Sunday, May 24, 2015

Movie Review: Tanu Weds Manu Returns

Image Copyright: Eros International
This is a first. A movie review on Lifewordsmith. It's been a while since I have been to the movies. I have been watching a fair number on my laptop though. This week though I was back to the world of popcorn, wide screens, and lush seats. Relatively. Along with the stink of 500 people crammed into one space for 2 hours.

Last year, I had seen one of the most progressive movies in Indian cinema through Queen. That movie was a celebration of one actress's prodigious talent - Kangana Ranaut. It was a movie that deserved the accolades. So, it was with the same expectation that I went to see Tanu Weds Manu Returns. Having seen a sassy performance in Queen, I thought that Kangana would offer traditional Hindi moviemaking that has been dominated by helpless simpering heroines the same difference she gave to Queen. How wrong I was! I hadn't seen the original, but if it was as bad as the sequel, I would not want to even think of trying this.

The movie opens with a wedding. Predictable. A lot of dancing. And then 4 years later, here we are in front of a mental institute that looks rather like a castle. A what? Yes, you read it right. We are shown inside a bizarre interrogation room where Tanu and Manu attack each other in a battle of "let's look the most immature" to 3 psychologists who I wouldn't want to trust my little finger with let alone my mind. One doctor speaks Hindi. Anger from Manu. Screeching from Tanu. And then for reasons I can't fathom Manu is taken away and locked up inside the mental institute. Yes! Is this the 21st century? There is even a visual of him receiving what looks suspiciously like an electric shock.

Tanu meanwhile is shown moving around London and then after a bizarre phone call with her best friend takes the next flight to India, while courteously informing Manu's friend/relative? about her husband's stay in rehab...or whatever I can think. I thought, ok, movies have bad beginnings. It should improve right? Tanu gets back. Makes friends with a lawyer who is a tenant at her parents house (no one seems particularly aghast she has left her husband), and is shown drinking copiously at varied times. Scene Two of the many bizarre scenes in this movie? A towel-clad Kangana sashaying down to interrupt a bride-seeing ceremony for her sister (?). Don't ask. It gets worse. Manu is rescued and makes his way back to India. Issues a directive asking Tanu to apologize. And that's enough for Tanu to break into a fiesty "Move On" song, where she cavorts around with the lawyer tenant and eyes another guy...who builds buildings, I think.

Mess gets compounded when Manu eyes a lissome young girl who with a pixie haircut he believes looks like Tanu. With his friend, they pursue the poor girl. Right. Best way to win a woman over. Standard Hindi movie formulae. Kusum (that's the poor girl) does give in (shouldn't all women give in to their stalkers?) and then, Manu decides to get remarried while thinking he has been served a notice for divorce.

Some absurd capers in between that I can't understand and then the finale. Tanu comes back teary-eyed and drunken, begging her husband (ex?) to take her back. Manu pushes her away once. Then promises to marry the hapless Kusum no matter what. Tanu vows to watch the wedding because of some internal karma she needs to expunge. Assorted characters hang around, adding to the confusion. Manu and Kusum start the wedding. And then, of course, Kusum asks the guy before they complete the saat pheras if he is sure. Manu grins stupidly and stupidly grins and grins some more. Wedding off. Tanu and Manu reunite,hugs, and kisses. Kusum is seen crying. And then laughing. Frankly, by the end, I was so happy for her that I believe she should have been dancing with joy instead of marrying this nut!

Have I seen anything worse recently? What was Kangana thinking? Yes, she is brilliant as Kusum, transforming herself from suave bitch to athletic chick all the time. But is there a worth in doing so? And what is this podgy Mahadevan who looks like he has to constantly cover his paunch underneath thick sweaters? This is regressive movie-making. The kind that encourages you to think that it's ok to promise to marry another woman and then jilt her at the altar. Of course, critics will say at least he didn't do that after the marriage, so the woman's honor is intact! What about the man? His honor is enhanced because he decides to get married in what seems like 2 days after his divorce?

Sigh. This is receiving fantastic reviews. I must question my own lack of insanity although Firstpost agrees with some of the inane logic. Maybe I shouldn't think so much. Maybe I should scream "Move On,"and take in absurdity as part of the experience of watching a Hindi movie. Along with the smug patronization of women in it.

Movie Sockometer: Stinking

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Friday, May 22, 2015

Versedays: Love and Friendship by Emily Bronte

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I have the good fortune of having few but excellent friends in my life. But just like any other relationship, friendships also need hard work to keep them. Friendship is the most neglected of all relationships as everybody gets busy with their lives. For me, it's been my friendship with my closest friend that has always helped me in life in a lot of ways. I am only the better, wiser and nicer for it. Thank you my friend, you know who you are.

