Sunday, May 14, 2017

Love, loneliness and lingering

Reviewed by ASIF ANWAR ALIG 

A Blueprint for Love, by Chatura Rao, Bloomsbury Publishing India Pvt. Ltd., New Delhi, Year2016.

ome nine decades ago, the arrival of A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway, defined the true ascent of love, loneliness and lingering in the backdrop of Italian campaign of World War I. 

It had pleaded to overcome human agonies. While reading A Blueprint for Love by Chatura Rao, I digressed to similar feelings. Reverberating with human anguishes and hollowness in the relationships, this book portrays why mankind’s anarchies haven’t diminished yet.

Almost a century ago, Hemingway augured the scenario of a landscape of war-torn world, and expressed such anarchies through his fiction work. Meanwhile, A Blueprint for Love realizes today’s sufferings of the Gujarat carnage milieu besides an unfinished love story set in current context.

Blending the stories of love, defiance and communal disharmonies of today’s India metamorphosed into human sycophancies, Rao’s novel asserts unique manifestation—of love lost, of human identities and relationships when Indian mindset is conspicuous through fast changes at the heights of mayhem. 

From the communal disharmonies to religious chauvinism, this book questions such pandemonium in Indian identities to human barbarism which demonize moral values and at the same juncture perish love.

Unlike other love-themed fictions, this novel engages readers with diversified plot and scenes thoroughly scripted as metaphors of realities which humans face. It beautifully crisscrosses from present to past to also highlighting human loneliness and shillyshallying of characters with the towering creative instinct.

Montage of scenes projected through characters portrays happy childhoods to anguished adolescents. Balancing scenes of unnerving rustic serenity with an urban chaos, the feelings and emotional experiences are meticulously presented. What makes the novel appealing is justice for the characters, locale and the projections to provide the readers with a feel of love, edginess and newer kind of segregation. They have been highlighted in the social paradigm.   

A must read for Indian fiction lovers, A Blueprint for Love takes the readers to various locations—scenes from Pune to Himalayan foothills, Mumbai to Gandhinagar and Baroda to Delhi, to experience it how relationships entice through egos for extempore sufferings. Its storyline sinuously appeal to the readers to know the places where the characters move. It balances the expressions of loveliness, personal sufferings, lifelessness, homelessness and hopelessness to India’s political tragedies in an era while human sanctity is utterly devalued.  

Novel’s protagonist characters Suveer, Reva, and equally powerful Aboli—whom novelist presents in memory—is symbolic of love and passion. Other character, Tarun appearing in the backdrop to Suveer’s frequent travels to Gujarat on journalistic assignment finds the plot digresses to a different connotation. With the shifting of plot to Gandhinagar, novel narrates how home of a Muslim businessman in the Hindu-dominated neighborhood becomes bone of contention in modern progressive India.

The stories of sufferings, especially that of Muslim woman being molested by the Hindu rioters and the tales of betrayals in the urban societies, symbolizes a very different kind of India. Incidents, such as Suveer doing his best to save the same Muslim woman, Mahnoor by even risking his life, to getting hospitalized and other related incidents are worth inspection.
That communal chauvinism was simply vested interest of a few selected people. It appealed in this context that in every scene of the novel that reflects either melancholy or failure to understand the emotional punch. They thus, truly define the blueprint of love—whether platonic or passionate.

Suveer is at crossroads in his life but other character, Reva barely overcomes her own share of sufferings. Love redefines itself in numerous paradoxes. Each character of this novel meticulously describes love as a longing. The empowered theme of this novel is while summer-filled romance has its place; some of the recognizable characters are groomed for bloodlust due to sectarian violence. They juxtapose social realities having been translated into fiction.

This novel concludes while a mob-molested Muslim character Mahnoor feels solace in her recuperation with a hilltop Hindu family host to revitalize for her willingness to lead life afresh. Her husband Zahyan though fails to overcome his share of trauma. Misguided by community’s political zealots—so called savors of him—he is fated to choose the downwards path of hatred and thus fails to enjoy normal life.

Rao’s novel is a welcome addition, and an engaging read. 

This review article was first published in Ceylon Today, May 14, 2017 edition.

Sunday, May 07, 2017

A life marvelously lived

India is believed to be one of the world’s fastest growing economies. While it grows in all sectors, urban railways have seen a lion’s share of benefit in the upturn. Karmayogi: A Biography of E. Sreedharan by M.S. Ashokan, projects the multifaceted aspects of the personality of modern India’s Metro-Man—Elattuvalapil Sreedharan, who brought about a resurgence in the country’s railway infrastructure.

