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Buster Keaton in Sherlock Jr., 1924

February 14, 2012

Respect Your National Anthem,
Respect Your Nation

On Friday, February 10, I posted a video of India’s Silent National Anthem. Today, I am posting another one called Respect the National Anthem, an award-winning ad. I hope you will click on “Play” and watch both the videos. I have a feeling you will like them. They have touched a lot of non-Indian hearts on YouTube


For Tuesday’s Forgotten/Overlooked films, don’t forget to visit Todd Mason’s blog Sweet Freedom.


February 10, 2012

The Silent National Anthem 

All of us feel that the national anthem of our own country is the best in the world. We rise to our feet every time the anthem is played and we beam with pride every time we listen to it. No other song gives more goose bumps than the national anthem. How many of us remember other national anthems of the world? I have heard America’s The Star-Spangled Banner on a few occasions but I wouldn’t be able to hum a line if you asked me to. And why should I? I have my own anthem and it's better than yours!

India’s national anthem – Jana, Gana, Mana – is, arguably, one of the finest. It was composed and set to music by Nobel laureate Rabindranath Tagore, the renowned writer, poet, musician, playwright, and spiritual preceptor. Although Tagore originally wrote it in Bengali in 1911 and later translated it into English, the anthem was adopted by the Constituent Assembly as the Indian national anthem on January 24, 1950. Jana, Gana, Mana means “Thou art the ruler of the minds of all people, Dispenser of India's destiny…” You will find a nice piece about the anthem here.

Over the years the Indian national anthem has been scored and sung in a hundred different ways, and it’s hard to pick any one. My own favourite is The Silent National Anthem created by Mudra Group on the occasion of India’s 61st Republic Day, which falls on January 26 every year. August 15 is our independence day. This beautiful version of the anthem is played in all BIG Cinemas, a division of entertainment group Reliance MediaWorks, minutes before a film rolls. Some years ago, the federal government made it mandatory for all movie theatres to play the national anthem before the start of the film. It’s a goose bumpy feeling if there’s ever one inside a cinema hall.

Check it out below and tell me exactly what you felt, though don't I know that feeling already.




February 8, 2012

R.I.P. Sharada Dwivedi, 1942-2012

On February 6, Bombay (now known as Mumbai) lost one of its most important denizens — Sharada Dwivedi — who spent a lifetime chronicling and conserving the city's historic building and architectural heritage. The 69-year old genteel urban historian died after a brief illness.

Dwivedi, who completed her schooling from Queen Mary's High School, graduated from Sydenham College of Commerce and Economics, and took a degree in Library Science from the University of Mumbai, wrote several books including Bombay: The Cities Within (1995), her first, with noted historian and architect Rahul Mehrotra.

Some of her other notable books were Banganga, Sacred Tank (1996), Fort Walks (1999), Anchoring a City Line: The History of the Western Suburban Railway and its Headquarters in Bombay (2000), The Jehangir Art Gallery (2002), and The Victoria Memorial School for the Blind (2002). Each traced the rich and vibrant heritage of these historic buildings. 

Dwivedi, who often fought politicians to preserve Bombay's heritage, was involved in several conservation projects and served as a member of the Mumbai Heritage Conservation Committee. She was also a member of the Executive Committee of the Urban Design Research Institute and a consultant to the Bombay Collaborative, which works with historic buildings in the city. 

If Bombay owes its historic buildings and monuments to the British, it owes their preservation to Sharada Dwivedi.

















Seat of Learning: The Rajabai Clock Tower located within the Fort Campus (headquarters) of the University of Mumbai was designed by Sir George Gilbert Scott, an English architect, who modelled it on London's Big Ben. The 85-metre tall landmark in south Bombay was built in 1878. 
Photo: Prashant C. Trikannad

February 7, 2012

A Passage to India (1984)

A Passage to India is my contribution this week to Tuesday's Overlooked/Forgotten Films at Todd Mason’s blog. You will find lots of interesting film and television reviews over there.

English novelist E.M. Forster (1879-1970) wrote A Passage to India in 1924 and, sixty years later, British filmmaker David Lean (1908-1991) made it into a successful film. It was his last. The film owes its success to Forster’s personal experience of India during the British Raj as much as it does to Lean’s keen writing and directorial sense.

