Posts Tagged ‘literature

18
Sep
12

Book Review: Last Man In Tower

Last Man In Tower rises from its drab premise as Aravind Adiga builds it into an unlikely thriller

I may have been slightly unfair to Aravind Adiga in my review of The White Tiger, which, despite my complaints about its effect being very close to that of Slumdog Millionaire, was a story told successfully. Like the acclaimed film, The White Tiger is about the triumph of the human spirit, even though in the case of Aravind Adiga’s book, the protagonist is wily and selfish. That is good, of course, and infinitely more endearing than a chocolate boy who won’t harm anybody. The White Tiger is what I call grit through shit, and a compelling tale of a man who works his way up in life.

From Last Man In Tower, I had low expectations because of its story. A shrewd builder against a stubborn old man? It must be funny, I thought, maybe very funny.

The depth with which Aravind Adiga gets into the details of the residents of Vishram Society in Vakola, Santacruz East, was enough to drown me. The characters are so believable that you’re almost sure the author has based his story on a real incident someone narrated to him. The plot of Last Man In Tower, unexciting as it sounds, is what made me finish the book. The residents of Vishram Co-Operative Housing Society, convinced by Dharmen Shah, the builder who wants them to let the building go for redevelopment, gang up against Yogesh Murthy, the retired schoolteacher, who for some reason refuses to let the house go.

Whether Masterji is being pigheaded or only wants more money is what his neighbors and co-residents ponder over, and the book doesn’t seem to be working its way to being humorous at any point.

Aravind Adiga, after leaving me surprised with the way he ended The White Tiger, left me shocked with the turn he gave the story of Last Man In Tower. It possibly made a strong impact on me because I wasn’t expecting anything serious from the book, all the while expecting it to dash into a dead-end that would make me either guffaw when the big twist finally came or chuckle at its predictability.

Last Man In Tower didn’t keep me hooked throughout, but had me amazed at its detailing – something I marveled over even more after it sank in that Aravind Adiga had truly delivered.

Book Review: Aravind Adiga’s The White Tiger

08
Feb
10

Review: Van Diemen’s Land (2009)

By Devdutt Nawalkar
Directed by Jonathan auf der Heide
Actors: Oscar Redding
“Hunger is a strange silence”
Some years ago, I read ‘The Fatal Shore’, Robert Hughes’ seminal work on the establishment of the penal colonies that came to be called Australia. It was a remarkable piece of literature, one gathered from the historical record, and tracing the journey of convicts and other undesirables from the zealous assizes and overflowing prisons of the Old Country to the newly discovered land in the nether regions of the world. The inhuman conditions of transport, first encounters with the aboriginal natives, the terms set for ones freedom, folk tales and legends – ‘The Fatal Shore’ gave a succinct picture of the evolution of the fiercely independent, competitive, and often misunderstood, Australian character.
Van Diemen’s Land, written and directed by Jonathan auf der Heide, is a movie centered around one such legend. Based in the Tasmanian (previously known as Van Diemen’s Land, named after some bureacrat) wilderness of 1822, it tells the story of a group of convicts that fled their shackles in search of the fabled and fertile eight districts. Their initial levity, however, is gravely tested as they come to grips with the harsh, unchartered, and unforgiving landscape. It rains, it snows, the wind is biting cold, the rivers are angry torrents -indeed, there is a memorable line before one such boiling rapid: “That river there is one for an angry man.” Left to their devices with no hope in sight, they succumb to a paradoxical form of cabin fever amidst the vast, green expanse, letting mistrust take seed and bloom. They try to live off the land initially but food is almost mockingly sparse. Trapped between all-pervading hunger and  fast-receding hope, they turn to cannibalism, weeding out the weak and the hesitant.
Van Diemen’s Land is told from the perspective of one Alexander Pearce, played by Oscar Redding. Pearce was eventually caught and hanged sometime in the 1800s, however his accounts of cannibalism were dismissed as so many tall tales by a culture still governed by Victorian proprieties. The movie itself doesn’t allow us to get well-acquainted with the characters; instead choosing them as props against a backdrop of the dormant inhumanity that lurks within us all. The no-name cast handles the parts well though, admittedly, there isn’t much to be done here.
Pearce soliloquies, in Irish, throughout the movie. His monologue is the sole link we have to the ravaged minds of these miserables. The narration is laden with insight into the mind’s darkest recesses, and frustration with an indifferent God. On an occasion when the resident priest among the lot (Mathers) expresses his resentment on being asked to carry the “crumbs”, Pearce muses, “Mathers has a pure heart still, but Dalton’s flesh rots his teeth.” In a way, the movie refrains from judging these men; it merely posits that stretched far enough, there is space for the unmentionable within us all. However, in the absence of all social mores and structures, when we’re reduced to our basest, do our ideas of good and evil even hold credence?
Jonathan auf der Heide shows a huge Terrence Malick and Herzog influence here. The wide screen, lingering and contemplative shots of the forest canopy, the dependence on monologue as a tool for examining conscience, the sounds of nature, etc – he has obviously studied Malick’s work, especially The Thin Red Line. Van Diemen’s Land is stark, repressive but never anything other than beautiful to look at. auf der Heide doesn’t take the movie’s grim subject matter as a warrant for exploitation; there are few, if any, explicit images of cannibalism. To an extent, it deprives the movie of a certain visceral punch. But I can gel with the director’s mindset.
Van Diemen’s Land isn’t a movie for everybody. It’s bleak, sports little cheer, has no standout performances to speak of, and doesn’t have a road to travel or a resolution to meet. As a meditation on the darker aspects of humanity, however, it is a worthwhile investment.
Rating: 3/5



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