Sunday, April 30, 2006

Kaavya, Kaavya, Sigh..

This has been a hot topic this week all over the South Asian online circuit, NPR and even one of the ballet moms brought it up. I don't want to dwell on it too much, but many people have asked for my opinion, as an aspiring writer.

First admission - I was deeply jealous when I first heard about her success ($500,000 + Dreamworks option) for a 19-year-old Finance major. I've wanted to be a writer since I was 8 and am still struggling to get it together. I was curious why this book and not the dozen other desi chick-lit books out there. Dumb luck perhaps? I saw excerpts of the book, though I haven't read it, and I didn't think it was well-written. Hey, that's the teen genre, I guess. Figured I'd wait for the movie and see who the desi Lindsay Lohan would be.

Then the controversy of the plagiarism spurred this week and everything has come out in the open. However, I've learned a lot about the publishing and packaging industry, so I don't believe Kaavya has plagiarized herself. I recall reading that she said her original story was "dark" and they lightened it for her to make it appealing for mainstream audience.

Inside 17th Street
“A packager basically serves as both the writer and editor of a book,” Skurnick said in a phone interview. “The advantage for a publishing house is they don’t have to do anything — they don’t have to design the book, they don’t have to think about a concept…. They can just say, ‘Here’s $80,000 for twelve of these books.’ They don’t have to do any of the work.”

“In my case, I was a former editor at the [17th Street] office where books are farmed out to. But there’s a whole network of writers who mostly do this kind of book,” Skurnick said, referring to scribes who churn out new installments long after a series’ original author has dropped out of the picture. As “work-for-hire” employees with usually no royalty or copyright claims on their output, many of these writers labor with the hopes of gaining the connections that might land them a project of their own."

Other articles:

Will the Real Plagiarist Please Stand Up
Did Opal Author Plagiarize — or Was It Her Handlers?

So, Kaavya is in a precarious situation where options are 1) to admit she plagiarized and ruin her career 2) to admit, "I had ghostwriters, but I took full credit and $500K for the book."

What are aspiring writers supposed to do to protect themselves? Kaavya did have an agent who commandeered this for her.

My other issue with this is the model of the Indian overachiever. The girl could not write her college essay and her parents hired a consultant. How the heck does she get a bigger book deal than the other qualified writers.? By qualified, I'm referring to a list on's BookShelf. There are dozens and dozens of South Asian women writers who have a lot more writing experience. So, it's not as if there is a drought of Indian talent out there.

Anyone who has grown up in the Asian immigrant community knows the pressure to succeed (education, career, marriage, family, etc.). Though I don't agree wholly with the author of this blog, he's got some good points about the pressure to succeed at any cost: Gawker

I'm hoping Kaavya will take a lesson from "The Martha Stewart School of Damaged Image Recovery" and kick out another book about this whole experience.

For me, this reassures me that slow and steady will win the race. By the way, for clarification purposes, I do not want a huge publishing contract or movie options (though it would be nice not to go to work). I want an interview with Terry Gross from Fresh Air. That's it. That's all I want.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Getting Out of Bollywood: Being Cyrus & Iqbal Reviews

Indian cinema is truly taking off with force now. When you let the filmmakers loose, it’s amazing what they can do.

I know nothing about cricket. When the movie was three-quarters completed, I asked my husband "When the little thing falls off the sticks, is it a strike?" (Yes).

We really enjoyed this movie for all the other elements it offers. Iqbal is a boy with a talent for cricket, who faces many challenges to achieve his dream – his deafness, his father’s intolerance toward the sport, social prejudices, and unethical dealings in the sport.

Having worked with the deaf community years ago, I am drawn toward such stories. I was impressed with the sign language skills of the actors; it’s often easily faked in movies. On the DVD interviews, Director Nagesh Kukunoor mentions that this was important to him. His challenge was to find an actor who could act, play cricket and sign, which he did.

