Dreaming in Words and Images


I love movies. Especially if the movie has been made from a known story. The eyes perceive what the mind once imagined freely. The process of remembering the beloved lines of the book , as the story unfolds on the screen, is a very enjoyable one.  Sometimes, one finds that the artistic liberty of the director has changed the story line altogether-  for example, any one who has read ‘Chocolat’ the novel by Joanne Harris, and watched the movie,would appreciate the point above. But surprise, surprise, one finds that both the versions are great and delectable.

The vagaries of directorial interpretations have directed me to a new past time- reading screen plays. And then you realise that the movie is yet a third version, forget the story and the screen play! In Sanskrit theatre and in Kerala Kathakali there is something nuanced known as ‘Manodharma’- what the actor on the stage can come up with-on the spot. Improvise, I believe,is what the normal people would call it. But Manodharma can often take genius tinted leaps of imagination! It can be in a whole new laugh, the twist of the mouth, the swagger that came in, the look that smoulders, the tilting of the head..When a singer improvises, like Mohammed Rafi  using his Manodharma during certain songs featuring Shammi Kapoor, the voice can undulate and elongate to suit the actor’s artistic eccentricities.

When I grew up, beautiful novels in Malayalam were regular features of vernacular magazines that were voraciously consumed in my household. I used to have free access as a child, thanks to quite understanding aunts and uncles around, to Malayalam novels written for much mature audience. Now, in You Tube era, I happily discover that many of those novels, whose characters and lines I still remember,  can be watched  in movies uploaded therein! The happiness is ineffable- like a child who suddenly discovered a treasure trove of old comics inside a dusty trunk in the attic! I have enjoyed movies based on my favourite novels of writers like Mallika Yunis, Shyamala,Chandra Kala S Kammath, Ajayaghosh and a host of others.( Ente Upasana, Sandhyakku virinja poovu, Rugma, Snehamulla Simham etc…yeah even cult classic Kalika which was written by the formidably brilliant and erudite IFS officer Mohanachandran,serialised in Kumkumam…My mother was a wonderfully liberal mother,haha! Or in other words, it shocked the hell out of readers- and would certainly be banned today. The movie is a far censored version, I should say! Ah, that leads to the screenplay of Nirmalyam…let me not start digressing!)

Certain movies were entirely different- based on pertinent political events of the times- nothing to do with novels.How lovely to watch some of them-strong and dignified characters.”Do not be enslaved by anyone or any thing,” says Indira, the brilliant revolutionary in M.T.Vasudevan Nair’s classic ‘Panchagni’ to her brother who is a drug addict.Quoting an incident about Fidel Castro, the hero ( actually she is the only hero of that movie unless you count her mother, the fiery freedom fighter) tries to get her attention! I love their dresses, their elegance, the sense of self-worth. I find many women in the eighties’ movies depicted as  doctors, advocates, writers , journalists  -who holds fort along with the men. They are remarkable in their dialogues, in their wisdom and in their body language.

We live in a world now where “Bechdel test” is needed in movies to check whether women are actually given any importance whatsoever! ( Bechdel Rule is a simple test which names the following three criteria: (1) the movie scene has to have at least two women in it, who (2) who talk to each other, about (3) something besides a man.)

At least Kerala movies of 1980s would have stunned Alison Bechdel!


Short, Sly and Sepulchral: Hilary Mantel’s Short Stories


After reading “Comma”, I sat quietly. The masterful wordplay, the black humour, the pathos and the loose threads left to the reader’s imagination-is it what I think it is? Could it be?At the beginning, I had been naive enough to have hopes of a Boo and a tale of Scout.Then I remembered the intense Joanne Harris book ‘Five Quarters of the Orange’ and the  haunted memoirs of nine year old Framboise. Ah, memories of childhood and cruelty-within and without. Comma is a well crafted piece of eerie poetic justice. The story had been published independently in the Guardian  in 2010.

Two stories left me cold and feeling horrible. “The heart fails without warning” and “Winter Break”.The blurb had spoken of the lacerating observational acumen of the author.  Most reviews of this  particular collection had pointed at a bleak house of brilliance- a writer who took pleasure in her ability to shock and jolt the reader awake with her scalpel like precision. But I think, Hilary cut too close to the bone in these  two particular dishes of the succulent fare she was offering to the reader. Malignant beauty I dislike intensely. In people and in ideas.

The title story, obviously having basked in controversy’s famous sunshine, did not satisfy me as much as Comma or The Long QT. Somewhere when you feel the protagonist is acting too smart, you tend to simmer a bit in your own resentment. It happened to me with this story.

Well, most of the stories of this masterful compilation that reached my hands a bit late, reinforced my faith in the wonderful genre of short stories. The world needs more of this word craft. For me as a reader, the joy, the suspense, the intensity and truth of the short story’s  love affair with words can never be paralleled. Whether it is Alice Munro’s deftly written  “The bear went over the mountain”,  or Hilary Mantel’s “Comma” , or K.R.Meera’s impeccable short story in the vernacular, “The vein of memory” – my wavelength gets easily attuned to this word art.

A beautiful short story is like a pearl within the oyster-wrought with much pain and grit; resplendent to the thankful receiver of the gift. Sometimes, less is enough.