The Titular Head

Agatha ChristieWe are just a day or two into the new year. The year that just passed was a year in which Agatha Christie hogged more or less all the limelight, even though she is not that hot. In two separate studies, scientists claim to have unlocked the secret of why her books are so popular, even though they feature protagonists we’d rather not drink tea with.

Scientists at the Universities of London, Birmingham and Warwick “loaded Christie’s novels onto a computer and analyzed her words, phrases and sentences.” The results of the study show that

[S]he peppered her prose with phrases that act as a trigger to raise levels of serotonin and endorphins, the chemical messengers in the brain that induce pleasure and satisfaction.

[Another] finding was that she used a very limited vocabulary. “It means that readers aren’t distracted and so they concentrate more on the clues and the plots,” said Dr Pernilla Danielsson from the school of humanities at Birmingham University. [Link]

Here’s Mark Lieberman’s take at the Language Log.

Christie used a limited vocabulary, “pleasing and gentle” language even though the plots were macabre, and repeated certain “mesmerizing” phrases over and over again to stimulate serotonin and other chemicals in the body.

Favourite words or phrases, repeatedly used in a “mesmerising” way, help to stimulate the pleasure-inducing side of the brain. They include she, yes, girl, kind, smiled and suddenly. Common phrases include “can you keep an eye on this”, “more or less”, “a day or two” and “something like that”. [Link]

Let’s summarize the recipe for bestsellers: Repeating the same things over and over again, gentle presentation, familiar phrases, sixth grade vocabulary. And let’s also state our opinion of the whole stylometric study: Duh! Just read any three books by Robert Ludlum, and you’ll know. Familiarity sells. Familiarity and simplicity, we are convinced, are the key ingredients that make popular art so… popular. Actually, duh again. There is a whole industry in India, um.. I mean, South Asia that has been using the formula successfully for ages – Indian movies are all about familiar settings, dumbed down plotting and an insistence on making audiences feel good. The next time someone asks Ram Gopal Varma why he keeps remaking his own movies (and those of others), he should quote Professor Danielsson, stylometry, serotonin, Agatha Christie and Antara Mali. And Anu Malik – what can I say? I respect him a lot more now. Something like that.

The repetitive nature of Bollywood means titling movies is a hard, hard task. How many ways can you headline the same article? Guy beats up Bad Guys, falls in Love with Girl. Girl Falls in Love with Guy who beat up Bad Guys. Bad Guys beaten up by Guy that Fell in Love with Girl. Love fallen into by Girl and Guy who beat up Bad Guys. And so on. Which, by the way, is a great segue into the next Agatha Christie finding.

According to a statistical study commissioned by Lulu.com, Agatha Christie’s Sleeping Murder is the “perfect title” for a bestselling novel and John Le Carre is the most consistent producer of “good” titles. [Link]

Figurative or abstract titles, such as “Sleeping Murder,” or “Presumed Innocent,” produce more top-sellers than literal ones, such as “The Da Vinci Code.”

A title’s length does not affect sales — contrary to publishingindustry wisdom, which decrees that bestseller titles be short. Another increased respect moment here. Remember all those Hindi movie titles: DDLJ. HAHK. K3G. Damn. These guys knew.

Through the Language Log a link to the statistical analysis tool used for the study. The Lulu Book Title Analyzer. Please don’t forget to leave comments complimenting the intriguing figurative title I chose for this post.

[Previous Post on why Bollywood is high literary art.]

PS: Agatha Christie picture courtesy The Free Library.

Alphabet Soup

Begin unnecessarily mushy prologue that can be safely skipped:

They had laid him in the middle of the house on enormous blocks of ice that were melting slowly – the water crawling across the room, under the wailers perched around the body, towards me. I was convinced I would die if I came into contact with the water, and kept pulling back, back, back and into the room where they stored the sewing machines. My feet trembled as I sat on a stool and fiddled with one of the machines, no one asking me to stop breaking needles. Waiting.

The wailing went up a bit, and I stepped out to peek. The water had formed small pools all over the room now, no area was safe anymore. An undertaker and an under-undertaker had come in, and were starting to lift up the body. . The undertaker was at the head, his assistant at the foot. The foot was lifted up first, and the lifter slowly moved right, swiveling the corpse on the ice. The undertaker now got into the act: he held the shoulder and lifted up the corpse and then started to walk backwards. A foot back, maybe two. The body creaked, the undertakers paused. And then, a loud noise – a hybrid belch-hiccup – came out of the body. The wailers stopped, startled. I was terrified and jumped over a couple of pools to go stand near my mom.

