Begum Jaan

Interesting walk through history as well as the profession of prostitution on the Indian continent. Much loathed but rarely understood. Where do these women come from? What kind of homes did they belong to? How did they end up in a brothel? And most importantly WHY did they end up in a brothel? Why do they exist?? Who frequents them?? You can’t blame the flame for burning down the forest without raising an eye at the match stick that lit it on fire!

This movie starts and ends on a provocative scene of an old lady/girl baring herself in front of assaulters – both times forcing them to step back in shame due to their age. What happens in between is the story of Begum Jaan who runs a brothel at a place that is to be separated by the India-Pakistan border in 1947 forcing her to give up her home. It’s a story of hope, despair, will, deceit, grit and gut that will hopefully be the beginning to an end of this entire vicious cycle.

Powerful acting by everyone. A dark but interesting watch. (7/10)

Begum Jaan

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Naam Shabana

Just like the second kid can rarely be as good as the first one (hoping my sister is not reading this!) the sequel to a movie often doesn’t measure up to the expectations set by the original.

The Director tried to use Baby’s recipe, including many of the key cast members but wasn’t able to replicate the taut storyline and magic of Baby. Danny’s scenes got cut down from four to two, Manoj Bajpai has been added as another layer of administrativia, and Akshay Kumar has only been hired to hold Taapsee’s arm and drag her through buildings as if she can’t walk on her own. Also, who in the world hires someone as handsome as Prithviraj Sukumaran as the bad man?

Awkward dialogues, lack of a good story and absolutely no explanation as to why they needed to cast a woman in the role of the secret agent when Akshay Kumar could have done all she does makes this a meh watch. Everyone these days is just trying to ride on the feminism gravy train which failed in this case. (5/10)

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For It Is In Giving That We Receive

Every morning on my way to my glass-enclosed office facing the beautiful hills of Mountain View I walk through the snack kitchen area of my office floor. Be it 7.30 or 8 or 8.30am, there is always one person who is in the office before me every morning: Jason! He is a super friendly 20-something kitchen personnel who makes sure our snack kitchen is clean and stocked before most of our floor starts filling up. He is also the first person who greets me every morning with a big bright smile, chit chats about the weekend and often tells me how excited he is to play golf at Shoreline on the weekends where he works a second job and self-taught himself how to play golf over the years.

When I saw him last Wednesday he looked a bit sad so I asked if everything was alright.
After a bit of hesitation he confided in me that he has been very sick since Sunday with a stomach flu almost requiring a visit to the Emergency Room and he had to call in sick on Monday. He came in on Tuesday but had to be sent back home within 40 minutes because of his condition. As a vendor he only gets three paid sick days and he was worried he will get salary cuts for extra days off if his situation got any worse. I asked if he was taking any medicine and he replied he wasn’t able to keep any food down, including any medicine he took. The only thing that made him feel better was to take a hot shower which he couldn’t do for too long because he lived with his mother and she was worried about an increase in the water bill they may not be able to afford. This broke my heart!
A few weeks ago I had forwarded an email to him from the Google Golf Club that is organizing a highly discounted game for $132 at a course at Pebble Beach instead of the usual $800+ fee for that particular course. Ever since he has been telling me how excited he is about the opportunity to finally play golf at Pebble Beach but that day he told me he can’t participate anymore because he can’t afford the $132 fee right now. I saw a dream shattering right there!
I went back to my desk and wondered what I could do to help Jason and make it look like an expression of gratitude rather than an act of charity. All of my colleagues on my floor have been blessed with more material wealth than Jason, yet he showers us with his happy demeanor and friendly small talk every morning brightening up our days. So I sent out a note to my colleagues asking if anyone would like to contribute to make his “dream come true” by pooling $132 for his Pebble Beach green fee. No one was obligated to contribute as I was willing to cover the entire fee but I wanted to give everyone the chance to thank him and have this be a gift from all of us.
Within a few hours not only had my team collected over $350 but they had also flooded my inbox and dropped by my office with messages that warmed my heart like never before:
“You are so kind and sometimes it just takes one person to motivate others to action, which is what you did.  Hard to believe that one simple inquiry will have such a life lasting impact.”
“That was the sweetest and kindest gesture I’ve seen in a while. It is amazing and thank you for sharing that.”
” Aprajita, he is always the first one to say good morning to my dog and I and to offer me a sparkling water in the mornings as soon as I walk into our kitchen. I will be more than happy to contribute.”
“I keep getting amazed about the thoughtfulness of Googlers, another amazing example Aprajita! Count me in to help out.”
“I love Jason. Please let me know how I can send you the $. I’m also happy to contribute $ to help him get a new golf outfit or something!”
“What a thoughtful and generous idea, Aprajita! I love it, and count me in.”
“We should make sure he has enough for a nice lunch afterwards. I’m in for whatever it takes.”
I was completely overwhelmed by the generosity of everyone on the team and the goodness of the people I work with. Really, sometimes all it takes is noticing the small stuff, having open ears and taking the first step towards action.
I bought a card for Jason that same night, wrote a letter for him and requested everyone to sign it the next day:
On Friday morning I saw Jason bright and early in the office and asked him how he was doing. He was feeling better and this time I gave him the biggest smile I had to offer telling him our team had a surprise for him. I handed over the envelop with the card, letter and money to him:
The video ends abruptly because I received a big bear hug from Jason who was shaking and had tears in his eyes. So did I!
They say “For it is in giving that we receive.” Truer words have rarely been spoken.
Take the first step, the rest will fall in place.

