Sunday, July 31, 2011

Watched: Zindagi Milegi Na Dobara

I just don’t know how to begin this review. I’m tempted to simply say I liked this movie and that was that. But then I also feel compelled to expound a bit more on its virtues. Forthwith, I present the following awards:
Surprise Package award: Katrina Kaif. Who woulda thunk? The Kaif is so perfectly cast in this radiant, likeable-girl role that one must actually congratulate the casting director. Kaif’s Laila the diving instructor is happy, impulsive, fearless, and needless to say, eye-poppingly pretty. She deserves the award because she actually does embody the spirit of the film and its message.

Best Moment award: Hrithik Roshan, when he spots a group of wild horses in the Spanish countryside during their road trip. Simply one of the loveliest moments he’s ever enacted on screen.

Most Baffling Hair award: Hrithik had his dishevelled mane, Kaif had her glossy curls, Kalki her straight, chic blunt, and Abhay his regular boy-haircut. But what, in the name of Egad, happened to Farhan? (And his wife in real life’s a hairstylist.) I just didn’t get his non-descript curly look. It looked sheep-like and cried out for a pair of shears. Super-interesting and engaging character, dud haircut.

Overshadowed but Still So Cool award: Abhay Deol. The night before I watched ZNMD, I had watched Deol in Road, Movie. So I had rather a lot of him in two days. Still, I’m being objective when I say he is slightly overshadowed by the other two boys. Never mind. His dimples seem to gain in worthiness as he ages, and his easy body language and demeanour are really neat.

Slap Her, She’s French award: Kalki. (I refuse to write her last name because I can’t pronounce it.) Now, I’m merely being silly by handing her this award. The girl is dashed cool and can certainly slip into a role with ease. I just wish to see her in more roles before I really decide on what award to give her.

As to the little matter of the film in its entirety, well, it has a lot going for it. A trio of friends takes off for Spain- a kind of extended bachelor party- to celebrate the impending wedding of one of them. While there, they each have to propose an adventure sport that all three must participate in. And that in effect is the story, with a layer of sub-plots of each character’s evolution through the trip. With a storyline like this, there’s plenty of room for meanderings in exquisite rural Spain, and also for lots of indulgent scenes with the three friends- and these elements I had no problem with. In fact, the chemistry among the three was really pretty terrific, and the sub-plots were also all fine.
In terms of pacing, the editing could have been crisper between the first sport and the next. There was so much time spent on each, too, that it became more ‘tell’ and less ‘show’ which was a bit of overkill for me.
Then there’s the matter of the ‘boy’ aspect of the friendship. I’ve begun to despair of ever seeing convincing and engaging stories of women’s friendships in Hindi movies, unless there are such films and I’ve never seen them. Not that there’s a problem with boys being friends and taking off to Spain on a bachelor trip, tra la la, which gets dampened because the fiancée (a GIRL) shows up. I just want to be shown similar stories from the other side.
That leads in nicely to the next minor but niggling grouse- why did Abhay’s fiancée, Kalki, have to be shown as nearly getting them all in a crash while she’s driving? I didn’t see what this scene added at all; it seemed a little patronising and off-track from the film’s sensibility. Also, too much face time with Hrithik. He’s the biggest star, so we had to sit through countless up-nostril shots of his head. This abated in the second half, but.
The title, although clunky, perfectly ties up the spirit of the story. I enjoyed myself thoroughly, travelling mentally to Spain again and revelling in its whitewashed rural glory. For that alone, I would watch the movie again. Slap me, I’m biased.

Friday, July 15, 2011


It is foolish
to let a young redwood
grow next to a house.

Even in this
one lifetime,
you will have to choose.

That great calm being,
this clutter of soup pots and books -

Already the first branch-tips brush at the window
Softly, calmly, immensity taps at your life.

~Jane Hirshfield

Wednesday, May 04, 2011

Readings: The Everest Hotel by Allan Sealy

Somewhere in the foothills of the Himalayas is a town called Drummondganj, where time is measured solely by the seasons and on the roof of a crumbling mansion lives a 90-year-old former mountaineer with a wandering mind. The mansion, once the  Everest Hotel, is now a shelter run by an order of nuns who also look after the old man- Immanuel Jed- and a motley crew of others.

