7 comments on “Happy Birthday, Arundhati Roy

  1. I have never really been able to warm to Arundhati Roy, neither as a writer, nor as the person she appears in public.
    I will have to try and watch the film in memsaab’s blog.

    As for Slumdog Millionaire, a film I loved, but simply as film, a story that swept me up and along. It wasn’t a film about social/moral/poverty issues, imho, I never tried to see it in that light.

    In that sense, it is like all Danny Boyle’s work, which I like very much indeed. A bit like Narayan: a director who has a story and tells it in a way never quite like anyone else would. I am thinking not only Trainspotting, but also 28 Days, Millions, even Sunshine was a brilliant sci-fi film, despite its relatively small budget and my issues with one plot development.

    Arundhati Roy, while following causes which I would objectively think are worthwhile, somehow just leaves me cold. Never liked God of Small Things either: too pretentious and too contrived for me.

  2. Oh, well, we’ll have to disagree on this one. I read The God of Small Things about ten years ago, and I thought it was a fine and fascinating novel… Not a perfect one, but I thought some of the writing in that book was positively brilliant, and I read it at a time when I had started to become very interested in Kerala for other reasons, and it really brought that place alive for me.

    Admittedly, as I read her nonfiction through the next decade, I didn’t consider it to be my favorite political commentary in the world… I felt sometimes that I could find more substance reading someone like Noam Chomsky (who also has a very dry, witty, darkly funny kind of style that’s quite different from Arundhati’s approach). But I still always liked much of her prose, and I’ve warmed up to her stuff again more recently. I’ve been especially impressed seeing clips of her speaking live, at presentations, interviews, etc. I think she is brilliant when she talks about the way that the ethos of the market and the constant quest for profit have been fused with – and therefore corrupted – the global concept of “democracy.” (With emphasis on global – I like how she emphasizes getting away from misleading notions that classify everything according to the nation-state.) I also love the way she talks about how capitalist “individualism” suppresses real potentials for people to live as individuals. and how the world is becoming increasingly economically polarized now (which is all too true). These are not new concepts, of course (Marx and Engels talked a lot about this stuff in their day too :), but I think Roy has a good way of popularizing these ideas and relating them in a style that is just very refreshing. In general, she is extremely refreshing compared to most poltiical commentators that you see these days (whether “right” or “left”).

    But, again, I thnk her fiction is her finest work and I myself am very much looking forward to seeing her newer efforts in that area.

    With Slumdog Millionaire, I kind of liked it more right after I saw it, but the more I thought about that in retrospect, the more it left me cold! Also, if it wasn’t a film about those issues, then critics shouldn’t have praised it as social criticism, especially not in contrast to Bollywood (which those critics knew nothing about, at least not beyond the past couple of decades, I would guess). But besides, for me, when I see poverty as the central theme in a film or story, I like to see the problem addressed with some social perspective. Maybe that’s just me.

    I don’t know Danny Boyle’s work too well… I just read about Sunshine on Wikipedia, which said that it was influenced by 2001 and Solaris. That could be interesting (if a bit spacey, haha).

    I never even got around to seeing Trainspotting. But back in the mid ’90s, when that came out, I wasn’t seeing many movies, and as far as British directors are concerned, I was much more interested in Ken Loach. :)

  3. Richard, it is good to disagree, it would be poor world otherwise!

    With Slumdog Millionaire, I didn’t feel that DB had to make a socially relevant film-why is a director from outside India immediately condemned by Indians and others as glorifying poverty or not giving it enough relevance, etc. etc., when Indian directors do this and more, and no one bats an eyelid?
    Indian directors’ influence is far more relevant to bring about social change than any Danny Boyle film, and I would love to see people like Arundhati Roy campaigning for more “relevant” films or just less stupid ones.

    On the other hand, we can also see a lot of escapist films in the West with a “poverty” or marginal background and no one ever gives them flak for not exploring the social issues enough. Pretty Woman: shouldn’t it have talked more about the world of prostitutes??? I being deliberately extreme here to make the point.

    I can admire Roy’s ‘s zeal from afar, even when I disagree with her views on some of the issues, but close-up, she always comes across as an insincere and artificial sort of person, but thats just my very humble opinion.

    Amartya Sen is a good read on such issues and another magazine site that provides much food for thought from all angles on a host of issues is http://www.india-seminar.com. Although is deals with problems on the sub-continent, much of what it says can be easily applied elsewhere.

