Tuesday, December 28, 2010

A Mahatma's world view

Mahatma Gandhi peers through a microscope
in 1940. Photo: http://www.gandhifoundation.org/

Monday, December 27, 2010

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Operation Valkyrie: The hit that missed Hitler

Colonel Claus Stauffenberg in real life
What do Claus Schenk Graf von Stauffenberg and Tom Cruise have in common? Operation Valkyrie—the audacious, albeit failed, plot to assassinate Adolf Hitler on July 20, 1944, in the dying days of the Nazi regime. One real, the other reel. In 2008, Cruise essayed the role of the one-eyed Colonel Stauffenberg, who led the German resistance movement within the Wehrmacht, the three-wing defence force, to near perfection. The German dictator would have most certainly perished in the explosion in the war room if a senior army officer hadn't, unknowingly, moved the bomb-laden briefcase away from Hitler. A day later Stauffenberg and his conspirators were rounded up and shot for high treason.

Operation Valkyrie, directed by Bryan Singer (of Battlestar Gallactica, Superman Returns and X-Men fame), is a well-made film that tells more than the story of the attempt to kill Hitler. It also tells the story of one man's enormous courage and conviction in the face of overwhelming odds: to destroy the dictator and liberate Germany before the US-led Allied Forces did. Stauffenberg actually believed that he could do it though somewhere in the back of his mind he knew, more than anyone else, that it was all over, one way or the other.

Tom Cruise as the brave colonel on reel.
If Stauffenberg, who was incidentally born in an aristocratic family, had succeeded in his deadly mission, history might have been just a little different. Hitler was destined to die, be it from a bomb or a bullet. The warlord chose the latter.

Here's an aside: William L. Shirer, the well-known American journalist, war correspondent and historian who wrote The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, also wrote, quite necessarily, The Rise and Fall of Adolf Hitler which contains a chapter on the 1944 plot to kill the dictator.

In my opinion, Operation Valkyrie, which, in Norse mythology means "chooser of the slain" or something to that effect, rates high among films on World War II. If you are a war buff, watch the film and, while you are at it, read the book too.

Thursday, December 09, 2010

Ghostwriting: A novel idea

Carolyn Keene is a "collective
pseudonym" for various writers.
Yesterday, I wrote about Don Pendleton’s The Executioner action adventure series featuring the war machine, Mack Bolan. Pendleton himself wrote fewer than 40 of these racy novels. But, Gold Eagle Worldwide, to whom the creator sold his rights to, has published more than 600 books in the series as well as offshoots—none written by Pendleton, nonetheless attributed to him. They are ghostwritten by a number of very talented writers whose contributions are acknowledged on the copyright page. The covers still belong to Don Pendleton.

The Executioner isn’t the only one to be ghostwritten. Hundreds and thousands of book titles and series have been penned by writers other than the creators themselves. Even good fiction has been ghostwritten, a literary process that is both challenging and lucrative for the nameless writer. For the reader, it means a continuance of his or her favourite series—never mind if the books are no longer authored by the original writers.

So if you are unfamiliar with all the works of your best-loved author, you might be reading a book that’s probably been ghostwritten. You won’t lose the plot, though.

To give you some idea of the deceptiveness of ghostwritten books, here’s a link to an informative article by Julie-Ann Amos of Gloucestershire, UK, at www.hubpages.com, where she writes about “fifty certifiably good books, that just happen to have been ghostwritten.” Read Ghostwriting Exposed - The Top 50 Ghostwritten Books at www.hubpages.com/hub/Ghostwriting-Exposed---The-Top-50-Ghostwritten-Books This one’s not ghostwritten!

The Man with the Golden Gun by Ian Fleming
was, apparently, penned by Robert Markham
who was none other than author Kingsley Amis.

Mack Bolan: The Executioner

It’s always nice once in a while to go back to fiction you read in your teenage years—a devil-may-care period when you read all kinds of stuff.

