Monday, January 26, 2015

The Contract

The Contract is yet another bestselling Indireads novella by Pakistani author Zeenat Mahal. Her works- Haveli and The Accidental Fiancée are my favorite. Like always, she has created another impressive story here with just the right ratio and proportion of tradition and contemporary that every South Asian can well connect to.

Shahira is a divorced single mother who teaches Urdu to school children to earn a living and cater to her eight year old son, Shahaan’s needs. Though she’s independent and can make ends meet, the patriarchal Pakistani society won’t let her live alone without having second thoughts. The society where only the women under the ‘protection of a man’ are respected, a secure marriage is the only safe haven. But Shahira’s traumatic marriage experience with her abusive ex-husband and ill treating in-laws make her apprehensive every time she considers giving marriage a second chance.

In an unexpected turn of events she agrees to a marriage of convenience that’s based on a contract with an upper class busy globe-trotting businessman-Hussain. The terms and condition are that no wifely favors would be expected of her or be forced upon her throughout the deal. After an exchange of vows over the telephone, she’s out of harm’s way. She gets paid like an employee to take care of his daughter Natasha (who completely adores her) and occasionally ailing mother, who sees the perfect daughter in law in Shahira. The arrangement secures Shahaan’s future, allows her to afford luxuries that she could only dream of and to be in the life of the two people who truly loved her- Aunty Salma and Natasha. But things change when Hussain decides not to adhere to the contract.

I liked Aunt Salma a lot. Acting like a fairy godmother she’d do all it takes to make the leads fall for each other. She’s a darling. Loved her hilarious strategic planning. Natasha, once shy, overweight, pinning for her father; she lovingly blossomed to a girl with personality and attitude, shedding her extra fat, under Sharira’s motherly tutelage. Hussain was an arrogant trade- maker who had several assumptions about Shahira, but changed to be a better person gravitated by her persona, determined to be the one that protected her.

I liked the scene during Europe tour when Shahira realized that Hussain too was broken soul and he too had suffered in his previous marriage, like her. And that episode at home where Hussain wondered why he received only polite curt replies and masked expressions from Shahira, but others in the family received smiles, playful flirting, and glances seeped in love and care. Couldn’t stop laughing!

My rating- 4/5

Zeenat Mahal’s soon to be released novella- She Loves Me, HeLoves Me Not

Thoughts in Bits & Pieces III

In this world, being different pays. The uncommon and unique is sellable. By that I don’t mean it needs to be beautiful or good. It just has to be able to attract attention. The ugly duckling can be a beautiful swan. The task in this scenario is to find that right, promotable, attention grabbing, one of its kind ‘uniqueness’.

People will take note of the winner and the loser, but the average intermediates shall go unnoticed, until and unless they have an attribute that’s different from the rest of the crowd. Let’s go a few years back in time. Do you remember who stood first in your class? Do you remember who failed and had to repeat a year? Of course you do. Now, do you remember who came fourth that year? No, you don’t recall this one. Now again, do you remember a boy who cried a lot or had long or dyed hair; or a girl who was a tomboy or had spikes or had green eyes; or someone who had the gift of oration, or singing, or playing violin or karate? And the answer’s yes, you most obviously do.

Quite similarly, the famous are applauded, the infamous are looked down upon, but those in between are among the unknowns.

Here’s another perspective.

A watch maker may not get due appreciation in the village of watchmakers, but he’ll get famous in the rest of the villages. But for that he has to leave his comfort zone, explore places and find out where he is required the most. Sitting with hope and waiting, won’t get him what he wants.
And if you are not good in studies and academics, may be your calling is somewhere else, and your job is to find it. Success is in discovering one’s strengths and weaknesses alike. Satisfaction is in knowing that you did your best.

P.S: There are three things without which, success, even if it comes to you, won’t stay for long. Respect, love, and be proud of your mother tongue and native land. The developed economies like China, Japan, and Korea are examples of that very fact. Carry your culture and tradition like a crown- with care, reverence, pride and dignity. If you don’t, then don’t expect people to hold you high much long. And lastly, respect your past, good or bad. It molded you to who you are, and what you believe and stand for.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

The Proposal


Boy’s POV:

Last week when I had the golden opportunity of reading her journal in her absence, I discovered it was me whom she adored. She had written that I was ‘The One You Cannot Have’ for her. Yes, she was a big Preeti Shenoy fan. I came across many flattering descriptions about myself like ‘blessed with the handsomest face’, ‘sapphire blue eyes’, ‘chiseled nose’, ‘jet black hair’. Was it really so? I wonder. I was thanking my stars that she didn’t notice my extra big ears and my sometimes awkward gait. Beauty lies in the eyes of the beholder, they say. 

