Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Playing Fulliautomatix

Jeff Bridges, Nick Nolte or Josh Brolin?
Copyright: Hodder Dargaud

If you have plenty of time on your hands (as I do) and you are wondering how best to while it away (as I know how to), here's an idea: pick any comic-book character (not necessarily your favourite) and find out which actor is best suited for the role, in appearance. It's a harmless task really, but good fun. 

The other day I was reading an Asterix comic when Fulliautomatix, the village smith, entered the scene and promptly got into fisticuffs with Unhygienix, the village fishmonger. It got me thinking. If I made an Asterix film, who would be my Automatix choice to play Fulliautomatix? It would either be Jeff Bridges (below), Nick Nolte (below Jeff) or Josh Brolin (below Nick). Take a look.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Reading on the run

Which is your favourite reading place? If you ask this question of an Indian living in India, you are more likely to get a reply in the form of a counter-question: “Do I have a reading place?” Now that’s better.

If you are living in an apartment, say, a 600 sq. ft flat, as a majority of the Indian middle class do, you might not have a reading place at home, let alone a favourite place where you can put up your feet and read in peace and quiet.

The closest you come to a reading place is your living room (“hall” as we Indians call it) or your small bedroom where you can read a few lines from your chosen book; maybe even a few pages if you are lucky. Whether you can grasp what you are reading is a different story. You have to put up with a cacophony of loud noises and sounds, emanating from the steady traffic outside, your kids and your neighbour’s kids, the housemaid in the kitchen, relatives who drop in uninvited and stay for lunch, doorbell that never stops buzzing, telephone that never stops ringing, stereo and television on full throttle…

If you are living in a large joint family, a frightening reality in India, multiply all of the above by ten and you will have a fraction of...the reading you would have got out of the way if you were living alone with your wife and kids.

Indian cities and towns are not big on public spaces, parks or gardens. There's no Central Park or Hyde Park like in Manhattan and London. So you have very little reading room under the sky. Some of the unlikeliest places where you will find people reading books, quite peacefully, are inside malls and food courts and at railway stations, amidst an odd bunch of shoppers in one and harried commuters rushing helter-skelter in the other.

A bookstore is a place where you can read an entire book without buying it. You may have to make frequent visits in order to finish it, though.

My favourite reading room, six days of the week, is the bustling compartment of a 12-car train on Bombay's famous suburban rail network. It doesn't matter whether I am sitting or standing. If you jump into the coach before allowing those inside to get off first, you get a window seat. During the 45-minute run from the suburb where I live to downtown where I work, I manage to do any one or several things like read a book or comic-book, listen to music, watch a video, play chess on my cellphone or read what my fellow-commuter is reading, which is usually a business paper whose headlines fly over my head. You can even knit if you like.

It's the same entertaining routine on the return journey. I must be crazy but I look forward to it everyday and I wouldn’t miss it for any cozy den or study in the world. Who am I kidding!

Friday, August 26, 2011

Stamp of a Filmmaker: 
Walt Disney

Mickey Mouse popped out of my mind onto a drawing pad on a train ride from Manhattan to Hollywood at a time when business fortunes of my brother Roy and myself were at lowest ebb and disaster seemed right around the corner... Born of necessity, the little fellow literally freed us of immediate worry. He provided the means for expanding our organisation to its present dimensions and for extending the medium, cartoon animation, towards new entertainment levels. He spelled production liberation for us.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Clown and Genius

It’s only 32 pages long but Chaplin: Clown and Genius — A Tribute to Charlie is the finest tribute I have read about one of four of the greatest comedians the world has known. The other three kings of slapstick comedy, in my opinion, are Buster Keaton, Laurel & Hardy and Marx Brothers. Do I hear murmurs?

Published in 1978 by World Distributors (Manchester) Ltd, this little-long book contains only three chapters—The Early Years, Exit the Clown and The Final Curtain—and is interspersed with large, and some rare, black-and-white photographs that trace Chaplin’s hugely successful cinematic journey from pre-WWI to post-WWII.

The narrative under each chapter is insightful in that it provides the reader with more than a peep into Chaplin’s chequered, and often controversial, life from his birth in England in 1889 to his death in Switzerland in 1977, at the age of 88.

The Early Years chapter begins with these words, “If there was one thing that the vaudeville stage and the slapstick screen was not lacking in America in the years that led up to the First World War it was comedians. It was into this thickly populated business in 1913 that Charles Spencer Chaplin, aged 24, came from Britain.”

The book is full of little but meaningful anecdotes. For instance, of his curious makeup and wardrobe, Chaplin has said, “On the way to the wardrobe I thought I would dress in baggy pants, big shoes, a cane and derby hat. I wanted everything a contradiction: the pants, the baggy, the coat tight, the hat small and shoes large. I was undecided whether to look old or young but remembering (Mack) Sennett (American director of slapstick comedy) had expected a much older man, I added a small moustache…”

Perhaps, no other toothbrush-like moustache on the upper lip of a man has launched a career that has scaled to such stratospheric heights as Chaplin’s.