A few days ago, I picked up three first-edition mint copies of Don Pendleton’s The Executioner from a roadside vendor for Rs 20 a piece (44 cents each), and stepped back in time. As a collegian, I read nearly all the 37 novels written by Pendleton whose legendary fictional character Mack Bolan fought against evil, from mafia to terrorism, all over the world. In 1980, Pendleton sold his rights to The Executioner to Gold Eagle Worldwide, a division of Harlequin Books.

One of the titles I bought was #150 Death Load, one of over 600 novels written by ghostwriters but credited to Pendleton (though the work is attributed to the actual authors on the copyright page). In this novel Mack Bolan, the super-soldier who is working on his own, is hired by the intelligence division of the US Department of State to rescue a former spy-turned-activist, Katherine May, from the clutches of the dreaded Khmer Rouge in the jungles of Cambodia. Her father is a rich and influential businessman with deep ties in the American government. In the end Bolan, a veteran of the Vietnam War, brings her back but not without experiencing the political intrigues and chilling encounters in the region where the Vietnamese, the Thai and the Chinese are fighting for dominance.

Bolan rarely flinches when he shoots, and he shoots to kill, in cold blood. Like that other fictional spy Nick Carter, the Killmaster, who is Agent N3 of AXE, a US intelligence agency; it doesn’t exist, of course. Big man Bolan’s lethal intent and action are evident from his numerous kills, many of which are executed as an expert sniper. For all his cold-bloodedness, Bolan has a heart and often goes out of his way to help innocent civilians. He is also called the Warrior, perhaps, an allusion to his just and principled approach.

Don Pendleton’s Mack Bolan is to America, what Ian Fleming’s James Bond is to Britain, minus much of the glitz, gadgets and glamour associated with the man with a license to kill. As long as one-man armies like Bolan and Bond are around, our world is safe.

Tuesday, December 07, 2010


Horst Buchholz & Maxwell Caulfield

Neither is an American, both made it big in Hollywood, and are best remembered for their stellar roles in a western and a musical film, respectively.

Horst Buchholz and Yul Brynner brace for action.
German actor Horst Buchholz was 27 when he acted in the 1960 western classic The Magnificent Seven, a remake of Akira Kurosawa's Seven Samurai (1954). He is Chico, the youngest and most impulsive, of seven cowboys led by Yul Brynner to defend a poor Mexican village from armed bandits led by Calvera (Eli Wallach). Chico and his mates are caught in a fierce end-battle with the bandits but he lives to see another day, along with Brynner and Steve McQueen, and decides to stay back in the village to be with the girl he has fallen in love with.

Although Buchholz starred alongside Hollywood greats like Yul Brynner, Steve McQueen, Charles Bronson, Robert Vaughn, James Coburn and Eli Wallach, he carried the eminently watchable The Magnificent Seven with his exuberant performance.

Buchholz, who acted in more than 60 films, died in March 2003 at the age of 74.

Maxwell Caulfield and Michelle Pfeiffer.
English actor Maxwell Caulfield, like Buchholz, was only 23 when he played the part of Michael Carrington in the 1982 hit musical comedy Grease 2, the sequel to the memorable John Travolta-Olivia Newton John starrer Grease.

In Grease 2, his first major film role, Caulfield plays a British exchange student at Rydell High School and is paired opposite Michelle Pfeiffer who, as Stephanie Zinone, is now the leader of the Pink Ladies. Stephanie and her friends move around with the T-Birds, the boys-who-would-be-men from her class, led by Johnny Nogerelli (played by Adrian Zmed). Michael, predictably, falls in love with Stephanie who refuses to date him till he is a T-Bird and rides a bike. He eventually becomes a Cool Rider (catch the song), albeit an elusive and mysterious biker in black disguise, and helps the T-Bird defeat a rival gang.

Caulfied, who, according to IMDB, was chosen from among thousands of applicants to appear as Michael Carrington, has since acted in a number of films, plays and television shows.

