Jan 18, 2015

Kurukshetra - Aryavarta Chronicles #3 - [Book Review]

Kurukshetra (Aryavarta Chronicles, #3)Kurukshetra by Krishna Udayasankar
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A few weeks back, I was in a discussion with author Krishna Udaysankar on BlogAdda’s chat on mythological fiction. In general, I am of the view that a lot of the happenings in our epics are left open to interpretation and it is always refreshing to see someone go down an untraveled path while exercising their creativity. The author, in the discussion, mentioned that a lot of details differ in editions including critical editions, and we just assume that the popular version is the ‘correct’ one. I could not have agreed with the author Ms. Krishna on this more, and this perhaps is where the Krishna Udaysankar’s trilogy ‘Aryavarta Chronicles’ stands out. A retelling of the Mahabharatha standing in a very stable way in a very new realm, including a (fictitious) plot point that mostly works, Aryavarta Chronicles is a wonderful journey from start to finish. The focus of this post will essentially be on the third book of the trilogy ‘Kurukshetra,’ but there will be references to the first two books ‘Govinda’ and ‘Kauravas’ in a few places in the post.

For the fact that Mahabharata got me back to reading, I am usually keen on reading any interpretation of the epic that shows up. Upon hearing about the Aryavarta Chronicles and the author (and her credentials, I must say) my interest was piqued. With BlogAdda having this third book for review, it was no brainer for me to apply and ensure that I had read the first two books before the third one. I was tempted to try this one as a standalone, but a friend mentioned that flow and the understanding of the characters would be better if I read the first two books. (More on this a little later in the post.) I got the first two books, and it formed an integral part of my mornings for six days when I read it on the bus (my first time with continued reading on the bus).

Among the retellings of the epic Mahabharatha, I was most fascinated by two books for two different reasons: the character analysis in Irawati Karwe’s Yuganta: The End of an Epoch and general theme of M.T. Vasudevan Nair’s Bhima: Lone Warrior (though I am tempted to add Jaya by Devdutt Pattanaik to the list!). I can safely say that the Aryavarta Chronicles is going to feature in this list.

A portrayal of the lesser-known characters in a very new dimension, Kurukshetra starts at where Kauravas ended: a hint of the declaration of a war between the cousins. While many a version have written about the epic and the war in great depth, Krishna adds in a premise featuring a section of people called the Firewrights and a Secret Keeper. The reasons for many happenings in the epic are attributed to the Firewrights, and this includes the occurences of events including Dharma marrying Panchali and the empire expansion with the annexure of many a kingdom in Aryavarta (described in detail in Book 2).

Who are the Firewrights, what do they want, what is their ancestry and why is that the First borns are involved in the occurences along with the Firewrights? These are all the questions that Krishna tries to pose in the first two books and answer them (mostly satisfactorily) in the Kurukshetra. The fact that the Firewright theory stemmed from one of the first few people of the Kaurava family is indeed interesting and I quite liked how the author blended the happening in the last year of the exile of Dharma and his brothers to this.
There were many thing that had the book going great for me. Firstly, the writing. The author takes into account the intelligence of the reader and leaves quite a few things open for interpretation or for the reader to figure out himself. In an age, when story-telling can mean jotting down a screenplay lazily, Krishna makes a wonderful effort to introduce elements into the story which have meaning much later in the story, and it is up to the reader to connect those. Secondly, there was no God like stature to any of the characters, including Govinda. For example, the fact that the shaming of Panchali did not have a divine angle to it made you sympathize with the character a lot more. In addition, Govinda is shown as a selfish character for the most part (and there is a reason to it), and this I guess makes the character a lot more relatable. Thirdly, the main characters in this retelling included the characters that are mostly mentioned in the other versions to drive the story. With Dhristadymna, Shikhandin, Ashwattama, Sanjaya, Vyasa Dwaipayana, and Suka, forming a major chunk of the characters on who the story is focused on, it is refreshing to see the author not adopting the safe route for the epic. Even though a lot of the other characters including Pritha (Kunthi), Gandhaari, and Dhritarashtra, do not get enough screen time in the book, it doesn’t seem to affect the premise.

Two more things that I loved about the book were the innocent romance that Abhimanyu and Uttara had in the first part of the book including the days leading up to the war. I would definitely love to read a short piece by the author solely focusing on these two characters. One reason, she did not take Uttara’s love for Abhimanyu granted and two, Abhimanyu’s dignified (and perhaps awkward) behavior. The second thing was that in the book (and in the trilogy), a different side of Syoddhan is shown. One, he is not shown on the arrogant and angry cousin of Dharma. Two, his reason to declare a war of Dharma and his brothers is not for the kingdom as such. I would love to dwell on this for longer, but it would mean posting spoilers.

