Category Archives: Blog

In hiberna noctum

This evening, I revisited a piece of music that was a constant companion of mine last winter. It rang out in my little hostel room, its re-run frequency reaching its peak around 5:30- 6:30 in the evening, as the season leached sunlight from the day. It’s not the most cheerful thing to listen to when you’re getting used to seasonal shifts, or in a constantly weepy mood, or living in a chilly hostel room with the threat of exams hanging over your head. But it’s beautiful and mysterious, and is so perfectly ‘Potter’ for those very reasons.

If there’s one thing the Harry Potter movies did well, it was the music. You can almost hear the growing darkness as you progress musically through the series- from the soaring and magical ‘Hedwig’s Theme’ that forms the backbone of the soundtrack for the first two movies, to the bittersweet air of ‘Lily’s theme’ that riddles the second  half of the seventh. As Harry grows older, the music ages with him, highlighting the increasingly personal nature of his fight against the Dark.

‘In Noctem’ was originally part of the movie- sung by the Hogwarts choir in a deleted scene. As clouds gather and ominous thunder rattles the windows of the castle, the various residents hold their breath, waiting for something momentous to happen. That something momentous turns out to be the attack on the school, orchestrated by Draco Malfoy (whose role in the book made me believe that he would turn out to be an important character in ‘DH’. Alas, I was wrong).  This is the invasion that results in the death of Dumbledore, an event which explains the lyrics of the song (‘Tell the ones, the ones I love, I never will forget’) and the final farewell they imply.

I think ‘In Noctem’ fits in wonderfully with the overall darker, more mature tone of ‘Half Blood Prince’ (the movie, the book read like a typical high school romance in parts). It’s a shame they cut this scene out, it would have been good payoff for all the stalking we’d done of Malfoy. Not to mention it would have finally shown him in the decisive moment of swinging his feet off his bed and walking into the war.

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Of course, one could argue that Malfoy started this journey when he took the Mark. But when we see him in the first few scenes of the movie (and the first chapters of the book), he still comes across as a schoolyard braggart, a kid in over his head and not realizing it, more taken with the glamour of being part of something that his idolized father belongs to than understanding what exactly that movement stands for, or the sacrifices it will demand of him. Over the year, he comes to realize the seriousness of Voldemort’s threats and the importance of the success of his mission. At the end, he is as adult as he will ever be in the pages of the Potter books- he makes a decision and then lives to regret the consequences.

I loved the development of Malfoy’s character in ‘HBP’, and I think Tom Felton did a great job translating his struggle in the movie. I rather wish Rowling had continued to give him some amount of attention in ‘DH’- the omission of Draco character building was one of the major problems I had with the book. It is as though he is fated, like the rest of his Slytherin housemates, to pass unlamented in noctum, to stage their struggles and transitions to adulthood off-screen, or on the director’s floor with the other deleted, shorn bits of the films.

 Carry my soul into the night.

In a boat with an adult Bengal Tiger

Three nights ago, I watched the Life of Pi movie.

In preparation for it, I read a bunch of reviews, whatever I could find online. One of them (Vulture) called it ‘transcendent’, another said it was ‘not long enough’ and yet another applauded the stunning visuals and noted that Ang Lee, celebrated director of Oscar winning films, had outdone himself. None made too much mention of the actors or the effectiveness with which Martel’s story had been translated on screen. I’ll make that my business then.

And just to get it out of the way- yes, the film is beautiful. It is spectacular, in the true sense of the word. There were so many moments at which I thought Ang Lee couldn’t possibly do better, only to be proved wrong within the next 15 minutes. It is visually probably the most lovely film you will ever see.

(The actual sinking of the ship and one shot within a swimming pool impressed me in particular.)

Though he is by no means the focus of the film (no actor is, really), Suraj Sharma does a wonderful job. It was so heartening to see that a first time teenage actor can be GOOD, that not all of them are cut of the cloth that made Kristin Stewart or Alia Bhatt. He was innocent and troubled when he needed to be, angst ridden and drained at other times, and overall, gave no indication that half the time, he was all alone in the filming sequence. He LOOKED like there was a tiger with him at all times, giving greater reality to the CG animal.

But again, like I said, the movie was certainly not actor-reliant. What propelled it was the overall cinematography. They could have cast any newcomer in the role, and if he had done a half-decent job, it would have worked. Kudos to Suraj for doing a more than half decent job.

