You know, I keep giving myself stern looks each time I whinge about reviewing films. It’s not like this is the most trying job in the world, after all? It’s been a brutal year for Indian journalism with some publications folding up, some becoming wobblier than ever and a nightmarish number of job cuts. Predictably, those who write about cultural stuff are among the worst hit — we’re always considered the most practically useless, whether in India or abroad. So in this climate, to have a job that lets you read books, watch films and so on for a living is something to be thankful for… until the films you end up watching are the likes of Gori Tere Pyaar Mein and Bullett Raja. There’d be some redemption for Bollywood if its stars were at least more engaging off-screen, but if the new season of Koffee with Karan is any indication, they’re about as interesting as their press releases.
There was one surprise film for me: Frozen, Disney’s take on the fairy tale, “The Snow Queen”. I’m one of those kids who grew up on Disney animation and while I loved how utterly gorgeous they were (still are), the princesses never made much of an impact on me. Sure, they were pretty and sweet but since I was neither pretty nor sweet, it seemed so much better an idea to focus on the side characters who were WAY more fun. Come to think of it, the few times I can remember relating to the central protagonist of a Disney film, they were animals. Dumbo, for instance.
Anyway, Frozen is a film I wish they’d made when I was a kid. I was very curious to know how they were going to treat this very complex story, with its toxic vision of maternity and all the loops in the tale. Disney did something smart: they didn’t bother much with the original and instead, told a whole new story.
Frozen has lovely classically Disney animation, it feels a little too song-stuffed (because Pixar has opened us up to this whole new world where animated characters do regular things. Like talk), and it’s got not one but two awesome princesses. Everyone expected Pixar to create the new age princess, who would be elegant and yet spunky, who would be romanticised but not a coquette, blah blah blah, but all they could manage was Brave, in which the storytelling just collapsed under all these expectations to create a thoroughly disappointing film. Frozen, on the other hand, completely changes the story of “The Snow Queen” and without being heavy-handed about it, makes a princess film that is about princesses, rather than about finding Princes and falling in love etc.
Plus it has the cutest snowman who has his own personal flurry!
Elsa, who becomes the Snow Queen, is a superb character and one that the story doesn’t constrain at all. At no point in the film is she looking for a man to complete her, which is so, so refreshing. This is not to say that there isn’t a love story. This is a Disney film, there has to be a happily ever after and there is. Complete with a song by trolls! Adorable trolls, no less. Wish these guys left comments on our online writing.
Anyway, so Frozen — highly recommended.
From the world of books, a short guide to Book No. 2 of Nilanjana Roy’s The Wildings series: The Hundred Names of Darkness. It’s a more conventional novel than The Wildings is, since the visuals aren’t used as cleverly as in the first book, but it’s still immensely satisfying. Plus, dog lovers, there is Doginder Singh. If you don’t adore Doginder, I’m labelling you “unnatural”.
Also, The Siege, in which Adrian Levy and Cathy Scott-Clark reconstruct the attack on the Taj that began on 26th November, 2008. They’ve collected some amazing information, particularly about David Headley and how he tried to work both ISI and FBI, and about the jihadi camps in Pakistan. The disappointment in the book is that the copy editors couldn’t ensure the accuracy of little details, beginning with spellings and going on to little claims that aren’t critically important to the story but are nonetheless terribly jarring for readers who know better. Also, I’m a little uncomfortable with this focus on the Taj and almost dismissing the horror of what happened in CST, the Oberoi and Chabad House. I’m not saying a writer can’t focus their attention on one part of a historical event, but it needs to come across as part of a whole. That said, read this after watching BBC’s Dispatches episode on the attack, and you’ve got to say a thanks to the British for continuing to record our history for us. All we managed was Ram Gopal Varma’s film on the subject, which thankfully disappeared from screens within days of its release.
And in case you’re among those who has been wondering for decades just what the Indian government was thinking banning The Satanic Verses before even Iran got into the act, here’s what happened from the proverbial horse’s mouth. If you have read Shovon Chowdhury’s The Competent Authority, you will be in the strangely uncomfortable condition of getting chills and giggling at the absurdity of this retelling.
Finally, there was this piece on Tarun Tejpal’s bail application, in which he basically said “It’s her fault”. Charming. Though with supporters like Palash Krishna Mehrotra, who needs enemies? Mehrotra declared men were under siege in his column in India Today. This sputterance followed.