Month: May 2016

The Last Wave – An Island Novel

The Last Wave – An Island Novel

It’s paradise on Earth. Just google Andaman and you will see it in all its splendor. Pristine sea-shore, blue-green water, flora and fauna just like in Jurassic Park  inhabited by those junglee tribes who don’t even wear clothes.

And yet, there is a reality beneath the surface, as naked as the tribes, staring at us in the face. Pankaj Sekhsaria’s novel The Last Wave – An Island Novel uncovers this reality. At its heart, it’s a tale of the Jarawa tribe, who have been on the islands for many generations but who are now helpless against the onslaught of the ‘modern’ civilization. There is nowhere for them to go. They will have to succumb, as many tribes did all over the world.

Pankaj has been associated with the environment and conservation movement in India for nearly 20 years. He has written extensively about the issues faced by the islanders. His close familiarity with the Andaman islands stands out throughout the novel, be it the minute geographical details or detailed history of the Jarawa people.

The Last Wave is a love story of Harish and Seema, who come to the islands for different purposes but who are looking for answers. Harish is trying to find some meaning in his life while Seema – who is a ‘local born’ – is trying to find her roots and what they mean to her. Through this journey, the novel poses some complex questions about the islands and the Jarawas, questions that have no easy answers.

Jarawas are the indigenous peoples of the Andaman islands. Then there are the local borns, people like Seema whose parents or grandparents came to the islands in the last century. Interaction between these two was not anything but smooth. For most of the time, the Jarawas defended themselves with bows and arrows.It is only in the last fifteen years or so that the Jarawas have ended their hostility. And this has created a whole set of new problems.

Harish and Seema try to tackle these problems in their own way. Harish, being an outsider, is partial to the preservation of the tribe. He proposes radical solutions – such as closing down the Andaman Trunk Road that runs through the island connecting the villages. Seema vehemently opposes this as it will close all the communication between the villages and will be very inconvenient to the local borns. Harish and Seema represent the two forces on the island that have been in conflict ever since.

Add to this the policies of the Indian government and the destruction is complete. The islands are being exploited for timber and this is changing the delicate environmental balance. The local politicians are trying to ‘civilize’ the Jarawas, the interaction with the tourists results in outbreak of diseases, the wildlife is getting slowly depleted. The Jarawas are getting addicted to tobacco, alcohol – given to them by the civilized world – things they did not even know existed just a decade or so back.

It’s a bleak picture. As we travel with Harish and Seema, we are confronted by such questions again and again. The Jarawas have been hunting animals since the beginning. Now the conservation laws come into place and suddenly, they cannot do what they have been doing because it’s illegal. There is no way to explain it to them because there is no communication. They cannot comprehend why their natural way of life is now a cause for punishment.

The Jarawas do not wear clothes. Emotions like being shameful of our bodies have not entered their culture. But the politicians do not have the sensitivity to understand this. They want the Jawaras to wear clothes so that our women do not feel ashamed in front of them and our so-called culture is preserved. What right do we have to change the way these people have been living for hundreds of years?

The Last Wave is a novel that brings out many emotions. You feel sad as Harish watches two men cut down a huge tree in the preserved area of rain forest, you wonder at the incredible strategies of nature as you read about the Giant Letherback turtle coming to the shore to lay her eggs, you feel angry at the at the politician and in the end you feel introspective and question all the so called civilised cultures and what they are leading to.

The Jarawas, the local borns, the politicians and the government officials all are living in separate realities. And as Harish realizes in the end, it’s a no-win contest for the Jarawas. They will be engulfed by The Last Wave, sooner than later.

The Last Wave – An Island Novel is available on Amazon.

Sairat

Sairat

I was raised in a cosmopolitan environment. A devout Muslim family were our neighbors for 20 years. Playing Cricket with their children is the reason I can speak flawless Hindi today. Caste never entered in our family and I am grateful to my parents for it. Later on, I slowly learnt that those around me were not always this casual about it. More often than not, the intention behind two innocent questions – “What is your name?” and “Where are you from?” – is to place you in the hierarchy of castes and sub-castes.