By the way, I’m a fan of Kukunoor’s “Teen Dewaar” (Three Walls). The story was tight, the film moved quickly and we didn’t expect the outcome. No one seemed to have seen “Bollywood Calling,” a movie that I enjoyed a lot for it's peek into the "filmy" world.

His stories are real and very well-written.

Being Cyrus

Was this movie made in India? Did Saif Ali Khan go through an entire movie without a song? This was a well-written and directed movie, but definitely not a movie for everyone.

The first point where it stands out is that the film is in English, focusing on Parsi characters. The film follows a narrative led by Cyrus, recapping recent events. The audience believes what he says, but there are many things that he doesn’t say. There are continuous flashbacks and hallucinations. These can be disturbing and confusing, to say the least.

There is a twist at the end – actually, it’s more than a twist, it’s a braid. So at the end, I wanted to watch it again and look for all the clues that I missed. Cyrus has a lot of angst and it is at the end it all makes sense. It’s a dark movie, and there is violence – though thankfully not as graphic as it could be.

I though Saif did a great job, but I think the director Homi Adajania was outstanding.

Naseerudin Shah gives a wonderful performance as a stoned sculptor. He was in “Iqbal” as well, as an ex-cricketer turned coach and supporter for Iqbal. And, Dimple is so exciting to watch these days, playing real people.

The one line repeated three times was at the end of a chess game, “the king and pawn go back into the same box.” Yes, that’s a nice line. There was another line that was powerful. Dinshaw (Shah) points to white flowers that are growing inside a well. He said “God is in the details.” Katy (Dimple) responds, “If God is in the details, who is looking at the big picture.” (Not exact quote, apologies to Adajania)

That’s what this movie is about – the details. Follow the details and only at the end can you see the big picture.

Another thought about this movie is the name. “Being Cyrus”has an obvious echo to "Being John Malkovitch,” which I loved. "Being John Malkovitch" was about puppetry, controlling another person’s thoughts and actions. At the highest level, "Being Cyrus" has the same theme.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

On Being Five (Part 2)

Last Monday, April 10th, we arrived home from school. She's in the back seat and I'm pulling into the garage.

Five Year Old: Mom, there's a spider in your hair.

Me: No there isn't. Time to get out now.

Five Year Old: For real. There's a spider in your hair.

At this point, I've parked and am getting out the car, she's carrying on about a spider.

Me: Ok, let's get out. (I unbuckle her)

Five Year Old: April Fool's, Mom!!

Oh, if I had known that April Fool's Day was extended this year, I surely would've gotten into the spirit.

However, it must be very liberating not to have a sense of time or propriety.

On Being Five (Part 1)

Driving home this evening from the store through a neighborhood. A small bunny rabbit darted across the street. I slowed down and was amazed at how quickly he saved himself.

Me: Oh! I just saw a bunny!

5-Year-Old: Where? I didn't see the bunny?

Me: Well, he went so fast, I didn't have time to tell you.

5-Year-Old: Did you see him?

Me: Yes.

5-Year-Old: Did he have a basket?

Me: Umm.. Umm.. I think he was going to get the basket.

5-Year-Old: OK.

Happy Easter!

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Bubbles (My Poems): Greater Expectations

Greater Expectations
I would be led by a trail of dead flowers
through the woods
to where I needed to be.

Red leaves dripped from the trees.
The decay crunched underfoot,
setting a pulse
as I dashed
to freedom.
Mud and grass thickened my soles
and the bark grazed my arms,
releasing my blood.
The mossy air grated my skin until it pricked,
but sweat trickled down my face.
Like the Ferryman, the forest asked for a toll
and I gave until I was bare.

I looked to the sky for guidance,
but the trees extended formidable arms
to shield the moon from me.
It did not matter. The scent of independence
was leading me.

I kicked rocks from my path.
I felt empty and clean.
There was a wail in my ear,
the past will always be.
And so let it be.
I bore no Orpheum desire to look back.
A fire burned in my chest, igniting the way to
greater expectations
that I deserved.

