Print to Celluloid

A few months ago I had written a blog post Patriotism and Bollywood, which mentioned the movie Raazi. After the post, a friend messaged me recommending me to read the book“Calling Sehmat” which was the basis for the movie Raazi. Her argument for recommending this book was that it gave Sehmat a background story as well as an insight into what Sehmat thought and felt. That message left me thinking about how we look at movies when we have already read the book on which the movie is based.

“Not as good as the book”,  is something which fellow bibliophiles and I have said quite often when we watch the print to the screen versions. Though books and movie are both visual the approach of both is different. Books are written words, the author chooses those words which the author feels will convey the author ’s imagination to the reader. The reader on reading the words interprets them in an image, usually a little bit different than what the author had imagined. Movies, on the other hand, show us pictures ( that’s why they are called motion pictures), it is the director’s interpretation of the screenplay. The actors show us real emotions rather than we imagining the exclamation marks.

Books versus movies have supporters on both sides.  When a book is written it is the work of the author’s imagination, the editor’s hard work and the marketing of the publisher.  When a movie is made there is the whole team of director, actors, screenwriter, costume designers, technicians etc behind it. With such a huge number of people involved, even a simple book gets a larger, grander scale. When you read about Scarlett O’Hara walking down the staircase, you use your imagination as to what she would look like. When you see the movie, however, Scarlett gets personified as Vivian Leigh. Now, there is no need to imagine as you can watch Scarlett/Vivian sweep down in the staircase in her red gown. If you try and read Gone With the Wind again after watching the movie, try as hard as you may, you will keep seeing Vivian as Scarlett and Clark Gable as Rhett Buttler. After watching the Harry Potter movies, I could not imagine anyone else but Daniel Radcliff as Harry. This is true for most of the book to screen movies, once you watch a movie, the movie overwhelms your imagination and you recall the movie when re-reading the book.  Purists might say what is the point of reading a book if all the imagination has already been done for you. It, however, can act as a boon in certain cases, Harry Potter for instance.  Hogwarts is a magical castle, we all have read that, but the magic of Hogwarts on screen, with its turrets, staircases, paintings, nooks and crannies comes alive when we watch it on the screen. The screen also makes the world of make-believe real, thus the desperate state of affairs in Charlie’s house (from Charlie and the Chocolate factory) also hits you harder when you see it on screen than when you read it.

The biggest complaint of book lovers when they watch their beloved books on screen is that sometimes the story does not go “By the book”(excuse the pun). The movie which is the perfect example of this complaint is “The Hobbit”.  A slim book of about 351 pages, it has been directed into three two hour movies. Talk about running off with a tale! The fact that the movie doesn’t have to do much with the book is pretty apparent from the above fact. It is the same with the Fantastic Beasts’ movie series. What started off as a slim spin-off booklet from the Harry Potter series is now a movie franchise with two movies already out and two more in the works. The movies have very few characters in common with the Harry Potter series but such is the Harry Potter mania that the movies are blockbusters even before releasing.

One very big advantage movies have over the books is the mass appeal of the movies.  Movies being a vibrant and visually appealing medium reach to a much larger audience than books. I am quite sure that the number of people who have seen the Lord of the Rings trilogy is much more than the number of people who have read it, most of the people will be put off by its size itself! In some cases, it is definitely easier to watch than read, for instance, the Game of Thrones series. With the multitude of characters and storylines, it was much easier to watch it than read it! There is a flip side as well to this, people might watch a movie and assume the movie to be the true story even though the end might be different than in the book. Look no further than the movie Frozen, the movie is very different from the original of Hans Christan Anderson.

The fact remains that books provide a gold mine of stories to be adapted into movies or series. Even Bollywood, not the most cerebral of the mediums, has started looking towards books for stories like in Padman, Two States, Raazi. They have even managed to stick to the basic story despite inserting song and dance sequence to give them mass appeal.

The sad reality, however, is that in this day and age of limited attention spans, people prefer watching than reading. Thus the number of people who watched the movie “Theory of Everything” will be more than the number of people who read the book Travelling to Infinity: My Life with Stephen by Jane Hawking. 

Who knows even this post might go down unread as it is too long!

What is in a name?

“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose
                                     By any other name would smell as sweet.”

 

These oft-repeated clichéd words were written by Shakespeare in his famous play Romeo and Juliet. The literal translation is even if you rename rose with some other name, it’s perfume and beauty will not be diminished, in other words, the beauty of the rose is not dependent on its name. This quote has been going around in my head ever since I read that the name of the city Allahabad has been renamed to Prayagraj and more recently Faizabad was renamed to Ayodhya.

I have had a fascination for names of places/localities in cities. The older localities in cities and small towns throw up such odd/weird yet mind-boggling names. For example in Meerut in Uttar Pradesh, you have areas called as “Lal Kurti”, “Budhana Gate” and even a “Jali Kothi”. Even the more colonial Dehradun has localities like “Khurbura” and “Jhanda Mohalla”. The capital of Lucknow has areas like “Telibag”. Contrast this with the names of the new areas of the towns, you will find an MG Road, a Shastri Nagar and a Mayur Vihar in almost all the towns of North India. There is a uniformity which is boring, bland and somewhat political as well when names of new localities are influenced by the political masters. When I hear names like “Lal Kurti” I wonder how did they get such bizarre though unique names. All these names point to the past in which some incident/person/or use led to a particular name being associated with the area and over a period of time became the given formal name of that particular area, giving a distinct flavour to cities. Now suddenly the Government of India has also started taking interest in names of cities. According to the latest report, about 24 cities/towns have been given the approval to change their names with many more proposals for a name change on the cards.

