Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Inception : The film

The review of Inception by Time magazine's Richard Corliss echoes my first thoughts while watching the closing credits roll :

After a long time, I think I watched a film that actually challenged my intellect and stimulated it and even caused me to struggle to keep up with the intensity and complexity of perception that went into structuring it. Of course, it's true that I was so conversant with dreams , the unconscious and their interpretation in my psychoanalysis phase in JU that I was mentally equipped to interpret the dream world and its logic (or lack of it). Which is not the case now. But yes, I could recognise the fact that years of research and reading had gone into planning and perfecting the aesthetics of Inception and much hard work underlay its deceptively fluid appearance. And at points, take delight and pride in the fact that my months of non-purposive (and to all appearances, esoteric) reading was finally finding importance somewhere : namely, in understanding the film.

Not that the film wasn't lucid at the level of narration. Although not having had any previous notion of what the film might be about, I did struggle with the opening dream sequences and was as perplexed as Ariadne (Ellen Page) might be when her practical knowledge of architecture had to be restructured radically following the stringent and often logically irreconcilable demands of Cobb's mission. But I learned with her and almost at her pace. By the time she was about to suggest the unplanned and risky fourth level of dream terrain, I had mentally predicted it and was only wondering whether the time differences at the respective levels and the strength of Yusuf's sedative would allow it to be implemented without the danger of limbo overtaking the dreamers.

There were mental hurdles, of course. The appearance of the dream-box (the technical equipment of Cobb's team, stored in a briefcase-like container) at each and every level was too solid and concrete a possibility as well as a coincidence, even for lucid dreaming. And of course, the forging of identity by Earnes (Tom Hardy) to assume that of Browning (Tom Berenger) was very sci-fi like in that it strained credulity to an extreme. And yet, not once did it seem that the entire film was an exercise in suspension of disbelief, despite the awe-inspiring amount of theoretical knowhow it drew on, be it Freud or Jung or Borges. There were only multiple narratives and the Lacanian premise of the truth that is never true - altered, filtered and faltering as it is in entering the perceptive level of each individual. And why not ? What is reality but our constant adjustment to our environment and its immediate demands ? Nolan must be lauded not merely for his film, a work of art, but also for the questions, theories and discussions it should necessarily trigger off. The trajectory of the film is a remarkable one, moving on from one certainty to another and yet, beginning and ending in ambivalence - suggesting rather than telling tales, the true-blue mark of a classic.

I disagree with Barnali's review ("it fails to show the profundity of human emotion") at certain points, although it is a brilliantly graphic one. I couldn't but be moved at Ariadne's growing and obsessive fascination with the compelling projection of Mal (Marion Cotillard) in her dreams and by extrapolation, with the 'real' nature of Cobb's relationship with his invincible-even-in-death wife. Similarly, the need for Cobb to accomplish 'inception' as a special ("it's not exactly legal", as he prosaically informs Ariadne) assignment with a definite goal in mind is a poignant parallel exercise in self-justification, scarred and sobered as he is by the guilt of fashioning his wife's death. There is nothing as sad as the anagnorisis of the tragic hero and Dom Cobb is no less than one, wracked in an unrelenting remorse, although his exile isn't exactly self-imposed (or is it ?) The playful banter between Eames and Arthur (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is also an endearing instance of a pair of incisive minds, each trying to outdo but secretly in awe of the complementary other. Further, I cannot but beg to differ on the topic of the other characters being "mere shadows with exceptional ability". Surely we cannot have multiple focal points in a narrative already taking risks with multiple levels of reality and dreams and shifting, mutating viewpoints and dreamscapes. It is commendable that Nolan creates memorable characters with true-to-life eccentricities and foibles, including the almost ethereal Mal whose character could easily have lapsed into cliched idealism.

As for the sets, I'm still lost in wonder at the sheer sweep and scale of it all. A lot of informed visualisation has resulted in the sets that we can only gape at. The wikipedia entry tantalises one's curiosity in this aspect but doesn't quite exhaust it. I need to surf around diligently to satiate my own particular interest in it all. Even the background score was brilliant, still playing in my head insistently, unobtrusive yet unmistakably there.

Much has been said about how The Matrix provides a substantial starting point for the film. It might, of course, since the former is as much of our collective consciousness as we would allow it to be. But from the maker of The Prestige, you cannot but expect an original. He is only moving from strength to strength.

Nolan reminds me of Hamlet's soliloquy (used somewhere in the film, if my memory isn't at fault) :

"What a piece of work is a man, how noble in reason, how/ infinite in faculties, in form and moving how express and/ admirable, in action how like an angel, in apprehension how like/ a god! the beauty of the world, the paragon of animals..."


