Sunday, September 09, 2018

Watched: The Bookshop

Let me say this right at the outset: this is a movie for introverts. It has clearly been made by one, and the fact is that I loved it. The slow pace and leisurely landscape shots that others found so maddening are what captured me in the first place. 

Our heroine, the long-widowed and quietly adventuresome Florence Green, arrives in a small English fishing village with the intent of opening a bookshop. It's 1959. Everyone knows everyone here, the social structures set in that peculiar English way where breathtaking savagery is perpetrated with correctness and studious politeness. So it is that Florence is met with immediate resistance by the local queen bee, one Mrs. Gamart. This formidable lady- enormously wealthy, influential, and impeccably coiffed and lacquered at all times, desires the Old House that Florence has earmarked to be converted to an 'arts center.' 

And that is all the plot there is. Yet somehow, I found myself captivated. Partly because of the lack of glitz or hi-tech anywhere in sight. No cleverness, not even any particular message. Just a small story of an outsider in an insulated, hierarchical and ancient society; an ordinary woman trying to realize a dream; people's weakness, their motivations, their tenderness and courage. The English landscape is captured in all its moodiness here, the seaside winds whipping fields of grass and the blooming purple flowers (larkspur?) at the old Holt House lovely in their melancholy. 

Ultimately, the film manages to transport you deep into its world. All sorts of characters walk in and out. There is a formidable foe to deal with. Many cups of tea are drunk. An unlikely ally emerges, there's even a tender moment of almost-romance that vanishes as soon as it's about to happen. In the end, heartbreak, tempered by a look into a hopeful future. 

Yet, the film will be dismissed by many because of its lack of dazzle. Slow pace, long conversations. I suppose it all comes down to how you like your movies. If like me, one prefers them small and intimate, it's a gem. If not, it's too dull for your appreciation, and you will want to throw one of Florence's books at her. I wanted to be Florence, and The Bookshop is one of my favorites of this year. 

Friday, September 07, 2018

Filmi Friday: Bareilly ki Barfi

This is another film that has somehow flown under my radar, and when I decided to watch it on a whim it gave me a pleasant surprise. Much like the underrated Happy Bhaag Jayegi which I watched on a very long solo airplane ride. 

Anyhow, our heroine here is written with a fresh eye and a liberal dose of authenticity. She avoids the dreaded 'bubbliness' which makes me shudder in heroines of this genre. Then she also has the most endearing relationship with her father, an absolutely brilliant Pankaj Tripathi. It is wonderful to see actors shine in carefully written roles; it feels like they are getting their due. 

So the heedless Bitti is bumbling along in Bareilly, working in the Electricity Department and doing whatever the hell else she likes on the side. She doesn't hide her smoking habit from Dad, neither is she inhibited while dancing on her rooftop. To hell with gawkers! But all this doesn't bode well for her of course: she is both young and beautiful, therefore looms the prospect of marriage, and necessarily, the bridegroom problem. These twits 'reject' her and she mopes to Dad on the rooftop, a scene where I just wanted to kiss the Dad for his resigned, slightly sad yet tender and reassuring presence.

Then she comes across a cheap paperback novel whose heroine, amazingly, seems to mirror her very self. Who is the author? She's intrigued enough to find out about him through a local printing-press wala, Chirag (Ayushmann Khurana). Supposedly, the author has left town, but Chirag obligingly acts as a liaison between this one, solitary reader of the book and the mysterious author. 

But there's more: this is a romantic comedy, after all. Suffice to say that Chirag bullies his poor friend Pritam into acting as the author. Chirag has fallen hard for the twinkling Bitti, see, and he's got this brilliant plan to get her.

This is where I must mention that Rajkummar Rao, playing Pritam, was an absolute revelation. He turns Pritam into the most adorable spineless character I've ever seen; instead of being exasperated at his malleability, you want to hug him. No mean feat, this. 

Kriti Sanon as Bitti is fine; her looks are more posh South Bombay than Bareilly, but she's not to be blamed too much for that. The voice-over by Javed Akhtar adds a good bit of color to the already colorful scene. And the dialog, while amusing, stops short of being over the top and goes down easy. Sadly, non-Hindi speakers will miss the great effervescence that the banter has; translations simply cannot do justice. 

I enjoyed all the little ups and downs and being shown characters who act like (entertaining) jerks. I couldn't even help giggling from time to time, a fact which impressed J whenever he came into the room. I hope I find more such sweet treats: suddenly there appear to be great heaps of Hindi films on Netflix and Amazon.

Monday, September 03, 2018

I am here

For the second time in two weeks, a friendship has blown up in my face. Two different people, same result: me left feeling blindsided, baffled. 

Yes, people come and go. They show you a side of themselves completely different to all previously shown. Sometimes they just plain break your heart. Yes, it's called life. And now I am feeling its weight in an altogether different way. 

If only today hadn't been the day another friend decided to leave this world altogether. Has it already been two years? That too is a difference, the dizzying speed at which the calendar is flipping, flipping, flipping.

I am old and need the comforts of the familiar.

Where are you, Friend? Let's go hold up that mango truck.

Saturday, September 01, 2018


Driving around yesterday, the friend who is visiting says “I should live here.”
And I suddenly notice the way the eucalyptus looks as we round that curve and dip on Sepulveda, and the Wagman’s playing old blues on the radio and there’s no one else on the road, and the light, the light, the late summer light, and I think, “I should live here too. I should live here too.”

