Hollywood loses the plot

The Guardian:

We want to answer all those unanswered questions from the first one,’’ said Sharon Stone. “The producers are putting the film together, it’s a terrific script.’’ She’s talking about the sequel to Basic Instinct, called (provisionally) Basic Instinct 2. If you can cast your mind back to 1992, here’s the thing you’ll remember about the original: Stone gets arrested, right... in the interview room, she sparks up a fag, the copper says, “You can’t smoke in here!’’ and she replies, “What are you going to do, arrest me for smoking?’’ Only kidding, the real thing you’ll remember is that she crosses her legs for the assembled law enforcers, and (gasp!) doesn’t have any pants on. The only other even slightly memorable thing about the flick is a flash of Michael Douglas’s wizened rear, but such is the lingering force of the leg-crossing incident that nobody can remember whether that was in Basic Instinct or Wall Street. Unanswered questions, my monkey. There was only one salient question, and the answer was “No, she wasn’t! The hussy!’’ Hollywood revisits blockbusters, either in remake or in sequel form, because they busted a lot of blocks the first time, and there’s no reason to suppose they won’t do so again. Sometimes it works (Cape Fear, for instance), and sometimes it doesn’t (some other film I can’t remember, because it didn’t really work). Trouble only starts when people take on a film where the overriding topic is gender politics, and it’s surprising how many of those there are. So, take as simply the most recent trio, Alfie, Stepford Wives and Basic Instinct. Alfie started life as an unremittingly bleak insight into the mental processes of a misogynist. As the novelist Fay Weldon pointed out when the milky Jude Law remake was released, the original turned a generation of women into feminists. Weldon has a tendency to overstate - I’m sure there were some women who just fancied a piece of Michael Caine and left it at that. But the point stands: Alfie was a mainstream film, but inhabiting the mainstream didn’t necessarily rule out intellectual gravity.

Second time around, the film was totally without agenda. Nobody could find a thing to say about it, bar that it was nice to see so many good-looking people in the one film. This isn’t to say the agenda of the first was absolutely clear-cut. (It wasn’t a feminist treatise, after all, it was a work of creativity, and necessarily muddied by the relative moral ambiguity of art, compared to politics.) But it was very markedly made at a time when the idea of being a feminist was a legitimate issue, and not just something for people to deny being when they want to sound cute and not bossy.

Likewise, Stepford Wives. A much more obvious satire on gender relations, this was deemed at the remake stage far too dated a debate for the modern audience, and turned into a comedy. It was much less funny as a comedy than it was as biting satire. It was about as funny as a car advert in which a feisty wife nicks her husband’s car keys and drops them in the ratatouille. The modern tilt on these films is dressed up as the rational person’s response to the fact that all those ancient battles have been won, and to continue banging on about women’s rights would be not just passe but, moreover, irrelevant.

This is the very opposite of the truth: Hollywood gets more misogynist every year. Dialogue you’d see in a 50s film would be unthinkable in a mainstream film today, since it would necessitate the existence of a female who was intelligent yet not evil. Women in their 30s (Angelina Jolie, in Alexander) are cast as mothers to men in their late 20s (Colin Farrell). Men in their 60s are cast as love interests to women in their teens. It is rare to the point of being unthinkable, now, for the heroine of any mainstream romance to be embarking on anything but her first sexual encounter. Hollywood operates according to a virgin-centric moral schema that is about as strict as Shakespeare’s. Never is this more obvious, and more insulting, than when a film with a point is remade without its point — when, in the service of this totally specious idea that we’ve made all the progress we ever needed, any whiff of politics is discreetly deodorised.

It’s true that the politics of Basic Instinct would be a hard thing to put your finger on. It was part of a woman-as-predator genre that ranged from the furiously paranoid (Fatal Attraction) to the wryly amused (The Last Seduction), and none of these films functioned as an unalloyed paean to female empowerment. But you can be absolutely certain that, pants, saucy pants or no pants at all, Basic Instinct 2 won’t even (metaphorically, you understand) be able to spell empowerment.