Badrinath Ki Dulhania

Kavya from ‘Humpty Sharma ki Dulhania’ saw the Women’s Rights movement making the rounds around the globe, jumped on the bandwagon and came out as a transformed modern day woman called Vaidehi on the other end to now become ‘Badrinath ki Dulhania’.

‘Tis the story of a very real struggle of women who grow up in homes where an early marriage is the ONLY dream they are allowed to harbor and their parents bend their backs collecting dowry because grooms are sold according to the size of their daddy’s homes, cars and egos. Marriage brokers that come to your house and ask for “kitna lagaenge shaadi mein” as soon as they plant their derrières on your couch really do exist – I am speaking from experience that almost made me lose my composure and shoot darts at them before I nudged my parents to throw them out of our house.

There is a nice ying and yang between aspiration and realism in this movie which hits the pulse of today’s day and age. Though some scenes are really cliched and added for pure mass entertainment, such as Kritika’s swayamwar, her clarity in thought about who she is marrying is commendable. Vaidehi, too, is marrying “under her league” but she finds the unexpected in Badri which is all that a relationship sometimes needs to work out.

I found it interesting that the filmmaker chose to broach the topic of rebellion against a deep engrained system of patriarchy in which sons are merely puppets of their dangerously commandeering parents. Helping them move along with the times is as much their children’s responsibility as their own. For all the Vaidehis out there – if your Badri is not willing to create a reasonable environment for you two to live in within the fiefdom of his dad – run, run as fast as you can!

Alia Bhatt’s acting is like a cheese pizza from the same shop. Consistently good but always tastes the same. I can’t wait to see her in a more subdued, silent, thoughtful character. Even though Udta Punjab was quite different her angst filled role was very familiar.

Varun Dhawan tried visibly hard to act like the UP ke bhaiya but he was skirting at the edge of authenticity and childishness. Comic roles are not his forté. He did much better in a far more serious Badlapur.

Oh, and taking away a point for horrendously butchering Tamma Tamma when we know that remixes can be as good as the original – look at Humma Humma. (7/10)

 

Badri

The Girl On The Train

Hardly a well kept secret but a good reminder that I should read the novel before I watch the movie. What was a bestselling novel by Paula Hawkins turned into a mediocre thriller on celluloid. It’s rare that someone can turn an intricate thriller into an equally well-made movie – as was the case with Gone Girl.

Emily Bunt’s acting is spot on but her deranged look and coldness never lets the viewer sympathize with her condition. For the first half of the movie she establishes herself as an annoying psychopath and when the plot turns things end so quickly that you never have the chance to celebrate her existence in any way.

