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From Tehelka Magazine, Vol 8, Issue 11, Dated 19 Mar 2011
CULTURE & SOCIETY  
BOOKS

Author, Auteur

This anthology shows what films can do to good writers, finds BARADWAJ RANGAN

Collected reflections Jai Arjun Singh

PHOTO: GARIMA JAIN

AT ONE point in his essay, My Life as a Cabaret Dancer, Manil Suri is stricken by an existential conundrum that — I think it’s safe to say — isn’t likely to visit your average professor of mathematics who moonlights as a successful novelist: “By what stretch of imagination did I think it advisable to strip down to a bra in the middle of Brooklyn?” But that’s what movies do to writers, reducing them from solemn high priests of the printed page to debauched devotees of the silver screen. Amitava Kumar, a selfconfessed “citizen of the world created by Bollywood”, knows a thing or two about debauched devotion. Why else would he have resolved never to marry anyone who did not understand the song Tu Hi Re, of which he writes in Writing My Own Satya?

THE POPCORN ESSAYISTS Jai Arjun Singh, Ed Tranquebar Press 242 pp; Rs. 395

THE POPCORN ESSAYISTS Jai Arjun Singh, Ed Tranquebar Press 242 pp; Rs. 395

The Popcorn Essayists is a compilation of essays by established authors who do not write about movies professionally. Editor Jai Arjun Singh hopes that “reading this book will bring you pleasure comparable to that of watching a really good film”. That, it does — if a handful of great scenes is what it takes to make a good film. There isn’t a really bad essay, but a few are tonally off. The anecdotal nature of Super Days or Terminal Case (where Sidin Vadukut contends that Terminal Velocity is the greatest movie ever) does not work well when placed with Going Kaurismäki (about Anjum Hasan’s discovery of Finland through Kaurismäki) and Kamila Shamsie’s Two Languages in Conversation. These latter essays open an intensely personal window to film through the eyes of an empathetic artist working in another medium. I suppose that in the spirit of the comedy track of our 1970s potboilers, these lighter essays are sips of water between the heavy cud-chewing.

The book works best when it sticks to its agenda of describing what movies do to writers (as opposed to what writers think of movies). They render Rajorshi Chakraborti a waking dreamer. With high-toned allusions (the Hamletinspired title Perchance to Dream, Truffaut’s Stolen Kisses) rubbing shoulders with an awe for films often dismissed as lowbrow Bollywood, this essay reminds you why the artist’s eye is singularly precious, especially when it opts for careful consideration over swooping judgement. I, for one, won’t be able to watch Hindi masala cinema again without recalling the phrase “masterpiece of surrealist juxtaposition.”

Rangan is Film Critic and Deputy Editor, The Hindu


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From Tehelka Magazine, Vol 8, Issue 11, Dated 19 Mar 2011
 

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