Thursday, October 6, 2011

The Popcorn Essayists - Book review

I read this anthology titled 'the popcorn essayists - what movies do to writers' edited by jai arjun singh (the names are in small case on the book cover so I stuck with that). It is a collection of essays from some well known writers and the influence movies have had on them.

The anthology started with 'Jellyfish' by Manula Padmanabhan which I found very difficult to get through. I almost gave up on the book at this piece and I have no recollection about what it was about save for many cuts, cities, flashbacks, some unknown people, some known names etc. Then Manil Suri got my interest back to the book with his 'My Life as a Cabaret Dancer' where he recounts how he did a Helen dance at the Brooklyn Book Festival which required each writer to 'take a risk' after their reading. He decided to dance to Piya tu ab to aaja (check him out on youtune at and did a brilliant job - heaving breasts and jhatkas, stripping down to the bra and underskirt etc! I enjoyed the piece as well as the dance. Well done Manil!

Then I faced rough weather in 'Two Languages In Conversation' by Kamila Shamsie which I had a tough time figuring out. And then to 'Going Kaurismaki' by Anjum Hasan which took me further away - what was all this about? Who were these guys and what was all this about?

I almost gave up at this stage because I felt that all the writers had some private joke going and were talking to one another through the book and I was not getting it. Then Amitava Kumar came with 'Writing My Own Satya' which I could relate a bit to, though I had no idea why he wanted to write a story on Manoj Bajpai. In 'Super Days' I discovered that Namita Gokhle was associated with Super and the Jaipur Literary Festival and got some old filmy gossip. Still, nothing that was interesting enough yet. I was still wondering if I should give up when Jai Arjun Singh's 'Monsters I have known' held me back. It was fun reading his recollections of all the horror movies he had seen. I liked his piece.

But what came next really tickled me silly - the best of all - 'The Foot Worshipper's Guide to Watching Maula Jatt' by Musharaff Ali Farooqui. I will not even try to describe it but it is hilarious and I was wondering why this was not the first piece in the anthology. It was brilliant and I loved it. It really was the one that held up the book for me.

After that wonderful mood Musharraf put me in I was in a pleasant mood and read through Madhulika Liddle's 'Villains and Vamps and All Things Camp' about detective stories and an interesting piece of information about the origin of the word 'vamp'. Sidin Vadukut's 'Terminal Case' was amusing to read before 'Perchance to Dream' by Rajorshi Chakroborti got me some interesting takes on certain movies that made an impact on him. They also did have a impact on me. The ones he chose to write about were really fascinating. Sumana Roy's 'A Mechanical Love or Gaadi Bula Rahi Hai' is about a movie based on a short story about a driver's love for his car. That is as much there was to it, but it seemed to have had a big impact on her. I breezed through Jaishree Mishra's 'The Final Cut' which was about censorship.

Musharraf was brilliant. Jai Arjun Singh honest. I liked Rajorshi Chakroborti's chosen pieces and the way he described them. Most other stuff did not engage me too much. Some were okay reads, some downright dragged on in a tone that was completely alien to me. It's the same tone that some writers speak in when they give interviews - I cannot understand what they are about. But that is okay. For people like me, for whom perhaps the book was not intended, it should have started with Musharraf, Jai Arjun, Rajorshi, Sidin - in that order. But to price it at Rs. 395, Random House, I felt, was rather ambitious. Overall, a disappointment for me.

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