Monday, April 17, 2017

BEGUM JAAN ( Hindi Movie ) Review , Director : SRIJITH MUKHERJI, Cast : Vidya Balan, Gauhar Khan

Feminism, women empowerment, being true to oneself etc are a few words and sentences which are unfortunately being misinterpreted all the time and its true meaning still lies subdued. ' Being unapologetic' is one way of getting empowered. Being true to one's own reality is another way of getting empowered. Begum Jan is both.

The message is clearly conveyed when the protagonist says ' the brothel is ours, the body is ours and the rules are ours'. Though sex workers, we cannot see any victims there. They might have been victims at some point in time in their lives, but once they came under the safe roof of ' Begum Jaan', they ceased to be victims. Director Srijith Mukherjee has clearly drawn a demarcation line for the protagonist from becoming a larger - than size character.

She is strong but vulnerable too. As usual, you cannot see a single trace of Vidya in Begum Jaan.
The characters lack hypocrisy and it is well conveyed too.
The movie opens with an incident that shows a striking resemblance to the gruesome Nirbhaya case. But unlike the real incident, the girl is saved by an old woman who strips herself in front of the miscreants. Proved to be a knock on their conscience, they leave the girl unharmed.

From there, we are taken to 1947 when India was about to get freedom. Cyril Radcliff, who was utterly clueless on the diversity of India was called by the last viceroy Mountbatten to have the final cut on the country - perhaps, the most brutal atrocity which the English had ever committed in the country.

When Radcliff completes his task successfully by drawing the infamous ' Radcliff line', there stands a brothel as a major bottleneck in the border of Punjab and Pakistan.
For the Radcliff Line is paasing through ' Begum Jaan's brothel and to evict her is not an easy task. The crux of the story is how the two officers from the Congress and the Muslim league ( Rajat Kapur and Ashish Vidyarthi) who also happens to be friends become successful in their mission. Will they be able to revel in their success once the mission is accomplished.

Begum Jaan is an unrelenting opponent - a woman shaped and moulded by the scars of her life. She is running a brothel with 12 sex workers from all the castes. Though a brothel, it is a close-knit unit. Though they have their personal woes, they are happy at the moment.
Right from the outset, we understand that things are not going to end on a happy note.But how they deal with their reality makes the story.

Of course, there are many loud outbursts and use of expletives. But you cannot expect refined use of language from a brothel and its inmates. The partition is being used just as a background and you cannot see any worse ramification of the holocaust as you are watching the whole story either from the view of Begum Jan who is least bit bothered about the partition. " Partition is only for men. For us, everything is same once the light goes off," she says or from the officers' viewpoint who are only witnessing the Begum Jan's story.

Perhaps, this was how the people of India at the time of partition might have felt too. They had to bear the brunt for something they had not done. Unfortunately, the situation has not changed one bit.

Besides, it's the loudness which made me connect to their traumas and tribulations.
The two officers - Rajat Kapur ( Iliyaz and Hari Prasad) are also caught in the dilemma. They too had to sacrifice a lot due to partition. Unlike Begum Jaan and her girls these are two characters who are trying their level best to run away from their realities. Though ruthlessly quelled, Begum Jaan and her girls emerge victorious and these two men puts themselves in a state of being where even their success becomes their failures.

Ila Arun's character recites the story of Jhansi Rani, Padmavathi, Meera Bhai. I don't believe those narratives have sidetracked the story, instead, it is an attempt to reinforce the resilience of Begum Jaan and her girls.

Every actor in the film deserves special mention especially Chunky Pandey who played perhaps one of the best roles so far in his film career

Begum Jaan is the remake of Srijith Mukherjee's Bengali movie Rajkahini which was a major hit in Bengal.

Loved Begum Jaan

Monday, March 13, 2017

Toba Tek Singh by Sadat Hasan Manto

Only a few works could surpass the era in which they were written and can still hold relevance. Undoubtedly, “Toba Tek Singh” written by Sadat Hasan Manto is one.  Toba Tek Singh, one among the 15 stories in the book make use of powerful satire to tell the story of displacement and mayhem caused by the partition.