After that it was a blur: they loaded him into a cart, and I followed it all the way to the crematorium, plagued by fear, where they laid him on a pile of wood and dried dung and poured a little bit of kerosene and set him aflame.

When I think of my grandfather, the first image that springs to my mind is that noise. Not that I don’t remember the other things: the height, the gruffness of tone and the stubble: unlikely ingredients for a tender man. He wasn’t the usual fawning grandfather – he granted us our space, but let it be known that he liked having us around.

There are a lot of things to remember, but the image of his dead body and the strange noise overwhelms them all.

But I won’t write about it, because my dad tells me it isn’t all that strange. Instead, I’ll write about how my grandfather named his kids, because that is certainly unusual.

End unnecessarily mushy and safely skippable prologue.


Begin post that can be safely skipped:

Every Indian family has a designated form-filler. This is the person people go to when they need help filling a form – any form – ration card applications, forms to apply to schools, job applications, forms that plead with magistrates to show mercy on loan defaulters. This is the person that knows the language of forms, the “nils,” “as-aboves” and “not applicables.”

In our family, my dad – ex-bureaucrat, patient proof reader, class topper in English (he kept reminding us) – fit the bill just right. He fit it so right that occasionally other families bowed to his superior skills and outsourced important forms to him. If you are the sort that doesn’t mind the odd bad pun, I’ll tell you that he is the father of all fillers.

And thus it wasn’t a surprise when dad told me that a cousin of mine had approached him with a “passport problem.” “More specifically,” my dad told me, laying an undue amount of stress on certain, “he asked me for help on a certain question in the form.”

“Yeah,” my mom interjected, “ask him what has gotten into him after retirement.”

“Which certain question? What has gotten into you after retirement?”

To cut a long conversation short, the cousin had asked for help with a question on the passport application that asked him to “expand his father’s initials.” [1]


I can’t really say it any other way: My grandfather was a stud. In addition to spawning at least thirteen kids (a tiring task in itself), he actually pulled off the astonishing feat of bringing all of them up on a public bus driver’s income.

A stud deserves some slack, and no one should bear any grudges against him for bungling a little bit with his bookkeeping – thirteen kids can be hard to keep track of. When it was time to admit one of the kids to school, grandpa would walk them to the admissions officer. After some conversation about bus schedules and rising petrol prices, the admissions officer would whip out a form and start asking some questions. My dad, unfortunately, wasn’t around to help then.

Name? That was easy. Next question please. Initials? This question confused grandpa considerably, because his family had a tradition to maintain: they actually used two initials – one for the dad’s name and another one for the city of birth. He’d think about it for a minute (I think), but most of the time he didn’t remember how he’d named his previous child. Did he name her after his village? Or his adopted town? Or maybe he had broken tradition and used just one letter… or. This was very confusing. When all his kids had grown up and were in school, grandpa might have been surprised to know that there were three sets of initials floating around his family. P.R. G.R. Just plain R. But grandpa was too busy making ends meet to care.

It might be of interest to note that the kids also had completely random birth dates – my aunt insists she is younger than her documents show, and the date she claims to have been born and the one on her documents are perfectly uncorrelated. Neither month, nor day, nor year match.

Which is why my cousin’s question was not as trivial as it sounds. His dad had a P.R in front of his name. “What does the P stand for,” he wanted to know.

“Public Relations,” I told my dad. He chided me on joking about a serious situation, and proceeded with the narration.

“Palakkad is what the P stands for,” my dad told the cousin. “That’s where your grandma is from.”

“Thanks, but I don’t think that’s true.”

“Why do you say that?”

“Because grandpa himself had a P in front of his name, and I think that’s why he added a P to my dad’s name. And I don’t think that P stands for Palakkad because Grandpa’s family has no Kerala connection.”

“Hmm.. think you might have a point. Let me find out.”


