The Casual Vacancy
Whatever else you might say, whether you love her as someone who made reading sexy for kids or hate her for – okay, I can’t think why anyone would hate her even if they didn’t like her books (!)- J.K. Rowling has an amazing way with words. Okay, not words really. She has an amazing way of thinking like you think. (I’m being a little presumptive here, when I say you stands for everyone, but..) Yes, that’s it, that’s the secret of her success for me – she thinks like me! Her characters have the same deep, dark thoughts or warm fuzzy thoughts inside them when they talk to themselves that I have, but I’m just too embarrassed or scared to admit them to myself. They think about worming their ways out of situations just like I do and share similar guilty pleasures. They have the same justifications and rationalizations that I do. I can see a little bit of myself in her characters- whether wizards or elves or a more simple old doddering housewife.
In The Casual Vacancy, the focus is quite unabashedly on the darker side of these thoughts and feelings, the ones which you’re not really proud about. Had anyone else written this book, I’m quite sure there would’ve been a lot more attention paid to the fact about how negative and cynical a book this is. Just as much as Harry Potter was about the triumph of positivity: love, loyalty, friendship, truth, the Casual Vacancy gives you the other side of the story – how none of this works in real life. It’s almost like there is a statement to be made – you’ve had enough goodness and sugar from me for the last decade and a bit, so I’m now going to overcompensate just to show that I have another side to me as well.
If there’s a theme to The Casual Vacancy, it’s hope. How no matter how bad things are, how little there is to look forward to, whichever rut you are stuck in to – it is hope that makes living worthwhile, that helps us pull ahead. Every character trudges through life’s miseries looking for something on the horizon which gives the daily monotony some semblance of meaning. It’s that magic number on the treadmill that we run towards, which we keep telling ourselves that once we reach there we can stop and we’ll be happy.
But the book is really more about how easily, cruelly, quickly and often completely unknowingly and despite all of our best intentions, that hope is snatched away. Just like that. And then we’re left fumbling in the dark, grappling, desperately trying to hold on to something, looking for that new number on the treadmill. And hoping – in an Inception kind of way – that this hope does not give away.
More than once you wonder where the story is is going, for there seems to be no conceivable finale that we’re moving towards. But I loved the poetic justice at the end, that the one character who seemed to have no hope at all – who had basically given up looking at a number and was prepared to fall face-flat on the treadmill once keeping up was not an possible – did find it towards the end. And therein lies another lesson perhaps, that do the right thing, keep walking along the right path and perhaps hope will find you itself?
The now famous dry wit is there, there are Family Guy inspired flashback scenes as well and there’s a nice flow to the whole story. But most importantly for a large tome, about drab people (in the larger scheme of things, certainly) who are engrossed in mundane self-obsessed thoughts, there’s enough in there to make you think, but without interrupting you while you’re reading. And that is what toes the line between literature and bestseller fiction quite perfectly IMO 🙂
3 people politely refused to accompany me. One guy who ‘thoroughly enjoyed’ Houseful 2 in his own words, included. Signaling mechanism? Nonetheless, I had been impressed by the slight touch of out-of-the-boxness yet, classiness in the trailers for Aiyyaa. And I find weekends remarkably vacuous (delightfully so, I’m not complaining!). And the songs were stuck in my head. Anndd (despite not wanting to accept this) I realise my marathi asmita has come alive ever since I’ve left Mumbai to boot 🙂
So when I managed to find someone who wanted to watch it but was slightly embarrassed to ask anyone about it, little time was wasted.
Aiyyaa is a terribly indulgent film. Let’s get that out of the way to start off with. It’s the director’s fantasy, and I’m guessing here that he’s done everything that he wanted to do with it without anyone breathing down his neck or any constraints. In fact I’m surprised that Viacom (the production house) didn’t get an external editor to bring some order to proceedings.
It’s Bollywood’s answer to all those Tim Burton- Johnny Depp combines. Just that the director doesn’t venture completely into fantasy, but bases the characters fantasies in a world of reality. Which from the little Tim Burton I have seen, I think he could do with as well.
It’s also what I felt is the Gaja Gamini equivalent for Rani Mukherji. The director is clearly in love with her, or as they put it more euphemistically these days- has chosen to make her his muse. And what a fine muse she does make. It’s a wonderful platform to show off every bit of acting nous (and the not-so-subtle acting that a Bollywood movie entails as well) that she has and to allow the camera to caress every part of her anatomy – from her doe eyed irises to her navel – in great detail. And she’s dealt with an over-the-top character, richly stereotyped and present in almost every frame with elan. I found it a fine exhibition of acting, with a delightful lack of inhibitions.
A lot I did not agree with. Actually I’ll be humble and sarcastic at the same time, and say that there’s a lot I’m probably not arty enough to ‘get’. The OTT brother, the Lady Gaga-ish colleague/friend, the intended to be funny grandmother who gets closer and closer to obnoxious on the continuum as the movie proceeds. The drug peddler storyline, the other marriage angle, the excessive slow motion shots which give you a feel of déjà-vu after the first 30 minutes. The complete brain-freeze way and subsequent aakashwani towards the end. Plus there are too many songs which make no sense. They were certainly missing a good sharp pair of scissors during post production.
But it’s still a good fresh ATTEMPT which is heartening. The direction, the little bits at least, were intelligent and classy, the Maharashtrian stereotyping was obvious enough for everyone to recognize but not jarring, multiple references were spiced nicely throughout as well. The camera-work was fabulous, the colours really stood out, the fantasy sequences were fresh enough even while paying homage. And I understand little about dance, but the choreography certainly deserves a special mention. I’m penciling in Sachin Kundalkar as a director I intend to see more of.
Don’t know what Rani Mukherji was thinking if she chose this as her comeback vehicle or how it was pitched to her. I doubt it was the kind of movie which was ever going to be a big money churner. But it’s a fine showcase for her, so I guess she should be happy. (Heroine and Madhur Bhandarkar teach you that our heroines veer between movies where you’re a star and movies where you’re an actress. Kind of like subjects in college. You can either study for learning or study for marks. Not both. That never happens.)
Above all, Aiyyaa is a classic example of why movies need tough producers and authors need harsh editors. Because artists – and this term is broadly used – tend to get myopic and lose perspective with regards to their own work!