For instance, Lean has captured, quite appropriately, the nationalistic, and often irrational, fervour and sentiment of the Indian people outraged by the arrest of a young doctor on charges of molesting an English woman. Set in 1920s, during the height of the freedom movement, the accusation is perceived as yet another racist attack by the imperialist British against an “innocent” countryman. A case of rubbing salt into the wound… 

A Passage to India is the story of Dr. Aziz H. Ahmed, a widower, played by the seasoned character-actor Victor Banerjee, who unwittingly endears himself to a young woman named Adela (Judy Davis) and her future mother-in-law Mrs. Moore (Peggy Ashcroft). The two women from England wish to see the real India with an unprejudiced eye and ask Aziz to take them on a sightseeing trip to the Marabar Caves, a fictional place. Overcome by claustrophobia during the trip, Mrs. Moore excuses herself and insists the two proceed without her.

When Aziz and Adela, escorted by a lone guide, reach the caves on top of a hill, the doctor excuses himself briefly to have a quiet smoke behind a rock. As Adela awaits his return, she ventures into one of the caves and soon begins to get a distorted feeling within the dark and foreboding interior. Aziz returns to the spot to find Adela missing. He peers into the cave and calls out her name frantically. Though she can see him standing in the sunlit entrance to the cave, she remains silent. He can’t see her in the pitch darkness. As Aziz moves away to look for her elsewhere, Adela emerges from the cave and runs blindly down the hill to the road below where she is “rescued” by another English woman and taken to the hospital. Adela is shivering and is disoriented, and has cuts all over her body.
 

Judy Davis, Victor Banerjee and Peggy Ashcroft in the film.

The story begins when Adela accuses Aziz of attempted rape and the physician is promptly arrested and placed on trial. The action shifts to the court where a bespectacled and harried Indian judge presides over the case in the presence of a trio of lawyers for the defendant, McBryde (Michael Culver), the police inspector and public prosecutor, and a room filled with English men and women waiting for Aziz to be sentenced. Outside, there is complete pandemonium as a huge crowd of angry Indians push back the khakhi-clad policemen in a violent effort to storm the court.

In the end, Adela takes the stand, looks up hesitantly, and finds Aziz glowering at her. And that’s as far as I’m going with this review. No spoilers.

© www.openlibrary.org
Of the cast Judy Davis as Adela is not very convincing while the elderly Peggy Ashcroft as Mrs. Moore raises the bar with her grace and quiet elegance. Victor Banerjee does well as the bearded Dr. Aziz Ahmed with a talkative and an emotional disposition. He has a formidable reputation in parallel cinema as opposed to the commercial films dished out by the Indian film industry every year.

Apart from Aziz and the two English women, there are two other notable characters— Richard Fielding (James Fox), superintendent of the local school, the only Englishman who believes his friend Aziz is innocent, and Prof. Godbole (Alec Guinness), an elderly Brahmin scholar who wears a turban and looks at everything with an indifferent eye. “My philosophy is you can do what you like... but the outcome will be the same,” he tells Fielding.

As I said at the beginning, Lean has made this film the way an Indian director would have made it, particularly in terms of the mood and emotion of the people, the summer sun that breathes hot and humid air down your neck, the sudden downpour that takes a suited and booted Richard Fielding by surprise, and the rustic landscape of the countryside, little details that enrich the film.

A Passage to India, which is true to Forster’s novel, does justice to both, the Indians and the British, and therein lies its appeal.


A few interesting facts… 

David Lean has made ambitious films based on several famous books like The Greatest Story Ever Told by Fulton Oursler; Dr. Zhivago by Boris Pasternak; Lawrence of Arabia, based on the life of T.E. Lawrence; The Bridge on the River Kwai by French author Pierre Boulle; One Woman's Story by H.G. Wells; and Oliver Twist and Great Expectations by Charles Dickens.

Peggy Ashcroft, the legendary English actress, was made a Dame of the British Empire by Queen Elizabeth II in 1956. She won an Academy Award and Golden Globe for Best Supporting Actress, and a BAFTA Award for Best Actress in a Leading Role.

A Passage to India was nominated for 11 Academy Awards (won two), 5 Golden Globe (won three), and 9 BAFTA Awards (won one), all including Peggy Ashcroft.

