Movie Review: Meri Pyaari Bindu

I wanted to watch Annabelle today, but I totally and completely chickened out. I opted instead for what promised to be a comedy-drama from Bollywood, which starred Ayushmann Khurrana and Parineeti Chopra. Both are excellent actors, and thus I figured I was in for a fun ride.

Story: Abhimanyu and Bindu are childhood friends. They go to college together, and are virtually inseparable. Abhimanyu has undeclared feelings for Bindu, who is a wild child of sorts. One fateful day, an accident disrupts the course of their lives, and Bindu moves away. Initially they stay in touch, but life gets in the way.

The story revolves around how Abhi’s and Bindu’s lives intertwine at different points in their lives. Events impact their decisions, and in turn their need for each other changes over time. They are not always in the same place at the same time, and the movie explores that complex relationship.

Review: The movie wasn’t as funny as I was expecting, although the cultural bits were entertaining.

Story: I liked the story. It is a romance, but a complex one which mirrors real-life more than other potboiler romances tend to do. There are so many forces at play in a relationship, and they can affect it so drastically; sometimes for the better, others for worse. I like the way these forces were explored, and the characters were not diminished as a result.

The story also trains a light on the intricate nature of the friendship-relationship boundaries, and how both people do not necessarily feel the same way about each other. In this time and age of the “friend-zone”, it felt refreshing to see that the girl was given agency and not demeaned for her occasional decisions not to be in a relationship with her best friend.

Characters: Relatable characters, with real connections to each other.

Acting: Excellent performances. This is the second Ayushmann movie I have watched, and the guy is immensely likeable, and slips effortlessly into each role he essays. Parineeti has incredible energy, and her vibrancy enthuses the story.

What I liked: I like the Bengali-ness of the movie, foolish as it may sound. I love slices of cultures that are new to me. I loved the performances, and the story. I especially loved Devdas, the dog.

What I disliked: I only wish it was more comedic, not that the movie was bad without it, but because that’s what I felt like watching today.

Rating: ✩✩✩✩

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Book Review: Wessex Tales

As a kid, I read a lot of classics. I didn’t understand any of them, but I read them. I skimmed through a lot of the dialogue and vocabulary, and ended up with an impressive read list, but without connecting to the stories or the writing in any meaningful way. I didn’t even understand why these writers (and their works) were so celebrated.

Then, I lost my reading habit, and the few classics I tried to read bored me to tears. I couldn’t get past the first few pages, where the prose is quite tedious, as the story is being set up. I had become accustomed to the Internet’s mantra of hooking the reader in the first 3 seconds, and thus the ponderous, old-fashioned means of setting the stage and the context for a story fell flat.

I had all but given up on ever reading a classic ever again, till I at least regained some measure of my reading habit. While I wouldn’t say I am there 100%, I thought dipping my toe into classic literature with a book of short stories was a good way to begin.

And so I picked up Wessex Tales, read the the blurb saying that it was a mix of tragic and comedic stories by the master storyteller Thomas Hardy. I found the initial resistance to plot setting once again, but after the first few pages? I was HOOKED. I know understand the allure of classics.

Author: Thomas Hardy

Story: There are 7 stories in the book, and they vary wildly in subject. There are those that incorporate the occult, others that play on historical events, and more that have an exciting twist to them.

In short, the stories are completely independent of each other, but on finishing each one, one is left with a wistfulness and a desire to know more. Each story had enough potential to become a full novel in its own right.

Writing: The writing is incredible. Descriptions, characters, dialogues, vocabulary, segues, undercurrents, morals, and so much more besides, flow unstinted from sentence to sentence, paragraph to paragraph, and page to page. I was in awe of this formidable artistry that wove events and characters into such a gorgeous narrative.

Due to the nature of the book, you are able to appreciate the sheer range this writer has, as each story is vastly different from its predecessor. I wouldn’t say there was an economy of words, but I would be hard-pressed to find any superfluous ones either. As a writer myself, I can only aspire to this sort of mastery.

Characters: Unbelievably complex characters, which develop in front of your very eyes. Each story has a few central protagonists, but there is no paucity of secondary ones. And to be able to intertwine each of the characters successfully, without losing any in the narrative or to loose ends is truly remarkable.

Pace: There is no set pace for all the stories. Some span decades, others a few days. The writing is consistent throughout, and therefore even though there are sometime gigantic leaps in time, there is no feeling of disorientation. I sped through the stories very quickly, feeling quite deflated when each was over due to my eagerness to read more.

