Tuesday, March 24, 2009

An Acknowledgement and Firaaq reviewed

A very touching thing happened today. My blog is usually an extension of my thoughts. I have been told that I dont talk much, but I usually have a lot to say. So I come here and write it all down. I blog as if talking to myself and dont think much on who will be reading this else I may start to craft my thoughts accordingly.

Thus, its always a complement when someone tells me that they read my blog and enjoy it. A similar thing happened today. My friend Gloria started blogging after a long time again (here) and in her starting blog, wrote the following:

"....But before I begin, like all great works of art, an acknowledgement is due … so I would definitely like to thank Larry Page and Sergey Brin for creating Google, without which the world would not have been what it is today; a heartfelt thanks to all the inspiring blogs that I have read and not commented on, thanks to the infectious lazy bug being alive then (right now its hibernating!), my dear friend Harnoor and her passion for writing, movies and food that makes me feel there is much more to life than being bound by the daily schedules (I have not commented on your blogs either, but I do read them sweety!!)...."

Glo, thanks - you made my day...and next time, leave a comment here too :)!!

Coming back to this post, this weekend we decided to go see Firaaq, the directorial debut of Nandita Das. It wasnt an easy decision going for it. The Gujarat riots are not one of my favourite topics and being in Ahmedabad to witness them, they left me very deeply affected. Its also a topic I usually avoid discussing because if you were not there, then you can not possibly understand those times (one of the few times I talked is on this other post). You can not understand the fear of waiting on the terrace of your penthouse all night, watching crowds pass downstairs with mashaals and praying to god that they dont come up...and if they did, thinking of which loft you would hide in or what name would you say for yourself because "Harnoor" happens to be an urdu name. Mob mentality may be easy to imagine but you can not even comprehend how and why most educated people like you and me living in the city supported the riots and hailed Modi for being the hero of 'Hindu' dharam (let me not even go there). So, in short, if you werent there, dont judge my reaction to them either.

So after all these years of avoiding movies made on the Gujarat riots like Parzaania and others, I finally decided to face it and agreed to watch Firaaq. Unfortunately, the movie let me down.

The film thankfully doesn't focus on the riots but on the days following them. Nandita has done her research well and most of the emotions or instances shown do reflect the reality of those times. The fact that there were no vegetables to buy for a week and a vegetable seller would hide and open a stall for a few hours inside a colony, all schools being shut for a month, well to do families taking part in the madness by looting stores like Pantaloons and filling their honda cities with clothes...a lot of it was true.

The movie may be criticised as one that shows only one side of the story and being very pro-muslim. This may be true but I would say that a majority of the madness was one sided. Nevertheless, it would have helped to show both the sides of the coin.

The actors themselves have done a great job. Nasseruddin Shah was great as was the actress who played Arjun Rampal's wife in Rock On (cant remember her name). She is turning out to be a great actress and one we should look forward to.

Though the movie was very serious, it did not cut the ice. It was more like a documentary but did not manage to involve the audience. There were many stories out together but they did not seem to fit into one big picture. Dont get me wrong, it wasnt bad, but it did not fulfill. You know, when you want to have a hot chocolate fudge from Nirulas and have to make do with some chocolate ice cream? Its not that its bad, but it just doesnt satisfy you.

Rating: 2.5 on 5

Monday, March 23, 2009

Mayada, Daughter of Iraq

Well partially because its my least favourite day of the week and partially because I rather be home, out, anywhere but where I am right now, I must blog early on this Monday morning.

Whenever I travel on work, I make it a point to buy a book from the store at the airport for the flight. I could easily take something from home but this is the only time that I actually go out and purchase books, so I let myself indulge. The last trip, I picked up a book called Mayada, by Jean Sasson. She is the same author who has penned similar books like 'Daughters of Arabia', 'Princess' etc. Her themes are similar. They revolve around a central figure, usually a woman in the middle east and through her eyes, take the reader on a journey to understand her land and her people.

'Mayada, Daughter of Iraq' is based on the true story of a lady called Mayada Al-Askari in Iraq. Though Iraq was always slated to be more liberal than its neighbors, not too many of us know the truth behind Saddam Hussain's regime. For us, he is limited to a 30 second video on youtube where he is executed but we have no idea why. The book has been criticised by many as a pro-US invasion story as it shows US army as saviours of their land. I may not agree, but my opinion is not very significant in front of people like Mayada who have lived and witnessed the same.

With a blue blooded family tree, Mayada Al-Askari is of one of the most famous and highly respected families of the area, with her paternal grandfather Jafar Pasha Al-Askari, a World War II hero. Jafar Pasha served as the country's first Defense Minister and Minister to Great Britain. When Jafar was assassinated in Iraq, his obit was written by Sir Winston Churchill. Mayada's maternal grandfather was Sati Al-Husri, the first Arab nationalist, revered by many in the Arab world. This legacy helped Mayada open many doors, know the right people and live a enviable life as a successful journalist in Baghdad. She even met Saddam Hussain a couple of times and was felicitated by him by way of gifts (like a watch with his face on the dial and $3000 on one occasion) as appreciation of some of her articles.

