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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Chill. Relax. Take it lightly.

The other day, I went out with mom to buy groceries. We didn’t have too many items to check out, so, thinking it was the express counter, we stood in the queue of what turned out to be the cash-only register.

While we were quietly awaiting our turn, a bloke sidled up next to us. He was an old, grizzled chap, clearly middle class. Age usually makes me kinder, having older parents makes you acutely aware of people’s increasing frailties.

But, in contrast, a lifetime of being sidled up to inappropriately by men, and facing a nation full of queue-jumping selfish morons, has also honed a sixth sense which throws kindness to the wind. So when this particular piece of trash sidled up to us, I stuck out an elbow, and thrust my shopping cart aggressively in between.

Not that he got the message, because he continued to be uncomfortably close. Till I realised that he was just a patriarchal relic, and was pushing to be done with the process faster – which made me madder than otherwise.

My mom was in front of me, and she waited while the person before us had cleared their stuff into bags. She had her hand draped on the conveyor belt. And the man chose this moment to pipe up: “Oh! You can move your hand and start putting your stuff there.”

Now, I am aware that English is not the average Indian’s first language. I am aware that because of this, they sometimes choose the wrong words. However, nobody gets their tone wrong inadvertently. This guy was instructing us. And I was: Fuck that!

So I turned around and said: “We can see that. It would be nice if you could have some patience.” Make no mistake about it, I was fuming. And worse, I couldn’t even get the sentence out fully, because he interrupted me!

“Ok! Ok! Ok!” he said. I was even more furious. I couldn’t even put him in his place, because he was cutting me off in a louder tone! I seethed.

Finally, I started loading our stuff. I pulled out my card to pay, when the cashier said that it was a cash-only register. My mother and I were surprised, but didn’t argue. We said we were sorry, apologising for missing the tiny sign pointing in a different direction, packed up our things, and went to stand in another queue.

But not before: “Oh! This is cash-only. There is a sign. They don’t accept credit cards in this line.”

My mother had already walked on by, but I couldn’t take it.

“Please mind your own business. The cashier has already informed us of the mistake. It really doesn’t concern you.” Except, I got to ‘business’, and I got cut off again. But this time, I said: “Don’t interrupt me. So rude!”

Again, got interrupted. And the worst part was that he kept telling me to “Relax!” and how he was not doing anything, making me look like a demented lunatic for getting so hyper in the first place.

And that riled me even more. The cheek of someone telling me to calm down, because I objected to his patronising behaviour and intrusion into my personal space is just beyond my comprehension.

I need a way to figure this one out.

Incremental Idiocy

I was ranting a few posts back, about being hounded on Whatsapp by a moronic bloke with no sense of when to back off. I still cannot fathom why he wants to talk to me, when I have given him next to no indication that I am a even a nice person!

Which brings me neatly to my point, or what I now like to call: incremental idiocy.

This is perhaps best explained with a flowchart, but then I don’t have the patience to draw one out. So I will do a list instead.

  1. You have an interesting(-ish) conversation with someone once.
  2. You develop a sort of rapport, and continue to chat.
  3. The other person is enthusiastic and lively. You, out of kindness and niceness, reply appropriately.
  4. That person amps up their conversation, albeit in teeny tiny increments. You start feeling a bit pressured, but since the changes are so miniscule, you feel like an asshat for feeling pressured in the first place.
  5. Step 4 x 1000.
  6. You start getting really fed up, but if that person calls you out on why something was ok yesterday (or for the last so many months) why is it suddenly not ok now, what do you say? This question stops you from saying anything.

And this is what I mean by incremental idiocy. The problem is that worrying behaviour doesn’t start with an announcement. It begins with a little frown, grows to a faint unease, and finally blossoms into a fully-fledged mess. The other person is, maybe, oblivious. I would like to give them the benefit of the doubt and say that they are perpetrating this deliberately. But, I could be wrong.

The worst part is that I cannot figure out how to turn around and say that it has become too much, because the feeling is ephemeral, rather than concrete. I don’t have a substantial argument to fall back on, and I end up falling back into the same rut as before, but more disgruntled and less sure of myself.

And so, I have let this ridiculousness continue. For the time being. But I am fairly certain, I am going to explode at some point, because I don’t like being uneasy and my reaction will be uncontrolled and catastrophic.

