Wednesday, December 26, 2007

The Gollum Song and Taare Zameen Par

Before I begin - you can watch the Coraline sneak preview here and read up an interesting discussion on its animation here.

So ... I was inflicted with watching Taare Zameen Par again today. Not that I don't like the movie. But I don't like it enough to watch it twice! Besides, it makes me cry and want to be a child again. :((

Anyhow, I didn't discover anything new to write either. This post was very much in my mind the first time I saw the movie. This is my first attempt at doing an 'auditory' analysis. I don't know what word to use for this. It is similar to the visual analyses I do, except that it is in the domain of sound and music – and most probably rather naive and idiotic. Perhaps it is one of those meaningless connections I make like Saawariya and Sin City. But here goes ...

When I first heard the song Mera Jahaan (the one that plays when Ishan bunks school and has his day out on Bombay's roads) in Taare Zameen Par, I was immediately struck by its similarity to The Gollum Song. Mera Jahaan begins with a lone child voice singing --

A little sweet, a little sour,
A little close, not too far,
All I need,
All I need,
All I need,
Is to be free!

The voice is accompanied by only gentle, barely audible bass strings in the background. The song then picks up with a chorus of child voices singing the same lines and after that an adult male voice starts the main song. At that moment the similarity ends.

The Gollum Song has similarly performed in a childlike voice. The singer is Emiliana Torrini who is definitely adult. But the voice is childlike. And it is perfomed in a similar vacuum of any other sound. Just gentle strings accompainment in the background.

The entire soundtrack of the Lord of the Rings is a materpiece. But even among this somewhat large body of musical work, The Gollum Song and May It Be by Enya stand out as masterpieces among masterpieces. Here are the lyrics for The Gollum Song. You can hear it on YouTube too.

One will immediately notice similar themes running through The Gollum Song and Taare Zameen par. There are accusations against a child or a chillike character (Gollum), there is the resulting isolation and loneliness and the desperate cry for help. Perhaps a deep seated angst too. How these emotions are brough forth through the use of an isolated child voice in both songs in remarkable.

This connection made me wonder at two points. I have never before seen Gollum as a Childlike character. I have read that Frodo, Sam, Gollum, Merry and Pippin can be seen as the different aspects of the same psyche when one does an archetypal analysis. I can now see this as becoming a blog post in its own right.

Second, I wonder if Shankar, Ehsan, Loy did take inspiration from The Gollum Song. Mind you, this is not an accusation of copying or plagiarism. Far from it. 'Mera Jahaan' is worlds apart from The Gollum Song and the similartiy is in mere technique. The Lord of the Rings has revolutionized the way fantasy films are made in Hollywood and I have now seen a few films being heavily influenced by its visual language (300 for example). I wonder if the same has happened in the music world.

I also wonder if that is the way culture always works. We, as a society, work collectively on some cultural aspect, honing and perfecting it until we create a masterpiece. And then we get influenced by and start copying it again and again till it becomes a cliche or a stereotype and loses all meaning.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Taare Zameen Par

I had seen the trailers for Tare Zameen Par. I was quite struck by the refreshing music and stark visuals. Therefore, I was looking forward to watching this movie. But Aneesh beat me to it and came out with the verdict that the movie has been cannibalized by its own hype. The phenomenon would not be new to Bollywood. We have seen scores of movies which have been cannibalized my their own hype and if there is one thing I've learn about Bollywood it is not to walk into the theater with expectations.

And that is what I did. So when Tare Zameen Par began my mind was completely occupied by the popcorn that I was eating. But as the movie progressed I felt more and more strongly drawn into Ishan Awasthi's fantasy world.

Why was I so taken by the movie? I think mostly it was because I could so much connect to it. The messy room, that procastrination in the morning while getting ready for school, making airplanes out of household objects, playing in the bathroom while my mother was shouting at me. All that. It came back. And suddenly I found myself to be a child again. Not that I had a troubled childhood or that I gave up the pleasures of childhood under some undue pressure. And that is the beauty of this movie. It shows you the various facets of childhood which have no connection to Ishan's story at all. Like Amir has said somewhere – it is a story about children.