One fine day, without any warning, she was picked up from her shop and locked up in a jail. With no means to communicate with anyone or even to let her children know where she was, Mayada literally disappeared off the face of this earth. The book narrates her time in prison and the other women that she is put up with in cell 52. The 17 'shadow women' as they are called were all imprisoned in such circumstances, without being given a reason why and tortured daily. The women discuss their stories and how they came to be there giving the reader a chilling view into the 2 faced regime. On the face of it, Iraq was liberal and prospering but within the dark lanes, everyone lived in fear and in constant threat of the dictator himself.

Mayada finally managed to get herself released by pulling the correct strings and escaped from Iran. She was instrumental in crafting this book and even now tours with Jean Sasson to tell people her story.

Critics have also disregarded the book as it tells the story of a privileged woman who led a life of luxury and who did not suffer much in comparison to the many other in that cell. I believe that the fact that this could happen to someone even as well regarded as her, is proof enough of the cruelty of the regime.

To check the accuracy of the accounts, I also had a discussion with my father in law who was posted in Iraq for a few years by the Indian Air Force during those days. Though they were treated with gloved hands, there are parallels that could easily be seen especially when he told me about Saddam's habit of giving away watches with his face on the dial and money rewards to show appreciation.

A rivetting read, Mayada is a book that you can not put down. It may not be a literary masterpiece but reaches out from the pages and touches your heart.

Rating: 3.5 on 5

Friday, March 13, 2009

Valkyrie reviewed

Somehow the movies made around the events of the second world war are all a class apart. I dont know if it is the drama that surrounded those times, the stories of heroism and villains that came out or the fact that our mundane lives cant match up to that of those who lived through those days.

Valkyrie is another attempt to unearth and bring to light some of the lesser known stories of the war. Most of us have heard somewhere that there were numerous attempts to assasinate Hitler. What some of us do not know is that there were 15 attempts in all and all of them were by Germans themselves. This review is not a historical debate so I'm not going to get into whether Hitler was a hero for his people or a villain for the world.

Valkyrie is the name given to Hitler's reserve army. He had planned everything through. If there was ever a coup or if something happened to him, he suspected that some people from the SS would take over the government. To avoid this, he made a reserve army whose job would be to protect his interests.

The movie revolves around the last known assasination attempt on Hitler's life narrated through the eyes of a disillusioned soldier. It is a tightly held together screenplay and a gripping drama. The characters have been well formulated and you can see their inability to take a call of whether to do the correct thing or keep quiet for the fear of Hitler. The only thing I saw as a drawback was the portrayal of Hitler himself. He should have been shown as someone so packed with power that his presence in the room would make people tremble. This aura was missing around him in the film.

It is one of those movies which are a great watch and provide food for discussion over the dinner table. I watched it on DVD and would suggest the same to you as well.

Rating: 3 on 5

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button - Reviewed

Sometimes someone comes along with an idea that seems so warped in the beginning but if you look inside, it answers questions that you have been struggling with for so long. For a long time, I wondered why our lives couldn’t be backwards. We would spend 20-30 years doing just about nothing and thoroughly enjoying ourselves. The next 20 odd years, we would spend in worldly pleasures and making a living while exploring the world. Then we would get an education to understand how people perceive things that we had experienced. The last few years, we would be blissfully unaware and yet healthy, enjoying things like running in the rain and eating popsicles. What a novel life it would be, where you would look forward to the next year.

Which is what this phenomenal movie is all about. Based on a book by the same name, the movie traces the life of Benjamin Button as he grows up in reverse. He’s born old and gets younger as people around him age. A concept that sounds bizarre at first but dealt with so delicately that you can not help but feel for this 7 year old boy who looks like a 70 year old man, can hardly walk but wants to play with the kids. He grows up (or grows younger in this case) in an old age home adopted by a kind hearted African-American lady. The story traces the life of Benjamin and how he accepts and deals with his particular situation. Brad Pitt and Cate both have acted exceptionally well and I’m dying to see Sean Penn to understand what he did better that Brad didn’t win the Oscar.

The movie won the Oscar for the best make-up and a critic on rediff wrote “It is difficult to imagine that a make up artist could surpass the brilliance of the Joker (Heath Ledger) but to make Brad Pitt look anything but the handsome devil he is must have been one task”!! And how true that is. When you see this wrinkled old lady on the hospital bed, you can not imagine that she truly is Cate Blanchett. The changes shown as she ages are done so beautifully that when in a scene she’s shown to be dressing, you don’t for a moment disbelief that she is 50 years old. Of course the beauty of the movie lies in Brad Pitt’s makeup. He is shown as everything from a teenager to a 70 year old and the transformation is brilliant. True genius.

This is a film that stays with you. I will wait till I see the other nominations but I can not help but say that this one truly deserved the Academy for Best Picture.

Don’t miss it, buy the ticket in black if required. And carry some popcorn, the movie’s almost 3 hours long.

Rating: 4.5 on 5

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