A thorough insight into E. Sreedharan’s personality, this exceptionally written book captivates the reader with ample information about the celebrated technocrat. His extraordinary career is an inspiration for future generations. His achievements in a long career in the Indian Railways, his attempts to remodel country’s railways, is pivotal. Whether building the Kolkata Metro or the Konkan Railway, to the successful completion of the Delhi Metro and numerous other metro projects in India, he became well known, ever since the early days of his career while rebuilding the Pampan Bridge to connect Ramesawram to Tamil Nadu.  

M.S Ashokan originally wrote this book in Malayalam while Rajesh Rammohan translated it into English for its wider reach. For Rammohan to translate this, is a great tribute.

Besides dealing with how Sreedharan met the challenge to modernize, as well as to expand India’s railways transportation system, to match global standards, this book also sheds light on the details of his career as a technocrat. It is worth knowing how he emerged from a moderate family against all odds to attain the success which has made him something of a cult figure.  

This book cursorily discusses his early life in a remote Kerala village to his educational journey and a fulfilling career. From Basel Evangelical Mission Higher Secondary School to Victoria College in Palghat and then completing a Civil Engineering course at the Government Engineering College, Kakinada, he was educated like other ordinary students but an out of the box mentality served to bring him into the national and global spotlight.

Before joining Indian Railways, Sreedharan had brief stint as a lecturer in Civil Engineering at the Government Polytechnic, Kozhikode. He worked at the Bombay Port Trust as an apprentice for one year but his career got a boost after qualifying for the Indian Engineering Service by UPSC in 1953. Ever since he took his first assignment in the Southern Railway as a Probationary Assistant Engineer in December 1954, he never looked back.

Sreedharan’s association with the Konkan Railway Project, which aimed to connect India’s financial capital Mumbai with the southernmost areas of Kerala and the nearby regions through Goa, was notable for his outstanding planning and execution abilities. His achievements helped to make India proud of its engineering accomplishments. It would have been difficult for Indian Railways to traverse the Indian West Coast due to the tough terrain between the Western Ghats and the Arabian Sea. Sreedharan made it all possible.

The book has a detailed description about the Konkan Line project which ran through 59 stations and which covered 760 kilometers while crossing three Indian states. 

It also explains the practical difficulties the Line faced to become successful by passing through the 92 tunnels along the route, of which nine were more than 3 kilometres long, the longest being 6.5 kilomteres. This line had 149 large bridges and numerous smaller ones with more than 21 kilometres of them crossing water. This project is still unquestionably considered an engineering marvel and was completed in just over seven years.

Sreedharan is also remembered for his professional acumen in rebuilding the Pampan Bridge to connect Ramesawram with the rest of the Tamil Nadu mainland. He led the team to rebuild the bridge when he was but thirty. The seas fury had swept the earlier bridge away but he managed to recover 126 girders. He successfully re-installed them in a record four months. Besides their appreciation, he was also given a cash award of Rs. 1000/- by the Indian Government for his remarkable role at such a young age.  

He then joined the Calcutta Metro in 1971 and showcased his exemplary technical skills there. His five years stint at Calcutta Metro had many ups and downs. Out of the whole line, 16.45 kilometres had to be underground. He ensured its completion on time, despite hurdles. This success is considered to be the foundation of modern infrastructure engineering in India.

During his stint as Managing Director of the Cochin Shipyard, Sreedharan launched the yard’s first ship, ‘MV Rani Padmini’ in 1981. He had many obstacles to overcome but the launch proved historic for the yard.

India’s national capital, Delhi could hardly be a global city without the Delhi Metro infrastructure. It connects every part of the city. Through extensive planning, boosting the morale of the team to a positive approach during the project, he succeeded and brought about a renaissance of the city’s transportation system.

The Delhi Metro association were the originators of the name, ‘Metro Man’ for Sreedharan. 

Today, he is still active in several roles including technical consultant, post superannuation. He has been principal advisor to the Kochi Metro Rail project. The Indian Government recognized his skills as a technocrat when they awarded him the Padma Shri in 2001 and the Padma Vibhushan in 2008.

The Government of France awarded Sreedharan the Chevalier de la L├ęgion d’honneur in 2005. Time Magazine named him as one of Asia’s Heroes in 2003. Furthermore, he was recently appointed to serve on the United Nations’ High Level Advisory Group for Sustainable Transport (HLAG-ST).

