Published: Verve Magazine, January 2013, Features.

Evocative novels, edgy film scripts, gut-wrenching plays, gripping small screen plots, eye-catching ad campaigns, soulful inspired music and more…. A look at the ‘tales’ that hogged the headlines last year

Dialogue, story and screenplay writer, Vicky Donor

The summer release, Vicky Donor, was set for disaster at the box office, with a bunch of unknowns and has-beens gathering together to talk about a subject like sperm donation and infertility, using humour as a base. The latter has never been a strong point with Indian cinema – either it ranges from the atrociously caricaturish and slapstick to the deeply offensive and crass. Vicky Donor’s scriptwriter, Juhi Chaturvedi, hails from an advertising background – and maybe that’s what gives her an edge and the confidence to tackle something different in a clever way. The humour in the film is nuanced and keeps in mind the sensitivity of the topic; it is never over-the-top or annoying. In fact, it manages to make a naturally taboo topic into a coffee-table conversation piece. The audience who fails to understand where a sperm donor is coming from is as close-minded as the girl who slaps Vicky when she discovers what he does for a living, and yet you sympathise with her state – because she has to date a sperm donor. Every situation is dealt with, with depth and a realistic understanding of human nature. The characters come alive as true and believable, identifiable even in their Delhi-Punju-ness. The local area becomes relevant to any metro, the dialogues have punch, the story has character and every character tells a story. For a big screen debutante, this is no mean feat.

Storywriter and screenplay writer, Kahaani

An unexpected hit at the box office, the primary factor in favour of this movie is its thriller of a story with a gripping screenplay. While there may have been enough people who could have predicted the end – and it’s shocker of a twist – it can be safely said that this is a film that will be remembered for some time to come. A pregnant woman roaming the by-lanes of Kolkata in search of her missing husband sounds scary in itself, but the very fact that no one appears to remember her husband pushes the suspense up many notches. This could have gone wrong in so many areas – the pace could have been just too slow, not enough happening to hold interest, too much violence, too few characters…but the script kept a tight grip on the correct formula and produced a good film, ably brought to life by the cast, particularly the lead, Vidya Balan.

Author, Joseph Anton

‘“How does it feel,” she asked him, “to know that you have just been sentenced to death by the Ayatollah Khomeini?” It was a sunny Tuesday in London, but the question shut out the light.’ This, in a nutshell, is what Rushdie’s latest offering is about. After taking us through the sordid world of religion and life, weaving wands of historic fiction and magic realism, he has now turned autobiographical, talking about the years of his life following the fatwa that had been issued by the ‘spiritual’ and political leader of Iran. Angered by Rushdie’s apparently blasphemous novel, The Satanic Verses, Muslims had been ordered to kill Rushdie in 1989. The moments that followed, the incidents that transpired and the breathlessness with which he lived has been documented, rather unconventionally, in the third person. Including a rather sharp account of his marriage to the American novelist Marianne Wiggins and a glimpse of his married life with model and TV star Padma Lakshmi, which was after he came out of hiding, the memoir with a Conrad-and-Chekov-inspired alias, makes for fascinating – if sometimes depressing – reading, in no less part due to Rushdie’s evocative flair.

Author, Difficult Pleasures

Anjum Hasan’s collection of short stories is full of interesting snippets of time, tipping – without warning – into the surreal. The flavours of the cities and places – ranging from Mumbai’s Promenade to Paris’s Rue de Seine – are so sharp, and yet, you feel the characters’ sense of loss and desperation to belong. Can you live in a place that you feel, understand and can describe in the minutae, and yet not feel like it’s your own? Are you always looking for something? Her characters are mysterious, sliding between the known and unknown, and a metaphor for modern living. Hasan’s snapshots are powerful, and a lens into the world as we know – or are attempting to unravel – today.

Playwright, The Djinns of Edigah

Early this year, Verve carried a review of this edgy and gut-wrenching play about the manic situation in Kashmir. From the story of 12-year-old Ashrafi, who is shattered emotionally and psychologically when she travels with her dead father in her lap to the football-playing dreams of her brother Bilal, the mediating force of Dr. Bilal and the senselessness of the soldier, we come to terms with the reality that lives in our country and its violent and horrific face. While battling her own demons Ashrafi manages to help her doctor deal with his own. The angst of the battered land folds together in a story that is evocatively written and brought to the stage by Richard Twyman, a British director who has never been to Kashmir, but can visualise its tragic impasse. The play was selected to perform at the Royal Court last month. The Bengaluru-based playwright, who has previously acted in theatre, said in a recent interview with a daily, ‘Writing a play is a bit like travelling. One really has to enjoy the journey.’