Monday, December 06, 2010

Sudden: Outlawed and out of print

Last week I hit the literary jackpot. I did not win a literary prize, in case you think I did. But it was close enough. I am referring to the acquisition of two rare western novels, both Sudden, by Oliver Strange. The Sudden series were published by Corgi Books of London, UK, in the middle of the last century. Strange wrote 10 novels and no more; though, the Sudden legacy was continued by writer Frederick Nolan who penned five more books under the pseudonym Frederick H. Christian. He did a fine job on the character created by Strange.

Now Sudden, as you know, refers to Oliver Strange’s hero James Green, the Texas outlaw, who earns the nickname because of the quick draw of his twin guns. Green is branded for crimes he did not commit while on his travels through the Wild West in search of two men who, he believes, cheated the man who raised him. With only his horse for company, the gunfighter moves from one dusty town to another, to fulfill the promise he made to the dying old man.

Predictably, Sudden’s journey is not without adventure: he makes lasting friends and forgettable enemies—the former stick by him, the latter want to stick it into him. He rescues ordinary and peace-loving ranch owners and their families and their cattle from being preyed upon by crooked gamblers, sheriffs and landowners. He’s also “wanted” in nearly every town in Texas and beyond, where gunslingers challenge him to the draw, if only to prove they are quicker than Sudden.

But no one, not even his friends, know that Green carries an ace up his sleeve, rather wears a badge on his vest—he is Deputy Marshal United States working directly under the authority of Governor Bleke of Arizona for whom he runs many an anti-crime errand, a modern-day James Bond. It’s an irony that he fights on the side of the very law that wants to string him up. Green rarely flashes his badge and never misuses it.

An interesting titbit about Oliver Strange is that he was born in England and, apparently, never travelled to the Wild West, and yet his graphic description of the American landscape is close to the real thing.

Coming back to my prize catch, I picked up Sudden: Goldseeker by Oliver Strange and Sudden at Bay by Frederick H. Christian for Rs 50 (a little over a dollar) and Rs 180 (around $4), respectively, from the pavements of south Bombay. Although out of print since the early 1980s, Sudden continues to be in great demand, and readers and collectors of western novels, especially of the rare kind, will fork out any money to buy them. I have often wondered why Corgi never reintroduced them with snazzier jackets and printing, like the present-day Louis L'Amour novels.

Hopefully, Sudden hasn't drifted into the setting sun and will be back someday, with both guns blazing.

Sudden in Sequence

By Oliver Strange

  1. Sudden - Outlawed (1935)
  2. Sudden (1933)
  3. The Marshal of Lawless (1933)
  4. Sudden - Goldseeker (1937)
  5. Sudden Rides Again (1938)
  6. Sudden Takes the Trail (1940)
  7. Sudden Makes War (1942)
  8. Sudden Plays a Hand (1950)
  9. The Range Robbers (1930)
10. The Law O' The Lariat (1931)

By Frederick H. Christian

1. Sudden Strikes Back (1966)
2. Sudden - Troubleshooter (1967)
3. Sudden at Bay (1968)
4. Sudden - Apache Fighter (1969)
5. Sudden - Dead or Alive! (1970)

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

But to live is to suffer, Danny Fisher…

I first read A Stone for Danny Fisher by bestselling author Harold Robbins at the age of 15. An uncle of mine suggested I wait a few years before I read anymore books by the king of pulp fiction, perhaps worried about their influence on my young mind. And that went for Irving Wallace too.

Instead, he recommended A.J. Cronin, the Scottish physician and novelist, best known for The Citadel, The Green Years, Hatter's Castle, The Stars Look Down and The Keys of the Kingdom. It was sound advice. My own favourite has been Beyond This Place, but more about that some other time.

I remember liking A Stone for Danny Fisher the first time, as did many readers of my generation, but not so when I reread the novel recently. I put it down to a case of “moving on” to more intellectual stuff.

A Stone for Danny Fisher is racy and fast paced and keeps the reader engaged, though not engrossed, to the extent that you can finish the book in one sitting, inside of a couple of hours.

