Faridoon Shahryar's Blog

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Margarita With A Straw: Timeless Poetry on Celluloid

Margarita With A Straw: Timeless Poetry on Celluloid
By Faridoon Shahryar

When the lead character of a film is disabled and the narrative still manages to be naturally elevating, it holds the interest. Also, if the film unfolds sensitive and humorous layers of delightfulness then its a treat to watch. Shonali Bose directed 'Margarita With A Straw' is timeless poetry on celluloid. It is the story of Laila (Kalki Koechlin), (a girl afflicted with Cerebral Palsy) and how she discovers her Self after undergoing varied relationships along with the emotional baggage that comes along with it. The story makes you get sucked into a new world of enlightenment without being preachy or boring so if you are expecting vicarious pleasures and cheap thrills then don't watch this.

Laila believes she's a normal girl and she behaves like one, so what if her world is caged on a wheel chair. She is blessed with wonderful creative talents and she also has a fetish for watching Porn. Like any other young girl she has sexual urges and she's not apologetic about it. In fact she goes out and tries to buy a Vibrator, much to the discomfort of the shopkeeper. She falls in love, writes love songs and then the wretched 'sympathy' of the world breaks her heart. She regroups herself, goes to US on a scholarship and gets confused about her sexual orientation. But she's happy in the company of Khanum (Sayani Gupta), a blind but attractive girl who makes her feel sexually desirable for the first time in life. There's happiness in air. Laila always wanted to be independent. She achieves that. She also cheats, making her that much more human. And Real. Laila's relationship with her Aai (Revathy) is beautifully structured. The belief and support of the parents of the specially challenged kids is such a pillar in helping such patients carve a place for themselves in the society.

The lesbian interaction between Laila and Sayani will raise eyebrows. Since Deepa Mehta's FIRE, never has Indian cinema shown such literal depiction of sexual togetherness of two women. Full credit to Shonali Bose for having displayed a lot of sensitivity and courage in believing in her vision. Kalki and Sayani flow like an unstoppable free flowing stream. As I've mentioned earlier, there are no cheap thrills here. Two physically incomplete women complete themselves by merging in a Union of what they thought was Love.

Kalki has delivered one of the finest performances by an Indian actor ever. Her brave portrayal of a wonderfully strong girl with her share of shortcomings, ought to be watched by people from all across the world. The requisite body language, the wide gamut of facial expressions pronouncing myriad emotions and a total submission to the director's vision must have required a lot of courage. Many actresses would have turned wobbly kneed at the prospect of many scenes in the film but Kalki doesn't flinch at all. There's a toilet scene where she's helped by a guy. It's not an easy scene for the best of actresses to pull off with such conviction. When she asserts herself on a nurse who is careless towards her mom, it's a strong moment that stays with you. There are many such prized scenes.

Revathy brings in several nuances in her role. Her strength rubs off on her daughter. The inner turmoil that she is going through due to her own battles with life brings tears in the eyes. Sayani Gupta as Khanum is formidable. Like Kalki, she's inhibitionless. The high-spiritedness and the vaccum of loneliness is portrayed expertly. It's so real that the pretence fades away. The supporting cast is excellent. Kuljit Singh plays Laila's father. He is adorable.

'Margarita With A Straw' is blessed with brilliant writing. Director Shonali Bose is credited with story, script and dialogue. Nilesh Maniar is the co writer (also the Co-Director) while Atika Chohan has written the Hindi dialogue. The confluence of Hindi and English is a natural progression of most of the conversations that happen in the educated strata of the Indian society. What's slightly ambiguous is the fact that Laila's father is a Sikh but she calls her mom as 'Aai' and it's never established that Revathy is a Maharashtrian.

Anne Misawa's cinematography is minimalistic. The shots are simple and capture the essence very well. The love making scene between Laila and Khanum is shot very tastefully. Monisha Baldawa's editing ensures that the narrative flows like a river heading towards a definite destination. Some will find the pace slow but then its not a film for everyone. Mikey Mcleary's music is excellent. Prasoon Joshi's lyrics adds value to the depth of the matter. 'Dusokute' the only song by Joi Barua is an enticing soft rock nostalgic-college-anthem. 'Choone Chali Aasmaan' comes at an opportune moment in the film. 'I Need A Man' electrifyingly sung by Vivienne Poocha hits all the right notes of ecstasy. 'Laila's Theme' the instrumental piece is a regular likable companion that holds your hands throughout the film.

'Margarita With A Straw' is a milestone film that deserves to be seen by as many people as possible. Like 'Theory of Everything' the disabled protagonist is entertaining to the hilt and rises above the stereotypical norms that are harshly prescribed by a judgmental society. Shonali Bose has made a film that makes you smile, cry, think and introspect. It's a journey worth treasuring. Do yourself a favour by watching 'Margarita With A Straw'...it is an experience of a lifetime.