There was more about my smartness; ‘quick and classy’ wit; high taste for art, antique seals, curios, statues, coins and documents; and my aim to be an art historian in future. And another three pages about my fashion sense; my black tailored suits, my fetish for hats, how I twirl it around my finger before mounting it on and how I believed that fashion is the luxury one should allow oneself to indulge in. She did notice it all. Did she have the slightest idea that I completely reciprocated her feelings?

Yesterday I heard her gossiping with her besties about Iraq war, buried treasures in Japan, and conspiracies behind the Old Testament. All were topics that I was crazy about. Seemingly, she had already developed a deep interest about everything I liked. How to make her realize that I’m not that extraordinary? The one extraordinary and amazing in every sense is her. I’ve decided to make her know this on Valentine’s Day.

Girl’s POV:

I was stunned. The trees looked beautiful with the lanterns, the lights and the elaborate decoration. It was the same preparation every year on the Valentine’s Day eve, but it still managed to surprise me. Then he came with blue roses, orchids and lavender. The fragrance was wonderful. And then he spoke for the longest five minutes of my life.

“I am madly, deeply and irrevocable in awe of you. I won’t say ‘love with you’ yet, as I don’t take love casually. I like every version of you- the notice-me-not you, the geeky you hiding behind the book racks and peeking at me, the bespectacled you, and the gossipy you. You are innocent enough to be corruptible, but you are resolute and fiery in situations that I almost think you can’t handle. I don’t find you boring at all. You are an enigma. Allow me to be a part of your life.”

I wanted to vanish in thin air at first. Then I desperately wished the ground to shallow me before I could blush further. And then I wanted to feel the feelings unhindered, without doubt. I said Ok- a resonating stupid one syllable, Ok.

P.S::This post is for Cupid Games. I agree to ensure (to the best of my abilities and circumstances) that my blog post remains accessible in an un-altered state for a minimum of one year.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Behadd- A Pakistani Telefilm

fawad khan

With the soulful song ‘Nindiya Re’ crooning in the background this is a simple touching story about the relationship of a single working mother, Masooma with her only teenage daughter, Maha. Directed by Asim Raza, his award winning Pakistani telefilm is bound to touch hearts especially for its unexaggerated freshness and the subtlety with which it depicts ‘selfish’ and ‘selfless’ love.

After the death of her husband in an accident, Masooma is left alone to fend for herself and take care of her introverted daughter. With time the mother and daughter grow very close, given Maha’s unwillingness to open up and make friends. She’s almost possessive of her mother, and Masooma’s over protective of her daughter. Then one day Jamal, the younger brother of Masooma’s best friend, enters their lives. Five years younger to her and divorced, Jamal is a pleasant soft spoken guy, fun to talk to and a great company in lonely times. Surprisingly Maha too likes to be around him. The trio spends a lot of time together doing breakfasts, dinners and day outs.

One day when Masooma sets Jamal up with an acquaintance, wanting him to marry and settle in his life once again, Jamal behaves nonchalantly and quite ungentlemanly. He instead proposes to Masooma later, who is shocked by the sudden turn of events. She refuses on the ground that she is five years older than him and the mother of a fifteen year old. Jamal reasons with her that he too loves Maha as his own daughter. She finally agrees when Maha concedes to this. But again there’s chaos in their lives when Maha accuses Jamal of sexual harassment.

The portrayal of the psyche of an insecure teenager in the film is worthy of applauds. Maha’s big realization and transformation from being a possessive to an understanding and caring daughter, is significant. It sends a message to all teenagers who don’t want their lonely father or mother to remarry; that your parents will always love you, no matter what, no matter who else enters their lives. They deserve a second chance in love and marriage, and your love for them should be enough to allow it. Love is neither possession nor jealousy but freedom.