M.S. Ashokan’s groundbreaking research makes this biography of E., Sreedharan, highly informative. He is one of the great geniuses of the Indian subcontinent and a pathfinder for the future generation.
This article had first appeared in Ceylon Today, Colombo, May 07, 2017 edition. 

Sunday, April 16, 2017

The Bollywood Vista

Encyclopedia of Bollywood—Film Actors, compiled by Renu Saran, Diamond Pocket Books Pvt. Ltd., New Delhi – 110020 (India), 260pp, Indian Rupees195, Soft (ISBN: 978-81-288-2899-7.
ollywood needs no introduction today. Its advent as world’s largest film industry and admiration by millions across the continents brings its worldwide popularity. Dubbing Hindi movies in other languages was tough nut to chew some five decades ago yet Hindi films were popular in the far off Russian and European regions. 

Boom in communication & information technology sectors proved a blessing in disguise for its easy reach to millions. Cinema lovers can straightforwardly recognize most Hindi film actors and actresses. New generation isn’t abreast of many talented actors of early period yet.

Hindi cinema—metaphorically denoted as Bollywood—attained several breakthroughs since inception. The huge entertainment industry from India’s finance capital Mumbai (earlier Bombay) appeals to global cinema lovers. Often denoted with Indian cinema’s sobriquet Hindi movies—Bollywood is the narrower version of India’s diverse film industry accommodating multilingual movie productions besides popular Hindi movies. 

Assamese; Bengali; Telugu; Tamil; Bhojpuri; Nepali; Brajbhasa; Rajasthani; Tulu; Punjabi; Bihari; Chattisgarhi; Oriya; Gujarati; Marathi; Haryanvi; Manipuri; Kannada; Malayalam; Kashmiri; Kosli and Konkani cinemas are the integral parts of India’s film medium.

Bollywood, as world’s largest film producer, maintains an undisputable ascendancy. A derivation from the erstwhile Bombay like Hollywood for the US film industry, it attained worldwide fame over the decades. Referred for regional Bengali cinema since decades until identified with the other regional cinema—Telugu in Telangana & Andhra Pradesh states, Tollywood inspired creation of Bollywood term in the 1970s while India overtook America as world’s largest film producer country. 

By 1932, Tollywood term was used in India as earliest possible Hollywood-inspired idea. It denoted with Bengali cinema from Calcutta’s (now Kolkata) Tollygunge area until Indian cinema had its nationwide polarity.   

Indian cinema began its journey with Dadasaheb Phalke directed country’s first silent feature film Raja Harishchandra (1913). Until 1930s, India produced at least 200 movies annually. Ardeshir Irani directed India’s first sound movie was Alam Ara (1931). It was a big commercial success and so did it bring new resurgence in the entertainment industry. Its success paved the way for creative filmmaking in the coming years. 

Themed on the Great Depression, World War II and India’s freedom struggle to partition violence plots, Indian cinema from early 1930s to late 1950s was educative and pathfinder for a big social change.

Eminent filmmakers incorporated social issues in the movie plots. Bollywood had its ‘Golden Age’ from the late 1940s to 1960s with the production of finest movies ever. Guru Dutt’s Pyaasa (1957) & Kaagaz Ke Phool (1959) and Raj Kapoor’s Awaara (1951) & Shree 420 (1955) were critically acclaimed movies with strong socio-cultural themes. 

Epic movies like Mehboob Khan's Mother India (1957) and K. Asif's Mughal-e-Azam (1960) are magnum opus even today. Bimal Roy’s Madhumati (1958) brought the reincarnation theme in Bollywood films. Producer-directors Kamal Amrohi and Vijay Bhatt gave the mainstream Hindi movies new direction. Such brilliant filmmakers nourished new talents over the period.  

Actors Dev Anand; Dilip Kumar; Raj Kapoor and Guru Dutt ruled over Bollywood for several decades. Equally did these decades witness the emergence of many bright actresses like Nargis, Vyjayanthimala; Meena Kumari; Nutan; Madhubala; Waheeda Rehman and Mala Sinha et al. They showcased exemplary talents by 1950s while commercial Hindi cinema was already thriving.
Emergence of Parallel Cinema movement especially Bengali cinema left irrefutable impact during that era. Chetan Anand's Neecha Nagar (1946) and Bimal Roy's Do Bigha Zamin (1953) were early examples as Parallel Cinema movement’s brainchild. Guru Dutt and Satyajit Ray emerged as greatest of the Asian filmmakers of all time with indomitable contribution to Indian cinema. They produced several exemplary Bollywood movies.

