Tuesday, April 26, 2011

The Morning Shows Tamasha

Everything on television, aired during a particular time period, is a reflection of the society at that point. Whether it is advertising, dramas or morning shows.

The latter have, over the past few years, invaded our television screens in a manner similar to the aliens, who invaded Earth in H.G.Wells sci-fi masterpiece, War of the Worlds. But I’m afraid we can’t be rid of them in the manner the human race was rid of the aliens. The only thing you can do is not watch television. Which, practically speaking, is impossible – or is it?

How, you may ask, is a three hour program reflective of us? To answer this question we will go down memory lane and talk, a little, about the founding father of morning shows, Mustansar Hussain Tarar or Chacha ji. That was what all the children of Pakistan called him and since there was only one channel on telly back then, the children had no option either! But we liked him. He dedicated 10 minutes of the show to us where he talked about, well, kiddy stuff, and put on display the drawings children sent him from all over the country. There was a terrible cartoon squeezed in between the kiddy talk and drawings, mostly Danger Mouse. Tarar Sb. was the face of the morning show, Subah Bakhair, on PTV and I’m sure many of us remember him. And he talked sense because he wasn’t just a pretty face dressed in a designer outfit, but a learned man who, restrained under a controlled and censorious network, helped viewers start the day on a positive note.

Fast forward to the present, a day and age where there is not one, not two but like ten morning shows, and all of them are, more or less the same. The ingredients for the perfect morning show? An elaborate set, with lots of useless items all around the host which may include an aquarium, gaudy colored sofas and high-tech gadgets (after seeing the ipad on two morning shows I’m quite disenchanted with it) which are used to read out a plethora of messages and emails. Besides this a female host is essential, preferably the popular one of another channel or a famous actress (who does not have an acting career any longer. Is applicable to other professions also.), dressed up as a doll in designer outfits with a fashion consultant, dermatologist, astrologer (or tarot card reader), trainer and a chef in her team. The latest is a ‘match-maker’ on one of the morning shows (that’s the title under her name!) who considers herself an authority on all pre and post marital issues (morning shows are equal opportunity employers,it seems.)

When the lawn frenzy (a glaring reflection of our materialistic society) hit the nation, morning shows took turns to talk with each designer. For example, Umar Sayeed was on all the morning shows for each day of his exhibition with a different model sporting his outfit accompanying him. At least he and others like him in the showbiz /fashion industry need such publicity but why in God’s name is the useless Sharmila Farooqui on morning shows? We all know her capabilities (none exist), but why does she have to prove her worthlessness again and again? As if we don’t get to see her enough, talking nonsense, in every other talk show in the evening.

And then there are the attempts to do something for the society, Oprah style, by inviting people on the show to discuss their problems publicly with lots of tears, confessions and accusations. If that wasn’t enough, morning show hosts are now providing detective services to spy on your husband in case he is having an extra marital affair.

Materialism, useless banter, wedding celebrations, fashion talk, silly games – morning shows are a reflection of the tamasha our country has become, on a cultural level (among others). Maybe this is too strong a statement but when the topic of the day being discussed early morning is ‘Do you think the mother-in-law is the bigger villain or the daughter-in-law?’ you know there is something seriously wrong with us.

I think Chacha ji needs to make a comeback.  

Nabakov's King, Queen, Knave

“Of all my novels this bright brute is the gayest”.

After finishing this novel, I have come to the conclusion that Nabakov’s sense of humour is on a different plane altogether.

The story of King, Queen, Knave is of a queen who, enamoured by a knave, betrays her king and pays the price herself.

On a less dramatic note, it is the story of Dreyer, Martha and Franz set against the backdrop of Berlin. From the first glimpse of the characters in a second class train compartment to the last scene, the author generates no sympathy for any one of them. And it is very seldom that one comes across a book which has no characters to root for.

Martha is a beautiful and intelligent woman who, bored and disgusted by her rich, physically unattractive and self-centered husband, Dreyer, ends up having an affair with a younger man. Her lover, Franz, is the nephew (son of a distant cousin) of Dreyer who has come to Berlin to work in his uncle’s store. He is immediately taken in by his aunt’s charms and falls passionately in love with her. Dreyer, busy with his work and taking a ‘Dreyer’ view of the world at all times, remains completely oblivious to the affair. Franz, to him, is a simple, uncouth country lad - an interesting addition to his household.