So while on the surface it was Ishan's pathos that was affecting me, on the inside it was the incredibly strong nostalgia of going back to school and listening to cliched phrases like - “Who's laughing?! Who wants to follow him?”.

Not that the surface itself wasn't interesting. I think where the story falters is that it is caught between the classic divide of show and tell. While on one hand it is using the visual medium beautifully to show the creativity of Ishan, it also has a long preachy session between Amir and Ishan's parents about dyslexia. Like Ma'am said, the movie was caught between interesting visuals and old cliches. But as a writer, I cannot see how they could have made it better. A little polish yes, but when you're starting off with a clear ideological agenda, it is very difficult not to be preachy. It is in fact, some very good writing that shows through some of the scenes. I think the climax 'Art Mela' scene was wonderfully done specially towards the end when Ishan takes a peak at his own portrait. That one scene packed the entire impact of Amir-Ishan relationship.

On the whole, I liked this movie. Not because it was different or pathbreaking but because it wasn't. It was the old familiar, the oft repeated that brought back fond memories and intense nostalgia – and made your heart go out for that lovely child Ishan.

I think I must also make a mention of Shankar, Ehsaan, Loy's fabulous music which breathes much of the life in this movie. After Rahman, I think they're the only genuine music directors in the industry.

Also saw the trailers for Jodha-Akbar in the interval. Doesn't seem as bad as I thought it would be. Might have to watch this one. IndiaFM reports that the movie has been delayed a bit. So it's still a long way off.

See Also:

Monday, December 24, 2007

Labels - Making It Contextual

I wrote a little bit about taxonomy and how it is being changed by the Internet through the use of labels. Ma'am had some views to share about them. Here is my reaction to her email which I think has become another blog post in its own right.

When we say something is 'both' - for example, when we say that an electron is both a particle and a wave - we may mean it in two very different ways. We may mean that it is both at the same time or we may mean that it is sometimes one and sometimes the other depending on context. Let's call these two different kinds of 'both' as 'simultaneous both' and 'contextual both'.

I don't think I ever meant to imply in my blog that we are moving beyond the urge to classify. I'm merely saying that we are moving from an exclusive system of classification to one where we can comfortably label every object with multiple labels. This labelling, as far as it applies to computers, is definitely contextual. You want you information to be available in two or more different contexts. That is why you give it two or more different labels. However, 'contextual both' and 'simultaneous both' are two ways of looking at the same thing and are easily confused.

You could, for example, say that an electron is sometimes a way and sometimes a particle and what precisely it is depends on the experiment you are performing -- that is, the context. But the human mind interprets it to mean that the electron is both at the same time. And immediately we balk at the notion. How can something be both at the same time? It is either this or that. A contextual both is just not acceptable to us.

So when we are faced with such enigmatic objects we start defining new categories. The rather funny term wavicles was invented for things like electrons. The term SFF has been invented within literature. We have Asian-americans in the US. We just can't accept that American Gods can be any of fantasy, SF and horror depending on how you look at it. Neither can we accept that the same person can be an Asian in one context and and American in another. Thus we invent new terms.

The point that I wanted to make was the this paradigm shift may make us more acceptable of a contextual both. So while categories will continue to exist, the boundaries of what goes into them and more importantly WHEN, will get blurred. As far as I can see, that should be a good things.

To summarize, the current dominant mode of thought seems to be that all both is simultaneous and (ironically) simultaneous both is not possible hence everything should be 'either/or' and if not then a new category should be invented. With 'labelling' coming to vogue I see a growing acceptance of contextual both.

