Tales from Persia

Jake Gyllenhaal, who plays Dastan- the adopted prince, is probably the best thing about Prince of Persia. Dastan’s character seemed reminiscent of Disney’s Aladdin. His ‘street rat’ fervor, his ability to ‘dodge’ royal guards, and his heroism in the marketplace rescue- did anyone else see the resemblance to the street fight Aladdin has in the 2D Disney animation from 1992? Dastan has a very pretty smile- the first few seconds in the movie he appears, his character totally wins you over, and you keep waiting for that smile to come again, along with one of those solo-action, slow motion sequences. Then, there were those Hasassins- although they were quite annoying at parts, they still had some pretty cool moves with the whips and the metal stakes- they made quite formidable enemies.
The technicalities, for instance, the direction, cinematography, graphics and special effects were all quality- they were good. There is a little list however, of all the stuff that was pretty bad… [SPOIIER ALERT]
1)Princess Tamina
Was she the regal princess we saw in the beginning of the movie? Or was she the spoilt, talentless, annoying, shrieky damsel-in-distress? Unfortunately, she was the latter for the better part of the movie. And what was the point of her being chosen as the guardian when she obviously did not even have standard fighting capabilities? What a way to let all women down- her sword wielding was pathetic, the only moments she managed to run away she did such a shoddy job of it, and as far as protecting the Dagger- well, she couldn’t do that anyway and ended up dying instead.
2) The secret sanctuary of Guardians
Let’s see, the point of appointing guardians is so that the thing they are protecting remains safe from getting into the wrong hands. However, this specific guardian colony was pretty bad- apart from their obvious disability to choose a guardian (they chose Tamina), they pretty much did not have any fighting skills or an army or force of some sort that could actually fight. I wonder why they thought taking the Dagger to the secret sanctuary would protect it when it wasn’t much of a secret or much of a sanctuary.
3) The storyline
You could tell that the theme was picked up from a video game- the characters were lacking on backgrounds and development- all except Dastan and most of that was because of the superb acting. Same goes for Ben Kingsley and Alfred Molina who made up for the ‘blah’ character development through really excellent acting. I would have really liked to know more about those guardians of the Dagger though, that really irks me. Or maybe some history about Alamut, as that was the focal point of the movie.
4) Concept art
Lastly, I think the concept art could have been better. The Sandglass is one big, burning sandglass, funnily enough. It couldn’t have been something less literal? The Dagger too is pretty mysterious- what did the inscriptions on it mean again? Well, we don’t know. I don’t think the writers know.
So once again what we have here is a pretty great theme for a movie, botched up just like other so-called epics- Transformers, for instance, that nobody will remember it a month down the timeline, except maybe for Alfred Molina and Jake Gyllenhaal- destiny, anyone?
Images courtesy of Disney.

Dialogue. I

Time is a surgeon, old and wheezing. He sews you up and fills you in. Your cuts and craters are cleaned and mended. The clinging words pulled out of you, your nostalgia amended. The losses and stories you held dearer than gold? They’re tweaked out of you like a bit of mould.

Your image belongs in a storybook, a play. A Goya painting perhaps, a scene from Wilde. You cannot describe Time like a child. A graph would do, solemn and straight. Precision is Time’s only trait. Time is cold, agreed, but give it not a guise. Dressing it up in robes is not too wise. It deserves a representation true to its form. A graph, a clock, to which we all conform.

Why replace the costume with a sober chart? Does not role-playing appeal more to the heart? There was a beauty to it when the pagan gods were assigned, the power to be cruel, the power to be kind. The planets were attuned with their tantrums and whims, not with a science sung in numeric hymns. Time fixed me up as good as new. I see him more as a surgeon than a numbers few.

Then it is not Time but a poem that you see. Time transcends every image, every simile. Time is colourless, don’t colour it in. Time is a spectre, don’t give it skin. Time has meaning, but not a part to play. It points and marks but has no words to say.

Sharp surgical tools arranged on a tray…?

No. Just mechanical fingers pointing away.

Oompa-Loompas and that Role-Switching

Mr. Willy Wonka from Roald Dahl’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory claims of having visited a land called Loompaland, from where he has conveniently ‘imported’ these interesting natives called Oompa-Loompas. The Oompa-loompas used to live in thick, dark jungles faraway, they fed on caterpillars, poor things, and were being systematically eaten by wicked creatures with a weirder name than theirs when Willy Wonka, of course, saved them, bringing them back to England and his chocolate factory, promising them an unlimited supply of cacao beans and the security of the factory walls. The Oompas complied, for no one can resist that benign face of civilization, beaming like a sun that never sets over the wilder races of the world (the Oompas, by the way, have unkempt hair and are scantily dressed in animal skins and leaves- by way of consideration, Mr. Dahl adds the information that they are never dirty…they change into a fresh coat of leaves everyday).

