Liza of Lambeth by Somerset Maugham

It is his début novel – given its brief length its rather a novella. It rings real of working class neighbourhood of Lambeth in East End in 1897 when it made its appearance. It is based on Maugham’s own experiences when he worked as a doctor in Lambeth.

Liza is an 18-year-old young girl who works in a factory and stays with her mother. She is particularly friends with Sally and Tom, who wants to marry her. But things take a bitter turn when she falls for a 40 year Jim Blakeston, a married man with 5 children. She pays the ultimate price for her folly.

Life is tough but it is fun as well for Liza. She is a young woman who is popular in her neighbourhood. She doesn’t mind dancing and strutting herself up – Tom is keen to marry her but she doesn’t like him that much. She goes along with the flow, spends time with her friend Sally and has a merry time in indulging in dancing, drinking and visiting the theatre. One wonder what future would hold for her but feels that she should do well since she knows her mind.

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‘The skull beneath the skin’ by P D James

Published in 1982, the murder mystery’s title echoes James’ favorite belief in examining the psychological aspects of crime rather than doing lot of legwork.

It is a classic murder mystery – a remote island in a Victorian setting and a close ring of suspects. We do not have Adam Dalgliesh on the spot – instead it marks the second outing for private eye, Cordelia Gray, after the successful adventure of ‘An Unsuitable Job For A Woman’.

 Agatha Christie did it very successfully in her tale, ‘Ten Little Indians’. And so we have James attempt the classic genre now – a desolate island, a leading actress in the twilight of her failing career as a Shakespearean heroine, the various people in her life and proprietor of Pryde Detective Agency – Cordelia Gray who has been tasked with the work of protecting the diva’s life and to solve the mystery behind the death threats she has received. The threats are literary quotations related chiefly to Shakespeare’s work and are printed on an ordinary paper embellished on the top with the drawing of a skull with crossbones.

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Memories of Vidhu Vinod Chopra’s ‘Parinda’

My news feed was abuzz with the tepid response received by Vidhu Vinod Chopra’s Hollywood début movie, ‘Broken Horses’. The movie is inspired by Chopra’s cult classic, ‘Parinda’ that had released to great acclaim and success in 1989.And, of course, the storyline had been suitably adapted to cater to the taste of the Western audience.

It just rekindled my memories of Parinda that was a trendsetter in the gangster movie space – it was sheer realism and lack of melodrama that make it credible. Even the action sequences were neat rising to a crescendo in the final dénouement. And yes, one just cannot get the visuals of the Kabootarkhana out of your mind.

It was a simple story – two orphaned kids arrive in the city of dreams and need to survive. The Elder brother (Jackie Shroff as Kishen) decides early to sacrifice everything to provide his younger brother (Anil Kapoor as Karan) all opportunities in life. Surviving near the sea front by the Gateway of India, Karan makes friends with Prakash (Anupam Kher) and Paro (Madhuri Dixit). Completing the backdrop is Anna (Nana Patekar) who has shown early signs of being eccentric and a criminal bent of mind.

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Kamal Haasan’s Twin Comedies – Pammal K Sambandam & Panchathantiram

The year was 2002 and Kamal in collaboration with Crazy Mohan, a long time associate as story / dialogue writer, came up with 2 mindless comic capers – Pammal K Sambandam (PKS) and Panchathantiram (PT a.ka. 5 Ruses).

I remember watching them at Albert theatre in Chennai and enjoying it as a fun riot. It is interesting to examine their contours now as there was indeed a method to the madness and both turned out to be good money spinners.

PKS was a comedy caper featuring Kamal and Simran as the lead paid. They share a mutual abhorrence for the opposite sex and an aversion to being married. Well they fall for each other in the end and do get married. Till that happens it is all madness and mayhem as each tries to outsmart the other using Abbas and Sneha as their proxies.

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Khushwant Singh’s ‘A Train to Pakistan’

It was Khushwant Singh’s début novel when it was published in 1956 and memories of the partition were very much alive as it was a momentous event that led to the birth of two nations – India and Pakistan.

The historical context of the novel is well understood by the ordinary Joe on the street so it connected well even as a work of fiction based on the recent events. Singh scores in particular by narrating the human element and the spirit of mankind & sacrifice prevails at the end.

Imagine a small village that ran its daily rhythms as per the passage of trains through its railway station. Mano Majra is as fictional as Malgudi, yet we are easily able to identify with its denizens and their way of life. Pastoral peace reigns as the simple rustic folks went about with their daily routine. A small community of Sikhs and Muslims that had lived in peace and harmony for generations.

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Jeffrey Archer’s ‘A Twist in the Tale’

Jeffrey Archer is a well-known and popular fiction writer particularly acclaimed for his novel Kane & Abel. He has ventured to write in other genres as well and has occasionally done collection of short stories. ‘

A Twist in the Tale’ is one of his early collections and it sure lives up to the promise of end the story with a twist on similar lines like O Henry or Saki.

Reading the collection one can’t but help notice Archer’s peculiar sense of humour – it is all very clever and immediate. He seems to suggest as many aver that there is really no universal truth and on most occasions it is a case of ‘perception being reality’. Well the collection is quite interesting and a good read on a lazy Sunday afternoon.

My Top 3 tales include –

Christina Rosenthal

For some reason I was instantly reminded of ‘Love Story’ by Erich Segal. The commonalities are not that many but I guess it was on account of the lovers overcoming opposition and the heroine premature death. It is interesting to note that Archer himself was an athlete and even ran for England. Guess no writer ever escapes being inspired in parts if not wholly by episodes in his own life.

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Bharathan’s ‘Devaraagam’

From the man who gave us the classic ‘Thevar Magan’ starring Kamal Haasan and Sivaji Ganesan, we have yet another gem featuring Sridevi and Arvind Swamy.

The movie tanked on the box office and possibly it is still what one would call, ‘ahead of our times’. I have not heard of it emerge as a cult classic yet but then future is not ours to foresee. It is difficult to be a popular choice since it takes on orthodoxy and prevalent social norms head on. It is a bigger debate between the individual v/s the collective. And the climax sure pulls no punches.

Love as the forbidden fruit is not new in films right – particularly there does not seem to be much at clash when Lakshmi (Sridevi) falls for a young priest-in-making, Vishnu (Arvind Swamy). Of course the scene is rural countryside and definitely the Elders would be opposed to any such match. The brahminical world can be quite insular at times.And yet it unfolds quite playfully – Lakshmi’s charms her beau with a bagful of tricks. Lovely songs, comic interludes and acquiescing lovers, the first half seems to be meant for light entertainment.

Lot of things grab your attention in the movie – lovely cinematography (shades of Rajiv Menon at times), amazing background music that stays with you and some lovely songs. We do stock situations played out – the bathing scene by the river, the couple falling into the river and the mythical dream song. So things are surely a treat and there don’t seem to be much in terms of tears. In fact it ends in a famous romp in the hay as the lovers cross all physical barriers to unite – it is done as a culmination of a mystical marriage ceremony wherein they acknowledge their commitment to each other.

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