Mango Ginger

I was talking to my son day before yesterday about a peculiar sort of pickle that we used to get in hostel mess during my college days. I didn't know what it was made of, but I vaguely remember someone telling me that the cook used to prepare it using some wild roots growing in the forest area surrounding the hostels! I haven't tasted anything like that anywhere else after my college days, but whenever I think about my stay in the hostel, the taste of that pickle is one of the things that comes into my mind.

Quite coincidentally, today I discovered that the pickle is made of something called as "mango ginger" as I got a piece of this root vegetable which looks a bit like a fatter version of ginger. It was pleasantly surprising.

Daytripper

"We should look for moments in life that we will never forget - those that we will carry with us after all others fade -- the ones that will make all others worthwhile" - Bras, the protagonist in the graphic novel Daytripper is given this advice by his father, who is a famous Brazilian writer. Bras, though he is an aspiring writer himself, ends up spending quite a lot of his early career working for a newspaper, specializing in writing obituaries.

The graphic novel, written by twin brothers Fábio Moon and Gabriel Bá is divided into different chapters with titles as numbers, like 32, 21, 28 and so on, each number indicating the age of Bras as portrayed in that chapter. Through these non-chronological narrative, the life story of Bras, his relationships, failures and successes is told. Some of the chapters have some key turning points in his life, while a few have some of those "unforgettable moments", but all chapters end with Bras's death at that age - throwing up various possibilities for his life story.

Though the idea of ending each chapter with the main character's death initially sounded like a gimmickry to me, I enjoyed reading Bras's story, which is told in a very intriguing way with many memorable situations, dialogues and great illustrations. The coloring works of the artworks also play a key role in making this book look gorgeous.

President

Watched the film President directed by Mohsen Makhmalbaf. The film portrays the events happening in an "unknown fictitious country" (the film was actually picturized in Georgia) after the dictator in the country is overthrown by a revolution. "His Majesty", as the dictator is simply called in the film, and his grandson are unable to escape from the country and are now trapped. They have to find ways to not get caught by the revolutionaries who are trying to capture them.

It appeared to me that the initial scenes of the film had a slightly soft approach towards the dictator, even though there is a lot of satirical elements used to convey his authoritarian nature. Perhaps the scenes involving his interactions with his cute little grandson is what made me feel so. However, we get to know more about the brutalities of his regime and its impact on common people as the film progresses, through the words of a set of prisoners who were just released and are on their way back home. Also, the way the dictator treats a barber and his son would also give a glimpse of his attitude towards people. However, Makhmalbaf gives a balanced outlook via scenes showing the crimes committed by the soldiers who are now representing the revolution. The film ends with a positive note - that probably indicates what Makhmalbaf has to suggest on the ways to punish such dictators.

The most outstanding things in the film I felt were Mohsen Makhmalbaf's direction, and the amazing performance by child actor Dachi Orvelashvili who plays as the grandson. Mohsen Makhmalbaf's narrative style mixes realistic scenes occasionally with frames bordering on surrealism to create a very unique viewing experience, and this was seen in films like The Day I Became a Woman, which he had co-written and was directed by Marzieh Makhmalbaf. Overall, President was a brilliant watch.

Rolling Blackouts

Rolling Blackouts - Dispatches from Turkey, Syria and Iraq is a graphic novel by Sarah Glidden in which she narrates her experiences while accompanying her friends Sarah Stuteville and Alex Stonehill, journalists from The Seattle Globalist, as they visit Iraq and Syria to study and report on the refugee situation there in late 2010 in the aftermath of the Iraq War. Dan, an Iraq War veteran and a childhood friend of Sarah Stuteville, also accompanies them. As part of their visits, Sarah also plans to capture the thoughts and reactions of Dan through a series of interviews.

Rolling Blackouts is not a typical travelogue graphic novel with full-page detailed landscape drawings, etc. Though there are a few panels depicting the local viewpoints from Damascus and Sulaymaniyah, one of the main themes in the book is to explore the meaning and purpose of Journalism itself, and another theme is to point on the utter pointlessness and horrible consequences of the War. These topics are addressed through a series of conversations scattered in the book. The hardships and sufferings of millions of people whose Life was completely destroyed as a result of the Iraq War is also depicted with a balanced and humanitarian outlook in the book.

Joji

Director Dileesh Pothan has been raising his bar always in his movies. After Maheshinte Prathikaaram and Thondimuthalum Driksakshiyum, here comes Joji, which is yet another brilliant viewing experience.

Joji starts with showing a courier delivery man traversing the winding pathways through lush greenery and plantations of a Kerala village (somewhere in Kottayam district?). He is going to deliver an online order, which is going to play a vital role in the film later. The wealthy Panachel family in the village is dominated by the aging but still physically and mentally powerful Kuttapan, whom everyone in the family are afraid of. The film shows various incidents happening in the family over next few weeks.