Today's poem is thus in honour of friendship. Emily Bronte is known for her novels, most particularly Wuthering Heights. But she also wrote some lovely poems. Here is one that speaks about the nature of love and friendship. Enjoy!

Love and Friendship


Emily Bronte

Love is like the wild rose-briar,
Friendship like the holly-tree --
The holly is dark when the rose-briar blooms
But which will bloom most contantly?
The wild-rose briar is sweet in the spring,
Its summer blossoms scent the air;
Yet wait till winter comes again
And who wil call the wild-briar fair?
Then scorn the silly rose-wreath now
And deck thee with the holly's sheen,
That when December blights thy brow
He may still leave thy garland green.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Butterfly Season: Natasha Ahmed

Image Credit: Goodreads

It feels wonderful to write a book review after so long! The sabbatical from the blog has made me realize how much I missed this. So without further delay, let me get to the book in question. Natasha Ahmed very graciously sent us her debut novelette “Butterfly Season” for review. I downloaded it on my Kindle and I realized that this is going to be the first book I review after reading on the Kindle! Before I go into the review, here is a summary of the story from Amazon:

On her first holiday in six years, Rumi is expecting to relax and unwind. But when she is set up by her long-time friend, she doesn’t shy away from the possibilities. Ahad, a charming, independent, self-made man, captures her imagination, drawing her away from her disapproving sister, Juveria.

Faced with sizzling chemistry and a meeting of the minds, Ahad and Rumi find themselves deep in a relationship that moves forward with growing intensity. But as her desire for the self-assured Ahad grows, Rumi struggles with a decision that will impact the rest of her life.

Confronted by her scandalized sister, a forbidding uncle and a society that frowns on pre-marital intimacy, Rumi has to decide whether to shed her middle-class sensibilities, turning her back on her family, or return to her secluded existence as an unmarried woman in Pakistan.

We follow Rumi from rainy London to a sweltering Karachi, as she tries to take control of her own destiny.

I am not usually into romantic reads, especially the typical Mills & Boon type where the women swoon for everything sad or joyous and the men are always handsome and strong. However, I like Ahmed’s type of romance where there is friction, attraction, disagreements and understanding all at once. It also is reflective of Pakistani society and its outlook in current times.

The relationship between Rumi and Ahad forms the core of the book and one that results in many lines of thought. One of the first things that struck me was that Pakistani women are coming out of the bondage of traditions and are aspiring to be part of a progressive society. I always had this misconception (thanks to the one track news fed to us by various forms of media) that Pakistani women are conservative and they want to stay that way or they have no recourse even if they want to change. Rumi agrees to pre-marital sex, she drinks and she has opinions of her own. Yet, she always has the shadows of doubt in her mind, questioning herself if she is doing the right thing. Years of traditions being beaten into one’s head is not easy to break away from. Like these, I was mildly surprised at the number of similarities Pakistani women have with Indian women. We are equally answerable to uncles and aunts, apart from parents, on all major decisions in our life, have to think “what other people will say” and of course, are expected to marry “a boy” approved by elders.

Evidently, Rumi is different, just like many Indian women today. She respects customs but they don't bind her. She has a mind of her own and is independent. She has a great friend in Mahira as well. Someone who is supportive and equally strong minded. Juveria provides the foil to these strong women as the one who is obsessed with society and culture and traditions. She is also jealous of the fact that Rumi is free-thinking and has the nerve to do what she does. Juveria is quite real because I know that there are tons of women who are like her. Ahad is the typical Pakistani Brit (like Indian Brits) who barely speaks his native tongue and “melts” in the suffocating Karachi heat. His friend Faizan, Mahira’s husband, is good natured and generally a nice person, but we don’t know much else about him. The men in the book could do with a few more shades to them, according to me.

Ahmed’s writing is quite straightforward, punctuated with the right amount of thrills and sensations that belong in a romantic story. Although the ending is predictable, it paradoxically remains different because of Rumi's decisions. Ahmed has not let the book sag with convention. I cannot reveal more here without having spoilers.

Karachi reminded me of Delhi in India too especially when Mahira says,

“The reason you think Karachi is so dangerous is because of all the negative press. All you hear is how many died, and who robbed who.”

Maybe, there is a side to Delhi that we don’t see in the news. As of now, my judgement is completely clouded by the awful news that comes from that city every day.

