Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Rajputi Aan Baan & Shaan - Jaipur Day 1

This month started with a trip (to Agra) and ended with one to Jaipur last weekend! What a life! With a long weekend coming up, we made a spur of the moment plan to head off to Jaipur and that’s just what we did. Jaipur is at a decent 220Km. distance from Delhi and the excellent highway makes it a lovely drive. It was the first time that I drove for so long on a highway! I almost drove around 300 Kms on this trip and loved every second of it. On route to Jaipur, we turned into a bylane and took a short detour towards Samode Palace. The palace is rather a lovely Haveli built around courtyards with fountains and boasting of some spectacular rooms like the Sheesh Mahal (Hall of mirrors).

They offered a buffet lunch for Rs.1100 plus taxes per pax but we settled for going a-la-carte and had a scrumptious Laal Maans (Mutton in red spicy gravy). After being treated like royalty (well, they better have, considering the entry was Rs.500 per person), we got back on the road and headed towards the Amber Fort.

The Amber fort (pronounced Aa-m-ai-r), is a spectacular edifice on the edge of a cliff 20Kms. outside Jaipur. Originally built of a pinkish rock (and now painted yellow for some strange reason), the fort was started by Maharaja Man Singh (the famous step brother of Jodha of Jodha-Akhbar fame) and built by two generations after him. The fort itself is not too large in terms of the palace inside but has a phenomenal 20Km. long wall around it to protect the fort. India’s very own Great Wall!! The guide we hired happened to be more of a movie buff than a historian and he gave us a very engaging (if not informative) tour of where Sridevi walked and where the Mughal-e-azam song ‘Jab Pyar Kiya to Darna Kya’ was shot et centra et cetra….. Needless to say, the husband thoroughly loved the tour. The guide was also convinced that Jodha was not of royal blood and was actually a dancer in Man Singh’s courts….hmmmm, not so sure about that!!

Something worth mentioning here, is that though the architecture of the palace was very Rajput, there were distinct similarities with Mughal Architecture in some places. The marble sculpting was a replica of the one seen in Taj Mahal. A single rock sculpted carefully to show the turn of leaves….remarkable.

As the sun set, we headed off towards our hotel, a heritage ‘haveli’ called ‘Nana-ki-Haveli’ belonging to a The 120 old building was gorgeous and every corner of the place had a story to tell. Waking up in the morning and sitting in the verandah (balcony) sipping tea served in real silver-ware…that’s the life!


For dinner, we decided to be a little adventurous and tried out a backpacker’s favourite – Meditterano. It’s an Italian rooftop restaurant (if you can call it that). Very basic, with plastic chairs and the like but the setting is great and candle-lit. They had a wood fired oven and their pizzas came highly recommended. We tried out a pizza and a spaghetti carbonara which once again reinforced my belief that as much as I may love Italian food, authentic Italian is not my cup of tea!! The pizza was wonderful and crisp but a little too bland for our palette and so was the pasta. I’m half afraid to go on my dream trip to Italy lest I discover my favourite cuisine in its pure form is not anything like what I appreciate!!

So ended a long day well spent….and the next day calls for another post….later then…

Friday, January 23, 2009

Slumdog Millionaire reviewed

"Forget the Us vs Them debate. Go for the pure cinema experience". This is how Nikhat Azmi (TOI) signs off her review of Slumdog Millionaire in today's paper.

You know what? She's right. The only way to enjoy this movie is leave your cynicism at home and enjoy pure art. Because thats what it is. As the world probably knows the story by now, the movie is about a slum kid who wins "who wants to be a millionaire". Everyone cries foul on this and suspects he's cheated and he painstakingly explains how each question was linked to an incident in his life.

A script that goes back and forth between a gameshow and the contestant Jamal's life is a great way to make the film and makes me want to get my hands on the book from which this is adapted (Q&A). The movie is not about portraying India or poverty or flesh trade. The movie is about hope. And how it survives in the darkest of places. About love and how it thrives when all else dies. And about determination. To make one's own destiny.

The best acting in the film is surprisingly by the children who play early years of the main leads. It is not so surprising, once you discover that they're not actors but slum children. Their honesty shows and touches your heart. The other actors do a fair job but not one to be applauded. One person wasted in the movie is Irfaan Khan. The actor has shown his brilliance in many movies and could have been given a meatier role. His hawaldar (kallu mama), on the other hand, does a great job in the tiny role he got.

AR Rehman doesnt disappoint but he doesnt dazzle either. I can understand why hollywood would go gaga over the music and to be honest, the background score is good. But we, who have grown up on Rehman's genius in Roja or Bombay or Dil Se and so many more know that 'Jai Ho' is not Rehman at his best. It's just a decent piece from a genius who creates music from his soul.

The one aspect that I felt the movie lacked was the accented english of the main leads. The children did great...and talked in the local dialect and tone of Mumbai. But the actors fell into this english spoken in an accent that can in no way be Indian. Jamal, one can understand (if one must)as he works in a call centre. But the local gangsters of Mumbai just dont cut it. The only reason I can think that the director did this is to keep this film in the mainstream cinema category at awards and not in the foreign film category. But, it may have been more impactful if the actors were allowed to speak in the local accent (if not language).

But let us refrain from being too critical. 4 Golden Globe wins, 10 Oscar nominations, many other accolades. Is it worth it? I would say yes...many times over.

Dont watch it as an accomplishment for India. Dont watch it as a critic of poverty tourism. And dont watch it as a documentary of Dharavi Slums. In my opinion it is none of those. Watch the movie for the pure joy of entertainment. And you will not be disappointed.

Rating: 4 on 5

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Accolades for Slumdog Millionaire

Yes, I tried…and no, it did not work! Apparently the writer in me refuses to die down just yet!! So, I paid heed to its kicking and screaming and here I am back in the arena….

Slumdog Millionaire makes it big….wins the Golden Globe and so many others!! 64 awards since its release in November!! Whatever the critics may say, this counts for something!!

The question that The Husband asked me yesterday and I still haven’t answered, is whether there is so much reason for us to celebrate? We have this uncanny ability to take credit for anything as disconnected as it may be from us. Sunita Williams shoots to fame after being chosen for a space mission. All Indians smile and feel smug about their achievement. Ofcourse, the immaterial facts include the fact that she is born in Ohio, lived in US all her life, served in the US Navy as is not nor has ever been Indian. But lets not burst the bubble….she traveled to space didn’t she??

Aravind Adiga is a sensation overnight having won the Booker. Every Indian looks at the mirror and says, “See how far India has reached?”. Forget the fact that he immigrated to Australia when he was in school itself and spent most of his life in US and only returned to India recently when he wrote this book. So all those insights into rural Indian culture and how we are evolving probably came to him while he sat in his comfortable room in New York if not his hostel in Oxford. I can bet that of the 10 people you hear talking about it, perhaps only one would have read the book….else why would we feel proud of a book so dark and so tainted in its perception of India?

I could go on but this is turning into a monologue. So should I feel proud of awards being bestowed on a British film directed by a Britisher, produced by one of them as well which released in North America 3 months back and still hasn’t bothered to come to India? I don’t know….and I don’t want to be so critical before seeing the movie. This is not, after all a review…

But yes, in response to his question, I concede that I should be as happy about this film getting awards as I should be if Heath Ledger gets the Oscar.

Purely, for the sake of art!

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