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Let’s go to the movies, let’s go to the show

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Let’s go to the movies, let’s go to the show

When I was six or thereabouts, good behaviour was rewarded by a trip to the video tape store (those were the days of VCR) and a film of my choice. Yay! You got to understand, we already had a ton of tapes just for me (As a baby, I was plonked in front to view a tape of nursery rhymes acted out and I would cry bitterly when Twelve days of Christmas played. Strange.) This was the beginning of a long love affair I have with the movies. For me a film isn’t really watched, unless you’ve watched it twice or even four times. As a kid, I already established that my favourites were musicals (Take me to St.Louis, Singing in the rain, My fair lady and Hello dolly.) Today I can sing every song from these films standing on my head.

This column is kind of a nostalgia trip, so if any of you don’t like my weepy side, step aside and move on to brighter things.

These people, scenes and dialogue made me love films and when I say love, naturally I mean obsess over.

Dick van Dyke: He will always be Bert from Mary Poppins for me, no matter how much people criticise his cockney accent. And Bert can do no wrong in the eyes of a child, whether it’s surveying Londons’ rooftops as a chimney sweep or drawing pictures on pavements.

Barom Bomburst trying to kill his wife in Chitty chitty bang bang.

Julie Andrews: The golden girl of movies. When I was too young to know any better I thought she had flown away from the Banks residence to be governess for the Von Trapp kids and I kept expecting her to whip out an umbrella in front of them and start cleaning up.

The child snatcher from Chitty Chitty bang bang. Scariest scene ever. Even now, when I hear the syrupy “come my little mice,” I shudder.

Judy Garland singing, “We’re off to see the wizard,” on the yellow brick road with her peeps.

Eliza Doolittle before she became a lady. The best scenes from My fair lady are when she imagines “’Enry ‘Iggin’s dead,” and when she swears at the races. And don’t ask me to choose among the songs. Except maybe that awfully boring.

The line, “Stop that wailin’ or I’ll sell you South, I will.” Gone with the wind. Disturbing but contextually hilarious. Contextually.

The song “Feed the birds,” from Mary Poppins always making me cry even though I didn’t get the subtext.

Speaking of not getting stuff, why were the Von Trapps hiding and who were they hiding from? My moms’ succinct, “They’re the bad people,” held fast as an explanation for many years. I wasn’t really the questioning kind.

Dolly Levi from Hello Dolly. The woman who arranges things. I loved how my mom would cheer and clap when Louis Armstrong came on and sang like a stuffed bullfrog.

Movies. Win!

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The many types of young readers

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The many types of young readers

Let me get straight to the point. My generation is not the reading kind, just like Rhett Butler is not the marrying kind. Come to think of it, we’re not the marrying kind either. Why would any young man worth his salt, curl up with The Sorrows of Young Werther when he can hit the Tote on the turf and get his drink on? Why would the long-legged power walking beauty whip out Pride and Prejudice when she can catch it onDVD? Why read 1984, when you can experience its first stirrings live thanks to Dhoble?

A good strong reading culture is on the sad wane. Forget all this terrible talk, about the tablet crushing the beautiful world of pen and ink. Last year, the NCPA’s Lit fest opened to a tremendous response but there were more grey heads than non-grey, in my opinion. Still, I have a theory. In my limited experience there are categories of young readers in Bombay. And before you wave your prized bundle of Marvel comics at me, this theory excludes Graphic novel readers, of which there is a painfully enthusiastic number.

There are the Jack Kerouac readers. It’s fun to chill with them. Nine times out of ten, they identify strongly with the throw-everything-to-the-wind-and-set-out-on-a-travel-adventure spirit of On the road. But they barely act on it. Travel across the length and breadth of India? Sounds great, but can I get my old job back?

Then there’s the fantasy genre lovers. Elves, quests, dragons and evil dark lords. Yep, yep, yep and yep. I know one bright spark who put tunes to the songs in TLOTR. A simple way is to identify this kind of reader is to ask whether HBO’s Game of Thrones stays true to the written series. He won’t stop talking even when you excuse yourself to go get a refill. Or he might inform you disdainfully that the series has very little fantasy staples. “The dragons and the white walkers are just for masala,” he’ll say dismissively. But that won’t stop him from clinking glasses with a solemn, “Winter is coming.”