At the end of it all, over and above everything else I wrote about, "Butterfly Season" reinforced my belief that Pakistan and India are not really very different in so many ways.   It gladdens me. Many thanks to Natasha for sharing this wonderful book with us!

Verdict: Breezy romance with some interesting, thought provoking material

Rating: 3.2/5

Friday, May 15, 2015

Grammar in Fifty Shades of Grey?!

Fifty Shades of Grey has been hogging the limelight since the past few months. I still haven't read the book or seen the movie (yes, yes I will do one of them soon) but I can safely imagine that it's not really going to be recommended as serious literary fiction known for its eloquent prose. Especially, with lines like, "I feel the colour in my cheeks rising again. I must be the colour of The Communist Manifesto." Oh boy. We would expect the grammar to completely suffer in such a book. Well, apparently E. L. James is not that bad, according to the folks at Grammarly. Here is an interesting infographic. Thanks to the Grammarly team for sharing this with us! Hope this makes for a fun Friday!

Grammarly: Fifty Shades of Grammar

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Versedays: All the Hemispheres by Hafiz

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It feels lovely to begin the much-loved Versedays again! A lot of of our readers particularly enquired after this section of the blog. We were surprised and honoured.

So for a new beginning, I chose this poem by the 14th century Persian poet Hafiz, a name denoting the one who has memorized the Quran. Hafiz wrote about love and wine and lived in Shiraz (quite apt) in ancient Iran. Hafiz reminds me a lot of Rumi with the same mellifluous tones and rich imagery. He is so influential in Persian culture that even today, his poetry can be found in virtually every Iranian home. On October 12th, Iranians celebrate this mystic poet with singing and poetry. Read more of his poetry here and a little more about his background here. Today's chosen poem is all about new beginnings and an open mind taken from "The Subject Tonight is Love" translated by Daniel Ladinsky. Enjoy!

All the Hemispheres
Leave the familiar for a while.
Let your senses and bodies stretch out

Like a welcomed season
Onto the meadows and shores and hills.

Open up to the Roof.
Make a new water-mark on your excitement
And love.

Like a blooming night flower,
Bestow your vital fragrance of happiness
And giving
Upon our intimate assembly.

Change rooms in your mind for a day.
All the hemispheres in existence
Lie beside an equator
In your heart.

Greet Yourself
In your thousand other forms
As you mount the hidden tide and travel
Back home.

All the hemispheres in heaven
Are sitting around a fire

While stitching themselves together
Into the Great Circle inside of

Monday, May 11, 2015

Cot-caught merger

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I was browsing when I came across this short bio of the author of the post I was reading. He had mentioned that he is battling with the "cot-caught merger." I was intrigued by the phrase and I looked it up. It's a neat little nugget of understanding. The cot-caught merger, or the low back merger in linguistics, is a minor but glaring loss of a vowel or a phonological difference that sets apart American speakers from certain parts of the country from the rest of the world. Simply put, they pronounce cot and caught in the same way, losing the "aw" sound, and there is no way to tell the distinction apart from the context. Many Americans say "kaat" for both the words while the distinction should be "kaat" for cot and "kawt" for caught. This is the phonetic difference -  /ɑ/ (words like cot, pause) and /ɔ/ (words like caught, paw).

Now, obviously the British don't face these problems because they are very clear about their pronunciation. But how about us Indians? I realized we have a similar problem. We pronounce cot and caught in the same way too. Except that we pronounce both as "kawt." How do we even get over it without sounding like we are trying to put on an accent. If we go the American way we sound completely out of place and if we go the British way nobody will understand us here in India. Imagine going to a furniture shop and saying, "I would like buy that "koot." Well, at least we don't have the trap-bath split. More on that in the next post.

Check out the different pronunciations of "caught."

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Life Wordsmith is back!

It's been more than a year since this blog went into hibernation. We thought we should take a break and refresh ourselves with new ideas and, of course, more books! So here we are. Back from our long sabbatical. We missed all of you and we never knew the amount of readership we were getting until now!

Life Wordsmith is all about reading and language. So we are going to experiment with our content. In addition to our beloved book reviews and poetry, we are also going to put up our thoughts and articles on the English language.

I came across this really nice article on commas today and I felt like sharing it. Named "A Handy Guide to Oxford Commas," it gives an interesting and fun graphical explanation of how useful (or not) the comma really is. The parents and the dog is my particular favourite (grin).

So, let me open up Life Wordsmith once again with this and hope all of you enjoy our blog like before!