The story of Danny Fisher is the story of the quintessential American middle-class family struggling to make ends meet during the period of the Great Depression. Danny, himself, is born in a lower-middle class Jewish family but dreams of making it big, by hook or by crook. From a boxer in his teens to a racketeer in his twenties, Danny yearns, at least, for half a good life. Getting there proves to be a difficult journey, along which he finds love, braves tragedy, cherishes hope, renews faith, and rediscovers family values.

The central theme of the novel is Danny’s single-minded purpose: reclaiming the house his father bought on his birthday, when he was a little kid, and lost to overwhelming poverty. It is to this cherished house that Danny returns and where he meets his inevitable death. His final resting place…

There is a line towards the end of the novel, as Danny lies dying, that goes, “But to live is to suffer, Danny Fisher… Surely you must know that by now.” Rather depressing, when poverty stares you in the face page after page and you yearn for Danny Fisher to make it at least in the end. He both does and does not.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Bollywood, made in Hollywood

The Magnificent Seven, the 1960 Hollywood western starring Yul Bryner and Steve McQueen, and Sholay, the 1975 Bollywood remake with Amitabh Bachchan and Dharmendra in the lead, had a common storyline—saving an oppressed village from bandits in the original and dacoits in the copy. Both were cult films, did extremely well at the box office, and are watched even today.

Bollywood, the Hindi film industry based in Bombay, owes much of its success to dozens of remakes of, most notably, Seven Brides for Seven Brothers (1954), My Fair Lady (1964), Yours, Mine and Ours (1968), and The Godfather (1972), to name a few. Their Bollywood remakes were Satte Pe Satta (1982), Man Pasand (1980), Khatta Meetha (1978) and Dharmatma (1975)  in that order. 

Most of the remakes are no patch on the originals, barring SholayMan Pasand, Satte Pe Satta and Khatta Meetha.

Even Satte Pe Satta (Seven-on-Seven), a fairly entertaining movie starring then superstar Amitabh and Hema Malini, does not hold a candle to Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, the hugely entertaining musical comedy starring Howard Keel and Jane Powell.

In the Indian version, all's well till the end of the first half when Amitabh resurfaces abruptly in a villainous double role and has a change of heart by the time you leave the cinema hall. So you have seven brothers and their seven brides, a baddie-turned hero, a bunch of villains hiding on an island, their fat kingpin, and a fight scene in the end.  

Now watch Seven Brides for Seven Brothers and you wish Bollywood were banned from making a hash of Hollywood films.

Like I said there are exceptions. For instance, in Khatta Meetha (Sour-and-Sweet), veteran Ashok Kumar and the affable Pearl Padamsee reappraised the role of Henry Fonda and Lucille Ball in Yours, Mine and Ours very well. Ditto for Man Pasand where actor-director Dev Anand played the part of Rex Harrison in My Fair Lady.

Years later, the Patrick Swayze-Demi Moore starrer Ghost (1990) was remade into the utterly forgettable Chamatkar (1992) starring Shahrukh Khan and Naseeruddin Shah. Now where are the copyright guys?

Holly-Bolly launched identical films just once, in 1983—Man, Woman and Child and Masoom (The Innocent)—based on the book by Erich Segal. Both versions, starring Martin Sheen and Blythe Danner in the first and Naseeruddin Shah and Shabana Azmi in the second, were worth the price of tickets and popcorn. It's not always so, you know.

Thursday, September 09, 2010

Where have all the comics gone?

Old and out-of-print Indrajal comics have almost disappeared from Bombay’s pavements, circulating libraries and old paper marts. It's a pity, really, considering that these comics—Phantom, Mandrake, Bahadur, Flash Gordon, Rip Kirby and the rest—are fetching a fortune online, though you wonder who's buying. They are up for sale on auction sites with price tags of hundreds and thousands of rupees (or dollars if you like). Who doesn’t dream of being a lakhpati overnight (or a millionaire if you like)?

While there are many willing to sell or pawn their Indrajals, it’s difficult to say if there are any buyers willing to fork out that kind of money. That’s because, unlike America, Europe and Australia, a comic book is not a serious investment proposition in India—and I doubt it will ever be one.

