Review: I Am Pilgrim by Terry Hayes

I read this book more than a year ago – the e-book version. Then I went and picked up the hard copy of the book because some books just don’t cut it in the e-version. You need to hold the book and savour it.

I Am Pilgrim by Terry Hayes is one of the coolest books I’ve read in a long, long time! And I’m someone who consistently meets the GoodReads 50 Books A Year Challenge. The storytelling is so fluid and easy, yet compelling, that you are switch between timelines and plots without that common jarring interlude. I_Am_Pilgrim_-_hardback_UK_jacket

This is a spy thriller, a remanent of the John Le Carre days, set in the modern world. The spies are more intelligent, more severe and so is the other side.

The plot begins, very simply, at the scene of a murder. A murder that seems to be the perfect crime, with absolutely no clues. And it seems to have drawn a lot of inspiration – in terms of how to clean up a crime seen – from one of the protagonists’ books.

The other protagonist is a man born into Islam, a firm believer. His father’s execution by a particular Islamic regime becomes the reason he turns to terrorism, as he believes that they were responsible of the corruption of the society, which eventually led to his father’s death. It is beautifully and compellingly written, drawing us into two distinct worlds and its underbelly without missing a step.

The two men, on ends of the world, and on two distinct paths, are forced to intersect when the former is set on the chase of the latter – and he needs to find him before the man can execute his simple, yet terrifying plan.

Unlike the deluge of crap books and movies that sets everything in the US of A, much of the action here happens outside the US. In little towns, described so well that you can almost smell the dust on the streets.

This is a book that deserves to be read in hard copy. Make sure you have ample time to finish the book because it sure is hard to put down!

Dirty Picture

Every now and then comes a movie that changes your perspective of someone who was alive, replacing that actual person in your head with the person who played the character. The movie makes you think, even as it makes you laugh.

Dirty Picture is one such movie. In the case of Vidya Balan, the second such movie. After Ishqiya, I cannot recall any other movie that has such an impact.

Did Silk Smitha live her life with the same careless attitude and rush that Vidya Balan portrayed? Did she score her roles through the casting couch? Did so many men influence her life or did she really forge the path she wanted by using whatever means was available to her?

My memories of Silk Smitha are vague. Not being a horny teenage boy in need for material, my interactions with her were restricted to recollections of adults discussing her latest movie. Then cable came and there were far more interesting, frothy Hindi movies to look forward to and the dusky actress never really made it into my living room.

Balan wears so many faces that it is hard to keep track of who she really is. The innocence of her face belies the sexiness of her body. The movie literally takes us through the years, as Balan puts on more weight, gains the look of someone depressed and addicted to alcohol and we never realise who the old Silk was till the movie gives us a quick and ruthless flashback.

Silk is perhaps the story of many women in the entertainment industry. Even if they were telling just the story of a single woman, there are so many truths through the movie.

Sex sells like nothing else does. (Else Katrina Kaif wouldn’t be a ‘star’ today, among others). Movies have one reason only – entertainment. True, there are intelligent movies, arty movies and all that. But majority of the movies are made to entertain. To make people forget what’s outside. To create a fantasy. And who better to create a fantasy than a woman with luscious curves?

Was she a victim or a champion? Even through her tantrums and diva-like attitude, Balan manages to keep you charmed and rooting for her through the movie. She changes so many faces… every nuance is calculated and poised for impact. Here is an actress who sinks into the role so deep that it is hard to differentiate the character from the actress.

The supporting cast seems rather demure and faded, even Naseruddin Shah. Or maybe Balan just overshadows them all. Surprisingly, it is Emraan Hashmi who has the most dignified role and carries it off with more elan than Tussar Kapoor in his polo neck shirts. Of course, it guess it would be bad PR for him if he didn’t manage to get a role even in his sister’s movie.

The questions in the movie are haunting… was Silk a true feminist? Or just a depressed female trying to live her life the best way possible. Of course, as the movie says, today’s shame is tomorrow’s hero. But the movie seems to portray her more of a hero.

It brings to mind a line I’d read in a book. “She was given three minutes onscreen and told to sell sex. She sold buckets of it.”

***

A friend wondered if Balan can actually make a comeback after this movie. Her weight gain, all the exposure and such.

