Monday, September 28, 2009

Pray for me Brother- India's reflection

India. The country. The landscape. When my parents first called me asking whether I had any desire accompanying them in the pilgrimage they are about to make, I hesitated big time. My stomach lurched because I knew deep inside that I’m not going to see the India that I want to see. I’m not going to see Chennai, Bangalore, Hyderabad, Mumbai, or Delhi. Neither was I going to Kodaikkanal, Ooty, Goa, or Kerala. I did not see the India that tourists would like to see. I did not see Sathyam Theaters, or Spencer Plazas, or the hustling streets of Bangalore, the IT Parks, nor the Taj Hotel.

What I saw was quite the opposite- and I knew I this is what I can expect when I somehow, for a reason unknown to myself (because I wasn’t very eager to make the pilgrimage myself), I said ‘yes, I would come’. When I first landed back in Malaysia, I knew my friends are going to hoard me with numerous questions about how the country was. But I do not have words that they would like to hear about the country- I do not have niceties to deliver for them. I only ever have two words- overwhelming, and disturbing. I am 21 years old, and I perhaps have seen everything that the world has had to offer. I have seen the pinnacle of development, living in the centre of KL, and now, I have seen the possibly the ugly face of poverty- one experience that would leave any person shaken to its core, unless, that is, you are ignorant (or brave) enough to turn a blind eye and pretend you are walking on a perfectly fine road.

I travelled through the terrains along the National Highway, crossing state borders, watched elderly women limp in desperation while trying to avoid a high speed van from ramming into them, watched women and children walking in a seemingly endless and fruitless road carrying logs upon their thin, calcium-deprived shoulders in faint hope that the end of the road will provide a ray of light. I watched severely disabled people, and for once, was led to think- what’s the point of going on? What are they hoping for? I was never surrounded with so much pessimism. Carrying their children and begging with a statement that they do not have enough to even feed the child. Beggars are like milestone tombs, you see them at every corner that has even a remote landmark in a certain street. For once I was there, starring at a problem, and unable to think of a solution. How actually do you solve it? I could take a whip at politics at the tip of a finger (which is exactly what my mom did), but I knew that would do gross injustice to those whom our concern is directed at, and to those who our wrath is directed that.

I have long argued that our system is rubbish, the system of living that the society has created and enslaved its own self to, there is something so wrong about it- the system that emphasized on tall buildings, intense developments, public relations (you do not know whats genuine and whos being honest anymore), compromised values (there is no absolute truth or absolute lie anymore), conspiracy theories (there’s always something to fear about, walk out of your house with the fear you will get bombed, killed randomly, something would collapse and kill you, the train you are on will crash and kill you, be cautious, be cautious, don’t take risks, ever, and of course for the past few years, the world has met its doom time and again and somehow continued berthing us on its soil without us even realizing the jerk it made while going through the whole hassle of exploding, or being completely covered by a disaster, and then recovering itself). And if you have seen what I have seen- then you are bound to ask- where are we heading to? At what cost does success knock your door- humanity? When I was sitting at a bus station in some rural bus stop in Andhra Pradesh, I saw a girl (a fairly poor one by the looks, lower middle class I suppose), of around 10 years old sitting and isolating herself behind a couple of elderly citizens in one of the benches, with tears emanating from her eyes; she was trying ever so hard to fight them off. She shot a couple of wandering looks around the station, and then resigned back to being a subdued figure on the bench. I knew that look. It was the look which asks- where the hell is my mother/father? She was holding a small parchment of money in her hands, it became ever so obvious that she was asked to wait there. And she has waited for an awfully long time. At one side, I felt furious at whoever she is waiting for, leaving a girl of that age all alone in a bus station that even scares me by how it looks is not the act of any responsible parent. And as she continued that horrible routine of waiting while her heart just wants to whither and cry aloud, shouting for where her caretakers are; a conflicting cross over between acting like a baby and a grown up girl, munching her fear and consoling herself, I discontinued listening to my iPod; it just didn’t feel right anymore. I was standing a small distance away from her, relinquished my seat, and simply followed her act- my eyes wandered to where her eyes wandered- I looked at an approaching adult and asked- could this be her mom or her dad? And as that process continued, I found myself yearn for her parents probably just as much as she does. I imagined me losing my parents and stranded alone in a faraway bus station where people sleep on floors smelling of expired pee, as if it’s a fluorescent sprayed cushion. I knew that same tears were dwelling in my eyes. A few minutes later (which I was distracted as my mom surveyed for the right bus we have to get on), I looked back and found her talking to a woman nearby. There was relief in her face. And the smile which came out of my face was so blatant that anyone who saw it would have thought that I was a loony. But I couldn’t care less. That humanity in myself is still there, it’s still a child’s humanity, uncorrupted, uncompromised, untainted- it did not grow into an adult and I never want it to be an adult. And I told myself- the next time I come across such a scene in my life, I shall be in a position where I could comfortably denounce my insecurities behind and offer a hand to help, or probably give an ear to listen. This time sadly, I was just as hapless as she was during the wait, so I allowed myself to feel the same agony she is going through. It makes you cherish smiles, pleasures and moment of painless living even more.