Five of David Lean’s movies appeared in the top 30 (three of them in the top five) in a list of 100 favourite British films of the 20th century compiled by the British Film Institute in 1999.

February 6, 2012

How to Fail in Literature by Andrew Lang

© Century Magazine/Wikimedia Commons
 
One of the joys of going through eBooks out of copyright and available legally is discovering rare fiction and non-fiction that some of us might not have heard about. These are plain vanilla texts of books, manuscripts, journals, periodicals, and magazines, as well as anthologies and collections of literary works recorded in easy-to-read format. In case you don’t like reading thick eBooks, then you have the option of settling for the smaller variety like essays, speeches, lectures, and short stories. There’s something for everyone online.

Going through one of the many eBook sites, I came across a short and interesting piece by one Andrew Lang who I found was a Scottish poet, novelist, literary critic and, believe it or not, an ardent contributor in the field of anthropology. According to an article at Wikipedia, Lang, who lived from March 1844 to July 1912, was best known as a collector of folk and fairy tales. The Andrew Lang lectures at the University of St. Andrews, the oldest university in Scotland, are 
named after him.

How to Fail in Literature, the article I referred to, was actually a lecture delivered by Lang at the South Kensington Museum, London, in aid of the College for Working Men and Women. The
museum is now known as the Victoria and Albert Museum. Lang expanded his discourse on a career in literature and published a small booklet in 1890. The PDF version on my desktop is 22 pages long. 

Andrew Lang’s address became a sort of literary benchmark for budding writers. As the title suggests, the Scottish writer, tongue firmly in cheek, provides lots of tips on how you can, literally, spoil your chances of a career in literature. He expects you to heed his advice. On the flipside, it can also be taken as a serious guide to how not to fail in literature, if you know what I mean.
 

While the lecture touches upon all the elements and characteristics of literary writing that are relevant even today, it is out of place in so far as modern technology-driven writing and publishing is concerned.

I have reproduced below some quotes from How to Fail in Literature which I found stimulating and entertaining.

“IT is impossible to prophesy the success of a man of letters from his early promise, his early tastes; as impossible as it is to predict, from her childish grace, the beauty of a woman.”

“THERE is no more frequent cause of failure than doubt and dread; a beginner can scarcely put his heart and strength into a work when he knows how long are the odds against his victory, how difficult it is for a new man to win a hearing, even though all editors and publishers are ever pining for a new man.”

“IT might be wiser to do as M. Guy de Maupassant is rumoured to have done, to write for seven years, and shew your essays to none but a mentor as friendly severe as M. Flaubert. But all men cannot have such mentors, nor can all afford so long an unremunerative apprenticeship. For some the better plan is NOT to linger on the bank, and take tea and good advice, as Keats said, but to plunge at once in mid-stream, and learn swimming of necessity.”

“EDITORS and publishers, these keepers of the gates of success, are not infallible, but their opinion of a beginner's work is far more correct than his own can ever be. They should not depress him quite, but if they are long unanimous in holding him cheap, he is warned, and had better withdraw from the struggle. He is either incompetent, or he has the makings of a Browning. He is a genius born too soon. He may readily calculate the chances in favour of either alternative.”

“STYLE may be good in itself, but inappropriate to the subject. For example, style which may be excellently adapted to a theological essay, may be but ill-suited for a dialogue in a novel.”

“THE young author generally writes because he wants to write, either for money, from vanity, or in mere weariness of empty hours and anxiety to astonish his relations. This is well, he who would fail cannot begin better than by having nothing to say. The less you observe, the less you reflect, the less you put yourself in the paths of adventure and experience, the less you will have to say, and the more impossible will it be to read your work.”

“IMITATION does a double service, it secures the failure of the imitator and also aids that of the unlucky author who is imitated. As soon as a new thing appears in literature, many people hurry off to attempt something of the same sort. It may be a particular trait and accent in poetry, and the public, weary of the mimicries, begins to dislike the original.”

“THE common novels of Governess life, the daughters and granddaughters of Jane Eyre, still run riot among the rejected manuscripts. The lively large family, all very untidy and humorous, all wearing each other's boots and gloves, and making their dresses out of bedroom curtains and marrying rich men, still rushes down the easy descent to failure.”