While the history of words/names is not a very popular branch, in recent years the Government of India seems to be suddenly interested in it. It has started tracing back the names of the cities all the way back to ancient India and is now on a renaming spree. Thus the anglicized Baroda became Vadodara, colonial Calcutta became Kolkatta, Islamic Allahabad became Prayagraj, a caravanserai on the GT Road changed from Mughal Sarai to Pandit Deen Dayal Upadhaya Nagar. There are now clamours to change Ahmedabad to Karnavat and Agra to Agravan. People seem to believe that we should go back to our roots from whence we came. The ancient name of Allahabad was Prayagraj and thus we should go back to that, to take pride in our regional/religious identity. Similar arguments were given for renaming Bombay, Calcutta, Bangalore, Madras, the list seems to be growing each day. Name of a city has now been associated with nationalistic, regional and religious pride. What the renamers forget, is to go back to the roots is to actually lose the identity and the growth of the city. Prayagraj in ancient times grew, became a city, was renamed to Allahabad, grew again. Over the years it assimilated cultures, people, customs leading to the Allahabad city of now. Renaming it back to Prayagraj will not take us back in ancient times and erase Allahabad, Allahabad is an indistinguishable part of today’s Prayagaraj. Changing the name of the city does not mean the city itself has changed, like the rose, the city with its charms, idiosyncrasies and problems, remains the same.

By a stroke of their pen the governments might change the name of the cities but can they change the city itself?  Calcutta was renamed Kolkatta, but can they change the fact that before the British established their trading post on the banks of Hoogly, it was a small hamlet. It was Calcutta, the trading post established by the British, which became the Capital of India until it was shifted to New Delhi. It was Calcutta which gave us stalwarts like Tagore, Mother Teresa and Satyajit Ray. Bombay was renamed to Mumbai, but can they change the fact that before the British, Mumbai was a fishing hamlet. British made Bombay the financial hub it is now by joining the seven islands of Bombay. Renaming it to Mumbai does not erase that fact. Nor does renaming it to Mumbai change the spirit of Bombay. The fact is that the city still remains the city of dreams, a city where everything is possible.

I sometimes wonder if the current or a future government would try to change the name of Capital of India since that is also of British origin. New Delhi, where the current government and ministers reside, was built by Lord Lutyen when the capital was moved from Calcutta to New Delhi and inaugurated in 1931. If so, will they go back to Indraprastha or will they take into consideration Siri, Ferozabad, Tughlaqabad, Shahjehanabad or Dilli as well, since those too, were the names for the city?

I recently read a book by a Pakistani author the premise of which was how systematically the successive governments of Pakistan renamed the Hindu areas/cities in an effort to erase its Hindu past.  The similarity with the current renaming spree in India cannot be missed. The politicians seemed to have missed the point that History cannot be erased, it happened, and that needs to be accepted as a fact.No one possesses a time machine to go back to change the parts of history which are abhorrent. It is the future of our country that we have control over. We can either keep renaming cities, harking back to days of lost glory and ancient pride, or we can work to make our cities reach new heights with better infrastructure, facilities, sanitation and health services so that we actually have something to take pride in.

In the meantime, since according to Shakespeare the name doesn’t really matter and the core remains the same, I am going to continue using the names Calcutta, Bombay, Gurgaon, Madras and CP( how I hate the name Rajiv Chowk!!)!

To Book or E-book

Being a bookworm has a lot of perks, people ask for your opinion and recommendation for books, author or genres. The hidden perk of being asked for recommendations is, of course, making you feel very important. One fine day, however, I was asked by a friend about my Kindle which led to a discussion on whether to buy a Kindle or not. This post had always been on the back burner but the discussion of the pros and cons acted like a catalyst for finally putting pen to paper. This post might also be helpful for those friends of mine who are wavering and as yet undecided on whether to go ahead and buy Kindle or not. My trusted Kindle Paperwhite is my only point of reference and I do not read on any other digital platform, though I did install Kobo on iPad at some point in time. I have tried to compare Kindle and physical books on the points which I think matter the most while reading. Again, at the risk of sounding politically correct, the views expressed in this post are my own.