Ritu, the newest nun, arrives at Everest when the town is in the midst of a political upheaval- the struggle for statehood so familiar in the Indian milieu. That’s not all the upheaval either: Ritu bears a resemblance to Jed’s late wife, and this causes the old man’s mind to come further unhinged. (However, Jed’s mental wanderings are erratic; some days, he is lucid, a great raconteur and quite a wit.) Then there is his young friend Brij, who is a part of the statehood struggle, and who visits him often. And who, on the roof of Everest, among Jed’s bathtubs and other paraphernalia, begins a doomed attraction to the young nun.

The rhythm of life at Everest is then further rippled by the arrival of a young German tourist, Inge, who is on a unique quest- to unearth the history of a dead uncle, a former poet who is buried in the cemetery adjoining Everest. Inge is the fulcrum of the story in some ways. Her mysterious, drug-fueled passions, her abrupt German sense of observation, and her skill at sculpting a new gravestone for her uncle, all intrigue and disturb Everest in ways deeper than the inhabitants realize.

Of these inhabitants, I could not pick a favorite. They all seemed so complete- flawed and unique. And the story itself seemed to fall naturally into three parts: the arrival of Ritu, the arrival of Inge, and the arrival of the child Shama. Three completely different entities with completely divergent reasons for coming to be at Everest. (Also, Ritu’s name in itself was a brilliant yet obvious device- it means ‘season’ in Hindi.)

And lastly, the writing. It is, simply put, brilliant. Sensual, heavy with imagery and perfect shades of sepia and blue. The poetic division of time into the Hindu seasons- Asadh, Jeth, Chait, Kartik, and so on- the lyrical descriptions of the mountains, the flowers (Ritu and Jed share an interest in botany) and the heartbreaking decline of Jed’s mind all flow across the page with flawless pacing and structure. I wonder why Allan Sealy is not more famous. The Everest Hotel was nominated for the Booker, after all. I would definitely love to read more from him and am now on a determined quest for his Trotter Nama and other works.

Saturday, April 30, 2011

Just because

Paris Pink

Because, predictably, one wants to be in Paris right now.
Paris Pink by fsudm on

Friday, April 22, 2011

Readings: The Ingenious Edgar Jones

The Ingenious Edgar Jones tells the story of a mysterious dark-haired boy, born ahead of his time on a lightning-filled night in the Oxford of the 1800s. Immediately upon his arrival, he disappoints and vaguely puzzles his mother- she had wanted a girl- and delights his father- but slowly, as his life goes on, this state of affairs is somewhat reversed.

The boy Edgar, while supremely gifted with what would now be called mechanical abilities, lags behind in reading and writing and thus remains functionally illiterate until as late as seven or eight. Constantly drawn to the great outdoors, he figures out ways to escape his lessons and roam free in the wilderness outside his home. Then, one day, on a sojourn right into the city, he comes across a fascinating place- an iron forge- and promptly offers himself up for an apprenticeship.

Later he is taken in by a Professor of Anatomy from one of Oxford’s colleges- the old man, never named, sees the spark in the boy’s creativity and takes him on in an apprenticeship of his own- for his grand dream project of a museum of natural history. But all the while, what Edgar wants as badly as he wants to invent things of metal and bone, is that eternal quest for most children- parental approval- and that espcially from his father.

His master at the forge, the Professor, and lastly his kindly master at the invention shop- Mr Stevens, all fall short of his desires for validation. Naturally. His father, William, is unable to look beyond Scripture and accept his boy’s somewhat different vision and talents.

And this is the crux of the story. A child, born both different and gifted; the religious climate in the England of the 1800s where Science and God are raging against two sides of the debate, and the devastating social justice of the time that Edgar finally comes up against.