Star Rating: ****

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

A Day Dedicated to Observing Great A R Rahman

It was a day dedicated to observing the great A R Rahman sahab. Without demanding any attention, he commands such unbridled respect that it makes you stare at him in silence. He, along with Oscar winning Sound Recordist Resul Pookutty launched the music of 'Nanak Shah Fakir' at Gurudwara Rakaabganj in Delhi.

Rahman is the music mentor of the original background score of 'Nanak Shah Fakir'. He feels that this film has been mounted on the same scale as 'Laurence of Arabia'. In fact it was Resul who took the film to A R. Resul had seen 40 minutes footage of the film and became associated with it selflessly. He hasn't charged any money for it. Rather he has spent money from his own pocket for getting the best technical output. He is the Co Producer of the film. Uttam Singh ji has composed the songs. Pandit Jasraj ji, Sonu Nigam, Kailash Kher, Bhupendra and other giant singers are associated with this project. Nirmal Singh ji, the Padam Shri winning Gurbaani singer has sung all the Shabads. He has also been closely associated with the germination of this project.

'Jai Ho', a documentary on A R Rahman by Umesh Agarwal was screened for the very first time in India at Delhi's India Habitat Centre today evening. It is a fascinating account of Rahman's artistic journey. Danny Boyle, Shekhar Kapoor, Gulzar sahab etc have richly contributed to making this documentary very special. He answered questions from the audience post the screening. Questions from Delhi's intelligentsia are far more insightful than what you generally get in Mumbai. Rahman remained cool and calm and collected and handled a few googly questions with a lot of patience. I did an interview with him after the documentary session. As usual he spoke less but whatever he spoke, it flowed from the heart. It was a day well spent. And yes the Delhi weather is wonderful. Loving it!

Saturday, April 4, 2015

Nature's Delight 'Nile'; King's Valley, Brilliance of 'Hatshepsut Temple'

A breakfast by the Nile is surely a wonderful way to start the day. The pleasantness of the placid waters is a treat and I shall savor it for ever. Our first stop was 'Valley of the Kings'. The moment we entered the terrain, dotted with ancient yellow hills on the sides, it filled me with a curiosity to what-will-follow-next!
The 'Valley of the Kings' is a picturesque location for the kings to have found their tryst with After-life. It is amazing how people in the ancient times communicated through pictorial depictions. The Pyramids are a lot older than the tombs that we saw here. The mark of development is the use of colours in pictorial communication. Small birds, snakes, human form etc. I made friends with all the guards at the various entrances. 

The 'Hatshepsut Temple' has a fascinating aura around it. A huge flight of stairs leads up to the top. I, along with Tahir ran up on full speed. Great cardio, I must say. We had an interesting discussion with our knowledgeable guide Sheriff Hassan on the tools that were used in carving the ancient statues. The pictorial depiction on the walls was designed on some other source before the final engravings. Sai, a member of our media group introduced me to one of the guards by saying that I have interviewed Salman Khan. I showed the guard a picture of mine with Salman and I was treated like a King by him.

We had our lunch on the terrace of an Egyptian restaurant. I had a very interesting discussion with Mr Jay Mandal, a renowned Photographer who came from USA for covering 'India by the Nile' festival. He spoke about his long stint with the biggest of Presidents and Prime Ministers from all around the world. The best part of travelling is the people that you come across and how they enrich your outlook and knowledge.

The Felucca ride on a sail boat was my first tryst with Nile and I genuinely hope that I shall get many more opportunities in the future. I did the touristy thing of putting my hand in the water and feeling the cool green sensation. Observing the setting sun amidst the quiet and serene ambience was very relaxing. I am sure my mother would have loved it. For, she is very close to the nature and it was she who inculcated this love for the 'Natural' in me.

In the evening we did some shopping. I find it really wonderful since the people here are extremely warm, friendly and loving. Yes the poverty is a cause of concern amongst quite a big section of the people. Also its a reasonably liberal society. I heard Arabic music blaring out of a taxi. Even though I don't drink but alcohol is available at certain restaurants without any restrictions. As for me, I've treated myself to the aroma-filled Mint tea throughout my stay here. And I've loved it. Luxor has been fun. I shall be going back to Mumbai tomirrow. The memories will linger on.

Friday, April 3, 2015

Spellbound by the dreamers of Luxor in Egypt

Luxor is a quaint city in Egypt, around an hour's flight away from Cairo. We reached at 6 am and shifted to Steigenberg Nile Palace Hotel. It is a heritage hotel with a very interesting architectural design. Nile flows behind it and its a gorgeous site to see the boats floating past in an unhurried manner. I treated myself to a swim in the hotel pool and I was refreshed and raring to go.

