Malayalam Movie Review – Mammootty’s The Great Father

The-great-Father-Mammootty

How many of you remember this amazing actor in “Nirakkoottu”, a Malayalam movie starring Mammootty, released in 1985? As the avenging angel who escapes from jail to kill the person responsible for his wife’s death? How many of you remember also the amazing acting displayed by Mammootty in his role as a convict? In every scene he appears, he takes us on a roller-coaster of emotions, and finally when he kills the villain, we heave a huge sigh of relief and go home happy, and convinced, that justice has been served.

Is this review about “The Great Father” or what?

And then there is “The Great Father”. A father who loves his only child. A father who suffers incredibly when he finds her raped and left for dead in the elevator of their apartment. A father who promises to find justice for his daughter. Perfect premise, perfect beginning and the perfect story line in today’s world.

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Four reasons why visiting the Kochi-Muziris Biennale should be on your bucket list

At the Kochi Biennale

Fact: My first ever visit to the Kochi Biennale was on March 23, 2016 – just a week before it winds down. I am ashamed that I have not visited one of Kochi’s most potent attractions (not just in India, but around the world). Not once, but missed it twice, and the third time around when I visited it? I barely made it a week before it closes. But now that I have, here goes why you should too.

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Book Review – Samhita Arni’s The Missing Queen

The Missing Queen by Samhita Arni

All of us grew up hearing about the story of Rama and Sita. And if you have not heard it as a child, you now see it on TV. And read about it. As Ashok Banker himself puts it in his review of The Missing Queen, “Of late, a jungle of mythological retelling seems to have sprouted on Indian bookshelves.”

So is The Missing Queen any different from the usual retelling/reinterpretation of the classics or the itihasas? Ever since I read The Palace of Illusions by Chitra Banerjee Divakurani that retells the Mahabharata from Draupadi’s point of view (a must-read, in my opinion), it has been tough to equate any other retelling that has that impact, relevance and a glimpse into what could have been. Samhita Arni’s The Missing Queen comes close. But just.

First, the basic details:

Book: The Missing Queen

Author: Samhita Arni

Publisher: Penguin/Viking

Price: Rs 399 (Hardcover)

Pages: 179

Summary:

Ayodhya is shining. Trade is booming, the citizens are prosperous, immigrants are plenty to do the menial jobs, and the media adores the ruling family – Suryavamshi Rama. However, the black cloud that looms over Ayodhya? The ban imposed on the media and the citizens on all things concerned with the missing queen, Sita. The protagonist in the story is a journalist who is drawn to this missing piece in what is marketed as a model kingdom. The “Washerman” is the chief of the secret police in Ayodhya and is said to be “hawk-like” in ensuring that no person lets slip the question – “But where is Sita?”

The journalist does ask the question. To King Rama. On live television. As the camera zooms into his shocked face, the Washerman starts the witch hunt. The editor suspends the journalist, the secret police arrests her and throws her in jail, and the twist comes when her cell mate is none other than the “terrorist bomber” from LLF (Lanka Liberation Front) who tried to kill King Rama on the 10th anniversary of his vanquishing King Ravana, but is captured instead. The LLF stage a storming of the prison and in the confusion that results, the journalist escapes with the terrorist and goes with her to Lanka.

The journalist now gets the opportunity to hear the Lankan’s version of Ayodhya’s crowning moment – the conquest of Lanka. The rape, pillage and the barbaric killing of its citizens by the vanar sena even after King Ravana is killed on the battlefield comes as a shock to her (and to the readers). Leaving Lanka, the journalist now heads to Mithila and then the ashram of Valmiki (Ayodhya’s most prolific historian and the king’s authorized biographer) and finally sees Sita – tired, shoddy, aged, but with two handsome and brave sons. The story now roars quickly into its standard ending – the sons are with the king, and Sita sinks into the earth (apparently) and vanishes without a trace. Or so we are led to believe, until the last chapter.

So what’s the verdict?

While it is unfair to consciously or unconsciously compare a book to another one in the same genre (in this case with the Palace of Illusions), The Missing Queen does slip on the most vital question it asks – what really happened to Queen Sita? In the Palace of Illusions, there is no question left in our mind as Draupadi lays bare the palace intrigue and her personal dilemma and feelings. In The Missing Queen, we get a line here or a hint there on what could have happened. Very frustrating.

While the story is beautifully and imaginatively constructed, with ingenious twists and turns, in the end it still fails to convince the readers as to why Sita had to leave Ayodhya. While we get insights into the fate of women in Ayodhya (as compared to the egalitarian regime in Lanka where women are treated as equal citizens), and interviews with Kaikeyi and Urmila confirm that the queens in Ayodhya are no less than second-class citizens, I would have liked a more compelling theory as to why she went missing. Not rumours, not imagined conversations, not gossip – but a plain theory that explains.

However! But! Nevertheless!

I read it twice. Because Samhita Arni is simply a great writer. And even with the numerous retellings of the Ramayana from multiple points of view (I have read Urmila’s POV via Sita’s Sister by Kavita Kane, and Ravana’s POV via Asura by Anand Neelakantan), Arni does present a very compelling and readable book that reveals a version that potentially could have happened.

My review?

4.0 out of 5 (5 is reserved for The Palace of Illusions!)

So go ahead and read it and let me know your feedback.

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Yoga vacation at the Sivananda Yoga Vedanta Dhanwantari Ashram, Neyyardam, Kerala – all you need to know!

