A different perspective

24 01 2008

Tahmima Anam‘s A Golden Age and Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis.

Anam’s book revolves around the separation of East Pakistan and the formation of Bangladesh. Satrapi’s beautifully hand-drawn animation film remains faithful to her very successful graphic novel about growing up in Iran during the Islamic revolution.

Incidentally both stories are set in political turmoil, but are primarily about how the lives of ordinary people (as opposed to revolutionary heroes) are affected by these events. These are rare stories about a revolution in a female voice. Both prefer to largely sidestep the action and violence. They choose to look at how a war transforms their urban upper middle class lives. These are stories of believable women who are drawn to fight the injustice around them, but they also have other yearnings, attachments and vibrant personalities. They take risks and suffer loses, but there is more to their daily lives.

Both have young Muslim women as protagonists, but their behavior, motivation and upbringing shatters a lot of stereotypes that are often only reinforced by stories in similar settings. For instance, they talk about a widow remarrying or divorce when the relationship makes you depressed. Now, both these options seem logical and rational. Except one rarely sees characters in a novel set in the late 40’s or even late 60’s in Bangladesh or Iran talk taking these ideas for granted.

Anam’s A Golden Age.

It is a lovely first book. I liked her writing, but what really works, for me, is the imperfections she etches into all her characters. I suppose her training in anthropology  might have had something to do with this. But the fact that the story rests heavily on her own family’s experience in the war makes it easier for her to create more believable and multidimensional characters.

I have read a good number of Indian authors in English. As it turns out, a fair chunk of them are of Bengali origin. The quibble I have with them (a broad generalization, of course,) is that all stick with the formula.

It is as if there is a ‘How to write about India’ memo – like the one about Africa . And it has got a couple of important things wrong – there are other cities in India, not just Calcutta. All young women in the mid 1900’s in India were not clones with no ability to think for themselves who were married before they finished college and shipped off to the west . And no, they did learn and like to do other things; they did not spend all their time practicing Hindustani music or Rabindra Sangeet. Oh, and more importantly, just because a woman has teenage children doesn’t mean she cannot be romantically interested in or involved with men other than her husband. Finally, if a woman is selfish and conniving, it doesn’t mean she will not have one other redeeming quality. Conversely, a good mother or wife isn’t always perfect. Do they think we just got here from Venus or Mars? We all know life isn’t a fairytale.

I am glad A Golden Age is set primarily in Dhaka. It is not about the immigrant experience in America, the UK or Bombay. I cannot begin to tell you how glad I am that this isn’t about her parents. I hope more people start talking to their grandparents and writing their stories. That would be a start.

Satrapi’s Persepolis.

Persepolis has recently been nominated for an Oscar in the best animation film category. A well made film that remains true to the book(s). But it is the random details, like the quirkiness of the characters, especially the opium smoking grandmother who can talk about everything from divorce to soaking one’s breasts in ice water, that make it really fun to watch.


Young Marjane is the liveliest little kid who will draw you into the film before you know it. For her, Iran’s struggle against the oppression of the Shah is similar to her struggle under the ‘dictatorship’ of her mom at home. There are lovely bits like when she and her friends compare ABBA and Bee Gees posters in class.

The voice talent in the film is among the best in France. Try to watch it in French, though I have heard there might be an English version. Based on previous experiences with French films being dubbed into English, it is totally not worth it (check out ‘A Man and a Woman’ in French and English and you will know what I mean).




11 responses

25 01 2008

Re: the Oscar nominations – all the time I was watching the film I kept thinking, wow! this is so different from Ratatouille. Now I can’t decide which one of them I want to win. I suspect I’m going to come down on the side of Persepolis, though. I mean, it’s French. It has Deneuve and Darrieux. One has one’s loyalties.

25 01 2008

Yes, it will be a tough fight. I loved Persepolis. Deneuve and Darrieux are precisely why I said one must watch it in French. But I also heart Pixar – from the days of Toy Story 1 – their films get Hollywood right. All the right buttons and keys. Ratatouille was definitely gorgeous – well, it even had O’Toole.

Technically though, I am just as torn. I loved the rendering and textures in Ratatouille – the wine spilling, the satin sheets in Colette’s bed, the cobbled back alleys in Paris… I mean, that is probably the best graphics money can buy. But Satrapi did a hand-drawn animation film – and so gorgeously well. I wish they would let both could win. sigh!