See Also:

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Discworld - First Impressions

Just got hold of the first Discworld book yesterday. Read a few pages. Spent a lot more time on wikipedia reading about Discworld. It is such a huge universe that it is better to plunge in equipped with some fore-knowledge. There are thirty eight books in total, two of which haven't been published yet. But unlike Robert Jordan's Wheel of Time these books do not seem to be repetitive or boring in any sense. First of all, each book picks up some theme that it explores. For example, there is one that refers to Ursula Le Guin's Earthsea series. There is another called Hogfather that analyses beliefs like Father Christmas and the Tooth Fairy and how they function within our society.

Upon reading the premise of Discworld one gets a better idea of the story telling tradition that Gaiman is part of. Writers like Gaiman and Pratchett do not care about believability. They are very conscious of the fact that their story is a story. The 'story' part of it is for mere enjoyment – a writers indulgence and a readers pleasure. But the 'theme' part of it has larger meaning. It may be an allegory on contemporary society or musings about Life Universe and Everything.

Thus it is that while JK Rowling is busy going to great lengths to set her story in contemporary London and explaining how Wizards can live in the same world as Muggles, Pratchett sets his story on a clearly unbelievable Discworld. The Discworld is a disc shaped world that is held aloft by four elephants who stand on the back of a giant astronomic turtle named A'Tuin. And while one set of philosophers on Discworld believes that A'Tuin has been moving at a constant speed since eternity and will continue to do so for another eternity, there are others who believe that he is moving from Birth to the Mating whereupon more turtles and other worlds shall be born.

The point is – the setting isn't important. The kind of pseudo-realism that some fantasy and lots of SF aspires to doesn't matter. Pratchett wants us to read the story for pure pleasure and get some of the themes and allegories along way if possible.

Like Gaiman, Pratchett's work is deeply intertexual. There is a whole compilation called the Annotated Terry Pratchett which lists at least a couple of dozen intertexual references in each novel that Terry has written. You may not get most of these the first time you read one of his books. But after a few years, when you have been around the world and read up a little more, his book will make more and more sense to you on reapeated reading. No wonder then that I've been pining to read Sandman and the American Gods once more these days and I'm afraid that the same is will happen with Discworld when I'm done. Forturnately there are thirty eight of them so 'I'm done' seems to be a long, long time away!

See also

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Taxonomy – Categories vs. Labels

A large part of early scientific endeavor was what can be described as taxonomy. The early scientist spent most of his time observing and classifying things. Thus we have Charles Darwin who spent most of his time observing animals on his voyages or Johannes Kepler who spent most of his time observing starts in his observatory. Yes, we did get the Laws of Evolution or the Laws of Planetary Motion out of these observations but it was the observations – naming, cataloguing and classifying – that kept these men occupied for most of their lives.

The conventional ‘scientific’ way of classification is to put every object into a class. In this method, each object has a unique class. It cannot have more than one class. Thus, each animal is either a mammal, or a reptile or an amphibian. There is no scope for ‘both’. It is now very difficult to say whether conventional human way of classification was historically similar or not. In today’s scientific day and age this exclusive way of classification appears to be the most ‘natural’ one to us.

So this was the way we began to organize our information. We had files and cupboards in offices, each neatly labeled and marked, and each page of information we wrote had a definitive, unique location that it would fit into. We had categories in libraries and each book had a unique rack number that it could go to. This was of unique categorization was very convenient. All you had to do was learn what went where and after that, finding information was a piece of cake. However, you sometimes ran into trouble. If you wanted to locate Neil Gaiman’s American Gods where do you look? Do you look under science fiction? Do you look under fantasy? Do you look under horror? Indeed, you could even look under crime.

No wonder then, that a modern specialist in any field spends a lot of time and effort in categorizing things and also explaining and debating why that particular object should get categorized in that particular category.

File and Folders
When computers came along and digital information began to be stored in human comprehensible system of files some clever chap immediately came up with the idea of folders. Folders were exactly like office cabinets or library racks. Each file on the computer had a unique location. Once again it led to trouble. For example, if you wrote a letter to your boss asking for a leave, where do you put this document? Do you put it in folder ‘boss’ or ‘letter’ or ‘leave’. But people were so used to an exclusive system of categorization that they never complained. Silently they devised their own personal system of categorization and filed their files accordingly.