What desperation might have driven the parent to abandon her young daughter in a place like this? Again we retort to the basic question- system. All these are the scraps that the unmerciful development is leaving behind- scraps that pursuit for luxury and comfort is leaving behind. It’s just plain war, isn’t it? As the old adage goes, in war there will be casualties. And this war, here are the vast amount of people who are becoming casualties. But my questions is- whose war is this? We can clearly see the casualties, but who is fighting who? Who are the winners and the losers? What will the winners get? What will losers get? It is about time these questions are given serious thoughts. But somehow many of us know its quite too late to change much- as I said, we had become slaves to the routines we alone invented, to the systems we alone invented; we have made negligence and turning a blind eye part of adulthood, we have made lying and cheating a part of maturity, we have made being stone-hearted a quality for success.

Then I remembered one of my favorite songs of all-time, and the message of it made complete sense- Pray for me Brother. AR Rahman’s composition about eradication of poverty probably has the best view on what we could and should do to help the needy- Appreciate the life you’ve got.

He (the poor man) is searching for a reason to stay alive;

Are you searching for a reason to be kind?

That’s the hypocrite in all of us. Many of us do just that, we search for a reason to be kind, while that poor man across the street searches for a reason to just stay alive. You see them closely and you wonder, whats the point of going on- when you are living in the scraps, when you are considered a filth, when people don’t want to look at you because either they consider you to be an irritation or just because you are not an image they don’t want to stick up in their minds? Is there any point at all in going on?

And think, how many of us, despite all the comforts that life provides to us- us with hands to write, legs to walk, eyes to see, money to travel, wisdom to analyze, clean clothes to wear, how many of us think life is cruel when faced with a hardship? We sit and complain as if we are the worst treated beings on earth- ignoring that poor man. And many of us just cease to go on- we do have an alarming suicide rate. If that man who has nothing but possibly a small parchment of hope could muster the courage to stay alive, why can’t we at least do that, and give life the value it deserves?

I’m ashamed ah, be brother dying of poverty,

When he’s down on his knees only then he prays.

How many of us only pray when we are down on our knees? That’s us hypocrites. In joy, there’s hardly any space for a prayer, but when there is a hardship, a desire to be fulfilled, something you need God to open up ways for us, we’d pray profusely. But that poor man across the street, treats even 20 rupees of earning as a blessing. Yes, these people do still have faith in God, and instead of moaning and complaining, they say thank you for the smallest of rewards. How many of us say thank you for being given a bed to sleep, proper food to eat, a proper house to live, a proper car to drive? How many of us say thank you for being bestowed with this life?

Many of us struggle to wear even a smile in our lives. We think the rest of the world is corrupted and we walk around, getting frustrated and irritated at the smallest of imperfections- we frown at other people, we throw insults at people whom we think are intruding a space that we alone deserve. We world is no private space, its everybody’s space. And wear a smile on that face of yours, because these poverty-stricken individuals, with almost no reason do smile- do exactly that. They walk barefooted carrying logs and rubbish for miles, yet they smile, converse happily when they meet another poor person- the kind of conversations we have while we are sitting in classy restaurants with our friends.