Little does he know of the interesting role he plays in his wife's life. Martha goes to the small and dingy accommodations of Franz every other evening while Dreyer is busy at work devising and investing in some new scheme to make money. As these visits increase, Martha finds herself falling so passionately in love with Franz that she can’t stand the thought of living with her husband. After fervid love making she makes elaborate plans of the future with Franz which seem unattainable because of one man. She loathes Dreyer's every move, his every word, his manner, his demeanour; in short, his entire being. Her only hope for a happy life is with Franz and that too, as a widow, a rich one at that.

Martha is a selfish woman who uses her physical beauty to trap Franz into complete obedience. He  is a mere puppet in her hands and her hold is such that he is willing to carry out the murder of his uncle for her happiness. There are moments in the book where he does appear wary of the murder plan but one look, one touch and Franz is putty in Martha’s hands. ‘Frailty, thy name is woman!’

The one character I did root for was Tom, Dreyer's ignored Alsatian. The auto mannequins were an interesting distraction, an invention in which Dreyer was investing for his store (and which, sort of, save his life), and were symbolic of the three principal characters of the book. Their fate, revealed to the reader a little before the end, reflects that of Martha, Dreyer and Franz. The ending of the book does take the reader by surprise making the book an entertaining read.

Nabakov’s son prepared a literal translation of the book in 1966, to which Nabakov made some significant changes, forty years after the debut of the original work. The beauty of the language and the subtlety in the text does leave one spell bound, which comes as no surprise.

A film adaptation, directed by Jerzy Skolimowski and starring Gina Lollobrigida, David Niven and John Moulder-Brown, was released in 1972 (Source: Wikipedia) and I have yet to get my hands on it.

In some very remote ways, this book is similar to Emile Zola’s Thérése Raquin. Both have themes of adultery, murder and guilt. Zola’s book is dark and horrifying; whereas Nabakov’s narrative is simple and ironic. And both husbands, Camille (Thérése Raquin) and Dreyer can't swim!

Note to reader: learn swimming. 

Photograph: Google Images

Monday, April 18, 2011

Feeling Suicidal in London

"Even bad times have good things in them to make you feel alive".

I started reading Nick Hornby after I stumbled upon Juliet, Naked at The Last Word bookstore and the primary reason for buying his book was the cover. What has a book cover got to do with the book itself, you may ask? And my reply is: plenty. For starters, the book looks good on the bedside table and on a very subconscious level, attracts the reader. Of course, a serious reader never judges a book by its cover, figuratively speaking that is!

A Long Way Down is about four people who become friends for the most unlikely reason; suicide. What makes the book an interesting read is the first-person narrative style, each character carries the story forward from his/her own perspective. All four characters; Martin, Jess, Maureen and JJ come to the rooftop of Toppers House, a building in London, on New Year’s Eve with the intention of committing suicide. Their intention is not fulfilled as they end up bumping into each other. Notes are exchanged; briefly, on their respective intentions for committing suicide and from there starts the most unlikely of relationships.

These four form a friendship which, in ordinary circumstances, was far from possible. Martin is a celebrity (of sorts); a morning show host who was involved in a sex scandal which led to imprisonment, estrangement from his family and no career. Maureen, a middle age single mother of an invalid son Matty – a son who can neither walk, talk, nor do any of the things that normal kids do. Jess is a rebellious teenager; she swears (a lot), hates school and education in general and is in a mess after her elder sister, Jen, disappeared. And JJ, an American, is a musician (a failed one at that) who loves to read and happens to be in London with the hope of re-uniting with his ex-girlfriend. Quite an odd quartet you’d agree?!

The book touches not so much on themes of suicide but more on failure, un-fulfilled expectations, broken dreams and false hopes. Each of the character feels life has dealt an unfair blow to them but each one also accepts his/her own actions for landing in the mess they find themselves in. What does this new friendship do for them? Does it, eventually, make things better? Not really and that’s what makes the story so real. Hornby’s characters are solid, they actually read like real individuals. They come from four different walks of life and represent four different mindsets, lifestyles and social strata of Londoners. Read Hornby’s interview on this book here.

There is no moral to the story or a happy (or, for that matter, sad) end. The ending is left to your imagination. And here is my opinion on it; a) most people are unhappy, generally and b) its not everyone’s cup of tea to commit suicide and most importantly c) suicide should never be an option.

And don’t worry; this book will not lead you to the top of Habib Bank Plaza (it’s one of the tallest buildings in Karachi!).

Note: Johnny Depp liked the book so much he bought the rights to it for a movie before the book was published (Source: Wikipedia). How cool is that?!

Photograph: Google Images

Friday, April 15, 2011

Can You Spot the MINI?

From an advertising pamphlet which dropped out of Hubby dear's GQ.