| Director’s cut: Ashok Amritraj
And the Oscar goes to... Ashok Amritraj
Argo, directed by Ben Affleck who also plays the lead, would be a worthy winner. It tells of how five American diplomats were rescued from Teheran by CIA operative Tony Mendez. The five had escaped from the US embassy when it was stormed on November 4, 1979, by militant students, who went on to keep 52 Americans hostage for 444 days.
I was The Daily Telegraph’s Teheran correspondent when all this happened but knew nothing about the five.
My only reservation about Argo is that it depicts Iran as a barbaric country peopled exclusively by bearded thugs. To be sure, Iran was in the throes of revolutionary fervour and even more menacing than depicted in the movie but the Persian civilisation is old, sophisticated and predates America’s.
Ashok tells me he is thrilled he won the International Emmy Kids Award for Best TV Movie/Mini-series for its production Lost Christmas, an urban fairy tale set in Manchester. Sadly, he could not go to New York to collect the Emmy on February 8 because he contracted dengue fever in India in December.
It won’t put him off going to India (in November, he had gone to Goa where the International Film Festival of India did a retrospective of his movies). In any case, he will be in India all of April shooting a major project for the United Nations, getting teams with Arabs, Singapore Chinese and Indians to make shorts on such subjects as hunger, poverty, education and gender equality. Bollywood and Hollywood stars, many his friends, will put in appearances. The winning team will be taken to Cannes in May.
“The main thing is to spread the message and educate people to make the world a better place,” says Ashok.
| Fun spots: Lichtenstein’s work
The Manet exhibition at the Royal Academy, magical though it is (and apparently sold out), is not the only arts show in town. Tate Modern has put on Lichtenstein: A Retrospective, a massive collection of the works of the American pop artist who showed how hand painted Ben-day dots could be used to create images.
While I was struggling to describe the deeper meaning of his paintings, my wife got to the point: “Well, it’s fun.”
With David Cameron promising greater cultural collaboration with Britain, perhaps exhibitions such as Manet and Lichtenstein will make the journey to India. Calcutta could do with a big museum of modern art, first.
Roy Lichtenstein (1923-1997) was born into a wealthy Jewish family in New York. He was inspired by cartoon strips and advertisements, painted everyday objects such as tyres and transistor radios and produced pastiches of Matisse and Picasso. Later, he was much taken by the simplicity of Chinese landscapes.
Which Indian painters would he have admired enough to want to parody? Possibly Jamini Roy and the Kalighat School — maybe large film posters from south Indian cinema, too. Perhaps some enterprising Indian art student should give it a go. After all, Lichtenstein had the confidence to end up parodying his own art.
| Mail of honour: Jane Austen stamps
Which are the most popular novels in India? The question is worth considering because Royal Mail, which now issues some of the most innovative stamps in the world, last week came out with six featuring the published novels of Jane Austen.
The stamps carry artwork by illustrator Angela Barratt celebrating Pride and Prejudice, Sense and Sensibility, Mansfield Park, Emma, Northanger Abbey and Persuasion.
Letters posted in Chawton in Hampshire, where Austen spent her last years, and Steventon, near Basingstoke, where she was born, will have a special postmark for a week, featuring the line from Pride and Prejudice: “Do anything rather than marry without affection.”
Andrew Hammond, managing director, Royal Mail Stamps, says it is “an honour to commemorate her work with this special set of stamps and fitting that it falls during the 200th anniversary celebrations of Pride and Prejudice, her most famous masterpiece.”
In the past the Royal Mail has honoured Enid Blyton and also done stamps featuring four novels by Charles Dickens, and others on Alice in Wonderland and The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.
If a similar experiment were to be attempted in India, perhaps we could consider anything from Tagore’s Shesher Kobita to Premchand’s Godaan; Raag Darbari by Srilal Sukla; Amrita Pritam’s Ajj Aakhaan Waris Shah Nu; Chetan Bhagat’s The 3 Mistakes of My Life; and Q&A by Vikas Swarup.
Prajwal Parajuly, who enjoyed attending the Jaipur Literary Festival, tells me he has just been appointed “writer-in-residence at the Oxford Centre for Hindu Studies”.
“This gives me breathing space for about five months,” explains the author of the sharply observed short stories, The Gurkha’s Daughter.
Prajwal, the son of an Indian father and a Nepali mother, says his parents help him keep his feet firmly on the ground. “I call my parents to talk about being on some bestseller lists or of a good review, and they laugh at me. Such cute people. They haven’t attended any of the launches — that’s how indifferent they are. I am so grateful for that.”
| India connect: David Cameron arrives in Mumbai
When David Cameron landed in Mumbai last week, he emphasised the multicultural nature of British society by coming down the aircraft steps with three Indians — Lord Dolar Popat, chairman of the Conservative Friends of India and a Tory Whip in the House of Lords; Priti Patel, the Tory MP for Witham in Essex; and Asha Khemka, the principal and chief executive of West Nottinghamshire College.
In his very first speech, Cameron stressed: “We have over 1.5 million people of Indian origin living in the United Kingdom, and that strengthens the ties. And I’m very proud that I’ve brought British Indian businesses back here to India. I have British Indian parliamentarians from all parties as part of my delegation to show the ties between our countries. So as far as I’m concerned, the sky is the limit.”
Until he was bowled, David Cameron looked pretty good when batting in Mumbai during a break during the serious business of business. One of his cover drives was admirably crisp.
Alas, the Daily Mail was unimpressed. Pointing out that he had apparently “put on a few pounds”, it ran the unflattering headline under a photograph of the Prime Minister being bowled: “Howzat! Chunky shots from chunky Cameron.”