The Lady Vanishes ( English)

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Director: Alfred Hitchcock
Releasing Date: 1938
Cast: Margaret Lockwood, Michael Redgrave, Paul Lukas, May Whitty, Basil Radford

Talk about murder mysteries on trains, the first one that pops up in my mind is the movie and the book “ Murder on the Orient Express” by Agatha Christie. ‘ The Lady Vanishes’ reminds me of the same, though both are unique in their own way. The murder is committed in a moving train and most of them know that the murderer is still on the train. The excitement intensifies when the mystery has to be solved before the train reaches its destination.

To begin with, a moving train is a limited space for a murderer or a culprit to escape after committing the crime. But even with such faint chance, when the characters who are into investigating the incident encounter bottlenecks in their moves ahead, it becomes a real challenge not only to the investigating characters but the readers and spectators as well.

Without a speck of doubt, Alfred Hitchcock’s ‘ The Lady Vanishes’ easily fits into the above-mentioned category. Called as “ One of the greatest train movies from the genre’s golden era” by The Guardian, it is based on Ethel Lina White’s novel ‘ The wheel spins’, though with slight alterations in the plot to make it tighter.

The backdrop of the story is the political situation existed then which eventually gave way to the Second World War. The mystery begins when an old woman called Miss Froy disappears from a moving train. Iris, one of the protagonists met the old woman who calls herself a governess when another inmate, a musician named Gilbert disturbs their sleep by playing the music loudly in an inn where they all stayed for one night as the railway line was blocked by an avalanche.

The next day at the railway station, Iris gets hurt in the head when a big flower pot falls on her head. The attack was originally intended to hurt Miss Froy. Iris blacks out once she boards the train and the ‘lady’ helps her. Once she regains her consciousness, both women go to the cafeteria on the train for a cup of tea. After a short nap in her coupe, when Iris opens her eyes Miss Froy has just vanished. The real mystery begins when the magician and family travelling with her in their coupe denies there was any old woman.

To Iris’ shock, her fellow passengers – the two gentlemen – Charters and Caldicott obsessed with Cricket, Mr Todhunter and Mrs Todhunter in fact, his mistress denies seeing any older woman with her though they have seen her. The denial is to due to several reasons – the first two just because they do not want to miss cricket and the second to avoid a possible scandal as they are involved in a clandestine relationship. Within a few hours into the journey, Gilbert with whom she had a ruckus in the previous night joins hands with Iris in search of the woman once he was sure she was not hallucinating.

To speak about the casting, it was perfect. Iris played by Margaret Lockwood and Gilbert by Michael Redgrave who were relatively unknown actors, then became International stars instantly once the movie was released. The chemistry between them was great. I fell in love with Miss Froy played by Dame Mae Witty, the moment I saw her on the screen. Not for a single moment, I felt that the movie was shot 79 years ago. The emotions were universal and displayed well by the characters all through the movie that made me as a spectator to instantly connect with the character irrespective of being a foreigner.

The characters of cricket-loving Englishmen, Charters and Caldicott became so popular as comedians that other writers and directors included these two characters in some of their films.

Humour was displayed brilliantly, especially in the scene when Iris and Gilbert come across a dingy room which supposedly belongs to the magician who was travelling with Iris in her coupe. The fight then ensues is utterly humorous and the actors did it perfectly without overdoing it.

The project, at the outset, was initiated under the name ‘The Lost Lady’ directed by Roy William Neil. But it had to be shelved as the Yugoslavian police accidentally discovered that they were not portrayed in the film in a positive way. This happened when the crew were in Yugoslavia for the shoot. Later, Hitchcock took up the project, which became an instant. The only thing which I did not understand was the scene where a hand comes from the behind and strangles a singer who was singing a song which the Miss Froy was listening from her room.

Before I conclude, I would add that like most of his several films, he had a cameo appearance in this movie too.

– SJS

 

American Sniper ( English)

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Director: Clint Eastwood
Releasing Date: 2014
Cast: Bradley Cooper, Seana Miller,  Luke Grimes
(American biographical war drama film directed by Clint Eastwood and written by Jason Hall)

American Sniper can be easily categorized into a war – movie, but with many underlying layers to it- emotions, faith, duty and certain viewpoints which are of course debatable.

Based on the real life story of Chris Kyle, acclaimed as the most lethal sniper in the US military history who had 160 official killings to his credit, the film solely speaks about ‘ Chris’, though the war is the backdrop. Nevertheless, through him many perspectives come to the fore, the first one being the definition of ‘Evil ‘which is no doubt, Iraq. If we keep aside that particular aspect for a while, the film is worth watching for its sheer display of emotions – a man caught between his duties towards his country where he has to take lives to protect his people and the humanity in him.