I’m not saying we should abandon our comforts to understand their struggle, but appreciate the presence of their struggle and improve the quality of your life. Wear a smile and acknowledge you do have a reason to be grateful, if you are being bestowed with all happiness and don’t find a reason to say a prayer, say a prayer for those who are in need.

Could you ever listen, could you ever care

To speak your mind?

Stop turning a blind eye on everything that matters- thinking that somebody will take care of it. Everybody thinks somebody will do something about it, but in the end nobody did what anybody could do. Be that somebody, don’t be a nobody- by being a nobody, we are only wasting away the life we have, reducing its value, its impact; make life worth living- there’s no bigger crime in my eyes that a failure to appreciate life- that is what possibly every religion has fiercely highlighted.

The joy is around us,

But show me the love that we must find.

The joy is indeed around us. We just fail to find it. Little do we know that every small action we take will gradually have its consequences. You release a negative energy within a crowd of people because it’s a bad day-but actually it’s a bad day because of the negative evergy that you are allowing yourself to give. It takes 54 muscles to frown, and only 14 to smile, why spend so much effort in making this world a worse place to be in? A smile, trust me, can make a whole lot of difference. It gives more hope to those in need.

Don’t let me take, when you don’t wanna give

Don’t be afraid, just let me live

Don’t give if you don’t have the intention of giving. If you want to give, give with your hearts open, let them take ot from you with a cheer. You are not helping a filth on your street, but you are helping a brother, a fellow human being. Always remember that. Many of us are afraid to give. Giving has become a crime. ‘Don’t give, it’s not gonna make any difference’, ‘don’t give they will just cheat’. Who, then, will make a difference? It’s a tiny particle of your attempt to make a difference which will slowly accumulate to make a bigger difference.

Try giving with a smile, and notice that you will sleep with more nourishment than you have ever slept. Walk ignorantly, you are bound to be ignored by another person at some other time. What’s the problem if others don’t give? You make the difference and you be happy about it- because you are different from others. And being different is no crime. What’s the problem if others don’t smile back at you? You smile, you will only leave the other person feeling ashamed for failing to smile back. The guilt exists in all of us, it’s just that have enslaves ourselves to pretending and thinking we are a higher being than those on the street. No, we are not. In fact, they understand life’s value better than we do. I’d rather stay humble and say they are greater beings, because they just live- they are not dominated by worldly pursuits which posseses us to a manic level, they know how to make the smallest amount of money count.

Cos life is a blessing,

It’s not just a show.

Acknowledge that blessing. The word needs it. Every change in this world starts with self-transformation.

And I’ll pray for that brother and that sister.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

The Observer- Episode 7

The Blood Brothers

We sat one cozy night outside of that small house in a small village in the small yet vast, empty spaces of road stretching up to a place called Bagan Datoh. We looked at each other, and shared a cordial smile. Because we knew these moments are hard to come by. For all of us to be at the same place at one given time was a big ask. And that too we were there, at that same house where we had all the times of our childhood, the house that stockpiles all the good memories of childhood that all four of us have. The 'we' were four of us. The four who grew up together. The macho tall guy, the glass man, the VIP doctor, and me, Jones.

All of us are busy chasing life-fed aspirations now, busy seeding the plant so that it could grow tomorrow, busy finding our calling card and making it big in life. But these are those rare rare moments when you just dump all those aspirations to a temporary recycle bin, you just want to stand still and fully immerse in a given moment.

And here in this space, I try to recollect the best of memories we have shared since our childhood.


Glass Man is the prominent hero among the countless number of 'accidents' or simple nutty mishaps that have happened when we were small. That's why he is a glass man, because he has developed a constant ability to run into mishaps since a kid. I can't possibly remember a person who had taken more physical bruises and falls than he has. And you could tell them all with a big smile stretched on your face, because they were just that- funny. Once he dropped a coin in a stand fan which is on and running at full speed and was utterly confident that he would be able to retain it without turning the fan off. 'Don't be crazy, will you?'- I said. But he was just that. He tried anyways. And next thing you knew, he was reeling down the stairs calling out for his mom with two of his fingers drenched in hardcore red liquid. Probably even his mom has got used to all of that.

