Sea of Poppies

There is no greater leveler than misfortune.And in all probability, the British rule united us is more ways than one.A Rajput rural woman, a princely Zamindar, a priest, a French woman, a half-black American all come together in life changing journeys in the “Sea of Poppies” by Amitav Ghosh.The book is the first of his Ibis Trilogy,which was shortlisted for the Man Booker prize in 2008.

Set during the time when the East India company was just spreading its tentacles and imposing opium cultivation on the farmers, the story charts its course through its various characters who hail from different strata of a checkered society.

Deeti,the Rajput wife of an ‘afeemkhor'(an opium addict), who resolves to perform Sati in an age-old tradition in her husband’s pyre – more to evade the clutches of her lecherous brother-in-law than any allegiance to devout faith, is snatched from the jaws of death by none other than the village cart driver who incidentally is also a ‘Chamaar’ – Kalua. They are then on the run from a caste strangled village, men for whom caste and honor were not boundaries to be broken.

The author sensitively portrays the life of a lower caste person through the life of Kalua, who despite being of an impressive physical strength, silently bears autrocities meted out to him. At one instance,Deeti unwittingly becomes an audience to the humiliation of Kalua – “So it could happen to a man too ? Even a powerful giant of a man could be humiliated and destroyed in a way that far exceeded his body’s capacity for pain”

Neel Rattan Haldar, a zamindar, has everything he could ask for albeit for one small problem. He is debt-ridden to a ruthless British Planter. Overnight his fortunes turn and he’s at the mercy to a fate more pathetic than a ‘Chamaar’. He’s incarcerated on false charges and sentenced to deportation. “So it was that for Neel, no aspect of his captivity held greater terror than the thought of sharing a shit-hole with dozens of common prisoners”
Till the end the thing that troubles him the most is the loss of his caste more than his riches.

A french girl,Paulette, is raised in a surprisingly liberal manner by a doting father, but loses her independence with her father’s death and is thrust into a British planter’s household. In a life stifled by orthodoxy,coming face-to-face with the perverted nature of her benefactor, proves to be her undoing.

A man who is a ‘white’ for all practical purposes but with one minor difference, he is ‘half-black’- a mulatto American – a fact that made all the difference, that makes him appreciate the feelings of suppression which transcends language.Zachary Reid is portrayed as an interesting mix of youth and maturity, of innocence and experience.

We make the acquaintance of a strange character – the character of Gomushta Baboo Nobokrishna Panda. Despite all his religious idiosyncrasies, we would have relegated him to a character of not much consequence, if it were not for his rather pivotal role in the lives of the key protagonists. He embodies a sort of religious fanaticism who’s searching for his elusive god mother Taramony and in the process, is convinced of the rebirth of Krishna as Zachary Reid.

The myriad characters all come together in ‘The Ibis’, a ship – a white winged bird in flight, denoting escape from some, torment for others .The ship invokes both fear and fascination for its taking them to a destination and fates unknown.

Irrespective of their background caste,race or religion, in the ship, they are only fellow ‘jahazis’ and in its hold, isolated by the past and the future, there is only one defining language that unites – that of a basic humanness and the insurmountable divide of the good versus evil.

Amitav Ghosh weaves magic with his vivid portrayal of characters and the depth he creates in each one of them.The characters too, are carefully chosen from different classes of people to create the rich tapestry that is the ‘Sea of Poppies’. He uses a lot of Hindi-anglicized words to depict the language of the British in India at the time and though authentic that helps portraying the culture and language necessary for creating an alluring background, the unaccustomed words did create a hurdle in the otherwise smooth flow of reading.Since I failed to locate a glossary for such words in the book, it might pose a hurdle for the non-Hindi speaking readers, though in some cases, obvious assumptions can presumably be made.I relished reading it and though the story shifts across various characters and places as it spans Ghazipur to Calcutta to the rolling high seas, there was no disconnect as they seamlessly join to create a vibrant story.

This is not a new book and I am sure many of you might have already read this.But as they say, a good book never gets old and every book will be read at its own time. So, if you have already read it, do put in your comment to share how you felt about it.

“The Double Life of Véronique” by Krzysztof Kieslowski

This French-Polish film by Krzysztof Kieslowski is a movie, which as critics put it, is very little on paper and lovely on the emotional connect. It is rather like the ethereal musical note whose melody impinges on your senses but try as you might, you would not be able to put that on paper. An artistic work beckons you and gives you that special insight into the artist’s thoughts and in these realms, casting aside logic and the rules of the conscious world, allows one to truly experience it to its fullest.
The Double Life of Veronique
I saw the film twice and I could appreciate a lot of nuances much better on my second viewing.

Two children in different locations are shown the beauty of nature by their mothers – a lone star below the fog of a million stars in the night sky and a tender leaf with fine veins running through.

This was such an artistic way to start the movie, though it was only during the second viewing that I actually could relate it back to the story.

