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Archive for May, 2009

I was reading about the Cannes in the papers today. The reporter made a point that the jury was unapologetic in rewarding divisive films. In response to this, the British writer Hanif Qureishi commented, “Great art is hard.”

This got me thinking. Why is it that great art is hard? Why is that these days people are ready to take offence? Why have we become so intolerant of other’s views if they don’t agree with ours? People will no doubt argue that we have always been intolerant. Hell, wars have been fought over differences of opinion. These days we adopt a more civilised attitude (not in India , of course) and take the battle to court. But the idea is that we are supposed to become more evolved with time, not regress. It’s the same reason we avoid fight wars these days (not in the USA, of course).

More importantly, it got me thinking about the intrepid auteurs who dared to make such startling statements. Thinking and lauding, because, not so very long ago, I’d written a comedy on the issue of migration. But then I lost my nerve and didn’t market it. The last thing I wanted was Raj Thackeray/Muthalik and their goons picketing outside my house. Or burning copies of my books.

It’s not that I’m attached to what I write. The problem is they don’t pay for the damage. As long as you pay for it, you can do what you like with my book. Hell, you can wipe your ass with it. And tell me about it. How’s that for VFM? Move aside Michael O’Leary, Smita Jain is here!!!!

This whole political correctness movement has got artists so defensive that we’re afraid of saying anything creative anymore. I don’t know about others but speaking for myself, I’m always anxious whenever creating controversial characters. I’m always thinking, will people actually read this in the spirit in which it’s written? Or will people think the character is a flimsy cover for own bigoted ideas? Will this character involve me in a lawsuit? More often than not I opt for the safer option.

I’m no Van Gogh. I’m not willing to suffer for my art, especially when the suffering involves muchos dineros.

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I recently received an invite for a discussion of Jeffrey Archer’s Paths of Glory at the Taj President. At first I thought of declining. I mean, the Taj President! It’s 30 kms away! But then two things clinched it for me. The fact that my publishers were going to be there and the words ‘cocktails and snacks,’ printed in bold letters on the invite.

Accordingly, I called a cab (did I mention there was going to be booze?) at 6.30 p.m. It takes about two hours to travel from Andheri to town and I didn’t I didn’t want to be a loser and arrive at the dot of 8 which is when the event was scheduled to begin. Of course, that was the day traffic decided to let up and I ended up reaching at 7.56 anyway.

So, trying to look all dignified, I made straight for the concierge and asked him where the Library Bar was, like that was where I had wanted to go in the first place. He looked at me strangely and said the Library Bar had closed down some four years ago and there was a new lounge in place called the Wink. The Wink! Man, they need more imaginative planners.

Anyway, I ordered a beer and tried to linger over it. But habits of a lifetime die a hard death and I found myself glancing anxiously at my watch every two minutes. Till I heard an unmistakably English accent. An educated English accent. The voice was coming from somewhere to my right. I peered into the dark recesses and noticed an elderly Englishman sitting there with two Indians. Was he…? And then he mentioned the name George Mallory. Yup, he was Jeffery Archer all right.

So I relaxed, sipped my beer more leisurely and listened to ol’ Jeff crib about Indians’ time management skills. “What is with Indians? I mean, they arrive for a 3.30 meeting at 4.30 and if you ask them the reason for their tardiness they look all surprised and say but it’s only 4.30!” I found that quite funny and managed to snort beer into my nostrils while trying to laugh silently.

His talk was quite well-graphed. I guess it helps when you’ve sold millions of copies and have done this often. He knew when to make the audience laugh with his anecdotes – “a ten year old in Chennai told me that he’s read all my books and even thought one or two quite good” – and he knew when to insert a serious point, like the impressive sales figures of his books, notably Kane and Abel and Not a Penny More….

He made fun of the famous English snobbery and, in the same breath, betrayed his obvious pride in being an Oxford man himself and in being titled. Subtly, of course. As in recounting something someone had said to him. “And then he says to me, ‘Lord Archer, you do realise that save for two premises, your book has no validity.’ And he’s absolutely right!”

During the q&a session people asked him the usual stupid questions like advice for aspiring writers. Why would people ask him that? He’s been a bestselling author for over 30 years! He’s forgotten what it is to be a struggling writer. Ask him what he does with all the money.

And then the booze flowed…I don’t remember what happened afterwards.