A couple of things that did not work for me in the third book was the identity of the secret keeper and in general, the (lack of) emphasis of the Firewrights. I was able to identify who the current secret keeper was in the first few pages of the book and perhaps that made me a little disappointed because I was waiting for the author to spring up a surprise and prove me wrong. Firewrights have been an intergral part of this trilogy with a major part of the second book focusing on the happenings involving them. Perhaps the author intended the third book to focus on the war more, and considering that the war was a result of the action of Firewrights, it is justified. A few minor typos, which do not matter in the larger scheme of things, could be corrected in the subsequent editions.

How does this book stand by itself and how is it as a part of the trilogy? I can safely say that for an enhanced reading experience and better background of the characters, especially considering the characters the author focuses on, the book is better read a trilogy. However, as a standalone too, the book is able to speak for itself, and the author provides sufficient background on a few of the key happenings the reader would need to know or remember from the first two book.

Overall, with some good writing which wonderfully compliments the reader’s intelligence, Kurukshetra (and overall the Aryavarta Chronicles) is a winner! I would love to see how Krishna Udaysankar’s next book turns out to be. And the TV show on this trilogy.

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Jan 14, 2015

I (Tamil) [Movie Review]

Tamil Cinema has seen a lot of successful and impactful collaborations off-screen. One such memorable collaboration is that of director Shankar and writer Sujatha. Having collaborated on many a movie including the very successful and entertaining Anniyan, Mudhalvan and Sivaji, the combination was sorely missed in parts of Endhiran (due to the death of Sujatha). Shankar did a quick and dirty project Nanban which didn’t need much creativity in the story or dialogues considering it was a scene-by-scene remake of 3 Idiots. With all these factors, Shankar had a pretty important litmus test on whether he would have a successful outing in I, without Sujatha. In a way to compensate for this, Shankar had roped in the actor Vikram, I guess. And he almost gets lucky.

A revenge-drama entered around Lingesan (Vikram), a local guy who shoots up to prominence, I definitely has Vikram in a very satisfying outing since Raavanan. Giving a 100% physically and perhaps mentally, Vikram definitely needs to be lauded for his performance throughout the movie, including the few scenes which showcase his acting prowess completely.

I is a story that could have been condensed to a fast-paced thriller of 100-120 minutes. With a total of five antagonists/villains, and a back-story for each of them with Vikram, the story definitely appeared stretched. To add to this, Shankar along with the writer Subha decides to insult the audience’s intelligence by replaying a few sequences which were quite obvious to ensure that the viewer places a piece of the jigsaw puzzle with just five pieces which already has four pieces in place. This tedious nature of the narrative does not help with the length either and makes it a dragging 189 minutes long movie.

One can always trust Shankar to work with A.R.Rahman well. And he sure has this time too. From the ’damaal-dumeel’ U-turn that I made (of not relishing the songs on the first listen, putting away the songs in a cold freezer and then getting called by the songs after a good two months to love them entirely), I was sure that the songs would be picturized in a way that would to justice to it. It is almost a blind faith that Shankar gets what he wants from Rahman, like Mani Ratnam (and perhaps Imtiaz Ali now). Starting the wonderful Ladio and Aila Aila, which turn out to be product commercials, to Mersalaiyten that shows even the not-so-enticing parts of Chennai as a wondrous spectacle, the songs are placed in the movie well and picturized well. The staple romantic duet in any Shankar movie is the Pookale Sattru Oyvendungal, which is shot in China and has the grandeur of nature showcased very well. I particularly want to mention ‘The’ song of the album and its picturization here. Ennodu Nee Irundhal is that song that perhaps a lot of us hated on the first listen only for us to go back and listen to it in a loop. With a Beauty and the Beast theme, even the video takes its time to grow on you. And how!

Amy Jackson, introduced by Vijay in Madrasapattinam, does what she supposed to do very well. She looks good. She dances well. She emotes well. And in one scene where she is supposed to talk in a local dialect, she throws in the attitude casually without much discomfort. A lot of this is to be credited to the voice Raveena. Upen Patel is the major antagonist here and will perhaps find chances in Tamil cinema to play the good-looking Hindi-speaking villain (who essentially speaks one two three baa baa black sheep and gets saved by the dubbing artist). There’s Suresh Gopi, Ramkumar (late actor Sivaji Ganesan’s son) Ojas M Rajini, and another actor who are up against Vikram. Santhanam is not a major annoyance in this movie, especially after the disastrous Lingaa, has some good one-liners and helps the storyline move, like how Vivek did in Anniyan. (Ojas M Rajini's character in the movie will definitely make a few of the activists for sexual equality gang up against the movie and the movie could have done without this character. )

Shankar, thanks for enabling Vikram win this one! Better luck to you next time!

PS: This was my first movie review in over 4 years with the last one being that of Shankar's Endhiran with Rajini! Time to get back to writing more I guess!