He and doctor were on a bike once, touring around that sandy, rocky road within the village- and glass man was convinced he knew a new trick that would make him seem cool on a bike. On a corner full of rocks, he set to do a skid turn with his father's motorbike with the doctor sitting behind. 'Hey, hey, look. I can do this'- he said. Next thing you knew, both of them went screeching down, tumbling and laying flat on the ground. A great stunt was just performed. Classic. And yet would stand up, arm drenched in red liquid which so often likes to emanate from his body; and say- don't tell anybody. We didn't tell anybody of course, but the red liquid called blood on the entire arm and on the elbow told the story. Enough was said.

Glass Man didn't change much. He lives up to his reputation every now and then. After not meeting for full two years, we met again at the village house, and he added another mishap memory that will be hard to diminish. 'Still getting yourself into trouble often?' I asked; and he took his ball and start juggling the ball to show off his skills to me. 'No, not that much'- he said. 'Play farther a bit, be careful, you might break the window'- his mom shouted. He nodded in approval, extremely confident that there's no room to mishap. Five seconds later, an attempted volley went wrong later, the ball smashed two windows into pieces. It was less than a minute after his mom has heeded out the morning. 'Didn't I just tell you??' she shouted. And I didn't stop giggling in laughter for sometime. I laughed so hard I cried.

And few weeks ago when we had our latest meeting- and saw him with an arm's length in dried blood, resulting from motorbike fall-down incident (again) two weeks prior to that. That's why he is the glass man.


Well, what is teenagehood without brawls and fights. Between us, the distance that occured came somewhat naturally, Mr. Macho has always been a tad distant from the rest of us- the three of us were pretty tightly knit together so to speak. First came somewhere in early 2002, when Glass Man decided to switch loyalties from being a Manchester United to being a Liverpool fan. And it was me who took offense of that situation, blasting and reeling him off continously for consecutive days because of that. We hardly spoke. Until he did the Houdini act with the fan.

The next was lame to say the best. It was me and Doctor this time. It was at my old house in Manjung, which was located so strategically behind the Manjung Bus Station. Strategic not actually because of that, but rather because we had an entire green field for ourselves. It wasn't a playground, it was indeed a field with short grass, perfectly ideal to play football without even being bothered by anyone else. Those were the great footballing days. We'd look forward almost everyday for the time to tick so that we could stroll out of the house and just play football, play our hearts out. And one fateful day, he bodychecked me on the way to scoring a goal- and I perceived it to be grossly unfair. The consequences of that little argument we had in that field is something no-one could have ever imagined. He packed his bags and left the following day itself, and the distance we created between us lasted a good two years. Today we look back and we could only find one word in the vocab to describe that fight and the consequences of it- stupid.


We wrestled in that old wooden house, jumping on beds and automatically switching off and pretending to be just sleeping when the elders came in checking out what has been making all the noises- we were like corrupted politicians, everyone knew what were we doing, yet couldn't catch us because of a lack of evidence. We tried to camp outside the house, pretending to be soldiers.

We often set up challenges on whether we could stay up all night, smacking in glasses of coffees in a bid to stay awake till the morning, only to collapse on the bed once the sun showed up in the morning. We made almost any available space as a footballing field, the front of my previous houses, and even study tables. Anything was good enough to be a football, even a pin pong ball and tennis ball were all used. No wonder we are nuts about the sport. Anything was on for us, such was our enthusiasm. Anything was a challenge- who could run faster, who could win in a game of chess, who could win in scrabble, everything mattered. We would collapse a small stool and leave it hanging on the gate, so that we could play basketball, by using a football that is.

If we were in a car travelling, we would count the amount of cars that overtook us and the amount of cars we overtook (of course the driver was one of the uncles as always), sometimes these counting becomes so insanely important that on some trips, the person on the wheel really took our spurring on seriously and was intent to get good overtaking numbers. Passion was everywhere, young minds which were constantly searching for anything that could spur passion in mundane daily routines. And today looking back and all that childhood adventures- I realize the greatest gifts in life is indeed that zeal, that undying passion, that undying willingness to run a risk, even though later on we do get hurt by comitting them, they never really hurt, when the price we pay for all of that are these precious memories.

