The Importance Of Being Unpopular
We appear to live in a universe where social media feeds dictate cultural opinions and trends before we can even begin to decide for ourselves. So it’s refreshing to come across people who choose to stand out from the crowd, following their gut instead of the herd. Verve gets four creative professionals to pen notes on their ‘unpopular’ opinions, as they introduce us to an obscure series of detective novels, a counter-intuitive fashion statement and an unexpected take on the art and commerce of cinema
Saaksha Bhat and Kinnari Kamat
We know print-on-print is a concept that people say has been overdone, but our signature vibe has always been strong and bold. We do not shy away from prints, but celebrate them, making them the hero of our garments. This season, for example, we have designed a micro pleated skirt and a sleeveless shirt in the same print. The pattern has also been repeated on a shrug and we have paired the three garments together. To many, this would be overkill — too distracting and risky. But for us, more is more when it comes to using prints and it’s a risk worth taking!
In fact, we also often incorporate three different prints in the same ensemble. We’ve mixed stripes with bandhani and leheriya to create a visually interesting representation of Gujarat. People may be too afraid to try it, since getting something like this wrong could have comical results, but we feel that if you attempt to dress in a single print from head-to-toe or even combine contrasting ones the right way, you can create that little bit of magic we all crave.
In essence, prints are like our personalities — they are beautiful contradictions and should be celebrated. Society dictates that to be taken seriously, you must dress in sombre, solid tones and the more colourful and printed you go, the crazier you are perceived to be. Who made these absurd rules? This style statement can be classic and timeless, transitioning well from day-to-night — just like a monochrome suit. If you do it right, you can create a beautiful and empowering ensemble that is so unique, you won’t need to worry about accessorising!
Saaksha and Kinnari are founders of the three-year-old fashion label Saaksha & Kinni, through which they create boho-luxe ensembles that also represent local Indian heritage.
You hear a lot about learning the craft of writing through literary novels — understanding voice, perspective, how to hold a story and how literary devices work. Like most aspiring writers, I started reading young, eager to understand how a novel ticked. Yet the books that had the most impact on me were not literary novels at all, but Cold War spy thrillers. Eighteen years on, I can say they’ve taught me the best lessons about the craft that I know.
Not many of you would have heard of the Quiller series. Published from 1965 onwards, the Quiller series has essentially fallen out of collective memory. Once grouped with Le Carré’s George Smiley and Fleming’s James Bond, Quiller is a more elusive figure — you know almost nothing about his history or why he makes his choices. Created by Adam Hall (one of the many pseudonyms of Elleston Trevor), these novels are not like the spy stories we know today. There are no grand explosions; a lot of the plot is delightfully dated; and most of the technology is basic and archaic — indeed, almost non-existent. In fact, Quiller’s defining feature is that he doesn’t carry a gun.
“If a man has to carry a gun, it means he’s got no better resources. A gun can be more dangerous to you than the other man, if you carry one. […] Better to use your brain because your brain won’t stop working for you until you’re dead.”
The result is a series of novels that exude personality. I first read these books as a teenager and was blown away by what voice could do in a story. Because Quiller is elusive and because we know so little about his background, his personality is constructed by voice: how he looks at something, what he thinks, the rhythm of the sentences that he thinks in. Short, long, abrupt, word play — with each mixed and matched combination, the man behind the thought process, behind the action, begins to peek through. It’s a style that lets you, as the reader, do all the work, and yet is so carefully constructed that it is a lot of gain for very little work.
Because Hall doesn’t use gadgets or grand explosions, most of the fight sequences are close combat — Quiller running from someone before he is forced to confront the enemy. Hall uses literary devices to stunning effect here: twisting and changing points of view, more laboured sentences as Quiller runs out of breath, incomplete paragraphs, observations that seem irrelevant and then punch you in the gut later on. It’s a master at work.
I cannot explain the place those books hold in my heart. All my early exercises in writing — character sketches, short stories, moment pieces — were based on Quiller. To date, it’s one of the best examples I have of an idea moving through an entire novel: suffusing into voice, character, plot and shape, all parts working in harmony. It’s alive.
Tashan Mehta is a writer based in Mumbai. Her debut novel, The Liar’s Weave, was published by Juggernaut Books in 2017. Her education at the Universities of Warwick and Cambridge taught her to play with language, and gave her an abiding love for tea.
Actor and Writer
We can all agree that we fit into different categories when it comes to art, right? The kind of films I write are large, big-budget films, while the films that I act in are not-so-big-budget films. People always wonder how I find the conviction to do both commercial and art cinema. But why can’t we choose
to love both?
My purpose has always been to find a balance. If I ever had to choose, however, I’d pick something that the masses like, and not the artistes. Which is why a lot of films that are deemed big successes on Twitter have no box office returns, and big box office hits get a lot of hate online! A middle ground would be fantastic — like we saw this year with Stree and Andhadhun.
I think ‘art’ is such a bastardised word. I hate words like ‘art’ and ‘creativity’. Storytelling is meant to comfort the disturbed and disturb the comfortable — it’s an old cliche but I really like it, and that’s essentially the focus of my work. Why doesn’t tragedy usually sell? Because poeticising tragedy is a rich man’s art. The harder working lower middle class lives with a lot of hardship. So, don’t show them the problems in their villages and say, ‘Look, we made art from your sorrow’. It’s okay to sometimes make something aspirational even if it’s tragic, like Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s cinema. That tragedy is so beautiful, it touches your heart.
I do love to make real cinema. I have, in fact, written films that are really intense, but I also feel that there’s a need for escapism in cinema. I think that people from either end of the spectrum — many of whom don’t want to or like to do both — often have disdain for the other. The commercial film-makers say, ‘Your films don’t sell anyway’, and the art people say, ‘He is a sell-out’. But in order to be a sell-out, you’ve got to have something worth selling. Somebody’s got to want what I have, for me to be a sell-out. And to be able to reach that place is hard work. So, it’s unfair when people from art cinema blame commercial cinema and the other way around. I think both are the same. When you sit in the theatre and watch The Lunchbox (2013), your comfortable seat is maintained by the money from Dhoom 2 (2006).
Ultimately, I think neither form of cinema is superior. Both have a responsibility. We are not solving epidemics. We are not preventing floods. So, this confused nobility that we’ve attached to cinema — we’ve got to chill out. If at all, I’d say there’s nobility in the big budget films because 200 people get their food, and their families are happy. And the ‘art film’ people — their cheques don’t come. From a humanitarian level, my opinion is make whatever kind of cinema you want to make. Drop the entitlement!
Hussain Dalal is a Mumbai-based actor and writer who has written the screenplay and dialogues for several Hindi films including Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani (2013), 2 States (2014) and Karwaan (2018).