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Siraj Syed

Siraj Syed is the India Correspondent for and a member of FIPRESCI, the International Federation of Film Critics. He is a Film Festival Correspondent since 1976, Film-critic since 1969 and a Feature-writer since 1970. 



Goodbye, Philp Roth

Goodbye, Philp Roth

A 1969 production, Goodbye Columbus must have reached India at least a couple of years later, as was the norm for all Hollywood films, due to some policy issues that lasted through the 80s. I had turned 18, and the buzz around the film was exciting enough to draw me to the theatre. It was technically Ali MacGraw’s debut as a leading lady. Richard Benjamin, the lead actor, had worked in television, and it was also his big screen debut. I liked its bursting sexuality and MacGraw’s rare, for the time on Indian screens, feminine passion. I did not know then that the controversial film’s screenplay by Arnold Schulman had won the Writers Guild of America Award, nor that the film was based on a National Book Award winning novella, by Philip Roth.

Philip Milton Roth, who was born a Jew, passed away a week ago of congestive heart failure, at the age of 85, forbidding any Jewish rituals from being performed at his funeral, according to his biographer, Blake Bailey. Though Roth did not believe in the Jewish religion, he liked Jewish persons and had many Jewish friends. He liked their warmth, their filial piety, which he made a lot of fun of too, in Portnoy’s Complaint, which was also made into a film. The 1969 novel depicts the therapy sessions of a sexually frustrated Jewish man, voiced by the irrepressible Alexander Portnoy, and has been described as a “rollicking psychoanalytic monologue”, that remains hilarious and shocking, 50 years after its publication. It is also largely autobiographical.

As many as eight of his books were made into films (see filmography below) and he even married an actress, Claire Bloom(Limelight, Look Back in Anger, The Spy Who Came in from the Cold, The King’s Speech). Bloom was his second wife. Margaret Martinson, his first spouse, had died in 1968, and Bloom was his wife for five years, 1990-95, although they were together for 17 years. After they divorced, Roth did not marry. The divorce itself was bitter and remained so till the end. Bloom addressed this and many other aspects if living with Roth, very little of which was complimentary. In later years, Roth was known to change his phone number frequently and live like a recluse. He did respond to messages sent through friends. Bloom is now 87.

Born in Newark, New Jersey, to Bess Finke Roth and Herman Roth, he was educated at Bucknell University and University of Chicago, where he completed his M.A.; He was given the Rockefeller Grant, 1965. Earlier, he had served in the army during 1955-56. Back from military duty, he took –up various lecturing assignments: Lecturer in English, Univ. of Chicago 1956-58; Visiting Lecturer, Univ. of Iowa Writers' Workshop 1960-62; Writer-in-Residence, Princeton Univ. 1962-64, Univ. of Pa.1967-80; Distinguished Prof. of Literature, Hunter Coll. 1989-92; Visiting Lecturer, State Univ. of N.Y., Stony Brook, 1967. Literary scholarships were offered in abundance: Literary Fellow Houghton Miffin1959; Guggenheim Fellowship Grant, Ford Foundation Grant 1966.

Award of Nat. Inst. of Arts and Letters 1959, Nat. Book Critics' Circle Award (for The Counterlife, 1987, for Patrimony, Nat. Arts Club's Medal of Honor for Literature 1991, PEN/Faulkner Fiction ward for (for Operation Shylock) 1993, shared with Karel Capek, Nat. Book Award for Fiction (for Sabbath's Theatre) Pulitzer Award for American Pastoral, 1998.

In October 2012, when he was 79 going on 80, Roth, announced his retirement.  By then, he had written some 30 books, over a period of 50 years. Looking back on his career, he commented, “Joe Louis (the boxing legend) said: ‘I did the best I could with what I had.’ This is exactly what I would say of my work: I did the best I could with what I had.”  Of course, his tools were not boxing gloves but raucous, raunchy, biting, comic and autobiographical writing.


*Battle of Blood Island, starring Richard Devon, Ron Kennedy, based on the short story, ‘Expect the Vandals’

*Goodbye, Columbus, starring Richard Benjamin and Ali McGraw

*Portnoy's Complaint, starring Richard Benjamin and Karen Black

*The Human Stain, with Anthony Hopkins and Nicole Kidman

*The Dying Animal, adapted as 'Elegy'; starring Penélope Cruz and Ben Kingsley

*The Humbling, with Al Pacino and Greta Gerwig

*Indignation, which had Logan Lerman and Sarah Gadon

*American Pastoral, which had in its cast Ewan McGregor and Jennifer Connelly

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About Siraj Syed

Syed Siraj
(Siraj Associates)

Siraj Syed is a film-critic since 1970 and a Former President of the Freelance Film Journalists' Combine of India.

He is the India Correspondent of and a member of FIPRESCI, the international Federation of Film Critics, Munich, Germany

Siraj Syed has contributed over 1,015 articles on cinema, international film festivals, conventions, exhibitions, etc., most recently, at IFFI (Goa), MIFF (Mumbai), MFF/MAMI (Mumbai) and CommunicAsia (Singapore). He often edits film festival daily bulletins.

He is also an actor and a dubbing artiste. Further, he has been teaching media, acting and dubbing at over 30 institutes in India and Singapore, since 1984.

Bandra West, Mumbai


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