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.

Continue reading “Review of Somerset Maugham’s Short Story ‘Rain’”

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Woody Allen’s ‘Annie Hall’ – classic romcom of a breakup!

The premise is what makes it fascinating – how a whirlwind romance winds its way down to becoming a breakup story. Its sweeping vision takes a variety of stuff into its stride – middle age crisis, battle of sexes, Freudian psychoanalysis, agency to the female character, the soul of New York in the late 70s, realism about how romance evaporates from a relationship … It had it all and ended with a classic punchline about the dysfunctional nature of mixing romance with everyday life.

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What worked for me –

Woody Allen as Alvy Singer – “I don’t want to belong to any club that will accept me as a member.” Groucho Marx. It could be defining image of Alvy Singer. Middle-aged, having a chip about being a Jew, paranoid about everyday incidents and hankering for a relationship even though he can’t handle the inevitable ‘pulls-n-pressures’ that come along. Alvy still is a real character and witty. He even charms Annie Hall as he belabored his theory of death and how the only choice we have in life is to be either horrible or miserable. Continue reading “Woody Allen’s ‘Annie Hall’ – classic romcom of a breakup!”

R K Narayan’s ‘Grandmother’s Tale – a failed last hurrah!

It is not even really a novel in conventional sense – more of an extended short story. Set in his own family roots Narayan is hampered in getting the plotting right as he relies on what his Grandmother narrated to him over a period of time during his childhood days. Still every writer indulges in creative jugglery to convey the story in the right perspective. For some reason Narayan was distracted and didn’t bother to flesh out his characters and dish out a rounded tale for us to savor. R K Laxman’s caricatures look nice but again seem to be an afterthought given a lot is missing in the novel.

R.K.Narayan, Grandmother's Tale

The story had an interesting premise. Set in the era when the British ruled us it is the story of the writer’s great-grandmother. Married early in life, Bala’s life takes a turn for the worse when her young husband, Viswa, leaves the village and heads Westward to Poona. Years go by and there is no sight of him. Bala is now a young woman who can’t bear the taunts of the villagers and decides to follow her husbands footsteps and discover what happened to him. Continue reading “R K Narayan’s ‘Grandmother’s Tale – a failed last hurrah!”

Tabu – the redoubtable actress!

‘Ruk ruk ruk arre baba ruk, Oh my darling give me a look’

Raunchy as well as meaningless lyrics from a popular song in a typical Bollywood masala movie, Vijaypath, that launched Tabu in the mid-90s. That song still became popular and Tabu came to be known as the ‘Ruk Ruk’ girl. Thankfully she moved to doing much better projects and in the process we got a lead Hindi actress who could deliver power-packed performances when it came to character driven roles.

Tabu managed to strike a meaningful balance between commercial and art films rather early in her career. Over the years her acclaim and appreciation to give nuanced performances made her a popular choice when the heroine’s character had a role that went beyond romancing the hero and running around trees.

Eventually she came to a stage that she now appears only in a handful meaningful roles and has managed to avoid the ignominy of being reduced to playing ‘mother-sister’ roles that are the lot of most actress past their prime. Indeed Tabu relishes doing unconventional roles and we look forward to see something special every time she graces the silver-screen.

My Top 5 Tabu movies would include –

Astitva

It was one of her early movies where she accepted a role that would be considered risky for a mainstream actress. She essayed a role of a young married  woman who ends up having a brief fling with her music teacher and decides to keep his child. Her husband is busy chasing his career and doesn’t know the truth till two decades later she inherits a substantial estate from her former music teacher.

The movie is not so much about fidelity and marriage as it is about patriarchal attitudes wherein there is an obvious double standard about sexual proclivity across the gender divide. Unfortunately even her son who is all grown up and about to marry is against her and in support of his ‘father’. So the attitude is not about a generational gap – it is about us being narrow-minded even as we prefer to flaunt a modern outlook to the world at large.

The movie had a modest budget and was a bilingual in Hindi & Marathi. This enabled Tabu to own the role and make it a meaningful performance.

Kandukondain Kandukondain (I have seen, I have seen)

A Tamil movie based on Jane Austen’s popular novel ‘Sense and Sensibility’. She is paired with the young, impetuous and beautiful Aishwarya Rai. Being the elder sister circumstances have forced her to take the burden of taking care of the family. By nature she is sober, acquiescing and given to prioritizing the needs of others. So it is an interesting trick when Manohar (Ajith), a struggling Assistant Director, falls in love with her and pursues her till she acknowledges as well.