The Oompas laugh at the foreigners who visit the factory, and have a keen interest in singing and dancing. Drums are mentioned casually as part of the preludes of their many songs. And one image at once innocently drawn and disconcertingly historical is of the humungous pink toffee boat of Mr. Wonka pulling up the chocolate river, a hundred Oompas driving the oars. And though the Oompas are giggling at the visitors and in no way seem burdened, it is a funny way of arranging transportation…using a populace of living beings, however short and pixie-like, to weave in and out of the waters by exerting their small strengths on the cruelly long, wooden oars. Children who read the story are obviously always too enthralled by the wonder of it all to even pause at the image, and their imaginations, of course, do not include stray references ever made to slave-trade, or glimpses from a darker literature, a sadder literature, or paragraphs from history books, elucidating how grim and not funny this business of people ‘importing’ people actually was. Yet something that pleased me particularly is an alteration usually made in the modern editions of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory concerning the Oompa-Loompas: they now have skins that are a rosy-white, and hair that is a golden-brown.

The original description of the Oompas seemed problematic to Mr. Dahl’s publishers. It smacked too much of the Heart of Darkness, perhaps. But now, giving them fair skins and fair hair has led to an interesting amalgamation. The Oompas are, for the first time in history, uncivilized whites. They may seem to take on, now, the position of the white other, the funny little (literally) man that exists even inside the whites, for Mr. Wonka tells of how he could not communicate with the Oompas in English and had to speak in Oompa-Loompish to make himself understood. But that he trains this rosy-white other inside him is clear when he adds that now, however, the Oompas can speak and understand English perfectly.

It is, on the whole, a lovely story, complete with morals, cleverly hidden beneath hilarious incidents: how stoicism during poverty pays off, how good, little kids never starve for long, how bad, little kids are paid off for greed and obstinacy and disobedience. But, coming back to the argument, I must admit that I was expecting the Oompas to be black. Sad, isn’t it, how years of Imperialism alter your thinking and create stereotypes in your mind, so that when you read of a mass of people pulling ship-oars, your mind unhesitatingly throws up this image of black skins for you to catch? And you do catch it and hold it tight, not because it’s dear to you but because you can conceive no other. So it is that when the text distinctly tosses rosy-white skins at you, you’re taken aback. I was taken aback. But since then, this question has been both haunting and slightly gratifying me (haunting, because it threatens to rattle all history that has been grounded into my mind and gratifying, because I, too, am colonized and coloured): what if the universal role of white-over-black supremacy had been the other way round, and slaves through history, like the Oompas, been ‘rosy-white’?

Reminiscentially Eerie: Fatima Bhutto’s ‘Songs of Blood & Sword’

This is not necessarily a review. It’s essentially a an opinion about what’s been written in one of the most controversial books of the season. I’m not aiming to criticize, or to tell you what’s wrong with it. I’m trying to understand what’s behind the eerily chilling historical re-encounters and at times recollections of a passionate and loved childhood by another ‘Daughter of the East’. Although the initial recollections of Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto do begin to sound like a repetitive account from a history book; the main charm of the book is when the ‘Daughter’ breathes life into the pages if her own past. Those sections, I believe, are the best parts of the book. People, of course, have claimed that the historical account is biased. If the book was meant to be written as a factual account of what ‘really happened’, I don’t believe it should be read with this in mind. History always has a point-of-view from the sides of all the different actors who are involved in creating it. This is merely one of them; it’s up to people to decide which one they would like to follow; but at the same time, to keep their mind open to all possibilities.
Personally the story-telling nature of the book is what keeps the interest alive. The fact that the subtext on the title does state ‘Memoirs of a Daughter’ is enough to support the nature in which the book is presented to its readers. It is a story; it is a recollection of the past from memory, not only of the daughter of an assassinated leader, but his friends, family, partners, associates, supporters and even bodyguards. That it sheds lights on encounters of history; yes, it does, but merely from the writer’s point of view; not from facts alone, not as an objective writer. But maybe it was never meant to be objective. That it contains emotions, grievances, diatribes of accusation, pain and raw sentiment is what has turned the book into an instant best seller. The whole account is gutsy and courageous; it is human, it’s believable; it attaches the reader to the author; it is like a persistent voice, whispering incidents from Pakistani history that were hidden, but not completely buried. The sense of excitement resembles walking through a timeline from the author’s eyes. It is great, sensational writing in essence, I have to say, storytelling.
My father was the one who bought the book to me, soon after its release since I enjoy non-fiction political writings. I wasn’t excited; I said, “Why are we plagued with so many Bhuttos’ and their internal strife as a family?” I decided not to read it. Then, days after it had been sitting on a forgotten shelf in my house, I happened to pick it up while having tea, leafing through the pages, and I came across the pages describing Shahnawaz’s murder. I have to admit, I couldn’t put down the book after that. I began reading from the middle, flipped back to the start, and read it from start to finish. The perspective from which the words are written; it feels like a daughter’s writing, looking up to a beloved father. And of course, the story is tragic. The tragedy of Pakistani politics is displayed clearly; dirty politics; unanswered questions; suspicions and accusations- it is truly the downfall of the political system in Pakistan. It is chaotic and it is anarchic. It is truly a semblance of a dark period in history. The story of Murtaza Bhutto is a perfect example of a fall from grace; a desperate struggle of a son who grew up with inspirations of revolutionary heroes. But, didn’t every revolutionary attempt spring from desperation? In this story, the assassination of a father; exile from his homeland; and once amidst the dangerous and unforeseen battleground of dirty politics was the oath to be revenged; the tale is perhaps shaped to resemble an epic. And whether it was an epic is something that is yet to be decided.