Indian audiences are still quite hypocritical. They have grown to accept lead actress stripping for an item number but are they mature enough to see so much skin and then see her covered up and in another role again? Or will this be her defining moment?

We pretend to be respectable and honest, while what we really like to see is the other side. Is there more space for true actresses like Vidya Balan in our generation? The intelligent actress?

There are very few women in the industry who can carry off an entire movie by themselves. And she is one of them. Actually, I cannot recall another actress of this generation who can do that. Nope, not the Katrina Kaifs and Kareena Kapoors of this world. Nor Priyanka Chopra. But for most part, this is still a  male-dominated industry.

Female leads ‘retire’ after marriage. 44 year old men continue to play young boys. Comebacks of 40 year old women are scorned as leads, while men can make a comeback as a lead at any time. Movies are written for the men at any age, while the women are relegated to the background.

Even Hema Malini, who was supposed to be the queen, hasn’t managed a comeback. Or Sridevi. Or Madhuri Dixit, though I personally loved Aaja Nachle.

I certainly hope Balan can reinvent herself yet again. Would definitely want to see more interesting cinema.

Delhi Belly

If you really think about it, the entire movie is the result of one guy eating food from a street cart in Delhi.

But then again, it isn’t that simple either.

Delhi Belly is one of the best hindi movies I have seen in a long time. It is a tapestry where each thread delicately links to another. And like all Bollywood movies, it has a healthy dose of love/romance/sex and all that but set so realistically that you can help but laugh.

If Guy 1 had not eaten that piece of chicken, served by the hands of a guy who was rubbing his crotch before serving the food, the story would not have happened.

But his motivations and desires drive the story, giving it bizzare twists, right till the end. And this guy – he isn’t even like the ‘lead’ in the movie.

Like all Aamir Khan productions, the movie is clean and sharp. Every character has some reason to be in the movie, unlike hindi movies that throw in random cartoon characters for entertainment. Okay, well, maybe one such character exists.

There’s drama, there’s fun and there’s sheer bawdiness that doesn’t disgust you like the sly, thigh-slapping jokes of another genre.

I wonder why they are trying to block the movie from screening because nothing you hear is something you wouldn’t hear on the bus or metro on your way home. The conversation, the drama and the confusion.

Plot?

3 guys… roommates. Arty types, if you insist – a journalist, a photojournalist and a cartoonist. A girlfriend – a little ditzy, as required and surprisingly well executed by Shenaz Treasury (apparently, the ‘wala’ has been dropped).

So she has to deliver this package and convinces sullen boyfriend Imran Khan to. But they pass it around, one of them falls prey to the fabled Delhi Belly and the parcel sorta falls low on the priority scale. But it does get delivered, and thereby the drama starts.

If you do think of it, it isn’t a new plot. It has been done several times, including in your own hindi cinema. But never with such flair and comic timing, and brilliant camerawork.

If you feel some the cinematography reminds you of some english flick… don’t complain. Least we got it right.

But never thought Delhi Belly would ever be something to laugh so hard about.

Dhobi Ghat

This is a movie that would’ve been called an ‘art’ film a few years ago. Actually, it would perhaps have still been called that if Aamir Khan had not been involved.

And Aamir turns out to be the one off-note for the movie, which, surprisingly, I loved.

The movie is slightly slow. But it is funny, romantic, poignant without ever really sinking into melodrama. It takes a page from Slumdog Millionaire and portrays the gritty Bombay without making it indigestible. Infact, it makes it… romantic.

A friend said that many people didn’t like the movie because it portrays Bombay the same old way. After watching the movie, I’m not quite sure that I agree.

Bombay to me was and continues to be faded buildings pushed one too many together, people creating their own self spaces amidst the hurdles. The rains, the people, the dirt, the open air and peace at Marine Drive and most of all – the struggle, the eternal struggle, for survival.

There are so many ships that sink in this struggle and nobody particularly notices – the good and bad thing about Bombay.
***

There are two story lines… intersecting subtly, though not particularly relating to each other, but crucial to each other nevertheless.

By that, you can piece the story into four parts – the discovery, celebration, disillusion and death.

Discovery – the shaky shots of Mumbai, shot from a cab as a woman speaks about her trip into the city. She tells the cab driver that she has been here for 5 months, and is from UP, and marvels at the open space of the Marine Drive, even as children come begging but happily begin shooting for the camera when they see one.