Reason behind this prologue is a brilliant movie by Nagraj Manjule called Sairat. Sairat means passion. As the name suggests it is a love story. Then again, it’s so much more then that. It’s futile to put Sairat in a category. It’s predictable in parts and just when you think you have it pegged, it makes a complete U-turn and you are back to the square one. It starts out as a typical love story between two teenagers – Parshya (Akash Thosar) and Archie (Rinku Rajguru). It then metamorphoses into a movie depicting harsh realities of the cast system. And then you realize that the first part – the part that you thought was too typical – was in fact the reality. So much of our culture is shaped by movies that the teenagers trying to imitate their screen idols becomes a strange reality in itself. Sairat is an emotional roller coaster. While watching the movie you laugh, you sing, you dance, you cry. I cry maybe once a year. Sairat brought tears to my eyes.

So much has been written about the movie. The amazing score by Ajay-Atul, fresh non-actors – a rare occasion in Marathi cinema where the tradition is to cast well known actors. (Manjule’s previous movie Fandry also had non-actors.) Cinematography is a rare treat, very rarely you see such compelling visuals. The most appealing aspect of the movie is its authenticity in every department.

Usually the audience and the critics sit on opposite sides of most movies. Very rarely comes a movie that pleases both the audience and the critics – most prominent example being The Godfather. Sairat has pleased the critics immensely and the audience is going crazy. Just before the interval, I spotted the popcorn seller standing at the door, watching the movie – for the 20th time perhaps.

If you do not understand Marathi, the movie comes with subtitles – a very welcome move for Marathi cinema.

I do not know the technicalities or the decision making that goes on in deciding India’s entry for Oscars. I do very much hope that Sairat gets picked for the next year.

Trumbo

Trumbo

One reason I like Hollywood movies – especially the recent ones – is that many of them are based on real life events that have been depicted on screen remarkably well, be it Bobby Fischer’s biopic Pawn Sacrifice, heart wrenching story of a slave in 12 Years A Slave or history of Gangster Rap in Straight Outta Compton.

One such movie is Trumbo, based on novelist and Hollywood screenwriter Dalton Trumbo. Trumbo was the highest paid screenwriter in Hollywood during the thirties and forties. Post WWII however, the obsession with communism started in the McCarthy era and Trumbo, along with several other screen writers was black listed. He even served a sentence of eleven months in prison. Finding work was very hard but Trumbo did not give up. He started writing under pseudo names. One of his movies, The Brave One, won the Academy Award for screen writing that was given to Robert Rich, the pseudo name under which he wrote the movie. In 1975, The Academy presented Trumbo the award with his name on it.

The number of talented actors to hit the big screen in last 10-15 years is quite astounding. And I am excluding famous Hollywood stars like Leonardo DiCaprio or Kevin Spacey. I am in awe of Daniel Day-Lewis. Gangs of New York, There Will Be Blood, Lincoln – he keeps on giving impeccable performances. Watching him, you get some idea of what viewers in the seventies must have felt while watching Robert Di Nero in Taxi Driver. Michael Fassbender is another great actor. His versatility from 12 Years A Slave to Steve Jobs is remarkable. And I will not forgive myself if I don’t mention Benedict Cumberbatch.

The reason I mention these actors is that they always steal the show. And they deserve to. They are the De Niros and Pacinos of this era. But while they do that, secondary actors who do not get such prominent lead roles receive much less attention. There are many examples of talented secondary actors shining through. For instance, Jason Robards playing a cowboy in Once Upon A Time In The West and then playing Ben Bradlee in All The Presidents Men.

Dalton Trumbo is played by Brayan Cranston who played Walter White in Breaking Bad. I remember him as Tim Whatley in Seinfeld. To say he does justice to the role would be an understatement. He has created a perfect image of the character. When I say Gandhi, Ben Kigsley comes to mind. I cannot think of Abraham Lincoln and not think of the character Daniel Day-Lewis played. And to me, Dalton Trumbo means the character played by Brayan Cranston.

It’s a good thing that Trumbo is based on a true story. Usually, fictional stories of overcoming obstacles are considered to be of lesser quality than the bleak, sad stories that are considered milestones. I have never understood the reason behind this. Why, Mr. Tolstoy, can a happy family not have an interesting story? Dalton Trumbo is a fighter. He finds innovative ways to survive during the anti-communist era. There are two scenes in the movie that are particularly poignant. Trumbo’s two movies – Roman Holiday and The Brave One – received Academy Awards but he could not claim them. He had to sit in his living room and watch on the TV someone else take the credit for it. What’s more painful for a writer than not to be able to claim his success?

Trumbo is a story of an artist who refuses to give up his rights – right to think the way he wants, right to pen the movies he wants and right to live the way he wants.