Weronika (Irène Jacob),a Polish church concertist in Poland tells her father that suddenly she didn’t feel ‘alone’ and expresses a desire to go to Krakow to visit her ailing aunt. In Krakow, as she is walking down a market square where a protest was on, she suddenly spots a woman exactly similar to her, boarding a tourist bus. As she stands looking at her, the bus moves taking the woman who’s frantically clicking pictures.This was the only meeting of the two women, Weronika and Véronique (Irène Jacob), a french music teacher from Paris, who deep within their consciousness are aware of a strange sensation of not being ‘alone’ in the world and of being at two places at the same time.
In a quirk of fate, Weronika collapses and dies in her first orchestra and there is a strange sensation of observing the proceedings from above and seeing the soil flung down on the coffin.

Irène Jacob is a lovely actress and the different emotions flitting across her face is wondorous to watch.I found the shots sensual and magical. The camera zooms in on a very unlikely object and slows pans out.
The only thing that slightly jarred was the relatively short duration of Weronika’s life and her death that seemed a bit abrupt.The scene when Weronika dies and the sensation of Weronika observing herself is unnerving and is superbly dealt in the way the camera zooms over the audience.

The haunting melody by the Polish composer, Zbigniew Preisner, stays with you long after the movie is over.

Véronique feels an inexplicable grief coming over her. As she teaches her students the same notes which Weronika plays when she dies, she feels an agitation coming over her.Around this time, she comes into the acquaintance of Alexandre Fabbri(Philippe Volter) who performs a marionette show about a ballerina who dies during a performance and becomes a fairy.

The introduction of Alexandre Fabbri is interesting at this stage as it almost seems completely discrete from the main story. The only connecting factor seems to be the marionette story which is uncannily similar to the story of Weronika.

She keeps running into Alexandre and discovers him to be an author who’s written several works.She gets a mysterious parcel containing a tape with only some background noises and sounds of some musical notes.As she hears it over and over again and examines the postage, she discovers them to be the sounds from a restaurant in a railway station.When she follows her instinct, she finds Alexandre waiting for her in the restaurant.He explains that it was a test to see whether a woman would respond to the call of an unknown man. She feels manipulated and runs away from him but he manages to find her and apologize. They spend the night together and in the morning, he finds the photo she had clicked of Weronika in Krakow amongst her other photos and inquires about it.It was then that Véronique sees Weronika for the first time and comprehends and cries bitterly.

Later, she sees Alexandre creating two identical marionettes of her and when she questions, he explains that since he handles them a lot, they damage easily.He also tells her the play’s story of two people bonded together across different locations.

The film has a sense of calm with the haunting melody floating in and out. It explores highly metaphysical questions of soul connections. This film might not connect with viewers who favor realism.
A movie worth experiencing !

Race 2 – A fight to the finish !

Watched Race 2 after dithering about it for ages and got treated to a near private screening of the film, considering that I counted just 10 heads in the theater including mine.The original Race had set the stage with a typical racy plot coupled with glamor, oomph, mystery and the age-old Hindi movie masala and so, it was with such expectations, that I proceeded to watch Race 2. But like most 2’s, this one was a complete washout.

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The movie takes on from where the previous Race ended, with Ranveer Singh(Saif Ali Khan) and Sonia (Bipasha Basu) still in the picture. With the plot revolving around Ranveer Singh hankering for revenging Sonia’s death, from the rich and ruthless tycoon, Arman Malik. John Abraham, looked anything but the suave killer businessman Arman Mallick, that he was supposed to be.If anything, he’s starting to look more and more like the odd shaped pieces of meat hanging at the local butchers. His step-sister,Elena( Deepika Padukone), who initially was supposed to be one ruthless lady, by the end of the movie has a metamorphosis and transforms into a witless, a la’ ‘protect-me’ batting her eyelashes girl.
Ranveer’s Singh’s character is, at least, consistent with the man still seeking revenge from the beginning till the end of the movie. That’s a brownie point for the movie.Omisha (Jacqueline Fernandez) looked the part of the gangster’s girlfriend though how a common pickpocket can learn fencing and archery are questions best not asked.

The ex-detective Rober D’Costa(Anil Kapoor) still continues with his fruit chomping image though his role in the movie seems largely limited to passing corny dialogues along with his assistant, Cherry(Ameesha Patel).These are the directors excuse at humor through sexual innuendos which can embarrass you by their sheer desperation.There is much or probably very little to be said of the dialogues.When a man, a la’ King Kong minus the hair who was to fight Arman Malik in the ring, turned to look at Arman and opened his mouth, I thought ‘Yes, something phenomenal was going to be uttered’ but he only said ‘You..’. I wonder what he would put on his CV ..”Said ‘You’ in Race 2.”
Aditya Pancholi makes a brief appearance as the dreaded Godfather Enza but it kept looking like he was going to pop a joke at any moment, the black glasses and coat not withstanding.