  • Size. One of the biggest selling points of Kindle is its size. It is small, sleek and easy to carry which means your one month worth of holiday reading and more can be carried around in your handbag. I, in fact, even carry my kindle to the salon, better to read a novel than a filmy rag. Books, on the other hand, can be heavy and cumbersome, think Tolstoy’s War and Peace, more than a thousand pages long weighing more than one kg in paperback format. You might need a separate suitcase to carry it if you want to read it during the holidays!
  • Space. A slim kindle can hold many books without any corresponding increase in its size. You can keep buying books on Kindle without needing to buy more bookshelves. With physical books, the main issue for a bibliophile becomes the place to keep books. I have a bookcase filled with books; the boys have their book cupboard, again full; books kept in all the rooms; I think you get the drift. Having a Kindle means you can easily download books without having to worry which bookshelf can you adjust the book in.
  • Money. Kindle books are on the whole cheaper than physical books (as compared on Amazon Prime, India).  Quite a few books, especially the older classics, are available for free download. Amazon Prime reading also has books free for downloading though searching for a specific book in it might take some time. Subscription based service like Kindle Unlimited can also save you bags of money.
  • Battery Life. I had received a joke in which a Kindle and a book are talking to each other, Kindle is bragging about its advantages and the book just leans over and switches it off. This, in my opinion, is the biggest drawback of Kindle. Being a digital device Kindle needs charging and an internet connection for downloading books. If you are like me who keeps forgetting to charge their Kindle, well then, believe me, Kindle is liable to go dark at the most inopportune moment.
  • Eye Strain. Kindle has the option of adjusting the font size of the book you are reading. It also has a light adjustment, whether you want the background lighter or darker depending on your environment. It allows you to adjust everything according to your convenience and to the environment around you, making for an easier reading experience. In physical books, the main drawback is the print size. Books with a very fine print can be very difficult to read, and as the years are passing by, print size has become a factor in picking up books.
  • In-depth reading. Physical books, for me, give an immersive experience. I register the words more, can rifle through the pages, go back to the pages/passages I like and sometimes even sneak and read the ending first. Even though you can highlight passages/bookmark pages in Kindle, rifling through the pages is pretty hard!
  • NotesI have a confession to make, recently I have gotten this habit of making notes in the margin of non-fiction books. Of course, the purists will be horrified at defacing of the book. It, however, feels more intuitive to me. When something strikes a chord or I have a thought while reading, I  write it in the margin. I sometimes even underline lines/phrases. This also makes my life simpler if I am planning to write a book review later on. Note feature is available on Kindle as well but it somehow doesn’t feel as personal as scribbling on the margin.
  • MemoriesPhysical books are a treasure trove of memories, you remember if you bought the book or if it was gifted. Bought books remind of when/where/how/why you selected the books. If you got the books signed then they get the pride of place, like a couple of my Ruskin Bond’s. Gifted books remind you of the person who gifted it to you whenever you pick them up. Forgotten Bookmarks and postcards in books take you back to the times and places that have gone by. Pressed flowers (especially roses)  in books bring back memories of dates and make you reminisce the days of the past. Somehow there is nothing more romantic than a pressed rose falling out of a book.

So which one do you think comes out on top? Kindle or Physical book? As I said, it is a personal preference. I read non-fiction and more serious books as physical books while saving fiction for my Kindle. If I want to read in-depth then I always pick a physical book as I think then the words register more for me.  There is a sense of accomplishment and satisfaction when I close a book after reading it. Somehow giving the rating of a book on Goodreads immediately after reading, like in Kindle, doesn’t cut it for me.

Buying books on Kindle is very easy, you can sit on your sofa, browse through the online website, enter your card details and lo behold, the book is on your Kindle in a few minutes. Of course, you do need a wi-fi connection to buy the book, but once it is on your Kindle you can read it anywhere/anytime.  For buying a physical book you need to go to the bookstore. There you will browse the shelves, pick up the books whose covers catch your eyes, read the blurbs and see if any intrigues you, maybe read the starting few lines of the book.  While picking up a book you rifle through the book, inhale the new book smell, somehow it all gives a sensory element to buying a book, making reading more personal. This is where for me physical books edge out Kindle, the pleasure of holding a book, feel of the texture of pages on the fingers, inhaling its smell is not found when holding a Kindle and looking at words on its screen.

At the end of the day remember whether you pick a book or a Kindle you are still reading and I guess that is the whole point, isn’t it?

All About The Girls

When I started this blog it was mainly as an outlet for my musings about life and books, but the last post and this one seems to be about Bollywood. Being an Indian, Bollywood is something which we cannot ignore and is a guilty pleasure for quite a few of us. Though not strictly a movie review this post is about the impact of the movie “Veere Di Wedding”.The film was in the news for a lot of reasons, some good and some bad. There were some people who called for a boycott of the movie since a couple of lead heroines had political views contrary to those people. In fact, a recent criticism I read was that this movie is promoting debauchery amongst the women. The film, however, has done and is doing, a pretty brisk business with reviews ranging from people who trashed it to people who cannot stop raving about it due to its content. On the surface, the movie looks like regular Bollywood fare, top-rated actors, foot tapping music, designer dresses and exotic locales. It, however, breaks quite a few stereotypes, for starters, the movie is about women, their friendship and it is the women who take the centre-stage. The male actors are relegated to the sidelines with the focus firmly on the female protagonists. This in itself is quite a departure from the hero/heroine format of most mainstream movies with the heroine usually playing a second-fiddle to the hero. In Bollywood filmography, there are movies like Dil Chahta Hai and Zindagi Na Mile Dobara which focus on the male friendship and bonding as the central theme. Veere Di Wedding is thus a trendsetter in the fact that it is about female bonding and their friendships. The only other movie I can think of which had female companionship at the core was Angry Indian Goddesses.

The story is about four friends, Kalindi, Sakshi, Meera and Avni who have been together for a long time even though they are in different places and all have different personalities. It starts with the character Kalindi being proposed and accepting to get married to her longtime boyfriend. Kalindi, due to circumstances from her younger life, starts to get cold feet just before the wedding. It shows how the expectations of the new family, taking care of hordes of new relatives, conforming to standards of society can get daunting to a young, modern woman who is used to fending for herself. The scene where Kalindi’s would be mother-in-law instructs her in a long list of rituals and customs while following up with the statement “I don’t want to force anyone” is at once funny and ironic. It shows how on one hand you are instructing the intended bride of what all rituals she needs to do all the while trying to prove that you are modern and forward thinking. The whole wedding setup shows the hypocrisy and the modern-day penchant for showing off in today’s weddings. The constant pointing of how much a wedding or each function cost, is something most of us have either bragged about or been bragged too!