The story ends with a somewhat different outcome- magical realism, almost, which did not jibe well with the rest of the story. However, Edgar is a curious and engaging fellow; you do want to follow along on his adventure, want to laugh with him (and he does laugh an awful lot) and weep when his brave heart is disappointed yet again. His inventions, whether of bone or metal or cloth, are marvelous, his imagination fierce and his spirit tender yet powerful.

Elizabeth Garner is a writer of both vision and precision, each of Edgar’s futuristic inventions outlined with spare yet well-rounded detail. Edgar's initial fascination with metal is well-structured into his curiosity for natural history, and then finally his joy of invention itself. The emotions are evoked more from the reader, rather than laid out on the page in grandiose prose. I enjoyed the tale as much as the telling, and would love to read more from Garner. (I almost wish for a sequel to Edgar.)

Wednesday, April 06, 2011

Elephant Bells

He killed thirteen people, they told us. Would walk to a house at night, knock on the door. And whoever opened it, he would kill.
Well then, quite a story it was, especially for a Saturday morning in the shallows of a still, olive green river looking at his placid eyes. And he had a bell around his neck! Stories of horror seem hard to believe at this moment. I want to scratch his ears. And I do. I also wade into the water and lend a hand to his mahout in scrubbing him down- his tough, dark skin and massive body feel like a kind of living ship, a mysterious craft bound for the center of the earth rather than just the hide of a mere creature that can be tamed, be kept by the likes of us.
The rest of the afternoon flowed by in a mix of elephants (some so dangerous in mast, they are kept chained to a hillside) and black-faced langurs  waiting to eat off the scraps of elephant meals, and then a tiny orphaned elephant that wrapped her trunk around your finger and pulled. My heart almost stopped when she did that the first time- right from the bristly hair on her head to her oval toenails, she was a miracle of longing and heartbreak. Sigh.
Walking back to our cottage, a familiar sight- the goats. And a herd of spotted deer off in the distance, looking up at us critically. One has fine, large antlers and a proud stance. He looks like he doesn’t approve. They stand under the golden droplet flowers of an acacia tree, tense and alert. Framed with a backdrop of a looming, dark gray mountain, they are unaware of the beauty they give to human eyes.
When I go away from the city, this is exactly what I want to see. Places where the mountain almost overwhelms you, and you can see each spot on a deer, and can recognize the faces of the goats and that of their ancient, gap-toothed herder- these are the places I want. 

Tuesday, April 05, 2011

In the Company of Goats

It is a strange experience to be at eye-level with a goat: particularly one that is kneeling down to have a drink from the swimming pool that you are in. When I thought about ‘wildlife’- we were in a National Tiger Reserve, after all, goats were not the first creature on my list. But these goats came, and they wandered, they drank, and they squatted or walked up and down on the porch of our little dark-red cottage in the woods as if it were home. And it was, for all intents and purposes, surely.
That first afternoon, after the encounter with these other-wordly, marble-eyed creatures, we made our way like lemmings down into the rock-framed infinity pool that we had so longingly eyed on our way to the cottage. It was everything. First we each chose one of the flat rocks bordering the water, and like lizards in the sun, simply sat the afternoon away. Oh how transparently city-weary we were! To hear the silence and to count the ripples on the water were for us, bliss. Then, a plunge. There was even a tree-house as part of the view, weaving in and out of sight with the wind.
Later, the rain. Not the weary urban showers that fill the city like a teacup, but wild, fresh rain that sounds like a war on the tin roofs.
I may never leave. Luckily, we have tomorrow.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011


sakuraImage via Wikipedia
the wave at dawn-
and one red parasol
among the ruins

My heart goes out to Japan. While Spring is a riot of flowers here, there is a chill wind and bleak skies and flattened houses floating out to a black ocean. Beautiful babies are being tested for radiation.

