Friday, March 8, 2013

Chinaman and Spiderman

The News on Sunday asked me to write very briefly about one favourite book and film in 2012. Here are my picks:

If you’ve never seen a cricket match; if you have and it has made you snore; if you can’t understand why anyone would watch, let alone obsess over this dull game, then this is the book for you. — Excerpt from Chinaman.

I first heard about Chinaman from a tweet by Mohammed Hanif, a befitting introduction, considering this is the funniest and most mould-breaking South-Asian novel I have read since Hanif’s own debut, ‘A Case of Exploding Mangoes’.
If you are a cricket fan (by which I don’t mean the kinds who crawl out of the brickwork before every Pakistan-India T20 match), this book will thrill you with its humorous references to the game’s legends and unknowns, commentators and controversies. The elderly narrator and his best friend come to blows over whether Muralitharan chucks, cricket games ‘overlap like stories’ in a Sri Lankan park, euphoria lifts a divided nation upon a world cup triumph. But even if you aren’t a huge cricket fan, Karunatilaka’s irreverent insights into life as it is lived every day, full of disappointments and little heartbreaks and the small ways in which we fail ourselves and others around us, is a profound and imminently readable treat.  
Like any good piece of fiction this one too is essentially about life, which in this case also happens to be cricket.


I am not a prolific movie watcher partially because I only like watching my movies in the cinema. Since Pakistani cinemas are partial to big budget thrillers, I rarely catch a Hollywood film in genres I would prefer.
Having never seen or read anything Spiderman, I tagged along with a friend to watch ‘The Amazing Spiderman’, and was very pleasantly surprised. It didn’t garner as much media hype as other superhero films this year like ‘The Dark Knight Rises’ or ‘The Avengers’, and more knowledgeable friends tell me it wasn’t the best Spiderman movie either. But I loved Andrew Garfield’s reticently sexy Peter Parker — a more desirable 21st century incarnation of the nerd, as well as the surprisingly leisurely pace of this superhero movie.
Relying less on CGI effects and more on the sensitive high-school hero, who is just beginning to discover his powers, ‘The Amazing Spiderman’ resonated with me in several ways. I enjoyed how the movie used the superhero mask sparingly to help the audience relate more directly to the character, reflected best in the climactic moment where the hero removes his mask to help rescue a frightened child from a car perched fatally on the edge of a bridge. Emma Stone as Gwen Stacey, a capable science student, who is Parker’s intellectual equal, also added a great touch to the movie. It is sad that it turned out to be the lowest grossing Spiderman movie ever.

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