Saturday, 26 March 2011

Book review: The King’s Speech

It’s hard not to compare the drama in the Oscar-winning film, while reading The King’s Speech. There is drama in the tumultous backdrop of a collapsing Britain as much as in the un-happening life of the introverted Bertie (Albert), wrought with quite an un-royal handicap — speech impediment.

Bertie seems to be aware — he cannot be the monarch. Britain is ‘a land fit for heroes’ and he is not one. Fading in comparison to his brother’s charms, Bertie is but content carrying out his role as the Duke of York. But as Edward gives in to his wayward ways, Bertie emerges as the better son. And with a family of a devoted wife and two princesses, he is suddenly looked upon as the ‘ideal’ King after his father dies.

Public speeches don’t help the situation, microphones manifest fear. Bertie faces a crowd like an accused faces the guillotine. His inability to pronounce ‘King’ reflects his fear of attaining the responsibility of being one. His wife (instrumental in speech therapist Lionel Logue’s entry) is his foil. When Logue takes over, we know that like Aristotle, Virgil and Darwin, Bertie too shall defeat his stammer.

Complete with end notes, letters, articles and photos, the book is a work of two thorough researchers. The proletariat Logue’s green scrap book with letters exchanged with the bourgeois King bear witness to their bromance, untainted even by the years of occasional communication.

However, perhaps because of subconscious bias, Mark Logue has strictly sketched his grandfather (Lionel) in monotone, unlike Bertie whose metamorphosis from being a shy Duke to a confident King has been traced well, even while documenting a chapter-wise narration much in the manner of a history book.

Book Review: Journalist takes readers back to future

Ah, the 1980s. Those carefree years spent spinning the gears of Rubik's Cubes, popping Pac-Man cartridges into Atari consoles, slipping on legwarmers or parachute pants, and checking out the latest episodes of "Family Ties," "Diff'rent Strokes" or "Knight Rider."

That's one remembrance.

Here's David Sirota's:

Those carefree years spent sitting idly and naively by as a cabal of ill-willed corporate leviathans and backward-looking governmental decision-makers put their stamp on a society whose seemingly innocuous, kitschy pop culture masked a me-first, militaristic outlook that is having negative ramifications in the 21st century.

Whatchoo talkin' 'bout, Sirota?

It's an oversimplification of Sirota's thesis, but the journalist and radio host's book, "Back to Our Future: How the 1980s Explain the World We Live in Now - Our Culture, Our Politics, Our Everything," is indeed about what he sees as a return to 1980s-style themes and mindset in today's society.

Look no further, Sirota says, than the "greed is good" ethos of "Wall Street" villain Gordon Gekko playing itself out in the massive swindle by Bernie Madoff. Or, he says, witness President George W. Bush swooping down on an aircraft carrier "Top Gun"-style to proclaim victory in his dogfight against a squadron of Soviet warplanes - er - the Iraqi army.

"Back to Our Future" is thought-provoking and worth reading - if, that is, you're willing to suspend a little disbelief.

American culture is cyclical, and history tends to repeat itself regardless of place. Of course, the events and attitudes of the 1980s are having an impact in 2011. The same could be said about the 1960s, 1970s or 1990s, for that matter.

Still, Sirota's book is a fun, engaging read if not taken too seriously.

After all, the guy spends paragraphs wondering why average citizens could track down "The A-Team," yet the U.S. Army couldn't, and debating the merits of the Statue of Liberty-as-movable-object ending of "Ghostbusters II."

As the noted '80s historian Ferris Bueller once said, "Life moves pretty fast. If you don't stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it."

Or, in Sirota's worldview, even if you missed the 1980s the first time around, you'll see them now virtually everywhere you look.

'Back to Our Future'

Book Review: Forts & Palaces of India

It’s a staggering task at hand. And conservationist Amita Baig and architect photographer Joginder Singh meet the challenge. They embarked upon a cross-country journey to document India’s collapsing but magnificent forts and palaces. Most of the palaces, of course, have got a fresh lease of life on being transformed into hotels. But our forts are in danger of being forgotten, except by squatters and lovers.