Discovery – Munna… the laundry boy, the cleaner and you wonder what else… going about his chores in a slum in Bombay. He looks too healthy and cute to be from the slums but perhaps that is the point.

Discovery – Arun and Shai discover each other at Arun’s art exhibition and end up having a one-night stand. She gets pissed the morning-after and walks out, and Amir moves into his new apartment. Shai meets Munna, the laundry boy.

Celebration: Arun discovers the videotape of the woman ‘Yasmin Noor’… he explores Bombay through her eyes, a lonely housewife who seems to be filled with zest for life and loves to explore everything around her, even as her morose husband ignores everything. Her eyes sparkle and her smile is wide and she begins a video chronicle, we find out, for her brother.

Celebration: Shai and Munna become friends and she does his portfolio, he becomes her guide to the ‘inner Mumbai’.

Disillusion: Yasmin’s eyes fade… there is a weariness she tries to hide from the camera.

Disillusion: Shai discovers another face of Munna… Munna is confused about Shai and if she is just a friend or more. And Shai is confused about her feelings for Arun and her friendship with Munna, trying to choose which is more precious.

Death: Literally. Of several people. Of several interpretations of several relationships.
***

The thing about Aamir’s movies that I particularly admire is the casting. All the characters, starting from the maid, to Yasmin, to Munna to Shai are so natural that you believe you are watching real life.

Shai (Monica Dogra) has just returned from the US and is on a sabbatical and meets Arun (Aamir) at a pretentious art show. Munna (Prateik Babbar!) is half-confident, half-shy… maturing to a man almost that shows in hints of looks when he asks Shai questions about her personal life and blushes like a high school girl when complimented.

Shai seems incredibly natural as a vibrant woman, very at ease with herself, her insecurities and the pampered girl of a rich family who is pursuing her dreams. I won’t give away more of the story… because, even if it is slow, it is probably worth a watch.

Strangely, Aamir seemed to be the only off note in the movie… maybe he has become too big to play such roles. He is good… but given the naturalness of the rest of the cast, it just seems a little… odd.

I love the voice of the woman in the narration. I love the pulse of Mumbai that they captured so beautifully.

Of course they romanticized it… but love it or hate it, Mumbai will always appear romantic on film.

(This is written when the whole movie is fresh in my mind over the first viewing. Opinions could change and be a little more critical on the second watch. I think I would like to watch it again.)

Alice in Wonderland

Alice in Wonderland

My first question was what would’ve Lewis Carroll have made of this movie?

My friend claims he would’ve loved it. “Carroll was tripping on acid when he wrote this” were his exact words. Perhaps so… but was this the colors and the vividness that he imagined? Did he want the subtle chemistry between the hatter and Alice?

There seem to be a rage of movies these days that are loosely based on classics – they adopt the name of the popular character, some of the plot and weave their own story for the rest. Sherlock Holmes was one such – and it wasn’t such a disappointment, and very Guy Ritchie. And Alice joins that line… and I can say very Tim Horton.

Of course, the Wonderland has glimpses of Avatar (but I say from now any tropical forest would look like Avatar). And Alice, the one who is overland is a little… lackluster. Awkward, like a fish out of water.

So she follows a rabbit down the hole, grows a little big and then a little small and finally manages to get herself across the little door, where we find out that this is indeed a bees saal baad story.

Why Horton didn’t go with the little girl… well…

So there is the caterpillar with his twisted words and “almost” statements. The Tweedle brothers, who are quite adorable actually. And the rabbit ofcourse. And the Cheshire cat.

The cat’s good. Really good. I never liked Cheshire cat. I don’t like cats. And he is as catty as they get. And there are the beasts and Alice needs to kill the Jabberwocky.

Now, from here, I need to go back and read the book… because I figure it slowly diverges.

The cat leads Alice to the Hatter, where there is a mad party going on. And Depp is perfectly suited to play the mad hatter. But he isn’t really mad, only a little sad, unless you are saying ‘mad’ as in being a little angry. So he manages to sneak Alice away, gets caught and soft-hearted Alice goes after him into the Red Queen’s palace.