As the unknown writer of this tribute notes, “Chaplin’s choice of the baggy trousers, the bowler hat, moustache and cane was itself a stroke of genius, for it gave him eccentricity combined with a touch of realism. He was the universal man, battered but brave, whom everyone would recognise.” And none would forget for a long time.

Charlie Chaplin in a still from A Dog's Life (1918)

The photographs from cover to cover are a visual treat and even more so if you are a Chaplin fan. Most of the pictures are stills from his vast repertory of films; a few show the clown white-haired and ageing yet full of life; still others portray Chaplin with his family, wife Oona and daughter Geraldine, or receiving an Oscar for lifetime achievement in 1972. 

Two photographs stand out. One is that of Sophia Loren and Marlon Brando in a scene from A Countess from Hong Kong, written and directed by Chaplin in 1967. It also starred his younger son Sydney Chaplin. The other is that of a Swiss police officer in a poignant moment, giving a last salute to Chaplin as his coffin is carried to a cemetery in Switzerland.

“The great man—the little man—died peacefully on Christmas Day, 1977. Perhaps, the finest tribute to him then was paid by a writer who, echoing the shock of his passing to a world made sadder for it, said: ‘He achieved greater, more widespread fame in his own lifetime than perhaps anyone else in the history of mankind.’ For a slum-born who once laid down his head on a bare mattress on an attic floor, with only a bowl of soup to keep him alive, it had certainly been an amazing lifetime,” the writer concludes his eulogy.

In The Kid (1921)
Postscript: Chaplin: Clown and Genius — A Tribute to Charlie appears to be out of stock. Amazon and eBay don’t have it. I do, picked it up for $1 from a roadside bookseller in Bombay, and it’s not for sale. One must hold on to the clowns and geniuses in one’s life.

Friday, August 19, 2011


Forever and Ever by Demis Roussos

While Greek singer Demis Roussos is best known for his brief involvement with the rock band Aphrodite's Child [End of the World (1968), It's Five O'Clock (1969) and 666 (1972)], it's his solo albums from 1971 through 2009 that's really worth listening to. Out of his vast repertoire of solo music, my own favourite is Forever and Ever (1973). Listen to it and I promise you'll soon be lip syncing with Roussos. Having said that, Engelbert Humperdinck's version is equally good if not better.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Tintin: The Adventures of Steven Spielberg

“Kids, no matter what your age, you’re kids, and you’ll be kids the rest of your lives. I’ve been a kid all my life,” Steven Spielberg, apparently, shouted to thousands of people at the Comic-Con International Convention held in San Diego last month. You can imagine the effect he must have had on his audience, a caboodle of comic-book, graphic-novel and animated-movie fans from all over the world. I wasn't there but I read about it in the papers and on the internet and knew what he was screaming about.

Hollywood’s master craftsman had every reason to be excited: after all, he is releasing The Adventures of Tintin, the part-animated 3D motion capture film, on December 23. Not everyone gets a chance to make and release a film based on a universally popular and monumental character like Tintin; that too on a grand scale as you will see this year-end.

When was the last time you remember a film, based on a comic-book hero, create anticipatory anxiety among superhero fans? In my opinion Tintin and Asterix are superheroes too.

Let’s see: Tim Burton, Joel Schumacher and Christopher Nolan stirred us up with Batman while Sam Raimi had us rooting for the first Spider-Man movie ever to be made (thumbs-up to Val Kilmer, thumbs-down to Tobey Maguire). Between the caped crusader and the web crawler, or since 2000, we have had the less hyped-up Hulk, Daredevil, Catwoman, Fantastic Four, Superman (Returns), Iron Man and Thor. We liked them because we love our comics and because we are faithful to our comic-book heroes. Mentalpiece icons…

I will not comment on Captain America because I have not seen the film, as I write this piece, and also because the reception to Steve Roger's alter ego has been rather lukewarm in India. 

The closest I can remember a superhero film creating a mild frenzy was in 1978 when Richard Donner ‘shocked and awed’ us with Superman (Did you see that? He actually made Superman fly!). Remember: this was long before the technology-digital-marketing revolution gave us a new purpose in life. Thirty-three years on, Christopher Reeve’s reign as Kal-El, Clark Kent and Superman remains unchallenged.

Yet, none of these films, with the exception of Batman and Spider-Man to an extent, has created the kind of media and marketing hoopla that is building up around Tintin; at least not several months prior to the launch of the film.