The pressures that an individual faces, when they don’t conform to the standards of society, are shown in the story of the character Sakshi. Sakshi smokes, drinks, goes clubbing and wants a divorce from her relatively new husband of six months. She is sexually independent and knows how to take things into her own hands (literally). She is bold and independent but is still tied down by her love for her parents. She knows that if she asks or tells her parents about the divorce and the reasons for it, it is her parents who will face the social stigma. It is only when she gets the support of her parents she gets the courage to give back to the society gossips. Though this storyline has a few loopholes it shows a mirror to a society who gossip about someone and follow it with the most ironical “Sannu Ki!”

Meera’s character is different in the terms that though on the surface she is fun loving and is happily married she feels the lack of family, having married over their objections. She is honest enough to admit she misses making love with her husband after the birth of her son. It shows young motherhood with all the doubts, when you want your love life but feel guilty if you have to make your toddler sleep in his own room; when you are struggling to lose weight; when you long for your own parents but stubbornness keeps you apart. It is also about family and forgiveness. How forgiveness is a balm to the soul and enriches your life.

Avni’s character is mine and probably many a young woman’s favourite.  Avni is a character with which any modern thirty-something career woman in India can identify with. She is smart, successful, independent, pretty but her mother wants her to “settle down”. To this end, she goes through the process of looking through prospective grooms even though arranged marriage is not to her or her friends taste. During the course of meeting and getting to know the men she realizes that even though Indian men might advertise for career women, they eventually want traditional Indian wives, not one who may speak her mind or heaven forbid even knows how to kiss! One of her dialogues (which is my favourite) says that even though you could have a complete education, a good career, be financially independent but a “mangalsutra” becomes the holy grail. It is almost as if marriage is the end goal of a woman’s life rather than a part of a life’s path ( and that too not a necessary part in my opinion). In India when you reach a particular age marriage becomes a necessity in the eyes of society and the sad part is that it is usually the women who are expected to conform and give in. Avni also meets the prospective grooms only because she is pressurized by her mother especially after Kalindi also decides to take the plunge. She tries to conform and even alters her behaviour subtly when she meets the men even though she is someone little bit different. Her dialogue “I want it all” shows the dilemma a young woman in India faces these days. She wants her career and love and marriage but not one at the cost of the other, and therein is the crux of the problem.

In my opinion, this movie, also dubbed the desi Sex and the City, is a good watch. The girls all look gorgeous in the movie with wonderful styling and makeup. The implications of this movie are beyond the styling but involve the way the characters have been framed and their treatment. First of all, it has made bonding with women in real life too. Theatres are full of women groups who have come to watch a movie of girl squad with their girl squads. This movie is a path breaker not because of its plot or acting by the characters, but because it has shown real women rather than the Sati Savitri’s usually shown in the movies. Here the women smoke, drink, talk and enjoy sex, but they are not negative characters, it can be any middle/upper-middle-class group of girls who have studied/worked hard for their careers and now want to live life on their own terms. It brings out the point that women too can make their own choices and live with it. Personal choice has nothing to do with society and it’s hypocritical standards.

While watching this movie I couldn’t help but compare it with “Angry Indian Goddesses”. That movie was darker, talked about same-sex marriage and unlike this one did not end on a happy note. There too the girls were financially and mentally independent but were judged on their choices of clothes, drinking alcohol and their sexual preferences with heartbreaking consequences. Angry Indian Goddesses was starker and more real while Veere Di Wedding is more of a chick-flick (if you pardon the word). However, in an industry where there are no chick-flicks being made this movie is exceptional. With this movie being mainstream Bollywood the number of people who have seen it is more and thus its impact will also be more. While most of us will come out of the movie wowed by the costumes and makeup, there might be a young woman in a small town who might be inspired by someone like Avni who decides that while she does want to get married it has to be on her terms rather than what the society dictates. The young woman might realise that she does have a choice with what to do in her life rather than being told what to do. And therein will be the true success of this movie.

 

Patriotism And Bollywood

Raazi ,a Bollywood movie, released a few weeks ago. Everybody who has seen the movie is waxing eloquent about it. The movie is about a young Indian girl Sehmat, who marries a Pakistani army major only to spy for the Intelligence Bureau of India. The movie has been lauded for its exceptional storytelling and the acting prowess of Alia Bhatt who plays the young Sehmat. Gadar-Ek Prem Katha released in the year 2001. It showed the gore and bloodbath of Partition, young love and uprooting of hand pumps by the actor Sunny Deol. It won loads of awards and is still one of the biggest blockbusters in the cinematic history of India. Even though both the movies are about patriotism the contrast between the two couldn’t be starker. The small, delicate Alia Bhatt versus the big brawny Sunny Deol;  Alia with trembling hands holding the pistol with delicate hands versus Sunny Deol demolishing half a village with just a hand pump.

I contrasted Raazi with Gadar to point out the different facets of patriotism portrayed in Indian Cinema. Gadar was jingoistic, it demonstrated the superiority of India over Pakistan. Raazi, on the other hand, looks into the human cost of war without any name calling, it is almost pacifist in its approach. These days Indian nationalism involves chest thumping, sabre rattling and harking back to the days of yore.  Anyone who criticizes the ruling government or points out flaws in our nation is quite liable to be branded an anti-national. This current environment seems to be more suited to a movie along the lines of Gadar. Raazi, however, comes as a breath of fresh air in this environment of hatred for our neighbour. The fact that Raazi has done a business of more than one hundred crores proves the director Meghana Gulzar correct when she said that to show ourselves good we don’t need to show the other person bad. It proves you do not need to be vitriolic to be patriotic and the audience for the moment seems to agree.