Certainly watchable but not worth preparing for shivers and screams. (4/10)

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Jolly LLB 2

My recollection of its prequel is weak so it would be unfair of me to compare the two but maybe this is a case where the Director decided to ride on the profit wave of an established success. And he did. Financially, Jolly paid off but the entertainment quotient was just mediocre. While Akshay Kumar did complete justice to his role the story just did not have the same gravitas I am used to from his films after watching a Baby, Airlift and Rustom.

Huma Qureshi had nothing to contribute to the story line. Nevertheless, it was a delight to see someone cast as the lead actress who is not a size zero. Breaking molds in the image obsessed Bollywood she is convincingly showing everyone that talent is not measured at the waist.

Far too rarely seen on the big screen these days, Annu Kapoor is brilliant as ever and Saurabh Shukla plays the role of a somewhat unbelievable, comic judge whose whim decides the course of the case at hand. (6/10)

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Of Red Eyes and Hurt Noses

A few days ago I was taking a red eye flight from San Francisco to New York for a couple of days of work in the city that never sleeps. Little did I know that I wasn’t going to get any shut eye either – not only because I can’t sleep on planes, regardless of the time of day, but because this flight was going to be a – well – let’s say new kind of experience.

It was a Tuesday night. I had been warned that flights might get delayed out of SFO because God had decided to open the floodgates of rain on California and the state that has been in a drought for the past five years did not have a modern enough aviation system to deal with these weather conditions. My sister picked me up from a dinner wearing a pajama, evoking boundless jealousy in me, because all I wanted after a long day of work and socializing is a warm home with a soft couch, a fluffy blanket and me somewhere in between. Alas! On the way to the airport I remembered that I forgot to pack my toothbrush. Was it because of a piece of lemongrass that was stuck between my teeth that I started thinking of the most mundane of things on an exciting trip to NYC? Since we were a bit early I asked my sister if we could stop somewhere to drink a coffee and maybe buy a toothbrush. No chance! She was wearing booties underneath her PJ and refused to step out of the car. Drive through coffee? No, she thinks it is uncool to sit in a car in the rain with a drive through coffee…with me. Hmmmpf!

My otherwise just-in-time track record of getting to the airport was broken by this early arrival. Lo and behold, I was the only one in the security line and made it to the somewhat spookily empty gate area with almost two hours left on my hands. Instead of trying to find a toothbrush I got the ridiculously yummy hot chocolate from a gourmet shop across from my gate because I was a) freezing and b) thinking that the heat of the drink will help “melt” the lemongrass out from where it was stuck. It had been a long day, you know.

Despite the torrential downpour the flight was on time. I had no idea where all those people came from suddenly but the plane was chock-full. Luck and I have never been best of friends so I got a middle seat to add insult to injury.

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Now I was fully expecting there to be a baby in my row or within a two row radius of mine. God bless the potential future Mom in me but I was really not prepared for a red-eye-middle-seat-middle-of-the-week flight with a crying baby anywhere near me. Fortunately, parents thought the same and there was no one under five feet anywhere in sight. Three minutes into settling into my seat – with my coat on to prevent hypothermia – my aisle seat neighbor showed up. She was an unsuspecting Asian girl (woman?) – I can never tell. As soon as she sat down and shoved her bag underneath the front seat I wrinkled my nose and started sniffing like a disturbed little puppy. I knew this smell! It’s all over San Francisco and near bridges in San Jose. Weed! OMG, weed! This woman’s bag was full of weed. I couldn’t stop wondering how she got through security with this. I know marijuana has been legalized in California but she was flying into New York and the nauseating smell told me this was more than just a little pack or two. I looked around and no one was even flinching. Why? I was about to pass out from this smell. There were no other seats empty and I couldn’t just have gone to the flight crew and told them to please change my seat because – uhm, eh, my neighbor brought on a bag full of weed on board and I was about to throw up from the smell. My six hour misery began. I started hallucinating – not sure if it was the fumes of the weed getting to me or the thought that I had three days of jam-packed work ahead of me with little prospect of sleep.

