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Welcome to Sajjanpur is engaging

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I saw “Welcome to Sajjanpur” yesterday. I thought it was nice. Easy on the mind. The songs were totally unnecessary, otherwise it was pretty engaging.

Shreyas Talpade is brilliant in his portrayal of an educated rural young man who dreams of becoming a fiction writer someday. The character is basically a noble creature at heart, complete with ordinary human weaknesses. He is believable. So is Amrita Rao as a young married rural girl waiting for her husband to return from the city. Not at all glamorous, Amrita still looks beautiful and fresh.

The other cast and crew were OK. Ravi Kishen was at his irritating best. Ila Arun added to the irritation quotient of the film.

Through “Welcome to Sajjanpur” Shyam Benegal shows that you can make a film on an extremely simple story, without too much conflict and yet keep it engaging. Not among his best. But still pretty good.

Written by Manoj Khatri

5 October 2008 at 11:05 am

Posted in Expressions, Reviews

“The Zahir” is about soul searching

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A couple of days ago, I picked up this book, for no rhyme or reason, and then finished reading it over the next 48 hours. No matter how absurd it seems, time and again I have discovered that books end up being read only when the time is right.

Although I had a copy for more than a year or so, I kept putting off reading The Zahir by Paulo Coelho because I had heard mixed reactions to it. Some said it was very boring, some said it was good. But no one spoke about it in superlative terms. I should’ve known better. Because when I went by other people’s “high” opinions, and read The Alchemist by the same author, I was disappointed. Yet when I read his Veronica Decides to Die, which no one ever mentioned in the same vein as The Alchemist, I was thrilled. I thought it was a fantastic book and only an extremely sensitive person could’ve written a story like that. The Zahir too has some brilliant moments, some “a-ha!” ideas .

The way Coelho has narrated The Zahir, it appears to be his own real account. The protagonist, the narrator of the story, is a writer whose life and history is pretty much like Coelho’s own.

The Zahir is a good story. I found many flaws in the book— sketchy characters, fluctuating pace, often ambiguous dialogues, narcissism—but in spite of these, I loved it. Set partly in Paris and partly in Kazakhstan, the story is about the complexities of relationships.

The narrator is a writer who writes on spirituality (there is an indirect reference to The Alchemist too) and is expected by the world to have mastered human frailties. Yet, he succumbs to them all the time. I could relate to his humanness, his continuous struggle to be a better person, and his enormous capacity to love.

The character I loved the most is that of Esther, the narrator’s wife, who loves him so much and yet leaves him quite suddenly. I liked her attitude. I liked how she did everything she could to make him what he is…I liked her selflessness and unconditional love. And yet paradoxically, she leaves him because she wants to save her relationship with himthe man she loves so much. She leaves him in search of true happiness. She leaves him to find herself. And as she leaves, she becomes the narrator’s Zahiran object of obsession. We learn about Esther only from the lens of narrator’s memories, because the story begins after she leaves him.

I don’t agree with many of the narrator’s (Coelho’s?) life values, but I like his candidness, his humility and also at times his arrogance. He comes across as unpretentious, even if a bit stuck-up in his celebrity status.

If you’re looking for a literary masterpiece, skip The Zahir. However, if you’re ready for some serious soul searching about relationships, you’ll find plenty of substance. It’s definitely worth a read.

© Manoj Khatri

Written by Manoj Khatri

3 November 2007 at 2:58 pm

A letter to Ms Sanghamitra Chakraborty

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Sanghamitra Chakraborty
Editor
Prevention (India Edition)

Dear Editor:

I was taken aback on reading your note in the latest (July 2007) issue of Prevention magazine (India Edition).

Here’s an extract of the note that I found particularly startling:

“I know of a man who had devised a simple way to sort his laundry. He would fling them on the wall in front of him. If they stuck, thanks to the grime, they were ready for a wash. If they didn’t, he would use them until they did.”

From this you conclude that “men are wired differently” and that “men don’t waste their time fussing about cleanliness”.

You also go on to call the July issue of Prevention a “user’s guide to men”. You seem to have decoded men in entirety.

I am sorry to say but this is the worst kind of gender-based over-generalisation I have read in my life.

First, you have simply declared that “men” care little about cleanliness.

Ms. Chakraborty, just because you happen to know an unkempt, scruffy man who doesn’t wash his clothes till they become “sticky” doesn’t mean that all men do the same. Far from it…in fact there are as many men out there who fuss about cleanliness as there are women.

Then, you mention men not being interested in “cooking elaborate meals”. I would like to draw your attention to an interesting statistic: 79 percent of all lead kitchen positions including chefs are men; and these guys cook nothing if not elaborate meals. Not that it makes any difference. Chefs or not, if you ask me, cooking elaborate meals is a matter of personal interest and has nothing to do with gender.