26 01 2008

Persepolis clearly. (Though one wishes it had gone a little, maybe just a little beyond upper middle class but guess one can’t have everything.) I saw Ratatouille recently and couldn’t figure out why you guys were raving about it. Yeah okay, its Pixar but that’s the whole point – its the same darned formula. What’s different?!

BM: I know. Its the techie bit that you appreciate and I don’t usually get. But even if I got it, it wouldn’t be being true to my roots if I choose the “best graphics mony can buy”, would it now?

26 01 2008
Space Bar

Haven’t seen Persepolis so I can’t contribute to that part of the discussion, but Veena, the whole thing about Pixar is they do this stuff so well no one even remembers a time when graphics were tacky and so 2D.

On the other hand, did you see the short film, Lifted that showed just before Ratatouille? I thought that was fantastic and tongue-in-cheek about how big Pixar is getting.

On the other hand, Ratatouille – though nice – is run of the mill small guy makes good; if Persopolis is half as wonderful as the books, I’d vote for it over Ratatouille (though I loved the film).

26 01 2008

SB: Yep, get that. Pixar redefines animation with every film. But after, I don’t know, the fifth movie, you look for more things that just that. Like a slightly more creative storyline. So yes, the movie is nice and it has some pretty amazing animation but don’t think there’s anything to rave about.

Its like watching Bond. I get Daniel Craig in swim wear. Like totally. (Yes, I do finally get the point of objectification) I pay well earned money to go watch it on the big screen and ogle at the man. But that is all there’s to it.

27 01 2008

Veena: I disagree. Ratatouille isn’t a repetition of the same old formula, it’s a rejuvenation of that formula – it takes a great deal of talent (and a lot more than just outstanding graphics) to take a tired genre and breathe new life into it – and Ratatouille, in my opinion, does that brilliantly.

And if we’re complaining about tired storylines, what’s so new about Persepolis? Aside from the fact that it’s a film version of a book (and while it does the book justice I think it does very little to improve on it – in fact, I’d say it falls short of capturing the full emotional impact of the book). Plus if it comes down to that, the whole women living under Repression from Islamic State thing is SO OLD. As for the whole immigrant experience in Europe thing – please, that’s the oldest story in the book.

None of that, to me, takes away from the joy of Persepolis, but if you’re dissing Ratatouille for being formulaic, then I’d say Persepolis is just as much so.

28 01 2008

Falstaff: This repetition / rejunvenation argument is all very subjective, I guess. I liked the movie but don’t particularly think its a rejuvenation.

And anyway, this is probably just me. Most of the animated films I watch are the usual Pixar/Disney fare plus a few of those anime things that you have to watch if you don’t want to be disowned by BM. So this small guy makeing it big, and non-human creatures doing humany things (and spouting lines that would make me walk out of the theatre if this were a non-animated feature) is more common in my animation world than an Iranian Bruce Lee fan out on the streets buying illegal Iron Maiden tapes (that too, drawn in clear lines with no distracting graphics).

30 01 2008

A RAT versus Catherine Deneuve?

Trick question, right?

30 01 2008

km, when you put it that way, it just seems unfair. but you don’t really see Deneuve in the film. :)

OT…that reminds me of another Satrapi book – ‘Chicken with Plums’ where Sophia Loren features in a couple of frames. Now if there was a frame or two of Denevue as Deneuve, then Remy wouldn’t have a shot in hell.

Spacebar, I think the film is faithful to the book, but the book still works better.

Veena, see, Ratatouille can compete with Daniel Craig in the briefest of swim wear. Now isn’t that some achievement for Pixar.

And, formula-shormula. We are talking about the Oscars. If Braveheart and that-film-with-Crowe-in-short-skirts can win, why not Ratatouille?

30 01 2008

BM: Sigh. Did you have to juxtapose the image of Craig (or parts thereof) in swim wear and Remy? Now I’m going to watch the next Bond movie waiting for a little animated rat to pop out of 007’s shorts. Imagine the squeals from the new Bond girl.

30 01 2008

Falstaff, that would be some quantum of solace, yes?

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