Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Gatsby - what Gatsby?

There are a few reasons why I decided to read "The Great Gatsby" - one of the biggest classics from 1920s written by F. Scott Fitzgerald.

One, I like being that jerk, the one who after watching a movie based on a book, says with a smirk - "You know what - the book was better - they have ruined it completely in the movie." So a decently cool trailer was enough of an incentive.

Two, Leonardo DiCaprio is going to play Jay Gatsby and after The Aviator, The Departed, Blood Diamond, Shutter Island and Inception, the poor man definitely deserves something more than angry fans arguing for him on IMDb and such forums. So assuming that he will probably pull off one more stunning performance and once again end up with nothing, I wanted to be better prepared when the time of the debates comes. 

Three, this movie is the first Hollywood movie where Amitabh Bachchan is part of the cast. And yes, I do strongly believe that Hollywood  repeatedly and in a not-so-subtle manner, likes to portray India/Indians in a negative way - either a poor, dirty slum-dog or a rich, idiotic snob (remember Anil Kapoor in MI-4?). And as far as I know, there wouldn't have been many Indians in 1920s in the rich suburban Long Island area where the story takes place and so I wanted to know beforehand what devious fate is in store for Amitabh Bachchan. He plays a Jew businessman of sorts (if you call bootlegging a business).

Four, I am a big fan of Woody Allen's Midnight in Paris. Incidentally, F. Scott Fitzgerald and his wife Zelda are characters in that movie. They say that F. Scott Fitzgerald loosely based the character of Daisy, the female lead of The Great Gatsby, on his wife Zelda. I absolutely fell in love with her in Midnight in Paris! Besides being stunningly beautiful, she is unpredictable, rude, charming, even borderline crazy and suicidal. She is always all over the place, but you can still see that she has good intentions - somewhere deep.

So anyway, its a small book. Barely 200 or so pages - and still it took me more than 3 weeks to finish it! Thanks to my awesome High-school  St. Vimli's (THE best sarcastic pseudonym for the horrible school that people have come up with), my English vocabulary is as bad as it can be and I could not help but think that I should have read this book one or two weeks before I took the GRE, the small window of time when all the bloody wordlists were actually fresh in my head. Having to check meanings of 10 words in every single page ends up being very annoying after a while!

Here's a disclaimer - I think there can not be any spoilers for a book like The Great Gatsby. Its a textbook tragedy, like Devdas or such. So even if you kind of know the end, it hardly makes any difference to the value of the story as such.

So before I state anything about the book - let me clearly state this - Yes - I am an idiot - Yes I do not understand subtle art - and Yes I am too intellectually and artistically challenged to fully appreciate this book.
But the fact of the matter is, I completely failed to "get" what the book was trying to say!

The characters, I feel,  are too simple. The negative character, Tom, Daisy's husband, is so in-your-face-evil and so obviously smarter, physically stronger and richer than Gatsby that you kind of know beforehand what the end result is going to be before Tom and Gatsby start having their obligatory conversation-fight towards the end of the book.

Secondly, I don't like it when there are external, uncontrollable reasons for a character's downward spiral. Because then, the "tragedy" is not "real" in some sense - its just an inevitable thing - something that was meant to happen sooner or later - and that, in my personal opinion, is too much of a cliche. For example, Devdas has a perfect reason to be pissed off - his parents didn't like his girlfriend. But for Dev D,well, his father was actually disappointed that he blew his chances with Paro. And this thing, not having anything or anyone to blame but your own self, is surely the ideal reason to drink yourself to death. In The Great Gatsby, its just meant not to end well. Sure - it makes for a good drama and a handful of sentimental scenarios, but loses some sort deep emotional bond that it might have forged with readers. I think a good tragedy should not make you feel sad about the character, it should just make you feel sad.

Third, the book wants to show how careless, selfish and bitter people get, even towards their loved ones, when they are trying to hide their pain. But here, the characters overdo it so much that instead of feeling sorry for Daisy, I actually found her to be very repulsive. There is a thin line between being overtly bubbly, pretending to be shallow and being downright shallow - and in my book, Daisy is on the wrong side of this line - almost always.

So anyway, I am majorly pissed. Not at The Great Gatsby - but at myself - for failing to understand the book, for failing to have that "oh this book soo changed my life" feeling that so many people seemed to have according to the reviews.

I really hope the movie is good - and since its a musical, if nothing else, I hope to get a good collection of new songs to listen to! 


Ameya said...

Now lets try Cloud Atlast, shall we ? :P. I also LOVED Midnight in Paris. The thing about that movie is, I am sure I have missed 90% of subtle art and literature references but that stuff doesn't come into way of enjoying the movie. You can definitely fall in love with Marion Cotillard after watching this movie.

As for Great Gatsby, "I have a bad feeling about this."

Nachiket said...

"I think a good tragedy should not make you feel sad about the character, it should just make you feel sad."
Bhari :)

I am also going to read this book now and then go watch the movie, for its own sake since it seems to be good, based on the star cast.