Raazi, Haqeeqat, Border all these movies seemed to follow the mantra of the poem “Charge Of the Light Brigade”. In all these movies the protagonist follows the orders given, howsoever unsurmountable the target may be or even against their basic humanity.The dialogue from Razzi, “Watan ke aagey kuch nahi, khud bhi nahin”, summarizes their approch to patritotism. Some might argue that these are war movies, but then isn’t war the best setting for patriotism? War brings death, destruction and the need to succeed as not you or your life but your entire country is at stake. These movies just take the setting of the war to drive home the point of patriotism.

On the other end of the spectrum is the movie Rang De Basanti. Rang De Basanti, or RDB as it came to be called in popular parlance, was not your regular movie on patriotism. It dealt with a rebellious group of friends who are cynical about the state of the Nation. Acting in a documentary about Bhagat Singh and his friends,  they realise that they could not remain detached when injustice was happening. The movie was a wakeup call for the youth of India. The youth realized that with the public being cynical and with a “Chalta Hai” attitude, the politicians have been taking the country for a ride. It made the youth realise that they could change things, if not on the big stage then definitely at the grassroots level. The cynicism is not gone, the ground reality has not changed much, but the people are more aware. They exercise their electoral franchise more ( even though the pickings are slim), they volunteer more, they raise their voices more. The dialogue of the movie, “Koi bhi desh perfect nahi hota, usko perfect banana padta hai” became the mantra to work towards a better nation.

There are a plethora of movies on patriotism in India from Manoj Kumar’s Shaheed to LOC Kargil to Raazi. If you include movies fighting social evils also as patriotic movies then one of the oldest would be Achyut Kanya, starring Ashok Kumar in the fight against untouchability till the more recent ones like Toilet-Ek Prem Katha.

In a movie-mad country like India, the impact of movies can be seen on people. You have people going to early morning shows to whistle and clap when Sunny Deol decimates the enemy; candle-light marches to raise their voices against injustice ( though recently this again seems to have been hijacked by the politicians); people building toilets after watching movies of their favourite actors. It is true that we cannot praise Bollywood for each positive result nor for each social evil. However, the ground reality remains that Bollywood is a medium which reaches out to the maximum number of people, and patriotism as a product sells. This is why in a family movie like Kabhi Khushi Kabhi Gum, there is a particular (cringe-worthy) scene of Kajol running with Lata Mangeshkar’s iconic song playing in the background. The scene was completely unrelated to the theme of the movie, but then again, patriotism sells.

Movies cannot instil patriotism but they can fan public pride like in the case of Gadar, which came soon after Kargil War, or they may awaken the public like in Rang De Basanti. That may be the reason why on Independence Day or Republic Day the cable TV channels show one patriotic movie after the other, just to remind people of their dues to their country, plus to increase their TRPs.

 

 

Caucasian Holiday

“Georgia?!! Where is that?!”This was my sister’s reaction when I told her we were planning a holiday there during the spring break. I was not surprised by her reaction, I had myself come to know about Georgia as a tourist destination only about three years back when the intrepid traveller, my brother-in-law travelled there for a break. The erstwhile Soviet country was an unknown, visa on arrival facility for the GCC residents, however, changed its accessibility. Suddenly it became a destination of choice for the travel agents offering attractive deals. Almost everyone in my circle of friends in Dubai has either been or are planning to visit Georgia.

Our short trip started with a short three hour, very turbulent flight from Sharjah to Tbilisi. If you are travelling in spring/winter during day-time, try and grab the window seat. You will be amazed as the barren desert landscape changes to snow-covered mountains. Driving through Tbilisi from the airport to our hotel I was struck with a sense of déjà vu. The landscape was alien yet familiar. The mountains, the trees with a hint of green from the spring buds, the flowers blooming by the road all reminded me of Dehradun. Even the children who are not the most observant remarked on the similarity of the road with the one to Dehradun.

Our hotel  Shota@Rustaveli was sandwiched between the Parliament of Georgia and the No1.Public school giving us the views and the feel for the heart of the city. The children had a good time peeking into the classrooms if the curtains were not drawn fully across the window. In a trip lasting six days we had new experiences: playing in snow; new adventures: a flat tyre on a busy highway; new trials: wine tasting; new delights: experiencing Prometheus caves. We had a crash course in the Soviet Union, Stalin and the atrocities committed by the KGB, learned chemistry by finding out how the Stalagtites and Stalagmites were formed, appreciated the differences in culture at the Ethnography museum, found out about evolution and the cousins of Homo Sapiens at the National Museum of Georgia.

We were lucky enough to visit Georgia with the spring just starting, the weather was cold but not unbearable. Snow still fell in Gadauri, the mountain resort making it a winter wonderland for us, the snow virgins. To one, who is used to the artificial snow of Ski Dubai, the mountains covered with pristine white powder were like magic. The extreme cold notwithstanding, you could play in the snow to your heart’s content or if you felt adventurous enough, you could try skiing. Most of all, however, you were in awe of the spotless white and the grandeur of the mountains. You had to acknowledge the beauty of nature at it’s best.