Trade in rare and secondhand comic books usually takes place among collectors in western countries with scarce attention paid to aficionados in countries like India. There are some very serious collectors here too.

There is, however, a market for comics in India, albeit a limited one. Sales of comics are mostly restricted to the ever-popular Amar Chitra Katha for their historical and mythological value or the odd Tintin and Asterix. You will rarely find parents buying, say, a Marvel or DC, for their children. Enid Blyton and education books top the charts.

Parents who have an ‘open access’ policy on comics are the ones who read and collected them during their own childhood. You just can’t let go of some things in your life, can you?

There is another reason why comics are a low priority in India: their cover price. While Amar Chitra Katha, Tintin and Asterix, Gotham Comics and Commando are reasonably cheap, Marvel, DC and the like can bore a hole through your pockets. Mega retail outlets like Landmark and Crosswords are stocking up on imported comic books and graphic novels with entire shelves devoted to this category of literature. While these comics are hugely entertaining, they are also frightfully expensive. A typical middle-class family will rarely buy a Wolverine or a Spider-Man for Rs 500 (around $10) and above. Only the serious and well-heeled collector will.

So back to square one. The pavements and old paper marts of Bombay and in other metros of India, are still the best bet for comics long gone. You will find them if you look long and hard.

For instance, I purchased half-a-dozen Classics Illustrated—no, not the 50s and 60s priceless originals—but those published by Acclaim Books in 1997-98, for Rs 30 (about 65 cents) apiece. The bookseller in south Bombay told me that even these were flying off his pavement space and replacements were hard to come by.

His neighbouring bookseller was selling tattered Indrajal comics in English and Hindi, both equally in high demand. When I asked him the price, he said: “Rs 60 each (a little over a dollar). Rates have gone up. There is big demand for Indrajal comics. If you have any, sell them to me. I will pay you Rs 10 each!”

Did I say comic books were not a serious investment in India?

Recommended Read: For those who came in late... White Skin, Black Mask at www.outlookindia.com/article.aspx?207314

Thursday, September 02, 2010

Hey presto! The Indrajals are gone

Indrajal comics, long out of print, are making a comeback in Bombay and probably elsewhere in India. No, Bennett, Coleman & Co. Ltd, the publishers of The Times of India which brought out the 800-odd comics from March 1964 through April 1990, is not reintroducing them.

Rather, what has revived interest in Indrajal—led by its flagship heroes Phantom, Mandrake, Bahadur and Flash Gordon and to a lesser extent Rip Kirby, Buz Sawyer, Garth, Mike Nomad, Kerry Drake, Phil Corrigan and Dara—is a spate of stories in newspapers and on internet about how old issues of these comics are hard to find, how their value has skyrocketed, and how tradition-bound collectors (like this writer) are on a never-ending hunt for this elusive treasure.

A little over a decade ago, secondhand Indrajals were available everywhere in Bombay—on broken pavements, in circulating libraries, and at old paper marts. Well, they still are but you will have to look long and hard and if you are lucky you might just come away with a few near-mint, dog-eared and yellowed issues for anywhere between Rs 30 to Rs 80 apiece (around 60 cents to $1.65). They are worth the money considering that some of these comics are up for sale on auction sites at obscene bid amounts starting from Rs 400 ($8) to Rs 50,000 ($1,021) and more.

But, comic book collectors and aficionados don’t usually sell; they hoard until they are old and ready to pass on their carefully nurtured “wealth” to the next generation. This is true of all pursuits, serious and pastime, be it stamps, coins, music albums, picture postcards or model ships.

Coming back to the city’s vanishing comic book haunts, the stretch of pavement between Churchgate station and Hutatma Chowk (or Flora Fountain) in the central business district of south Bombay used to be a most lucrative place for all kinds of books and comics. No one returned empty-handed. You cultivated friendships with a handful of sellers who, over a period of time, knew your wish list better than you. So impressive was their knowledge of books that they might as well be employed as librarians.