After lunch we headed to Karnak Temple. It was founded in 3200 BC and several big Hollywood films have been shot here. Akshay Kumar and Katrina Kaif shot for the song 'Jee Karda' from 'Singh is Kinng' at this gorgeous location. The statues and the architectural design is very captivating. More importantly it is very inspiring. I am sure it will remain embedded in my mind for ever.

Luxor Temple surprised me even more though my first impression about it was that it seems similar to Karnak. As the evening set in and a delightfully pollution-free-blue covered the sky, watching the majestic structures became an absolute pleasure. Somehow the history behind a historical place holds a limited appeal for me. It is the inspirational-quotient in the architecture that stays with me. I know today's experience will help me in honing my perfectionist streak. One must strive to leave behind an indelible mark, the way dreamers, many years ago, managed to do. So successfully.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Conquering Alexandria In Egypt With Weapons of Inquisitiveness and Fun

Alexandria Library is the biggest library in the world in terms of size. It has a very interesting architrctural structure from outside and when we went inside, the massive expanse was a breathtaking sight. The tall roof, thousands of books and quietness that makes libraries such a sacred place to be in. Unforgettable.

After a satisfactory night's sleep we headed towards Alexandria in the morning. Thankfully we started more or less on time. We had interesting discussions on middle eastern politics, the complex divide between Sunnis and Shias and how countries like Libya, Lebanon and even Egypt suffered because of the misgivings of their own people. We stopped over for tea. Interestingly an armed guard was accompanying us. It was a precautionary move because of the current political situation in Egypt. To be honest I haven't witnessed anything untoward in Egypt so far. Everything seems normal. People may not be rich but they are pleasant and very hospitable.

The Citadel of Quaitbay has a majestic appeal. It was built in 1480 AD on the same sight where the Lighthouse was destroyed. The lighthouse was amongst the seven wonders of the Ancient world. The Mediterranean sea adjacent to the Citadel has a delightful tinge of green-blue water with waves playfully hitting the stones at the shore.

The statue of Pompey was built in 210 AD. It holds a regal class the moment you set your eyes on it. French rulers Louis 14th and 15th tried to excavate this statue and take it along with themselves to France but the people of Alexandria refused. Ironically, shabby housing colonies have been built in the immediate vicinity of this glorious Statue. It somehow robs it of its sheen. Also, the area around it isn't poprerly maintained. Somehow I can equate this with the sorry manner in which the great monuments are maintained in India. In fact the situation in India is much worse.

The journey back to Cairo was marked with varied discussions on movies, peppered with fun asides. It is wonderful that the bunch of journalists are all chilled out. Also the officials from Egyptian Tourism have been very professional and heartwarmingly friendly. I am writing this at 3 am in the morning as we are speeding towards the airport. We've got an early morning flight to Luxor today. Hopefully it would be fun.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

The Quest For After-Life, Big B Mania In Cairo

Mr Amitabh Bachchan created a hysterical spell at the press conference at Marriott Hotel in Cairo today. The Egyptian media caused a stampede as they wanted to capture Mr Bachchan on their video/still/mobile cameras. It wasn't as if the media was there to interact, it was a bunch of mad fans who must have been waiting for many years to get a a taste of the real 'Mard'. There was a time when it seemed they shall get too-close-for-comfort as far as Mr Bachchan is concerned. Some people fell down too. Big B as usual was gracious and a symbol of humility. Personally I have never witnessed such a response at any press conference in my career so far, and I have attended many press conference in various parts of the world.

I may not have been apparently too keen while moving around in the historic Cairo Museum today but I was trying to absorb a lot more than the facts that were shelled out to me. Tatunkhamen died when he was 18 years old but he earned phenomenal fame because of the way his dead remains were preserved or the 11 kg gold headgear that was prepared for him post his death. The statues at the museum had left feet forward symbolising a step towards After-Life.

Somehow I find this entire emphasis on After-Life funny specially when you are told about vain Kings who preserved the remains of their servants so that they can serve them once they enter their 'After-Life'. It is amazing how 4000 year old artifacts are preserved so brilliantly.

In the evening I witnessed magic at the light and sound show in the cradle of the glorious Sphinx and the Pyramids of Giza. Mr Amitabh Bachchan launched the 'India by the Nile' festival here. It was a unique experience to watch the craze around Big B from the who's who of Cairo. The fact that we were surrounded by history worth thousands of years made it even more special. .

We are going to Alexandria tomorrow. I think it will be a very interesting trip.