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Boy, did my last post get me into trouble! I’d had a productive day and to celebrate my achievements, I was baking a cake (eggless, of course. I’m a vegan). I was carefully folding in the flour, when the phone rang. I balanced the phone in the crook between my head and shoulder and absently said, “Hello.”

“If you’re so unhappy, why don’t you convert?” My mom shrieked from the other end.

What the f…? Momentarily befuddled, I tried to figure out what I’d said or done to earn that reaction. And then I remembered. She must’ve read my post yesterday and taken my rather shallow, and frankly flippant, criticism of the Gita as blasphemy. After all, the Gita is words spoken directly by Lord Krishna. Now, her knowledge about New Age spirituality is limited to the Beatles indulging in transcendental meditation under the tutelage of Maharishi Yogi so naturally she figured I was just a step away from converting to Christianity or Islam.

I silently cursed the day I encouraged her, no, bullied her into reading my posts. She had, as usual, missed the point of the post and latched onto the one thing that upset her.

“You think Hindu texts are misogynistic stuff, wait till you see what’s in the Quran. When you’re covered head to toe in a burkha then we’ll see who’s complaining,” she said darkly.

“The Quran doesn’t really say anything about that,” I wanted to protest but then I figure I don’t really know that for sure. And it’s dangerous to argue with Mom on that because she has lived all her life in UP surrounded by predominantly Muslim neighbours and as such knows much more about the Quran than I do. So I fall back on a rather tame protest instead. “Mom, in any case, I’m talking about New Age stuff!”

“That’s what I mean!” she insisted. I tried to work my way through her rather convoluted logic. And I had to admit that where she was coming from, if you really look at it, considering the antiquity of Hinduism, practically every other religion, Christianity and Islam included, is New Age.

By then, not only was a developing a royal pain in neck, telltale bumps had started to sprout in the batter. “Now look what you’ve done. The flour had lumped up in the batter.”

“That’s what you get for blasphemy,” she said smugly.

I was starting to get irritated. I considered the wisdom of telling her that some scholars have hinted that Krishna and Arjun were gay lovers. But I also didn’t want her to faint. So I said, “But why are you defending Krishna? Didn’t you yourself say that he’s paying for his sins?”

According to some Jain philosophy, Krishna is the eagerly awaited twenty-fifth tirthankar but at the moment he’s in hell, paying for his evil machinations during the Mahabharata. Don’t ask. Even I haven’t figured out how one can go from hell, straight to an exalted position.

“Just as you will,” she said, as usual avoiding arguments for which she has no answer.

And I did! Yesterday was a disaster. A Complete Catastrophe. The cake, needless to say, turned out to be clumpy and hard as a rock; I twisted my ankle nastily while running, a feat I’ve managed to avoid for three years; my iPod hung, leaving me with the only option of letting the battery die out; I had a major war of words with an autowalla who scraped the fender of my car and; two of the six mangoes I bought had maggots in them.

Now, whether it was blasphemy, my mother’s curse or my own mind turning against me as a result of that dire warning, I’m not taking any chances. Just like I don’t when I perform a Graha-Pravesh when moving into a new house. So no more blaspheming scriptures which are actually reservoirs of timeless wisdom. Except the Manu Smriti. I can’t help it!

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You know how us Indians, almost all of us universally, have been brought up on the funda that life is a constant grind? And that all we can do is struggle and hope for the best? And as a corollary, the oft repeated verse from the Gita – Karmanyevadhikaraste Maphaleshu Kadachan is quoted? (Methinks it’s the only thing people have read in the Gita. Certainly, it’s the only one I’ve read. I tried to read the whole book, though. Honestly I did. Many times. I gave it up every time. Almost all Hindu texts, to me, appear to be misogynistic rants.)

It’s a whole load of crap. Let me tell you where I’m coming from:

Kkrishnaa’s Konfessions: When I first started writing, I just wrote because I had a story that excited me. And I knew I was writing it well. That’s it. I just wanted it published. I knew it was good enough to be published. More importantly, I believed it was going to get published. And lo! Within three days of submitting the MS I got a contract. The second one followed. And now there, are expectations that I’ll churn out a third one before the year is out. My life is harder now than when I first began writing! Which brings me to an unrelated but important observation – getting success is easy, maintaining it is hard.

