Monday, February 16, 2015


Draupadi: The Fire-Born Princess.
A Graphic Novel by Saraswati Nagpal.

This version of Draupadi is interesting in that it is feminist in its slant, being told completely from Draupadi's pov, and with much questioning of the male heroes, especially of Yudhistra, the eldest of Draupadi's five husbands.

In fact, none of the characters get off easy.  The Kuru dynasty is conceived of as a den of fools, knaves, tyrants and thieves.  Jealousy, vengefulness, anger, and above all, lust, are the threads that run through the blood-soaked narrative.

Every single character seems to have a cosmic weakness, and Draupadi as much as any of the others.  The novel is powerful in depicting her towering sense of victimhood and her thirst for revenge.  Sadly, only when she is sated with blood does she realize the terrible, generational, cyclical price she, her clan, and indeed the Universe will have to pay, unless she can bring herself to enact the first act of forgiveness and self-effacement.  This is the lesson that Krishna has been trying to impart to her all her life, and one she only learns after the devastating tragedy of the Great War.

This is not the 1960s Amar Chitra Katha series we remember fondly.  The graphics are far more modern, aggressive, sexual and disturbing, borrowing from manga and fantasy, and much higher quality.  The language is still too courtly, stylized and melodramatic for my liking -- but perhaps the next generation of graphic novels in India will graduate to better novelistic treatments.  In the meantime, it is a welcome advance.

Dec 2014.


Dir. Hany Abu-Assad.

The first Palestinian film nominated for an Oscar to actually have Palestine listed as its country of origin, which is notable in itself.

Omar is the story of a young man who joins two childhood friends in a violent act of rebellion against the Israeli occupation, and the inescapable, ineffable, irretrievable tragedy which results.  But it is not sentimental, nor a cautionary or morality tale, and not even a direct protest film, which makes it all the more powerful.

Indeed, much after the film you can analyze the roles in the script and see how they can represent actors in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and the ending of the story itself as representing the conflict as a whole.  But as experienced, the film shies away from easy symbolism, and more importantly, the characters feel lived, true, and authentic, with real emotional weight and resonance for the viewer.

The film focuses tightly on the three Palestinian rebels, Omar's girlfriend Nadia, and his interrogator, the Israeli agent Rami.  The film excels in using quick, wry vignettes to bring each of the five main characters to life.   Omar's friend Amjad can do a mean impression of Marlon Brando as the Godfather; Omar and Nadja converse in playful, touching banter; and even Rami gets a few minutes being henpecked on the phone by his demanding wife and difficult mother.

The cast, mostly unknowns, is brilliant, completely convincing in every frame.  Nadia (Leem Lubany) in particular brings an appealing girlishness and sincerity that highlights how young all the four Palestinians really are, and while seemingly confident and worldly-wise, at their core how young to be dealing with the brutalities of the occupation and its consequences.

Feb 2015