Conclusion: I feel quite ill-equipped to review a book by an author of Hardy’s stature. It was an enjoyable, if not altogether happy read, but I later learned that his works tended to be either melancholic or downright tragic in style. I do wish some of the stories had ended on happier notes though, even as I enjoyed them thoroughly.

Rating: ✩✩✩✩✩

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Book Review: A Man Called Ove

I had no idea this book existed. And I am eternally grateful to the rather buggy and slow Goodreads for bringing this book into my life at all. Although I don’t participate a great deal in contests (I NEVER participate), I had recently discovered a section called Giveaways. One day, I idly clicked on it, because I needed something concrete to procrastinate to, as I avoided work like the plague. And I picked a giveaway completely at random, and entered.

A week later, I received an email saying I had won. I was astounded. I never win anything, and that’s why I don’t participate in contests. (Not the other way around, really!) And some time after the notification, I received the book.

I was marginally pleased about receiving the book, no doubt, but I hadn’t heard any buzz about the book. So I wasn’t overjoyed or anything. But then I posted a picture of the book on Instagram, and the most surprising person responded. One half of a hipster-style couple, opinionated, artsy, and therefore rather stuck up opinion-wise. Why would he comment, I thought?

So I picked up the book to read it. And fell in love.

Author: Fredrik Backman

Story: Ove is the very definition of a cantankerous curmudgeon. The world rarely meets with his approval, and he is blunt to a fault. He sets himself high standards and has strong principles, and therefore utterly fails to understand the flaws and weaknesses of other people.

He lives in a house, surrounded by other very similar houses. His daily routine is set in stone and his days proceed on a predictable and predetermined course. Until a new family moves into one of the neighbouring houses. And his neatly ordered universe proceeds to get completely upended.

Writing: The writing is exquisite. It is a masterful blend of emotion, pathos, humour, and a myriad other feelings. The characters come to life with vivid descriptions and actions. They grow into real people with real problems and reactions in front of your eyes. There are some villainous characters, but they are very much on the fringes, and only serve to move the plot forward. The true heft of the story is carried on the shoulders of extremely lovable characters.

Characters: Wonderful characters, drawn in exquisite but not exhausting detail. At the end of the book, a reader knows a lot more about each character than they could have ever realised. I found myself chuckling along at a moment, because Parvaneh and Ove were such conspirators.

But more than anything else, I loved that the characters grew. There was so much change in Ove’s life, and how his neighbours affected him against his stubborn will was a beautiful thing to behold.

Pace: There is no getting bored with this book. It shuttles between the present day and Ove’s past, and the chapter blend was perfect. Each glimpse into his past built Ove’s character more, giving it colour and dimension, getting the reader to understand why this person turned out the way he did.

Conclusion: I have been recommending this book to everyone who asks me for a recommendation. I love it. It has become one of my all-time favourites.

Rating: ✩✩✩✩✩

PS: I read a review on Goodreads about how, in the reviewer’s opinion, the writer was biased towards fat people because of how Ove’s reactions to a portly neighbour were described. In the same review, the disgruntled reader waxed eloquent about his cruelty to cats and the incorrect behaviour patterns of the cat. And these two points were enough to get her to hate the book.

I read the review before I read the book, and even though I tried not to be, I was unfavourably disposed towards the book. I saw the bits that gave rise to her comments, but I disagree with her completely. Ove is a bit rough and blunt by nature. He doesn’t do niceties. Yes, he is derisive of fat peoples’ habits, but that’s his character. In fact, in spite of his somewhat mild biases, it doesn’t stop him from doing the right thing by the very same people he appears to disapprove of. That is excellent character depiction. People are not saints, and they have flaws. Ove has too.

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Book Review: I Am Malala

Malala needs no introduction. For the rest of her days, no matter what she does, she will be known as the girl who was shot in the head by the Taliban. Of course everyone was curious about this indomitable girl, who took on the worst kind of people in the world. So was I.

This book has been on my to-read list for some time, although I was dying to read it. I figured it would be an interesting account of the events that led up to the shooting, and the consequences thereof. It is that to some extent, but it is also an autobiography. That, I did not expect. [Stupid, considering the title.]

Author: Malala Yousafzai

Premise: Malala Yousafzai is an education advocate, from the Swat valley of Pakistan. She was shot in the head, on afternoon, when returning from her father’s school. Thankfully she lived to tell the tale, and the incident has catapulted her (and her cause) to international attention. The book tells the story of her young life, and the building tensions that led to the fateful shooting.