Things get muddled after that but in the end it is all is well that ends well. Tabu was a good choice for the role as she essays a stark contrast of all that Aishwarya Rai delivers. So an otherwise ordinary story gains heft due to strong performances by the lead actors including Mammooty, Ajith and Abbas. The movie is further backed by popular songs with Vairamuthu’s lyrics and A R Rahman’s music.

Chandni Bar

It is again a heroine backed project wherein the usual underworld story gets a realistic twist. Madhur Bhandarkar decides to explore the world of Bar dancers who eked out a precarious living hanging onto the grey edges of the city of dreams – Mumbai. The gangster and their dreadful narrative have been explored often enough.

So Bhandarkar twists it by following the life of Mumtaz from the time she is pushed into the trade due to a family tragedy till at the end of it when her children too are forced to make painful choices that will destroy their lives as well.

Again Tabu owns the role like no one else and it is her performance that makes the viewers invest in her story. Her transformation over the years is realistically shown and the tragic climax pulls in no punches. To Tabu’s credit no other actress has been able to pull off such roles with a panache. She received a well-deserved National Award for Best Actress in the role.

Maqbool

Vishal Bharadwaj’s adaption of Lady Macbeth had a bevy of powerful actors including Pankaj Kapoor, Irrfan, Naseer and Om Puri. So it is remarkable that Tabu is able to pull off a nuanced role of Nimmi. Nimmi is a beautiful mistress of Abbaji (Pankaj Kapoor), an ageing gangster. She is the femme fatale who seduces and goads Irrfan to kill Abbaji and take charge of their life together.

We have foreboding that the tale is going to meet a sad and tragic end. So much of the fun and appeal is in the events that lead to the final charge on Abbaji. Tabu gets ample opportunity to maintain an innocent face as she entices Irrfan and plays the role of a charming hostess for the elaborate engagement party being held for Abbaji’s daughter. The song-n-dance routine and bantering where she gets to goad the  brooding Irrfan is very engaging.

Andhadhun

Sriram Raghavan’s edgy thriller with Ayushmann Khurana in the lead still needs a counter character of Tabu to make the story complex and appetizing. Tabu displays her usual brilliance in switching tones and expressions at the drop of a hat. By now we don’t expect anything less from Tabu.

She is now the queen of character roles who makes good choices and delivers great performances. And when these set the Box Office on fire we for one want to cheer her on so that she gets to deliver better performances in the future.

Ravi Subramanian’s ‘The Bankster’ – an undelivered promise.

‘ Meet the John Grisham of banking’ – The Wall Street Journal. So reads the blurb on the book’s cover. Well that’s not quite the case by long distance. It starts on a promising note as multiple strands of the story are unveiled in a format made popular by Arthur Hailey. But the promise of being a thriller never quite materializes as barring the few twist n turns we know how the Cookie will crumble.

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Having been a retail banker myself I find that the author really belabors the hot button issues in the sector – mis-selling of Insurance policies, petty office politics, sexist atmosphere and sleazy affairs, lax Compliance culture and a laissez-faire approach to fuel the banking needs to a burgeoning and aspirational middle class.  Perhaps there is a need to preach as the masses are not emancipated enough and may miss the nuances of the narrative.

Continue reading “Ravi Subramanian’s ‘The Bankster’ – an undelivered promise.”

More power to a Green Diwali!

The Supreme Court’s verdict paves the wave for strengthening the Green Diwali movement though the implementation on ground is always a challenge. The buzz emerging from chat rooms is for all practical purpose none of the firecrackers available in the market meet the suggested ‘Green’ norms. The decision also has severe ramifications on the livelihoods of the traders and the firework industry so finding a workable middle ground solution balancing rivaling interests is a tough act to manage. It reminded me of my personal journey nearly 25 years ago when in my late teens I just all interest in the firecracker game.

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I am talking about the early 90s when the lives of a typical Indian middle class family was quite drab compared to the avenues available in today’s context. India had just started its Liberalization journey, the cable TV network was still in its nascent stage , the  digital revolution had still not arrived and of course there was no social media. Continue reading “More power to a Green Diwali!”

Sehar (Morning) – Arshad Warsi as an unsung hero.

Gangster movies are not new – Satya, Shool, Gangs of Wasseypur, Company and many more have covered the theme to death. Typical plot points – the land mafia, the politician-criminal nexus, the rise of Bahubalis and the abuse of the System are well-documented. Yet Sehar gave Arshad Warsi a great opportunity to showcase his potential as an actor. He comes up with a strong performance and must have been sorely disappointed to see it all being lost at the altar of the Box Office.

