& occasionally about other things, too...

Sunday, August 01, 2021

One Love and the Many Lives of OSIP B: Cp Surendran

Guest Post: Beena Vijayalakshmy

“If it be true that every novel contains an element of autobiography – and this can hardly be denied, since the creator can only express himself in his creation – then there are some of us to whom an open display of sentiment is repugnant.”

-     Joseph Conrad

These are the words that first came to my mind as I sat entranced after reading One Love and the Many Lives of Osip B. by Cp Surendran. The book was launched recently.  I read it off Kindle.

Cp Surendran has effortlessly juggled the many roles that he has come to don in his eclectic career. While I had been familiar with his brilliant poetry and his many essays, I had not read any of his works of fiction until Osip came along.  And dare I say, he makes for one demanding author who elevates his readers on to the next level and intrigues them with the blood and beat of language.

The story of Osip defies description. And deliberately so. To put it simply, it follows the journey of the protagonist, Osip Balakrishnan, an eighteen-year old who falls irresistibly in love with his British teacher, Elizabeth. When she rejects his love and takes off to England, Osip pulls off a stunt that almost gets him arrested. In a desperate attempt to win back the one love of his life, he follows his destiny to England and in the process, discovers that his future is inextricably linked to his communist past.

The narrative is jammed with several themes, plots and digressions that it is practically impossible to do justice to the book in the space of a short blog. Suffice to say, it is one heady ride that is anti-woke and is bound to raise many eyebrows. The novel touches upon several contemporary themes such as individualism vs groupism, cancel culture, the rise of nationalism and Islamophobia, the fall of pluralism, beef vandalism among others. It is a severe reproach of the authoritarian India that is antagonistic to dissent in any form, the emasculation of the Fourth Estate by the powers that be, the culture brigade that polices practically every sphere of social life in India, and holds to ransom anyone who dares to deviate from their idea of moral rectitude.

However, what intrigued me most were the autobiographical elements of the book. Being familiar with the instrumental change and the drastic administrative reforms brought about by the rise of communism that revolutionized Kerala of the 60s, the allegorical insinuations to the author’s father and his many contributions to the Communist establishment in Kerala were unmistakable. In his heyday, rationalist and literary icon, Pavanan, was a force to reckon with, an undeniable presence within the Communist circles in Kerala. However, in his final years, he led a life of relative obscurity, after being afflicted with Alzheimer’s. As does Narayan, Osip’s grandfather. Incidentally, Pavanan’s given name was also Narayanan Nair. The pain of watching one’s loved one disintegrate right in front of one’s eyes is very poignantly captured in the novel.

The existential despair and the travails of a battered journalist, Arjun Bedi, who is discredited and exiled by woke groups – “toilet revolutionaries”, as he calls them - is reminiscent of the author’s own trials and tribulations in recent times. The book worms its way into one’s subconscious, rendering the surroundings out of focus in stark white. The writing is vigorous, the prose almost poetic to a fault, the plot complex yet structured. There’s a painterly minimalism to the language – every word necessary, every word taut. The poetic depth of the love story leaves one with lingering thoughts of love and loss, while the honest writing forces one to find expression to those parts of our experiences and reject everything superficial.

Every once in a while, there comes along a book that hits some very real moments for a reader. Osip comes in the middle of a pandemic, as a virus ravages the nation. The book was recently launched and is invariably bound to revive debate on several contemporary issues. As it rightly should.


Excerpt from One Love and the Many Lives of Osip B. Cp Surendran Copyright 2021

Love, the Word Known to All

I sat down at Cheers, a cheap coffee place near the Oxford Railway Station, not bigger than a stall, where I had found myself in my aimless walks this mid-morning, and where you could stand around round plastic tables in red and white, and have a coffee and a croissant for one pound. One side of the place was red bricks, and the other a mirror.

The man behind the counter was young and bald, and had a face that invited confidences. I bought the coffee without looking him in the eye, and placed it on a red table. I had a headache coming. Its source was precisely at the centre point behind my eyelids. Soon it would radiate around my head. I checked my phone, read again the message from Arjun. Dev had posted the party scene where Maina was having a meltdown on social media. Diya shared the post with a kind of dissenting note. She said that it was a personal moment at a private party, and, ideally, should not be put out; but Arjun was a public figure, and his wife’s ‘observations’ about him were helpful to understand the domestic abuse of the ‘benevolent patriarch’. She said she would have more to say on the issue in a forthcoming book. Dev had masked Maina’s face in his video.