What surprised me is the volume of the minutiae of Malala’s quotidian life. There are sections of the prose that talk about her thoughts and behaviour, and how these affect her. We get to see the nice and the not-so-nice parts of Malala’s mental makeup.

Another facet of the prose is the history of Swat valley, and the cultural norms that prevail there. It is a slice of life for a region that no one I know has encountered, and a way of life that was hitherto unknown to me. It was an interesting capsule of anthropology, albeit somewhat narrow, as it is told from the perspective of a young girl who lived and breathed there for almost her whole life.

Granted, there is a sense of egotism about Malala, and perhaps there is a soupçon of arrogance because she is, at the time of writing, a celebrity of sorts. Some of the reviews on Goodreads (from other Pakistanis) reflect their disgruntled view of her take on things in Pakistan. I think that she is entitled to her opinion, and finally it is one person’s personal perspective.

Writing: The writing is average. It is somewhat young and immature, which is to be expected, and lacks finesse. There are times she jumps from point to point and then back again without clear thought. But the narrative is organised reasonably well.

Pace: Again, the pace is average. If one picks up this book for sensationalism, they will be disappointed. It is a peek into the rural life of Pashtuns in the Swat valley of Pakistan, and one girl’s perspective. The histrionics are only at the very end, and just do not really make for a gripping read overall.

Conclusion: I am glad I read this book, and it did stay will me on different levels for a considerable amount of time. However, having said that, I wouldn’t read it again. I also wouldn’t recommend it readily to anyone, and thus it was purely a human interest read.

I do think that reviewers are being unfair to someone who is essentially a young teenager, who has gone through a uniquely life-changing event.

Rating: ✩✩

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Movie Review: Two Weeks Notice

It is a little sad that I feel guilty for watching a romantic comedy at all. It is harmless entertainment, and yes while it does suffer from all the ills of endemic Hollywood discrimination.. hm. One line after I admitted I shouldn’t feel guilty, here I am adding disclaimers for why I enjoyed this movie. Moving swiftly on!

Story: Lucy (Sandra Bullock) is a highly-educated, do-gooder lawyer who lives in Brooklyn. George (Hugh Grant) is a wealthy businessman, with a tendency towards women, and a profoundly silly and kindly streak. He lives in a suite at the hotel he owns. Their lives couldn’t be further apart. That being said, he is a real estate tycoon, and she has a penchant for saving historic buildings from demolition. Their paths were going to cross eventually.

And so they do. She goes to him to save her neighbourhood community centre, and he just happens to be looking for a lawyer. He hires her, on her condition that the building be saved, and they begin working together. In less than a year, he comes to depend on her for almost everything. She slowly tires of this, and hands in her notice. And the rest of the movie takes off from there.

Review: The movie is eminently watchable. It is funny, has a little heart, is extremely predictable, has no diversity, and is a good palate cleanse from other heavy duty entertainment. *cough* Game of Thrones *cough* There are no mental gymnastics to understand the story; there aren’t parallel undercurrents of storylines; the cinematography and the CGI is non-existent, and therefore doesn’t move into your mindspace. In short, it is cerebrally-easy movie to watch.

Story: The story is straightforward. No surprises at all. AT. ALL. It moves smoothly from scene to scene, with scarcely a hitch. Some of the premises are farfetched, and clearly designed to keep the movie moving forward, but that’s expected.

Characters: Ordinary characters. The fiery lawyer, champion of all things downtrodden. The slightly goofy, charming, handsome tycoon, generous to a fault and somewhat puppy-like in his quest for love. And the supporting cast of disapproving mother, proud father, practical brother, snotty sister-in-law, slightly slimy junior, and the perky usurper.

All strictly one-dimensional and therefore easy to understand.

Acting: Hugh Grant is the same in all his movies. Funny, charming, utterly butterly handsome. I have to wonder whether the man isn’t just like that in real life, and he sort of saunters onto a set, learns a few lines, and behaves as normal.

The others were all right. Nothing extraordinary.

What I liked: If it wasn’t clear by this point, I enjoyed the ease of this movie. Other than that, I love feel-good movies with little investment of mental acuity. But more than that, I liked the little moments of togetherness woven into the tale. I loved the comfort level depicted of two people practically living together every day. And I loved George’s quips and quirky sense of humour, so the writing was pretty good on that front.

What I disliked: Nothing in particular that leaps to mind. I do wish they had more diversity in a natural setting, but it really doesn’t matter too much either way.