Be it the natural flow of the narration, crisp dialogues, outstanding performances and the way everything is brilliantly captured in the camera, Joji reaches the level of a masterpiece. I think the movie would demand multiple viewings, as it never goes into a linear explanatory mode when describing its characters, and throws some hints here and there. So, a second viewing would help to absorb all the nuances in the characterizations and watch it from a new perspective.

The Postman

Italian film The Postman (1994) has actor Massimo Troisi playing the role of Mario, simpleton villager in a little Italian Island of early 1950s. He is offered part time employment as a postal delivery man at local post office. The area he is assigned to has just one recipient, but he seems to get too many letters and parcels everyday, and the person is none other than poet Pablo Neruda, who is now exiled from his homeland of Chile.

Mario knows to read and write, but he doesn't know much about Pablo Neruda in the beginning, except that he has several female admirers. But he gets a chance to have short interactions with Neruda over his daily mail services, and he is all at awe looking at the way Neruda is able to talk about the waves of the ocean in a poetic way that makes him feel as if he is getting tossed on the waves of the ocean himself. He approaches Neruda with questions on how to become a poet, and what a "metaphor" is, and also with requests on some tips regarding how to woe a girl with whom he has fallen in love with in the village.

Actor Massimo Troisi was sick during the making of this film, but he postponed his treatment in order to keep the film schedule undisturbed. Unfortunately, he passed away just a few hours after completing the shooting. That fact would keep the viewers feel sad looking at his performance in the film. The Postman has a few heart-warming scenes showing the relationship between the poet and Mario.

Incognegro

Read the graphic novel Incognegro written by Mat Johnson, illustrated by Warren Pleece. "Incognegro" was a term Mat Johnson had invented for himself during his childhood, as his skin color didn't give any indication that he is an African-American, and he imagined himself taking up secret assignments in disguise, in some earlier timelines. Zane, the hero of Incognegro, too has similar characteristics and hence he is able to freely mingle with white people in heavily racist South states of America in early 20th century. Zane is a reporter by profession and he specifically takes effort to report about the mob lynchings of black people that were happening in those states.

Incognegro narrates one of the adventures of Zane. The illustrations are decent and the dialogues are interesting, but I felt that the story thread was very average. Even though the book is termed as a "graphical mystery", I didn't find the mystery as that much engaging.

Pacha Manja Chuvappu

I have read almost all of TD Ramakrishnan's novels - Alpha, Francis Ittykkora, Sugandhi Enna Andal Devanayaki and Mama Africa, all of which are very engaging novels telling complex stories set in large canvasses spanning multiple geographies and timelines, and often involving many real historical figures appearing in fictitious premises as characters in the novel.

Pacha Manja Chuvappu, his latest novel, has Indian Railways as main point of focus. Since TD Ramakrishnan himself worked as an officer in the Railways, from the name of the book, I was guessing that this novel may be some sort of a Service Story. Indeed, the book includes around 150 page long portion presented as an extract from the diary of a station master in the Railways, which describes the corruption and lethargy in the system and the professional jealousy, attitudes and criminal mindset of some of the employees. However, the rest of the novel follows a pattern similar to the author's earlier novels, involving mystery and investigation.

The novel starts with narrating the events on the last day in the life of Ramachandran, a station master who was held responsible for a train accident that had happened in 1994, and dismissed from his job after the official investigation. 25 years later, the incident is being re-investigated by a group of people whose lives are in some ways connected with the incident (with a bit too many coincidences to digest, though). The book remains well-written and interesting for most of the part, but I felt that the last 100+ pages were rather routine and mediocre affair with a typical good-versus-evil narrative reminding of masala thriller movies and it appeared like written in a rush.

My Husband and Other Animals

My Husband and Other Animals is a collection of around 90 short articles by Janaki Lenin. The articles are all short, mostly just 3-4 pages long, and they are very fast and easy read. Many of the articles narrate the author's amusing experiences while traveling to various parts of the world, many times with her husband, wildlife conservationist Romulus Whitaker. There are many articles that describe her days in their farmhouse adjacent to forests at Chengalpattu, while there are a few general articles on random thoughts, memoirs and tidbits of information on animals and their behavior.

I enjoyed reading this book for the gentle humor that's there in all articles.

Apu Trilogy in Color

I happened to view some Youtube videos where people have used image processing algorithms to colorize Pather Panchali and Apur Sansar. It was interesting to see how the great films would look like in color. The algorithms seem to have done a decent job most of the time, except for some color fluctuations that are continuously seen in objects - especially on dress people wear, whenever they move even slightly. It appeared like the variations in gray tones in the images got incorrectly translated to different color values, which may need more fine tuning. Occasionally some glows are seen in the edges between different colored objects, which was distracting. Still it was amusing to see what Technology can achieve.

We are used to watching the Apu Trilogy in Black and White, and they look amazing as they are. Would Satyajit Ray have used color film if he could afford to do that while making the films in 1950s? Would colors appear as distractions in the narrative, or would they add another dimension to it and the viewer just has to figure it out himself? Apart from the technology aspects and the curiosity associated with that, Is it really a good idea to make colored versions of such all time classics? I think that's a different discussion altogether.