I hope the cherry blossoms make it this year.
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Monday, February 28, 2011


And I watched it live. Best Supporting Actress Melissa Leo actually swore- the f word, no less, but I barely registered it. The show was quite a snooze- I perked up when Javier came up as a nominee and also a presenter, but that was pretty much that. So, on to what really got my attention.
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Can Berry do no wrong? Apart from having one of the FEW faces on earth that can rock a haircut like that, she also manages to look like a sort of human tiramisu with diamonds. Gosh, even though the back was a bit frou-frou with the frothy lace, my jaw dropped. I even forgot my hope that she would wear something in a jewel color from Versace. Oh well. Marchesa it was, and I shall be quite happy with it. (I love how fiercely determined the bald gent in the background is about looking away from Halle- protecting his jaw, no doubt.)

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And this here is the most stylish alien ever to visit our planet. Givenchy and their weird purple creations! (Zoe Saldana last year in that confused pond overgrowth thing). What is up with that arch on this bodice? Is it the doorway to a Moroccan villa? I am equally confounded by the spots of yellow around the neck. What gives, Blanchett? Aside from your hair, which is unequalled in its buttery perfection, I am baffled, puzzled, vexed, stymied, and quite frankly, disappointed. Next exhibit!

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And THAT is how you do purple! Mila Kunis stole my heart in this delicate lacy lilac, especially as I saw how it looked in the sunlight and when she moved. Despite (or maybe because of) being contrary to her heavily-cultivated 'dark and brooding' image, this Elie Saab dress stood out.

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Here is Reese in her divinely classic snow-edged Armani Prive. It kills me how she is the very definition of sassy here: confidence, a high-wattage smile, big emerald earrings and that HAIR. It, in its magnificent and towering glory, has ceased to be mere hair and is now HAIR- and I kinda liked it. Many may have panned her for the very fact that it is HAIR, but not I.

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But this new girl- Jennifer Lawrence- also with  glorious golden hair (not HAIR, though) -did no one tell her that her dress was almost identical to what Scarlett Johansson wore a few years ago to some awards show or the other? This Clavin Klein sheath, though, paled just a tad in comparison with Scarlett's version. Sad, because Jennifer is such a knockout in her own right.

anne hathaway armani oscars 2011
 This picture doesn't do this gown justice- Anne Hathaway and her enduring partnership with Armani Prive works out a bit better than her partnership with James Franco, I'm sorry to say. I just loved the way this deep sapphire dress shimmered like a Blue Morpho butterfly, but one with red lips and wavy chestnut locks, har har. In the end, she will be remembered (by me, of course) only for this dress at the 2011 Oscars.
(All images from Reuters)
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Sunday, February 20, 2011


It has been a relief to note that there are a few travel shows out there that do attempt to go beyond the bright-eyed, borderline overenthusiastic shilling that many travel shows often reduce to. The other night I caught Ian Wright in his new outing- Invite Mr. Wright- in Spain. Now, while I didn't watch the whole thing, what I did see was enough to bring joy to my heart. SPAIN. IAN WRIGHT. Pardon the shouting, but what's not to like? Sure enough, the Spaniards put on quite the show. The culmination was a performance in a magnificent church by a group of white clad Gypsy artists. Poor Wrightey had no choice but to admit that he was close to tears, and so was I.
Then there was an older chap on a show called Market Value where he traipses around in various markets. So he was in Istanbul, and who does he meet with but an ancient old charmer with a white beard and a fantastic accent, who happens to be a gramophone repair man. That's right. Oh my. Charm, vintage musical instruments, vintage crusty old man, exotic market- it was all quite wonderful.
My faith in television is slowly being restored.
Top: Topkapı Palace - Hagia Sophia - Sultan Ah...Image via Wikipedia
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Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Watched: Dhobi Ghat

Kiran Rao's debut has been described as 'sparkling'- and I quite agree. Both in terms of freshness and simplicity, like a good glass of white wine.  The movie itself, devoid of the pointless intermission, fits neatly into an afternoon and doesn't leave you with that heavy feeling of having given up an unretrievable 3 hours of your life.

On to the story- there is not much of that, in the strictest sense that we are used to. What it does have is characters, the city, and relationships. Interestingly, each of the four main characters has a relationship with the camera, and this acts as a kind of narrative thread. Main character one is Shai Eduljee, a nice, wealthy US-born girl who is in Mumbai for a project. She runs into main character two- grouchy Arun, a renowned painter who's just moved houses. Here he comes across a bunch of videotapes recorded by the young former occupant of his flat-she is character three. And the dhobi who happens to work for both Arun and Shai is character four- Munna.