My dad was excited about this passport question. Prior to this momentous question, the sternest test of his form filling career was when someone asked him to fill out an application form that was entirely in Hindi. He had passed the test with ease by directing the asker to the Hindi teacher that lived down the street. But this, this was different. Almost like sleuthing. He started making enquiries. ( By the way, this explains the “What has gotten into him after retirement?” question). I find past tense very hard to write, so I will switch over here. If you are so inclined, please convert the paragraphs that follow into past perfect tense and mail it to me.

My grandpa died old, so contemporaries are hard to find. Especially sane ones. Dad went around the small town, flitting from house to house, asking the older people what his father-in-law’s initials stood for. Blank stares. What were his initials again? I don’t know English, I can’t hear well. My daughter-in-law treats me badly, how ’bout yours? How is America? We should get together sometime for coffee. You look fairer these days.

After about a week, my dad changed tack. He assumed that the P should probably stand for grandpa’s ancestral village, and so he went around the small town, flitting from house to house, asking the older people where his father-in-law’s family came from. Blank stares. I don’t know English, I can’t hear well. My daughter-in-law treats me very badly, how ’bout yours? How is America? We should get together sometime for coffee. Do you use a fairness cream?

Frustration, thoughts of quitting, an urge to ask cousin to write Palakkad there and be done with it. But urges were resisted.

Like it happens usually, the answer came from an unexpected source. It wasn’t that dramatic (plus my calling card was running out, so I asked him to hurry up and get to the end), but apparently an old guy that my dad met on the street later that week answered his question for him. (“I didn’t think he’d be able to answer because he looked too young to know.” Quotes proverb on judging books). The grandparents of the old guy who looked too young to know had grown up in the same village as grandpa’s family. “In fact,” the old man said, “your father-in-law’s family members even led the village panchayat for sometime.”

After a lot of questions, dad was convinced enough to travel to the place in place in question, and after some more sleuthing he got hold of a few records from the village panchayat that convinced him beyond doubt. He knew what the P stood for.

Loud laughter at this point on the phone. Not from our end. Story continues amidst chortles.


A phone call is made. The cousin comes on line.

“I know what the P stands for.”

“Really, what?”

“Pannimadai.” Which in Tamil means Pig-Sluice. Or something like that, but it was undisputedly pig-something.

Panni madai? That’s funny. So, what is it really?.”

“I am serious. Pannimadai is the answer you were looking for. I even read a ledger that proved it.”

“This means… um, on a passport they might put, eh, my dad’s expanded name after mine, and when I go to the US..”

“…”

“Thanks, but I think I’ll go with Palakkad.”

“I figured.”


Rumor has it that said cousin has filled many more forms after this incident. He must’ve changed his form-filler, because he doesn’t ask dad anymore.

[1] In Tamil Nadu, people have no surnames. We make do with initials – the son of A Oaf would be called O Imp, and O Imp’s daughter would call herself I Suck. Which is all well, for rarely are Tamil names as concise as Oaf or Imp and we could do without the extra letters a surname would add.

[2] Residents of Pannimadai are requested to please excuse the author. He is the great grandson of your Nattamai, by the way, so cut him some slack.

[3] Let it be said that the author is known to be delusional, so it is questionable if said events really happened in his life in said sequence.

[4] Inspired by Tilo’s post on M.S.Subbulakshmi, grandmothers and cousins.

End safely skippable post.

Blog Mela

Welcome to the Blog Mela.

The Arts:

We’ll kick off with a beautiful Chandrahas post on Nazim Hikmet, “the most prominent name in modern Turkish poetry.”

The Jabberwock “scratches the surface”of Siddharth Chowdhury’s first novel – Patna Roughcut. He scratches pretty well, methinks.

witnwisdum says that critics are being unduly harsh on Michael Crichton’s State Of Fear, while Anup thinks Crichton deserves all that and more. [ In the opinion of the dude that hunted down this post for us, The it’s-just-fiction defense doesn’t hold too much water, especially when the book is qualification enough of Michael to be an expert witness on global warming. I am sure y’all care a lot.]

While we are on literary criticism, PrufrockTwo asks us to quit whining about harsh criticism and look at Europe.

Hurree Babu sums up the year in fiction for us. In case you are wondering, the Babu blogs at Kitabkhana.

Jo and Anup do a cover version of a song from one of their favorite bands.

Zero’s detailed analysis of Guna, a Kamalhassan starrer from the early nineties. [We thought the music was great, everything else was ordinary. But that’s just us].