The footpath was home to dozens of book sellers for dozens of years until one day the civic administration drove them out to clear the pathway for office goers. Some years later I managed to trace four of the book vendors and they were operating from different locations in the city; they told me business had never been the same since they were forced to move out. They didn’t know where the rest of the tribe was. The Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai, the richest civic body in India, promised an alternate site in south Bombay but is yet to give them one.

With the Churchgate-Fountain stretch out of bounds for comic book lovers, the city’s only remaining secondhand literary haunt is the pavement around Maheshwari Udyan (King’s Circle Garden) in central Bombay, which has been spared the broom. If you don’t find Indrajal here then try the local library and the old paper mart. You might get lucky. And if you do, don’t tell no one.
The media and the medical malaise

Can you imagine a time when reading newspapers, surfing internet or watching television is injurious to your health? If it isn’t already, it will soon be. The three information superhighways are dishing out more than news, views and juice—they are scaring people. I am not talking about everyday crimes, terrorist acts, urban unrest, tragic accidents, natural calamities, starvation deaths, corrupt politicians or depression and suicides. They are terrifying enough to make you lose sleep when you are already sleeping less.

I refer to the medical studies issued, most often, by western health experts and scientists on the course new and existing diseases are taking. And, strangely, they all seem to be making headlines about India. Here’s an example: The International Diabetes Federation has reported that 7% of India’s adult population, or 58.7 million people, will have diabetes by 2010. That’s like, oh my God, this year. There’s more. The study reveals that some 30% more are already suffering from IGT or pre-diabetes, most of whom end up becoming diabetic within a decade.

As far as India-centric studies go, before diabetes, it was heart; before heart, it was cancer; before cancer, it was AIDS, before AIDS, it was tuberculosis…and guess what’s coming? Anti-pharma lobbies allege that these studies are funded by global pharma giants just so they can dump their drugs and therapies in a developing nation like India or some poor Third World country (read The Constant Gardener by John le CarrĂ© for a chilling perspective). Whatever the merits or demerits of these estimates, the grim news is that Indians are getting "sicker" by the year.

What is worse is that we are lapping it all up—the medical studies, the findings, the prescriptions, and the remedies—and worrying ourselves ever more sick. Talk of irony.

The same holds true for health-related information in newspapers and on internet and, to a lesser degree, on television. Being aware of illnesses and taking necessary precautions such as making lifestyle changes is wise, though self-cure via internet is strictly no. Reading about a disease, behaving like you already have it, and running it up on internet or rushing to the GP to check up on an imaginary illness is a mental malady. Sadly, people, young and old, everywhere are doing it.

The outcome: health anxiety and gradually a host of health problems, real ones too.

Joseph Heller probably had the 21st century Indian in mind when he observed in his famous 1961 satirical novel Catch-22: “Hungry Joe collected lists of fatal diseases and arranged them in alphabetical order so that he could put his finger without delay on any one he wanted to worry about.”

So what is the remedy? Paramahansa Yogananda, the spiritual master and author of Autobiography of a Yogi, has a suggestion: Don’t read the newspaper first thing in the morning, nothing can be more depressing. Now extend this rule to internet and television.

“Newspapers are the gods of information. They are the soul of modern business. They are the epitome of the city news. The modern world cannot get along without them. They can act as the breath of life to noble human activities or they can react like chlorine gas to asphyxiate people's independent thinking,” says Yogananda. “Newspapers ought not to introduce poisonous news...human minds, for the thirsty, un-discriminative masses drink poisonous, unwholesome news wherever they find it, and hence suffer with nervousness, worry, fear…”

Instead, the Yogi recommends balanced spiritual living consisting of meditation first thing in the morning, before we begin our daily duties, and at intervals throughout the day, and again in the early evening when we have finished our daily work, and once more late at night alone in our rooms before retiring.

Our grandparents, if not our parents, depending on how old we are, lived by this spiritual instruction up to a ripe age. Why don't we?
But why? Why? Why? Why not?