On Spikes: Reasons for a Spike Spin-off

If another character deserves a spin-off from Buffy, it’s Spike. I think I recently read an article on Rotten Tomatoes which had one such ‘most wanted spin-off list’. I fail to remember exactly if Spike was on that list or not. But, for me, if there was such a spin-off, I’d probably be a pre-release fan. William the Bloody, or Spike, made his debut appearance on Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Season 2, when he came to Sunnydale with his then-girlfriend, crazy vampire-chick  Drusilla.  Spike and Drusilla were two of the trio with Angel who made Season 2 one of the best season’s of Buffy. Anyway, here are a couple of reasons why I would love to see (or read) a spin-off based entirely on Spike.
1. Recollections from Spike’s past: We know that Spike was originally a struggling poet ridiculed because of his ‘bloody awful’ poetry, earning him the nickname of William the Bloody. But I would actually like to watch those parts of his life, shown in some seasons as flashbacks. For me, that’s not enough and I’d rather see them in a more continuous and detailed form; parts which would make Spike’s character a whole rather than just a part of Buffy’s gang.
2. Focus on Spike’s character: The reason why Spike was a ‘breakthrough’ character was because he was different from the run of the mill vampires. He didn’t have a soul, yet he had feelings which sometimes caused conflicts in his own behavior. He truly loved both Drusilla and Buffy, up to the point of dying. He was more of an anti-hero, which made watching Spike bits in the show both unpredictable and the most awaited ones.
3. Unruly destruction: Spike’s love for brawling and picking up fights with literally every kind of beings, from humans to demons to vampires is also one of his classic traits. His cheerful references to blood and destruction in ‘Buffy’ also makes him funny, in a sadistic way of course.
4. Spike’s accent and pretty cool vocals: Undoubtedly, the best thing about Spike is his accent and a really good, throaty singing voice (as heard on in the Buffy musical).
5. Coming to the rescue: In a lot of Buffy moments, Spike comes unexpectedly to the help of the Scooby Gang. In Season 2 he brings Angelus down temporarily after pretending to be confined to his wheelchair. In Season 6 with Buffy dead, he’s the only fighter in the Gang, protecting Dawn and warding off demons. In Season 7, he ultimately dies helping Buffy to destroy the Hellmouth.
6. Uncanny ability for detecting the truth: Spike has always homed in on the weaknesses felt most by the members of the Scooby Gang. In Season 3 he gives Buffy and Angel the home-truth about their relationship. In Season 4 he tells Willow and Xander the rotten disabilities they face in their lives because of Buffy. This is also another feature of Spike’s ability to create discontent between the members of the Scooby Gang by sensing what’s under the skin and playing on their weaknesses.
7. Spike’s wardrobe: Spike’s trademark bad-ass black leather jacket always manages to create a presence. He’s hot, he brawls, he drives a hot classic (through Season 2 to 3) and a wicked bike stolen from a demon in Season 6. Go James Marsters, I say.
Some of Spike’s character bits can be read on Buffy Season 8 and Angel: After the Fall comics. However, I would dearly love to watch a spin-off, mini-series or even a movie about Spike because he is one of the greatest characters in television history. Hats off to Joss Whedon.