Bollywood had big transformation in the late 1960s and early 1970s with romance and action themed movies gaining momentum. Actors Rajesh Khanna; Dharmendra; Sanjeev Kumar; Shashi Kapoor and actresses Sharmila Tagore; Mumtaz and Asha Parekh dominated those decades. Mid-1970s Bollywood was at the zenith with the themes of romance, violence, gangster and banditries. It welcomed Amitabh Bachchan, Mithun Chakraborty, Anil Kapoor and Sunny Deol et al to rule over Bollywood actively till early 1990s. Hema Malini, Jaya Bachchan and Rekha remained the dominant actresses in that period. Filmmaker Shyam Benegal produced realistic Parallel Cinema films during 1970s. By then commercial cinema had equally become popular.  

Successful amongst commercial movies of that decade were Sholay (1975) and Deewar (1975) to bring Amitabh Bachchan into limelight. Family centric and love themed musicals Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak (1988); Maine Pyar Kiya (1989); Dil (1990), Hum Aapke Hain Kaun (1994) and Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge (1995) projected new generation cinema in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Actors Aamir Khan, Salman Khan & Shahrukh Khan to actresses Madhuri Dixit, Sridevi and Juhi Chawla attained remarkable positions during that period. The decade was an entry point for the new actors and directors to experiment a distinct genre of Hindi films. Nana Patekar, Manoj Bajpai, Manisha Koirala, Tabu and Urmila Matondkar gave extensive performances to get recognized as the critically acclaimed actors.  

Bollywood’s popularity increased further across the continents in the decade beginning with 2000. Manifold revolution in filmmaking from cinematography to innovative story lines and implementation of technical advancements like animation and special effects were projected through the movies Koi... Mil Gaya (2003); Kal Ho Naa Ho (2003); Veer-Zaara (2004); Dhoom (2004); Hum Tum (2004); Dhoom 2 (2006); Krrish (2006) and Jab We Met (2007) etc. They changed Bollywood’s filmmaking perspective.

Popular actors of today Hrithik Roshan, Saif Ali Khan, Shahid Kapoor and Abhishek Bachchan et al and actresses Rani Mukerji, Preity Zinta, Aishwarya Rai, Kareena Kapoor and Priyanka Chopra attained their respective positions in Hindi cinema in the mid-2000s. Beginning from 2010s, the rise of new generation actors Ranbir Kapoor, Imran Khan, Ranveer Singh and Arjun Kapoor to actresses Vidya Balan, Katrina Kaif, Deepika Padukone, Anushka Sharma and Parineeti Chopra reflected Bollywood’s new talent pool.

Bollywood attained popularity in Canada and the US in last one decade due to admiration of large chunk of South Asian communities. Several Indian movies do more business in the US today than those from rest non-English speaking countries. Fiji; Sri Lanka; Australia and New Zealand are the countries where Bollywood movies are immensely popular. Salaam Namaste (2005) was the first Bollywood film shot entirely in Australia and which was a huge success Hindi movie that year. Likewise, Heyy Babyy (2007); Chak De! India (2007) and Singh Is Kinng (2008) were the rest box office successes abroad.  

The book Encyclopedia of Bollywood—Film Actors is a compendium of Bollywood actors. Ironically it doesn’t cover the niche areas of Bollywood’s vastness but still interest cinema lovers to maximum extent. Alphabetically summed brief biographies of famous and infamous actors inform about the film actors. Ironically, not a single actress has been included in this book. Brought cursorily, biographies showcase struggling phases of actors to attaining remarkable positions in the entertainment industry—Bollywood.

This book has many old and new names together from Amitabh Bachchan to Dilip Kumar to Mukri to Jeetendra to Dharmendra and Amjad Khan to name a few out of 172 film actors included. Contemporary actors John Abraham, Arbaz Khan, Sunil Shetty, Abhishek Bachchan and Aamir Khan have been highlighted for their contributions to bring Bollywood on the global canvas. Non-inclusion of actresses is the biggest setback and therefore disappoints sincere readers. 

Revised edition of this book should have mandatory inclusion of actresses to increase reader interest. Its reprint with the updates from Bollywood’s evaluation since silent movies era to todays’ technologically empowered films would prove valuable contribution on Bollywood literature for the future generations. 

This review article first appeared in Ceylon Today, April 16, 2017 edition.