When the movie opens, Kyle is on his first operation at Fallujah, Iraq. He is on the rooftop of a building aiming at his enemy. His first target is a woman and a son. The woman, presumably his mother hands over a grenade to the little boy and he is about to throw it towards the convoy. One single shot – the boy is down. Chris is unflinching in his duty but is sad without remorse that he has to gun down the little boy.

It’s the lesson taught by his father that he should be a sheepdog who protects his flock, makes him one of the best snipers. When he guns down his enemy, there’s no remorse written over his face. He is clear – the evil should not thrive. The humanity in him is intact, but that does not deter him from taking over his enemy irrespective of who it is. But when he is away from the war – front, the gore and the violence consume him. As the film progress, we could see the real man whom he has subdued for a while. The scene where he struggles with himself when he has to aim another little boy who picks up the weapon dropped by a terrorist who has been shot by Chris clearly reveals his dilemma. When the child drops the weapon without firing, he heaves a sigh of relief.

Bradley Cooper is at his best that we could never find a trace of him in his character. Sienna Miller, though her scenes are a few, her acting made her presence felt all through the film. Her scenes throw light on what the families of the soldiers go through.

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Chris might be the ‘legend’ as everyone calls him, but, when he’s home, we can see a mentally torn Chris struggling with the conflict that’s brewing inside his mind. But he refuses to acknowledge it. Besides, it is also the protector image which is ingrained in his mind right from the inception of his childhood aggravates his dilemma. He feels that when his buddies are dying in Iraq, he is with his family unable to save them.

It draws our attention to a universal issue – the trauma experienced by the soldiers all across due to their exposure to wars. Whether they are being addressed is the burning question. The scene in a bar where Chris spends time before going home after the war-front is a perfect example of that. As the audience are immersed in his dilemma, the scene cuts to another shot which is the last shot where Chris is seen enjoying with the family and goes out with a war veteran who later kills him. It seems as if the issue has been abruptly cut rather than delving into it a little further.

For a foreigner watching the movie, the answer to the question ‘ why did the war veteran kill Chris’, will be ambiguous, leaving him/her to rely on Google. When you search, you will figure out that he was killed by a psychopath who was affected by the sheer violence he had to see while he was deployed.

Eastwood and Jason decided to cut the final scene after a request from Chris Kyle’s widow – Taya Kyle. The team of American Sniper came up with five different endings once Kyle’s widow informed them that “ This is going to be how my children remember their father, so I want you to get it right.” The film ends with the ‘real funeral scene’ of Chris Kyle.

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When every intention of Clint Eastwood was to portray war as something that annihilating, there’s another side to that portrayal – Dehumanisation of Iraq

Though not explicitly, Eastwood has shown it as an evil that has to be obliterated which makes the story one-sided.The explanation on why ‘Iraq’ became one of the ‘axis of evil’ is glossed over conveniently. Iraq is completely dehumanised in the movie.

Barring this single aspect, he deserves every appreciation for making one of the best war movies which is also the highest grossing war movie ever made.

Interestingly, the release of the movie ran parallel with the trial of Eddie Ray Youth who was guilty of murdering Chris Kyle.

The movie was nominated for six Oscars including best actor for Bradley Cooper and best picture. It won several other awards including Academy Award for best sound editing.

– SJS

BEGUM JAAN ( Hindi)

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BEGUM JAAN ( Hindi)
Releasing Year: 2017
Director: SRIJITH MUKHERJI,
Cast: Vidya Balan, Gauhar Khan

 

Feminism, women empowerment, being true to oneself etc are a few words 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

– SJS

Riot – Sashi Tharoor

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I read this book around 10 years ago. Ever since Lakshman and Priscilla Hart remained with me. Ten years after, I thought of re-reading it again. Just because I felt I can understand the emotions portrayed in the book much better.
When the story starts, Priscilla Hart, a 24 year old American24-year-oldad. Why did she die? Was she murdered or was she at the wrong place at the wrong time?
Though there is the element of ‘ Who dunnit?’, the story is not said through the shrewd eyes of a sleuth but with a heart full of emotions.