Here's something to think about.

"Why are we created only to suffer and to die?" is the primal question Simon Wagstaff, the immortal space wanderer, asks in the often-hilarious science fiction novel Venus on the Half-Shell by Kilgore Trout. Actually, Wagstaff is an earthman who flees in an inexhaustible Chinese spaceship after earth is destroyed by floods. Time stands still as Simon wanders through space drifting from one planet to the next, one galaxy to another, desperately in search of an answer. He doesn't find one easily.

Simon spends three thousand years roaming intergalactic space till he lands in the super-advanced dumbbell-shaped world of the Clerun-Gowph, whose natives look like giant cockroaches. Maybe, the Clerun-Gowph have the answer to my primal question, he reflects. After all, their giant computers had told them he was coming a few billion years ago.

When Gviirl, a cockroachoid attending to Simon, tells him that he will meet Bingo, the dying head of the Clerun-Gowph, he asks, "Do you think he'll have the answer to my question?"

"If anyone can answer you, he can," Gviirl says. "He's the only survivor of the first creatures created by It, you know." The Clerun-Gowph called the Creator It. Earthlings call theirs God.

When at long last the space wanderer stands before the as-old-as-universe Bingo, he blurts out, "Why, then, did It create us?"

Bingo the wise tells him:

"Look at the universe. Obviously, it was made by a scientist, otherwise it wouldn't be subject to scientific analysis. Our universe, and all the others It has created, are scientific experiments. It is omniscient. But just to make things interesting, It, being omnipotent, blanked out parts of its mind. Thus, It won't know what's going to happen."

Bingo goes on, "That's why, I think, It did not come back after lunch. It erased even the memory of Its creation, and so It didn't even know It was due back for an important meeting with me. I heard reports that It was seen rolling around town acting somewhat confused. It alone knows where It is now, and perhaps not even It knows. Maybe. Anyway, in whatever universe It is, when this universe collapses into a big ball of fiery energy, It'll probably drop around and see how things worked out."

Not happy, as most earthmen rarely are, Simon cries out, "But why? Why? Why? Didn't It know what agony and sorrow It would cause sextillions upon sextillions of living beings to suffer? All for nothing?"

"Yes," Bingo says.

"But why? Why? Why? Why?" Simon shouts.

"Why not?" Bingo answers.

So, why are we created only to suffer and to die? Simon Wagstaff isn't the only earthman asking the primal question. Millions of earthlings today ask this question at least once in their lifetime. Simon wandered through outer space looking for an answer, 21st century earthmen will find that the answer lies somewhere in their inner space.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Drona, Karna and Abhimanyu

Amar Chitra Katha—which translates into Immortal Picture Stories—remains India's most favourite and largest-selling comic book series 43 years after it was launched in 1967. ACK has since sold over 90 million copies in nearly two-dozen Indian languages. Collectively, the 400-odd titles serve as a fine pictorial encyclopedia of all things India—from epics and mythologies, fables and folklores to histories and mysteries.

The ACK adventures begin with No.11 Krishna—the boy who lived—depicting the life of the eighth avatar or incarnation of Lord Vishnu. Since then it has been one long, enchanting and unforgettable journey. There probably isn't a kid in India whose life hasn't been touched by Amar Chitra Katha.

It's difficult to pick your best-loved ACK comic book. The sheer range and depth of colourful stories and myriad characters make it nearly impossible to do so. In comparison, putting a finger on your favourite Marvel or DC superhero is a cinch.

My own top-of-the-shelf Amar Chitra Kathas will almost always include three titles from the great war of Mahabharata—Drona, the royal sage and master of warfare; Karna, a great warrior equal in prowess to Arjuna, one of the five Pandava princes; and Abhimanyu, the son of Arjuna, the brave and tragic hero who wielded a mean bow and arrow.