All four, needless to say, become involved in the others' lives. In the backdrop, Dhobi Ghat is a visual journey of the famous Bombay in its many-armed splendor. Shots of the monsoon, chawl life, Marine Drive and haunting visuals of blue-lit night locals- all float past in a sort of dreamy roll-call. The performances are sweet and well fleshed out, with touches not normally seen in Hindi cinema. I was particularly impressed by Monica Dogra (Shai) and the dishy Pratiek as Munna.

All in all, I very much appreciated the director's eye, the light yet substantial story-telling, the haunting music score and the fine performances. Way to go, Kiran Rao. Please give us more!

Tuesday, January 11, 2011


The shooting of Arizona congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords- a dreadful, vicious act, but one that was tinged with a chill sense of foreshadowing. One column in the NYT outlined this precise feeling, that it was a disaster waiting to happen. The column touched upon the mean-spirited, incendiary and hate-based political rhetoric that is currently the norm in the US, but I think that there are also a couple of other factors at play.
One is certainly the gross neglect that many mentally ill patients suffer, both from the medical establishment and from society at large. The shooter in the Arizona case is said to be schizophrenic- he was expelled from college for profound anti-social behavior, and in his online profiles he ranted incoherently about government mind-control. Mental illness is often the least-discussed of illnesses, vastly under-diagnosed and poorly understood.
Then, there is the all-too-obvious issue of astoundingly easy access to guns. Agreed, that Americans are proud of their Second Amendment- ‘the right to bear arms’. While that may be fundamental to their identity as a society, I also would like to hear educated views about how much the world has changed since the days in which this tenet was framed. For today’s society as much as for those days- if there are no checks in place to prevent the sale of guns to the mentally ill, disaster lurks within a large number of those sales.
Also there is the undeniable tone of violence and bullying that marks much of the political discourse in that country. (Palin actually had a map of Giffords’ constituency marked with a cross-hairs on her Web site). Fed with a contant stream of hate and thinly-veiled exhortations to violence, armed with a legally purchased gun, it is no big shock that a young mentally disturbed male takes this horrendous step. While it is not known exactly why he targeted Ms. Giffords, the motivation is certainly political, and certainly anti-Democratic. Not to say that this tragic confluence of factors would have inevitably led to this same conclusion, but in this case, it did. (And he injured a good many others and killed six, including a 9-year-old girl.)
All this makes me wonder why the US seems to thrive on a culture of fear. No other developed country has quite such a record of homicides and public shootings, nor such ease of legally purchasing weapons.  Needless to say, no other country has such an astonishingly long list of nations with which it has been or is, at war. This throbbing vein of fear seems to be at the heart of what is happening there today, the Arizona shooting being just a tragic and visible symbol of this fear.  

