The Zoya Factor

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Caution: the following post is about the film not the book.

I’m like Zoya who isn’t a fan of the gentleman’s game but unlike her I kept it a secret. For years. It’s a big deal because I’m a natural blabbermouth. When the girls from my colony played cricket I gritted my teeth and did the bowling (and the batting?) like I was interested. To admit to not liking something when everyone around you loves it requires standing out and being comfortable in your own skin. I was an unsure 10 year old, so I went along with the charade.

I went in blind (read without seeing or reading a review) to watch The Zoya Factor (thanks to Cinepolis points). And I was disappointed. The book was dramatic but cheeky in a different way but the film is over the top.

Sonam Kapoor sadly isn’t Zoya for me. She never truly came to life. Where are the cheeks of Gaalu my mind cried. Fans of the book will know what I’m talking about. I had the book Zoya stuck in my mind – an imperfect idiot, ditzy but lovable, misguided but loyal. If you say that about the titular character, you’d think it’s all downhill from there but there’s reason to cheer. Two words – Dulquer Salmaan. Not a single false note by DQ. I was impressed with his acting prowess when I had seen Karwaan but now I’m star struck. The man has an earthiness and undeniable charm which makes him immensely likeable. Our Bollywood actors could take a leaf out of his book on keeping it real.

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The Bookshop by Penelope Fitzgerald

Some books are meant to be savoured a few pages at a time. Penelope Fitzgerald’s The Bookshop is one of those. With her sparse unadorned prose and economy of words, it reminded me of Julian Barnes’ The Sense of an Ending. I find it hard to believe that this was her second novel but it isn’t hard to believe that it was shortlisted for the Booker. She started writing after 60 and quickly became one of the forces to be reckoned with in British literature. It is one of the few books where I don’t mind having seen the film (brilliantly adapted by Isabel Coixet) first because it was true to the book, and left quite an impression on me.

When I got the book I was disappointed to see the shape the book was in. What did I expect of a copy that’s as old as me and was published in 1978! But instead of returning it, I started reading it that day itself, trying to read it at the slowest possible speed so as to absorb every little detail, every turn of the phrase. I could afford to do that because I had already seen the film, otherwise the book is quite compelling.

Florence is a widow, who plans to open a bookshop with the little money her husband left her, but the locals aren’t keen on it, particularly a high society woman (for the lack of a better word), Mrs Gamart, who wants to open an arts centre in the same place.

We all have that one bookshop in our city where we bought our books growing up, one which has stood the test of time. The place becomes a landmark and holds countless memories because of how it is linked to our formative years. Florence intends to build such a place in the hostile little town she resides in.

It is not a cheerful book but hard-hitting and incisive. It is about a community of people who are resistant to change. It is also about the nature of business and what goes on behind the scenes. Reading about arranging books and the working of the library made me feel a strange wistfulness which quickly gave way to relief. For those for you who have always wanted to open a bookshop or a library, The Bookshop would serve as a real eye-opener.

Understated, loud, quietly menacing, cowardly – all her characters are distinct, and in a slim volume without much background information we still get to know what these characters stand for. At the same time they remain an enigma and you can’t quite grasp why they do the things they do. The book is a masterclass in writing (of show not tell should be her middle name) and one, which will throw up new things on each reading.

Spoilers ahead.

Florence fends for herself and doesn’t play the part of a hapless widow, and that perhaps offends some people more than others. More importantly, she thinks she can do it all on her own because her intentions are good (ha!). Her outsider status adds to her woes. The question here isn’t how much time one has spent in a place but how well one integrates in to the community. To survive is a tricky business as it is.

It’s a peculiar thing to take a step forward in middle age, but having done it I don’t intend to retreat.

Florence appoints bossy Christine as her assistant; a 10 year old who speaks her mind (she more or less hires herself). Christine is outspoken and likes to do things her way. The third child in a household she learns from an early age to fend for herself. She gives the book some much needed comic relief by the way she sees life.

How Christine’s life changes due to working for Florence, and the direction her life took we can’t exactly say, but all deep associations change us, especially with people who are markedly different from us.

The two of them during the past months, had not been without their effect on one another. If Florence was more resilient, Christine had grown more sensitive.