Georgia is one of the world’s oldest wine producing countries and thus it is no surprise that wine tasting is an integral part of a trip to Georgia. I am not a wine aficionado, but even I was impressed by Georgian wine. Wine is made throughout the country, however, the region of Kakheti is more popular with the tourists. Winemaking, in fact, has been given the UNESCO status with different varieties of wine being produced in almost the traditional way. We were lucky enough not only to tour the Kakheti region but also experienced wine-tasting at “Pheasant’s Tear” a family owned winery. Though we didn’t see the vineyards laden with grapes ( it was spring, the vines had yet to bud), the views were worth admiring. Huge green and brown vineyards, the snowcapped Caucasian mountains in the distance and the brilliant crystal blue of the sky contrasting with both. The winery was something we hadn’t experienced before. Located on a quaint steep street of Signagi, you stepped through the wooden door across its stone threshold into a restaurant/winery with exposed brickwork, tables set for lunch complete with blue table covers and flowers in jars as centrepieces. We were served a platter of bread and olive oil with a young man offering us the range of wines made by them, from a dry white to mellow reds. He also explained from which region of Georgia the grapes were sourced, so that we could appreciate the subtle differences in taste. He rounded off with a shot of Cha-Cha ( very famous, very strong), which I politely declined. I had already tried more than five different kinds of wine and had passed my threshold limit long time back! My only regret, however, maybe we could have brought back a couple of more bottles of wine. (Traveller Tip: wines bought from boutiques/family-owned wineries are more expensive than the ones from the factory, though the former have a better quality.)

Travelling through Georgia I was struck by how familiar the country felt. Georgian words for tea, sugar, cashew etc were similar to the words we use for them in Hindi. The script though new, looked Indic(in fact some of our friends also remarked on its similarity to a particular South-Indian language). The flavour of the food was also similar, Georgian cheese is salty like Halloumi but its texture is quite like paneer. A variety of beans is known as “Lobiyo“, any North-Indian will notice the familiarity with our “Lobiya” though don’t expect the same taste. Beggars are quite common, especially around the churches.If you take out your wallet for even a second be prepared to be swarmed by them! On busy highways, especially the one on the way to Bojormi there are street markets selling cane artefacts, farm produce and the ubiquitous wine, quite reminiscent of the highways of India. We even bought a sweet bread with raisins from the roadside, still warm from the oven. A walk through the main Rustaveli Avenue has outdoor cafes jostling with roadside vendors selling books, flowers, souvenirs and even freshly squeezed juice, not unlike any of the main thoroughfares of Indian cities.

Perhaps the fact which was most remarkable was that they still remember Raj Kapoor! If they recognized you as an Indian they would say  “Hindi?!Raj Kapoor!!”. Of course, after that, they would try and sell you something.

Georgia does have its own set of challenges for the tourists. The biggest challenge is the language, an English speaking guide is an asset as most people do not know/ converse in English.Though people do try to help, even ordering at McDonald’s gets to be a bit of a challenge. For vegetarians, the options are quite limited. The most common easily available dish in a Georgian restaurant is the “Khachapuri”, a Georgian bread with cheese. If, you were however like me whose palate was not impressed then potatoes and salads were your best options. We did, however, find a wonderful desi restaurant near our hotel and thus our cravings for dal roti were satisfied.

The pros however far outweigh the cons. Georgia is a wonderfully beautiful country with history and people still untouched by the idea of looting of the tourist droves. It is only a three-hour flight away from UAE and no time difference. Plus it offers something to do for all kinds of travellers, from people who want to experience natural beauty to those who are adventurous and wouldn’t mind some hiking to those who would want to just sit in a cafe and watch the world go by…….

 

An Ode To A Diva

It was a special day, father was home early and we were off to the movies. It didn’t matter which movie father was taking us to as I was just interested in going to the movies, it was a rare treat! It’s only much later I realized I had been to one of the greatest movies of  Indian Cinema history, Mr.India. The movie mesmerized me, the menacing Mogambo, tapping his ringed fingers the globe, the scary acid pit (I was 8 years old, of course, it was scary then), the funny cross-connection telephone, Bob Christo’s “Indian God marta hai”, Anil Kapoor’s loser turned invisible savior avatar and the best, Sridevi’s Miss Hawa-Hawai. For the next six months, my neighbor blared Mr.India’s songs on full blast and tried to sing “lak-chika-lak-chik”. The movie remains a much loved one and recently we even introduced our children to it and their whole gang saw the movie sitting in a hotel room in Kaula Lumpur.

The only time I had seen Sridevi before this movie was in the huge posters of the movie Nagina with her contact lensed blue eyes. I don’t even remember seeing Rishi Kapoor on the poster.They were all over our small town and relatives were raving about the movie.My father, however, refused to take us for that movie since it was all about snakes and he had no intention of sitting through three hours watching snakes cavort on the screen. I finally saw that movie during our annual trip to Chandigarh when someone in the neighborhood hired a video machine and Nagina was one of the cassettes hired(people who grew up in the eighties might remember the phenomenon of video hiring and playing for the entire neighborhood!). Needless to say the “Nagin” dance made way to all the parties and still does.

Our family was not going-to-the-theater-to-watch movies kind of family and there were only a handful of movies that we have seen as a family in theatre. Two which stood out were Mr.India and Karma, both movies of Sridevi.  Growing up in the eighties and nineties meant you were acquainted with Sridevi hitting the bulls-eye on the silver screen. There are so many memories associated with Sridevi movies. There was Chandni which made the “churi” song a mandatory one in the wedding sangeets ; there was my favourite movie “Lamhe” which was a trailblazer in terms of story and whose music still gives me goosebumps ; my cousins dancing on the songs of “Chalbazz”(I saw it much later on Doordarshan); the pathos of Sadma (again seen on Doordarshan).

Her dialogues became favourites to be quoted when appropriate (“Main madira nahin peeti ji” remains an eternal favourite!). Her vivacious dance moves were copied in parties and weddings and shows. In an interview director, Shekhar Kapoor even said it was very difficult to shoot the iconic Hawa Hawai song. If he took a long shot to capture Sridevi’s technical mastery of dance, he missed out on the close-up of her face which captured the joy and mischievousness of the dance.