Friday, July 23, 2010

Lesson Plans and Planned Lessons

Yesterday, in the English Method class, AR made us teach the texts we had recently submitted lesson plans on, with the help of the latter. Having been absent for two consecutive days due to a stomach bug, I was initially clueless about what to do. Turns out most of my classmates were in a similar state, even though they'd been informed about the thing in the last class. Naturally. I mean, not all of us have actual classroom teaching experience. Not that it would have helped much. Following the lesson plan toto is an incredibly intimidating proposition, as we were soon to find out for ourselves.

No one wanted to volunteer to be the one to initiate the process. AR was obliged to first convince and then coerce (the time-tested and universal way to make students do something new). Ultimately, a girl called Sayantani was selected. After considerable nudging and prodding, she took the stage. She had to teach a poem called 'The Kitten at Play' to students of class 7. It's about a kitten playing with withered leaves, sitting on the wall, oblivious to the existence of the rest of the world. A simple poem, you'd think, at one read. But teaching it, as we soon found out, was a whole different ball game. We, by the way, had to behave like class 7 students and give apt answers to questions the 'teacher' might put to us. That wasn't too hard, all of us ready to be in splits at any comic relief that came our way, thanks to the whole mock-teaching session. But seriously, when it was my turn, I found out how hard it could be to follow the lesson plan to the T. It needs a considerable amount of practice.

My text was 'Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening' by Robert Frost, to be taught in the second language period of class X. A poem we're all too familiar with. To my dismay, it turned out AR's area of speciality is American Literature (she has a PhD). Naturally, all my mistakes would seem glaring to her. Anyway, I had no option of opting out. I started with testing the 'previous knowledge' of my 'students' (to help link their past knowledge with their future), asking them about their personal encounters with forests, snow and horse-drawn carriages and urging them to provide adjectives to describe a snowy winter evening in the forest. Having captured their attention by now, I proceeded to write the title of the poem on the board (being careful to ensure that the chalk didn't squeak, as that would distract their attention pronto) and introduce a few new textual words ( following the 'Knowledge' section of 'Behavioural Objectives'), discussing their meaning and opposites and even asking a few selected students ( trying to avoid the rude "yes, you") to compose sentences with the new additions to their vocabulary ('Application'). I also had to test their 'Understanding' by asking why the woods would feel quiet and lonely, why the horse was possibly confused and how the poet had described the stark beauty of nature even in winter.

The next stage was a few immediate text-related questions which preceded the actual ideal reading of the text (loud and clear, with correct pronunciation, proper punctuational pauses and poetic fervour). The students were then supposed to read the poem silently, with the teacher moving around, offering assistance wherever required. Meanwhile, a verbal gist of the text was given by the teacher to aid them in the comprehension of the text. After the reading was over, students were to be given appropriate examples of new concepts incorporated in the text, for instance, examples of other units of distance (other than 'miles'). The use of teaching aids like charts or models was to accompany the teaching of the text while ample and judicious use of the blackboard was a serious factor in measuring teaching capacity. The students were to be divided into groups thereafter and allowed to discuss the text (a bad idea in most schools, as far as discipline is concerned, and definitely inviting trouble in terms of marks for 'classroom management'). The process was wrapped up by the three-fold steps of consolidation (a pointing out of the central idea of the text by the teacher), evaluation (a few pertinent questions addressed to randomly selected students) and writing down a question for homework on the board. Finally, the teacher should not forget to rub the board before leaving the class.


I still can't believe that I was treated to effusive praise by my classmates and a complacent look from AR (which, as far as I know her, is a good sign). I was still sweating from sheer nervousness.

Teaching in a school isn't half as easy as one thinks.

Well, at least, in your one month of practice teaching, when your lesson plan has to be submitted (you may consult only the text and your teaching aids while actually teaching) to the teacher sitting in the last row, observing you (ready to pounce on you, more likely) and the students know you're a temporary phase (and therefore get ready for all sorts of 'Sound of Music'-like pranks).

God save me.

Monday, July 12, 2010


I've been pulled up by two different teachers in two different B. Ed. classes for appearing sleepy. And let me, tell you, it isn't nice being asked why you are drowsy in front of your classmates, most of whose names you aren't even acquainted with, it's so early in the session. I do admit that I've been having some difficulty waking up at my usual time in the mornings nowadays, but that doesn't mean my entire section should be forcefully involved in my lifestyle, especially since it hardly affects them in any way.

It all started with SKG's class. That was just a couple of days after we'd begun attending college. I was sitting in the second row (it's just a habit folks; no, I'm not hard of hearing and neither do I have vision problems) and I was actually just beginning to be conscious that my eyes were feeling heavy when it turned out that someone else had noticed that too. My drowsiness, that is.

"Ki holo, ghum pachhe ?" (What's the matter, feeling sleepy ?)

Naturally, I was wide awake now.

"Na Sir". (No, Sir.)

