Review of Somerset Maugham’s Short Story ‘Rain’

Rain is probably the best short story written by Somerset Maugham – in its length and characterization it is more like a novella but of course it conforms to Maugham’s formula for a story – it has a beginning, a middle and an end.

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The story’s popularity has sustained over the years as it has been made into movies and plays. Sadie’s role of a prostitute out to have a good time has been portrayed on-screen by Joan Crawford, Gloria Swanson and Rita Hayworth. The short story has often been selected for anthologies and is prescribed reading material for students attempting to master modern English literature.

The adventure begins off on simple terms. A ship headed to Apia is stranded near Pago Pago as a Cholera epidemic is suspected and a quarantine is enforced to prevent an outbreak. Most of the travellers are ordinary folks headed on business and personal trips.

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Review of R K Narayan’s, ‘Waiting for the Mahatma’.

It is a bit like ‘Waiting for Godot’ – the final moment with the Mahatma solemnizing the union of Sriram and Bharati never quite arrives in the end. Mentioning this upfront is not really a spoiler – one gets a sense that Sriram’s ambition to marry Bharati is likely to come up with a cropper. In fact the novel has a sense of ‘been-there-and-done-that’ in many ways. The Malgudi settings, Sriram as a ‘man-child’ character doted upon by his granny, Bharati as a the no-nonsense modern woman are themes that we encounter recurrently in Narayan’s novels.

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Narayan has made it an industry to introduce us to young men sequestered in comfortable circumstances who are aimless and bereft of a purpose in life. Often their mother or granny dote upon the protagonists even as the ‘father figure’ is left vexed and reduced to making caustic comments. Further the character is tongue-tied in the presence of the fairer sex although he naturally falls in love with a girl at the first sight. In some novels the story has a natural arc that sees the character mature and achieve a sense of closure. Continue reading “Review of R K Narayan’s, ‘Waiting for the Mahatma’.”

Review of Charles Fuller’s, ‘A Soldier’s Story’

‘It has a dramatic opening – a  Black master-sergeant, worse for wear after a drinking binge ,has been fatally shot and he jeers at his murderer, ‘They still hate you’.  The setting is an US base during the early days of World War II. It is an era that we experience from books and movies as the segregation of races was still a reality and conflicts / violence  was occasioned by the churn in civil society and the supremacist Ku Klux Klan was known to be active.

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Enter Captain Davenport (Howard E Rollins – a promising actor who passed away early) as a Black officer from the military justice team who has been assigned the task of investigating the murder much against the wishes of the Commanding Officer, Colonel Nivins. Continue reading “Review of Charles Fuller’s, ‘A Soldier’s Story’”

Review of Die Another Day – a forgettable swansong for Pierce Brosnan’s Bond.

Bond movies have a template and being preposterous at times is very much a part of it. But even the absurdities have limits that the movie seems to forget. It becomes as good a turkey as the Moonraker. Rather sad as it starts off with a gritty version of Bond. Bond’s mission is a failure, he is captured and tortured. Eventually he gets an opportunity and is forced to go rogue – shades of the classic ‘Licence to Kill’.

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Yet the second half leaves us bewildered – a melting Ice Palace in Iceland, an ‘invisible’ car that has no impact and an absurd ‘mirror-in-the-sky’ that reminds one of a plot gone bonkers a.la. the Moonraker.

Continue reading “Review of Die Another Day – a forgettable swansong for Pierce Brosnan’s Bond.”

Review of Morgan Freeman’s , ‘Driving Miss Daisy’.

Well it is time to discuss Classics. It must take something if an 82-year-old actress wins the ‘Best Actress Award’  at the Oscars. And Jessica Tandy pulled it off thanks to her amazing chemistry with Morgan Freeman who is indeed the face of the movie. Side characters involving a home-keeper (Esther Rolle) and a considerate son (Dan Akroyd) too are crafted with care in this masterpiece.

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The movie traces a 25 year journey in the life of Daisy as she navigates life from being a spritely widow in her early 60s to being a senior resident in an Old Age home in her late 90s. The movie begins by showing her as an ageing Jewish matriarch who is in full control of her senses but has to put up with an ageing body. She smashes her car into the neighbor’s wall and miraculously escapes unscathed. Being strong-willed she doesn’t countenance the well-meaning advice of her caring son : ‘let us hire a Chauffeur to drive you around’.

Continue reading “Review of Morgan Freeman’s , ‘Driving Miss Daisy’.”

Review of Alfred Hitchcock’s ‘Rear Window’.

Voyeurism was a dirty word even before the dawn of the TV / digital era when the Orwellian version of ‘Big Brother’ started to invade our lives. It is in latent and invisible form now but a blow-up like Facebook share collapse brings it back in focus as a grim reality about our ‘way-of-life’ now.

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Given that it is amazing to watch a movie from the mid-50s where Hitchcock reveled in making his lead man – James Stewart – a voyeur and tricked his audience in feeling guilty about this human failing that seems to have an inexorable power on most of us.