 ‘The terror comes in waves,’ Arjun said. They had come up with another case where he had asked an artist if she were her own nude model. Arjun said he did ask the artist the question, but it was out of genuine curiosity. ‘Today,’ Arjun said, ‘I awoke to hear someone moaning, like a hurt animal, and found it was issuing from my throat, so I will go and apologize to them and see if this thing can be stopped, but what’s there to stop now? You see, Osip, although one needs forgiveness or appreciation from no one more than one’s detractors, and though their file on me says I am well versed in the English language and the uses of irony, I say it all quite plainly: I am tired, and I must learn to die with this, though Dev and Diya have offered a forum on their online portal for me to apologize. Hmm. This offer Osip, was preceded by an anonymous call on my landline. The caller, a male voice, merely said, “Hello rapist, good morning” and cut the call. And, so, I ebb and eddy toward my exilic status, which I console myself is an essential stage of a writer’s evolution, but equally, I am aware now, that even this thought could be an assuagement of my vanity. In short, I am no longer sure of myself. Stay good, and let me know if you need anything, money, etc.’

I sipped the hot coffee. English coffee always smells better than it tastes. A heavy-set woman in a tall black hat, black leather jacket, and black high boots came in with two black poodles, talked to the man behind the counter in a whisper, laughed, and left, glancing at me. The cold air was heavy with perfume in her wake, and triggered the first stab of my blinding headache. I leaned my head against the mirror. ‘Poor Arjun,’ I thought. I could not think of a repentant, apologetic Arjun. I closed my eyes to contain my headache.

‘Now I present to you my 1935 poem, Ode to Stalin, seeking his forgiveness. “Though I am not yet worthy of having friends,/Though I am not sated with bile and tears, / I still seem to be seeing him in his greatcoat, in his cap, / On the wonderful square, with his happy eyes…// ).’” ‘Gladen’kii stishok. Facile doggerel.’ ‘Yes, nothing in the great Russian language, with all its wide vowels and gushing sibilants, justifies or accommodates it. The language fails when the poet is false to his situation. And the situation here is stark, simple: there would be no reprieve. Only more Siberia from the big man, and there is enough Siberia for all to go around with, and mocking laughter of other doggerel writers.’

 ‘Are you talking to yourself in a foreign language?’ the man behind the counter had come around, and was now considering me with his kind, bulbous eyes. ‘No. I was thinking of something.’ ‘I thought I could hear your thoughts, mate. I don’t mind, except the customers might take fright.’ I picked up the coffee and left, my head on fire, carefully stepping over the little puddle of poodle piss on the floor, mystified which one of them did it and exactly when. It seemed the woman in black had come a long time ago.

Buy the book: One Love and Many Lives of OSIP B

Watch Vani Tripathi's interview Cp Surendran: Kalinga Festival 

Monday, October 12, 2020

Wednesday, June 17, 2020

Thank you!

I have reached a stage in my life where I don't need to say anything more.

It is time for introspection.

It is time to be with Mahrukh and Che, and plan for a secure future for them.

And to be with Durga and Sonal, and Shakera and Farrukh.

So, after a dozen years of active blogging, I'm going to stop now. 

There's enough here in this space to keep you occupied for a long time if you chose to browse through the past posts. And some of it may actually be interesting.

Thank you for stopping by.

Thank you for being a part of my journey.

Remember me as that awkward friend who always cared, and who didn't know how to show that he did. 

Thursday, April 30, 2020

Remembering Rishi Kapoor

To write about Rishi Kapoor in the past tense is incredibly sad.

As an actor, Rishi Kapoor was an institution. His legacy will last as long as there is cinema. 

But he was more than just an actor. In the last decade or so he had become a social media influencer, a twitter aficionado.

This blog post, however, is only about Rishi Kapoor the film star who although he came from a privileged background, thrived in a highly competitive environment for four decades because of his immense talent.

There are already a number of excellent obituaries about Rishi Kapoor; many written by people who knew him personally and met him frequently; mine is probably not going to match those either in erudition or depth. 

This blog post is just my tribute to an actor who will always remain an integral part of my adolescence and youth. I didn't know him personally. I didn't meet him, ever. 

To the generation that became interested and aware of the tremendous appeal of popular Hindi cinema in the 1970s – he was and will always remain a lodestar. Rishi Kapoor was that young, reckless romantic, willing to risk everything for love, and who almost always nearly lost everything but got the girl.

By the 1970s, the dreams of a post-independence India were in tatters. There was a rising anger at the system, captured brilliantly by Amitabh Bachchan’s smouldering rage. Rishi Kapoor gave the audience welcome relief from that overwrought and essentially futile fury.