Saturday, August 25, 2018



After having watched this movie I began to think the title is somewhat more layered than it initially seemed. Yes, the story is about a dutiful wife and mother who suddenly finds a passion and talent for jigsaw puzzles, but she herself is written to seem somewhat removed from the real world, the present age, and even from herself.

Agnes (an underrated Kelly McDonald) is wife to a garage owner and mother to two teenage sons. Right away we see that while she's playing all the roles she's required to, something is just a teeny bit off: she shuns technology almost completely, dresses like it's the 1980s, and has to call someone on her landline to inquire where a particular 1000-piece puzzle was purchased. She's discovered her secret talent, you see, and needs to get another one, stat, because she can do one of them in an afternoon where it takes other mortals days. 

This is how she meets the other half of the story: Irrfan Khan, playing bored ex-inventor millionaire Robert who is seeking a puzzle partner for an upcoming competition. Agnes and Robert, who meet twice a week in his mansion, have a somewhat staticky relationship, the awkwardness tempered by moments of humor and even tenderness.

Agnes fails to reveal to her family this new hobby. Why? Then again, her husband is one of those unwittingly patronizing alpha-male types who probably won't get it. Her sons, though- they were sweet enough. Why does she lie to them as well? 

And then alas, the story suddenly devolves into a sexual affair that is, at best, tepid. At worst, and this is still my strong impression, it was unbelievable. In fact when they first meet their chemistry is so non-existent, I felt vaguely relieved that at least they wouldn't jump into bed together. And then when they do just that, things get predictably thorny at home. The husband - whatever his faults - gets his heart broken, the sons are snapped at. Meanwhile Agnes has started using her new cellphone and uses it to blurt to Robert, "I love you." Oh, cringe. 

Thursday, August 23, 2018

Reading: Strange Practice

Meet Dr. Greta Helsing: physician to the 'differently alive.' By that she means vampires, ghouls, banshees, barrow-wights...what is a barrow-wight anyway? The young doc, who inherited the 'strange practice' from her dead dad, is in dire straits as we meet her here because going around in London not only killing human people, but also her beloved supernatural friends. 

She has two most endearing friends of that persuasion. One, a courtly vampire named Lord Ruthven who has a fabulous mansion and a generous host's heart. And the delightfully named Fastitocalon, who's a is revealed only much later, so I'll let his origins remain murky. 

Greta herself is a fiercely committed physician, and this was refreshing to read because ultimately she doesn't possess any silly powers. She relies on the actual supernatural ones to do the jobs that need doing. As for atmosphere, set in the modern day it is, but the tale has a distinctly Victorian feel to it at times.

I won't go into the plot here. It's sufficiently mad and fast-paced, with enough exposition to make an absurd sort of sense. What makes it so enjoyable is the dry British humor sprinkled throughout, and the various failings and strengths of the motley crew who band together to rid London of the unspeakable danger that lurks. Suffice to say, I was deeply hoping for this to be funny in exactly the sort of way it is. AND there's a sequel!

As an aside, I may have hit upon a brilliant idea in terms of fictional matchmaking: Greta and Johannes Cabal! What a bit of inspired foolishness this is: setting up the freak-doc and the necromancer, and then mailing the respective authors to...never mind. 

A joyful addition to the Favorites list for this year, and a much-needed one. The month of August alone has yielded five duds in which I spent more than 60 pages each. 

Friday, August 10, 2018

Filmi Friday: Ae Dil Hai Mushkil

The primary factor that is prompting me to even write this review is surprise. Have I become this cynical? Still, it's a Karan Johar film with a tagline about unrequited love, so in all fairness I am not to be blamed entirely. 

The surprise arose as I began watching and at the 36-minute mark realized that I was neither bored nor cringing. What? 

The theme is pretty straightforward: unrequited love, and that is all, for the boy, one Ayan Sanger. The object of his affection is his new best friend, Alizeh, whom he meets as the result of a failed hookup in London. I'm going to break this review down by elements I liked and what could have been avoided, since there is really no plot to speak of. 

Performances: Anushka Sharma as Alizeh carries the entire thing. I've always found her refreshing, and here she is as positively fizzy as a cold Coke. The dialog, for-once equally fizzy, helps her along. Ranbir Kapoor is pretty fine as the likable nitwit Ayan. What left me feeling 'meh' was Aishwarya Rai as Ayan's later lover. I get that this character is a rich poetess who lives a queenly life in a Pinterest-worthy mansion in Vienna, of all places. But that's just it. She is unreachable, too perfect, even icy, like her mansion. And then in red lipstick she looks exactly like she is in her own L'Oreal Shampoo commercial, and the effect persists throughout. 

Characters: Again, Alizeh. She's unapologetic and knows her own mind, not afraid to speak it, either. Until the end, she maintains her position without any coy slide into the kind of love that is demanded of her numerous times by her spoiled man-child best friend. Thank you. 

Chemistry: Alizeh and Ayan are totally believable and even cute together. Contrast this with the too-hasty, unexplored relationship between her and her real love, Ali, and you wonder. We don't get to see the life-changing attraction between them; we have to make do with hearing Alizeh go on about it.

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