Daily Archives: November 13, 2010

Book launch: Samit Basu’s ‘Turbulence’

It isn’t often that a book launch begins with a dramatic audio-visual presentation. Especially one that looks like a promo for a summer Hollywood blockbuster film. But then, not every novel has 17 superheroes fighting to save the world…

In spite of a delayed start, the launch of ‘Turbulence’, fantasy fiction writer Samit Basu’s ‘breakaway’ mainstream novel (his quirky version of one, anyway) at Landmark ended up being quite as lively as the book itself.

The event had Basu in conversation with author, poet and dancer Tishani Doshi, and it was refreshingly laidback, with both writers joking around (you know any conversation that begins with mildly off-colour references to the anthology of Indian erotica they both wrote for isn’t going to take itself too seriously).

That isn’t to say the packed audience didn’t get a feel for the book; both readings from the book brought to life Basu’s comic turn of phrase, and had the listeners chuckling more than once. And the chat that followed was full of information about random old superheroes (“Arm Tear Off Boy”, anybody?) that would make any geek giddy with happiness.

“After seven years of writing fantasy fiction, I decided to do the sort of novel Indian writers are supposed to, dealing with the realities of contemporary India and the questions 20 and 30-year-olds ask themselves,” says Basu, who became one of India’s youngest published authors when he came out with the first part of his GameWorld trilogy at the age of 23.

Somehow, though, his ‘big crossover book’ turned into a superhero novel, even as it covered a host of urban Indian issues – the media, politics, and terrorism, Bollywood, cricket and other ‘popular Wiki subjects’. “I realised our world is far more bizarre than any fantasy universe,” says the author, who’s also done comics, screenplays and a graphic novel. “I kept turning up the volume on the characters so they won’t be lost in the middle of it all, and in spite of myself, ended up with a superhero novel.”

‘Turbulence’ tells the story of a group of people who step off BA flight 142 from London to Delhi and find they’ve all gotten superpowers – and this is the cool part – linked to their innermost desires. A wannabe Bollywood star can now make anyone love her; an overworked mom can split herself into multiple copies; an Air Force officer can fly, and then there’s the guy who can control the weather with his stomach…

“I’m sure every superpower in this book has been done before by some insane comic book writer in 1940s America,” he says. “But I’ve done away with costumes (the good ones are all taken anyway), sidekicks and origin stories (gamma rays, radioactive spiders, etc.); I wanted this to be about a group of people dealing with real life situations.”

Except for the fact that they have superpowers, that is. Not surprisingly, the rest of Basu’s free-wheeling chat with Doshi and the audience was superhero-themed, from the sad state of Indian superheroes (“Shaktimaan? I mean, come on…”) to what superpowers he’d like, personally (“Not invisibility – I don’t think I’d use it for good.”).

And, of course, everyone wanted to know – what about a sequel? “I actually have it all planned out in my head, but I’m tired of writing series. Maybe I’ll do something completely different instead,” he says. Sounds like a plan.

DIVYA KUMAR

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Movie Review: Legend of the Guardians – The Owls of Ga’Hoole

‘Legend of the Guardians’ is animated by the same studio that did the delightful ‘Happy Feet’, and boy, have they done it again.

Visually, this film is just a wonderful treat. Owls are naturally appealing creatures, what with those big ol’ wise eyes and the soft feathers (think Hedwig in Harry Potter), and this movie capitalises on that charm. ‘Legend…’ is filled with lovely close-ups of the huge, golden eyes of the owlets (the little babies are especially adorable) and of softly rustling white and gold or rust-coloured feathers. This movie also makes optimal use of 3D technology, beautifully capturing the smooth, swooping flight of the birds, and literally taking us along for the ride as they fly through deep canyons and blinding storms.

Now for the bad news – the storyline. Well, it’s not bad, exactly; it’s just that we’ve seen this one so many times, and done far better as well (think Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, Narnia, etc.). There’s the evil army, lead by the scarred villain (the Pure Ones and Metalbeak respectively), and its rather convoluted plan to rule owl-kind that never quite makes sense (it involves regurgitated owl pellets. Honest). There’s the avenging Guardians of Ga’Hoole, lead by the white-as-snow good guys (quite literally – the leaders are snowy owls). There’s the pure-hearted young ‘un (Soren the barn owl) who leads the way to victory along with his motley crew of friends. And of course, there’s the final battle of good vs. evil (no prizes for guessing who wins).

At one point, you feel like rolling your eyes at the inevitably of it all. But then the movie, based on the ‘Guardian of Ga’Hoole’ books by Kathryn Lasky, manages to suck you in anyway. The credit goes in large part to its darkly brooding atmosphere, especially in the first half, and its gorgeous sceneries, whether it’s the menacing, fog-ridden forest Soren and his brother are kidnapped in by the Pure Ones, or the magical, lantern-lit Great Tree of the Island of Ga’Hoole.

The colourful side characters do their bit in providing comic relief, such as Digger, the goofy burrowing owl (who supplies the requisite ‘hoo’ jokes), Twilight, the lute-playing, poetry-spouting great grey owl, and Ezylryb, the wise but eccentric fighter screech owl.
This may not be particularly original or ground-breaking storytelling, but it’s certainly an appealing bit of entertainment. Go see it for the owlets.

Genre: Fantasy / Adventure
Director: Zack Snyder
Cast: Geoffrey Rush, Hugo Weaving, Helen Mirren, Sam Neill, Jim Sturgess.
Storyline: Soren, a young Barn owl is kidnapped by an evil owl army and escapes to try and find the legendary Guardians of Ga’Hoole to save owl-kind.
Bottomline: So visually delightful that the been-there seen-that storyline doesn’t matter.

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