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Kitaab ghar - Harry Potter I

I will start this review with a disclaimer.

It has not been forced upon me by anyone and is not a reaction to the comments made earlier on this blog.

HPI is basically a kids' fairy tale. I have been one of the infidels who saw the movie before they read the book and I must admit that the movie was not half as bad as I thought it would be. I enjoyed it to a large extent and would not mind watching the sequels too. But, and this is the critical bit, I enjoyed it not because of the text but because of the excellent depiction of the tale on screen. Right from the cast, to the background music and the graphics, everything was as close to perfection as it could be. And it was all of these that made the movie as good as it was, not the story.

I do not say this to take anything away from the story, to demean it in any way. Its just that the basic story itself is not new or unique in any way. Yes Piyu, great tales are not always new, but they always talk about things in a way that is unique. They show the same thing in a such a new light that our horizon of understanding widens.

Think of any such work. Sholay, my favorite movie, does not talk about anything that had not been talked about before. Friendship, romance, the village buffoon, the local bandit and the inevitable tragic tale, none of these had not been shown in countless movies before. However the skill and dexterity with which these were blended together and the assured depiction of the complex underplay among the characterisations was what elevated the movie from the good to the sublime.

The reason Mr. Sippy was unable to make another such masterpiece, though he came close with Shaan, was that he was unable to ever get his story to blend together in such a way that the end result is bigger than the sum of the parts. Shaan was an excellent movie in itself but it will never make it to top 100 Bollywood movies ever.

If you read Freedom at Midnight, it has hardly anything that is not known to a keen student of Indian History, and most of it is known to any Indian, but the way the narrative has been put together, the way the linkages between disparate events has been highlighted and the way stunning parallels have been drawn between things that didn't look related to each other make it a book for the ages.

Watch an episode of Buniyaad, and quite a few of you will blech at this mention, but it was superb depiction of the travails of a family racked by misfortune which was further rocked by the events of India's independence and partition.

Watch the legendary Calcutta Test match with Australia once again. India have been down and out before, they have clawed back before, very rarely but they have and they have won matches from difficult positions in other occasions. But in that one test, the whole team was just different. You could sense that the team was operating in a different zone. Everyone was focussed, determined and looked a part of a larger plan. It was so perfectly executed, I still can't believe it was not according to a script. Was it fixed, you think ?

Anyway, coming back to the topic at hand, Harry Potter I has a nice premise and it does provide some rather interesting variations from the commonly accepted norms to provide entertainment that is becoming more and more difficult to provide in these times of short attention spans and even shorter memories. I mean the only two things you could do at a railway station was either get onto a train or get off it. By introduction the patform between platform 9 and 10, JKR created an avenue that did not exist before and hence it was fun reading about it because of the novelty factor.

But novelty has one big curse that goes with it. Novelty demands constant innovation. The same platform in the woodwork that was so fun much to read about in the first book is routine business in the subsequent stories. Now we need another leap of faith. And JKR has not been able to rise to the occasion.

Harry is a likeable young lad. I like him. What I do not like is the constant flip-flop that JKR keeps making him do as she fancies. At one time he is this pitiable little creature who is unable to fend for himself and is miserable about it. At another, he is this evil devil who blows people up and makes them float in the air. First he acts all nice and cute with Hermione. Then midway through the book, he turns into this brash teenager who is not concerned with human emotions.JKR needs to sort this out and decide exactly what she wants Harry to be. This switching of skins makes him even less believable than he is anyway.

Pardon me for being a muggle, but the whole concept of magic and the ability to do magic revolves around being mischievous and having fun. By introducing structured processes around the same, we have lost the unpredictability. The two sides in any battle in any work of memorable fiction have always been evenly matched. JKR fails on that count too. Harry is a wizard and can do all kinds of nifty things while his poor uncle has no such powers and doesn't hold any direct authority over Harry and is not even the father of Harry's love interest, Hermione. Yet Harry is terrified of him even after realising his powers. That sounds ridiculous to me.

When I read a kid's book, I try to become a kid too. And my friends know it is not difficult for me to do, still being the comics and novels afficionado that I am. And it is the kid in me that kept shouting, this is not right, why is Harry so grown up and why does he have to think so much, why is he not impulsive and so on. And it is these questions that make the tale so "rigged" and "made up".

Excuse my atheist nature of disagreeing folks, but the book is just not truly a kid's book. It is a hopeless mish mash of kids bed time tales and teenage adventure stories and its success is not a measure of its brilliance but a rather alarming indicator of the sorry state of kids literature in the world today.

It is good, very good in some ways but it isnt great. Give me my regular fix of Noddy anyway.

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