A tribute to Prithviraj Kapoor, his theatre

Himalayan News Service

Mumbai:

A book on legendary actor-director Prithviraj Kapoor and his beloved Prithvi Theatre has been launched here, penned by none other than his actor son Shashi Kapoor. Prithviraj Kapoor led a very interesting life that spanned not just across movies but also theatre, though it began with a lot of struggle. Now a book released by Roli Books called “The Prithviwallahs” is the story of a theatre that has become a living legend and of the men and women who made it happen.

The book was launched Thursday at the newly opened ITC Grand Central Sheraton Hotel. Sadly, there was little participation from the Kapoor family as only Randhir Kapoor attended the function. Kareena and Karisma Kapoor too were not there and Sanjana Kapoor — the force behind Prithvi Theatre and daughter of Shashi Kapoor — was busy with a theatre group from Europe in Delhi. But those who graced the book launch included Shyam Benegal, Talat Aziz, Ila Arun, the erstwhile royal of Udaipur Arvind Singh Mewar and Lillete Dubey. The book has been written by Shashi Kapoor and well known film critic Deepa Gahlot. It carries an exhaustive collection of photographs of Prithviraj and Shashi Kapoor’s theatre career. “It is a very small event and a very big occasion for me. I’m a matric (Class 10) failure and this book is a big surprise for me too,” said Shashi Kapoor.

“Deepa Gahlot got the most accurate information in the book that I narrated to her and many times she corrected me when I was going wrong. In the film industry one thing is common - that many a time what is written is not the truth. But in this book you will find the most accurate information,” added Kapoor. Deepa Gahlot said it was a great experience to interact with Shashi Kapoor who has a great memory and at the same time is a very good storyteller. “After writing this book, I can proudly say that I too am a Prithviwallah,” she said.

On Jan 15, 1944, Prithviraj Kapoor, already a film star, realised a long-cherished dream with the birth of Prithvi Theatres. Over the next 16 years, his repertory toured the country, giving one remarkable performance after another — “Shakuntala” (1944), “Pathan” (1947) and “Paisa” (1953) among them — a total of 2,662 performances over 5,982 days in 112 places! This was theatre history in the making, as stars were born and legends created. Uzra Mumtaz, her sister Zohra Sehgal, Prithviraj’s cousins Premnath Rajindernath, Sajjan and Mohan Saigal, LV Prasad and the young Kapoors — Raj, Shammi and Shashi — made sterling appearances on the Prithvi stage. Shashi Kapoor gave his first performance on stage in 1945, in Prithvi Theatres’ first production, “Shakuntala”. He was then seven, and had a bit part in a crowd scene. From then on, acting became a passion to him, and he toured the country through his schooldays and beyond with Prithvi Theatres and later with Shakespeareana, the company run by Geoffrey and Laura Kendal whose daughter Jennifer he married in 1958. Shashi Kapoor has dedicated the book to his wife Jennifer.

A voice that fuses Hollywood with Carnatic

Himalayan News Service

Chennai:

Flaunting his unique brand of fusion music, London-based Carnatic classical singer Manickam Yogeswaran is on to his second Hollywood movie after “Eyes Wide Shut”. But that is not the only exciting thing happening in the 44-year-old Sri Lankan Tamil singer’s life. “I sing various ragas on top of orchestra and fuse them with Tamil, English and Arabic words,” says Yogeswaran, who was here to perform at a classical music festival. “I am the first Tamil singer to sing for a Hollywood movie,” Yogeswaran tells IANS in an interview as he sips a cup of coffee at a roadside stall in the commercial hub of Pondy Bazar. “In ‘Eyes Wide Shut’, my voice could be located in the background score composed by Jocelyn Pook for an intimate scene between Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman.

“Now I have been invited to sing in another Hollywood movie, ‘25th Hour’, directed by Spike Lee.” Yogeswaran came to Chennai at an early age to learn Carnatic music from TV Gopalakrishnan, whom he calls his guru. P Muthukumar Swamy and S Balasingham were his other teachers. He calls himself an ambassador of humanity. “My music is for the service of mankind,” says the singer who will be flying to Berlin for a concert Jan 22 to raise funds for tsunami victims. Based in London for more than a decade, Yogeswaran has pitched his music before a Western audience. “I am singing with an English classical group, The Shout, which has 16 singers, me being the only Indian. It is a voice group with no instruments. “Orlando Gough and Richard Chew do the direction and we do theatrical performances all over Europe and the world,” says the singer with a receding hairline.

