If it’s Monday, it should be Madurai – Book review

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I had to drive my son to a book/gift store in search of an action figure.

Once inside, I refused to look at the tantalising array of glossy books.

Thanks to online shopping, I already have loads of books still in their protective plastic covers, waiting to be opened.

I absolutely have no time to get another book to add to that stack.

But after ten minutes of flipping through magazines mindlessly, there was no sign of my son, who was still in the store’s basement looking for his superhero.

I gave in to temptation and walked to the popular books display.

What harm can it do? I just have to look at books for future buying, I told myself. I can be strong. I can overcome the temptation.

But all my determination went out of the window when my eyes fell on this bright yellow book with three saadhus grinning and waving at me.

“Don’t judge a book by it’s cover’ a small voice in my head warned me.

I ignored it and picked it up. I couldn’t stop with just browsing. I had to buy it.

I’m so glad I did.

I enjoyed reading this ‘conducted tour of India’.

The author Srinath Perur, goes on ten conducted tours to write this book.

Why conducted tours? Because travelling with a group of people with totally different wavelength makes it all the more memorable.

Not only does he sees the quirks of others, living in close quarters for about a week,  he also forms some lasting bonds, by the time it ends.

From a religious tour of the temples in South India with a pious band of believers where the average age was 55, he takes on journeys to the backwaters of Kerala with westerners, a whirlwind European tour with a gang of Indians who watch only Hindi movies in the bus, ignoring the stately sites outside, a trip organised by a professor to search and showcase local innovations in rural India, camel safaris in Rajasthan, retracing Kabir’s sufi yatra and more.

He even takes us on a naughty, all-men tour to Tashkent where, under the cover of anonymity, certain adventurous Indian men have the time of their lives, under Perur’s watchful eye.

This book makes an interesting read also because it’s so personal. It’s his personal journey of self-discovery as well. His reconnection with music in the Kabir Yatra, for example.

Lounging at home, I got to visit all these places, encountered some awesome characters and glimpsed at different cultures. From hookers in Tashkent to saadhus in Maharashtra, Perur’s writing brought all of them alive..

I realised there are so many versions of India even we Indians don’t know about.

I judged this book by it’s cover. I have no regrets!

Truly “an idiosyncratic portrait of India and her people…”

A fan mail…

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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.