He left it at that. But by then the entire class was eyeing me, pleased with the impromptu break. I, of course, didn't like all the attention.

The next one to lose sleep (hey, that wasn't intentional !) over me was UKM. This time I was paying 100% attention despite stifling several would-be yawns. They just arrived by force of habit. Every holiday necessarily means an afternoon nap for the true-blue Bangali and I was no exception. So, I was still getting used to the attending-classes-during-my-rightful-naptime thing. Until...
"Ki holo, ghum pachhe ?"

Oh, nooooo. Not agaaaaain.

"Na, Sir." (No, Sir.)
"Khub raat jagchho? "(Staying awake till late into the night ?)
"Na, Sir."
"Prochur khatni jachhe ?" (Lots of work, then ?)
"Na, Sir."
"She ki, kichhui khatni nei?" (What, no work at all ?)

I interrupted him at that point. Things were getting personal and I felt it was high time I (very much married and assertive) made him aware of that.

"Na Sir, ashole college shuru howar age ei shomoy ghumotam, tai ghum pachhe." (No Sir, actually, before classes started at college, I used to sleep at this hour. That's why I feel a bit drowsy at this time.)
I'm glad he accepted that explanation without further ado.

The class considers me as the intelligent but sleepy girl, I am now led to believe.

I so hate being in the limelight, especially for the wrong reasons.

P.S : I have now made a decision. The next time I'm caught (yes, I'm an optimist by nature), I'll just say, "Sorry for yawning Sir, but I am paying attention too. You can question me if you want."

I hope that works. This time I'll be ready with the answers.

Friday, July 02, 2010

Losing Weight

I've just lost 8 kg.

Yes, thank you, I appreciate the applause. Especially since losing weight has never been a piece of cake for me or for anyone else, I gather. At least as easy as piling on the kilos.

Everyone is asking me
1) How I lost so much weight (which I interpret as "How can you be so consistent in exercise or diet or whatever it is you do ?")
2) Why you need to lose 6 kg more ( which means "Being 5 ft 9 inches, you look quite presentable after losing all that weight. So why do you want to put us all into a complex by seeking to lose some more ?")

I have a few things to say about losing weight at all :

I've realised in the last couple of years that health is wealth. If you're not well, you aren't in a position to enjoy the pleasure or comforts of life, even if you're stinking rich. You need to be physically and mentally at peace with yourself to appreciate life at all.

Exercise is not an option. It's a must. It's as important as eating or sleeping or recreation is to our well-being. Just as a door long shut will creak when you finally open it, your body will protest when after years of inertia of rest, you suddenly decide to explore its possibilities. Do you want to be self-sufficient in your old age ? Then you have to exercise.

Losing weight is not just about looking good. It's also about feeling good. If you exercise, your body is toned and conditioned and that shows in your face. Your circulation improves, you sleep better, your digestive system works optimally, your face has the glow that not even a Rs 500 worth cream can buy.

Losing weight means you can carry off any and every fashion with confidence and charisma. Even make up becomes superfluous when people stare at you with awe. After all, let's be honest. All we want at the end of the day is to stand out in a crowd. Try exercising for rapid results !

I love food. And yet, I've never found it a depressing challenge to lose weight. That's because I don't believe in starving my body or being unkind to it in any way. You need to understand the needs of your own body to help it fight the flab.

I'm lucky in that I'm partial by preference to most healthy 'diet foods' like salad, most vegetables (I hate potol or pointed gourd, though) and fruits, grilled and steamed dishes, soups and dairy products, and abhor the usual Bangali spicy and overfried stuff, I do have my own particular weakness for eggs, desserts, salad dressings and Indian Chinese. Naturally, that has to be taken into consideration when I am determined to lose weight. So I've researched and found out the ways in which I can cheat a little. It's fun :-)

To lose weight , you need to motivate yourself. Others can't help you if you're lazy and a glutton.

The book I recommend to all of you is Rujuta Diwekar's 'Don't Lose Your Mind, Lose Your Weight', published by Random House India, priced at Rs 199. She's the lady instrumental into leading Kareena into size zero mode. You'll find the necessary details in the book itself and it really makes for an interesting story. The book itself is an amazing read. It's lucid, layman-friendly and practical. It's transformed my thoughts on the subject of losing weight forever.

For those who aren't into reading anything as complicated as a book, I'll be here soon with another short (hopefully) article soon on the most important things to do or avoid. Till then, you'd better check out yourself on the scales ! ;-)

Just to show you that I'm not half as narcissistic as some of you may think, here are two of my own photos, gym-ad style ('before' and 'after') to show you the difference, especially since the first place where my excess weight shows up happens to be my face !

Me now :

Me then :

It was a pleasant surprise to read that Aamir Khan's thoughts run on lines similar to what Rujuta Diwekar's book suggests.

I can't help but be impressed.


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