If I sound like I am writing in defence of men, then I am not. I am only writing against gender-based over-generalisation.

To prove my point, let me give you an example of another common and absurd over-generalisation – this one stacked against women:

“Men are better and safer drivers than women”.

You’d be pleasantly surprised to know that in 1998, American women caused only 27 percent of fatal crashes while American men caused the rest. (Insurance Institute of Highway Safety, USA)

Moving on, the article you refer to in your editor’s note (Steal His Routine, Prevention, July 2007) is equally absurd. It says:

“Guys go from fast asleep to ready for work in 20 minutes flat.”

Are you kidding? It takes me at least, and I mean at the very least, an hour to get ready for work from the time I wake up! I prefer two though. I know many of my male friends who need similar timelines to get ready in the mornings. On the other hand, some of my female friends are quicker to get ready.

Any kind of over-generalisation only reflects prejudice. Physiological differences are all right. But behavioural differences between men and women are not rules. I think it is unbecoming of a magazine like Prevention to take such a biased view of half of the world’s population. I hope you prevent such a prejudiced view of the world in your future editions.

Unbiased,
Manoj Khatri

Written by Manoj Khatri

2 July 2007 at 11:19 pm

SRK in KBC

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By chance, I happened to watch a bit of the last episode of Kaun Banega Crorepati’s third season (Shah Rukh Khan’s first). When I had first read that SRK would be hosting KBC, I was sceptical. I thought he would never be able to match up to Amitabh Bachchan’s charisma. After what I saw the other night, I confess that he’s proved me, and many others like me, wrong. In my defence, I still maintain that AB is matchless. But SRK has created his own benchmark. It’s best if AB and SRK not compared — to each other or to anyone else.

Three striking qualities about SRK set him apart from most other stars.

1. He’s an absolute charmer. He knows how to make you smile and endears you with his mannerisms, his sense of humour and his intelligence.
2. He works very hard, puts in his best in whatever he does.
3. He is full of raw energy, which is infectious. He lights up the screen with his liveliness…you can almost see energy oozing out from his every cell.

Pulling off a show like KBC, esp after the high standards that AB had set is no mean feat. Hats off SRK.

Written by Manoj Khatri

21 April 2007 at 8:39 am

Posted in Reviews

For you, a thousand times over

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Today, after a long time — and heavens know it has been really long! — I spent the whole day reading. The book was The Kite Runner by Khalid Hosseini.

Set for most part in Afghanistan, it gives us a sneak preview into the forgotten days of this once beautiful and peaceful country before the Russian invasion.

The writing style is absorbing. The liberal use of Afghani words such as Baksheish, tanhaii, mareez, jaan, noor and many others adds a fresh flavour. Khalid’s description of life in peacetime and war-torn Afghanistan is vivid without being dreary. The protagonist Amir’s self-effacing first person account makes the story much more believable and poignant. The character of Amir’s father and Hassan are well-crafted and do not waver with time.

I don’t want to comment on the actual story because it’s more a matter of personal preference, less of subjective evaluation. Many may like the story, some may not. All I can say is that it kept me hooked on for seven hours at a stretch…

Written by Manoj Khatri

3 March 2007 at 11:38 pm

Posted in On Writing, Reviews

Kabul Express

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It’s the first time I am driven to write about a movie. But then not everyday a movie like Kabul Express [KE] is made. I wonder why the movie didn’t do very well…but then again, movies like KE often do not find an audience because they are not made to please everyone and his brother. KE is out and out a passion product. Even though it’s shot entirely in the war-torn Afghanistan, it’s a fast-paced flick with not a moment of boredom. One reason for it, I suppose, was the absence of songs. The script is focussed on delivering a social message and does so very effectively.

I think it needs a genious to make a movie with five characters who are travelling in an MUV under a constant threat of getting killed and yet managing to keep the audience in splits throughout the two hours. The comic timing of Arshad Warsi is as brilliant as ever — he’s a genius in his own right and deserves much more recognition. Noteworthy is John Abraham’s chemistry with Hanif Hum Ghum, who plays Khyber, the proud Afghan who hates the Taliban for the destruction they have caused. Linda Arsenio, who plays Jessica Beckham, an American photojournalist ready to risk her life to capture the Taliban in her camera, looks beautiful and fresh, and her performance is subtle. But to me, the man who takes the lion’s share is Salman Shahid. He plays Imran Khan Afridi, a soldier of the Pakistan Army who served the Taliban in the name of duty and who now needs to escape the wrath of the Afghans. His performance can be summed up in one word: excellent. He manages to evoke our sympathy in spite of having served the Taliban.

The cinematography is smooth, the background score is inspiring, and the direction is elegant. No histrionics, no excessive drama, just a clean story with a clear focus. It’s an intelligent film. Watch it if you can.

Written by Manoj Khatri

14 January 2007 at 12:45 pm

Posted in Reviews