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Possession

If any book was made for a reread it’s Possession by Antonia Susan Byatt. The language lends itself to a slower reading with multiple pauses, not the way I read it. Initially I required pauses but as the book progressed I became breathless with anticipation. The story shifts from the past to the present and unlikely but delicious connections are forged. A literary mystery with a difference. I’m way under qualified to talk about Possession. Consider this a book appreciation post, if you may.

It was a slow start with too many characters and their back stories, with some passages dragging in between but the plot and the writing more than made up for it. I raced to the end, and this after having seen the film should tell you what kind of a book it is.

This book made me work hard, like the few classics I have read do but none had actual poetry in them. The poems took me back to school (the way we were required to study it but we didn’t have long epic poems). The poems were interwoven so delicately that I actually read all of them though not in order and, of course, I couldn’t understand everything. Out of all the poems Swammerdam stood out for me.

What surprised me was the amount of natural science present in this book about the Victorian romance of two poets. And it is clever because the year 1859 was an important year for biology. It was the year Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species was published. I could appreciate the book better because I knew some of the things being talked about. Who would have thought my biology background would lead to a greater appreciation of this splendid book. Continue reading “Possession”

The Fault in Our Stars

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I was watching The Fault in Our Stars and I was amazed how it felt like a new film. Hearing the news of the Bollywood remake has sent me scurrying to the book. I don’t want to imagine the lead actors to see Augustus and Hazel in my mind’s eye. I wish I had never seen the pictures! How are they going to keep the humour and wryness intact in the film is what baffles me. One can only hope they don’t massacre it. When I watched it I did not know this was on the cards and had John Green not tweeted the news I would have shrugged it off as a rumour.

How did I miss the cameo of author John Green when I saw it on the big screen is equally astounding. Of course I remember the key points and see some differences (inevitable comparisons to the book) but four years later (it released in July 2014) I can somehow just enjoy what’s unfolding on screen and be at peace with it while racking my brain to remember the exact date I saw it first. (Found it! AfThank you Gmail for keeping a log of my memories, of tickets booked and the exact expenses.)

Instead of watching a recently released film (there are so many I want to watch) I stuck to an old favourite. Not exactly true, I know, if you have seen a film once but sometimes once is enough to know that you will be returning to it. I know the terrain for a film I have seen before and the comfort factor is of paramount importance when in pain. I know that pain demands to be felt but sometimes distractions help you survive so you may lose a few battles but win the war.

Like there’s comfort food, there’s comfort viewing because with something that is familiar I won’t be in for any nasty surprises and that’s all one needs to get through the day sometimes. For all the unpredictability packed into the day, you need something to hold on to. And it is a bonus when so much time has passed that the film is almost new. The Fault in Our Stars was like a breath of fresh air (pun intended) and I am looking forward to reading the book again. Okay? Okay.

Have you read The Fault in Our Stars or seen the film?

Still Alice by Lisa Genova

“In examining disease, we gain wisdom about anatomy and physiology and biology. In examining the person with disease, we gain wisdom about life.” – Oliver Sacks

What does a disease do to you? It changes your body and attacks your energy reserves. It changes your psychological makeup, changing forever who you are (or who you were meant to become). The landscape is forever altered. It is foolhardy to think that it’s possible to go back to being the person you once were. And with time you realize, like with everything in life, you have to do the best with what you have got (left).

During my student days I was interested in the chapter on neurodegenerative disorders and was particularly curious about Alzheimer’s (I wonder if it was because of Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s Black) because of what it does to a person. I had often prided myself on having a great memory, remembering stuff that mattered (obviously I am not talking about textbooks) easily but things change with time.

I had wanted to read Lisa Genova’s Still Alice for a while and I was excited when I found a copy in the book fair last year. I read the author interview at the end of the book but found that I would not be able to handle such a topic then. I couldn’t bring myself to read it sooner fearing what I would find and, more importantly, how the dots would connect. 

Losing your mind is a big deal. Memories are integral to how we remember the past, and connect it with the present. It is through the prism of memories we see ourselves and others. Armed with memories we navigate the choppy waters of future certain of at least where we come from, if not who we are. What if the sense of self you have built over years is taken from you suddenly?