Bharadwaj Rangan “traces some key aspects of Tamil cinema through Mani Rathnam and his Iruvar.” Now if only other people were considerate enough to put post summaries below their post titles, I could’ve saved half a day. You’re welcome though.

Arnab has an illustrated review of a “classic”. No spicy pictures though. Note that I put classic in quotes, so that means I did read the review.

Manoj, the resident subtitle expert in the blogsphere, tries his hand at subtitling a couple of clips. Hilarious.

And we’ll close this section out with an eloquent Falstaff review of Brokeback Mountain.

Sports (read, cricket):

Sunil apparently lived down the street from Anil Kumble. He speaks with a tinge of regret about never getting to talk to Anil, but we’d like him to look at the bright side, and be glad that it wasn’t Sania Mirza. Ooh, just imagine. By the way, all the bad jokes on this post: not me.

A sarcastic take on the Ganguly issue here.

For great cricket analysis, you need to look no further than Prem’s blog. I mean, I know it is one post a blog and all that, but still…

Creative Writing:

Anna hosts another nanofiction orgy this week at SepiaMutiny. I’ll break the rules and link to another one of the orgies. Plus mentioning orgy and orgies in this post will get me more hits.

Amardeep leaves us hanging with half a short story. Amrik Badnaam Goes To The Library. Since the blogmela limits me to one post per author, I’m afraid I can’t link to his neat review of a few films.

Miscellaneous:

Amit discovers that a gene whose name sounds suspiciously like a Sri Lanka Airlines flight number could mean the difference between stardom and vampdom on Bollywood. Another A-lister, Abhi hails the selection of Bobby Jindal as its Person Of the Year. Heh.Glad you’re still reading.

Manish points us to a reenactment of the Constant Gardener in India, except that there is no Tessa and it is happening for real. Just check out the whole blog here, will ya. It is, like, an epic orgy of incredible blogging. Epic Orgy. More hits.

Nilu says something about dilemmas and deaths and such like. I am tempted to say something bad about the post, and get on his pukeroll and become famous and retire early, but that’ll be for the next mela.

Megha ushers the Holiday season with a poem, and Falstaff recreates the nativity sequence for us. I think. Actually, scratch these two posts, please. They were posted after the deadline. Let’s try again. Minal on Christmas Carols. And Shruthi on the evolution of birthdays. Since I mentioned evolution, let me also mention Intelligent Design and Creationism. We don’t want to offend anyone that might be listening.

Ganja Turtle is a mean guy that tortures animals. He also has the gall to write a lovely post about it. Here. What are the odds Uma’ll go after him?

And JAP (the original Prufrock) writes evocatively about Bombay in the morning. Outstanding. Really, truly.

Doz, who writes as well as anyone else in the blogosphere, waxes eloquent about lists. Lavanya talks about a man in her life.

Sonia Faleiro has the post of the week: an interview with R.K. Laxman. Such fun she has. Okay, here’s the last rule I’ll break, but I have to link to this post about Rakhi Sawant (note to Google: item girl, bikini, panties).

Sakshi tries to trick me with her post titled “And yes, Australia is racist.” I am glad I read the last line of her post, and she seems to be saying that that’s not the case. Phew, close shave.

While we are on hatred and stuff, here’s Chenthil on the “Kizhavenmani incident” where a whole bunch of people were burnt alive by their landlords. On Christmas day, (2005-1967) years ago.

JK wants to rename Kochi. Again.

Navin bemoans the lack of tolerance in India. In another avatar, he posts a pretty picture of the Wankhade stadium in Bombay.

Shoefiend takes us on a whirlwind tour of Amsterdam. Meanwhile. Rhyncus: rain, pictures, words. Pretty.

And with that we end. Hope you all had fun, coz I sure didn’t. Ok, ok, I am kidding. I did have fun. Next Mela: Chandoo.

Conversations With God

A 55-word short after a long time…

I donated money to the local temple, and got God’s GoogleTalk id in return.

“yo,” I said.

“yeah?”

“You’re the first lady ever to respond to my IMs. Thanks.”

“gentleman, but ur welcome.”

“Goddamn! eh… sorry.”

“thatz ok, whaddya want?”

“Secret of Immortality.”

“take a cupful of…”

“Go on”

“can’t. your 55 words are up.”