Rating: ✩✩✩

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Movie Review: Beauty And The Beast

I missed the juggernaut that was Disney’s reboot of Beauty and the Beast earlier this year. There are many reasons why we stopped going to movie theatres, but the chief one was that it was a thing my family did together. And without dad, it feels weird.

Having said that though, dad would have HATED this movie. Mainly because he was a pain that didn’t like animated features, fantasy movies, historical ones, and a multitude of other equally specific movies. His reasons were ridiculous, and I don’t even remember what they were as a result. But yes, I would have missed the theatre-version of this movie either way, and well, I’m rather grateful for that overall.

Story: I don’t think I really need to outline the story for Beauty and the Beast. The departures from the original Disney animation are scarce, and those appear to have been done to make the movie acceptable in a new century. [I know it isn’t that far off; I’m being dramatic.]

Review: Somehow, I altogether missed the fact that this movie is a MUSICAL! Now, lest anyone think I am an abomination, I am not all that keen on music. I like music, but find that the music blurs out words for me. So when I have to follow an entire movie in song and verse, I lose out on plot points and in-jokes. Not that I always catch them, but still I feel at a disadvantage because I tune out music.

Having said that, it is a beautiful movie, and the art direction is exquisite. I confess to being bored in bits, but that the fault of the songs [and my reaction to them] rather than the movie itself. I did find that there were some superfluous elements, which I will get to shortly.

Story: There are few changes to the previous movie, as I said before. In this case though, Belle is an only child of a doting father. She is portrayed as adventurous, and chafing at the monotony of provincial village life. The other major departure was the attempt to address the issue of Stockholm syndrome. Not quite successful as attempts go, but commendable effort nevertheless. There is the new element of an evil admirer, who is vain to a fault and delights in the misery of others. But then again, this is a children’s movie, so I imagine subtlety isn’t a criterion.

Characters: Mostly caricatured and one-dimensional. Shockingly for a Hollywood movie, the most fleshed-out character is that of Belle. She comes across as strong, intelligent, and capable. She makes her own decisions, and has tremendous courage. I loved her. Of the others, I liked Lumière most. Mainly because Ewan McGregor, but there you go.

Acting: Over the top performances, except for Emma Watson, who is a delight.

What I liked: Art direction, Emma Watson, a wonderful horse, and exquisite sets.

What I disliked: It was boring for me, but like I said before, this is probably more a reflection on me rather than the movie. Also wasn’t keen on it being a musical.

Rating: ✩✩

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Movie Review: Outsourced

Coming from the land of the perennially outraged, I was prepared to be extremely open-minded about this movie. And so I was, so perhaps my review is more balanced that it perhaps deserves.

Story: Todd Anderson works in the call centre for an American company, churning out American gimmicky products, for the American public, in America. The stuff is made in China though, and, to cut costs, his department is being outsourced. To where? India.

If the injury of losing his job wasn’t bad enough, the indignity of having to train his replacement and the team is also heaped on his plate. His manager inveigles him with the threat of losing stock options in a bad economy.

So Todd flies to India.

Review: The movie was very funny, but very superficially. I did laugh at the Indian accent turning ‘Todd’ to ‘Toad’. I laughed at the cow in the office. The half-finished office. I laughed when he did a Salman Khan dance too.

Jolly good! *head wobble*

But it is a glaring example of poverty porn. The guy lands in Mumbai, the commercial capital of the country, and see only shacks and shanties lining the road. He gets down to catch a ferry near the Gateway of India, which happens to be cheek by jowl with Taj and Oberoi. All three edifices are kept out of the frame, possibly to reinforce the rundown-ness of this mosquito-infested, cow-ridden country. It is sad, because right now I am typing this post on a MacBook Air, seated under a Daikin airconditioner, in a glitzy office, in Mumbai. [Let’s ignore the fact that I am meant to be working.] And the impression people have of India is that it is a bunch of yokels, chasing after cows.

Story: There is a story. That’s about the extent to which it is gotten right. The rest is a mad mix of romance, comedy, and drama. And not in a good way. There are no surprises, everything is a trope, and everything is exaggerated. Case in point: a guy wants to put up pictures of his family in his cubicle, so he wallpapers every conceivable surface at his disposal with the photographs. Unless he has a 1000 family members, this is unnecessary and excessive.

Characters: One-dimensional, nonsensical, and stereotypical.

Acting: Awful, hammy performances.

What I liked: It was funny in parts. But that’s because of the afore-mentioned open-minded approach, and my idiotic sense of humour.

What I disliked: Everything.

Rating:

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