I wrote this a few years ago for a writing exercise - Use the words "trail of dead flowers" in a poem. I actually saw a trail of dead flowers in my office that someone had accidentally dropped. So, I took it up a few notches. Any deeper meanings to this poem? I had the image of a slave running away in my mind. However, it could apply to anyone running towards freedom (e.g., a victim of abuse). I've actually used this poem to preface a short story that I'm working on. It's inspired a totally different interpretation in a story about a mother/daughter relationship. (The characters are great, the language is real, plot builds up, and then there's no climax. Just a fizzle. Need to revisit that story and revive it though.)

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Movie Review: Brokeback Mountain

So, I wanted to get these guys' pictures up on my blog sooner or later.

I liked this movie, though I wish I had seen it a year ago, before the Oscar hoopla. It's a quiet story that makes you think.

People always raised it as a "love story," the focus on the love that couldn't be. However, I found myself zeroing in on the Michelle Williams' character. She was in a one-sided marriage. Her partner was not fully committed to this relationship and also to his family. From his point of view, he has been putting his family first and doing what he could do. However, she expected more. It was a bit sad when she said he never bought home fish when he knew how much she and the girls loved fish.
Anne Hathaway is good too - we know her very intimately as Princess Mia from "Princess Diaries" so it's good to see her grow as an actress. The last scene when she talks to Ennis on the phone is perfect.

As far as the lead actors, I had just seen "The Brothers Grimm" with Heath Ledger & Matt Damon, which was a fun movie. To see Heath Ledger pulling this character is amazing. The accent, the attitude, the mannerisms are flawless. I love actors who exercise diversity. Another favorite of mine is Johnny Depp, who can be proper JM Barrie to a foul-stinky pirate to a freaky Willy Wonka.

Dollars and Dreams

It's that time again. Big jackpot for Powerball or whatever in NJ. Sometimes it's in DE. Sometimes in PA.

People are work start soliciting for contributions to the lottery pot. Someone will go buy the tickets, photocopies will be made of all the tickets for the contributors. Presumably, the contributors will huddle around the TV that night with their copied tickets.

I think I played it once at work. We didn't win. After that, I did not see the point and people knew not to ask me for lottery.

However, everyone's enthusiasm is what is striking. People are optimistic and excited. "Oh, you'll be the only here on Monday!" implying that everyone will win over the weekend, take their winnings and sail off to the Bahamas. And, I shall be the lone person in the office come Monday. Fine, I'll take that risk.

In one way it's admirable. In another way, it's very disheartening to think that this is the only way people feel their life can be changed. They are in their current situation because of external limitations - there would be too many to name. The lottery rage is not just in the ranks of the temp and hourly employees, but some managers also participate. What are they looking to change?

I enjoy going to casinos and playing roulette or blackjack (it's been years though!). I don't like slot machines though. I'm used to throwing in quarters and at least getting a can of soda in return. With the games, there's some sense of control over what you risk and how you choose. The lottery, when you allow the machine to choose for you, is like the slot machines. You take what you get. You'll win a small amount just to make sure you come back and bet more.

So, what is there to the lottery? Is it just a dollar and dream? Or is it just one dream and lots and lots of dollars spent to achieve it. My parents used to own a store which sold lottery tickets. They were surprised at the number of daily customers they had, usually retired individuals. They are on fixed incomes, but they have allocated enough to play daily.

I think of 'Cinderella' in all this. We all regard the story as a symbol of wishes granted magically. The fairy godmother will give you your designer gown, pimp your ride and find you a rich hunk. Yet, people forget that Cinderella did not win because she bought into the dream. She worked hard and stayed true to herself in the face of adversity. In the end, she was rewarded. Maybe I buy into that dream that you do what you must and hope that someone will recognize you for it eventually. It won't happen magically.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Movie Review: Rang De Basanti


What an amazing movie.

