Monthly Archives: August 2016

harry-potter-series

On Reading the final Harry Potter Book

It’s lying right there.

The person who bought the book has finished reading it. She had mixed, but mostly positive reviews of the book.

It’s lying there, and I could pick it up and finish it once and for all.  The entire series, as declared by Ms. Rowling herself, is done and dusted after this. There will be no more speculation, no more additions. No The Return of Harry Potter, or Harry Potter Strikes Back. The entire universe will now be nailed and put up for history to discover, observe, and critique. There will be no more additions, alterations, or explanations.

For those who grew up in the 90s, it was a decade of memories but little else. The 70s had rock music, gaanja, and the hippie universe. Our parents in the 80s experienced the first middle-class revolution that followed a path that would be laid out for decades later –  ‘Study, get job, settle’.

In the 90s, there were a number of external factors at play. The liberalisation and the impact it was having on our lives in whatever ways that it was. The nature of the country changing quickly, adapting to changes while adhering to morals from a different time.
Even though ScoopWhoop and its brethren would have you believe that a lot of interesting stuff was happening, it really wasn’t. Everything around us in the public view was rather ordinary.

Politics was a weird game of Musical Chairs (with the Prime Minister changing 7 times in 10 years!),  sports held no great rewards either. Pakistan was beating India consistently, and the only time one saw hockey sticks was when the villain’s henchmen would bring them along for fights. That Mithun, Govinda and Jackie Shroff were among the top stars must tell you the quality of films. So there wasn’t a lot that was good. The good stuff was passed on, or given to us, or handed down, or spoken about.

We had a lot of ‘new’. But not a lot of ‘great’.

If the generation that grew up in the 90s could further be divided into two halves, I’d belong in the second half. The first five years in the 90s flew by like a blur, there’s not much I remember from the time. But the latter half of the 90s is when I first discovered my own consciousness. There was a lot of new, but not a lot of great.

Which is why when you ask someone who grew up around the Harry Potter books what the books mean, it is hard to describe.

If you asked me too, for example, it’d be hard. I wasn’t all that young when I read the first book. I must have been in 9th standard, and came across a junior reading the books. Like a surprising number of people I know, I started the series with the 3rd book. The next few months were spent in running after the rest of the books.

The books themselves, like the Golden Snitch, played with Seekers like us. I’d find someone reading the book in a corridor, request him to give it to me; only to have the book disappear and appear with somebody else. The book was read on the sly since my school encouraged reading of only one kind –  the kind that took you closer to God.

Which meant that reading the books was a way to slip into a hidden world of my own. At the risk of sounding rather preposterous and judgmental, I’d humbly like to state that the Harry Potter series is probably the last great fictional book series that will see a global craze among children again. I’d gladly be proven wrong, but I doubt it.

The Harry Potter books came out just before the boom of the Internet and mobile technology, and with Pokemon Go and Pick-a-Chu and all that shit, I doubt books will ever enjoy the sort of reception that this series did.

In a way, I have never been able to outgrow the Harry Potter books. All the books I’ve written (but haven’t been published –  Rowling has made literary failure magical too!) are basically a rehash of the Harry Potter trajectory. Strip them all of their settings, the characters, and the facades, and they’re all journeys into magical lands.

I have tried rereading the books a lot of times. I have begun with Book 3, and sometimes with Book 1. There have been times when I directly jumped to the Quidditch World Cup in Book 4 – but it was never the same.

If you ask people who grew up reading Harry Potter what they loved about the series, very few would say it was the actual story. Most old-timers like myself would be fudgy about the stories. It wasn’t the stories.

It was the world.

Harry Potter was what we did before we discovered drugs. Before the magical powers of Marijuana and LSD were bestowed upon us, we all got high on Harry Potter. We took little potions, and then large portions. And we taught ourselves to enjoy the high. We stayed up at nights, or lied to our parents, and joined friends, and sat down, and got high.

Every time I tried to reread the books, there was something missing. I was undergoing a classic case of ‘chasing the dragon’, and it has been proven futile, always a shadow of the first trip –  the robes and the jewelry intact, but no flesh and bones underneath.

When I finished reading the 7th book, I spent a lot of time thinking about it. Thinking of how I was going to miss these guys, miss their universe. I remember a gutting sadness, the kind that sank into the pit of my stomach when summer holidays came to an end. Or when I was called to the Principal’s Office.

Years later, I still knocked on the doors of Diagon Alley when I needed help. When I ran out of ideas, or I got bogged down by the weight of what I was writing. Whenever I felt trapped inside the comparatively insipid world I had created, I hopped on to Diagon Alley for a break. But I was only a visitor. My membership had long run out, as I knew the course of events that would take place in that universe.

It was one of those things you live with –  a little sadness that has become a part of your life. Like losing a tooth, a pet that has passed away, or realising you blew away the most beautiful relationship of your life.

I had come to terms with the fact that the Harry Potter trip was done. I could go back once in a while, but had to return quickly.

Until there began news of a new book.

*

Of course it wasn’t the same.

Firstly, JK Rowling wasn’t writing it herself. Like going to Bangkok with your parents, a great place is not the same without the right kind of people.
There were also the mixed reviews that the book received.