Still Alice deals with the struggles of Alice Howland, a brilliant linguistic professor. when her life is torn apart by early onset Alzheimer’s and how she and her family learn to cope with the ravages of the illness – with a person left with a mind, not as sharp as she used to be but deep down still remains the same person. How caregivers deal with the altered circumstances, the ugly reality, the frustration and helplessness at not being able to find a way out from the messy tangles is hard to read about. The ravages of the disease diminishing a person slowly and seeing a much loved person vanish before their very own eyes almost becoming a stranger is heartbreaking.

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Thoughts on Girl with a Pearl Earring

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Girl with a Pearl Earring was an intereseting read considering the fact that I had seen the film years back and quite liked it. It was a pleasant suprise because I hadn’t quite warmed up to Tracy Chevalier’s The Lady and the Unicorn which was my introuction to the author.

It is 1665. The story is told by sixteen year old Griet who comes to work as a maid in the Vermeer household to support her family. Vermeer, the artist, takes a fancy to her because she understands art.

The house is run by the the matriarch, the wife’s mother who single-handedly managed the household. Although Vermeer was a good artist he was not the best man to provide for his family. Vermeer worked at his own pace. He was moody and temperamental even though the entire house was in debt and his paintings were the only source of income.

Life was tough in a way the population with access to modern healthcare wouldn’t understand. There was no method of contraception and it was one baby on the way after another whether you can afford it or want it.

Griet was a strong character for her the times she lived in. The name Grit would be apt for her because she is gutsy and resilient. She is sharp and observes things which would elude a casual onlooker.

I was delighted to see Antony van Leeuwenhoek in Girl with a Pearl Earring. He was Vermeer’s friend. I was happy to see a microbiologist in a novel about an artist. Seeing Antony van Leeuwenhoek as a character took me back to my student days.

I confess I had never heard the term camera obscura before. Shameful because I call myself an amateur photographer (the amateur bit does take the sting out of it). Of course my grandpa knew what camera obscura was. He was an engineer and a photographer, and unlike me a person who understands technicalities well.

A painting which isn’t a painting. The word photograph is yet to be invented because the camera hasn’t been invented yet. What a world it must have been. Since something cannot be captured there is no choice except to draw or paint what fascinated them.  A while ago I had read Julian Barnes’ Levels of Life where I got a peek into a world where photography was being invented.

It is not new wanting to save memories which have an impact on us. The word nostalgia means a great deal to us humans. Hence the need for keepsakes. When we write we do the same thing. Capturing a moment, a place, a situation, an experience, a time.

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Fitoor

As the movie began there was a wide smile on my face watching young Noor and Firdaus. The stirrings of first love. The awkwardness and the unexpected pleasures that lie ahead. Young love is so beautiful, the possibilities are endless but when it doesn’t work out which is inevitable because it is not made to weather the storms of the world, you get your heartbroken. It is a rite of passage. You feel as if you will never be whole again and your pain is unprecedented in the history of mankind. (Guess what it’s not and this one is practice for getting your heartbroken many times during the course of your life.) A door to a new world is opened and the universe is forever altered.

Mohammed Abrar as the young Noor is terrific as the vulnerable, shy boy who desperately wants to belong, and be a part of Firdaus’s world. Earnest and likable, I would have liked to see more of him. Watch out for the hole in the shoe moment; it is tender and heartbreaking.

The innocence is carried forth into adulthood by Aditya Roy Kapur splendidly. My eyes stay on Noor even when he isn’t shirtless. Katrina as Firdaus looks chic but not that big a departure from her conventional avatars. She looked better in Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara, if you ask me. Tabu is matchless as the Begum who plays Firdaus’s mother. No husband in sight, it’s just her and her daughter. It is her machinations which drive the plot forward, and it is her story which sets the tone for the characters.

He is thrust into the world of art after an anonymous benefactor recommends Noor’s name (it is not who you think it is) to an art residency in Delhi, a world far removed from his own. Here the adult Firadaus makes her first appearance in his life.

Unsure about his place in the world, making art is the only thing that makes sense to him. He doesn’t know why he loves Firdaus. He just does. This gravity defying love he feels for Firdaus I don’t understand (must read Great Expectations!) but I suppose that’s what great love stories are about.