Third, The Secret. I know it’s nauseating. But there is a significant portion of my peeps who swear by the ridiculous notion that if you want something desperately enough, the universe will plop it into your lap. And if the universe fails you it’s because you didn’t want it badly enough and let a negative cloud of doubt and fear creep into your mind. Ugh. Other self-help books also on their bookshelf include every variation of “How to get so stinking rich, so fast, that you breathe out gold dust, and people bow to you while throwing flowers in your path.”

The fourth kind are just funny. These ones probably have a degree in English Literature which in this country means that they can do little else besides rattle off a list of books that they define as “classics.”  They’ll confuse Dracula with Frankenstein and use the word post-modern in the wrong context. But it’s adorable how much they try.

Number Five: Copywriters.

Every page of Douglas Adams, The hitchhikers guide to the galaxy.

There are sub categories but these are the major chunk. Am I wrong or too blind to see that young Bombay is in fact teeming with champions of other genres? Fill me in and I beg of you, strike me down from my throne of superiority and snobbery. It’s really no fun up here and nobody invites me to parties.

 

Preach alert: How to read when all you want to do is not

Preach alert: How to read when all you want to do is not

This weekend I indulged in some serious guilty pleasure reading. I was struggling with Orlando by Virginia Woolf and suddenly I found myself scanning my roommates bookshelf. One Sophie Kinsella, several Mary Higgins Clark and around two thousand romances. I chose a slim volume called “The Brazilians blackmailed bride.” I know that enough of you have read Mills and Boons at some point so you know how the story goes. I was mildly surprised at how sexist it was (“She was weak, just like all women.”) but mostly I was surprised at how much I didn’t care that I was wasting my time reading a book like that. To be fair, it wasn’t bad writing, but the characters were terribly annoying and what they did was incredibly predictable. End of story. After they kissed on the last page I closed the book and pondered.

Bombay is not kind to the readers among us. We work ourselves to the bone, we get home smelling of sweat and trains and we’re always hungry, tired and trying to rid our lungs of all the exhaust fumes we inhale on a daily basis. I’ve heard several people say “I used to read a lot but now I barely get the time.” I get that. Are we really expected to curl up on the couch with Ullysses on a Monday night? If at all we read, we want it to be a light escapist soiree involving fluttering blonde women with names like Sophia and bronzed Brazilians who in my mind are built like Gaston from Disneys’ Beauty and the Beast. Does that make us stupid? No it doesn’t and there’s no shame in the occasional “The disobedient virgin’s secret affair. In Rio. They do it several times.” But as readers, we need to be disciplined.

Reading is not easy. I’ve always been a reader and sometimes I struggle like hell with the books I choose to read. Here are some things I’ve learned about the habit. I hope it will help you.

1. Categorise your books into those that will go fast and those that require concentration. Don’t read the latter in the train or when you’re tired. There are train books and there are non-train books.

2. If you’re reading something written several generations before you were born, trust me, no matter how exciting the plot, it will be slow at points. The best example I can think of is Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness. You’re several pages into the book before the narrator even gets to the Congo. It’s worth it, so keep reading. Be patient.

3. You don’t have to finish the book all at once. It can get to you. Take a break for a month or two and get back to it.

4.  Make time. If you are genuinely too tired during the week, give yourself three hours on he weekend.

5. Allow yourself the occasional indulgence. For every three Gabriel Garcia Marquez you read, you can read one “A summer in Copacabana.” That’s just good maths.

A few of my favourite things

A few of my favourite things

This is my love letter to all the books that I read as a child, a little girl and then a teenager. To the stories from the Big Book of Bedtime Tales that were read out to me by parents, to the illustrations I pored over and the comics I borrowed from friends. (“Archie’s isn’t something you buy” my mother used to say). You filled my soul with “wild imaginings” and with my nose three inches from your pages, I could be anything I wanted.

Thank you Louisa May Alcott for Little Women, Good Wives and Jo’s Boys, Eight Cousins and Rose in Bloom. Making Jo March a rough and tumble tomboy who also cried piteously over books broke the stereotype.

