Saturday, 4 November 2017

Secret Superstar: A Very Personal Review

When the hijaab clad girl, who writes, composes and gives voice to melodious songs, is asked to sing a typical item number by music director Shakti Kumar (Aamir Khan),  our hearts skip a beat: we wonder whether she will be able to pull it off. We hold our breaths as she stands behind the mike and Shakti Kumar puts on the head phone.  Tossing and turning in our plush multiplex seats, we watch the girl (Insia, played brilliantly by Zaira Wasim) fumble and falter while attempting to get into the groove. This is what the film (directed by Advait Chandan) does to us - involve us completely from the beginning to the end. A similar tension builds up when Insia’s father proceeds to beat up his wife for selling her necklace to buy their daughter a laptop.

Whether it is the mother Najma’s (Meher Vij) ingenious ways of supporting Insia’s singing aspirations, and the little brother Guddu’s (Kabir Sajid) timely help despite the relentless patriarchy he witnesses at home, each scene turns in a surprise and keeps us engrossed.

The simple and innocent bonding between Insia and classmate Chintan (Tirth Sharma) peppers the film with many magical moments. For a change, the heroine’s 15 year old love interest is not played by a 25 year old dude. I particularly loved the scene where Insia shyly writes down her laptop password on Chintan’s palm, which is nothing but his name. Instantly, his face is awash with joy as he realizes his feelings have been reciprocated.  We feel the ecstasy of being in love as Chintan continues to stare at the password written on his palm and a romantic tune plays in the background. I could guess what the password was even before it was revealed, as many years ago I too had made my beloved’s (who is now my husband) name my password and had to disclose it to my boss, much to my embarrassment, when for some inexplicable reason a portal could not be unlocked.

However, while Insia, led by her mother, finally managed to leave her tyrannical father behind the glass doors of an airport, many other Indian girls are still struggling to find a way to deal with their misogynist fathers. Insia’s father (portrayed effectively by Raj Arjun) tried to get her killed in her mother’s womb, did not even glance at her after returning from work, left her behind at home when he went out to attend weddings, snapped her guitar strings, forced her to hurl her laptop from the balcony and wanted to marry her off to a man she had never met. While I am sure that such fathers exist, there are many others who might not be as violent in their expressions of dominance but terribly chauvinistic and insensitive as well. In middle class Indian society,  it is not unusual to come across a man who would buy her teenage daughter a guitar, but expect her to abandon her aspirations completely in favour of mundane domestic duties once she is married and has children. Such a father might not marry her off to a stranger, but ask her to accept all injustices meted out to her by her in-laws as he is unable to feel her humiliation and pain. It is no lesser challenge to take a stand against such a father, with whom she is too emotionally attached to sever ties, as he greets her after returning from work, asks her to accompany him to weddings, neither smashes her guitar and laptop, nor beats up her mother.

The film is a ray of hope for those who are ridiculed for their dreams and ambition. It shows the inner conflicts that a creative person has to face: Insia is asked a question by her teacher in a classroom full of students just as a new tune had begun to churn in her mind. She knows that she will lose the tune if she speaks: instead, she chooses to be hit in the hand by a stick as punishment.

Among songs, I cannot stop listening to nachdi phira, which is romantic, soulful and endowed with a mesmerizing, uplifting refrain. The other numbers are soothing as well. Aamir Khan, throws up a surprise (which I am not going to reveal) in the end credits, compelling the departing audience to rush back to their seats. I can go on discussing this movie, which has seeped into my thoughts, dug into my memories, stirred up my dreams and become a part of me, but for now I will conclude by saying that this is a movie I would like to watch time and again like one returns to a diamond mine for more diamonds.

Tuesday, 22 August 2017

Sighting a Tiger in the Wild!

The sun was a red orb in the western sky. Seated at the back of a jeep, my husband and I were turning left and right, sometimes staring into the depths of the forest, at other times scrutinizing the stretches of dense, tall grasses or craning our necks to decipher the grey shapes moving along the edges of the occasional water body.

"Tiger!" the driver whispered and braked the vehicle. Following his gaze, we spotted an animal striding among the tawny bushes. With wide eyes I took in the unmistakable feline snout, the  protruding chin and the flaming stripes. Through all these years, what had captivated me from picture books; mesmerized me from paintings; riveted me to the tales of jungles, especially those penned by Jim Corbett; awed me from TV documentaries and dragged me to the zoos, even if for an unsatisfactory glimpse through the bars amidst the annoying din, was out there - unbounded and unconfined - a few meters away from me. As I sunk myself in the moment in the way one does when struck by something unbelievably good it disappeared among the grasses, leaving me with a sense of glorious bewilderment.

Zoom to see the tiger in the photo below.


Saturday, 5 August 2017

Awrah Cave, Meghalaya

We trotted to the mouth of the cave along a paved path high up in the hills. The trees growing from the rocks below, the valley and the hills across it were completely lost in mist.

Out of the many passages that meandered through the cave, the one made easily accessible to the tourists by the placement of florescent lamps was split by a stream that trickled between the crags, ululating in a low, steady pitch. The rock ceiling above us, spiked with stalactites, diverged out like the roof of a tent. The cavern wall on either side was ridden with crevices of such sizes that we could just about tuck in our purses, and drilled with tunnels that continued for miles. We often took detours from our proscribed route to explore a bit of these cold, dark corridors, even though our movements were restricted by the roof that hung too low, the ledges and the undulating rock studded cave floor patched with our own shadows.

A helpful local pointed out the fossils for us, which we had completely overlooked: imprints of leaves and the spiral outline of a mollusk clearly discernible on the surface of rock. Dripping down the stalactites, the water stroked the rocks below, leaving glistening trails before joining the stream. The rivulet branched out and flowed through another passage before collecting in a pool, a couple of root like rock hangings probing into its depths.

In the photo below, I am inside the cave observing the fossil of a leaf.

Thursday, 15 June 2017

Mawlynnong Live Root Bridge

A few months back, my husband and myself had the great fortune to visit the beautiful states of Meghalaya and Assam. It was our first trip to the northeast and we were much excited by the prospect of sighting breathtaking waterfalls, jaunting in lush green forests, exploring dark, mysterious  caves, soaking in the rich culture and savoring the delicious spreads.

I would like to share some of my experiences in these wonderful places. Let me start with the amazing live root bridge of Mawlynnong, Sikkim.

We climbed down a flight of stairs, cut out of huge boulders, to arrive at a path that girdled around a forested slope and overlooked a murmuring stream. Taking glimpses at the stream through the wall of trees, we reached the end of the path and sighted the most unique bridge I had ever come across. The matted roots of two rubber trees, planted on the two facing banks of the stream, intertwined to hang like a hammock over the flowing water: a layer of bamboo interspersed with boulders was laid down on it to complete the bridge. We trailed the stream for a while, treading on the slippery rocks with caution. The bed of the shallow stream was pocked with almost circular holes. Branching into several strands, the water encircled various standalone rocks, nudged at the facets of some and hissed sprays on many others, filling up the dents and drifting away the fallen leaves on its way to the depths of the forest.