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30 July 2021

How condescending can you get? Let me count the ways...

I bought Masala Lab because its blurb sounded interesting. ‘Ever wonder why your grandmother threw a teabag into the pressure cooker while boiling chickpeas?” “Why does a counter-intuitive pinch of salt make your kheer more flavourful?” Etc., etc., etc. [And because it had excellent reviews. More about that later.]

Now, a disclaimer – I’m definitely not the target audience for this book. I’ve been cooking for more years than I care to remember. I grew up in the school of, “When I said one handful, I meant the size of my hand!”, or recipes from relatives that asked for “a pinch of this, a dash of that”. I learnt the basics from my mother and from poring over recipes in magazines. I learnt quickly to adapt to not having a certain ingredient or substituting something else for it. But, as I said, the blurb seemed interesting, and I'm always curious to know the whys and wherefores.

16 July 2021

Kohinoor (1960)

Directed by: SU Sunny
Music: Naushad
Lyrics: Shakeel Badayuni
Starring: Dilip Kumar, Meena Kumari,
Jeevan, Kumkum,
Mukri, Leela Chitnis,0
M Kumar, S Nazir,
Wasim Khan, Tuntun

When times get too depressing, I send an S.O.S to my partner-in-crime, Shalini, asking if she is in the mood to watch something light. She usually is. This time, Shalini suggested Kohinoor, having never watched it before. In the light of Dilip Kumar’s demise earlier this month, it seemed apropos.

7 July 2021

Farewell to a Titan

Death is part of Life. They are the yin and yang of existence. Yet, each time Death arrives – expected or unexpectedly – one is still taken aback. Except for our own selves, perhaps, Death is not a very welcome visitor.

So, waking up to the news that Dilip Kumar is no more was still a shock. Despite knowing that he was in his late 90s. In spite of knowing that, for the past year, he has been in and out of hospital. And I’m overcome by a deep sense of loss.

1 July 2021

My Favourites: Flirtatious Songs

Flirting – by Henri Gerbault
Source: Wikipedia

We have had long discussions on stalking in films. How the “Never accept a ‘no’ until she says a ‘yes’ ” hero manages to turn the until-then independent minded heroine into a simpering mess merely by irritating the hell out of her. We have even enjoyed many of the songs because they were so beautifully rendered (in Hindi) by Mohammed Rafi, Hemant Kumar, Manna Dey, Talat Mahmood, Kishore Kumar et al. It was an accepted notion – girls say ‘no’ when they actually mean ’yes’. Several of my favourite heroes have been guilty of this behaviour. And even loving Shammi Kapoor as I do, even accepting that the times were more innocent, I still cringe at some (not all) of the songs as he irritated the heck out of the heroine who, you knew, would soon fall in love with him. 

The flirtatious songs I write about here do not fall into that category. These are no stalking songs – the playing field is level. These are songs which make it clear that the attraction is there on both sides. The snappiness on the woman’s part is a veneer, a defence mechanism as she struggles with an emotion hitherto unknown to her. It is part of the mating sequence, in an age when men and women did not get a chance to meet openly or get to know each other.

26 June 2021

Unheard Voices

The Mahabharata, considered the world’s longest epic, is a sprawling tale that enfolds myriad frametales and secondary digressions around the core theme of the internecine struggle in the Kingdom of Hastinapura. Various retellings of the great epic have taken place in various languages, from the straightforward retelling of C Rajgopalachari and Kamala Laxman to narratives from the perspective of Bhima (Randam Muzham /Second Turn by MT Vasudevan Nair) and Draupadi (Yajnaseni by Pratibha Ray and Yuganta by Irawati Karwe) and perhaps many others.

As one well knows, the same event can seem different when viewed through a different lens. Karna’s view of the epic would differ vastly from Arjuna’s, for instance; Bhima’s would diverge from Duryodhana’s. Who’s to say which is the truth? For “Until the lions have their own historians, the story of the hunt will always glorify the hunter.” Or so claims an African proverb.

11 June 2021

The Divorce of Lady X (1938)

Directed by Tim Whelan
Starring: Merle Oberon, Laurence Olivier,
Ralph Richardson, Morton Selten,
Binnie Barnes

I have only seen Laurence Olivier declaiming Shakespeare or in serious, dramatic roles. I would never have imagined he would be part of a screwball comedy.

5 June 2021

The Wicked Lady (1945)

Directed by: Leslie Arliss
Margaret Lockwood, James Mason,
Patricia Roc, Griffith Jones,
Enid Stamp-Taylor, Francis Lister,
Felix Alymer, Michael Rennie

We have been steadily going through Criterion’s collection of old British films, many of which we hadn’t even heard of, let alone watched. So, when scrolling through the list brought up The Wicked Lady, the synopsis: “Margaret Lockwood devours the screen as a tightly wound seventeenth-century beauty with loose morals, who steals her best friend’s wealthy fiancé on the eve of their wedding. And that’s only the beginning of this piece of pulp from director Leslie Arliss—there are no depths to which this sinful woman won’t sink. James Mason costars, and nearly steals the movie, as a highwayman with whom our antiheroine becomes entangled. This nasty, subversive treat was the most commercially successful of all the Gainsborough melodramas.” – was deliciously tantalising, and we knew we had to watch it.

30 May 2021

Devi (1960)

Directed by: Satyajit Ray
Music: Ustad Ali Akbar Khan
Starring: Sharmila Tagore, Chhabi Biswas,
Soumitra Chatterjee, Karuna Bannerjee
Purnendu Mukherjee, Arpan Chowdhury

I’d initially meant this to be a ‘Satyajit Ray Month’, especially since the Criterion Channel was showing most of Ray’s filmography. But life intervened. I thought I should at least end the month with another of Ray’s films, and so, we watched Devi last week. Now, I’d never watched Devi before, so while I had a rough idea what it was about, I was coming in with no preconceived biases.

24 May 2021

The Masters: Majrooh Sultanpuri

01.10.1919 - 24-05.2000

My love for poetry, specifically Hindi poetry, was influenced by the Karnataka SSC Board, which had decided to make Hindi one of our 1st language choices. This meant that apart from reading excellent Hindi literature, we were also introduced to some of Hindi poetry’s stalwarts – Mahadevi Varma, Sumitranandan Pant, Ramdhari Singh Dinkar, Suryakant Tripathi, Maithili Sharan Gupt, Harivanshrai Bachchan, as well as the dohas of Kabir, Mirabai, Surdas, etc.

Growing up with my film-crazy father also meant that film music was an integral part of my childhood. When I listen to songs, while it’s the melody that initially captures my attention, it’s the lyrics that keep me engrossed. The words have magic. They transport me to other worlds, touch an emotional core within me, and express what I feel but cannot say. 

But for all my love of words, there were very few lyricists whose work I could identify solely by listening to their words. Yet, I ‘knew’ them – through their verse, their words, the emotions they expressed so beautifully. And in some of those songs, surely, I had ‘met’, known and loved Majrooh Sultanpuri?

20 May 2021

Conte d'hiver (1992)

A Winter’s Tale
Directed by: Eric Rohmer
Starring: Charlotte Véry, Michel Voletti,
Hervé Furic,
Christiane Debois, Ava Loreschi,
Frédéric van den Driessche

Eric Rohmer is a romantic. This is the conclusion I have come to after having watched many of his films. Rohmer is fascinated by relationships between men and women, between women and men. Bear with me when I say that to Rohmer, these are not the same thing at all.

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