The move opens up in a ‘working class’ neighborhood where we meet Jefferies (James Stewart) who is laid up in a wheel chair with one leg wrapped up in plastered cast due to an adventure while trying to click some interesting pictures. His is a lonesome life that is punctuated by the presence of his daily nurse (Stella) and his lady-love, Lisa, (Grace Kelly). Jefferies is bored to death with his enforced bed rest and takes to keeping an eye on his neighbors to liven things up.

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His flat is at a vantage point and opens up a gallery of flats for him to observe and analyse. He notes the key participants antics – a voluptuous ballet dancer, a newly married couple, a song writer, a lonely lady looking for companionship and a couple with a cute dog – with amusement and interest.

Continue reading “Review of Alfred Hitchcock’s ‘Rear Window’.”

Review of John Grisham’s ‘The Firm’

‘The Firm’ is John Grisham’s second novel and by far his most popular book. Drawing on his own background in law, Grisham is able to create a credible Corporate Lawyer in Mitch McDeere and even the rhythms that his Firm follows reflects the nuances of Corporate life and the workings of a hyper-competitive business entity that is wholly focused on generating top-dollar revenue for itself.

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Set in the early 90s, the novel has aged well and its themes are relevant even today. In fact given the digital revolution and spurt in social media the idea of a ‘1-man-insider’  battling a firm to unearth its illegal secrets is quite a challenge. Data leaks embarrassing big Corporates and even Governments is stale news now. Do ends justify employing unethical means? Well the question doesn’t quite arise as none of Grisham’s protagonists really try to preach the ‘boy-scout’ message. They simply make it appear as a battle for survival – eat or be eaten so to say. Continue reading “Review of John Grisham’s ‘The Firm’”

Review of Anita Desai’s short story, ‘The Farewell Party’.

‘When you are young you take the kindness people show you as your right’.                                                                                                           W Somerset Maugham, Cakes and Ale.

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The Ramans are moving on in life as the husband has been promoted and the family needs to adjust to the new reality. An occasion to celebrate success should surely be all fun and games right. But Anita Desai plans to make us think and despair about the human bondage that binds us all. That we are social creatures is a given since Aristotle spoke about it but that high society can be snobbish and malicious is no figment of anyone’s imagination. Continue reading “Review of Anita Desai’s short story, ‘The Farewell Party’.”

Boring and Bizarre – The Osterman Weekend by Robert Ludlum.

I happened to a free weekend when I was travelling to home town. Having time to kill during the trip I picked up the old novel from the roadside vendor. Robert Ludlum, Alistair MacLean, and Robin Cook were my favourites during college days and I had vague memories of having read the novel.

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Published in 1982, the content is obviously dated now but even for pulp fiction the book turned out to be a disappointment.

You are a programming head of leading television channel covering serious political news and uncovering scams & incompetence as means to earn your daily bread. Imagine you are called in by the central investigative agency to be told that one or more of your friends is a traitor and a Russian spy. The spy organization code-named ‘Omega’ had been dormant for long as they wait strategically for an opportune moment to strike. Further they are planning to pull in some action over the coming weekend when the 4 families get together to have what is called, ‘The Osterman Weekend’.

Continue reading “Boring and Bizarre – The Osterman Weekend by Robert Ludlum.”

Review of R K Narayan’s ‘The World of Nagaraj’

Familiarity breeds contempt. One of later novels of Narayan that is not quite as popular as his other tales. Obviously we feel a bit jaded about visiting the good ol’ Malgudi to survey the life of ordinary folks.

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Nagaraj is nothing new – we have seen various versions of him in Narayan’s earlier novels. Weak as water and self-effacing to the point of an apology, thankfully Nagaraj does not have to dwell in real life. Shorn of any responsibilities he keeps dreaming about writing an epic piece of Narada and we know that his comical efforts will bear no fruit. It is another version of ‘Mungerilal ke haseen sapne …’. For variety we have a Nagaraj’s wife etched more strongly and at least we remember Sita by her name at the end of the novel. His irresponsible nephew Tim is yet again a paler version of Mali from Narayan’s ‘Vendor of Sweets’. Continue reading “Review of R K Narayan’s ‘The World of Nagaraj’”

Review of ‘Irrfan & Parvathy’ movie ‘Qarib Qarib Singlle’.

You might have missed watching this movie that was billed to be a mature romcom. It had a modest budget and proved to be successful on the box office too. But it was not marketed at a scale of a typical Bollywood release so reason enough to have not seen it at the theatres.

It scores on realism, strong actors playing unconventional leads and lovely locales. It misses a few points by being predictable about the climax, by not exploring Irrfan’s back-story enough and by force-fitting a ‘sleeping-pill’ induced emotional atyachaar episode featuring Parvathy.

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The opening sequence is relatable and funny at times. A desperate Parvathy (now in her mid-30s and one who lost her husband over a decade ago) seeks a soul mate. Having failed to find one in real life she is forced to turn to an online dating service to look for interesting men. After a barrage of weirdos and trolls, she spots a sensible reply from Irrfan. They meet at a Cafe but Irrfan turns out to be a colorful third-grade shayar. Continue reading “Review of ‘Irrfan & Parvathy’ movie ‘Qarib Qarib Singlle’.”