It’s light out longer and I leave my cave more often; Spring is about to spring me into the next number; our new Prez, both guns blazing, wasn’t kidding about change; and how come he can spin the globe on his calm little finger while I can’t manage to keep up with blogging and Writing for Dollars at the same time? Whatever. I’m here now to do some catching up.
I’m still stunned that Gran Torino got ignored by the Academy—no surprise that Clint didn’t show up—but how ‘bout that Slumdog? Its success is piquing American interest in Indian cinema: I sniff a trend coming on, and just hope that it doesn’t lead to the Disneyfication of Bollywood–which, by the way, is a genre, not the whole of Indian cinema. It produces fabulous, three- or four-hour spectacles full of sound and glory and splashy song-and-dance numbers, as escapist as the trashiest Hollywood action-slasher-thriller. Slumdog is a kind of mix of Bollywood and Indian social realism, a genre that’s brought me many enraptured hours. Off the top of my head, a few favorites:
Lagaan: Once Upon a Time In India depicts a two-day cricket game with high stakes, played by a team of desperately poor villagers against the British rulers taxing them to the bone.
Fire: Nothing aggravates men of any nationality so much as women who don’t need them. The opening of Fire was met by violent protests, and no wonder: it’s about a household of two brothers and their wives that disintegrates when the two women fall madly in love.
Kama Sutra, A Tale of Love: Yes, the title refers to the sex manual to beat all sex manuals. Set in the 16th Century, it’s the story of two women, one a servant and the other a princess, who are raised together. Servant Maya grows up and studies the Kama Sutra, and uses her skills on Tara’s groom–on Tara’s wedding night, no less. Director Mira Nair also directed the first big Indian crossover film….
Monsoon Wedding. During a three-day Hindu wedding, a dark family secret is revealed. Great story, but I swear the wedding itself is so rich and sensual, it could have stood on its own.
Anything by Satyajit Ray. To tell the truth, I don’t remember the individual films; they all sort of blend in my memory into one fantastic dreamscape. One Bengali family saga spans several films, including Apu and Pather Panchali, produced circa 1955. Ray is the Indian Fellini, not in style but as a national treasure. His films are frequently shown at festivals or in art houses. (Update 4/11: See article on upcoming Ray festival. If you’re in NYC, I envy you.)
News about San Francisco’s annual South Asian film festival can be found online at The Third Eye.
In trying to articulate what it is that grabs me about Indian cinema–and has for some 20 years–the first thing that comes to mind is sensuality. Like India itself, the films are bursting with visuals: from the colorful, ornate clothing and homes of the upper classes to the teeming street scenes of the poor. Then there’s the food to salivate over, and language that’s almost musical. Elaborate weddings, and the custom of painting henna designs on the women. The stories themselves go deep, frequently tragic, yet usually uplifting. Whether explicit or not, sex is almost always an element. Maybe you have to have some natural affinity for all things Indian; if this trend does take off, we’ll find out.
(Well, well. Right after posting this, the automatic links to similar stories below gave me Bollywood, Hollywood Tightening Ties, a Washington Post article about upcoming collaborations. Read it.)
On the Netflix front, the other night I saw Dr. Zhivago for the first time. I guess I hadn’t realized the Bolshevik Revolution was as much a part of the story as the love affair between Omar Sharif and Julie Christie, both of them gorgeous and in top form. I wish I’d seen this on the big screen, and will someday. Do they even make movies like this anymore? Oh, that’s right, they do—in India.
Soul of The Game was my baseball flick of the month, about the Negro Leagues on the eve of Major League integration. While pitcher Satchel Paige (Delroy Lindo) and catcher Josh Gibson (Mykelti Williamson) wait expectantly to be called up, the Dodgers select Jackie Robinson (Blair Underwood) to make history—as much for his temperament as for his playing: they wanted someone who could deal with all the crap from racists without having a meltdown. Robinson may have carried baseball into history, but Paige, or rather Delroy Lindo, carried this movie to a five star rating.
And speaking of baseball: Has anyone else noticed the season is starting earlier and earlier? I don’t mean the official season—Opening Day still doesn’t happen till April—but all the news and noise of exhibition games, spring training, ‘roids and their users, and a new element, the World Baseball Classic, now in its second year. It’s great fun to see Bobby Abreu batting for Venezuela, his home country, and heartthrob Pudge Rodriguez knock ‘em dead for Puerto Rico.
Challenges of Aging Department: I’m trying out audiobooks, since I fall asleep whenever I open a printed one. I hesitate to call this “reading” a “book” without using quotations; it just isn’t the same thing. Aesthetically, there’s nothing to grab onto. Pragmatically, I find it difficult to just sit in a chair and listen; I’m forever jumping up to put something away, or pull dead leaves off plants. In between listening sessions, the story runs in my head, but it’s not quite the same as with books. The whole experience is strange…hopefully I’ll find it as satisfying as reading once I adjust. One drawback: I can’t imagine writing a review without having words on paper to refer to right by my side.
More Challenges of Aging: I registered with Twitter and did a few twits? Tweaks? Anyone? I like the platform, where you can dash off a sentence or two, unlike the longer demands of the blog…but it seems pointless when nobody’s reading it. So far nobody is “following” me, and I’m not sure why they would. I’m following The Onion for their hilarious headlines, and ex-Oakland Athletic / new Yankee Nick Swisher just for the thrill of access, and Barack Obama—yes, the President of the United States twitters!
I’m still enamored of the new White House residents, especially Michelle and the girls. She’s not only bringing healthy food to the White House, but to soup kitchens as well. And those shoulders! What a gal.