And they are not a distant away either.

The same cozy night, all three of us went together to watch football. Glass Man's favorite team played. Then my favorite team played. And right after, Doctor's favorite team played. And we just enjoyed the fact that we had a marathon which fulfilled the zeal for each of us.

And when we were all pretty adamant and eager to get together for a game of football a week later, I knew very few had changed. We have it inside us to re-kindle the child, the passion, the endless notoriety and risk-taker for each other. If I find it hard to re-kindle them ever, I know that they would be able to bring me back that lost edge of childish passion.

Whether it's in eating an ice cream and just talking a walk or getting lost in middle of KL and walking aimlessly; or even buying a PC from Low Yat Plaza and carrying it all the way home to Shah Alam in a motorbike- the best things that makes you say 'this is life' without a negative undertone, without a tone of resignation, but rather with a positive outlook, with a serene satisfaction- these best things don't come in grand packages.

Life's greatest pleasure does indeed lie in its smallest details. And that, I will never forget.

Ram Anand.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Blue Music Review- AR RAHMAN IS BACK!

Whether expectations from the media are high or not, it doesn't bother me, what I do know is that I'm just glad that finally there is an AR Rahman album to cherish after nine months in 2009, a year where really good music was so hard to come by. 'Delhi 6' was brilliant, and I mentioned in that review that ARR is going great giving albums at regular intervals to keep me hooked to one song after another, but all of a sudden arrived this void since he walked up the red carpet and lapped up two more than deserved Oscars in Hollywood.

I'm not a fan of Akshay Kumar, nor the type of regular movies he makes, the over-hype it gets and often lack of quality in the end product- and teaming up with Sanjay Dutt, Zayed Khan, Katrina Kaif, and Lara Dutta is hardly a sign of total difference. Despite being India's first mega budget underwater film- at around 100 crores (RM 100 Million) of budget- my expectations for the film itself are almost non-existent, so anything decent from that stable would be enough to get in my good books. Given the Akshay factor as well, I don't expect ARR to give his best album, and somewhat ironically, I also do hope ARR is not too brilliant in this album- because if Blue fails, the good music he gives for it will go seemingly unnoticed as well (look at what happened to Yuvvraaj, one of ARR's best albums ever- what ever happened to Dil Ka Rishta, it was the sort of song that should be described as legendary!). So, I lowered the target for ARR. And yes, he didn't try to make Blue his best album either, but I have to say, Blue is a ridiculously good album that runs on one USP- unpredictablity! One number to the next, ARR changes modes so affluently, and even in a commercial film like this where the only way to be going about it seems to be by giving fast-paced commercial numbers (a la Pritam), ARR leaves his stamp all over it. Welcome to brand AR Rahman! Its time for Akshay and the his team to do justice to this music. So on we goooo....

Hang on...the album is special for me personally because the female voice I fancy the most- Shreya Ghosal sings three (yes, three!) songs in this album- and not all the regular romantic number she is known for. And well, yeah, Kylie Minogue (yes, the Kylie Minogue) has also sung in this album...Enough generalizing and off to the songs, peel it one by one...

Peel 1

Chiggy Wiggy
Singers: Kylie Minogue, Sonu Nigam.

I wanna Chiggy Wiggy! This song created especially for a promotional music video purpose, has Kylie (who will appear in the music video with Akshay) crooning her Chiggy Wiggy way that somewhat reminds you of Zara Zara from Race. But, hey, this is ARR na. Listen to halfway of the song and enter Sonu Nigam with an out-of-the-blue bhangra rhythm, now this is fusion of a high-order. Inovative-ness hardly comes in a better package. The western sections suit Kylie fine, and the bhangra section suits Akshay's image fine. You can already imagine how the music video is gonna be now. Good!! But, well, here it is...Enjoy!