Sivananda Yoga Vedanta Dhanwantari Ashram, Neyyar Dam

Yoga vacation. The phrase conjures up visions of serene settings, enlightened devotees, and peaceful yoga practitioners. You get all these and more during a yoga vacation at the Sivananda Yoga Vedanta Dhanwantari Ashram at Neyyar Dam, near Thiruvananthapuram (aka Trivandrum – the state capital of Kerala).

I have been to the Sivananda ashram at Neyyar Dam three times over the last 2 years for a yoga vacation. I have usually stayed at an average of 4-5 nights during each of my visits. While I have joked about my experience there in a previous blog, these vacations have been an immense grounding experience in our life. During our first visit, Mukund and I had no clue what to expect. But by the third visit, we quickly and easily slipped into the ashram schedule, even though it was a year since our previous visit.

Here are a list of things you need to know about visiting the Sivananda Ashram at Neyyar Dam for a yoga vacation.  

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Three reasons why you should read the Srimad Bhagavatham

Krishna quote from ISKCON Desire Tree

If you are reading this blog, then you already know what the Srimad Bhagavatham is. Maybe you have read it already, or planning to read based on what you have heard about it. If Srimad Bhagavatham (SB) is on your bucket list of books to read, then this blog is for you.

Five years ago, all I knew about SB was that it contained a treasure trove of stories about Krishna. I purchased ISKCON’s SB, with A.C Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada’s commentaries – 18 volumes in all. It stayed on my book shelf in my bedroom, and gathered dust as days went by. On January 15, 2016, I removed the clingwrap on the first Canto, sat down with a book and pen, and my life has not been the same since.

12 months later, I finished the last shloka in Canto 10 (saved the best for the last, as Canto 10 relates exclusively the stories of Lord Krishna!) It is simply impossible for me to explain in words the subtle transformation that happened as I read SB. But before I try and explain why you should read it, here is a quick summary based on my research notes.

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Qayamat Se Dangal Tak – Movie Review of Dangal

Aamir Khan's Dangal

If people are not laughing at your goals, then your goals are too small – Azim Premji

Ask Mahavir Singh Phogat what his dream is and he will reply – ensure that his daughter wins a gold medal for India in wrestling. And assuredly, everybody considers this the joke of the day. As villages roll over themselves with laughter, Mahavir Singh scolds and disciplines, taunts and derides, as his two daughters prepare to be wrestlers in a tiny hamlet in Haryana.

And just as the villagers wipe their tears and catch their sides, Mahavir’s two daughters go to the next village to compete in a wrestling fight. With boys. And predictably, his daughter loses. But not before everyone has been shocked out of their stupor.

As they say, the rest is history.

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Book review – Paulo Coelho’s The Spy

Mata Hari the Spy!

Heard of Mata Hari? The dancer, the spy and the traitor? Well, so-called traitor? Paulo Coelho creates a magical narrative of Mata Hari’s life, written in the form of a letter to her lawyer. She holds nothing back as she relates her life story from the time she is raped by her school principal when she was sixteen, to the time she is shot down by twelve men from the French army.

But first let’s get the basic details out of the way.

Name of the book: The Spy

Author: Paulo Coelho

Translated from Portuguese: Zoe Perry

Published: 2016

Pages: 186 pages (Hardbound edition)

The basic story:

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Why I fell in love with the Gardens by the Bay, Singapore

the naked boy

In my previous blog, I listed the basic information, including some tips and suggestions that will come in handy when you visit the Gardens by the Bay in Singapore. Now that I have got that formality out of the way, here goes why I fell in love with the Gardens as I spent close to eight hours across a weekend exploring it.

Day 1 at the Gardens: Spectacular. Immense. Incredibly well-thought, well-planned and well-laid out. I have only superlatives to describe my over 3 hours walk that first evening. And by that time, I had barely covered one-hundredth of this entire park. I ended that evening with the lights show (at 7:45 PM) at the Supertrees Grove that was simply spectacular. Yes, this word will occur a few times in this blog!

Light show

The sound and lights show at the Supertree Grove

Day 2 at the Gardens: After wrapping up the remaining business formalities the next day, I had close to 6 hours before I had to head to the airport to catch my flight back to India. I headed back again – the call of the Gardens was too strong! This time, I did both the Flower dome and the Cloud Forest (at least 2 hours each in both these exotic domes), explored the Indian, Chinese, and Australian heritage parks, and sat down to just stare and take it all in. After that, I had to simply say goodbye to this park, and head to the airport.

What was so special about the Gardens?

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Singapore’s Gardens By the Bay – a must-visit attraction!

GBTB Singapore

I traveled to Singapore on business during the third week of August to kick-start Suyati’s operations in that island country. The first step – to incorporate the company and open the bank accounts. Since it was a business trip, I did not expect to spend any time sight-seeing. I had already traveled to Singapore on vacation a couple of times before and had done the typical touristy stuff – the Merlion, Night Jungle Safari, Jurong bird sanctuary, the Singapore Flyer, Sentosa islands, the river cruise, Clarke Quay shopping  …yup, the works.

As I was talking to my CPA, he asked casually if I was planning to get some sight-seeing done. When I replied in the negative, he asked me to check out the Gardens by the Bay (GBTB or the Gardens) – a park constructed by the Singapore National Parks Board and dedicated to the public in October, 2011. I half-heartedly said yes, sure, if I find the time.

After the business formalities for the day were over, I did have time from 5 PM onwards. I hailed a cab and asked him to take me to the Gardens. 10 minutes later, my love story with the Gardens started.

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