The story- like I said earlier, when I read the book, I didn’t really ‘get’ it. The impact of that statement ‘When you look into an animal’s eyes, you see only the reflection of what you feel’, didn’t hit  me at all. In the movie however, there is a particular sequence that brings it out beautifully and vividly. I’m not going to spoiler it for you and tell you which one- but sufficeth to say that that was my favourite, favourite sequence of them all.

Richard Parker was amazingly lifelike. The friend I watched the movie with turned around at one point and asked ‘How did they train a tiger to DO all that?’. He didn’t even realize it was a CG device! While some may laugh at his naivete, I choose to look at it as a comment on the incredible richness and perfection of the CG animals in this movie. There was never a moment at which Richard Parker wasn’t moving or making a sound that a real Bengal Tiger wouldn’t have made. From little purrs to hacking roars to deep-throated growls, Richard Parker, or his supervising team, delivered.

The movie left me feeling curiously adrift and thoughtful, much like Pi was for most of its 125 minute length. It neither confirms nor denies the assertion that Pi’s father makes somewhere near the beginning, that animals do not have souls. Richard Parker is there for Pi at the most trying moment of his life, and without him, or whatever he represents, Pi would certainly not have survived. At the same time, you are never led to think of him as anything OTHER than a Bengal Tiger, a dangerous animal that you cannot turn your back on without great risk. He is not a pet, not a dog who will feel something like gratitude and look after you in turn. No, Richard Parker is a beast of the jungle, and he will never let you forget that.

‘Life of Pi’ is definitely a movie worth watching, and worth watching well, on the big-screen in 3D. Whether it’s the childish pleasure derived from watching flying fish nearly hit you, to appreciating the pure beauty of a whale breaking the ocean surface (and causing Pi to lose most of his provisions in the process), every image demands star treatment. It caters to everyone- those who want to be jolted into thinking about the deeper questions of the meaning of life, and those who just want to watch a good seafaring/adventure tale. Go see it, if you haven’t already.

The James Potter Complex

Author Note: I’m flexing my literary muscles after what seems forever. 

 

Let’s face it. We all want to be fictional characters at some point in our lives (those of us who are not Arjo at least) and the more literary (or neurotic) among us strive to emulate, sometimes unconsciously, our favourites. Fictional people are so, well, organized. They have their lives mapped out for them by someone else, they sometimes look like they got their perfection/beauty/intelligence/Achiever Status without really working for it and, best of all, even the dullest, the stupidest, the most horrifyingly banal of them can boast of having people interested in his thoughts. I know many people, me included, would love to have that particular honour.

 

 Since we cannot actually be them (or maybe we all are, really, and the Universe is one big novel-setting and history a novel in which case everything I’m writing becomes metafictional and therefore profound and too deep to be taken seriously) we strive to live like them. If I’m as cursed and earnest as Harry Potter, surely people will give a damn about what I’m up to? If I’m as flitty-flighty as Holly Golightly, surely I’ll leave a string of yearning men behind me? And if I’m as steadfast and innocent as Anastasia Steele, I’ll definitely win the heart of a man as broken, handsome and rich as Christian Gray.

 

 Yes, I went there and made the reference.

 

 Of course, there are characters none of us want to be: Josef K, Julien Sorel, Kurtz- but that’s a concern for another day.

 

( It is strange that most of the characters that spring to mind as undesirable Objects of Emulation are found within the covers of D.U. prescribed books.)

 

 Who we want to be also changes with time, of course, and not just because of the changing nature of the books we read. For instance, nine years ago I wanted to be Lanfear from the Wheel of Time books. I wanted to be beautiful and powerful and I was a budding megalomaniac. Now I want to be Egwene from the same universe- beautiful and powerful and at the top of my professional ladder at the tender age of 20. Unfortunately, there doesn’t seem much chance of that happening.

 

 The people around me have ‘literarily’ grown up as well. The girls aren’t queuing up to be Belle from Disney’s ‘Beauty and the Beast’ or Ariel from ‘The Little Mermaid’. No, now we all, boys and girls alike, want to be one particular character, and we want to be him with a psychotic intensity that is profoundly disturbing.

 

 We all want to be James Potter.

 

 What’s that, you say? James Potter? Harry Potter’s DAD? Oh please, surely there are more popular choices in the series. Look at Hermione, Ron, Harry- even someone as random as Bill Weasley gets more screen time than James Potter.

