Wednesday, April 26, 2006

The French Connection

I came to Asterix rather late in life – at about 15. (Amit’s on a shoot, so can’t get the dates for him!) For a year or so after that, all I did was look for more titles and read them with an appetite that only burgeoned as it was fed. I felt then that I’d found Asterix too late in life, having wasted so many good, Asterix-savouring years!

But perhaps it was just as well. I was old enough to sense the genius, to relish the amazing illustrations and to savour the puns. I was also old enough not to let the story distract me from the various strains of pure genius in the books – the art, the story-telling, and the translation.

I love the series because it’s irreverent (none of Tintin’s right-wing politics here) and intelligent (what a range of puns!). It has a lovely sense of being anti-establishment. But what really makes it tick in English is the brilliant translation. I read a French Asterix some years back and I know now what most readers sense – that creating the English versions must have been almost like writing the stories from scratch! Puns have been reinvented, and names have been changed, adding a whole new dimension to the characters.

Like the chief’s name in the original is ‘Abraracourcix’, which I read somewhere means with your fists at the ready, sort of cocked for a fight. Now that changes to ‘Vitalstatistix’ in English, setting off a whole paradigm change. To us the chief is an important man, but one who is also being ribbed for his girth – his statistics. His willingness to fight isn’t foregrounded here, though we do know that he is brave. To our minds, he is, above all, a fat, important guy! The gentle ridicule starts off here.

I love all of them but my favourites are:

Asterix and the Normans (especially that scene when Justforkix looks up and sees all these horrifying, blue-eyed Vikings staring down);
I love Obelix and Co. (unforgettable slimy management-type, with his lovely pidgin and his full-on, MBA-style condescension);
Mansions of the Gods is my fantasy-favourite – imagine a whole tract of forest being cleared for a gated township, and then being reforested magically overnight – sigh;
The Soothsayer I adore for its brilliantly cinematic illustrations – especially stunning is the scene where the soothsayer enters dramatically with thunderclaps in the background;
Another all-time hit is Corsica. I love it for its thrilling Mafiosi moments and the hilarious machismo of the men;
Britain, Switzerland and Cauldron are also well-loved because of the gorgeous layering of the text and the artwork (the ghastly, P G Wodehousian Brits, the sweet but obsessive Swedes, and the wily Chief Whosemoralsarelastix in the Cauldron!).
Cleopatrafor her nose, and Squareonthehypoteneuse, the architect!

RenĂ© Goscinny died early, at 51. That must have left Uderzo, his comrade-in-arms, with so much artistic energy, but no one to ideate with. So he’s been writing and drawing the books of late, and I must say – regretfully – that there’s a serious drop in the inventiveness of the stories. Which is an unbearably sad tribute to a brilliant writer…

Anthea Bell, one of the translators, has written a detailed article on the challenges of translating Asterix.

And for those of you who are interested, here are Bengali and Hindi versions!

Monday, April 10, 2006

Shanaani Chidiya

Here’s yet another Nayana post, with due apologies. Mea culpa. But there is a children’s literature slant to it, so please just stay with me!

Ok, Nayana is one of those kids who hates TV, and will not watch cartoons or music TV (unless it’s specifically the picturisation of a song she likes – say Kajara re, or Bulla). But she’s got hooked on to an old NCERT-Films Division film made for good ol’ DD called Ek aur Anek. Many of you probably remember the short from your own childhoods. It’s got an unforgettable song that goes: bela, gulab, juhi, champa, chameli / phool hai anek kintu mala sirf ek hai. And it combines the Nehruvian ideals of socialism and secularism, along with a lesson in grammar!

Despite its vintage – the ’70s – the film is lovely little gem. It’s got a great narrative, fantastic art, and shrill as the soundtrack is, it’s also very catchy. Nayana watches it open-mouthed. She loves the didi and the kids and the whole shebang. Till, that is, the hunter shows up, and then she lurches back in Amit’s hand, terrified of the maan (‘man’). You can hear her heart beat faster and she cringes, till the birds fly off to get their nets cut by friendly mice. Then she’s happy and when the song goes chatur chidiya, sayaani chidiya, she triumphantly warbles along, shanaani chidiya… and that’s where this post gets its title.

I think what’s charming about this film is its narrative quality, which is layered and yet so easy to understand. And it’s refreshingly innocent. Is that communicated to Nayana somehow? Obviously she doesn’t understand the dynamics at play in the narrative.

But listening to the song and watching the kids play together, I’m sure we could all – like her – sense the joy, the wisdom and the hope!

For those of you who have the time and the inclination and broadband, download the video and get the lyrics here.

Monday, April 03, 2006

Nayana hits the bottle!

Small poster paint bottles hold an immense fascination for Nayana. Wawa botil, she calls them. Being basically lazy, and a practical sort of mom, I let her play with the bottles, but didn’t let her discover what was inside them. Trust the impractical parent, the truly creative one, to help her do that! Before breakfast yesterday, Amit handed her a brush and they explored the insides of the luscious bottles.
This is her work, with her at the helm and on the brush. When we put it up, she frowned at it and then said imperiously, “Dimove!” which is herspeak for “Remove!”
Not quite pleased with her first efforts at an artwork? Hmm… I wonder who that reminds me of! (see post called On Working Together below).