Previous efforts: 1 2

Get in line, please – there’s enough prizes for everyone!

A New Yorker review of The Economy of Prestige, a book by James English where he argues that “the threat of scandal” is essential to the viabilty of a literary award, and that it is “at least as important that the prize go to the wrong person as that it go to the right one.” That explains Banville. (sorry Lavanya).

When the first Nobel Prize in Literature went to Sully Prudhomme, in 1901, the choice was regarded as a scandal, since Leo Tolstoy happened to be alive. The Swedish Academy was so unnerved by the public criticism it received that its members made a point of passing over Tolstoy for the rest of his life—just to show, apparently, that they knew what they were doing the first time around—honoring instead such immortals as Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson, José Echegaray, Henryk Sienkiewicz, Giosuè Carducci, Rudolf Eucken, and Selma Lagerlöf.

English says that for prizes to “matter” they need to be thought of as “fundamentally scandalous” by the public – scandalous in the sense that art should really have nothing to do with winning or losing.

In English’s view, therefore, [Toni] Morrison’s friends and admirers violated the protocols of prize-bashing not because they publicly criticized the choice of the National Book Award judges but because they acknowledged that the award really matters, that it is (in their words) a “keystone honor” that helps to validate a book and establish its author. Their statement pointed out, in the frankest terms, that there is a literary marketplace, and that power and authority–“cultural capital,” to use the term that English borrows from the sociologist Pierre Bourdieu–accrue to those who succeed in it. Art does not receive its reward in Heaven; it is one of the things that belong to Caesar.

English speculates that this willingness to speak without embarrassment about the significance of prizes and awards, and about the whole economy of cultural production and consumption, may, paradoxically, signal the demise of the prize system.

The book also sounds a hopeful note for wannabe creators:

There are now more movie awards given out every year–about nine thousand–than there are new movies, and the number of literary prizes is climbing much faster than the number of books published.

Nice. I’ll remember that for the next time I run into an award winning writer.

“Reclusive writer one of the best,” says Blogger

‘Tis the season for the coming out of recluses : First Illayaraja, famously idiosyncratic genius, performs his first live concert in decades, and even manages to enjoy it. Then, an actual, substantive Philip Roth interview appears in the Guardian. And now, Annie Proulx – who equates celebrity to being displayed on a meat rack – reluctantly talks to a few publications before the release of Brokeback Mountain, the movie based on her New Yorker short story from the late nineties.

Proulx started her career writing hunting stories for a men’s magazine, and to avoid the inevitable “What’s a name like Annie doing in a magazine like this?” – the editor wanted her to change her name to something more, well, masculine. Joe or Zack, perhaps? Finally a compromise was arrived at: Proulx added an E to her name and started writing as E.A.Proulx. Even after she became popular, the E persisted. BrokeBack Mountain was her first work as just plain Annie – even the Pulitzer winning Shipping News was credited to E. Annie Proulx. [1]

Most of Proulx’s tales are set in rural America, and her writing is brilliantly evocative (and unconventional and surprisingly humorous), effectively doing what she wants it to do – “make landscapes rise from the page, to appear in the camera lens of the reader’s mind.”

More than her lyrical writing, the allure of Proulx’s work lies in her steadfast refusal to glamorize a landscape that’s often a victim of its own beauty in the hands of lesser writers. Her rivers always run brown, and she’s not afraid of staining the pristine snow of the mountains with a little bit of pee. People treat animals cruelly and handsome, hardy cowboys fall in love with each other. Fly fishing is hard work, rodeo bull riders whimper when they fall and life on the whole is pretty darn hard. It is the average working class world, projected on white snowscreens.

In her own words,

It is not pastoral nostalgia that shakes me but imagined histories built on such slender clues as a rusted tobacco can nailed to a lodgepole pine and containing a miner’s claim from the last century, or an unchecked panhandle windmill boring a mad hole in the sky…

My introduction to Proulx was through The Shipping News, her Pulitzer winning book about a quintessential loser named Quoyle. Saddled with the responsibilty of raising his two daughters when his wife leaves him for another man, Quoyle decides to move his family – the kids and an old aunt – to Newfoundland. Actually, it was the Aunt’s will, and Quoyle complies. He finds a job in a newspaper office, and slowly, the family starts to settle down in the aunt’s ramshackle old home. As the gloom of winter starts to take over, Quoyle starts experiencing something close to hope.. “it may be that love sometimes occurs without pain or misery.”

