August 09, 2017

Helen Simonson's Absorbing Read - "Major Pettigrew's Last Stand"


What is it about romance that makes this world more palatable, even rosier! Helen Simonson's novel "The Last Stand of Major Pettigrew" does just that. It looks at racial tensions, gender disparity, old age, and a dysfunctional family unit with humor and empathy, and that is what makes the novel so enchanting. 

The story revolves around an unlikely and disapproved liaison between a retired Englishman and a Pakistani widow both of who live in a small and scenic village in England. The picturesque setting and the witty dialogue cleverly camouflage the racism and snobbishness that exist in the village, and the reader for the most part enjoys a humorous and heartwarming tale of romance. However, every now and again, there are dialogues that could well be aphorisms about gender issues, and human relationships. Luckily, they don't dampen the light hearted banter between characters which makes the novel so enjoyable. The novel is a must read for an older reader as it explores the changes, both personal and social, that come about in an older person's life many of which are hard to face and others hard to accept; like Shelly said, "Our sweetest songs are those that tell of saddest thoughts." Again, there is nothing really 'sad' about the novel. It is upbeat, easy to read, and funny; yet, for those with a finer sensibility, it will leave you some resonating questions.

January 08, 2017

Oscar Contenders for 2017 - A Personal Moviefest

I watched three very different movies in this last one month and surprisingly liked all three. The first one was in Marathi, the language spoken in the state of Maharashtra in Western India, the second one was a science fiction in English, and the third one was also in English, but the movie was set across two continents. Diverse and widespread the movie making world might be, yet how similar its goal, that of appealing to the human imagination, suspending any disbelief the audience may hold, and weaving a story so real that real lives are put on hold. 


"Family Katta" the Marathi movie I watched, was much talked about, and the movie lived up to that reputation. Based on a play, the entire movie plays out within a span of two days, each day providing a unique flavor of unrelenting drama. The movie explodes long held myths about Hindu family traditions especially with regard to aging parents and gender roles. The movie has several climactic moments that baffle you yet keep you glued to the screen. Marathi theater has always been held in high esteem in India and abroad with luminaries such as Vijay Tendulkar and Vijaya Mehta to boast of, but after watching Family Katta, and Patekar's "Nattsamrat" in the past couple of months, I think Marathi cinema is fast becoming a force to reckon with as the movie "Family Katta" illustrates. Undoubtedly, a must see film, even if it's with close captions.

Villenueve's science fiction film "Arrival" is another movie I watched. Primarily for two reasons: one I liked Villenueve's last directorial venture "Sicario" a lot, and I like actress Amy Adams. Though not much of a sci-fi film fan, I was captivated by recent sci-fi movies like "Gravity" and "The Martian", and "Arrival" definitely belongs in this category as well. "Arrival" threads a very personal human story within a sci-fi interplanetary mystery which adds a unique ethos to the story. As a language teacher, I particularly liked how communication and language become the pivot for averting an interstellar conflict in this movie. Amy Adams plays a linguist, who with Jeremy Redner, a mathematician in the story, is made responsible for handling alien landings in different parts of the world.  "Arrival" is a movie you mustn't miss!

"Lion" is the third movie I watched, and this one is also a 'must see'. Though quite different from the other two films, it is just as engrossing. It deals with issues of identity and spans across two countries, Australia and India. The first half of the movie dragged out a bit, for me, but that may be a matter of opinion because the rest of the audience loved every bit of 'Saroo''s' sad and seamy journey through and in a corrupt and crowded Kolkata and surrounding areas. Based on a true story, I guess the writer director had to stay true to what actually happened, and that may perhaps be the reason that the movie seems like a documentary at times. Nevertheless, it's ability to capture one's imagination stays put, and Dev Patel, of the Slumdog Millionaire fame, may be the reason for that.  He does a pretty good job of being that young man who is  tormented by a past he cannot put his hands on; at least not until he embarks on a strange journey, one without a prescribed destination. Though this may be a give away, but I have to say that Larry Page and Sergei Brin should consider subsidizing the costs entailed in the making of this movie since the movie is quite the advertisement for the Google Earth app! All in all, Lion" is definitely a movie you should watch.