Oh I wish they really had an elaborate scene of the flamingoes and the croquet!!! That was my favorite scene in the book… with the flamingoes and the hedgehogs and the little illustrations the book came with.

Helena Bonham Carter (of the Harry Potter fame) truly shines as the Red Queen. Her voice and expressions seem so natural, particularly in contrast with all the heightened things around her. Or even on her. And the White Queen – Anne Hathaway  – seems quite pale and boring. She does this stupid thing with her hands… reminds me of actresses from the 60s doing this weird dance.

No, the story of Alice in Wonderland isn’t so spectacularly strong or new. Good fights bad. Alice has to kill the ‘jabber-baby-wocky’ and defeat the Red Queen. She struggles with her conscience and the concept of ‘killing’ and all that stuff and then she figures yes yes it is the right thing to do. I wish Hollywood had a little more creativity sometimes… or just let go of the whole pseudo-conscience thing.

But the way in which they designed the concept is refreshing. And fun. It is a visual treat and as long as you can regard it as just that, it is so worth a watch.

And yeah, do not  compare it to Avatar or any of those movies.

Because Disney got it right a long time ago. Disney’s always cute.

What’s Your Rashee

Alright! I bought this upon myself. Everyone had warned me that this movie was horrible but on a sunday afternoon with nothing else on TV, and confined to the couch, this was my best bet.

Though this must be titled “How Much Torture Can You Bear”

There are ways to save your brain while watching it. Here is how:

1. Make sure you’ve the remote in your hand
2. Make sure there is something else on TV as well (You watch this in between the ad breaks of the something else, which – let’s accept it – is long enough to catch another movie as well)
3. Make sure you’ve a high sense of humor or have someone with you who can point out the obvious flaws in the movie
4.  Lots of junk food (lacking in my case)
5. Start the movie mid-way

So let’s begin. I’m not sure where I started the movie… I think it was at Virgo or something. I did think that the basic… you know that scratch everything else and that thin line that was at the bottom of the barrel – had the makings of an interesting movie. Of course, for that we’d need much better make up artists, a script writer who could come up with 12 extreme personalities and backgrounds instead of a change in hairstyle and wardrobe and… so called changes in personality quirks.

But anyway… here is NRI Gujju boy who is in India to shop for a bride. As he really lacks time, he figures it would be enough to meet one girl from every sunsign to decide who’d be the (un)lucky one to spend the rest of his life with. So he goes shopping with a hapless uncle… and he meets varieties of Priyanka – the one with the short hair, the one with the long hair, the one with the frizzy hair, the one with the medium hair, the one with realllllly long hair.

And as our boy considers himself a prize, he wants the perfect girl. So what if he really cannot differentiate between any of them? He hangs around while they sing him a song – and this is when you need to use your remote to change back to the original program and come back say… 15 minutes later.

So he rejects the girl who wants to be a model and use him a passport. And the super religious one – who uses that as a reason to have sex. And then there is the… little visit to a really down area – possibly the only scene in which Priyanka looks different. Of course, I didn’t figure she was playing a 15 year old. I just thought she was mentally challenged or something.

Of course, do not miss the ending. The astrologer tells him that there is one particular girl who will bring him luck = money, which his family is in dire need of. And as this is the 21st century, the amount is in crores. So… the hapless uncle tells him “turn up on the appointed day and there’ll be a girl waiting, with the money”.

So the boy gives up his dreams of love (though he had agreed to marry pretending-to-be-mad princess priyanka but I figure the choppers chopped that bit off) and turns up and everyone is speculating who the girl is.

Of course, you are wondering too… cuz you know, there were at least 4-5 girls who looked really similar. What you DON’T EXPECT is that the boy is wondering who she is too. Literally “Oh she can’t be that cuz she said this and she can’t be that. So this must be either xx or yy” and the girl isn’t even covering her face!

So apparently, all the girls did look similar, even if he is “madly” in love with one of the girls, who well, as it is a hindi movie, turns out to be the same girl he loves. And if you haven’t already run like mad – here’s the kicker – nobody knows what fricking zodiac she belongs to.

Now, if you find whoever directed/wrote/planned/though of this movie – put them up against a wall and execute them.

Photo of the Day: Oh I  miss the strawberry season!!!

Yummy by Eduardo Deboni.
Yummy by Eduardo Deboni