Friday, March 28, 2014

The Lunchbox , a movie review

'The Lunchbox' is an Indian film of great poignancy narrating the story of friendship between a housewife, Ila and a soon-to-retire accountant, Fernandez.

The backdrop of the dabbawallas(lunchbox delivery men) of Mumbai, who were studied by Harvard for their six sigma delivery standards, showcases hard work and struggles of everyman. From the moment they pick the lunch boxes, they travel by foot, rickshaws and trains to ensure that every lunch box is delivered to the right person before their lunch break.What happens when one of those lunch boxes goes amiss , forms the crux of the movie.

When Fernandez receives Ila's lunch box by mistake, the initial confusion soon turns into friendship between two lonely people. Ila ,ignored by her non-chalant husband and Fernandez, a widower with no friends or immediate family, start sharing their  little moments of joy, nostalgic memories and day to day problems through hand-written notes via the lunch box.

Ila's upstairs neighbor 'auntie' is her agony aunt, sometimes helping her with spices for the dishes while at other times advising on what she should write to Fernandez. Without actually seeing a glimpse of 'auntie' we sympathize with her story of the loving wife taking care of her husband in coma for 15 years. As this kaleidoscope shifts, we catch another glimpse of Indian women - Ila's mother taking care of her cancer ridden husband with minimum resources.

Meanwhile, Fernandez, is befriended by his successor at work, Sheik. Sheik provides comic relief , whether he is cutting vegetables on the train or eagerly eyeing the lunch box over his lunch of fruits.
Sheik brings a sliver of friendship to Fernandez's life.

Commuter trains in Mumbai are the life blood of the city. The backdrop of the trains reflects the mosaic of Indian culture that co-exists peacefully in between the chaos  - beggars singing popular Bollywood songs, religious groups singing hymns aloud, dabbawallas balancing their boxes and vendors selling wares on the trains.

There is a scene where Ila, the protagonist, shares  with her daughter the games she played as a child. The trigger for this conversation is Fernandez, who regrets not creating more memories with his wife before she passed. This encapsulates the beauty of this film.Like an expert trapeze artist , it balances humor, poignancy, romance and a tinge of melancholy with subtlety.

The movie takes a turn when the friendship turns into romance and brings forth the insecurities of Fernandez and Ila. Ila is unhappy on discovering her cheating husband and Fernandez is confused about his retirement.

Will Fernandez have the courage to face Ila? Will they get together at all ? To find out the answers do watch this movie and I promise that you won't be disappointed.

Monday, February 03, 2014

And there wasn't anything I could have done to save them. - Philip Seymour Hoffman in the movie 'Capote'

I did not watch 'Capote' for the longest time thinking it was one of those boring biographical movies. However recently I read a blurb on Netflix that it portrays the period in Capote's life when he was researching the book 'In cold blood'. My curiosity was piqued.

I remember reading 'In cold blood' one summer afternoon. Before this book, I only knew about Breakfast at Tiffany's. I still remember my blood boiling at the murder of the innocent family in Holcomb and rejoiced when the killers were arrested. It truly was one of the best crime non-fiction books that was ever written.

Philip Seymour Hoffman personified "Capote". As someone recently said 'He was more Capote than Capote himself.' He reflected a kaleidoscope of characters shifting between light and dark moments with equal aplomb. As an ego maniac he pursued the story of the murderers Perry Smith and Dick Hancock initially as a curious writer for the New York times and later as a friend of Perry. His emotional involvement with Perry was unlike the book. The book was bleak and grim and you hated Perry from the bottom of your heart. Yet, Capote in reality was close to Perry. He was torn between writing the book and his emotions for Perry , whom he said " It's as if Perry and I grew up in the same house. And one day he stood up and went out the back door, while I went out the front."

Hoffman's portrayal of homosexuality was so convincing that I had to look up the personal life of Hoffman. His mannerisms, his fashion sense and his involvement with Perry Smith all pointed only in one direction. Yet, he was torn between right and wrong. He watched Perry hanged to death and that lead to the great writer's downfall.

The other surprise element of the movie was Harper Lee. I had no idea that she and Capote were neighbors and childhood friends in rural Alabama. And I had to hide a chuckle when Truman is jealous of the success of  'To kill a Mocking Bird'.

Watch this movie for the surprise moments  or if you are a fan of Capote's writing. But most of all watch this film for Philip Seymour Hoffman's Academy worthy performance.

Sunday, January 05, 2014

'Her' movie review

There is a dilemma that every writer faces - how to create something new  and refreshing out of the same subject that has been written about at-least a hundred times before? Writer-director Spike Jonze 
does this amazingly well with near-futuristic buildings without looking too 'sci-fi' and a story that seems plausible in this digital age.

'Her' is the story of Theodore (Joaquin Phoenix) whose day-job is to craft hand-written letters to share love and joy, while at night he is desperately lonely seeking love and companionship that everyone desires until he installs a new Operating system 'Samantha' (the lyrical voice of Scarlett Johansson). This heralds the start of a 'relationship'. As Samantha listens to Theodore, makes him laugh and even flirts with him, Theodore cannot help but fall in love with 'her'.