A big thumbs up to the natural acting by all the talented actors. The film is a short one, and is available in youtube for free.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Love's Labour

andy paula

Torn between her unrelenting father and the man she loves, Piali Roy can take it no more. She’s sad that her loving father upholds his principles more than he cherishes her, his beloved daughter. She’s disappointed that her mother never takes her side and no one understands her. Neither can she marry Sathya against her father’s wishes, nor can she forget him. Eloping is out of question. She therefore decides to go away from everything she holds dear- away from her parents, away from the memories of love, away from the quaint township of Jamshedpur. She joins the Christ Church School in Mussoorie, willing to live a simple life, with minimal contact with everyone she knew and wishing Sathya would never find her. And then one day after several months of frantic search, Sathya finds her.

Piali Roy is a headstrong woman in her early twenties, belonging to a traditional Bengali family. She’s a very talented English teacher in a reputed school in Jamshedpur. She easily gets the respect and reverence she deserves from her students as well as her colleagues, for her teaching, leadership skills, and her ability to mesmerize on stage. She gets the most applauds for her orations. She’s in the profession by choice, not by compulsion; living her dream with complete support from her family.

Sathya Nair is the rich and corrupt school Chairmain’s charismatic son. His ideologies and beliefs are always in conflict with his father’s. Like every romantic novel’s lead, he’s a guy worth falling for. Thought to be spoon fed since childhood, he decides to show Piyush Roy, Piali’s father, that he can earn his own living and goes to Hyderabad to pursue animation, live his dream, finally.

This story raises many questions regarding traditional beliefs and intercommunity marriages. Why is it that the caste and community of the prospective groom matters so much, even if he’s the perfect match in every other respect? What are these- values of yesteryears, narrow minds in the twenty first century, or just inflated egos? Do some people agree to arrange marriages only to be able to blame their parents if anything goes awry in future?

The cover page of every Indireads novella is beautiful. This painting showing the hills, pleasing landscape and Love’s Labour is beautiful too. The author Andy Paula is a nuanced writer. I had loved her short story ‘Anjum’ in ‘Love Across Borders’. She uses more third person narration and less of dialogues; and I have grown a liking to this writing style. The settings in her stories mirror the emotions in the characters. The Steel city, Jamshedpur shows the normal life, steeped in traditional family values, and town gossips. Here the hills are the places where there’s a turning point in Piali’s life. The picturesque environment in Pangani is where Sathya Nair enters Piali’s life. The scenic locales of Mussoorie are where she finds her love back, at a time when it seems so impossible.

I would rate this novella 4/5 stars. 

love's labour

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Haveli by Zeenat Mahal

zeenat mahal

Set in the 1970’s in the town of Jalalabad, Pakistan, ‘Haveli’ is a witty humorous contemporary novella by Zeenat Mahal. It narrates Chandini’s story from her point of view- her childhood and upbringing at her strict influential maternal grandmother Zaitoon Begum, the widow of the last Nawab of Jalalabad; her romantic fantasies for Kunwar Rohail who is almost twice her age; her war of words with Taimur, the guy she’s attracted to; the return of her estranged father after 20 long years and the change of all her beliefs, values and events. It’s a roller coaster journey as Chandini eventually realizes who’s her own, who actually cares for her and where she belongs.

Chandini’s mother had secretly married and fled with her lover who abandoned her when she was pregnant with Chandini. She died after Chandini was born, leaving her under the care of the grandmother, Bi Amma. Being from the upper class society she received home schooling, learned a couple of languages, read every piece of good literature and grew up to be a beauty with brains. Her green eyes mesmerized many a visitors and merchants, and Bi Amma received and rejected rather too many proposals for the 20 year old. Baba and Bua took care of her as their own children. Zafar, her half brother was her closest in the family and the secret keeper with whom she shared her fairy tale like romantic dreams of being with Kunwar Rohail and taking care of his 13 year old daughter, Manhal. All till Taimur entered the family scene. Let’s leave the rest a mystery. It’s ridiculous, hilarious, very interesting, and unputdownable.

The character ensemble in ‘Haveli’ is one of my favorite. I disliked the father Shen Jahan so much from the very beginning. Faisal was just a gold digger. Zafar’s brotherly love for C and their mutual hate for their father Nameless proves challenging for her decisions in the later part of the novella. Chandini called herself C, her grandmother-The Board, her father- Nameless, and Taimur- Alpha Male. Comic and witty conversations and the game of tit for tat between her and Taimur are my favorite. She’s a brat, but he’d take no nonsense. Taimur is her perfect husband to be. (Laughs!!)