 

 But I doubt anyone has had the effect that James has had on my budding psychoanalytical skills. Together, me and a friend diagnosed what we call the James Potter Complex, a serious condition that affects one out of every five Arts students in their postgrad.

 

 What are the characteristics of the James Potter Complex? Just think of James in his Hogwarts years, and you’ll start to get an idea of what I’m going to talk about. In case you are not familiar with the Potterverse, I will elaborate for you.

 

 James Potter is, to put it succinctly, bloody brilliant. He is top of his class, he is an ace Quidditch player, he has a band of loyal friends and an equally fabulous best friend[i], he is popular and, of course, he wins in the romance department as well. There is no category in which he loses out, unless you count his messy hair and nearsightedness, which I don’t.

 

 The best thing about him is his all-rounder status. He appears to be socially celebrated as well as academically brilliant- and he puts no apparent effort into the attainment of either status. When Sirius says he will be ‘surprised’ if he doesn’t get ‘an Outstanding at least’ in his DADA OWL exam, James drawls ‘me too’. Coming from him, we can believe it. He starts playing with a Snitch and bullying Snape right after the paper, while Remus tries to study for (what is presumably) an upcoming Transfiguration exam. James clearly has better things to do than cram for his board exams, but he will still do better than Remus probably ever will.

 

 The problem is, not everyone can be James Potter. Most of us know this, and are not ashamed to admit to Lupinesque hard work. And why should we be ashamed, anyway? There’s nothing wrong with being a geek, as Hermione has so admirably demonstrated. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with reading your books ahead of schedule, with staying up late nights to get that cramming done, to working yourself crazy in order to keep up with multiple classes.

 

 But it’s just not cool. Not in an age where Facebook rules our lives. We’re on display all the time, we’re finally starring in our own movies (complete with soundtracks in the form of status messages), we are fictional characters who check in and take pictures and like things. We can be as perfect and amazing and enviable as we want. We can be James Potter.

 

 And so begins the ‘I-don’t –study-see-I-just-went-for-a-movie’ or the ‘I-was-too-busy-making-out-with-my-new-partner-to-do-that-reading’ or ‘I-am-like-so-brilliant-I-scored-amazingly-in-my-exam-even-though-I-am-too-busy-snorkeling-in-Malaysia-to-read-my-course-books’. It’s absolute anathema to those in the grip of the JPC to be seen opening a book that is not far, far from the concerns of the academic moment. It is unthinkable that they admit to having read the assigned material the night before the tutorial- no, it must be read only half an hour before the scheduled meeting time, because otherwise, people would think they actually studied. Gasp. That is not to be borne. How would they continue to look cool? Where would the Jamesian spirit be in that?

 

  I could go into a long spiel about the decreasing value of hard work in a society that privileges snapshot success and quick thinking go-getters. I could spend a page boring you with faux sociological theses on the decline of Hufflepuffian ethics and the coolification of Gryffindor daring and Slytherin slickness. These things do tie into the proliferation of the JPC, but a thorough dissection will require a pseudo thesis[ii], not something I think anyone wants to read on a social networking site.

 

I don’t intend to condemn those who suffer the JPC, since I can sympathize with them. To be like James is to have it all, without trying very hard. For a long time, fantasy was held to be the domain of lonely little nerds, who needed tales of underdogs and unlikely foundlings becoming leaders of their people and succeeding where no one else had succeeded before. While the perception of the demographic has changed considerably, we’re still looking for the same things. We want someone who will convince us that no matter how small we are, how lost and confused, we can make a difference.

 

 So while we want to be James Potter, brilliant and popular, we will never admire him the way we admire Harry. For all my self proclaimed brilliance, I can never be James Potter. I’m just not good enough.

 

 But somewhere deep down is the hope that maybe, just maybe, I can be his much less impressive, but so much more heroic son.

 

 

 

 

 

 

[i] The reason I objected to calling the psychological condition the Sirius Black Complex is twofold. First, Sirius is not nearly so lucky as James- he has had a traumatic childhood, been disowned by his family, and rather than a clean death, he was thrown into a soul-sucking prison for twelve years. I think that balances out his gifts. Second, I don’t think any mere mortal compares to him, but you are free to disagree.

 

[ii] I will, hopefully, do just that. Some day.