The cut was through the heart of both the countries. A couple of years after the partition, the respective governments decide to exchange the inmates of lunatic asylums in both the countries. The situation was such that nobody, not even the guards could tell exactly where both countries are situated. One day, an inmate who was fed up with the India - Pakistan - Pakistan - India rigmarole climbs up a tree and declares “ I wish to live neither in India nor in Pakistan. I wish to live on this tree.” It’s  certainly a gibberish of a lunatic but without any prejudice. With his simple but powerful language, Manto portrays explicitly,  the dilemma of thousands who were once caught in a no man’s land.

It is a strange paradox that even when Manto speaks about the displacement all through his stories, both countries still clamour to own him. Nandita Das who is directing a movie based on the life of Manto says “ Pakistanis says he is a Pakistani writer and Indian says he is an Indian writer.” For her, Manto is a South Asian writer who could be a perfect conduit for both countries to come closer.”

Bishen Singh, whom the author calls Toba Tek Singh is introduced as an old man who had not slept in 15 years. Occasionally he would rest against the wall but most of the time he was found standing. On a cold winter evening, the Hindu and Sikh lunatics were taken to Wagah border to be transferred to India. When his time came, Toba Tek Singh refused to budge from where he is standing. The swelling on his legs got worse as he was standing for a prolonged time. He stood there firmly as a rock until he fell dead in a no - man’s land.

Like Toba Tek Singh, thousands had lost their lives in a no man’s land whose stories will never be heard.

 The significance of these stories could not be undermined by confining it to the backdrop of partition. Because there lay “ Stark naked emotions” everywhere.

“ Colder than Ice”, the story of Ishwar Singh made me go stoic for a while. Frantic to erase some memory which was gnawing at him, he engross himself in a love game with his lover Kalwant Kaur but fails miserably. Why? He was in a “Muslim Mohalla” to kill several in the community and plunder to seek vengeance. He had broken into a house and starts eliminating one by one in the family barring a little girl. The little thing was so beautiful that he could not bring himself to do away with the child until he ravishes her. He carried her on his shoulders until he found a suitable place to commit the task.

“ first I thought I would shuffle her a bit… but then I decided to trump her right away”

“ I threw the trump...but but she was dead…..I had carried a dead body...a heap of cold flesh,”  Ishwar Singh confesses to his lover.
It’s strange that the living could not evoke any kind of emotions in a man but the dead.

I wonder why Kalwant Kaur's hand became colder than ice when she placed her hands on his.

In " Bitter Harvest", Manto evoked the darker side of a man when he is pushed beyond his limits. But does that justify his action? The answer can be only in the negative. A father molests a little girl to take vengeance against the rape committed against his daughter, Sadly, the little girl was in no way connected to his daughter’s murderers’. The partition had literally opened a ‘ pandora box’.

The story named “ A woman for all seasons ” is about a silent manipulative woman. And we can see many of them still living with their heads held high amidst us.

I would like to call  it as  “ The story of a seductress.” Besides, it also reminded me of the poem - La belle Dame Sans Merci ( The beautiful lady without  Mercy). 

The uniqueness of Toba Tek Singh is that every story stands independently whether it is regarding the backdrop, portrayal of emotions, characters and what not.  Sometimes, you are so enamoured by certain movies and books that you do not want it to end forcing you to put intermittent gaps while watching or reading them. Toba Tek Singh did that to me.

Saturday, March 11, 2017

A Few quotes from Agatha Christie's The Mysterious Affair at Styles -

“Instinct is a marvelous thing. It can neither be explained nor ignored.” 

“Sometimes I feel sure he is as mad as a hatter and then, just as he is at his maddest, I find there is a method in his madness.” 

“You gave too much rein to your imagination. Imagination is a good servant and a bad master. The simplest explanation is always the most likely.”