Blog: I started blogging because I write a journal-like entry every morning anyway. So I figured, why not put it on the Net? And let’s face it, it gives me a platform to voice my opinions, pontificate and popularize my book (soon to be books). As an added advantage, it allows me to put up favorable reviews and edit bad ones. Other than that, I’m the laziest blogger in the whole world.

Therefore, it came as pleasant surprise when I did a search for my blog and found it tops in many directories! I don’t know how and when that happened (Certainly, my blog doesn’t inform me when someone links me). It’s not that I consciously cultivate readership. I don’t go that many other blogs. Or comment on them. I just don’t have the time. When I’m not writing my novel, I’m writing for TV. And when I’m not doing that, I’m writing film screenplays. Then there are newspapers and magazines who want my ‘expert’ opinion on something.

Sales of Kkrishnaa’s Konfessions: I’ve never harangued my publishers for better publicity and promotion for the book, knowing their efforts are inadequate and lots more could be done. I don’t do that because I believe the product is good enough to do well without it. And it is in the bestsellers list every time. More importantly, it’s not dead stock. Every book store I ask tells me the book is a ‘fast moving item.’

There was this one books store in Powai which didn’t have the book in its display. When I asked a salesman about it, he helpfully got up and tried to locate it for me. While he was searching, I asked him why it wasn’t on prominent display. He stopped, shook his head and shrugged his shoulders. “It wasn’t a moving.” My heart sank. Anyway, after a few minutes of fruitless searching, he went back to his desk and checked in the computer. And looked up, dazed. “We had fifteen copies. It’s sold out! We’ve placed an order for more.”

Which brings me to another unrelated important observation – in things like books, movies and almost anything to do with popular culture, it is word of mouth publicity that counts. Sure, splashy campaigns in traditional media help in generating visibility, but they don’t always translate into sales. I read many reviews and author interviews in newspapers but I don’t rush out to buy their books. I wait for an opinion from a friend I trust before I fork out the money.

Anyway, to come back to point of this rambling and long winded post, new age stuff with its emphasis on ‘abundance’ and ‘getting what you want is easy’ really works! All you have to do is believe.

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Of late, newspapers have devoted an inordinate amount of space to the Fox Studios suing the producers of Banda yeh Bindas Hai story, which they claim is a copy of My Cousin Vinnie. And while they were at it, they dredged up other such instances. Zeher, Ek Ajnabee, even Rang de Basanti joined the infamous list.

Really, I don’t what the whole fuss is about. I concede that some plots are ‘inspired’ from Hollywood projects, but those are minor transgressions. If you really think about it, isn’t it the other way around? Look at the latest Hollywood offerings. Almost all of them are superhero offerings.

Here are a few points to illustrate my claim:

  1. The hero single-handedly takes on the baddie kingpin and his evil henchmen;
  2. The hero, while not the richest or the best looking, gets the girl;
  3. The girl always gets kidnapped by the baddie towards the end, leading to the climax;
  4. The setting for the climax scene is a veritable death trap with movable floors with jaw-snapping and snarling crocs underneath, flip-over chairs, retractable walls, gas chambers, acid-filled cauldrons and what have you.
  5. Okay, no hero wears his chaddies over his pants in Hindi movies but have you seen Amitabh Bachchan in Desh Premi? And Mithun da in Agneepath? And while we’re on the subject of ridiculous styling, how can we forget Raj Kumar and Jeetendra with their white shoes? And Vinod Mehra with his shirts unbuttoned to the navel displaying an even inch thick layer of lush black carpeting?

And we’ve been doing since, like, forever. And then they say, Bollywood plagiarises from Hollywood. Really?

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This dry spell at the multiplexes is obviously proving to be a drag. Not on me personally but on their bottom-lines. So they’re trying out innovative strategies to fill up the halls. Like the screening of the Iron Maiden Rockumentary.

The PVR guys decided to kick start the event with a premiere-like launch. Since one of my best friends is a playback singer, she got passes. She knows I like heavy metal and asked me if I’d like to go along.

“PVR?” I said. “Parel? It’s an awfully long way to drive.”

“Yes,” she began apologetically, “but we can call a PHD (for those of you who don’t know, P.H.D. stands for party hard drivers).”

“I said it’s far. I didn’t say it’s an interstate drive.”

“But…”

“It’s settled. I’ll drive,” I said.

