Ministry of utmost happiness – Review

04SMministryjpgThe latest book book by Arundathi Roy is not what I expected at all. Though I enjoyed her previous novel ‘God of small things’ for the brilliant play of words and superb portrayal of the characters, I was bitterly disappointed by the bizarre ending. I thought that was a very forced and desperate attempt to get attention.

So I braced myself for a similar disappointment when I started ‘The ministry of utmost happiness’.

But thankfully, the ending was a good one.

The book is a dark one, though.

It tells us the stories of the neglected and the marginalized.

The novel opens with a middle aged transexual taking up residence in a grave yard. How she came to live there is her riveting story.

This is the story of Anjum – the hijra, Saddam Hussein, Tilo – a rebel south Indian woman, Musa – Tilo’s Kashmiri militant lover, Naga – a diplomat’s journalist son, Garson Hobart – the diplomat and many more people who live in a parallel universe that we, the regular people look right through everyday.

The story seamlessly travels through the by lanes of old Delhi to affluent South Delhi enclaves to the beautiful Kashmir Valley where death, blood and gore are part of daily lives of people. It takes us briefly to Gujarat when the massacre happenes, to Kerala where Tilo’s mother dies and to rural Andhra rife with naxals.

The prose is beautiful and spell binding, but Arundathi Roy does not shirk from telling the brutal, bitter lives of these people.

This is an account of the misfits. The story exposes the atrocities committed by the government on innocent people and the unnecessary lives lost in the process.

This is a grim book, each tale sadder than the other, and each character with a heartbreaking sorrow.

But underneath all the gloom, I could sense a deep anger at the present government. She openly criticizes the ‘orange parakeets’ and ‘lalla of Gujarat’ in many a paragraph.

She does paint a very bleak picture of the future in India, hinting we’re about to self-destruct.

A haunting book, but a bit excessive in the political flavouring.

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A fan mail…

kamal copy

images courtesy: wikipedia

I grew up hero-worshipping Kamal Haasan. During my school days, every situation called for a quote from his movies.

But my movie watching hit a lull in the past few years. With my days revolving around my 11-year old’s schedule, it’s really difficult to include a 3 hour movie to my list of drops & pick-ups.

But slowly I’ve been getting back. Having missed a lot of his movies like Vettaiyaadu vilaiyadu, Manamadhan Ambu, Vishwaroopam, etc, I managed to catch Utthama Villain & Papanasam.

I came out of both the movies feeling very depressed.

Papanasam more than Utthama Villain.

A friend had told me he had walked out of Utthama Villain (UV) because he couldn’t take Kamal’s Narscism. And he highly recommended Papanasam because he felt the script was so brilliant and for once, Kamal had put the script before himself.

But I felt the opposite. I kind of enjoyed UV because Kamal delivered what was expected of him. He is one of the best actors in the country & he is larger than life. UV was him accepting that his days of glory are on the wane. Yes, the whole movie was about him and only him. But I quite enjoyed the movie because it had shades of him I had enjoyed during my growing-up years.

Only thing I did not enjoy was his looks. Though he portrayed an ageing actor coming to terms with his own mortality and played more or less a character close to his real age, he looked… how do I put it? Odd. I felt his head was disproportionately big for his body, his eyes were noticeably bulgy and his face has totally lost his charisma.

In Papanasam, he had obviously done a fabulous job. He put the script before him, yes. But he cannot play a common man! (Of course he did play the actual common man in Unnai pol oruvan, but he was a common man with an uncommon plan. He was so regal in every frame).

But here, something about his bulging eyes, strained smile and a latent power didn’t convince me that he was the caring father and husband trying to protect his family. It was as if he was a super hero who was forced to be a normal guy and was not allowed to use his super powers.

Was this the same Kamal who mesmerised me in Nayagan? Is this the same performer who had enthralled me in Salangai Oli?  Is this the same actor who had me in splits in Indran Chandran? Is this the same fabulous actor who portrayed 4 characters so brilliantly in Michael Madan Kama Rajan?

In most of the above mentioned movies, he had played characters on the wrong side of fifty. But how dignifiedly charismatic he had looked as an older man in those movies!

Now that he’s closer to that age in real life, it pains me to see him trying to stubbornly hold on to his fading youth.

After watching Papanasam yesterday, I was surfing the channels morosely late into the night. I chanced upon Nayagan. It was as if someone from above wanted to cheer me up!

What a movie! What a performance! This is the Kamal I used to watch with wide eyes and mouth agape. This is the Kamal Haasan we quoted verbatim.

We got goose bumps when he marched the streets with his fellow-men to teach the seth a lesson. We melted when he falls for Saranya. We wept when he tried to answer his grandson’s unforgettable question in the last scene…

But I just cannot relate this sad caricature of an actor to that legend.

Please Kamal sir, live on as the one and only Velu Nayakkar in our hearts… as upright dancer Balu… as the star-crossed lover Vasu… as chappani… as the dark hero Dilip…

Don’t make us lament your fall as Suyambu or Manoranjan…

Please come back when older, to play weighty roles like Mr. Bachchan.

His in-between Shehenshah days are not for you.