And Then There Was Searching
But then there came searching – largely through the internet. Desktop searching has always been lurking in some corner but it was the internet that made searching big. People gradually began to realize that the same information could be reached – very easily and very effectively – through a lot many ways. If you wanted to search for your document titled ‘letter to boss for leave’ you could search for any or all of letter, boss, or leave. As people began to get familiar with this paradigm of information management they started complaining about the folder system. Why should it be necessary to file this document in one folder? After all, it is not a ‘real’ document. It is virtual. Had it been real then we could not possibly have had it in two cabinets or two racks at the same time. But on a computer everything is virtual! Why not make this document just ‘appear’ in more than one folders?

Let There Be Labels
Thus labels were born. Labels (or tags) are everywhere on the internet now. The idea is simple. You can attach as many labels to your document as you want. When you search for a particular label all documents having that label appear. So my email to boss for leave can have both labels – boss and leave. Whether I search for boss or whether I search for leave, this email will appear. Indeed, desktop filesystems based on labels are being contemplated. It is rumored that the new WinFS (Microsofts new files system which they failed to deliver with Vista) will be label based. These days you don’t categorize your information anymore. You just label.

Paradigm Shift?
The advent of labels makes me wonder. Is human organization of information about to undergo a fundamental paradigm shift? Will posterity wonder no more whether tomato is a fruit or a vegetable, American Gods an SF or a fantasy, and an electron a particle or a wave? Will it just answer ‘both’ without even giving it another thought?

Or is it that labeling just is the more ‘natural’ way of organizing information and that exclusive categorization has been imposed on us by the dominance of the scientific method. So what we are doing is just realizing the simple truth and going back to a more human way of organizing data?

Related Posts:

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

The Google Strategy

My post on the Google Strategy on Tastysamosas.

Google has recently announced its upcoming product, Google Knol, on its official blog. It is perhaps the first time that Google has talked about a product before it was launched and that too was done primarily on the Internet and not on the main-stream-media. No wonder then, that the blogosphere was replete with speculation before long and as of now there are hundreds of blogs on the topic. The move is largely being seen as a challenge to Wikipedia, which stubbornly remains non-profit and refuses to monetize its content.

I am Legend

Read my I am Legend review on Tastysamosas

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Good Omens - Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett

Read the review on TastySamosas!

As they say, Good Omens got written when Neil Gaiman wasn’t Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett was only just Terry Pratchett. But that does not take away anything from the awesomeness of this book. First published in the year 1990, this books preceeds even Sandman among Neil Gaimans work but is as much, if not more, of a delight to read as his other works.

I have not read any Terry Pratchett so this review would probably focus more on Gaiman. However, let me be clear that this books is real collaborative writing. The edition that I have begins, quite amusingly, with an interview. One that is answered jointly by a Gaiman-Pratchett entity. It claims that the way the book got written, no one really knows who wrote what part. Sometime Gaiman would commend Pratchett on how wonderful a line he had written and as it would turn out, it was Gaiman who had actually come up with it over a phone conversation! So much for the saying that writing is a solitary art.

Anyhow, the books is a satire on contemporary life. It narrates the tale of an Angel, Aziraphale and a demon, Crowley, who are terrified with the idea of the impending armageddon because they would have to leave the worldly comforts that they have so grown used to and go back to heaven – or hell. An anti-christ is being born and they decide to bring him up in a balanced atmosphere of good and evil so that he does not side with either side. But things go wrong and the anti-christ gets lost. He grows up as a child and like any other eleven-year-old he’s completely human.

In a hilarious turn of events Crowley and Aziraphale seek out to prevent the anti-christ from meeting the four horsemen from hell and avert the apocalypse. In a beautiful satire on contemporary religion, politics and human society, Gaiman and Pratchett drive home the message – that humans are ultimately responsible for their own sins – clearly and effectively.

The book is a laughter riot. There is witticism in every sentence and quite often it actually makes you laugh out loud. A must read!