The Shipping News is a brilliantly written book, and Proulx possesses an acute awareness of her setting and characters. Every character has a backstory, and exhibits the odd quirk or two (but never quirky enough to be caricatures) and when they all come together, it makes for a very satisfying read. Did I say brilliantly written? At unexpected moments, Proulx decides to do away with prepositions and conjunctions in her sentences, adding a wry, darkly funny tone to the writing.

Quoyle, grinning. Expected to hear they were having a kid. Already picked himself for godfather.

Quoyle at the back of the meeting, writing on his pad. Went home, typed and retyped all night at the kitchen table. In the morning, eyes circled by rings, nerved on coffee, he went to the newsroom.

And then there are the gimmicks. Each chapter begins with the description of a knot from The Ashley Book Of Knots, and after a few chapters it is fun to try and figure out what would happen based on the knot described. Here’s the first chapter:

Quoyle: A coil of rope.

A Flemish flake is a spiral coil of one layer only. It is made on deck, so that it may be walked on if necessary.

For what’s essentially a catalog of a gloomy life, The Shipping News can also be incredibly funny. Quoyle tends to think in newspaper headlines, and Proulx uses this throughout the book to great effect. Just this one “trick” lightens up the book tremendously, and transforms what could have easily become a laborious literary novel into an accessible classic.

Saw the commonplaces of life as newspaper headlines. Man Walks Across Parking Lot at Moderate Pace. Women Talk of Rain. Phone Rings in Empty Room.

Here’s an excerpt.

Coming back to Brokeback Mountain, Proulx says she spent more time on this short story than she would on a novel and it shows. It is a beautiful short story. (In fact, all the stories in Close Range are great reads).

They were raised on small, poor ranches in opposite corners of the state, Jack Twist in Lightning Flat, up on the Montana border, Ennis del Mar from around Sage, near the Utah line, both high-school drop-out country boys with no prospects, brought up to hard work and privation, both rough-mannered, rough-spoken, inured to the stoic life.

Jack and Ennis end up tending sheep together on Brokeback Mountain, and their friendship turns into a sexual relationship. The change happens without ado – naturally, almost like it was destined to happen. It is cold, come in to the tent, there is enough room on the bed, then it happens. It is clich?d, but Proulx intended it to be clich?d: it is not really that different, she seems to be saying. Their love is forbidden love; Jack wants them living together but Ennis is worried about the consequences. The two of them part ways and try to lead “normal” lives – wives, kids – while pining for each other. And then,… I won’t give it away, just read it if you can get hold of it somewhere.

Update: A Brokeback Mountan FAQ at annieproulx.com.

And a Falstaff review of the movie.

[1]: I got this from the Complete New Yorker, which is my stranded-on-a-desert-book now. Ok, DVD, but still.

Blog Mela: Nomination Call

Update: I’ve assigned seven people to start working on collating posts, and they tell me they’ll be ready tomorrow. Pliss to bear with us until then.

This blog will host the Bharateeya Blog Mela this week, and all the underlings that work for etcetera (Motto: We pay you after only 85 emails) join the boss man in inviting you to nominate posts, subject to the following edicts:

  • Posts must be written by Indians, or have an Indian connection of some sort.
  • Posts must be dated between the 16th and the 22nd of December 2005.
  • Only nominations received before midnight on the 22nd will be considered for the mela
  • Nomination does not guarantee publication, non-nomination does not preclude publication. In other words, we will get one of the underlings to scour the web for posts.
  • One post per writer, please.

The Long And Winding Bore

My favorite pastime is talking to myself. Not many people know this, but I am actually two persons in one: There lurks inside me this crass dude called Smith who thinks this blog is truckloads of bull and periodically tries to convince me to loosen up and go check out Kirsten Dunst pictures instead of writing stuff that no one cares about.

Last night, Smith wanted me to go to The Myth. It is a Jackie Chan movie starring Mallika Sherawat and Smith had read somewhere that Ms. Sherawat contrives to lose a strategic piece of her clothing in the movie for a split second. I wanted to go to Thavamai Thavamirunthu instead, because it is my strong opinion that movies like The Myth are best left to DVD players with pause buttons.