 
Priscilla came to India when she was a little girl. Her dad was a Coco Cola executive. Though she had to leave India after some time, she left her heart and soul in the country only to return after a couple of years. She volunteered a population control programme in Zalilgarh in Uttar Pradesh, a place completely marred by the riots. She gets acquainted with the District Magistrate Lakshman and slowly the acquaintance blossoms to love. An abandoned ‘Kotli’ in the district is the witness of all their romantic trysts.
But Lakshman is married and could not leave his wife ( though he knew that he was not in love with her) and his little daughter. But he knew that Priscilla is the love of his life – with whom his life again bloomed. On top of that, he is in charge of a city marred by riots.
Putting an end to Lakshman’s dilemma, Priscillia was about to leave India when the fate struck its hardest blow. In the riots that broke out in Zalilgarh, there were eight people killed and her name was one among them. She is found dead in the same Kotli where she used to love Lakshman. The story slowly unravels the mystery of her death.
Tharoor has written a beautiful love -story in the backdrop of a riot-torn city.

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Almost Single – Advaita Kala

Advaita Kala

After a considerable long gap, I was able to read a book – Advaita Kala’s ‘ Almost Single’. For the first time, I realised that be it Bhatinda or Kerala, the mothers of single women nearing 30 speaks almost the same language. ‘ Mama Bhatia ‘, the mother of Aisha Bhatia, the protagonist resembles my mother too strongly and there are times I had to pinch myself to make sure that it was not my mum who was speaking.

I never had the intention of buying this book when I came across it. I used to frequent bookstores when I am depressed and I chanced upon this book during one such visit. Went through many books and the huge amount printed on the cover literally threw cold waters on my strong inclination to buy a book. But this one was different. Its title lured me like anything for my age. Besides the price was comparatively low that I had no other alternative other than succumbing to my inclination. That’s how I bought Advaita Kala’s ‘ Almost Single’.

I would definitely not call this a masterwork or great piece of art. It is a book which has been written in a simple language and absolutely apt for casual reading. There is no plot as such. It is the story of Aisha Bhatia from Bhatinda along with her two friends who are on a groom hunt, to be precise, it would not be wrong if I say ‘ NRI groom hunt’. ( One friend just got a divorce from her husband and the other is on a search ).

As far as Aisha is concerned, unlike her friends, he did not want to flow with the age old tradition of groom hunting whether it be through social networking sites or by conventional methods. Her faith eventually triumphs at the end as she falls for Karan, an NRI. The story concludes with hero and heroine coming together just like a typical Bollywood movie.

If you are somebody who needs food for thought after reading a book, Almost Single is just not for you. You won’t get anything serious out of it. Keeping all those seriousness aside, if you need a light reading while you are travelling or mired in depression, this could be a perfect remedy.

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Soil for My Roots – Minal Sarosh

Soil for my rootsThis book throws an important question – How could one preserve one’s own roots in a cross-cultural society? Or rather, can one retain his/her individuality in a cross-cultural society? When some characters in the book could retain it, some utterly fails in it. Unfortunately, the latter did not even realise that they do have one.

This is Minal Sarosh’s first book of fiction. The story progresses through Angela, the protagonist, a Gujarati Christian. The story happens in Nasik and from there extends to Ahmedabad. Ask what is unique in her book? It is her meticulous descriptions of place and events. You could feel the pulse of places and emotions narrated here.

Minal opens the story with Angela’s ( protagonist) childhood and talks at length about the social scene which existed then. Gujrati, Tamilian, Malayalee – everyone stayed together, she says. But as years flew by, the transformation occurs – the secular scene slowly turns into communal. Amidst these social changes, there are some who steadfastly hold onto their beliefs. Even for a moment, they are neither ready to budge from it nor ready to put themselves in others’ shoes. But there are some who dares to delve into their inner self to know their identity and roots and one such character is Sarah.

Though the protagonist is Angela, my thoughts always lingered around Sarah, Angela’s cousin. I felt she is the one who could be called ‘liberated’ in the real sense. When Angela just went with the flow, Sarah showed some courage to know to her roots. Being a Christian does not stop her from participating in the Garba dance or many such things which she was not allowed to do just because she is a Christian. It’s also strange that Sarah was finally let free by a superstition. I could relate to her strongly.

Unravelling Sarah would have offered the reader many a revelation. I wish Minal had delved a bit more into Sarah’s character. I still want to know more about her. Apart from it, how people responded to the earthquake that hit Gujrat once, the gruesome Godhra carnage and also the riots that followed subsequently were also dealt with. She has got a beautiful language that her words could paint vivid pictures of everything for the readers.

Minal Sarosh started her literary career as a poet writing in English. She won the commendation prize in the All India Poetry Competition 2005 organised by the Poetry Society (India) Delhi.