Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Short Stories Seem To Be Back

I read somewhere that short stories are no longer a preferred medium of writing and that the whole culture of writing them is dying out. After that, I found it to be true as I could only find really old stuff like RK Narayan and Ruskin Bond on the shelves of my library. I am happy to announce that in the recent past, I have found two books (published recently) comprising short stories which were very enjoyable.

The first one was by John Grisham called Ford County. Now, I was a bit sceptical of picking this one up because the last few books by JG were quite sad. The thing with best-selling authors is that you just can't resist picking up the book as one tends to think "This one might be better than the last one and if it is not, how bad can it get"? Luckily, this one turned out to be one of the good ones. Ford County is a small town somewhere in the US and has a very small population. The stories revolve around people from here, who lead a slightly simpler life than the typical city folks. Simple and direct, in tune with the settings, they are quite fast paced and that keeps your interest. There are no elaborate plots and twists (unlike your typical Jeffrey Archer) and the stories take you to an uncomplicated end. Most of them have happy endings or not so sad endings and thats a plus.

The other one I read was by William Dalrymple called Nine Lives. This guy has all my respect. I am one of the last people who would read a travelogue or a quasi-history book but from the minute I come to know that WD has released a book, I just have to get it. His books remind me of P G Wodehouses creations cause you can read them effortlessly. As written by the author in the preface, Nine Lives captures stories that he encountered during his travels which he could not weave into a whole book. Even with all the modernisation around us, the people showcased in these stories are connected to the spirituality that existed in the old days. Be it an idol maker, a jailer or a so called mad woman, all of them lead simple lives which are dedicated to finding and serving God in any of his forms. Superb variety, lots of information neatly encapsulated and easy reading make this a pleasure. I also realised the amount of travel and research WD does and how much rich material he comes across and leaves out. Its not like he just does Delhi and the Mughals, he has travelled across the whole country - Kerala, Rajasthan, Bengal and Dharamshala. Although I feel envious, I don't think I would like to spend too much time with tantrics and sufi saints. Reading it from a safe distance is thrilling enough. I hope he comes out with some more of these stories soon.

p.s. - I'm now reading R K Narayans Gods, Demons and Others. For a crash course in Hindu mythology, this seems to cover all the important stories...

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Taxi Driver - Another Martin Scorcese Notch For Me

I like to categorise myself as one of those people who came to know Martin Scorcese through the film, The Departed. Till then, he was always one of the great Italians of Hollywood - like Francis Ford Coppola. Once I saw The Departed, I was impressed and energised and wanted to find out more about his movies. On reading up on Martin Scorcese, I realised I had seen some more of his movies - Casino, Gangs of New York and The Aviator. I also read that he had directed a movie called Raging Bull, supposed to be his greatest movie. I totally enjoyed that one and was very impressed by Robert De Niros portrayal of a boxer who reaches the top but complicates his life due to his temper and jealousy. It also carried the same style of aggression, sudden violence and yet a slickness that kept you gripped throughout. I made a promise that I would watch all his other movies and then completely forgot about it till I watched Taxi Driver.

Before you go any further, do play this video. It is the theme score of the movie and it is perfect for the movie. The character played by Robert De Niro is that of an ex-Vietnam soldier who comes back to New York and finds work as a taxi driver. He seems to be doing well and keeping himself busy, except that he just cannot sleep. He also falls for "Betsy" - played by Cybill Shepherd who looks really hot- who first agrees to go out with him but later rebuffs him. After this his life goes downhill and he starts losing touch with reality. He also meets Jodie Foster who is a young prostitute and tries to save her from all the other "scum" of New York.

The movie builds up nicely to the climax and makes you feel sorry for Robert De Niros character while wondering what the hell is up to and why cant he just get a grip? The areas where he ferries his fares are among the seedier parts of town, full of prostitutes and pimps and they seem to pull him down further. I loved the way his decline seems so inexorable that he just has do something really reckless and violent. All the while, the saxophone from the theme song is playing in the background and gives a very haunting feel. Also, the movie will always be remembered because of John Hinckley Jr, the guy who attempted to assassinate Ronald Reagan did so after he watched the movie continuously and became obsessed with Jodie Foster. Now if that doesn't make you want to watch the movie, what will??