Peel 2

Aaj Dil Gustakh
Singers: Sukhwinder Singh, Shreya Ghosal

Put the guitar strings on, and just Chal Chal Charara re! A blues string simply doesn't get better than this. Sukhwinder and Shreya never are off-form, and putting such two able singers with a nicely arranged song, the results are bound to be infectious. Very the good!! I can't remember the last time I heard such a song in Hindi, or even Indian music arena. Well, who else but ARR to compose the first, aite? Its a priviledge for the song itself. :P

Peel 3

Singers: Vijay Prakash, Shreya Ghosal

How do I put up a thumbs up icon here? Because this is the best of the lot! Fiqraana is phenomenal! Your body might tap to it without you even knowing. It is that good, and its flawless as well. The song doesn't have one dull moment, its completely consistent in its tunes and once again, guitar strings are too good- they are so Robaroo-ish. Brand ARR!! Brilliant! Vijay Prakash sound so different in this song, its abvious that ARR hymns with him at parts, but even alone, Vijay sounds like ARR himself with the way he has sung this song. Shreya, well, need I say? Of course the male singers take the limelight, Shreya is just a beautiful compliment to it.

Peel 4

Bhoola Tujhe
Singers: Rashid Ali

Kahin To Hogi Wo. Jaane Tu Ya Jaane Na. Take the singing from there. Dil Gira Gaaftan. Delhi 6. Take the music and tempo from there. Resonate both of that, and you have Bhoola Tujhe. Rashid Ali has one-of-a-kind voice, and you can use this anyday to create to an emotional romantic number, and ARR leaves his stamp and slow orcehstration all over the place for this song. This is genuine ARR melody, because it grows on you further as you listen to it further. The usage of saxophones as much as keyboard beats adds a new dimension to it. Very the good!! But if you were to love this song, it takes a real romantic ear to capture the essence. If you have that, you'll simply fall in love with this.

Peel 5

Blue theme
Singers: Blaaze, Raqeeb Aalam, Sonu Kakkar, Jaspeert Singh

Blue! Bulue! Always count on ARR on at least one thing- he knows how to give a superb theme music, no matter what film. Blue theme isn't exactly ARR-ish masterpiece, but the adrenalin rush of it imemdiately appeals the listening experience. Again, ARR mixes a bhagra element into the heavy beats and its so inviting to hum along to this. This is better be used properly in the film. Because if it is used well, the results on screen would be great.

Peel 6

Singers: Shreya Ghosal, Sonu Nigam

Reminds one of Hello Mr.Ethirkachi number from Iruvar some good 12 years ago. Starts of with a jazz-like arrangement, but ARR's inovativeness springs in again and beats change and keep you hooked. There is even orchestration for the song, and the music is simply so good. But whats unique is that Shreya and Sonu Nigam do not change modes, they sing in the same jazz-like rhythm while ARR changes the beats for the songs. Watch out for the Rehnuma...Neela Samandar bit that starts at the middle of the song. Which is brilliant. And you might find Shreya sounding different in this song. She does a brilliant job in this number and easily overshadows Sonu Nigam when given the chance. Good!!

Peel 7

Yaar Mila Tha
Singers: Udit Narayanan, Madushree

Yuvvraaj was a brilliant album, yet at the end we had Shano Shano, a club number which is very good but not up to the high standards of AR Rahman. This is along the same lines, Yaar Mila Tha is extremely enjoyable, but its not ARR-ish as much. But its slightly better than Shano Shano, and has some innovation done by ARR in the song. Again, good!!

All in all, as I have mentioned, Blue is a ridiculously good album. Now with a sterling budget of 100 crores, the makers of Blue better do justice to the good numbers ARR has put forth for them. Definitely exceeded my expectations.

Thumbs up...Thumbs up...Clap Clap for AR Rahman..

He is back!

Rating: 8.9/10

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

The Winner Stands Alone

Paulo Coelho has definitely left his distinct feel good factor that has always been part of his books with his latest offering- The Winner Stands Alone. And the book is definitely apt with the title, standing lonesome, it is a disturbing offering that is best put in Coelho's own words at the beggining of the book- it is a 'crude' portrait of where we stand today. Yes, very crude indeed.