At one level this seems to be a movie of human emotions, of bonding , of connections and the vicissitudes of  relationships, which is beautifully portrayed between Theodore and Samantha.But what bothers me is that it is so plausible a story that causes existential angst. People are already addicted to devices, but would they become so anti-social that they seek relationships with technology rather than humans?  Would they rather have a perfect-'I will be there for you always' Operating system rather than a woman who has arguments and disagrees with you?
I fear that such an operating system with AI would become a reality soon and might even come with some nuances of imperfections but I am pretty certain that the idiosyncrasies that we are born with cannot be replicated. Only I know where my nose itches.

Monday, December 30, 2013

American Hustle - A Movie Review

'American Hustle' is a comedy-drama that is light-hearted while dealing with a heavy subject of an FBI investigation. Unlike Argo, this movie does not adopt the seriousness of the actual event - Abscam, the investigation that shook the US Congress in late '70s. The movie pivots on Irving and Sidney (amazingly played by Christian Bale and Amy Adams) who are con artists with a zest for life.But they have a problem - Irving's wife ,Rosalyn (Jennifer Lawrence) who is sometimes an air-headed housewife and other times an alcoholic.Sidney adopts a false identity with a British accent - Edith Greensly and increases Irving's business until she is caught by an FBI agent, "Richie" DiMaso (Bradley Cooper). Richie releases her on the condition that they participate in a 'sting' operation in a corruption investigation.

Thus begins the roller-coaster ride - of greed, of deception, of women's power play over men and of insecurities. Amy Adams towers tall over Jennifer Lawrence playing the role of her career - sometimes seductive, other times frightened, as Sidney she simmers and seduces both the men - Irving and Richie.Switching easily between British and American accents, her character adds depth where it could easily have been one-dimensional.

Jennifer Lawrence, as Rosalyn, is a wild card.A loud paranoid,alcoholic,who happens to talk her mouth out. The scene where she asks the Mayor of Camden and her husband to smell her nails to see why she likes the smell 'so sweet yet rotten' captures her character. She speaks what is on her mind and is candid to admit that 'she does not like change'.

The rest of the story is how friendship evolves between Irving and Carmine, the Mayor of Camden, while Richie plots how to nab Carmine for corruption.

It was fun to see all those '70s styles-  Sidney with her hair in rollers at home, Rosalyn with those loose,bouncy curls and even Richie sporting several tiny rollers. And I would not do justice to this post if I do not mention Amy Adams' clothes - the deep plunging necklines and bold wrap-on  and no-bra dresses! Did I mention the crochet bathing suit that she wears at her first meeting of Irving at the pool party?

I like this movie way better than Silver Linings Playbook (directed by the same person,David O. Russell). It has style, glitz and glamor but beneath it all it has heart-warming depth of characters. The one note of caution I must mention is that it would have made Hitchcock, who said "The length of a film should be directly related to the endurance of the human bladder.”, a very unhappy man. Over 2 hours, it calls for a better editing job. 

Saturday, December 28, 2013

The way you fear a cow sitting down in the middle of the street during rush hour,that's how I fear Canadians - Bernedette in Where'd You Go,Bernadette

'Where'd You Go,Bernadette' smells like fresh flowers in spring. This delightful novel is gleefully funny with sprinkles of warmth and intelligence thrown in good measure. 
Bernadette Fox, the protagonist, seems to be anti-social - she hates Seattle, does not want to socialize with neighbors or other mothers at the PTA and says 'I don't know if community is something you do or don't believe in'. But do not be fooled by this, behind this facade is an intelligent woman who was once the most successful architect of LA.

The other important character is Bee,her fourteen year old daughter. Bee is an eighth grader who is an accomplished flutist, a mentor for younger students and a straight-As student.Most of the book is seen through Bee's eyes and is a collection of email correspondence, letters and even an emergency hospital bill!

Elgin, Bernadette's husband,  works on a high-profile secret project(yes, pop-corn popping 'Samantha') at Microsoft and is the 4th most watched person on TED talk.However there is a gulf widening between Elgin and Bernadette which culminates in the disappearance of her. The rest of the story is about Bee investigating her mother's disappearance.

Some funny quotes from the book:

Seattle - "whoever laid this city never met a four-way intersection they didn't turn into a five-way intersection' they never met a beautiful view they didn't block with a twenty-story old folks home with zero architectural integrity. that's the first time the words 'architectural' and 'integrity' have ever been used together in a discussion of Seattle'.I've never seen a city  so overrun with runaways, drug addicts and bums"

In a letter, Bernadette explains her current state "If you were wondering what I've been doing for the last twenty years, I've been resolving the conflict between public and private space in the single-family residence."

“What’s Microsoft’s mission anyway” I asked, wolfing down a piece of Costco birthday cake. It was Costco day on campus, and they were signing people up for discounted membership, using free sheet cake as enticement. No wonder I get confused and sometimes mistake the place for Utopia. 

“That's right,' she told the girls. 'You are bored. And I'm going to let you in on a little secret about life. You think it's boring now? Well, it only gets more boring. The sooner you learn it's on you to make life interesting, the better off you'll be.”

I highly recommend this book as for fun, humor, maybe a little about parenting, relationships and all things in between! So if want a little philosophy and lot of entertainment, Go grab it at your nearest library.