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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Looking Back, and Forward

Two years ago, I started this blog. I can’t really believe two years have passed. So much has happened that it simultaneously feels like a very short time, and a very long time since. Of course, the reasons are vastly different.

I thought I would write a mini post, looking at the reasons that made me start this blog in the first place. Primarily it was because my writing habit had broken. Shattered. I had lost all confidence in the ability to pen my thoughts to paper, and see the words come to life.

Rightly or wrongly, I believed I had a gift to write. I rarely go back and change my blog posts, because I quite liked the stream of consciousness ease which they exuded, and the light vein of humour than ran at its core. When I joined my first job in Mumbai, I slowly lost that ability, and everything I wrote felt and sounded wrong and contrived. Therefore this blog was meant to be a form of therapy for that broken skill.

Today, that goal has changed. I have regained the ability to write effortlessly, as stress and pressure, and the constant derision in my workplace have all gone. I may not write well by anyone else’s standards, but at least the words feel like myself again. So what now?

Now the blog is mental therapy. I write to empty my mind of some thoughts, and as I heal on the different fronts, the posts are slowly changing to reflect memories. I encapsulate kernels of joy, sorrow, humour, anger, and so much more on these pages, for me to look back at later and marvel.

I hope I am able to sustain this flow, because I know it has done me a world of good.

Koolness Quotient

Since I’ve stopped working full time, I haven’t had to commute as much. The occasional client meeting is scheduled, and I drag my unwilling body through the traffic-choked roads of Mumbai. An upshot of this situation is that I have far fewer stories of commuters than I had before. [And that’s the ONLY thing I miss about my commutes.]

The other day, I did have a client meeting. It promised to be a protracted one, because I had to get this lady to talk about herself, the company, and her work. I was drawing a blank with respect to website content, and I needed the fundamentals to get started. She had been so busy for the preceding two months, my team and I were left dangling.

So I planned to spend my ride there thinking about questions to pose, in case she ran of things to say. It was essentially along the lines of an interview, and I needed to keep her train of thought moving constantly. The easiest way to do this is to ask open-ended questions, and then follow up ones. And thus I was contemplating.

But I wasn’t alone in the car. Of course not.

At first, I wasn’t unduly perturbed by the specimen in the front passenger seat. I grant you, he was listening to music with the volume turned up so high, I could hear the lyrics of the songs, in spite of him using earphones. This was mildly obnoxious in of itself, but then he got a phone call.

Now the caller was evidently a girl, and during the course of the conversation, I got a strong feeling that she was interested in him. Why? Because he was abysmally rude to her during the whole conversation.

She suggested meeting up; he said no. Then said yes, but only wanted meet up near his place. Then he said he wanted to go to a particular restaurant, and when she presumably demurred, he was churlish.

He called her a number of names, but when she said something in response, he claimed it was “offending” and sulked audibly.

He derided her for “reading Shakespeare for sure”, and vehemently expressed his absolute hatred for romances. Then went on to talk about reading Mein Kampf, patronisingly telling her that it wasn’t a romance (d-uh, because I HATE ROMANCE. Yuck.) He went on to describe the book in the most general terms possible, telegraphing that he either didn’t get very far or he wasn’t taking the text in at all.

There were many more instances of what I thought was awful behaviour. And since I couldn’t escape the aural assault, I figured I might as well try and understand why someone as abrasive and unprepossessing as this piece of humanity was clearly so attractive to his caller.

And then it hit me; he was a cool dude! He had a Nirvana shirt on, he drawled lazily, he listened to music, and I saw that he smoked, once he got out of the car. Basically, he exuded “bad boy”, and that sort of vibe is catnip for certain people of a particular age.

While I was taking all this in, I started feeling very old. I too found bad boys attractive at some point in my college years, although I sadly did not have the same effect on them. But I now realise I have grown out of that phase completely, and I now can’t stand them.

It made me shudder to think that at one point of time in my life, I would have been the girl on that call, quietly bearing this bad behaviour because I was at the mercy of my fledgling emotions, desires, and insecurities. I wouldn’t say I know completely better now, but I thank my stars that discernment is part of my current mental makeup.

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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