Do works of art (literature, cinema, music etc) reflect contemporary culture? or is contemporary culture influenced by art?
Popular art (particularly formulaic mainstream cinema) has been instrumental in reinforcing traditional stereotypes on gender roles and relationships. Some cinematic stereotypes that have been reinforced in the public mind are, “the-never-say-die-resilient-lover”, “the-funloving-intelligent-modest-girl”. Few movies, if any, address any contemporary issue seriously. Most movies gloss over the issues with simplistic solutions (see the comments on the Review of Kaththi).
Nirmala & Normala, authored by Sowmya Rajendran and illustrated by Niveditha Subramaniam, is a social satire that pokes fun at absurd melodrama, social beliefs and conventions reinforced by popular culture (cinema).
The story opens in a dramatic way – On a stormy night, a woman is giving birth in a hut. As lightning flashes across the sky, the baby squeezes her way out. Instead of crying, she enjoys the spotlight. Then again another girl is born, by which time the rain has stopped and the sky has calmed, but the woman is dead.
The mid-wife who delivered the babies, in true cinematic tradition, decides to put the first baby in a basket and allows her to float away. The second baby is kept outside an orphanage. The first baby is discovered by a film director (GVM), who names her Nirmala and adopts her. He already has plans for her. Meanwhile, the other baby, discovered by the nuns running the orphanage, is fed formula, taken to a pediatrician and named Normala. This sets the tone for the future that each girl is destined for.
Next the story moves to 20 years later, where the little babies have grown into young women going to college. What follows is a hilarious take on the formulaic elements of commercial cinema while following their daily lives right upto the time the hero & heroine live happily ever after.
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- The narrative is interesting – it juxtaposes the lives of Nirmala & Normala in parallel running narratives in alternating chapters. For example there is a guy (named Rahul) declaring his undying love for Nirmala and following her wherever she goes. Similarly there is a guy who follows Normala too. While the former guy (Rahul), in true cinematic style, wins the heart of his love, the latter guy ends up in jail for stalking Normala.
- It takes a dig at the formulaic elements of cinema, like the “never-say-die-lover”, “the-underworld-don-father-villain” and so on.
- The dialogue in the Nirmala story is intentionally corny and can easily be picked up from any movie.
- Being a graphic novel, the illustrations have played a major role in the narrative. A lot of subtle detail can be seen in the illustrations – for eg. Normala’s association with the Poppy umbrella is shown in flashback! Niveditha has done a wonderful job.
- The book is large-sized (perhaps 11″ x 7″), with large text and bold illustrations, making it easy to handle and read.
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- The lack of a plot was the weakest point; there is no story as such. One just sees a collection of incidents (issues) in the daily lives of the protagonists and how they are resolved. The authors could have come up with a strong story around which the incidents could have been built. I wonder whether the format and genre imposed any constraints.
- In some places the order of the panels wasn’t clear to me, so I had a bit of a struggle in the flow of the narrative.
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- The idea for this book came from a blogpost: Nirmala & Normala (which SR has since removed!)
Nothing normal about it.