Tuesday, November 10, 2015

A Fine Balance


The story is sad. So sad that I was depressed when I closed the book. Depressed not just because the story is sad but that the story ended and that it ended on a low point. It could have easily turned sunny way up but it didn't. It made me so unhappy I wondered what is the point of the story, except to leave your reader feeling helpless and insecure about the future and about humanity.
After you have absorbed the story and lamented over it, you start to look beyond the main story and to the backdrop. The descriptive nature of the book paints you a picture of India in the 1970s in front of your eyes. 

The prologues give you the history of each protagonist and with them of different cultures and social nitty-gritties. It unravels the Parsi families and their modern culture that is still constrained to their singular community. In Dina, you see the young spirited potential of modern middle class women that is shunned and choked by the patriarchal society.
The story of Ishvar and Om is by far the most inspiring. It talks in detail about untouchability and the lives of untouchables in small villages that amounts to nothing for anyone. And that hopelessness and desperation gives them the courage and strength to break the chains of social custom and rise above, to step up their economic and social standing by learning a new trade. It helps them to change their caste and embrace all religions. It is the story of the rise of the middle class.
Then comes the story of Maneck and how the beauty and tranquillity of the mountains is transformed into the chaos of tourism and marketing in the name of economic growth. How large companies upset the local ecosystems! And yet again another story of the middle class when the locals need to find other ways of livelihood through education.
That's the prologue.

The story itself is how these characters, who were reasonably successful in growing out of their chains, are hit in the head by the Emergency and how they fight it every single time successfully. The Emergency is an overarching theme in the story and Rohinton Mistry is clearly critical of Indira Gandhi though she is never mentioned by name and just referred to as the Prime Minister - a very apt description since it is just a position for the masses and not really thought of as a person.
Through out the story the Emergency is seen as giving the police and other local lords a sudden boost in power, destroying the protagonists life little by little. And our characters are playing the role of the Indian middle class that grows prosperous economically, not because of, but in spite of the government policies and struggling  relentlessly again them. They do find a fine balance for a brief period where they are prosperous and happy, in an ecosystem designed by them, having overcome the barriers of caste, class and loneliness.
But not for long...

The epilogue is where the author could have made it end better but I suppose he was keen to show the drastic long term effects of a brief period of tyranny that leaves many people helpless and lost, even after the death of the Prime Minister. So here are our characters, main and supporting, having lost the battle against the powerful government. The economic growth of the country is stalled and the spirit of the people broken. There is a small hope with the kindness Dina shows on Ishvar and Om, yet laced with the fear of being found out.

Thursday, November 05, 2015

People places and things

I watched People, Places and Things at the National Theatre and I give it a 4/5 rating.



Such fabulous acting, I really thought Denise Gough would bag all the best female actor awards this year. ( That didn't happen, instead going to Nicole Kidman for some remarkably good acting in a limited character in Photograph 51, though mostly because it was Nicole Kidman I think).

I personally don't know anyone who went to rehab so it took me a while to get into the play but once I did, I was locked in. The journey that Denise takes on is difficult and mentally stressful, especially when everyone around her had written her off completely. There is also the physical element of withdrawal that breaks her down, her face expressing excruciating pain.  The play is perfect because it makes us feel hopeful at the end. it shows you that with a little bit of help, anyone can do it. But that help is hard to find.

All that the play has is Denise Gough. Other characters come and go but the play rests on her and her alone. And she embraced that opportunity delivering an exhilarating emotional performance.

The sets were intelligently used with the base being a rehab facility and the other sets for fragments produced briefly for the audience but the rehab facility continues to remain in the background with the brilliant startling white light reflecting off of white tiles.

The play has now moved to the west end. It's worth a watch but also a bit expensive now.

Martyr

I watched Martyr at the Unicorn Theatre and I give it a 3.5/5 rating.

A very interesting play and very contemporary theme (though it's actually a really old thence because people don't change much). A young boy in high school takes a sudden interest in the Bible and follows it literally, becoming more and more regressive. His mother pleads to the school to help him see reason. And his science teacher who believes in science and rejects religion becomes his biggest rival even though all she wants to do is help him.

The subtle undertones of sexist remarks that the principal passes on the rather good-looking science teacher, the general sentiment of our fanatic that a woman's place is at home and the way the tables are turned on the teacher shows that laws may change but justice is hard to find any people don't change.

It addresses religious fanatical ideologies but doesn't give us much hope. I'm not sure what the writer wanted to say when at the end the teacher nails her foot. That she likes Jesus is carrying the sins of people?? That was a bit random. And so was some scene where the guy goes totally naked for no apparent reason.

Reasonably well done with a strong theme but I give them 3.5 because they were too caught up in doing something spectacular that they lost the audience.