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Eye on England 21-10-2012

Deepa Mehta vs Mira Nair: director’s cut British Booker Rising Mercury Sabya’s mark Savile & sex Tittle tattle

AMIT ROY   |   Published 21.10.12, 12:00 AM

Deepa Mehta vs Mira Nair: director’s cut

This morning’s scholarship question is a really difficult one, only for seniors: who do you think is better? Deepa Mehta, of Toronto, here in the blue corner, or Mira Nair, of New York, over there in the red? Compare and contrast their movies.

Are they friends or is it a case of nail scissors at dawn?

Well, two of the biggest movies at the London Film Festival 2012 were Deepa’s Midnight’s Children, with the screenplay adaptation from his own novel by Salman Rushdie himself (“he’s lovely to work with”), and Mira’s adaptation of Mohsin Hamid’s novel, The Reluctant Fundamentalist.

Midnight’s Children is wonderful cinema but The Reluctant Fundamentalist is a thriller which kept me gripped.

I would certainly recommend this as a double bill at Mini Jaya in Lake Town, where the audience is the ultimate arbiter of refined cultural taste in Calcutta.

At the time of writing, I have interviewed Deepa but not Mira. Perhaps the first observation to be made is that the best Indian films these days are made by women directors not constrained by the male dominated “uncle” culture of Bollywood.

Deepa tells me she was glad she shot in Colombo rather than on location in Bombay: “No, actually we did not even apply to film it in India because India has changed so radically the production design would have to be built. The Bombay of today has nothing to do with the Bombay of the 1960s, ’70s. The streets are so different now, so many cars — BMWs! It would have been impossible. So in a way it worked out perfectly that we could shoot it in Sri Lanka. Because of the civil war, to a large degree, Sri Lanka has been caught in a time warp. So you still have old colonial buildings that haven’t been demolished as they have in India to have skyscrapers come up.”

The message in The Reluctant Fundamentalist is that America is partly responsible for inspiring the terrorism it then has to fight but the Islamic response should not be violent. The protagonist, Changez, is played by the British actor, Riz Khan, who is far more convincing than he was opposite Freida Pinto in Michael Winterbottom’s Trishna.

Deepa is expecting to be in India when Midnight’s Children is released at the end of December or early next year — PVR Pictures have taken the rights. She is not minded to have the section dealing with the Emergency or any other sequences censored.

“I have no desire to clip anything out,” she said. “I have not done it for any of my films. I am not going to do it now.”

British Booker

This is not to take anything away from Hilary Mantel but these days there is pressure on the Booker Prize judges to find not so much the best writer as the best “British” writer.

The 60-year-old writer, who won in 2009 with Wolf Hall, the first part of her historical trilogy on the life of Oliver Cromwell, won again last week with the second part, Bring Up The Bodies.

The third part of Mantel’s trilogy, The Mirror and the Light, will be out in four years and is expected to win even though the author has yet to complete her research.

The last four Booker winners have all been British, thereby helping the UK book market.

The British press was severely critical of the organisers after two foreigners, Kiran Desai and Aravind Adiga, won in 2006 and 2008.

The chairman of the Booker judges this year, journalist Sir Peter Stothard, called Mantel “the greatest modern English prose writer” working today.

One should not be narrow minded for a good book is a good book. But it remains to be seen if readers the world over want three books on Cromwell.

Perhaps the solution is to have two categories for the Booker Prize: Best Book and Best British Book.

Rising Mercury

Freddie Mercury’s We Will Rock You became almost the theme song of the Olympic Games. And last week, BBC television paid further tribute to the lead vocalist and lyricist of the rock band, Queen, with an hour long documentary, Imagine... Freddie Mercury: The Great Pretender.

It featured how he threw himself into New York’s gay scene in the 1980s and his death from AIDS on November 24, 1991, at the age of 45.

According to the BBC, the documentary “charts Mercury’s solo projects and interests, including a previously unheard collaboration with Michael Jackson and the triumphant Barcelona project with Dame Montserrat Caballe, as well as the life of a gay man who was not yet publicly out”.

Mercury called off the collaboration with Jackson because the American was in the habit of bringing his pet llama into the studio, otherwise one of their songs would have made it on to the Thriller album.

However, we need another documentary exploring the Indian side of his life. This one briefly mentions Farrokh Bulsara’s birth in Zanzibar on September 5, 1946, and his early days in Bombay before moving on to his life under the assumed name of Freddie Mercury.

The buck-toothed Mercury spoke English with almost an Anglo-Indian accent. The documentary had nothing on what his Parsi family made of the “Rock God”.

Sabya’s mark

It is not often that Sabyasachi Mukherjee condescends to decorate dinner tables but this was no ordinary dinner.

The recent UK Pratham annual gala, attended by 400 (very rich) people in the Great Hall of Guildhall, raised half a million pounds for the education of deprived children in India.

Sabyasachi, who also showed off his clothes at a fashion show, had slipped into London a week earlier to give the Great Hall a sumptuous regal touch. The tables were covered in black velvet with centre pieces of red roses, black grapes and purple berries, set amongst tall glass transparent urns with candles. The room was filled with the essence of hard currency.

Guests included Pratham brand ambassador Kajol, Soha Ali Khan, ex-Miss India compere Shivani Wazir Pasrich and Anshu Jain of Deutsche Bank.

Another guest, IPL founder Lalit Modi, asked what had brought him to London, replied with one word: “Exile!”

Savile & sex

Britain is gripped by Savile mania. Sir Jimmy Savile was an entertainer in children’s TV programmes, with the catchphrase, “Jim’ll fix it”. He received a knighthood for raising millions of pounds for children’s charities.

It is now alleged that Savile, who died last year, aged 84, abused up to 200 underage girls over his 60-year career, often in BBC dressing rooms.

It seems many people knew what was going on but, as anywhere in the world, were afraid to go public against a powerful man who also did good charitable deeds.

Tittle tattle

A four-horse carriage last week clop-clopped its way from Jaimini Bhagwati’s residence in Kensington Palace Gardens to Buckingham Palace so that he could present his letter of commission as high commissioner for India to the Queen.

“Why four horses?” Bhagwati wondered. “Why not two? I am not that big.”

The answer he discovered is that in protocol terms, high commissioners merit four horses, ambassadors only two.

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