Saturday, December 28, 2013

My Name is Mary Sutter: Robin Oliveira

Image Credit: Seattle Times

Choices. Some of us have one too many and we end up regretting it or loving it. Again that’s a choice made unconsciously most of the time. This is the predominant theme in Robin Oliveira’s “My Name is Mary Sutter.” Summary from the book jacket:

Mary Sutter, a brilliant young midwife, dreams of proving herself as capable as any man. But medical schools refuse to teach women. So when her heart is broken, she heads to Washington DC to tend the Civil War wounded. Assisted and encouraged by two surgeons, who both fall for her, and ignoring requests to return home to help her twin sister give birth. Mary pursues her dream of becoming a surgeon and saving lives – no matter the cost to herself or those she loves and no matter the harrowing conditions she has yet to face.

This book was, for quite a while, a constant in book club discussions and topping best books charts. Plus, history, a strong woman protagonist, war. Do I need more reasons to pick it up? The first few chapters give a background on Mary and her family and about Mary’s passion for the medical profession. Mary is an accomplished midwife, beginning to gain more acclaim than even her mother. But she nurses a strong ambition to become a surgeon, which is quite outlandish for women at the time.

Initially, disappointment is Mary’s companion. She loses the one man she develops more than a like for to her twin sister, is rejected by several medical schools purely on the basis of her gender and turned away by Dr Blevens even though he had heard that she was exceptional. But ironically, Mary’s luck turns with the onset of war. To be more specific, the circular from Dorothea Dix the Female Superintendent of Army Nurses, calling for “ladies to serve in (hospitals) in the tradition of Florence Nightingale in her recent successful work caring for British soldiers in the Crimea,” is what inspires Mary.

Mary sets out the very next day to meet Dorothea and later on encounters Dr Stipp who gives her preliminary training to be a surgeon. From here the story winds through Mary’s trials not just as a doctor but as a daughter.

I liked the way Oliveira portrayed Mary – a strong willed woman who appears selfish and heartless but is essentially just torn between giving in to sentiment and chasing her dream. Mary and other women doctors are modeled on real Civil War nurses who went on to become physicians after their experiences in the war. What is different in the book is the way the ravages of war are shown from the perspective of medical care. There are graphic descriptions of legs being sawed, bones being set and of course, childbirth, which are not for the faint of heart. Oliveira also makes the book quite atmospheric with descriptions of the stench, of amputated limbs piled up at the hospital and of the moaning of wounded soldiers.

What I really appreciated and liked was the amount of research that Oliveira has evidently put in to understand the Albany of those times, the attitude of people and the lay of politics. Through it all it's Mary who stands out, with her resolve and passion to follow her dream. However, after the initial stubbornness and pluck that Mary displays she becomes comparatively subdued. It could be that her experiences wear her down or that she is just tired of fighting. I didn't get much clarity on that but the book slows down along with Mary. The ending was also not too different from what I thought might eventually happen. But make the choice. Do read about Mary.

Verdict: Read it for the delightful historic descriptions and for Mary

Rating: 3/5

Friday, December 20, 2013

The End

The end of the year is approaching. It's been a year that has teased, taunted and scalded in equal measure. I don't think there was ever a year that I wanted to end. So fast. So soon. I have made mistakes this year that I wish I can learn from. Will I? I have learned I can be pretty mean. Be a bitch. Be kind. Be compassionate. Get angry. Be calm. Throw words. Hold back words. I have been through the washing machine, and wrung myself out dry. At the end, I wonder where I will be. I wonder if this is the best and the worst. I have no answer to it.

But as 2013 draws to a close, I can only thank the year. It hardened me. It toughened me. It made me cry. And shatter little glass pieces deep inside my self. I can thank the year because I am grateful I am still standing here to see the wreck of myself. This year has been a slow one for writing - I don't know if I will write more in the coming year. But this is my open letter to the world to let them know that change is coming. And as with all change, we need to move with it. I will be in the Himalayas, closing my eyes to the cold and breathing in the beauty of the mountains when the year ends. I wish all of you a beautiful year, a 2014 that will offer something of hope and redemption in the power of friendship and humanity. To those of you who stuck by me this miserable year, no amount of gratitude is enough. To those who chose to leave, thank you for that as well, till we meet again. Those who offered me words of wisdom and consolation, thank you. You know that you are blessed in the best that life can offer - compassion.

May the coming end be one that sinks to the bottom so that the most beautiful moments can rise again.

Thank you.