Sunday, July 24, 2011

Its Magic!

Some feelings never change.

I have always loved magic shows. I can still remember the time when I saw a magician perform live on stage. I was in the second standard and the show was in my school. As I sat open-mouthed on the ground in front of the stage, the magician poured endless quantities of water from a jug, changed the colour of feather dusters, made things disappear and reappear at will and performed numerous, but as I now realize, fairly easy tricks. I and all my friends had our theories about how each of these tricks were done, but we couldn't be sure, of course. As we grew older over the years, the magician's bag of tricks remained equally awe-inducing for us and we waited every year for the annual magic show.

Then I saw P.C. Sorcar Jr. perform on stage during my engineering college days. He had come to perform at Chinsurah Rabindra Sadan and I had gone to see it with my grandmother. I was a grown-up now and had come a long way from that wonder-struck boy sitting cross-legged in front of the stage in the school auditorium. I myself knew a few magic tricks now, or at least the secret behind them. But when the show started, P.C. Sorcar Jr. sent me back into that school auditorium of twelve years ago. In the thirty odd tricks that he performed on stage, he not only twisted my sense of reality as he wished, he also seemed to know how exactly we, the spectators thought each trick was performed. After performing some of the tricks, he would reperform it in a manner that would nullify our hypotheses. He escaped locked boxes, solved integrals while blindfolded and as a finale to the evening, let himself to be sawed in two.

That was some eight years ago. I hadn't seen another magician's performance live in all these years until last Wednesday morning at the Circus Circus Hotel in Las Vegas. I have, however, watched a lot of those "Masked Magician" episodes on TV and Youtube where a lot of complex magic tricks are explained, reducing them from magic to a clever combination of science and acting. However, at this performance at the hotel, a man and a woman changed their costumes on stage repeatedly at the blink of an eye, and I did not know the secret behind this one. There were people crowding all around the stage this time, as close as ten feet away, but that did not deter them from performing the trick with the bare minimum of cover, and in one case, with arms and legs tightly bound. The performance was somewhat like this video, but better and more complex. I couldn't even start to imagine how they did it, because at least the woman was wearing fairly short and revealing dresses throughout and one dress could not have been hidden underneath another. I only know they made me feel as thoroughly muggle-like as P.C. Sorcar Jr. did all those years ago.

If I Google for "magical dress changing" I am sure I will get half a million websites trying to teach me exactly how that trick is performed. However, I am not going to do it. I have realized that there are certain things in this world that I am better off not knowing, and the secret behind magic tricks are some of them.

Google may be like magic in some respects, but it can never make me feel what not knowing the secret of a magic trick can.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

The Botched Ending

[Warning: Spoilers ahead. Do not read this review if you haven't read the last book in the Harry Potter Series and don't already know the ending.]

The Devil, they say, is in the details. And it is in the details that Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 fails as a faithful adaptation of the book. But since it has its own share of enjoyable moments, let me first gloss over the bigger picture.

The Gringotts episode was amazing. Right from the acting of Helena Bonham Carter to the depiction of the light-starved and tortured blind dragon breaking free over London, it was flawlessly executed. So was, to some extent, the battle of Hogwarts, phase one. I mean, they did not show Fred Weasley die, but they showed his body later, so that was enough for me. Voldemort didn't meet Snape in the Shrieking Shack but in some Hogwarts boathouse (Hogwarts had a boathouse?) but that would be forgivable considering that they showed the teachers, the Order members and the students defending Hogwarts in a very nice manner. I only wish they had shown some of the ghosts.

The Chamber of Secrets, the Room of Requirement, the episode of Kings' Cross station - everything was perfect. Then there was the Prince's tale. Alan Rickman proves once again why he has been given the opportunity to portray the greatest character in the series. The short and beautiful memory sequence which jumped back and forth in time between Snape's childhood, youth and recent events brought tears to my eyes. Yes, Alan rickman is Severus Snape, and nobody could have done it better.

Now the botched up details. First, the minor ones.

This movie never bothers to explain how Harry knew Hufflepuff's cup was the horcrux in the vault, and just how Tom Riddle had found the lost diadem of Ravenclaw. It does concoct some lazy excuses for patching up these plot holes, but we miss the beautiful detailed analysis of Voldemort as a person that Rowling so beautifully wrote in the last two books. Also, at the very end (19 years later), why oh why couldn't they have aged the actors properly? Only Bonny Wright looks convincing as the older Ginny. The rest of the cast... c'mon guys! This is Hollywood, for heaven's sake! Just adding a paunch to a 20 year old does not make him a 40 year old!

Harry used the elder wand to repair his own broken wand before returning it to Dumbledore's grave in the story. Here he breaks the elder wand and tosses it away. No harm done, you say? Agreed. However, it will make any Potter fan unhappy.

But the worst mistake of the movie was the handling of the wandfight between Harry and Voldemort. In the book, they had fought in a room full of people, circling each other and Harry calling Voldemort by his muggle father's name. In my opinion, Harry's real moment of triumph was not when Voldemort died, but when Harry told him, in front of a room full of people, that Severus Snape was Dumbledore's man all along. And they cut out that part! Harry here killed Voldemort who died alone like a sad old man, never knowing what the flaw in his plan was. Why, I thought the last fight of the book was too dramatic, "almost like a movie." And now when they do make it into a movie, they remove it from the script. What irony!