“When you find that people are not telling you the truth---look out!” 

“You know, Emily was a selfish old woman in her way. She was very generous, but she always wanted a return. She never let people forget what she had done for them - and, that way she missed love.” 

“Everything must be taken into account. If the fact will not fit the theory---let the theory go.” 

“Every murderer is probably somebody's old friend.”

“An appreciative listener is always stimulating.” 

“They tried to be too clever---and that was their undoing.”

“I did not deceive you, mon ami. At most, I permitted you to deceive yourself.” 

“Hasting - There are times when it is one's duty to assert oneself.”

Friday, February 24, 2017

The Mysterious Affair at Styles by Agatha Christie

Years ago, an English spinster was found murdered in a hotel called Savoy in Mussoorie, India. The British were ruling the country then. There was little information on whether the murder case was solved. But what was known that this case later provided a backdrop for a writer in Britain to base her first crime novel upon.

The book was rejected six times. But when it eventually saw the light of the day, it made the author an undisputed name in the genre of crime writing and enabled her to produce several other such works which were outsold only by the Bible and Shakespeare.

 The author was none other than Agatha Christie and the book was “ The Mysterious affair at Styles.”
If Madge, Agatha Christie’s elder sister had not challenged her to write a detective fiction, probably, her debut novel “The Mysterious Affair at Styles” would not have happened.
This book introduced the world-famous Belgian detective Hercule Poirot, who had absolute faith in his “ his little grey cells” to millions of her fans across the globe.

Hercule Poirot had just retired from the Belgian Police and was settling down at Styles St Mary. It was Emily Cavendish, the mistress of Style court that lay a mile the other side of Styles, who had helped him to start his life afresh. But to his utter dismay,  Cavendish, who had recently become Emily Inglethorp as she had married Alfred Inglethorp lost her life in her boudoir.

Captain Arthur Hastings, who was later to become the companion of Poirot had been there in Styles as he was invited by his friend John Cavendish, one of the stepsons of Emily Inglethorp. Hastings had appeared in eight other Poirot novels. Being injured at the war front, he was recuperating at Styles and was the narrator of the story.
Though, autocratic in nature Inglethorp had taken care of her stepsons’ - John and Lawrence need and treated them as her own sons. But things started going awry when she married Alfred Inglethorp who was much younger to her. And one fine morning, Emily Cavendish dies miserably in front of her sons, daughter in law Mary Cavendish and Hastings and also Dr. Bauerstein.

If you ask me who is the real villain of the story, I would say Strychnine - a highly toxic, colourless pesticide. Emily Cavendish was poisoned with strychnine. As Poirot had found a partly burnt paper from her boudoir, it became obvious to him that she had written a will and somebody had tried to burn it.

Was she poisoned because of that will?

It’s an indisputable fact that her experience in a hospital dispensary during first world war had helped her to gain immense knowledge of poisons. And she had skillfully used her knowledge in many of her books, especially, in “ The Mysterious Affairs at Styles”

Kathryn Harkup, a British chemist, and author who was in India in 2015 to participate in a crime writer's festival said " Many of Agatha Christie's fans know how she deftly used her knowledge of poison in her works. But what is less known is that her toxic arsenal – comprising over 30 compounds – included many Indian plants."

Christie is well known for her ‘ famous twists’ in the plots. When the reader feels that she/he is almost near the culprit, she twists the entire plot. Remember her famous twist in “ The Murder on the Orient Express’. You can see the streak of that twist in her first book also.
As he says in this book “ I find there’s a method in his madness” after Styles story, I feel that I should also alter my method of reading Christie. I mean I should delve more deeply into her plots and characters.

Sunday, February 5, 2017

All Through The Night - Mary Higgins Clark

It was a winter night. Christmas is round the corner and it's the night she decided to abandon her infant, nevertheless to say, with a heavy heart. She was just 18 years old. With no other alternative left, she decided to leave her baby at St.Clement's rectory. She wanted the baby to grow in New York with a lovely family. She loved the place and was wanting to come back once she could stand on her own feet.