I reckon Steven Spielberg is going to rake it in with his maiden adventure of the young Belgian reporter and I don’t think the film will be panned by fans and critics as is anticipated. Netizens are suggesting that Spielberg would have done better with Asterix which I desperately hope will be his next directorial venture. Gérard Depardieu took the fun out of the boar-gorging, Roman-bashing, menhir-delivering Obélix in the Asterix movies.

For now, Spielberg promises to delight us with his celluloid adaptation of Tintin. I, for one, am waiting to be surprised. What better way for a kid to ring in the new year…

Where is Prof. Calculus?
The Adventures of Tintin is the story of the secret of the unicorn where Tintin and Capt. Haddock go off on a treasure hunt to locate a sunken ship captained by Haddock’s bearded and sword-wielding ancestor Red Rackham. So it’s a combination of two Tintin adventures, The Secret of the Unicorn and its sequel Red Rackham’s Treasure which owes its humour element to the antics of Prof. Cuthbert Calculus. Unfortunately, his character appears to be missing in the Steven Spielberg offering.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Stamp of a Writer: 
Ernest Hemingway

All good books are alike in that they are truer than if they had really happened and after you are finished reading one you will feel that all that happened to you and afterwards it all belongs to you: the good and the bad, the ecstasy, the remorse and sorrow, the people and the places and how the weather was. If you can get so that you can give that to people, then you are a writer.

Monday, August 08, 2011


Oh! Carol by Neil Sedaka

This 1959 hit song by American singer Neil Sedaka is just the number to serenade your girlfriend or make up with her if you have had a fight. Just substitute Carol for you know who... You'll love the beat, the rhythm, the lyrics, and the foot-tapping Sedaka who dedicated the song to Carole King, his girlfriend and fellow pop singer.

Wednesday, August 03, 2011

Stamp of an Actor:
Charlie Chaplin

All I need to make a comedy is a park, a policeman and a pretty girl. 

Tuesday, August 02, 2011

Woody Allen’s top five books

The five books that have influenced Woody Allen's film making and humour writing, according to the consummate entertainer himself, are: 

1. The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger (1951)

2. Really the Blues by Mezz Mezzrow and Bernard Wolfe (1946)

3. The World of S.J. Perelman (2000)

4. Epitaph of a Small Winner by Machado de Assis (1880)

5. Elia Kazan: A Biography by Richard Schickel (2005)

I haven't read any of these books yet though I am halfway through The Complete Prose of Woody Allen, an early collection of fifty-two pieces of hilarious writing. Barring Annie Hall, I prefer his writings to his other films. As bizarre as it is, I enjoy Woody Allen's brand of humour. He doesn't make sense maybe that's why he's so freakin' funny.

Read why at

Check out his full interview at
When it’s time to sell your comics

Would you still be a comic-book fan if you woke up one morning and decided to sell your entire collection of comics? Well…umm…yes; then again...maybe not. There are always two ways of looking at something and comics are no exception to that rule.

I suppose you will always cherish comics even if they no longer occupy pride of place in your dusty attic; and yet, it’s your sweat-of-the-brow collection that singles you out as a comic-book fan, in a crazy sort of way. Without your carton of comics you are incommunicado in the comics universe. A world without pictures, dark and foreboding.

And so it was with a lot of anguish that I read on the internet about one Jason Neale's ill-advised decision to sell his 4,000-odd collection of comics built over 25 years (see link below).

My first thought was: You’re crazy! You can’t do that!! No one does that to comics!!!

So what has driven Jason to find foster homes for his poor old comic books? “A family and a change of priorities,” says Jason, who is hoping to make a neat pile of around $4,500 (nearly Rs.2 lakh) from selling his soon-to-be-orphaned comics through online auction.

Different people have different priorities like family, health, job, religion, wealth, and relationships. You can add a dozen more to that list and you still won’t find comics anywhere near, unless you start bottom up. Or, better still, join the comic-book industry for then it becomes your job and a priority and no wife and kids can shake your comics off you.

In this case, though, a family does call for a change of priorities and $4,500 is a heck of a lot of money. In India, Rs.2 lakh is retirement benefit.

But, it’s one thing to sell comics purely as an investment (you might as well sell underwear), it’s another to be a diehard comic-book fan and have to sell it, especially if you don’t want to, especially if…

Jason’s dilemma is every CB fan’s dilemma: if he holds on, he loses; if he sells, he still loses. Figure it out.

Do we detect a hint of sadness when he says, “It’s saying goodbye to an old friend. I spent many years actually searching for this collection....It’s been a big part of my life.”

It’s a big part of many other lives too. I once lost some prized Phantom comics to thieving termites (I hate termites). A friend of mine lost his entire lot to flash floods (he hates rains). His friend lost his collection to space invaders (and he hates aliens). It’s a fate worse than selling comics and making money and buying more comics.

[Link to the Jason Neale article:]

Copyright: Hodder Dargaud