Zeenat Mahal is a very good narrator. Though this is the first work of hers’ that I read, I’m already a fan. I loved the plot, and the backdrop- Pakistan of the 1970’s. The novella is easy to read and follow, quite engaging, never dragging or boring. Since Indireads novellas are available only in ebook format, the font is adjustable. I’d recommend this book to all romance and contemporary readers who love good humor. I received the book from Indireads, in return of a fair review. My rating- 4/5 stars. Link to Author's Page.


Thursday, January 8, 2015



It is in the tragic stories that the characters have the depth, and complexities of a human. May be that’s why I find tragedies are great stories. Inspired from Shakespeare’s Hamlet, Haider is a heart wrenching tale of a son in search of his missing father, set against the backdrop of the Kashmir- a paradise stained by blood and suffering.  It is Vishal Bhardwaj’s third adaptation of Shakespearean dramas.

Kashmir then(1995) was riddled with violence, bloodshed and curfews. A constant never ending war raged between the militants and the Indian security forces. A permanent state of emergency existed. Civilians were paraded from every home, every family, for the witnesses to identify the suspects. The lucky ones were dismissed, but those detained went through torture and interrogation in MAMA2. And then they disappeared. The officers and authorities claimed to have no knowledge about their whereabouts. A few days later some of the bodies would be found in the river Jhelum. This went on for years. The number of missing persons increased up to 8000. Their wives were called ‘Half-Widows’. The themes and topics touched in the movie clearly show the extent of research the writers did for scripting it, showing the unrest, the ever existing tension in the air, the politics, the torture, and the brutality. ‘All of Kashmir is a prison.’ -Haider says. And that was the reality of this paradise.

Shahid Kapoor

Shahid Kapoor has done a fantastic job portraying Haider- every change that he goes through in the movie- a student returning from Aligarh to his home ‘Islamabad’ in Kashmir, a desperate son in search of his missing father, a confused son who cannot understand his mother’s character, and a post traumatic Haider on the verge of insanity perplexed in truths and lies and ‘to be or not to be’s. Extremely praiseworthy acting and his best till now! Tabu as Ghazala, Haider’s mother is the most complicated and mysterious character. Applauds for Tabu’s acting and the depths she’s portrayed. She almost stole the show; amazing me constantly, throughout, till the very end. I kept thinking- What is she actually thinking? Is she sad, or is she happy behind those sad eyes? Where does her loyalty lie? Is she the hero? Is she the villain? She in myriad ways becomes the central character in the tale. She’s perhaps ‘the face that launched a thousand ships’, and the reason that started something that ended in blood and gore.


The mother and son relationship is something to watch. Haider loves his ‘mauji’ a lot but accuses her of adultery and even holds her responsible for his father’s death. Ghazala loves him the most; she emotionally blackmails him to do things her way; perhaps even tries to manipulate him but that, we audience never come to know for sure. We keep guessing what her choices are, and what she really wants. Did she really love Khurram, or was she just looking for security? We can’t seem to place her anywhere- good, bad, or in between. Kay Kay Menon plays the plotting and scheming uncle well. His undying love for his ‘bhabi-jaan’ wrecks havoc in so many lives. Shraddha Kapoor plays the strong minded independent journalist Harshi, who loves Haider and goes against her father and brother to protect him.

Kashmiri folk songs set the mood and feel in the film. Haider misses his father remembering his favorite song that he used to sing. Ghazala and Khurram, the uncle have a light intimate moment singing and dancing to Kashmiri folk, that’s looked down upon by Haider. The cinema introduces the word ‘chutzpah’- equated to AFSPA- Armed Forces Special Powers Act, the security law that gives the Indian Armed Forces immunity from prosecution while operating in the militancy hit areas that has been criticized by human rights groups. The only comic relief is offered by the Salman-Salman duo, who mimic the bollywood actor as his songs croon in the background.

Certain scenes gave me chills- the one where civilians are paraded, Haider’s weird behavior after visiting the grave and the very last scene before the film closes. I somehow liked the scenes that Haider and Ghazala shared. Ghazala gave me goosebumps. I haven’t read hamlet, so I can’t do a comparison of characters; still Haider has a long story of its own. Worth a watch.