The event was scheduled to begin at 9 with the screening beginning at 9.30. But knowing the film industry, we made an appearance only at 9.45. By then the hall was full of a motley group of people. Some were genuine fans. It’s easy to spot them. I man the long, pony-tailed tresses and the Iron maiden T shirts are kinda hard to miss. And the artwork of the Iron Maiden stuff is memorable.

But then there were some clean cut looking kids who looked like the hardest rock they’d heard was Bryan Adams. I wondered what they were doing there. And then I spotted the open bar.

I rounded angrily on my friend. “You didn’t tell there was booze!”

She was clearly taken back. “I said it was a premiere-like thing. Why do you think I suggested a PHD?” she said, happily reaching for a Martini. Grrr!

Anyway, with booze out of the question, I wandered around in search of some holy smoke (you know what I mean). That, too, is dangerous but hopefully the effects would have worn off by the time the film ended. And even they didn’t, the cops can’t spot it. Not the Bombay cops anyway.

But, of all the places, this place turned out to not have a designated smoking area. I was hoping to spot some dedicated head-bangers rolling ’em and smoking ’em. Sadly, I could see the head-bangers looking as out of sorts as I was feeling. This whole no smoking in public places thing is turning out to be a big drag too.

With no booze and no smoke, the wait seemed interminable.

However, it wasn’t too bad once the movie began. As images of Bombay flashed across the screen (the local trains, the elephant, all mandatory shots while filming India were there) I wondered why I hadn’t gone for the concert. And then I remembered why. Not only didn’t I get free passes, I’m far too old to queue up for three hours just three hours and just to get in. Not to mention, subject myself to the invasive frisking. That was before I saw what happens in Columbia. Now that’s invasive.

The movie was good, although the pace did drag in a few places, especially some repetitive shots like the loading and unloading of equipment, the flight attendant’s safety instruction drill and Bruce Dickinson in the cockpit. The music was good but I suspect it was dubbed over. No way can a concert sound so even. All in all, a worthwhile watch for die-hard Maiden-heads.

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For an author I get a woefully little amount of reading done. And that’s because I’m usually in the middle of writing a book. And when I’m writing I don’t read (not fiction anyway) for fear of getting influenced.

That means that the only time I get for reading is when I’m in-between novels or plotting one. Which happens to be now. Accordingly, I went out day before yesterday and picked up 5000 bucks worth of books. So now I’ve got 21 titles to be read within a month, preferably less. I’m proud to declare that I made a good start yesterday and finished 2 whole novels!

Paths of Glory by Jeffrey Archer – the dude is good! A little formulaic, but he’s the only one you can get you to compulsively turn the page on merely the promise of an intriguing question being asked by an unlikely figure at a public lecture – and the other one by Mary Higgins Clark. I hope to finish an Amy Tan today (I’ve never read her before) and a Wilbur Smith (or did I get a Ken Follett?).

When you read contemporary works from your genre, you always run the risk of getting influenced or, as Bollywood types love to say, ‘inspired.’ But that doesn’t mean that one stops reading altogether. What one can do, however, is following:

1. Try to plagiarise ideas instead of whole chunks of passages (remember how Opal Mehta got kissed…by wazzername?).

2. On the other hand, after the scandal broke, Opal got publicity like you woulnd’t believe. She actually ended up selling more. You can’t pay for that kind of publicity. Moreover, stealing just the idea cannot guarantee immunity. Just look at Stephanie Meyer. So to hell with that idea.

3. Carefully weigh the pros and cons of stealing. How much do I make in royalties vis-a-vis how much do I fork out in settling the claim? If the scales tilt in favour of royalties, go for it.

4. While you’re at it, try and steal it from bestsellers to make it easier to spot instances of plagiarism.

5. If you do happen to be a poor sod and lift from an unknown and obscure book, get a friend to blow the whistle on you.

6. If however, you must steal but the ensuing lawsuit could leave you shirtless, do it smartly and from many sources. As they say, steal from one place, it’s plagiarism, steal from many, it’s research.

7. If you must steal and rather obviously, go one up on potentially litigious authors and give them credit. You only have to look at the many ‘management’ and ‘self-help’ books on the shelves to know that this works.

8. Lastly, for God’s sake, don’t get caught with your hand in the cookie jar! Remember, it’s only stealing if you get caught.

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