Monday, October 23, 2017

S. Shankar's "Ghost in the Tamarind"

S. Shankar is a novelist, cultural critic and translator. Most recently, he was honored by a Fulbright-Nehru Award (2017-2018) and was appointed the 2016 Scholar-in-Residence at the Center for Critical Race Studies at the University of Houston-Downtown. Among other honors, he is the recipient of the Excellence in Teaching Award from the College of Languages, Literatures and Linguistics at the University of Hawai‘i, where he is Professor of English.

Here Shankar dreamcasts an adaptation of his newest novel, Ghost in the Tamarind:
Ghost in the Tamarind is a novel about India—its world is Indian and so are (mostly) the characters, including the two main ones, Ramu and Ponni.

Might, then, a Bombay actor with an international reputation be best as Ramu? The young Amitabh Bachchan (how far the great have fallen) is one of my all time favorites. He was a stupendous actor, with tremendous screen presence, and though in his younger days was known mostly for dark and brooding roles, he was capable of great nuance. Surely, he would have been able to express that combination of anger, guilt and naivety (or is it innocence?) that is Ramu. However, I digress—that Amitabh Bachchan is thirty years in the past.

How about a contemporary American actor of Indian descent? Perhaps Aziz Ansari, who coincidentally is Tamil and even has parents from that part of India (Thirunelveli) that Ramu is from and in which so much of the novel is set! Ansari has perfected a fidgety and annoying comic public persona very different from Ramu; but Ramu’s earnestness might be an opportunity for him to stretch himself in new directions. A more obvious choice is British actor Dev Patel, who has taken on roles like Ramu. He would be very fine in that role.

For Ponni, an even more intense—more conflicted, more angry, more restless—character than Ramu, British-Indian actor Ayesha Dharker would be perfect. She played a similar role to great effect in Santosh Sivan’s little gem of a movie Terrorist (I highly recommend it). Another actor who could do Ponni to great effect: Seema Biswas, amazing in Shekar Kapur’s Bandit Queen as well as Deepa Mehta’s Water. Dharker and Biswas both are capable of a brooding and uncommon beauty that would work well in giving Ponni flesh on the screen.

Of course, the recommendations above for Ramu and Ponni would be best for when they are older. Ghost in the Tamarind takes its main characters from childhood to when they are around forty years of age. Different actors might be needed for the different parts of the story.

Director? Someone with an Indie spirit might work best. There’s (to my mind at least) a contrariness to Ghost in the Tamarind that any film version would have to preserve in casting as well as directorial vision. Santosh Sivan, who has deep experience in the Tamil film industry, would know how to plumb the Indian, and more specifically Tamil, world of the novel. Indo-Canadian Deepa Mehta too would be great, because of her novelistic imagination. And then there are a few others I can think of, including a couple not well known yet.
Visit S. Shankar's website.

The Page 69 Test: Ghost in the Tamarind.

--Marshal Zeringue