Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Book Review: The Book Thief

I might possibly be one of the last few to read this book so late in the day considering the book has been released in 2005. And with a movie release in 2013, the book's popularity has only soared with the author winning most of the major awards.

To me, what was interesting about the book was the fact that the story offered absolutely nothing new. It centres around World War II in Germany. We all know what that entails.  The rise of the Fuhrer. And the humiliation & persecution of Jews. What the book does, however, is takes this as a base and using Death as a narrator, tells us a love story. The love a girl develops for words & books. The love two pre-teens develop for each other. The love a father has for his daughter. These again, mind you, are not novel themes. But the way Zusak handles them is what makes this book what it is.

The protagonist, Liesel Meminger, is someone who will stay with you for a long time after you have read the book. She is like any other pre-teen would be except for a tiny detail: she is living in Germany during WW-II and placed with a foster family by her mother. A large part of the book deals with the relationships Liesel forges with the various characters in the book: her foster parents, her best friend Rudy, the mayor's wife, and my favourite of all, Max (the Jew her family takes into hiding). Each of them have been narrated in great detail and it is very easy to visualize them as you read along the book.

Zusak's writing is different and unlike any other I have read so far. He writes long sentences. And short ones. There are highlighted & bold sentences in some chapters. And since he uses Death as a narrator, the conversational tone becomes even more interesting. I did get a bit bored with some of the descriptions but that could be because I was keen to reach the end of the book.

The book, in addition to the personal relationships, also handles certain other themes such as death (which is the narrator & thus omnipresent), the travails & hardships of German citizens during the War in terms of lack of jobs & income, how the War was responsible for forming certain relationships & destroying others, guilt (at escaping death, getting some food, etc.)

The book does not purport to be a report or guide on the Holocaust. As I mentioned in the earlier part of the review, it is essentially a love story. And though it is fiction, it could very well be fact. At least, that's what Zusak's narrative made me believe. Go read the book & discover for yourself.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Happy Mother's Day: Famous Mothers in Bollywood

As most of the world celebrates Mother's Day tomorrow, it is perhaps opportune that I pen down some of my favourite mothers from Bollywood :) When I think of Bollywood mothers, I think of 'aloo ke paranthe' & 'gajar ka halwa'. And the most famous line ever to have been uttered mentioning a mother - 'Mere paas maa hain'.

Reema Lagoo:
Reema Lagoo for our generation is probably what Nirupa Roy was for the previous generation :) I mean, she has been playing mother since forever; she probably played mother for the first time to Juhi Chawla in Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak (1988) and has never looked back since then. From Aashiqui to Vaastav and from Hum Saath Saath Hain to Kal Ho Naa Ho. She has played Salman Khan's mother the maximum number of times. The only thing probably remaining for her now is to play Aamir Khan's mother as well :) My favourite role of hers is in Maine Pyaar Kiya & Hum Aapke Hain Kaun.

Farida Jalal:
Farida Jalal is to Shah Rukh Khan what Reema Lagoo is to Salman Khan; it's as if she has to play a mother in SRK's movies be it Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge, Dil Toh Pagal Hain or Kuch Kuch Hota Hain (in which she played SRK's mother while Reema played Kajol's who is engaged to Salman - gotta love Bollywood :)) My favourite role of hers is, of course, in KKHH where she laments that since she doesn't have a daughter-in-law, she cannot exchange gossip with her other friends and accompanies her grand-daughter on a summer camp to ensure her son gets married a second time.

Jaya Bachchan:
True, Jaya Bachchan has not played a mother in as many movies as the first two but I especially enjoyed her role in Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham where she played mother to SRK & Hrithik. She also played mother to Preity Zinta in Kal Ho Naa Ho (in which Reema played SRK's mother - told you Reema is the omnipotent mother :))

Dina Pathak, Ratna Pathak Shah & Supriya Pathak:

This mother-daughters trio may not have played mothers in many movies but they appear in my list solely based on that one movie which has struck a chord with me:

Dina - Golmaal (1979) - As Mrs. Srivastava who played Amol Palekar's fake mother & her twin sister as well, she was hilarious in the movie. The way she matched Utpal Dutt's acting prowess in the movie is worth appreciating. Her contribution to Golmaal's popularity cannot be under-estimated.