Enid Blyton. Thank you for Hurrah for the circus which made me believe that one day, an ordinary child could just get up, join the circus and live the rest of his days in a caravan. Thank you for The Folk of the Faraway tree, for Mr. Pink Whistle and for teaching me that parents said things like “By George” and children said things like “Good golly.”

To The Five find outers and dog, with Frederick Algernon Trotteville aka Fatty at the helm. You had the best mysteries and were the funniest, The Famous Five, you came a close second.

As for the debate over whether Malory Towers was better than St. Claire’s, well we might as well just give up. Malory Towers had a swimming pool that filled with the tide and was hacked out of a rock. But the girls at St. Claires had better midnight feasts.

To The wind in the willows for Mole, Rat, Badger, and Toad and all their lovely adventures. Also for the beautiful pictures of their little homes: Checked table cloths, slippers by the fire and strings of onions that hung from the ceiling at winter time. (How cute.)

Thank you to the slim volumes of Ladybird classics and Childrens Illustrated that made complicated literature simple for the benefit of my 9-year old brain.

To the Just William series by Richmal Crompton for introducing me to the uproarious, scruffy William and the Outlaws. The great thing about William is you can read it as an adult and still laugh your head off. On another note, William totally turned up his nose at his meat and potato dinners which meant that meat and potatoes (feast and fancy dinners here) were boring sabji-roti type meals in England. Curiouser and coriouser. Which brings me to Alice in Wonderland. Thank you Lewis Carrol, for The Mock Turtles story with its amazing wordplay. And before you bring it up,the mad hatters tea party was wildly overrated. Yes, I just said that.

To Sweet Valley and The Babysitters club series. For all the fun, the fights and the drama.

To Judy Blume for keeping it all real.

To JK Rowling and CS Lewis, for endless magic and wonder.

To Dorothy and the Wizard of Oz and all the books about Dorothy that followed. For fantasy and clever, breathless adventures that left me disoriented when the last page was turned.

To The Secret Garden, A little Princess, The Railway Children and Daddy Long legs for the beautiful imagery, the lively descriptions but mostly for the happy endings.

To the Diary of Anne Frank for infinite beauty and because it got me to love history.

To Roald Dahl, for things like Oompa Loompas and Vermicious Knids. Also for the rhymes (Aunt Spiker was as thin as a wire, and dry as a bone, only drier….)

To Lois Lowry for appealing to my dark side. To Madelaine L’Englebert for the genius that was A wrinkle in Time. Also, because Meg Murray was the first female protagonist who was bespectacled. At least the first one I read about. Yay, girl power and glasses.

To the Little House series, for the sumptuous detail, Christmas dinners that went on for chapters and for filling me with a restless thrill every time Pa Ingall’s “wanderin’ foot got to itchin.’”

To books that taught me things, books that stayed with me and books I left behind, books that I grew up on, the ones that made me cry, laugh or think. To authors who made me vow that I wanted to be “just like him/her when I grow up.” Thank you for all the love. Thank you for all the reading.

Why I will never be a reading snob again

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Why I will never be a reading snob again

Someone once told me that she would never take my advice about what book she would read next. Her argument was that I was too judgemental and choosy, that I re-inforced the snobby lit student stereotype.

She can have the last laugh though. Last year, I bought a second hand copy of Lady Chatterley’s lover because I wanted to read that rebel book that changed the very definition of female sexuality. I ignored that voice in my head that said “But you’re not a fan of DH Lawrence.” (It’s true. When I was 16, I tried reading my mother’s copy of Sons and Lovers and the first page gave me a headache that stayed for a week). I bought the book and I was all set to recommend it to all people who didn’t care either way, when I was done reading it.

The first chapter was…difficult. Still, I was a lit student, if I couldn’t go through this, who would? I laboured on. Oh my god. This was really something else. By chapter three I was coming up for air every three seconds. This. Book. Made. No. Sense. At. All.

Well, it made some sense. Lady Chatterley’s Lover is about the 19-year-old Lady Constance Chatterley who is doomed to a life of no sex because her husband was crippled in the war. Bummer, but you know, this was the early 19th century and women were not really as sexually liberated as they are today. Not Lady C. She wants some all the time.

The first half of the book alternates between Constance’s desperate “physical and sensual” needs and a lot of boring conversations around a fireplace. Her husband’s friends are all pseudo-intellectuals who frankly sound like total pricks. Whatever. Contance just wants to get lucky. She hooks up, briefly, with one of the pseudos. That doesn’t last.