Back when JK Rowling released the original books, there weren’t so much reviews of the books, just levels of appreciation from everybody in the universe. I don’t remember a single friend/acquaintance/relative saying, ‘Yaar, this book was just about OK, yaar. Theek-thaak’.

Probably because it was a given that the books were brilliant. Probably because nobody really cared how good the book really was. They were on all their own trips, waiting to go further, to the next level.

But with this book, there are reviews. People speak about plot-holes, and conflicting character expansions. It is not really the 8th book in the series in the real sense, some of them say. And I know that.

But what the heck! It IS a Harry Potter book. The guide might not be the same, but it is the universe she created.

*

The book is lying right here on the table.

I keep staring at it, almost as if I expect it to rise up, and do something.

I think the book knows I’m going to read it, after all. A final trip to the universe; to my first drug.

A final ride on a magical train, and then like Rowling herself said, there’ll be no more.

I plan to roll a joint now. And begin reading the book. And when it is done and dusted, I will get along with life.

Growing old, looking at past writings, dying. That sort of thing.

***

pellichoopulu-poster

How ‘Pellichoopulu’ is bending the rules of Telugu cinema

In spite of having lived for 16 years of my life in Andhra Pradesh, and having reviewed movies for nine years now, I have never reviewed a Telugu film.

Partly because it took me a few years to understand the nuances of Telugu cinema, and partly because there’s nothing really to review. You could take the script of any Telugu blockbuster and replace it with another; replace any hero with another. The heroine barely has any role to play in the film apart from acting coquettish and seducing the hero. The laughs are generated when the hero bashes up a ‘comedian’ – it’s all absurd to a point where you wonder if the entire unit was smoking pot while the film was being made.

Telugu Cinema is a rather cruel place for an aspiring filmmaker. Dynasticism runs through every film industry but nowhere else is caste a determinant of a star’s pull. Actors, directors, distributors – they’re all gauged through their caste, and yet there is a deafening silence about it everywhere you look.

The hero is expected to fight and dance and mouth long-winding dialogues, even if he’s supposed to have grown up in a chawl. The heroine dances around him and is objectified, stalked, and is nothing more than a doormat. And even if you break into the scene, there’s the oligopoly of distributors who control the release of films across the two Telugu speaking states.

Of course, there are filmmakers who have attempted to break the mould, and yet they’ve sold out – there’s an item number here, an unwanted song there. Every time I have walked out of a Telugu film, I have looked for the nearest bar to get sloshed and drown my memories of the film.

In my frustration, I stopped watching Telugu films, except when they’re played on buses and I have no other option. If you are unacquainted with Telugu cinema, may I kindly lead you to this blog – A Script for Chiranjeevi’s 150th film.

I went to watch Pellichoopulu in a single screen theatre, and was doubly curious to see how people would react. If you’ve watched the trailer, you’d have guessed the tone of the film is urbane and yuppy. Pleasantly surprised that the film had a 93% approval on BookMyShow, and that the popcorn cost a mere 20 Rupees, I walked into the hall.

Single Screen Theatre issues.

A post shared by Hriday Ranjan (@heartranjan) on

*

Pelli Choopulu contains the  most non-glamorous introduction to a hero that I’ve seen in Telugu cinema. There are no songs, no shots panning upwards from boots to biceps – just a regular dude waking up to a life that has fallen asleep.

It takes but a few minutes to get woven into the plot, driven as it is by sharp dialogue and genuine characterisation. We meet the leads as if by chance, just as they stumble into each other. They aren’t heroic, or loud, or driven by any motive. It is a refreshing change, and in minutes, the entire hall sat in hushed silence.

Director Tharun Bhascker uses sharp writing to prove his point, doing away with the bells and whistles one would associate with Telugu cinema. Prashant hops from one incident in his life to another in the slow, careless manner of a water buffalo. Chitra fights every obstacle in her life with the fearsome resolve of a bison. There couldn’t have been a more un-Tollywood like couple!

Pellichoopulu benefits from realism. The characters seem real, and the dialogues hilarious. The humour in the film comes from Priyadarshi Pullikonda’s impeccable comic timing. As the hero’s equally useless buddy, every second he comes on screen is gold, and the audience were giggling in anticipation even before he delivered his lines. And yet, the director never punches below the belt.

In an industry that makes sex-kittens out of talented actresses (check out Ileana D’Cruz in Barfi, and compare it with her Telugu roles), Chitra is a refreshing breath of fresh air. Ritu Verma and Vijay Devarakonda seem so much at ease in their roles, you begin to wonder if they’re acting in the first place.

Pellichoopulu gets a lot of things right, but mostly, it carries balls of steel. The film doesn’t sell out even for a moment, even though it has its weaknesses. The film refuses to bend down to market demands, staying true to its character through every single shot.

*

Tamil, Malayalam and to an extent Hindi cinema enjoy a thriving parallel cinema. For every Sultan and Kabali, there are smaller, sharper films competing in the same arena. Sadly, Telugu cinema never had a parallel movement. Probably because nobody went full-on, and partly because of how demanding and unforgiving the average Telugu film viewer is.

But Pellichoopulu is akin to the smart guy who joins your section in Class 8. He doesn’t bother about the bullies and is smart enough to tackle the 1st ranker in class. The film is running to packed houses, but on a limited release.

If you watch Telugu films, or like me, stopped watching them long ago, please do yourself a favour and watch Pellichoopulu.