About halfway through the flight, awake like I have never felt before, I was staring at the blank screen in front of me on a plane that was darkened for people to fall asleep. Suddenly, I sensed a flicker of light hitting the side of my face and the smell of the weed being diluted with the smell of something else I was trying to recognize. An elderly, cute gentleman, clad in a lungi, a long white kurta, an Islamic prayer cap and a long bushy white beard was violently shaking his fist that was tightly clasping around what seemed to be a tiny little flashlight. mmHe must have gone to the bathroom and was now trying to find his way back to his seat not realizing he had way overshot his seat number and was now in the front of the plane. He was reeking of zarda. The smell was so strong that it woke up everyone in my vicinity and I saw more than a few worried faces when Uncle Zarda continued to pound his fist to get that flashlight battery to fall in place. I saw a woman quietly mouth the word “bomb” to her husband and I couldn’t help but laugh at the comedy of all of this. Or maybe it was just the potent mixture of the stomach churning smell of marijuana and zarda that was driving me nuts. Slowly but surely, after flashing at least five more people by accident Uncle Zarda made it back to his seat but left behind his cloud of sweet tobacco. That cocktail of smells must have woken up my window seat neighbor too – a very stylish, clearly NYC lady in her 70s, with white hair and as I found out instantaneously a runny nose. Now that she was up and awake she was snorting and thanks to a lack of tissues was “slurping” her runny nose “back in” every few seconds. I have no idea what the later is called. All I know is that it drives me baloni every time someone does it. If only I could have offered her a tissue. parachute_cartoonIn addition to my nostrils being filled with the the dry pissy smell of weed and the sweet minty smell of zarda for the next three hours I had to endure this constant intrusion of nerve-wrecking slurp. An out and out attack of terroristic proportions on my olfactory and auditory senses! My head was spinning and if I had had a parachute in that very moment I would have put it to use!

 

We landed half an hour earlier than planned and given the chance I would have kissed the pilot’s feet for freeing me from this narcotic hell.

Looks like I was not the only one dying to get off this metal bird. As soon as the door opened a stout little New York woman started yelling from three rows behind me to “get the f*** off the plane” at which point my neighbor, gangsta Asian lady, turned around and gave her the look of her lifetime.

Having lived in NYC for a while I knew not to take a cab into Manhattan at rush hour so I made my way to the Airtrain station with puffy eyes and an assaulted nose. The train doors were about to close as I got to the platform so I jumped in and sat down next to an African American family of three – father, mother and a pre-teen girl. The mother asked a question, the father answered and within seconds both of them were in each other’s hair arguing about who said what. Spying through a thick black NY accent I deciphered they were arguing about whose decision it was to get on the wrong Airtrain. We were on the train to Howard Beach, not to Jamaica. What?! I was sitting on the wrong train too! For the next 15 minutes I circled around the airport to get back to where I started from with a fighting African American couple next to me, each trying to be louder than the other. Who needs a Broadway show when you have drama everywhere in this city?

20 minutes later I was on the right train to Jamaica Station. I got off, took the elevator down to the subway and while I was trying to make sense of all that had happened in the past seven hours I smelled it again! That sweet minty smell. I turned around and Uncle Zarda was right behind me. What in the world are the chances that I would see him again – that too on a busy NYC Subway platform after making a 15 minute detour on the wrong train? This time Uncle Zarda was holding a little pink tamagotchi like device in his right hand and was clicking on a silver button every few seconds all while murmuring a prayer. Now I am not easily terrorized or influenced by stereotypes but I don’t know what bombs look like these days. All I remember are the oval looking dark green ones in old Shatrugan Sinha movies. Maybe their aesthetics have changed over the years?

The E train arrived and we all jumped into the same wagon. That zarda smell and my complete lack of sleep was now slowly putting out parts of my brain. 20 minutes later I saw Uncle Zarda deboard and I continued on my journey into Manhattan.

With black circles around red eyes and a traumatized nose I made my way to the most amazing shower I knew of in the NYC office and let the hot stream of water wash away the past night of travel.