Finally, we reach the place where she spots the gamekeeper. It’s evident that she has a new object of desire. By this point in the book, I was just about stopping myself from blacking out from boredom and irritation. She gets with gamekeeper man and for a while I’m almost relieved because she doesn’t gaze sadly at herself naked anymore but indulges in some serious dirty time. (In the 19th century that meant you wove flowers into a man’s chest hair. I actually laughed out loud at this bit.)

In between all this, you don’t get to feel sorry for the poor Mr Chatterley. He’s busy indulging in some mommy fantasy with his nurse. Good for him.

When I finally finished reading Lady Chatterley’s Lover, I lay for a full minute wondering what had happened to me. Then to clear my head, I picked up my roommate’s copy of The Sands of Time by Sidney Sheldon.

We’ll be loving this show in two different millennia soon

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We’ll be loving this show in two different millennia soon

If someone had told me to watch Studio 60 instead of spending Rs 1,00,000 on a Post graduate diploma in Journalism and Mass communication, it would be good advice. Off the top of my head, these are some of the issues the show throws out there. Stand up comedy, writing for television, Television’s responsibility to different communities and to society at large, sensitivity in a mass medium, journalism, TRP ratings and what drives them, comedy at a time when your audience is threatened with war, violence and uncertainty. Question: Why would you watch something that…heavy? Answer: It’s unbelievably HILARIOUS. I probably should have lead with that.

First some background for the uninitiated. Studio 60 on the sunset strip was created by Aaron Sorkin of The West Wing fame. The show within a show format story is woven around the creators of a SNL type comedy sketch show called Studio 60. The series aired on NBC in 2006 and was promptly cancelled a year later because it lost its time slot to The Black Donnelly’s and later to The Real Wedding Crashers. I know. I’m speechless with rage too.
 

Here’s why you should watch, re-watch or Sunday-marathon-with-beer-watch Studio 60 on the sunset strip if you’re a/an

Amateur stand up comedian: If you want to get people to laugh at your material and at your jokes, here’s some free Studio 60 advice.

Harriet: I got a laugh at the table read when I asked for the butter in the dinner sketch, I didn’t get one at the dress. What did I do wrong?

Matt: You asked for the laugh.

Harriet: What did I do at the table read?

Matt: You asked for the butter.

And there’s plenty more where that came from.

Small fry Journalist (ahem): Yes, for a couple of episodes, a swinging, fast-talking Pulitzer-prize winning journalist Martha O’Dell, from Vanity Fair lands up to do a full-length feature on a behind the scenes at Studio 60. If you watch carefully, her character has a lesson or two for you. I can’t say too much without it being a spoiler, but I will say this. She doesn’t take notes during interviews (don’t try this at home. At least, not yet), she knows the answers before she asks the question but she asks the question anyway and she draws information and confessions out of the people she interviews, the way you draw doodles in your notebook fifteen minutes before filing your story.

Are working in Television: What’s important? Bowing and scraping to the network that airs your show or putting up content you feel the show demands? Every tussle you’ll ever have in the world of TV, every word you need to change in a script. Every bit of last minute writing you’ll have to do to make a deadline: It’s all here.

Are from the Entertainment industry: When is entertainment harmless and silly and when can it get dangerous? Do you have a responsibility to viewers and readership that do not come from the urban background that you do? Is taking a pot-shot at someone who can’t fight back okay as long as it gets you ratings?

Are a fan of Sting, Corrine Bailey Rae, Gran Bel Fisher, Three 6 mafia, and Natalie Cole:  They all appear on the show once, as themselves, and they perform. Also, Sting accompanies himself on a lute.

Get a kick out of celebrity impressions: Tom Cruise, Nicholas Cage, Holly Hunter and Ben Stiller. For real.

Tend to beat yourself up after a bad job: There’s an episode on the show called The disaster show, where everything that can possibly go wrong goes twice as wrong and then some. The characters still weather on. Remember that sense of entitlement you felt when you started working? Remember how it all came crashing down your ears when you actually got down to work? What’s that? It still happens? Yeah, it happens to everyone. Wrote a bad story? Had a bad show? Missed a deadline? Shake it off. Move on and do a better job next time.