Ratna - Jaane Tu Ya Jaane Na (2008) - As the mother who wanted to protect her only son from his fate as determined by her in-laws' family, Ratna Pathak Shah really stood out in this movie. She was as mad as the role demanded her to be and friendly with her son at the same time.

Supriya - Wake Up Sid (2009) - As the mother of a spoiled brat who didn't respect his parents or want to spend any time with them, I felt Supriya Pathak did a fabulous role. She wanted to learn English so that she could be friends with her only son & was willing to let her son remain with a strange woman so that he could remain happy.

Happy Mother's Day: Famous Mothers In Literature

As most of the world celebrates Mother's Day tomorrow (second Sunday in May), I thought it worthwhile to pen down some of the famous mothers from my favourite novels  :)

Mrs. Bennet - Pride & Prejudice (1813)
Pride & Prejudice by Jane Austen remains one of my favourite novels till date. And, I would like to believe that, in addition to Elizabeth & Mr. Darcy, Mrs. Bennet (Elizabeth's mother) is partially responsible for the popularity. She is like any other mother, more specifically, Indian mother, whose sole aim in life is to get her daughters married off to wealthy men. She does not like the jokes/witty comments her husband Mr. Bennet makes especially when it comes to pairing off her daughters with suitable men.

Mrs. Rupa Mehra - A Suitable Boy (1993)
A Suitable Boy by Vikram Seth remains one of the longest novels ever published at ~ 1,400 pages. Mrs. Rupa Mehra is portrayed to be a typical Indian mother interested in marrying off her youngest daughter to 'a suitable boy'. Mrs. Mehra is often nagging & resorts to emotional blackmail throughout the novel to get people to do what she wants them to. At heart, however, she only wants the best for everybody.

In that respect, both Mrs. Bennet & Mrs. Mehra seem to be similar - both wanting the best for their children and nagging them towards it. I wonder sometimes if Vikram Seth modeled the latter on the former but in an Indian context :)

Mrs. Margaret March - Little Women (1868)
Little Women by Louisa May Alcott remains another of my favourite novels. And the mother Mrs. March is an epitome of goodness - always wanting to help out others in need, sometimes at the cost of her own family; trusting her daughters' sense over that which society demands; being a good moral example to all those at home.

Which are your favourite mothers in literature? Leave a comment and let me know.

I would like to end with this quote by Erma Bombeck (which is so apt and so very true): When your mother asks, 'Do you want a piece of advice?' it's a mere formality. It doesn't matter if you answer yes or no. You're going to get it anyway.

Saturday, May 03, 2014

Review: Kya Dilli Kya Lahore

They Met As Enemies, They Parted As Friends

Let me admit at the outset. This is not a movie I would have normally watched. Surfing the channels the other day I came across the trailer of the movie. As the name suggests, I instantly knew it would be a movie on the India-Pakistan partition. But what really got my attention was when the trailer said 'Gulzar presents'. Surely, I thought to myself, this must be a different kind of movie for Gulzar to have been associated with it.

Well, I am glad I didn't skip the movie. Sure, it is a movie about the India-Pakistan partition but narrated in a very different & hard-hitting way. The movie has only four characters and is centred, almost entirely, around only two - Vijay Raaz (Rehmat Ali - a Pakistani soldier of Indian origin) and Manu Rishi (Samarth Pratap Shastri - an Indian soldier of Pakistani origin). The movie looks at the Partition from the eyes of these two soldiers - people who have reluctantly shifted their nations but are not entirely happy about it; people who reminisce about their time back home even in front of an enemy soldier; people who question the very idea of Partition.

Their conversations with each other reveal some interesting facets: Essentially, politicians take decisions and the soldiers need to execute these on the ground. The politicians take these decisions based on their hunger for power ('Siyasat ka khel hain saara'). Most times, as in the case of Partition, it may not be a right or humane decision. It seems as if in the greed for power, people forget that there are human beings posted at the borders. The human cost is sadly sacrificed at the altar of politics.

The film is quite topical considering even after 67 years, we are still not able to reconcile with Pakistan and our soldiers die almost daily on the borders. Such loss of life in times of peace is quite cruel. It's easy to empathize with both the soldiers in the movie when they exchange notes on their family and their childhood. Vijay Raaz grows almost misty-eyed describing his home in Chandni Chowk; Manu Rishi becomes nostalgic talking about his Lahore residence.