Author, Drop Dead

After writing two novels, Piece of Cake and A Girl Like Me, Swati Kaushal set her sights on creating a detective fiction heroine, Niki Marwah. Smart, savvy, a good looker and dresser, she sounds suspiciously like a character inspired from American Television – Castle’s Kate Beckett. Kaushal’s writing is crisp and refreshing – and while it’s set in an Indian milieu, she pulls from the classic detective tradition. It’s not an Agatha Christie suspense, but it is a story that’s fun to read, and a promise of many more – as Niki Marwah has a lot more detecting to do. What Kaushal does well is master the popular fiction category, or maybe it’s time we had our own grown-up, Indian, Nancy Drew.

TV Series

Soulful, inspired and constantly evolving, The Dewarists, the musical series running currently on national television (in its second season), is part music documentary and part travelogue. Musicians hailing from different parts of the world jam together to create fresh beats and lyrics while travelling through India. By itself, it’s a concept that popularises the creativity of the Beat artistes. The Cannes Lions award-winning series is hosted by Monica Dogra and packed with musicians like Anoushka Shankar, Trilok Gurtu, Salim-Sulaiman, Shafqat, Amanat Ali and Shaa’ir + Func. With a sense of the culture of the world, nuances and fragrances of India and the strong musical foundation brought by the various musicians, the show makes for the unfolding of a great musical story, with satire, political barbs and the crises of society today finding their way into the chapters, for example the one a few weeks ago titled, Tom, Dick and Harry (Piyush Mishra feat Akala).

FlipKart Ad Campaign

You start by thinking, ‘Are they serious – are those kids with a bad voiceover and too-big clothes?’ And then you get drawn in, and are slightly incred
ulous, wondering who thinks up this stuff? And then, bam, you are cackling with laughter at the campaign from ‘No Kidding, No Worries’ to ‘Shopping ka naya address’. In a world of jaded ads and Katrina Kaif’s mango-flavoured lips, the innocence of this campaign is refreshing. The worldliness of the children – so much like the tech-savvy kids of today, the simple wants, the back-to-the-basics sort of philosophy all comes together in a clever way in the FlipKart trust-building ad campaign that started with ‘No Kidding, No Worries.’ The third installment released last September and in keeping with the flavour of the previous ones, continued the story of two kids dealing with adult jobs, dressed like adults and with child-like wish fulfillment wants. Of course, FlipKart can make that happen; it’s as easy as child’s play. The Bengaluru-based agency acquired the account last year and has continued the saga to make it memorable.

Fashion designer, Spinning yarns through textiles

He’s become a household name, and his threads are distinctive, classic and woven with nostalgia. But what really makes his fashion ideology iconic is the fact that he carries it forward into the distinctive ambiance of his stores. With the clocks and the traditional cluttered tiles, his stores make time stop, and make you retrace your steps to a time forgotten – of knotted hair, big bindis, the feminine grace of beadwork, delicate gold and bold contrasts in a classic palette. Keeping up with the tradition of his other stores, Sabyasachi has recently launched a new store in Hyderabad: with hundreds of clocks on the walls, evidence of his art foundation and beautiful lampshades. It’s as if he wants time to stop and rewind every time one enters his store.

Artist, Story Weavers, series of paintings, Acrylic on Canvas

Milburn Cherian’s detailed works build narratives of life, pulling from relationships, religion, carnival and daily life. There are textual narratives in every minuate, woven into the brush strokes. In a world of abstract expressionism and post-modern art, Cherian’s works are reminiscent of Peter Brueghel, Dali and German expressionism, with bold colours, slanted lines and strong perspectives. And through these strokes, lie truths – masked or otherwise – that reflect upon religion, society and the mundane rituals of daily living. While Cherian pulls from her own life, in her works one sees the recurrence of certain faces, with differences – possibly denoting the afterlife and rebirth, which the artist is known to believe in, creating a strong central narrative that binds her works together, despite the carnivalesque mise en scene and distorted brush-strokes.