Sehar

Set in the late 90s where interest in land and mineral assets including Coal have caught the fancy of the organized crime networks.So we have Arshad Warsi arrive in Lucknow after being transferred around for being an honest cop. He quickly realizes the depth of criminal activity in the city that is being run as an well-oiled organization backed by corrupt politicians. In particular Sushant Singh emerges as a rising force in the criminal world as he is ambitious and is being backed by a local politician in his rise to the top. The System and its prevalent structure is unable to dent Sushant’s operations and a section within is even corrupt turning a blind eye to his activities. Continue reading “Sehar (Morning) – Arshad Warsi as an unsung hero.”

Johnny Gaddar – a thriller that keeps you hooked.

Post the recent success of Andhadhun it was time to visit an old classic by its director, Sriram Raghavan. The year was 2007, it saw a launch of new actor with potential – Neil Nitin Mukesh and of course one of the movies where Dharamendra still shows his magnetic charm. Add to it a strong support cast featuring Vinay Pathak, Zakir Hussain, Govind Namdeo, Rimi Sen and Ashwini Kalsekar, and we are set to have good fun for little longer than the normative 2 hours.

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The movie is not a suspense thriller. Throughout the film the audience is 2 steps ahead of the actors in knowing what is happening but the fun is trying to outguess the next move in the story and / or simply to reckon how Johnny (Neil Nitin Mukesh) will survive. He pulls it off magnificently  – well almost! Continue reading “Johnny Gaddar – a thriller that keeps you hooked.”

Karwaan – a meandering journey …

“मैं अकेला ही चला था जानिब-ए-मंज़िल मगर

लोग साथ आते गए और कारवाँ बनता गया”

Majrooh Sultanpuri’s  noted couplet seems to have inspired the road movie and it is quoted on the Van that is like a central character in the movie. Well this journey is not a popular movement – it focuses on 3 characters and is more about self-discovery than sparking a popular movement.

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Literally a launch vehicle for Mollywood star Dulquer Salman, the movie has a quirky story-line and may test the patience of the Multiplex audience that have little patience for what appears to be a meandering and rambling journey. Thankfully consummate actors Irrfan and Dulquer engage our attention and prevent the movie from becoming a lost cause. Eventually Mithila Palkar and Kriti Kharbanda in a cameo add more funny moments to a somber journey involving exchange of dead bodies shipped to wrong locations. Continue reading “Karwaan – a meandering journey …”

East is East – an immigrant’s angst v/s aspirations to be British!

Veteran Indian actor, Om Puri, plays a Pakistani immigrant and this is of little consequence to the target audience for whom his primary identity is being a man from the East. Set to a comic tone it still features a clash on multiple counts. Set around 1971 an uncertain Puri is worried about Pakistan losing its war against India and has a haunting insecurity about his children being accepted by the British society.

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He tries to push them towards adopting rituals and lifestyles that are alien to their reality. Puri is shown to be dictatorial and won’t accept any dissent from his family. His loving wife – a simple Brit tries to compromise and bridge the yawning gap. Inevitably the youthful rebellion finds its voice albeit it is not as coherent and caustic as would be the case with today’s millennials.

The movie is regarded to be cult classic and hailed as one of the gems featuring Puri who went on to occupy the space of an Asian immigrant when it came for movie being made in UK. While the cast seems to be mostly inexperienced and the staging of film’s scenes have a Theater like feel to it, still it scores in providing a realistic narrative that doffs its hat to stereotypes but doesn’t end up becoming a farce. Continue reading “East is East – an immigrant’s angst v/s aspirations to be British!”

Anaarkali of Aarah – a pataaka version of Pink!

‘No’ means ‘No’ – the Pink delivered the message already for the multiplex audience. To translate it for the masses reaching the C segment audience takes a rare gamble. The movie works brilliantly riding on a power-packed performance by Swara Bhaskar and the skillful direction of Avinash Das who weaves a raunchy story line without making it appearing vulgar. Unfortunately it still performed poorly on the Box Office. 

Anarkali From Aarah

The movie is mostly predictable. Apparently it is inspired from some real stories that provided the basic premise for the story. So we are visiting the boondocks of Bihar for a change and the prevalent culture of folk music and Bhojpuri numbers is familiar territory for us. Enough Hindi movies have featured such item songs to tell us what to expect. Continue reading “Anaarkali of Aarah – a pataaka version of Pink!”