings.

And what more! Love is in the air this time around, what with the tale being set against that auspicious mid-February phenomenon we call as Valentine’s Day, which, more often than not, leaves a trail of broken hearts in its wake. 

And thus, Jormund Elver, our unlikely hero- whom I am sure you will get to see more of if young master Wadiwala obliges and who I have come to consider as the perfect specimen of a colourful albeit clumsy Sagittarian- finds himself being dragged into another adolescent love triangle that is commonplace in life at Midgard-Caledonia High School.

If you are no stranger to Jormund’s world, I do not see purpose in spilling the beans here as you would be aware already how minor conflicts can turn gargantuan when the bumbling Elver gets involved.

If you ARE a stranger, you need only be aware that minor conflicts can turn gargantuan when the bumbling Elver gets involved. Period. So let me not talk any more on the story. 

But stranger or not- rest assured, you are bound to have fun while reading this and you are bound to feel light and airy from the inside after you’re done reading. 

Maintaining an almost stately poise in his flow, the author ensures that his character descriptions are done lovingly enough to breathe life into both their features and flaws. His portrayal of feminine beauty deserves a special mention here. It is omniscient, to say the least and when considered alongwith the intermittent pictorial insights, makes the frequency with which the male leads keep falling head-over-heels in love seem all the more plausible.

Mind you, the breeziness of the tale and other ancillary elements were not what appealed the most to me. What did, was the unabashed love for writing and the astonishing flair for language that the author possesses, such that each page of his rib-tickling narrative stands out so vibrantly in the readers’ imagination, making them ponder whether it is indeed a story that they are reading, or is it actually a painting in disguise. 
“What ho, old chap!” I am addressing Perseus now, in his own Elveren greeting style. 

“When will we be served ‘Something Fresh’ from your writing lair? My frontal lobe aches in anticipation mate!”

Disclaimer: Percy Wadiwala is a dear friend whom I- in my infrequent spells of optimism- like to think of as an actually intelligent version of myself. Though I may consider him as a mentor of sorts and turn to him for inspiration and advice from time to time, to think of this review as me trying to kiss his ass would only be the readers' own folly, causing him to miss out on something genuine. (Also I'm not sure if this helps but FYI, we've always gone Dutch so neither owes the other a penny for coercion or undue influence to enter the picture) 

Bottom line is, just read the bloody story because its a bloody good one. Peace.