The book is divided into several categories: Some defined by the dynasty that built the structures and some by their geographical locations. The introduction serves as a brief overview of India’s history and there’s a short chapter on ancient forts.

The bulk of the book, then, is formed by Rajasthan’s forts (eight in all) and those built by the Delhi Sultanate (10). Maharashtra’s magnificence, too, is well represented (nine). Forts & Palaces of India is an eye-opener for those who might not have known of the presence of what this tome classifies as Sikh Forts. The hill forts of Kangra, Bagso and Nurpur are beautifully showcased, as are five from the much neglected east. Amongst other fort classifications are: Bundelkhand (five), Southern Kingdoms (10) and the Colonial settlements (five).

The book is about documenting a richness of space and architecture, but there are visuals that clearly indicate concern for these vulnerable structures. The ones that stand out are the ruins of Mandu and Daulatabad and the shockingly defaced walls of Golconda.

The Book of Mormon – review

Devotees of the Broadway musical have been gasping for a saviour. Risk-takers such as the Green Day-scored American Idiot can't survive (it closes at the end of April), and corporate fiascos such as Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark threaten to turn the Great White Way into a global joke. That's why The Book of Mormon, gleefully subversive and artfully crafted, is being hailed as the second coming; this new work by South Park creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone (and composer-lyricist Robert Lopez from the naughty-puppet hit Avenue Q) is a good old-fashioned song-and-dance spectacle that happens to include wildly offensive jokes about Aids in Africa and the theological kitsch that is Mormonism.

If you're surprised to hear that Parker and Stone are responsible for re-energising Broadway's hopes, you haven't been following their career. The team have been honing their razzle-dazzle chops over two decades. Their first major effort, Cannibal! The Musical, was filmed in 1993, and, in 1999, South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut was aptly (if cheekily) praised as the year's best new musical. More recently, Team America: World Police paid snarky homage to Rent with the parody ballad "Everybody Has Aids". These showtune-humming pranksters were destined to mock the Church of Latter-Day Saints in song – an institution that, like the Broadway musical, is a singularly American invention.

Starting off in the Mormon mecca, Salt Lake City, Utah, the story follows a mismatched pair of proselytisers, Elders Price (Andrew Rannells) and Cunningham (Josh Gad). The former is the clean-cut ideal of an LDS doorbell-pusher: white-bread, well-groomed and safely asexual. Cunningham, however, is a fat, dim-witted man-child who confuses Mormon mythology with The Lord of the Rings.

Despite Price's hope for missionary work in Orlando, Florida, the two are ordered to save souls in war-torn, poverty-stricken Uganda. Their evolving friendship lays the emotional foundation for the show, and gives even the cruellest jokes about racism and homophobic self-loathing a sweet, innocent finish. That human dimension reminds you that the comic genius of South Park (heading into its 15th season) relies on children blinded by naivety, but who see through society's lies.

Likewise, by smashing together cultural extremes – prim, uber-Caucasoid Mormons and long-suffering, hope-starved Africans – the creators lampoon western illusions about that complex continent (the anthem "I Am Africa" is sung by distinctly pale cast members), while scoring laughs off the sort of horrors that should never be put on a Broadway stage ("I have maggots in my scrotum" is a recurring lament by one villager). We chortle disgustedly at an African man who thinks raping a baby will cure his Aids (a documented crime), but truly grotesque is the notion that a couple of Bible-toting white boys can be of any real help.

Religion, the creators firmly point out, is showbiz, and they systematically dismantle the absurdities of John Smith's 19th-century cod revelation through the intoxicating frivolity of musical conventions. Of the dozen or so classics referenced in the pastiche score, or by sight gag and laugh line, you can count The Sound of Music, Wicked, Jesus Christ Superstar, The Music Man and (naturally) The Lion King. Now The Book of Mormon – aggressively hilarious, blasphemous and almost indecently entertaining – has grabbed a spot in that canon. For those of us who love a well-made musical with satirical bite, the show is manna from heaven.

Wednesday, 23 February 2011