TWSA is set at the Cannes Film Festival in Southern France, an annual event where the luminaries related to the film industry come and participate in a high order of the social spectrum. The entire story is set within a 24-hour time frame of the festival, focusing on different characters whose stories intertwine with each other. The main characters are:
Igor- A Russian telecommunications mogul, the main character in the story. He comes to Cannes in order to 'destroy worlds' so that he could win back his ex-wife Ewa- to show her that he could kill for her sake. Over the course of the story, he kills six people in the festival, but goes through a personal revelation of his motives as well.

Ewa- Igor's ex wife, who is now married to an Arabian couturier, and a successful one at that. Left Igor after knowing that Igor is dangerous and is more than capable to kill if provoked, but now has to confront her fears again as Igor comes to the festival.
Hamid Hussein- Ewa's current husband, an Arabian couturier who has a rags to riches story behind him, an extremely successful person who is at Cannes to take a look at a new uprising model, and also in order to finalize details about his maiden production venture in films. Loves Ewa deeply.
Jasmine- A black Belgian model, who is the next discovery for Hamid Hussein. Comes from a poor background in Belgium but is discovered by a photographer, and comes to Cannes to perform in her maiden fashion show. Hamid offers her a large contract to join his label.

Gabriela- A small time American actress, who is at Cannes in order to audition for roles, and on that day, grabs the role as the leading lady in Hamid Hussein's maiden production venture.

Savoy- An inspector in the small town of Cannes, who is excited by the prospect of a serial killer on the loose in the otherwise silent, crime free town, a prospect that could see him finally prove his worth as a detective.

The story is brilliant. Coelho's ability to wave a 24-hour time frame narrative in a full novel is a matter to be praised. And being a long-time reader of Coelho, it'd be also fair to say that Coelho's writing has significantly improved over time. His writing in itself is more engaging compared to his other works, and he is arriving on par into becoming a total page turner of a writer. And in this book, Coelho also seems to have developed an ample ability to be a thriller writer, he manages to throw good surprises and manages to keep the suspense going on an even manner.

However, that being said, this simply isn't what a Coelho fan would normally expect from him. In an effort to become a page turner, Coelho seems to have lost somwhere the essence the writer that had been adored by millions all over the world. The spiritual essence of the book is somewhat missing, or to be more fair, it has got lost somewhere in middle of Coelho's attempt to becoming a thrilling writer. At that same time, in an attempt to fit a 24-hour time frame story into a 300-page book, Coelho's writing meets tedium at many parts. There seems to be extensive criticism and commentary of the film world and also the world of the rich, but knowing myself that Coelho has always had a negative impression of the film world, I can't help but to think he has taken it a bit too far and a bit too personal in the commentaries. Added to that, the commentary is the whole book is very much the same- oft repeated. The same criticism is repeated constantly in the book and it becomes predictable and stereotypic after a certain point. Above all that, characters. Apart from Igor, and then Savoy, Jasmine, and Gabriela at certain intervals- the rest of the characters in the book appear uninteresting and some makes you wish you could just skip the pages. Hamid and Ewa's characters are especially pedestrian and do not evoke as much interest, nor does Coelho's writing add any extra dimension. Apart from their relationship with Igor, and how they relate to his mission, they could be easily removes from the narrative structure of the story. At times, with such characters, the story reaches a halt, the flow breaks uninvitingly.

The story's conclusion is also left somewhat hanging, raising more questions than it answers, and failing to answer most that is raised over the course of the book. But probably that exactly has been Coelho's intentions, to write a book that just raises questions and not provide answers. And has he had accurately pu it- the book is a crude portrait of where we stand today. And on that aspect, you have to agree with him. A fierce critic of the materialistic culture myself, I could relate to the central idea of Coelho's theme in this book.

All in all, The Winner Stands Alone is a work apart from other Coelho works. It might be a classic for some, it might be very dissapointing for others. But trying to be objective, I'd say the book is neither perfect nor flawless, it has both perfection and flaw, but most importantly, it stands out from previous Coelho works- its simply different so to speak- without using any other adjectives.


Rating: 7/10