To say that Vijay Raaz & Manu Rishi have acted brilliantly would be doing injustice to both of them - because they are known to be such wonderful actors. Also, this is Vijay Raaz's directorial debut. Both carry off the film quite well with equal parts light-heartedness & seriousness.

It is a slow film yes and may appear a little bit long to some. But it is well worth it. When we spend hours each weekend on watching mindless movies, surely we can spend ~ 100 minutes to watch this movie. The movie will make you think about the uselessness of war & conflict; it will make you realize the insanity of asking people to change their nations overnight leaving almost everything behind; it will bring home the point that even lonely enemy soldiers need a friendly soul to talk to at the borders.

Go watch the movie. And come back home and say a silent prayer for the thousands of soldiers bravely guarding our borders. They lie awake so that we may sleep peacefully. In some small way, I believe this movie is a dedication to all of them.

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Kya Dilli Kya Lahore

They Met As Enemies, They Parted As Friends
While surfing channels the other day, I came across the trailer of Kya Dilli Kya Lahore. [You can watch it here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Oy96lq-Nhx4].

My first reaction was that it will be another movie on the India-Pakistan partition saga. The partition which took place in 1947 left behind a lot of unpleasant memories on both sides of the border. Till date, families of those affected by the partition are said to be suffering. Almost overnight, people had to leave their homes & their entire belongings and escape so that they could continue living. Needless to say, any movie based on this event will evoke either sadness or strong feelings of nationalism and patriotism.

Kya Dilli Kya Lahore, however, promises to be a different movie. Caught in a border cross-fire in 1948, only two soldiers remain alive. As luck would have it, one is an Indian soldier of Pakistani origin while the other is a Pakistani soldier of Indian origin. The film is about their interactions and their attempt at trying to remain alive. It also seeks to emphasize how a single day suddenly made sworn enemies of people who were, till then, leaving peacefully with each other. It stars Vijay Raaz, Manu Rishi & Raj Zutshi.

What specifically caught my eye was the fact that Gulzar had composed lyrics for the movie and was also presenting it. Readers of this blog are well acquainted with my admiration & adoration for Gulzar Saab. Go read my posts http://pallosworld.blogspot.in/2013/08/happy-birthday-gulzar-saab.htmlhttp://pallosworld.blogspot.in/2013/08/book-review-in-company-of-poet-gulzar.html.

Bollywood fans are well aware of how often Gulzar writes about partition and how passionate he is about it. One of the shayaris from the film heard in the trailer is:
Lakeerein hain to rehne do, kisi ne rooth kar gusse main shayad kheech di thi.
Unhi ko ab banao paala aur aao kabaddi khelte hain, lakeerein hain to rehne do.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rtcHuGezr5Y - Sung by Papon (one of my favourite singers) & composed by Sandesh Shandilya

I am looking forward to catch this movie as it releases this weekend. Await my review of it soon.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Book Review: The Hunt For Kohinoor

The Hunt For Kohinoor is the second book in the thriller series featuring Mehrunisa Khosa written by Manreet Sodhi Someshwar. The book's blurb reads: "A spine-chilling ninety-six hour hunt through the world's most dangerous terrain where history collides with gunfire - will Mehrunisa get out of this one alive?

One morning on her way to work, Mehrunisa gets a call that will change her life forever. The truth about her missing father is at her fingertips - but it will take her on the most desperate chase of her lifetime.

A chase that will pit her against hardened jihadis plotting the deadliest terror attack on India, that will test her mettle against history's deep secrets, that will teach her that the price of love can mean bloodied hands ...

The Hunt For Kohinoor hurtles from icy Kashmir to snow-clad Hindukush, from the sinister corridors of a military hospital to the warrens of Peshawar, even as the clock counts down to the impending catastrophe."

The book is a historical thriller popularized by the likes of Dan Brown and Ashwin Sanghi. The book brings together an art curator, the Indian military, RAW agents and jihadis in a mission intended to create panic amongst the Indian population. Mehrunisa, an art curator, is summoned asked to go to Pakistan to find out a secret. And she has 96 hours to finish this life-threatening mission.

How she goes about it, whose help does she elicit, is she finally successful and at what price form the rest of the book.