His lack of sure-footedness is portrayed convincingly. A lost soul, a dreamy artist but chillingly aware of the harsh realities of life. He doesn’t quite fit into the unforgiving materialistic world he is a part of.

The scenes where he’s making art shine. He is perfectly believable as a tortured artist. It is not exactly a case of the artist and the muse but a case of unrequited infatuation. quite possibly love finding a vessel in his art and hence her serving as a muse first indirectly then directly. Watch the movie it will make sense to you.

Firdaus is a terrible beauty who feels but knows that she is not allowed to feel. Noor emotes with his eyes and carries his pain in his persona.

More than the lead characters the movie belongs to Tabu which is a shame because it was marketed as a love story. Slowly fading away in sadness and illness, the elaborate costumes make her look deranged. Never seen a character like this in Hindi cinema (or maybe I haven’t watched that many movies). Continue reading “Fitoor”

Going back to Chokher Bali

Sometimes when we wait for something for a long time and then we get it, we are often underwhelmed by the actual thing.  Has it ever happened to you? Is it the great expectations built up over time to mythical proportions that did me in or something else? I don’t quite understand. It seems the older I get there are more questions and there are no definite answers. And to think as a child I had thought it would be the opposite. As an adult I would have the solutions to all the problems in the world and have a rollicking good time with no one telling me what to eat and to come home before it gets dark.

I finally had a chance to see Chokher Bali and it was a let down. I had loved the book and after searching for a version with Hindi subtitles (in vain) this dubbed version fell into my lap years later when I wasn’t even looking for it. I wanted to see the adaptation by Rituparno Ghosh having loved many of his movies, especially Raincoat which left an indelible mark on me. But I may be biased because I absolutely adore O Henry’s The Gift of Magi which it is adapted from.

Eons back I wrote a blubbering post about being stunned by Chokher Bali where I said nothing of any real value. I was amazed by the level of manipulation  in the book when I had read it 6-7 years ago. A lifetime ago really.  Aishwarya Rai was good in Rituparno Ghosh’s Raincoat (so was Ajay Devgn). So I was even more astonished by her dismal performance here. She doesn’t do justice to the part of Binodini. But the rest of the cast were good in their roles. I am now on the look out for Anurag Basu’s version which has Radhika Apte as Binodini. I have a feeling I am going to like it.

In between I have found a copy of the book. The cover is intriguingly underplayed and is in shades of grey. This one is Radha Chakraborty’s translation, different from the one I had read before. I am familiar with her having read her translation of Shesher Kobita, published as Farewell Song.

Here’s to rereading and rediscovering Chokher Bali anew.

The Sense of an Ending (film)

Let me make it clear from the outset The Sense of an Ending isn’t a film you watch while munching popcorn. It is a very quiet movie and every sound is important. It is also not a film you watch with giggly friends (it is not a hangout movie). Of course the name is a dead giveaway. Spoilers ahead.

Ritesh Batra has done a commendable job on adapting The Sense of an Ending into such a lovely film. Philosophical and minimalist like the book but he has redeemed Tony Webster, the unlikable protagonist at the center of it. I love that it ends on a good note, quite unlike the book which ends with unrest (and a punch to the gut). Because Barnes does not believe in redemption. A crusty curmudgeon who sees the error of his ways late in his life but that he does is enough for the audience. The film ends with hope and you carry that into your life.

The film flits effortlessly between the past and the present like the book. Nothing is spelt out in the film too, and if you can believe me, it is more enigmatic than the book; you have to read between the lines and carefully observe what is unfolding on screen to get the complete picture.

Jim Broadbent (Prof. Slughorn!) plays the retired Tony Webster. He is given a profession here as a camera shop owner unlike the book. He does something constructive with his time other than ruminating on the past, and ruining his present by trying to imagine how different scenarios would have played out. It’s what we all do from time to time but allowing it to take over your life is foolishness. Is that what you want to do with your one precious life?

Tony was delusional, unable to see things as they are; he couldn’t see it when Veronica was his college girlfriend and even now when he is an old man. Like Tony, most of us just bumble along in life and try to do the best we can. When the truth finally dawns on him, he is shattered but picks up the pieces and endeavours to do the right thing in his own way. But one’s right is another’s wrong. Continue reading “The Sense of an Ending (film)”