Sridevi was an entertainer through and through, churning out one masala movie after another, ensnaring the audience with her comic timing, dancing, and her serious acting chops. I read an article in Illustrated Weekly of India stating Sridevi as the “Rupees Thirty Lakh Girl”. This was way back in the 1980s I think around the time Mr.India released. Now, I understand the significance of that headline. In that day and age, when actresses were nothing more than arm candy, Sridevi managed not only to carve a niche for herself but was also commercially very successful. That she asked for and received such a hefty sum spoke of her caliber as an actress, one who could make the movies run on her name alone.

My friend was the first one to send me the news of her demise. I initially thought it to be a hoax , though it turned out to be otherwise. People started posting how shocking it was that such a beautiful, talented actress was taken away so soon. Since the past one hour though the message which has been doing the rounds is the how much pressure Sridevi was to lose weight and be eternally beautiful.  This post is not to disccuss the pressures on Indian Actresses to look forever young.

This post is me looking back upon the hours of entertainment Sridevi has given. The times she has made us laugh, dance and fall in love. It is about the rich legacy she has left behind.

RIP Sridevi!

 

Breaking The Bonds

“The Sanitary Man from a Sacred Land” was a fictional short story written by Twinkle Khanna based on Arunachalam Muruganantham who developed low-cost sanitary napkins for women in rural India. Last week the movie released with superstar Akshay Kumar playing reel life Arunachalam Muruganatham in the movie and we took our sons along to watch the movie. Most of our friends commented that the boys wouldn’t have understood the movie and I partially agree with them. It may be true that the boys would not have understood the movie now but hopefully, something would have registered. Something, which when the time comes would help them in understanding and empathizing with someone else. If nothing else, they might have understood the value of social entrepreneurship where the community rather than the individual benefits.

The movie is a trailblazer for the simple reason that it has put menstrual hygiene on the big screen, something which is extremely private and in most households something to be ashamed of. The movie brings to the forefront the hypocrisy of our society where on one hand the onset of menstruation is seen as a blessing to be celebrated and on the other hand, the same “periods” can mark you to be unclean causing you to be segregated. It shows how money can be spent for offerings in temples without batting an eyelid but thinking twice about buying a product which is essential for hygiene. How people can jump on the bandwagon when you are famous but ostracise you when you try and develop something which is out of bounds in the societal norms.

This post is however not a review of the movie, brilliant though it is. This post is about trying to break the taboos.

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I had my first period in the summer vacation of grade six. My mother taught me how to use/dispose of the pad, the medicine I could take for cramps etc. She, however, ended the conversation with “don’t let your father come to know when you have periods”. Now, to date, I am not sure why she said that; maybe to spare me or my father the embarrassment. The sentence, however, did put in my mind the thought that this was something which was supposed to be hidden and not to be revealed. Studying in a convent school (with the pure white uniform!) you became used to someone (or you) having an accident if you weren’t prepared, or gritting your teeth through cramps and trying to pay attention in class. Moving to a co-ed school brought more challenges as now you had no gang of girls to help you cover up. Slowly through college and subsequent move to Bangalore made me more comfortable in my own skin and periods became routine five days in a month when you got more tired than usual.However, apart from an instruction not to let my father know, I had never been stopped from doing anything or restrictions put on me during periods.

I was rudely awakened when visiting someone, I saw the daughter-in-law of the house sitting on a blanket on the floor at the back of the room. I was horrified to learn that the only reason why she was sitting there was that she was “down”. She had to spend the five days of her period sleeping/sitting on the floor, segregated from all. She and her husband were both educated from a middle-income family but they rigidly adhered to their archaic rituals. Slowly I became more aware of the conundrums about periods. On one hand, the onset of periods is marked by rituals and merriment and on the other, a lady having periods is not supposed to pray as she is deemed to be “unclean”. Periods, which can technically be seen as nature’s way to prepare the body for future children, can cause the lady having them to be ostracized and segregated from family. Periods are still referred to as the “ladies problem” even though it affects the health and hygiene of almost half the population.There is this whole aura of shame, uncleanliness, and ignorance around periods which infuriates me and makes me despondent. Even in this day and age, we keep following the rituals which have no scientific basis whatsoever. I am not advocating to shout from the rooftops when you have periods, however, to cloak it in shame is also wrong.  There is no need to wrap the packet of the napkins in the newspaper and then cover it with black plastic before handing it over to the customer ( anyway the black polythene bag is a dead giveaway!)

The children need to be taught (and not some whispered instructions) about healthy menstrual practices. There needs to be more awareness in schools, not only marketing gimmicks by Unilever and P&G but honest discussions, where different options are told and discussed with the girls. The Victorian prudishness of keeping everything under wraps needs a re-think.Even the boys need to be aware so that when they grow up,  the women in their lives are safe and happy. That the government should reduce Tax on Sanitary Napkins goes without saying. In short, the taboos surrounding periods need to be demolished one by one.

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The other day at the supermarket I saw a middle-aged man buying sanitary napkins, no lady in sight with him. I realized this is the society we must aspire to build, one which recognizes and accepts that buying a sanitary napkin is as mundane and as important as buying a tooth-paste.