I heard a lot of positive things about this movie, and actually tried to see it in the theater. (I haven’t seen a Hindi film in a theater since 1997 "DDLJ"; I’m quite fine with DVD and the power to fast forward).

Here's a link to the story (please come back and finish my review though!)

I thought the filmmaking by Rakesh Omprakash Mehra was impressive. I liked the juxtaposition of the present day characters with their freedom fighter counterparts. The editing was crisp and flawless. I don’t think I’ve seen any Hollywood movies with that kind of hip and sharp music and video editing.

You have to look at it in two parts and I think he went over the top at times. However, I think you may have to for an audience, which may not be accustomed to cinematic subtleties. So, sometimes it felt a bit forced, but I think the director needed that. The biggest complaint against this movie is the last part not being realistic. Agree, perhaps it would happen in China or in a repressive society, and not in India. However, it's the idea of it happening in India being more shocking. You have to think of 1970 shootings at Kent State Univ in OH, where student protestors were shot and killed by the National Guard. That shocked the country, and the film shows a similiar shake-up.

The AR Rahman music is good as always - slamming down on the perfect balance of hip western and classical Indian styles. Unlike other Bollywood movies, the music is tied to the movie, so it must be seen *with* the movie to be appreciated more.

The first part of the movie was fun, though I had to wonder how long the care-free depiction would go on. I was wondering, “Why are you guys sleeping in the sun? You haven’t been doing anything, but lounging around anyway.”

They really showed the beauty of India through historic sites and landscape. It would have created a richer depiction if they had presented the more common people of India as well. In a way, that’s the life the characters led – isolation from India and life.

However, the beauty of the friendship was the blending of religions and cultures, especially the way Sue was enveloped into their group. Maybe it was Aamir Khan, but it reminded me of the comradery portrayed in "1947 Earth" before the Partition, where they were friends and Indians before they were Hindu, Muslim, Sikh.

Watching the scenes of the freedom fighters was powerful and you cannot watch without being moved by it. I couldn’t help but think about the war in Iraq. Is it a matter of semantics - what do we call those that want to shake the occupation - freedom fighters, rebels, insurgents? Watching the torture scenes and prisoners who are not afraid to die reminded me of what is happening now. I don’t want this movie review to become politically entwined, but if the purpose is to show the story of freedom fighters lives on, then it would live on in different forms and countries. People always fighting for what they believe.

Anyway, I found it a bit disheartening that Blondie spoke better Hindi than I can with her two weeks of night classes. The Indian directors now are really talented. Once they are given permission to step away from the Bollywood formula, it's really exciting to see what they can do.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Images of Reality

I heard a reference to mirror breaking and bad luck associated with it. And, it got me thinking. The reason behind the bad luck and broken mirrors is related to the sacredness of the reflection or the self-image. Breaking the mirror meant the self-image was destroyed. It brought to mind how some cultures forbade photography because the self-image was sacred and the duplication of it was sinful.

So where are we now as an American society? We’ve released the sanctity of the self-image and allowed it to be controlled.

Flipping channels this Sunday afternoon, I had a selection of reality shows to choose: chefs, models, slackers, owners of condos that can’t sell, owners of 1980’s clothes. Not only have we unveiled the sacred image, once it’s manipulated by editors, it is ready for public consumption.

In a way, the mirror is shattered. People look at their image and think it is flattering.

Another important symbol is a person's name. By revealing one's name, we bestow a sense of power, a familiarity to the another person. Names represent us, our families, our cultures, who we are. When we introduce ourselves, we break the first wall of anonymity and allow another person into our lives.

Now, we have the internet. We hide behind handles, not revealing our names. Yet, we freely post our lives, our families, our bodies. We let our handles and nicknames speak for us - do they reveal who we really are or how we truly see ourselves?

So, the name is still powerful, even if the image is not.

"And it’s true we are immune
When fact is fiction and tv reality"
- U2 "Sunday Bloody Sunday"