Right from his debut as a lead actor in Bobby (1973), where he was the personification of young love with its all its doe eyed innocence, Rishi Kapoor captured our hearts by his competent skills as an actor. 

He was a despondent, hopeless lover in Laila Majnu (1976), as a crossdresser in Rafoo Chakkar (1975), as a carefree quawaal in Amar Akbar Anthony (1977), and a dafli-player in love with a mute dancer in Sargam (1979) – my favourite Rishi Kapoor film.

All his films from that era are equally well-remembered for their songs.

Rishi Kapoor redefined the song and dance routine that is a staple of Hindi cinema, and although never acknowledged as a great dancer, he knew how to set fire to the dancefloor with his moves.

Although he showed his versatility in every role he played, he was not offered challenging roles, till rather late in his career. The one notable exception was Doosra Admi (1977), where Rishi Kapoor played a young, ambitious man focused on his career and falling in love with an older colleague. His portrayal was bold, mature, but deliberately underplayed. He didn’t let Rakhee, a consummate, top-of-the-line actor of that era, overshadow him.  

In the 1980s, Rishi Kapoor signed up for a whole bunch of utterly unforgettable films. But he did give his fans Karz (1980), a reincarnated revenge saga based on the Reincarnation of Peter Proud; remembered today for its unmatched energy.

Prem Rog (1982), his second film as the male lead after Bobby that his father directed, saw Rishi Kapoor again give a subdued performance. Just as Bobby was centered around Dimple Kapadia, Prem Rog was focused on Padmini Kolhapure. 

Then, came Sagar (1985), the film that relaunched Dimple Kapadia. Rishi Kapoor could have easily been eclipsed by the much-acclaimed Kamal Hasan, but he held his own effortlessly.

I'm sure, he knew his worth as an actor, and would have been full of remorse that he didn't get good roles in his prime. But he didn’t believe in wasting his time waiting for good roles. He made good with whatever came his way, and never flinched from accepting roles that would probably have been rejected by other actors. 

He eagerly accepted roles that played second fiddle to the woman lead in films. Nagin (1986) with Sridevi was a monstrously bad film but was undeniably a monstrous hit. He was equally at ease being the second male lead. All his films with Amitabh Bachchan – Kabhie Kabhie (1976), Amar Akbar Anthony (1977), Naseeb (1981), Coolie (1983), were hugely successful and remain endearing even today. Some, such as Ajooba (1991), were colossal flops, but that had little to do with Rishi Kapoor.

Another trend that marks his career is that despite a string of flops (inevitable, considering he did on an average three to four films a year) every few years, he would turn in a mega success. So, after a protracted lean phase in the late 1980s, he delivered a huge hit in Chandni (1989). 

He will forever hold the record of having launched the careers of pretty young things into movies, and he did that with aplomb, wearing multicoloured cardigans.

The 1990s were not too different from the previous decade. He continued to work in utterly forgettable films but also gave us Bol Radha Bol (1992), which succeeded as much because of him as for Juhi Chawla; Deewana (1992) which succeeded because of Shah Rukh Khan; and Damini (1993), which Sunny Deol’s biceps propelled to eternal fame.

Then, after a lean phase, he turned to character roles, and entered what was perhaps the most interesting phase of his career. He was liberated from ensuring a film's success. He could now focus on his performance.

He brought an indescribable insouciance to his role as a father who preferred to pursue his dreams as a photographer rather than be a responsible dad in Hum Tum (2004), you couldn't obviously like him for the way he treated his wife, but you still weren't willing to dislike him. 

He was wasted as Kajol's dad in Fanaa (2006).

He was nominated for the best supporting actor award for his portrayal of a film producer in Luck by Chance (2009). Delhi 6 (2009) and Love Aaj Kal (2009) again saw him at his subdued best; in both the films he played an aging lover, who having lived it up in his younger days, is unable to comprehend the restrained ardour of the younger generation.

And then, came Do Dooni Char (2010), a story set in lower middle-class Delhi, for which he won the Filmfare best actor; his second after Bobby. He took everyone by surprise with his portrayal of an amiable and yet vicious Bombay bhai in the remake of Agneepath (2012). It was a performance that got under the skin of the audience – it was hair raising, and riveting. 

He followed it up with another incredible performance in D-Day (2013), portraying a character that was based on Dawood Ibrahim. As the lubricious granddad in Kapoor & Sons (2016), he was unrecognizable with layers of makeup, but again won the Filmfare best supporting award. His role in Mulk (2018) won wide acclaim because he brought to life the uneasiness of India’s Muslims in a country that rapidly transformed into a Hindutva citadel.

Rishi Kapoor's passing away is a national loss. There won't be anyone like him. There can't be.