    I recently someone who is an influential figure in development issues and he was talking about a recent visit to an African country where a “Punjabi farmer would have cried to see so much fertile land lying uncultivated” in a place with chronic food problems. There was even serious talk of sending farmers to “mentor” local farmers and tempt them to do this with offers of land. On the other hand, we have the problem of increasingly abandoned villages in Punjab itself. There is such a lot of complex and contradictory factors to explain any phenomenon in this world

    Btw, am completely off-topic now :)
    One heart-warming movie by Boyle was Millions. But there is always a bit of fantasy in any Boyle movie, just to warn you.

  4. Richard, sorry for hogging the comments on this post, but I just remembered that the india-seminar June issue was on Cinema and the August one on Literary Landscapes.
    You might enjoy reading some of the articles.

  5. I know that Slumdog Millionnaire lacked substance and only dealt with the issues surrounding poverty in a superficial way. But, have you read Q and A, the novel which he adapted for this film? That was written by an Indian, Vikas Swarup, and in my opinion was a far far more flimsy affair than Danny Boyle made it into. No one seemed to be criticising Vikas Swarup too much when his book became a best-seller. It was also adapted for the radio here and once again, there was little said against it. In fact, the radio play won awards, and quite rightly too as it was a powerful drama. The novel, Q and A, is clearly not an exploration of a serious issue at all. It just arose from a good idea for a plot. This plot is heaven-sent for dramatising in any way, each scene informing us of how the answer to the question was known, a new setting with new characters. It’s a dream! Without this clever plot device the film and book are nothing. I do, however, like the idea of exploring how we know what we know, the life history behind every single piece of information that is stored away in our memories. I could write a similar story about myself, which would be of some interest. There would be no lottery win at the end though, and really there is no need for this to make the story interesting.

    By the way, it surprised me very much that the film was billed as a ‘feel good’ movie. I felt wretched right up to the last five minutes. Surely Danny Boyle was doing exactly the job we wanted him to do?

  6. Bawa and Joss, many thanks for taking the time to send me thse long comments. Unfortunately, I am just burnt out on discussions of Slumdog Millionaire (which I knew was a danger when I brought up the subject in the first place :), so I’m happy just to accept that we disagree :) .

    Bawa, based on your comment, I’m looking at some information on Amartya Sen, and it is interesting.

    I like the topic of “social choice.” A few times over the past few years, I’ve done some research in collective decision making. This was connected to a project that I’ve been working on with woman I know from my days in the “anti-globalization” movement at the beginning of the present decade… We were both some of these activist groups that claimed to be pursuing the goals of radical democracy and egalitarianism, and we both got disappointed by the groups themselves, having come up against some collective behaviors within the groups that we felt were unfair and not at all radically democratic. (It is true that some of these groups in the “anarchist” scene paid some lip service to the idea of organizing themselves in an egalitarian/democratic manner that would reflect their social ideals, but sometimes they fell way short of that goal!) So, we initiated this project (actually, technically speaking, my co-auther initiated it first :), as a site on the Internet, discussing collective process…

    While the project developed, we did a bunch of related research. I was researching a whole lot about different forms of democratic/collective decisionmaking, and Sen’s work on “social choice,” as I’m seeing it described, would have fit right in with what I was looking at! But my co-author/collaborator had a different idea, as she wanted to focus a little less on political macro-theory and more on practical observations of the kinds of groups we were involved in; that is, small collectives.

    That’s OK… It’s amazing that we managed to collaborate on this project as much as we did, since collaborative writing can be a challenge, especially when it’s related to people’s different social-political ideas! But I think that maybe democratic process is a topic I’d like to read about and write about more in the future. (Unfortunately, it’s more difficult, especially these days, to write about a subject like that if you only have a B.A. and never entered academia. But maybe I’ll give it a try. Hey, I’d also like to do some writing like Philip Lutgendorf’s, and I don’t have his degree either! :)

    Anyway, just coincidentally, this project that we were working on is finally scheduled to come out in book form soon, from AK Press. This is not a credit I can boast about to everyone, because AK Press describe themselves as an anarchist publisher (and much of what they publish fits that description well). But their books do get nice distribution and promotion for a small press, so I’m looking forward to it.

  7. I shall look forward to reading that Richard! That sounds like a lot of very very hard work. Mu husband is in academia, so I know how difficult the publishing process can be but you never know.

    When Amartya Sen won the Nobel Prize, I was very happy, if they only would work on his ideas as well….

    We here are going to get a knew sustainable economy as a Law, lets see what its actual contents are. Lots of extreme left and right-wingers are unhappy with it, and that can be good sign….

    I am going to be away for a couple of weeks in london and I hope to be able to browse through a lot of books and music there:)) and lets what internet connection i have…

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