In short, it could have been a great movie, but David Yates narrowly missed that. If you have not read the books and want to understand the plot from the movies alone, stay away. If you are a Pottermaniac like me then you will be disappointed with the ending to the series.

Very, very disappointed.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Load shedding

With the mercury up at 41 degrees Celsius and "feeling like" 46 (according to, only one thing was left to make Newark feel exactly like back home, and it happened today.

Load shedding. Power cut. Black out. Whatever you call it.

I was already bathed in sweat this evening when the fan suddenly slowed down, then sped up again, then slowed down and went off with the light. Instantly the room was plunged into darkness. The street light outside the window was off too.

I was at my friend Atreyee's place for dinner. We had candles, but the heat was unbearable, so we decided to take a short walk outside, hoping that the power would be back soon. We found another friend sitting outside her house with her three month old son. We stopped by for chit-chat. Many others in neighbouring houses were out in their gardens too. There was some music coming from the park, so I walked there with Atreyee to investigate.

Some Latin American festival was going on with some loud music blaring from the loudspeakers and a lady singing live on stage. The whole field was transformed into a fairground, and just like fairs back home there were Ferris wheels, carousels, bubble-blowers, balloon sellers and small stalls selling fried foodstuff and drinks all around. We walked around for a few minutes, staring longingly at the food. Unfortunately, none of us had our wallets with us.

We walked back to the friend who was sitting on the stairs with her kid. Her husband had joined her, and so had her mom and another friend. We sat down on their front steps as well and had a good old Bengali style "adda" (useless chit-chat) where we discussed all topics under the sun from sleep patterns of babies to the weather in Iceland. In that sultry, dark evening gathering I felt at home in a way I haven't felt in a long time.

Back home in Hooghly, we spent periods of load shedding lying on the terrace staring at the sky and talking among ourselves. Sometimes we would try to recognize stars - we could still see a lot of stars from Hooghly in those days, and more during power cuts. All breeze seemed to mysteriously stop as soon as the power failed, but the conditions would not be too uncomfortable altogether. In fact, sometimes we enjoyed it so much that nobody would bother to check if the power was back, we simply spent the time lying on the roof talking.

But the country is USA after all, so we could call up PSE&G and ask about our power failure, and soon the lights flickered back on around us. The meeting broke up, and I followed Atreyee to her apartment for dinner. Dinner was a hurried affair and part of it had to be completed in candle light as the power went again.

The power has since been back and stayed on for the last few hours, but the voltage is dipping low now and then and the lights have dimmed more than once, so I decided to type this up and upload it before the feel-good factor faded away. Load shedding may have made me nostalgic for a while, but if I have to sleep in this heat wave without a fan at night, my feelings would be along entirely different lines, and all of it won't be joyful enough to post here.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Creativity and Boredom

While going through Dilbert creator Scott Adams’ blog the other day, I came across an interesting idea: boredom breeds creativity. I had never thought about it this way before, but since I read that article I realized I could explain a lot of what is happening in the world today with this single idea.

Essentially the idea is very simple – the brain generates new ideas when it is bored, and with the modern lifestyle we have reduced the periods of boredom to near zero. We have hundreds of TV channels to choose from, we have the Internet with e-mail and chat and Facebook and Twitter to keep us boredom-free every moment of the day. Even when we are traveling, we have our iPods to listen to music or smartphones to browse the Internet on the go. In short, we are never bored. Consequently, Scott speculates, we see an abundance of creations that are less creative, like reality shows and sequel movies.

In my childhood days, the TV had only one channel, and you had to imagine the colour. The transistor radio in our house didn’t work, and the radio programs in Allahabad weren’t worth listening to anyway. That was when I started on drawing and painting to spend time, and also took on origami. Looking back at more recent periods of my life, I also realize that I started writing this blog when I was bored out of my wits sitting idle in my office, and that was the time I started taking photos as well. And when one of my favourite bloggers, Kuntala, describes herself in her profile as “Bored” she unknowingly divulges the biggest secret of her writing ability.

After typing the previous paragraph, I went to Kuntala’s blog to get the hyperlink. I read the latest post there and by the time I was finished writing a comment, I had lost the chain of thought that I had for my own blog post. This is a very good illustration of what happens when our brains have too much of stimulating stuff. No wonder the frequency of my blogging has gone down since I came to the US and particularly in the last few months when I got a walkman phone. Instead of thinking up blog posts at the gym or during the times I travel, I now simply listen to music. In the last few weeks I could have written blog posts on the July 4th fireworks show, the latest Mumbai bomb blasts or the photography exhibition in Kolkata that showcased five of my photographs but I did not. It’s true that I have been busy with my paintings and some other research-related work, but five years ago this would not have deterred me from writing. Thank God I don’t have a smartphone yet or I would probably stop blogging altogether.

So I have decided to spend some time getting bored from now on. If I want to remain creative and generate new ideas, be it about blog posts or anything else, I must get time to think. This American lifestyle is getting on my nerves. I have to spend some quality time doing nothing or else… I will be unable to do anything worthwhile.

I think that’s what Jorge Cham, creator of PHD Comics refers to as “The power of procrastination.”

And yes, among the lack of creativity predictions that Scott Adams made on his blog was an increase in the number of blog posts that discuss other people’s blog posts.

Do I need to say more?