The author's style of writing is evocative especially when she describes the various landscapes her protagonist travels in search of the secret. And she has done a lot of homework when it comes to narrating the history of a particular place or incident or event mentioned in the book. So, it is not just a passing mention but a detailed description that accompanies it.

And though we know what the ending will be, the book turned out to be a page turner.

On the downside, I personally felt the book had a lot of characters so it became difficult to keep track of them individually. And each of them had a background story leading up to where they were currently. That led to some confusion for me while reading the book.

On the whole, the book is an enjoyable read. I would rate it 3 on 5.

Disclaimer: I was given a review copy of the book by Westland.

Saturday, February 01, 2014

Book Review: Our Moon Has Blood Clots by Rahul Pandita

The book is an autobiographical account of the author, a Kashmiri Pandit (KP) living in Kashmir, who, along with his family, was forced to flee the Valley in 1990s. The book's blurb reads: "Rahul Pandita was fourteen years old when he was forced to leave his home in Srinagar along with his family, who were Kashmiri Pandits; the Hindu minority within a Muslim-majority Kashmir that was becoming increasingly agitated with the cries of 'Azadi' from India. The heartbreaking story of Kashmir has so far been told through the prism of the brutality of the Indian state, and the pro-independence demands of separatists. But there is another part of the story that has remained unrecorded and buried. Our Moon Has Blood Clots is the unspoken chapter in the story of Kashmir, in which it was purged of the Kashmiri Pandit community in a violent ethnic cleansing backed by Islamist militants. Hundreds of people were tortured and killed, and about 3,50,000 Kashmiri Pandits were forced to leave their homes and spend the rest of their lives in exile in their own country. Rahul Pandita has written a deeply personal, powerful and unforgettable story of history, home and loss."

While all of us living in India are vaguely familiar with the Kashmir issue [as we refer to it], the issue of the KP exodus is not discussed much or referred to. I, in fact, was not even aware about it, till this book came out. Rahul has brought this issue out in the open and is fighting an almost lonely battle assisted by Sanjay Tickoo and Ashok Pandita. He is keeping a record of each and every Kashmiri Pandit killed in the Valley.

In the book, the author paints a very vivid and beautiful picture of Kashmir and his home, which his father built painstakingly and which had 22 rooms [which his mother never forgot to mention to others]. His house had fruit orchards in the veranda and he enjoyed a life like any other. Until that fateful day on January 19, 1990, when the KPs were ordered to either flee their homes, convert or be prepared to die. And the killings were usually barbaric in their form. It was not just that. KP women were raped, children killed and their houses looted as well.

You cannot not be affected while reading this book. Rahul's writing style is such that, for a long time, I had a feeling that there was someone behind me, poring over my shoulder. Such are his descriptions of the accounts of people hiding in their own homes from the separatists. The movement became so powerful that even friends and neighbours turned against these KPs.

For the last 24 years, these people have been living away from their homes - they literally had to flee taking with them only bare minimum possessions. And the relief camps provided by the Government only made mockery of their pain. It is surprising, however, that no central/state authority was willing to step in and stop it at that point in time.

Personally, I cannot imagine being asked to leave my house without knowing whether I shall be able to see it again. Rahul brings out this anguish well in the book - you are able to empathize with him while feeling your blood boiling at the same time.

Certain incidents/sentences in the book stayed with me. At one place, the author quotes the poet Paash's lines, 'Sabse khatarnaaq hota hai/humare sapnon ka mar jaana'. Elsewhere, he feels, 'Kashmir is memory, an overdose of nostalgia.' Still elsewhere, when he returns to his house to find it occupied by somebody else, 'A man knocking at his own door, finding someone else opening it, and then seeking permission to enter his own house.' Rahul also speaks about how his cousin Ravi [with whom he was very close] was killed and the effect that had on Ravi's parents.

It is not an easy book to read. At several places, you will be shocked and saddened to read the treatment meted out to Kashmiri Pandits in their own land for absolutely no fault of their own. And, even when the book ends, parts of it will continue to occupy your mind - how some people were naive enough to believe they could go back to their homes and were killed as a result; how, when a majority decides to take matters into their own hands, no responsible person can really do anything and how, at the end of the day, being asked to leave your home has to be among one of the worst things anybody could be asked to do.