Want to find out why I chose the headline I did: You’ll get it at the end of the season.

Believe that true genius never really gets its due anymore: You know I’m right. Look at the ratio of shows that do phenomenally well and look at the ones that flounder before bravely dying out.

Don’t care about any of this but like good television: Aaron Sorkin keeps the action fast, the plot and writing tight, the characters believable and the backstory bulletproof. If you’re a fan of the walk-and-talk technique and snappy dialogue, then this is the show you watch and then watch again and then talk about till people stand up and leave the table.

– Sheena

The Hunger Games: How I went from sceptic to fan

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The Hunger Games: How I went from sceptic to fan

I’m something of a reading snob. There I said it. If a book is sensationalist, popular and making people exclaim wildly and in bad grammar over 8 million internet forums, there’s a big chance I won’t like it. Many times I’m right (cough Dan Brown cough) and I get to feel smug. Sometimes I’m wrong. Hello, Ms. Rowling.

And other times, well let’s just say, I get Suzanned. The Hunger games trilogy by Suzanne Collins had all the usual symptoms. Many internet forums, chatter about race prejudices, in-depth erudite sounding stories about young adult fiction and of course the series had TBHBT (The big Hollywood blockbuster ticket). I could totally tell where this was going. The jacket of the first book held a gushy fan-girl line from Stephanie Myers. I smirked. Man, it was going to be easy to hate this book.

If you’ve been living under a rock for the last year or so, The Hunger Game Trilogy takes place in the country of Panem where 12 districts are all governed by the evil Capitol. As punishment for a revolt against the Capitol many years ago, the hunger games is an event where a pair of adolescents, one boy and one girl from each district, get themselves into an arena and fight each other to the death. The whole thing is televised.

The first book, The Hunger Games, went okay but I can’t say I was sold on it. I was a little put off by the short sentences (so pedestrian) but I could deal with it. Besides it had strains of another dystopian novel I liked: Lois Lowry’s The giver. But dystopian novels for young readers follow a pretty standard arc. Oppressor. Confusion. Must overthrow said oppressor.

Let’s move on. The main character Katniss Everdeen was grim and unlikeable but real enough. The love triangle was annoyingly Twilight-ish. Will she go for nice-guy-baker-boy Peeta or stick with badass hunter buddy Gale? Interesting Trivia: the second one shoots and eats squirrels with ghastly relish. The book picked up as fewer tributes remained at the games and at last ended with a cliff-hanger. I could see the appeal but I wasn’t a fan. For one, no humour. And don’t blame the circumstances. Harry Potter was funny and so was Percy Jackson and their plots had them pretty screwed too. Also, is it just me or was there very little dialogue?

I spent time between book one and book two in complete conflict. Did I like it? Did I not?

When Sharanya waved Catching Fire, the second book in the series in front of me, my precise reaction was, “YAAAAAAAAAAAAY. I mean…. cool. Cool, I’ll just take it. I guess. I mean, if you’re done with it. Whatever.”

And I was glad she was. Catching Fire seduced me. A quarter quell, where there’s an upped version of the Hunger Games aka more bloody animalistic murder? Bring it. The Games Arena (spoiler alert) designed like a clock was a small bit of genius. And now there’s political intrigue and a romance that actually adds to the plot? Well done Ms. Collins, well done. Even sullen Katniss was beginning to redeem herself. She was getting tougher, angrier and she dealt with adolescent angst by going out and shooting stuff, a huge improvement on Bella Swan. There still wasn’t much improvement on the jokes. I forgave that. At the end of the second book, I wasn’t in conflict any more. Was I on board with this whole hunger games hysteria? Hell yes.

On to Book three. (This time, I fair snatched it out of Sharanya’s hand). Mockingjay had the stirrings of a bloody war and revolution, plot twists and so much more darkness and despair. Having one of the main characters brain-washed into near-villainy kept things lively.  And finally, oh finally, JOKES! There were funny bits. Mostly through a character called Johanna, who frankly, I’d have loved to see more of. Sarcasm. Wit. Banter. It’s like Suzanne Collins read my mind and gave me everything that was missing in the first book. Am I A Hunger Games fan now? Yes I am.

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