Monday, January 10, 2011

Readings: Wonderboys

A story about a middle-aged pot-head writer/professor’s crazy weekend: one that involves a transvestite, a tuba, a dead dog, an almost-suicide, a broken marriage, a pregnant mistress, and Marilyn Monroe’s coat? Absurd as it sounds, Michael Chabon manages to make a go of it. He accomplishes this by skilfully driving the novel on two levels- the superficial one, where the absurd events take place, and the other in the narrator’s inner life where sadness, regret, painful self-awareness and shaky integrity play out with adult seriousness and wry humor.
Thus we have one Grady Tripp- an author and English professor working on his long-awaited second novel, ‘Wonderboys’, after his award-winning first. Only thing is, this novel has taken on a life of its own: Tripp is simply unable to finish it. It’s only natural that this would strain his friendship with Terry Crabtree, also his agent. However, this aspect of Tripp’s failure we come upon later in the tale; most of the story is about his spectacularly bad behavior over the course of a single weekend involving all those crazy elements like dead dogs and tubas.
There are two young students, James Leer and Hannah Green, in Tripp’s writing class who are also involved in this wild weekend- and it is here that Tripp shows his best behavior- his sense of responsibility and protectiveness only appears when dealing with the youngsters, it seems. The talented and somewhat mysterious James is like a young bird that gets under Tripp’s wing, and the beautiful Hannah stays out of disaster by a hair’s breadth after her critique of the Professor’s work.
The only section I didn’t enjoy fully was the one where Tripp drives up to his wife Emily’s family home to share the Passover meal with them. It seemed to wander and was written too much like a witty screenplay, dying to be translated into film. And then the incident about the second dead animal was simply overkill, to use a crude pun. (Also was the very name- Tripp- a cute allusion to the Professor’s weed habit?)
Ultimately, Grady Tripp’s weekend ends with loss on multiple levels. Some caused by his own bad choices, some by pure dumb luck (even if we are led to believe that he is a reasonably happy man by the end of the novel). A lot of the story has to do with the art of writers- their world, academic and otherwise, their ‘midnight disease’ and their sometimes indistinguishable oneness with their own characters. Chabon once again conquers all with his own masterly writing, which makes the sad, drug-crazed weekend of a middle-aged rouè this layered and nuanced. An interesting sub-text of male friendship also runs through- with Crabtree, the father in law Irv, and even with young, semi-doomed James Leer that adds its own sweetness and longing, purer than Tripp’s disastrous loves with women.
I enjoyed Wonderboys for this superior writerly talent that Chabon posseses- each page yields a sentence or turn of phrase that one would like to underline and jot down in a notebook, to be read and re-read in later days with wonder and appreciation.

Sunday, January 09, 2011

Fists and words

A group of girls in Bangalore has done what I and doubtless many, many girls want to do almost everyday: beat up a man for making sexual advances. However, they still took the 'precaution' of adding a few boys to their group before they beat the man. I would have been just a tad happier if they had decided to complete the task themselves-no need for bodyguards. Still, the man apologized. Is this going to stop him from sexually harassing women for the rest of his life? No-one knows. But it's a start, and a much-needed one. There is a lot to be said for the power of a well-timed thrashing.
Now, I am well aware that the general, catch-all term for sexual harassment in this country is 'eve-teasing.' I don't know whether it actually exists as such in the Constitution, but really, it has GOT to go from our daily usage. Why not call it what it is? Why hide behind this twee, outmoded and patronizing term? EVE TEASING? Really? In the 21st century? Anything short of rape, and it's coyly termed eve-teasing. Please. Words have immense power. Let's start using them appropriately.

Tuesday, January 04, 2011

Readings: The Final Solution

Imitation can be found in a few members of the...Image via Wikipedia
The year is 1944 and somewhere in rural England, an ancient bee-keeper becomes involved in the life of a nine-year old mute Jewish boy and his pet parrot. This intriguing premise and the added allure of it being a Sherlock Holmes tribute drew me to this slim little novella written by the luminous Michael Chabon.
The Sherlock Holmes character, known through the book only as the ‘old man’, naturally, has a case to solve. The boy, Linus, having been separated from his family in Nazi Germany, lives with an English family  which takes in boarders to supplement their income- it is the murder of one of these boarders that is brought to the old man for him to help the local police with. However, Bruno the African grey parrot (the boy’s only friend) also subsequently disappears. And it is this disappearance that draws the old man more to the case than the actual murder.
Each character is finely etched and has a well-defined motivation: as can be expected from Chabon, the prose is precise and threaded with an inherent understanding of the human condition. I find this aspect the most interesting in the book- whether it is the character itself or his or her reaction to the upheaval brought about by the murder, Chabon paints each man and the lone woman with steady, empathetic strokes. And what a delight to have a ‘barefoot, boot-black’ youth (now middle-aged) from Kerala as the pastor of an English village church!
Ultimately, the ending lives up to the title of the book with a subtlety that I did not quite grasp immediately- and when I did, it increased the book’s appeal manifold. Chabon is in quite fine, if unexpected, form. Sherlock Holmes would have been pleased.
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