Her plan was to leave the baby and then alert the monsignor from a phone booth.

It was the same night Bishop Santory's chalice was stolen. He had planned it but little did he know that he would find a baby along with the chalice in a stroller which he strolled back to his house. When the security alarm rang, he ran and conveniently put his backpack under the foot of a stroller which was kept in the rectory. 

Seven years after, her guilt made Sondra search for her baby but was shattered to know that the St. Clement vicarage never got such a baby. Thus began her search for her baby.

 Alvirah's friend Kate was in deep trouble as she found her deceased sister, Bessie left her house, in her will to a stranger husband and wife who recently, occupied one part of her house. Just two days prior to Bakers' informing her about her sister's will, Monsignor Ferris had informed Kate just the opposite of what the Bakers said - she left her house in the name of her younger sister and Kate was thinking of giving it to two nuns to run a shelter home for poor children. Alvirah found the will brought by Bakers phony. 

How these two puzzles are related, that reader has to find.

I would call this story a “ short and simple mystery” for Christmas. There's no murder and 'whodunnit' but two puzzles which are vaguely connected. But without establishing that faint connection, the whole mystery cannot be solved.

I enjoyed it. What attracts me to Mary Higgins Clark's book is always her language. It's so simple yet powerful to make you feel that you are not walking with the characters but running with them.

My second book of Mary Higgins Clark, this year. 

Monday, January 23, 2017

The legend of Lakshmi Prasad by Twinkle Khanna

Years ago, I was waiting at the Le Meridian hotel, Kochi to interview one of the guests who had come to participate in a conference. All the while, there was a man with nondescript features sitting beside me, giving occasional smiles. Other than smiling back at him, I did not attempt to ask his role in the conference. If I had asked, I would not have missed one of the best stories – the story of the ‘ Sanitary Man’ – Arunachalam Muruganantham . 

It was this feeling of ‘ sheer loss’ that made me go for Twinkle Khanna’s second book, but first work of fiction – The legend of Lakshmi Prasad as one of her stories in the book featured him.

Speaking about the book, the author’s intention was good. The ideas were perfect, but unfortunately, it failed to strike the right chord. To be precise, the tempo of emotions were fluctuating.

 For instance, the first story, after which the book was named talk at length on women empowerment and how a young girl made an entire village stand up for women’s rights. But even after the story ended on a positive note, the reader was left wanting for that single spark of revolution. Though feminism was the all pervading element in the story, sadly it could not be felt.  

With least expectation when you move on to the second one – ‘Salaam, Noni Appa’, there comes a barrage of emotions which could leave you longing for many things. This one was my favourite – a beautiful story of two Ismail sisters straight from the heart. It talks about a woman in her sixties who found love at the fag-end of her life.

When the tempo of your expectation was at its zenith, the author takes us to a dark story - the story of a Malayali woman who did not have a goal of her own. Contrary to the author’s claim  “ Here lies Eliza, she briefly belongs to many, but truly to herself, I think the woman just went with the flow of life. Though belonged to a privileged family, she did not even raise a finger to straighten out the mess, she had made of her life.There exist many people like Elisa. But I am just wondering how her lack of commitment and running away from life could be regarded as finding herself.

The story of the Sanitary man was the longest and last in the list. Sadly to say, there are many areas in the story which made the book a little dragging which was otherwise a light read. Long and short, I felt the stories were short of emotions.

Most of the time, the narration had shifted to a non- fiction mode. The systematic style – intro, content and conclusion squashed the creativity out of them. If the author had not rushed and shifted to a more creative style, all these stories could have been beautiful.

Though intermittently, her streak of humour popped its head in the story, she was trying hard to shackle them. If she had unleashed it, the stories would have left an indelible impact on the readers. ( That's just opinion)for I believe when thinks presented with humour can hit the bull's eye.

But I think I like the book primarily for Noni Appa’s story and also that I did not leave it half – way.