Last year The Shout performed “Tall Stories” in the US, a musical about immigrants to America in the early part of the 19th century. “Last month we did ‘Shouting Fences’, in Amsterdam, which was about the plight of Palestinians living on the Egyptian and Syrian border. This will be repeated in Ireland and Germany this year.” Not just that. He is also the lead singer of Dissidenten, a Jazz band in Germany. “There are over 140 people playing its orchestra in this group where I sing Carnatic ragas in fusion with English words.”

“I have been performing Carnatic music all over the world. I have done many CDs in Tamil, including ‘Thirukkural’ (by Tamil poet saint Thiruvalluvar) in 133 ragas and ‘Thirumuraigal’ (ancient Hindu prayers). “I have sung Tamil classics and Hindu and Christian devotional songs and just finished recording ‘Peace for Paradise’, an album about the peace process in Sri Lanka due for release this month. “Basically I am a singer and composer, but I can play the flute, mridangam and other percussions,” he says.

BROWSE THROUGH

Just in bestsellers:

1. Meena: Heroine of Afghanistan by Melody Ermachild Chavis published by Bantam Books, pp 279, price Rs 550

2. Will They Ever Trust Us Again? by Michael Moore published by Simon and Schuster, pp 224, price Rs 695

3. Loving Che by Ana Menendez published by Review Books, pp 320, price Rs 500

4. Alexander: The Virtues of War by Steven Pressfield published by Doubleday, pp 449, price Rs 995

5. The Murder Of Princess Diana by Noel Botham published by Pinnacle Books, pp 288, price Rs 425

What the books are about:

Meena: Heroine ...

Meena founded the Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan in 1977 as a 20-year-old Kabul University student. She was assassinated in 1987 at the age of 30, and lives on in the hearts of all progressive Muslim women. Her voice, speaking for freedom, has never been silenced. The compelling story of Meena’s struggle for democracy and women’s rights in Afghanistan will inspire young women throughout the world. Meena: Heroine of Afghanisthan is a compelling portrait of a courageous mother, poet and leader who symbolises an entire movement of women that can influence the fate of nations. It is also a riveting account of a singular political career whose legacy has been inherited by RAWA, the women who hold the keys to a peaceful future for Afghanistan. RAWA has authorised this first-ever biography of their martyred founder.

Will They Ever Trust Us...

American soldiers serve willingly. They risk their lives so the rest of us can be safe. The one small thing they ask, though, is that they not be sent into harm’s way unless it is absolutely necessary. But after being lied to about weapons of mass destruction and about the connection between al Qaeda and Iraq; after being forced by stop-loss orders to extend their deployment; after being undertrained, underequipped, and overworked long after George Bush declared Iraq “Mission Accomplished,” these soldiers have something to say.

Loving Che:

In the aftermath of Castro’s revolution, a man flees Cuba with his daughter’s baby, and finds, pinned on its clothes, three lines of a Pablo Neruda love poem. Decades later, that baby returns to Havana as a young woman; armed with only this snatch of verse, she searches, apparently in vain, for the mysterious mother who abandoned her. On her return to America she receives a package — a collection of tattered photographs of Che Guevara, and a letter, apparently from her mother, which documents a passionate affair with the hero of the revolution. Now, the daughter must set out for Cuba once more, to find out whether this story is true or a ravishing fantasy, bred out of the savage and surreal drama of Cuba’s history.

Alexander: The Virtues...

Here then are the glory and the gore, the passion and the pageantry, the agony and the ecstasy of the life and times of Alexander the Great, as envisioned and brought to brilliant, bloody and utterly unputdownable life by Steven Pressfield! Epic in scope and magisterial in tone, Alexander: The Virtues of War is sure to take its place among the classics of historical fiction.

The Murder Of Princess...

Was Princess Diana murdered? Or was she the victim of an innocent though tragic traffic accident? If she was murdered, who did it? Who ordered the assassination and what were the motives behind it?