 

The Honor of Padmini

The first time I heard the story of Padmini, I was a four-year-old and the narrator was my grandfather. His post-dinner stories introduced me to a world of mythology, history, and folklore of India. I was captivated by the story of Padmini, I could not imagine how beautiful the queen must have been and how entranced by her Alauddin Khilji must have been to actually attack the city. The bravery of the queen to commit Jauhar than fall into the hands of the marauder fired my imagination, I could not picture out how she would have jumped into the fire. The story was soon tucked away in the recesses of the mind along with the stories of Prithviraj Chauhan and Sanghmitra,  Alexander and Porus, of Karnavati and so many more.  Even now I do not know the historical accuracy of the story, my only frame of reference is the story my grandfather told me, so many moons ago. The purpose of this post is not to debate the historical accuracy of the story. I am not a historian, I am a homemaker who has been wondering about the hoopla surrounding the making /release of this movie.

My grandfather taught me that Rajputs are a proud, brave race.  Countless stories abound about their valour, how they held out against the Mughals, fought till their last breath, how important their honour was to them. Honour, according to Collins dictionary, means doing what you believe to be right and being confident that you have done what is right. Thus, the Rajputs fought against the Mughals for their homeland and honour as they believed they were doing the right thing. Rani Padmini committed Jauhar as she believed that it was the right thing to do at that time.

Shri Rajput Karni Sena also believes it is upholding the Rajput honour by protesting against the movie Padmavati. They are choosing to uphold honour by threatening to burn down cinema halls, block the fort of Chittor(thus depriving the guides of their day’s wages and embarrass India in front of the tourists), threatening to cut-off nose/head of the actress playing the role of Rani Padmini. A conundrum isn’t it? They are proposing to uphold the honour of their clan and a woman who has been dead for seven centuries by cutting off the nose of a living woman.

The whole protest and the wrath of the protestors seem to prove the patriarchal mindset of the honour upholders. I have seen comments against the actress but none of the other two main male actors. She and her moral character have been maligned, she has been threatened with bodily harm with one person saying that her nose will be chopped off and the other saying that she will be beheaded.  She has been compared to Surpanakha, the demon princess, just because the actress spoke her own mind. They are equating an actress playing a character in a motion picture with a demon princess in mythology just because she refuses to back down and stands by her hard work.  And that seems to be their way of upholding honour, by threatening harm to the actress. The threats of the protestors alarms and horrifies me as a woman. They have spent centuries subjugating the women using arcane rituals and customs. They feel threatened by any woman who is courageous enough to stand up for her rights and speaks her mind. The only way they think they can come out stronger is not by improving themselves but by threatening the opposing person.

That the misogyny of the fringe group is blatant comes as no surprise. Rajasthan has been way backward as compared to other states in giving equal rights to women, child marriages are still prevalent, girl to boy ratio is abysmal and the most recent documented case of Sati was in 1987 (more than 150 years after Sati was abolished). But how did a fringe group from Rajasthan become so powerful that four states of Indian Republic are calling for a ban/change in the movie? Is it because the elections are around the corner and they need the powerful  “caste” vote, for the political parties, the women are not a vote-block.

Even more surprising is the fact that the Karni Sena and BJP leaders have been shooting their mouths off without any fear or repercussions. Prime Minister Modi who was elected with a massive mandate and coined the inspirational slogan “Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao”  to save the girl child is also silent on the issue. While I totally agree that he is the Prime Minister of the country and thus has too much on his plate, his inaction and silence on the issue seems suspicious, especially now that the PM’s pet, Yogi Adityanath has also spoken out against the movie. The Karni Sena protest seems to have brought to the fore once again the point that dissent against the ruling government is not acceptable. If you are not toeing the government’s line you are branded either anti-national; a communist; if you are a Muslim then you will be asked to leave India; easiest is to defame you if you are a woman, simply threaten to cut off the nose.

The protest also raises the issue of the difference between the real and imaginary. The line between History, historical fiction and folklore are thin, but it is there. Most of the historical movies and serials (which are absolutely appalling in my opinion) are factually incorrect. They are dramatized, fictional interpretations of a story. Especially in India, purely historical movies are seldom even fifty percent accurate, a fact which most of us seem to have forgotten. It is cinema, it is supposed to take cinematic liberties and it rarely sticks to facts as facts are hardly entertaining. The people, however, seem to think it is history. History has always been a contentious subject in India, rather than looking at History as plain facts, successive governments have put their political colour on it, making it factually ambiguous.

I recently read the statement by the chief minister of Uttar Pradesh saying that Mr.Bhansali, the director of the movie, should not play with the emotions of the people. Emotions of the people are the easiest excuse which people give to protest against books, movies, shows, art. We, the people, are to be blamed in this case. When we gave in and banned the book Lajja; when we gave in and banned the movie Water, we gave in to such hooliganism. We gave them the right to protest and create a ruckus in the garb of “people’s emotions”. Somehow “people’s emotions” has become a synonym for using brawn over brain and push to get your way. I am surprised when such people’s emotions are not hurt when there are long power cuts or when trains don’t run on time or when roads are riddled with potholes or when it is not safe for a woman to step out of the house after dark. I guess the “emotions” are all spent up by that time.

I personally am not very fond of Sanjay Bhansali’s movies. They are too grandiose, every frame is just too perfect, the movies are too long and too many cinematic liberties are taken.  Some even say that such controversies are created by him just before the release of his movies to ensure that he gets spectacular openings and his films are a hit. It may or may not be true, but even if it were true, does it excuse the direction the protests have taken against the lead actress? It should be alarming to the general populace of the country that someone can threaten to cut off one’s nose just because one has spoken her mind.I don’t see any protests for the “honour” of the actress.

You know what the biggest irony is? None of the people who are protesting against the movie have actually seen the movie. It is the classic case of the cart before the donkey where they are protesting a slight they “imagine” in the movie.

Maybe before they look out for the honour of the clan they first look up what honor really means.

Or maybe they have confused honor with ego?