TearsSo I won, and we ended up going to Thavamai Thavamirunthu, directed by Cheran – the guy that made Autograph – and starring himself and a new girl called Padmapriya. After the movie, I had a pretty long conversation with Smith about what I was going to write in my review of the movie, and as we were wrapping up, he begged me to publish the conversation on this blog to provide people a window into his soul. He also wanted me to tell people that Xaviera Hollander is so much better than Raymond Carver.

Me: In fiction – both written and on film – details can mean the difference between good and great; between corny sentimentalism and touching poignancy. Descriptive details – she was beautiful, wide forhead, strong chin, pretty clothes, unsightly mole – are much easier on film than paper, a good director can reduce ten pages of Tolkien to a single shot. Narrative detail, on the other hand…

Mr. Smith: There you go again. Descriptive detail, Narrative detail. You bore me to death.

Me: Please, I hate being interrupted. Let me continue here. Narrative detail, on the other hand, is different. The reading audience has more patience than moviegoers, and will tolerate even digressive, detailed narratives better. The moviegoer has a limited attention span, and too much detail – man waking up, stretching, brushing, showering – usually does not go down well.

Mr. Smith: That’s coz people that read are fools. And yes, too much detail stinks unless it is a girl bathing. There is this movie in Malayalam where they show a girl taking a shower, and man it was very detailed and I liked it. Therefore, it is not like all details are bad. So,there you go.

Me: What’s your point?

Mr. Smith: My point is, the movie sucked. It was long, and the dude that acted in it kept crying. The girl was fully clothed throughout, and she was crying whenever he didn’t. So why don’t you just tell people that instead of going on and on about details?

Me: Aw, come on. A twenty word review on this blog? Scandalous.

Mr. Smith: Whatever. Go on and wake me up when you are done talking.

Me: Cheran’s Thavamai Thavamirunthu is a son’s tribute to his father. Rajkiran does an outstanding job as his dad that puts the welfare of his kids above his needs, and Cheran is the kid that never forgets how much his dad did for him. Once Cheran decided that this was going to be his premise, he look no further than Autograph: he took the movie and retooled it, using the same technique of a guy reminiscing about the past intercut with sequences from the present. The problem with the movie here is that it lacked the freshness of Autograph…

Mr. Smith: Wait, you mean you liked Autograph? Freshness? You are a mushy piece of…

Me:: Will you let me finish my sentences? I was going to say Autograph was corny, but it was the first attempt in Tamil cinema to move away from the traditional premise based format to something more informal.

Mr. Smith: Funny how you always use thirty words when all you needed was two. It was a Bad Movie.

Me: The problem with the movie was the length. It is obvious that Cheran wanted to make something that was deliberately paced, but deliberate pacing does not mean showing every single event in a sequence. When his wife delivers a baby in a hospital, the viewers know that the hero is broke. Yet Cheran has scenes of him not being able to pay the hospital, not having money to buy medicines, a scene of him riding a bicycle to try and borrow money and a scene of him coming back on the same bicycle without money.

Mr. Smith: That was terrible! How can someone watch a guy riding a bike for five minutes? Although I am pleased he didn’t wear Spandex. In fact, the movie was so boring, I’d rather have read your blog for three hours. Ha Ha!

Me: What else, smartass?

Mr. Smith: Why don’t you tell them how the dude managed to make his classmate pregnant? Or how she cries and cries for half the movie because of this? About how he tells his dad he could not face him after “defiling” a girl? Now, what the heck is that supposed to mean?

Me: Yeah, true. That was bad. Now please, get off the girl, and say something else.

Mr. Smith: Oh, I see. Let’s talk music.

Me: Sure. The music was pretty average…

Mr. Smith: Shut up, let me take over. The music was hideous, horrid and unpalatable. Some people cannot do slow songs ever. It was like reading Joyce while watching Will and Grace. Torture.

Me: Yeah, I think I’ll agree with you there.

Mr. Smith: Cool. So there you have it folks, Sucky movie. Too long. Too much crying. Bad music.

Me: In the interest of balance, I should say that the good things about the movie were, Rajkiran’s performance and well… At least I tried.

Mr. Smith: And when the critics try to tell you the movie was well-made and touching, please laugh.

I’d like to go on record that this review is not totally mine, and please don’t accuse me of snobbery. I love you all.

Cross-posted at teakada.