Sunday, 11 June 2017

Book conversations: White Magic

White Magic: A Story of Heartbreak, Hard Drugs and Hope
Arjun Nath
Harper Collins India, 2016

I have referred several long-term alcohol dependent patients to rehab centres.  But they rarely ever come back to share their experiences - that is, if at all they do go on to have a successful rehab.

The few who have been to rehab in the past have only recounted horror stories of how staff verbally and physically abused them, how they were tied up and/or tortured, and in some cases, how they had to jump over the compound to escape the 'prisons' they were in.  

Naturally then, with White Magic I was curious to find out the insider's account of what it is to go through drug rehab as a patient.  I was hoping for a balanced account of the successes, happy outcomes, unsuccessful attempts at rehab, and the difficulties faced by staff and patients alike in battling a notoriously recurrent and exasperating problem that is drug addiction. 

I am sorry to say I was left disappointed...

What we get in this book is a personal account of the author's rehab experience in one particular centre called The Land, which we are told operates very differently from the rest, and has high success rates.  That's fine...I am okay with that bit, even though the author does not comment on the effectiveness of his own rehab experience in the end.  

However the rehab experiences of Nath or his fellow programmers recounted here are very few.

Instead the majority of the narrative is filled with the maverick founder Doc/Bhai's life story, whom, it is plain to see, the author lionizes.  Everything about his difficult birth, his dysfunctional family life, his headstrong attitude, and his struggles through life as he sets up the rehab centre initially at home, and later at The Land are described as in a biography.

More than anything, his multiple affairs and love life are described in lurid details.  Bhai comes across as a cantankerous Casanova who beds anything that remotely resembles the female of the species.  Sorry to scoff, but this is not what I wanted to find out from the book.

In spite of all this, I did manage to find a few things worth remembering: that the idea of rehab is not to run away from the drug, but to run towards a fulfilling life; that any goal is achievable as long as one aims high and works towards it; and that the power of belief in, and the act of prayer to an impersonal higher power can in themselves achieve more than the rigid belief in any one particular faith or its god.  

Few more things that rankle: there is a generous use of cuss words; not just from the programmers, but also from Bhai himself.  And they all smoke like chimneys in rural England.  It is as though the rehab program does not consider the harmful effects of nicotine.  Instead, cigarettes are inhaled in preference to oxygen, and their non-use is applied as a punitive measure against some transgressions in The Land. 

The writing is mostly excellent, although there are quite a few sentences which I had to read again to coax the meaning into my (thick) head.  Nath does mention that his 'soup'y writing may not appeal to one who has no interest in the subject of drug addiction or rehab - or indeed, enlightening onselfe about the life-story of Bhai.  I agree with him there... 

Only go for it if you enjoy reading biographies of eccentric individuals and their flamboyant lives.

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Monday, 5 June 2017

Film conversations: Baahubali: The Beginning and The Conclusion

Here's the question that was bothering the collective consciousness of the entire nation for the last two years: Why did Kattappa kill Baahubali?  Now we know.

But here's what rankles: surely a character like  Sivagami who is an astute Rajmatha, and is also aware of the hatred Bijjaladeva has for Baahubali, would have thoroughly investigated matters before ordering Kattappa to kill Baahubali.  Here's one probable reason for this: Baahubali 2 has a lot of ground to cover in terms of plot development, which makes her decision seem hurried.    

While Baahubali: The Beginning was about setting the tone and raising the intrigue in the minds of the audience, Baahubali: The Conclusion is all about recounting the events with a rather rapid culmination of the story.  

As with other films, the first part appears a better film than the second one because of those twin reasons: the freshness of the first outing, and the fact that the second part does not live up to the enhanced audience expectations after the rousing first part.

It's not that the Conclusion does not try: it throws everything in the book into the narrative to keep you enthralled.  As a result it does appear to be cramming in a bit more than it should; as opposed to the Beginning that was a right combination of measured approach and jaw dropping action.  The tribal war scene from the Beginning, to me, beats the climax of the Conclusion any day.  

Having said that, overall the two films are an awesome exhibition of film-making, reflecting the story writer's and director's (who happen to be father-son duo, respectively) grand cinematic visions.  Well done to the entire team for creating a pan-Indian phenomenon, and for putting an Indian film on to the global platform, without any significant involvement of the Hindi Film Industry.

But here's what's very intriguing for me, personally: the epic story seems to have been inspired by the two original epics of India: Ramayana and Mahabharata; especially the latter.  Here's how:

Baahubali is Bhima/Arjuna-like figure with a combination of power and heroism, and his antagonist Bhallaladeva makes for a fine venom spewing Duryodhana.  The latter's father, Bijjaladeva is at once the embittered Dhritarashtra as the older brother who was deprived of the right to rule due to his deformity, as well as the evil schemer, Shakuni who plots the downfall of Baahubali.  

Devasena's character too appears to be inspired by the stories of two women: Draupadi who is insulted in a court full of people, and the captive Sita who is kept against her will in the Ashoka Vatika while she awaits her redemption.  Kattappa is the Bhishma who is bound by honour to serve the kingdom and is therefore forced to do certain things against his will.

Even some of the events fit in with the stories from the epics.  Take for instance the sequence in the Conclusion where Baahubali, who is living incognito, rides with the coward prince on a wild boar hunting ride and inspires him to take affirmative action when faced with danger.  

This is so very like Arjuna as Brihannala inspiring the timid Uttara Kumara when faced with the Kaurava army (even the character in the Conclusion is called Kumara).  Then there is also the cattle reference: the go-harana episode in the Mahabharata at the end of agnyatavasa, appears to have been adapted as the stampede of the cattle with their horns on fire in the same subplot.

This is not a complaint; just an observation.

The makers leave a couple of doors open towards the end of Conclusion: Bijjaladeva is not killed, which raises the possibility of him scheming again; and there is a child's voice that asks (during the end credits) whether Mahendra Baahubali's son becomes the next king to which an elderly man's voice tantalizingly replies, 'who know's what's in Shiva's mind?'

I sincerely hope there are no plans for a third outing.  Baahubali 1 was the beginning, and 2 the conclusion, as clearly mentioned in the titles.  Together they tell one killer of a story, and contain some of the most memorable characters ever: Kattappa and Baahubali have entered the echelons of other iconic characters of Indian cinema such as Gabbar Singh and Mogambo.  And there they should remain.  

One hopes that their creators are not tempted into milking the story and stretching it into another never-ending franchise.

On the other hand, it would be great if they move on to depict the epics that seem to have inspired Baahubali: Ramayana and Mahabharata, with the same awe inspiring grand cinematic vision and fervour.  

Let's hope they do.

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