How Far Would You Go for Freedom? – ‘Persepolis’ – A Review

Marjane Satrapi‘s Persepolis has been a movie I’ve been aching to watch for a while now. And the wait was totally worth it. A series of deliciously illustrated flashbacks, Persepolis navigates through the journey of a young rebellious girl in the Shah’s Iran and during the anarchic Muslim rule in the ’80s and ’90s with such feeling that you are left contemplating the role of politics and society in your own life. 

Persepolis

Marji’s story is a simple one but, with so many ups and downs that one is left marveling at the grit and determination shown by citizens in a war torn and oppressed nation. Iran‘s tumultuous political and religious fundamentalism made it hard for people to breathe freely, let alone express themselves in the smallest possible ways. Yet, people found it within themselves to hope for a better future, a free life that would be, if not their own, their kids’ one day.

A family of blue bloods, a legacy of a martyred uncle and an openness and forwardness of mind, ideals and ethics sets the Satrapis miles apart from the cowed down milieu. Their fight with the Islamic fundamentalists’ brutal crackdown on “western” practices such as alcohol consumption, listening to music, applying make-up – basically anything that gives the user any modicum of enjoyment – is shown in a quirky yet hard hitting manner. The forward thinking ideals of the Satrapis and the viewpoint of the narrative don’t make one feel disconnected from the ordinary citizen rather, it gives one the distance required to see the situation for what it really was.

Punk is Not DedMarji’s parents are liberal and liberated. Her mother’s character is actually such a strong and poignant one, the refreshing feminism is a delight to connect with. If possible, the protagonist’s grandmother, a powerful woman in her time, no doubt, is even more progressive a character. From telling the story of her a divorce in the ’50s as she casually lights a meerschaum to ordering her granddaughter to take off her headscarf because it’s claustrophobic, Marji’s grandma’s character is undoubtedly a fine, strong, opinionated and powerful woman and it would truly have been a pleasure to have spent some time with the real life inspiration.

Marji’s journey as a young girl with forward thinking ideas gets her into tiffs with officials and her counterparts until finally her parents decide it’s best for her to live abroad and she’s packed off to Vienna. Her life there is better, her experiences varied. However, the underlying guilt of leaving a war torn country while she relishes sachertorte gnaws at her. Ironically, it isn’t patriotism or sentiment towards her fellow countrymen that drives Marji home, it’s heartbreak.

Marjane Satrapi

Marji’s journey is laden with so many facets of existence – war, religious fundamentalism, political strife and a search for the feminine pursuit but, mostly it’s a story of a little girl trying to find herself. Persepolis is a tale of freedom, feminism and just following one’s heart no matter what. Because, as Marji says when she leaves Iran, “Freedom has a price”, and it’s better one gets its worth.

The movie is a visual opiate and the illustrations are tasteful and evocative in a manner rarely seen and the  background score is a wonderful companion throughout the movie; the floating jasmine blooms indicative of interludes are a personal favorite – as is the story behind them. A delight for liberals, feminists, illustration fans and film lovers, Persepolis is a must watch!

On ‘Losing My Virginity and Other Dumb Ideas’

Not one to typically indulge in mindless chick-lit, especially works authored by desis, I picked up ‘Losing My Virginity and other Dumb Ideas‘ primarily because the title intrigued me. As I read the jacket blurb followed by the first two pages of Madhuri Banerjee’s debut novel, I found myself wanting to read on. Not because the story was particularly gripping (it wasn’t) but, because there was a certain simplicity with which the story was narrated.

The novel is centered around thirty year old Kaveri, a single, educated working woman in Mumbai. She is well established in terms of career but, her life revolves around the massive “problem” that she’s a virgin and she wants to rid herself of this humongous albatross hanging around her neck. A stereotypical hot-Bollywood-industry best bud sets her up with potential “devirginizers” and doles out gyaan on love, lust and men while the protagonist does little but judge her friend’s character and errant ways while placing herself on a pedestal.

However, our heroine finds her “One Great Love” in the form of a hunky “Greek God” (actual description in book)  in Goa and a whirlwind romance begins with the deflowering of romantic Kaveri. In case you’re wondering just how romantic this encounter was, here’s an excerpt:

“The rain seeped through my light shimmer shirt and I saw him noticing my breasts… We had a soul connection.”

The twist in the tale comes in the form of a Missus Greek God and Kaveri’s ability to delusion herself into becoming the ‘other woman’ in our Greek God‘s life. Kaveri does what any hopeless romantic would do, she molds herself completely in order to become Greek God‘s spare muse and repeatedly ignores her savvy Bollywood friend’s pleas to look at the situation with objectivity.

Many a broken dates, fights, make-up sexual encounters, lost assignments and a ‘Rakhi ka Swayamvar‘ inspired reality show later, our heroine has an epiphany wherein she sheds her inhibitions and, gets off the path of immaturity, so to say. (Oh, and there’s also a psychic in the mix, somewhere.)

Banerjee’s writing is cheesy, to put it bluntly. She can’t really write very well either, as is obvious from the colloquial prose and appalling grammar but, her writing has an iota of honest emotion that tides her laborious story through. Furthermore, the editing is quite off – there seems to be a disconnect in the formatting of chapters and attention to detail is non-existent.

However, Banerjee’s protagonist’s reflections and brutal honesty about her own flaws is what gives the book its unique flavor and soul to the work. Kaveri’s saving grace is her willingness to acknowledge her mistakes and forgive herself for them. ‘Losing My Virginity and Other Dumb Ideas‘ is a lot of things but, it is not a good book in the literary sense. It is, however, an honest reflection of how messy life is.