To know more about ACKs, go to http://www.amarchitrakatha.com/ and http://www.ack-media.com/

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Comics to cinema: journey of the superhero

Superman, Batman, Spider-Man, Daredevil, The Hulk and Iron Man…

These are the initial six superheroes from the DC and Marvel stables whose transformation from their first comic book appearance decades ago (covers on the left) to their big screen debut decades later (posters on the right) has left readers and viewers asking for more.

The box office craze for superhero movies started with Richard Donner’s Superman in 1978 where the late Christopher Reeve played ‘The Man of Steel’ to perfection. He was equally convincing as Superman in the three sequels that followed even though the storylines did not match up to his super feats. Brandon Routh acted well in Superman Returns in 2006 but was nowhere close to Reeve’s portrayal of Clark Kent/Superman—a role that began and ended with Reeve. R.I.P.

Ditto for Batman, though I prefer Val Kilmer as ‘The Caped Crusader’ in Joel Schumacher’s 1995-released Batman Forever over Michael Keaton in Tim Burton’s 1989 film Batman. If you have read Batman comics, you will easily pick Kilmer as Bruce Wayne/Batman over Keaton and the two other contenders, George Clooney (Batman & Robin, 1997) and Christian Bale (Batman Begins, 2005, and The Dark Knight, 2008). Bale comes a distant second.

Tobey Maguire just doesn’t become Peter Parker in the Spider-Man film series directed by Sam Raimi in 2002, 2004 and 2007. His portrayal of ‘The Amazing Spider-Man’ was as weak as Keaton’s Batman. They are both okay as long as they are both wearing their masks. Don’t ask me why.

The one-film Daredevil starring Ben Affleck who plays the suave Matt Murdock, the blind lawyer by day and masked vigilante by night, was directed by Mark Steven Johnson and released in 2003. The role of ‘The Man Without Fear’ suited Affleck but then he has no competitors. The first half-hour of the film, where a young Murdock who lives with his father, boxer Jack Murdock, in the Hell's Kitchen neighbourhood of New York City and is blinded by a radioactive substance, is worth every rupee spent on popcorn.

Director Ang Lee turned ‘The Incredible Hulk’ into an animated cartoon character in The Hulk released in 2003. Fortunately, Louis Leterrier, who directed The Incredible Hulk (2008) with seasoned actor Edward Norton in the lead, salvaged the character of the green giant and did justice to “Hulk is the strongest there is…” I thought Eric Bana was a trifle more convincing as Dr. Bruce Banner and his alter-ego The Hulk in the Lee film than Ed Norton. This one’s still open to debate, though.

Iron Man, the latest in the superhero sextet, is hugely entertaining, both for its super visuals and sounds as well as the super performance by Robert Downey Jr. You might not agree with the choice of the swashbuckling RDJ as Anthony Edward Stark or The Invincible Iron Man in the two versions directed by Jon Favreau and released in 2008 and 2010, but you got to admit, however grudgingly, that he does justice to the armoured man’s role. More power to Iron Man’s heart!

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

King Anand reigns over the chess board

Viswanathan Anand of India did his country proud by retaining the world chess championship on May 13, 2010. He defeated challenger and former world champion Veselin Topalov in a tight 12-game contest held in Sofia, Bulgaria.

Anand, who hails from Chennai, the capital city of the southern state of Tamil Nadu, sealed his fourth title win with a 6.5-5.5 score over Topalov of Bulgaria.

"It is certainly the toughest match I have ever played. I can't recall another experience like this," the Indian press quoted Anand as saying.

The 40-year old Indian grandmaster had won the world championship in Tehran in 2000 under the knockout system and held the title until 2002. In 2007, he reclaimed the throne by winning the double round-robin world championship tournament in Mexico. He successfully defended the title in the match against Russia’s Vladimir Kramnik which was held in Bonn, Germany, in 2008.

The Anand-Topalov match, organised under the aegis of FIDE, the world chess federation, carried total prize money of €2,000,000.

Over the past two decades, Anand has been singularly responsible for sustaining—and creating new—interest in the game of chess among youngsters all over India.

Photos: http://www.fide.com/