“WHEN you have done your book, you may play a number of silly tricks with your manuscript. I have already advised you to make only one copy, a rough one, as that secures negligence in your work, and also disgusts an editor or reader. It has another advantage, you may lose your copy altogether, and, as you have not another, no failure can be more complete.”

“MUCH may be done by asking him for “introductions” to a legal advisor editor or publisher. These gentry don't want introductions, they want good books, and very seldom get them. If you behave thus, the man whom you are boring will write to his publisher:

Dear Brown,

A wretched creature, who knows my great aunt, asks me to recommend his rubbish to you. I send it by today's post, and I wish you joy of it.

This kind of introduction will do you excellent service in smoothing the path to failure.”

“AN author can make almost a certainty of disastrous failure, by carrying to some small obscure publisher a work which has been rejected by the best people in the trade. Their rejections all but demonstrate that your book is worthless.”

“A GOOD way of making yourself a dead failure is to go about accusing successful people of plagiarising from books or articles of yours which did not succeed, and, perhaps, were never published at all.”


Source for How to Fail in Literature: Project Gutenberg

February 5, 2012

Gregory Peck reads

With Ava Gardner in The Great Sinner (1949)


With Mary Badham in To Kill A Mockingbird (1962)



February 3, 2012

‘I wish I was a spaceman, 
the fastest guy alive’

 
Colonel Steve Zodiac: Okay, Venus? 
Venus: Okay, Steve. 
Colonel Steve Zodiac: Right, Let's Go!

These were the lines spoken by Steve and Venus at the start of every episode and just prior to boarding Fireball XL5, the spaceship that took the young astronauts on a new interplanetary mission.

Fireball XL5, a popular children's science-fiction television series, was broadcast on NBC in early 1960. As kids we used to watch the black-and-white show in late 1970s on Doordarshan, the state-run television channel in India. Incidentally, Doordarshan means Far Vision. In those days the half-an-hour show was all the TV entertainment we got and so we didn't miss a single episode.
 


The puppet-animated series was created and produced by the husband-wife team of Gerry and Sylvia Anderson and launched through their company APF.

Colonel Steve Zodiac, the commander of Fireball XL5, accompanied by his girlfriend Venus, a space doctor; her semi-telepathic pet Zoonie; Prof. Matthew 'Matt' Matic, navigator and engineer; and co-pilot Robert, a mechanical robot, patrolled Sector 25 of charted interstellar space — like space policemen.

Zodiac and the others belonged to World Space Patrol, a part of Space City, located on a mysterious island in the South Pacific, and headed by Commander Wilbur Zero who had an assistant called Lieutenant Ninety.
 


As I recall, the most exciting part of each episode was when the credits rolled to the catchy tune of "I wish I was a spaceman, the fastest guy alive. I'd fly you 'round the universe, in Fireball XL5" — a theme song written by Barry Gray and sung by Don Spencer, and intoned by kids glued to the television set. After some thirty-odd years, it's still playing in my ears. You'll find it on YouTube.

Another thrilling moment was when Colonel Zodiac took off in the spaceship from a sharply vertical sky ramp that never seemed to end. You didn't know whether they were about to hurtle into space or taking a roller-coaster ride. According to an article on Wikipedia, Anderson was "inspired by an old Soviet design, a concept also used in the film When Worlds Collide."

Steve Zodiac’s Fireball XL5 and James T. Kirk’s Star Trek were the only television shows based on science fiction that I watched in my early youth. While the episodes were kid stuff and nothing much to talk about, it was Fireball XL5 that introduced me to the sf genre long before anything else did. The regular visits to the theatres to watch science-fiction films like 2001: A Space Odyssey, Close Encounters of the Third Kind and Back to the Future came much later.

February 2, 2012

Tarzan and Conan

The Ape-Man and the Barbarian are similar in many ways but the two things they have in common above all is the absence of fear and the ability to fight all kinds of creatures, man and monster, as these two fine covers will tell you. I had both these comic-books in my collection for a long time till, one day, I noticed they were missing. Tarzan and Conan have never failed to entertain since Edgar Rice Burroughs and Robert E. Howard created the two mighty superheroes in 1912 and 1932.