The story looked like the pieces of the jigsaw puzzle which still didn’t fit to make a complete picture.
The movie boasts of some over-the-top gizmos, what with cards that change their numbers, glasses that can see through cards and the wonder car that can never crash.If you develop voluntary amnesia and push out those unnecessary logical questions popping in your head, then you can still take away some of those wild stunt scenes like the train robbery happening from the chopper,Ranveer’s chase of Sonia’s killer, his antics in the wildly careening car as he dislodges the bomb under the car, but the most jaw-dropping moment of all was the final climax where a pilot-less plane was about to crash with unfortunate Ranveer and Elena on board, but they miraculously rev up the wonder-car and go zooming out of the distressed plane and the car opens its parachutes and they sail gently to the ground.

I will give full points for glamor with the leading ladies glamorous and sexy, with awesome cars and heady Europe & Turkey in the background, with the men brandishing their glistening, sun-tanned,tattooed torsos though with all the slow motion and their long coats flying behind them, I had to remind myself that it was not a batman movie I was watching.

Last but not the least, I think Abbas-Mustan needs some remedial tutions from Quentin Tarantino on how to depict women who can hold their own.Not one woman is shown in the movie as independent and intelligent or both at the same time ! As far as gender stereotyping and women depiction go, this one scored abysmally low.

Since there’s nothing much to be gained by way of dialogues, recommend taking your favorite playlists which you can listen to while watching the batman stunts.

Shutter Island

I watched Shutter Island only on the insistence of my husband and I feel thankful that I did. It is quite an unforgettable movie and the scenes will continue to remain in my memory.

A psychological thriller directed by Martin Scorsese and based on the novel by Dennis Lehane , it is dark, stark, beautifully alluring and intriguing.

US Marshalls, Teddy (Edward) Daniels (played by Leonardo Di Caprio) and his partner Chuck Aule ( played by Ruffalo) are sent to the Ashecliff hospital situated on Shutter Island, which is meant for the criminally insane, to investigate the mysterious disappearance of an inmate , Racheal Solondo, who was incarcerated on the grounds of murdering her children and husband. As they approach Shutter Island, the grim walls of the prison rise up to greet them against the backdrop of sheer cliffs and deadly rockfaces.
Their investigation hardly progresses due to mostly defensive and confrontational attitude of the people they interview.During this time, Teddy suddenly starts having migraine headaches and finds himself having dreams of his dead wife interspersed with heart rending scenes from Dachau concentration camp which he had witnessed post war as an allied soldier.
Teddy’s wife had been killed in a freak apartment fire and his dreams are chaotic pieces of her memories. The dream sequence showing Teddy holding his wife in his arms as she slowly turns to ashes is brilliantly shot and comes close to real dreams wherein reality merges with imagination.

Teddy confides in Chuck his real reasons of coming to Shutter Island which was to find the arsonist who killed his wife, Andrew Laedis and to investigate the actual goings on Shutter Island where purportedly secret inhuman experiments were carried out on the inmates.

As Teddy embarks on his investigations, strange events unfold which lead Teddy and the viewers down a path which is both shocking and absorbing.

The film has breathtaking cinematography and uses fantastic backlighting though the overall picturization is dark and bleak.The viewer looks at the movie through the perspective provided to him and its unsettling to find that the perspective can be flawed or prejudiced. When the balance is slightly tilted, a human being totters on the edge of insanity. Do moments of insanity make you insane or would every lapse of rational judgment or the blind spots of prejudices construe insanity? I pondered on the sobering fact that so many of us ‘sane’ people might actually be ‘insane’ walking this earth.

‘Room’ By Emma Donoghue

Not a book I would have picked up and getting through the first couple of pages did make me question whether this was something I wanted to finish.But as I persevered, it just drew me in.

The story unravels through the eyes of a 5 year old child, Jack. Its about a woman who’s kidnapped by a pervert and kept in a locked shed for 7 long years. She conceives a child and the child’s whole world is the
room. The ‘Room’ and its constituents like the ‘Bed’, ‘Rug’ become a central part in the child’s life. Each thing in the room assumes a unique individuality.

Though the backdrop is sickening, interestingly its not a depressing story. Their life inside the room is the story of survival and the determination of a mother to protect her child against all odds.
They both plan and manage to escape from their incarceration and the reader would be led to assume a happy ending, were it not for the fact that there was still half the book remaining.

So,as it was, I was curious to see what else the author had in store.

After the escape, they both are suddenly thrown into the outside world where things are not within their control , a world where everything familiar disappears within a void. The mother ; a college going youngster before the episode happens, is trying to absorb the essence of freedom in every way but cant come to terms with the changes which have happened to the world she knew 7 years before. The child, who has never witnessed anything outside the room and his Ma, is struggling to comprehend the vastness of the existence beyond his room and coping with losing his grip on everything familiar. The child, for whom even the falling of a leaf holds wonder, begins the arduous task of unlearning and learning things anew.

To think that freedom could be more chaotic than incarceration wouldn’t have crossed my mind. ‘Normal’ and ‘Abnormal’ just become complimentary sides depending on the boundaries defined by our perception.

The innocence of the narrator seeps through in every line you read in the book.

Having a child nearly the same age, did make me relate much better to the workings and the thoughts of a 5 year old.
Not a book probably everyone would like to read, but for those who can, it definitely, is an enriching experience.