Monthly Archives: December, 2011

Review of Little Miss Sunshine

Of crooked roads, twisted laughs and a quirky ride.

Cast: Greg Kinnear, Toni Collette, Abigail Breslin, Steve Carell, Paul Dano and Alan Arkin.

Genre: Dark comedy  |  DVD priced at: Rs 599

If you could accompany the Hoover family on any one road trip, it should be the one where they all pile into their weather-beaten Volkswagen T2 Microbus and head to California. For on this trip, you will not only have interesting co-passengers but also an unlimited supply of drama, topped with copious doses of dark hilarity.

Little Miss Sunshine

Little Miss Sunshine is an American road film that takes the route to satirical drollery with the story of a dysfunctional family. The film premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in 2006 and has garnered some serious praise. Husband-wife duo of Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris direct this film, that  depicts how winning-crazed our society is.

The super charming Abigail Breslin as Olive Hoover

The Hoover family sets out on the trip from Albuquerque when the protagonist, the 7-year old Olive Hoover (Abigail Breslin) qualifies for a pre-pubescent beauty pageant (for the title of Little Miss Sunshine), to be held in California. Olive has a heroin addict for a grandpa, a bankrupt father, a frustrated mother, an uncle who failed a suicide attempt and a stepbrother who maintains a vow of silence. Sounds weird? Oh, rest assured, you’ll grow to love them.

Along the way, their bus encounters a number of mechanical problems, matching the family’s situation. Overcoming several hurdles along the way, the family reaches California for Olive’s pageant. The film climaxes with a shockingly authentic portrayal of a pageant – preteen girls with stylised hair and glamourous eveningwear. Picture Olive here, with her large glasses and chubby cheeks sans any make-up.

It is the twisted sense of humour that complements the realism, and holds the story together. For a large part of the film, the family is out on the road battling gruesome heat and as the viewer, you feel the heat too. What stands out amid all the chaos and catharsis is the easy naturalism. The visuals are fresh and eccentric, allowing the characters’ personalities to take centre stage. Another notable aspect of the film is its music, which is a mix of indie rock and folk music. Denver-based band, DeVotchKa has provided majority of the score. They used unusual instruments such as the sousaphone, theremin and bouzouki to give an odd, humourous feel to the music.

Little Miss Sunshine is not to be confused for a children’s film, for it is definitely not that. The film has some dialogue involving profanity and shows substance abuse. That said, from the photography to the sets, the music and the superb performances, the film captures the Hoovers in all their absurdity, angst and affection. It’s definitely a road trip you don’t want to miss.


In Dodo-land – Stories from Mauritius

Europe too expensive for you? Visit the tiny island of Mauritius to live a laid back French lifestyle, without having to shell out much. Enjoy the sea-laden air, local sega dances and interesting water sports.

I landed at Mauritius thinking, how different can be it from Mumbai? After all, majority of their population is Hindu. And then I met Mauritian people – Hindus who conversed in fluent French, and barely managed Hindi! That is because even though the population today is Hindu by birth, Mauritius was a French colony till the 19th century. Other vestiges of this fact are their relaxed lifestyle and a love for dance.

I knew one should not hold our Juhu beach as reference when visiting island nations such as Mauritius, but with just the first glance at their public beach, and I was blown away. An endless stretch of soft sand with clear waters in shades of blue and green lay before me. I was thrilled at the thought of water-sports here, and my excitement took shape in the next couple of days.

A stone belt that weighed 30 kg and a stone-brimmed glass helmet with a pipe for air circulation – this was my gear for a walk in Mauritius. Well, a walk under the sea. I had signed up for ‘Underwater Sea Walking’ and would be taken down to the seabed for a walk. Unlike how it is with diving, we choose a spot that is only 8 to 9 ft deep.

I climbed down a couple of steps into the water and our guide placed the helmet on my head. But hey, wait a minute! This helmet isn’t closed, there’s space at bottom just like in a regular helmet. Water will obviously enter… And I can’t swim! I’ll drown, don’t push me yet…

Underwater sea walk in Mauritius with a friend (right).

The guide gave my helmet one strong push, and down I slipped, underwater. My ears shut out and I started frantically waving my hands in an attempt for the underwater guides to save me from drowning. I was gasping for air with my mouth. I tell you, I have never felt such fear in my life before.

The underwater guides had to hold my arms and gesture me to be calm. It is only then I realised that I was alive, and still panting. My guide waved me to look around and it is only then that I saw how beautiful it was. Schools of tiny fish swam by and I stood floored at the sight of the world underwater. My guide handed me some food to attract the fish close to my hands, and promptly took pictures as I secretly panicked. Four other friends soon came underwater, and we formed a little train to walk around on the seabed, feeling mighty cool and a tad foolish, thanks to the helmet.

It is due to a certain law of physics (or something like that), that water couldn’t enter my helmet and the pipe attached at the head of the helmet was the source for normal air. No oxygen tanks needed here. And needless to say, everything else – snorkelling, parasailing and such – paled in comparison.

Being in the same enclosure as the emus.

Sharing the enclosure with emus.

In following days of my stay at Mauritius, I visited the large Casela National Park. We got to feed deer, ducks, and a few other birds of small flight. I was excited upon spotting emus and wondered how far they could fling a person with one kick. There’s a trivia bit about how an ostrich can kill a man with one sharp kick and that inspired the thought. It was only after I returned to Mumbai and was going through the photographs, I realised that fortunately, I missed getting the answer to my question. Emus were in the same enclosure as the deer we were feeding. Only, yours truly ‘thought’ they were in the adjoining one. While I was blissfully picking up fancy quills shed by the birds, I could have well known how far an emu kicks.

These three-four trips outside the hotel were the only activities I agreed to be a part of in Mauritius. The rest of the week saw me on the hotel’s private beach, with a book in hand and a vodka bottle not too far away.

For more pictures I took, have a look at this earlier post.

Book review: Death in Mumbai by Meenal Baghel

“The perfect crime lies not in the execution, but in the cover-up.”

              -Meenal Baghel


It’ll take all of a few clicks on the Internet to acquaint oneself with the Neeraj Grover murder case. But devil lies in details, and it suffices to say that author Meenal Baghel has pulled the devil out right by its horns. Simply put, one early morning of May 2008, a jealous Emile Jerome snuffed out Neeraj Grover, who he suspected of having an affair with his fiancée Maria Susairaj. The body was soon cut up, stuffed into a bag and set to flames.

The “cast of characters” includes the charming Neeraj, who was a small time employee in television production house Balaji Telefilms, beautiful and petite Maria, a hopeful export to Mumbai’s thriving TV industry, and the handsome Emile, a much-loved Naval office posted in Kochi.

A must read: Death in Mumbai by Meenal Baghel

Death in Mumbai though, is not a simple chronological story of crime and subsequent arrest of the murderers. Rather, it is a heady psychological thriller. The resultant of Meenal’s copious note-taking is entire chapters dedicated to people associated with the very premise of the crime, those who understand the world of Neeraj, Maria and Emile, and cops who solve the crime.

Meenal is currently the Editor-in-Chief of city’s top tabloid Mumbai Mirror and there couldn’t be a better author for this sensational subject. Using her excellent reporting and researching skills, she interviews a number of people related to the star cast of this thriller and peppers the book with words unfamiliar to me, at every three sentences. The writing is sharp, time zones overlap nicely, and insiders’ accounts, plentiful.

Meenal speaks extensively with the superstitious Ekta Kapoor, who understands the world of television actors and their trappings only too well.

Ram Goal Varma is the Chetan Bhagat of the film industry – the audience loves to hate him. RVG, as is common knowledge by now, loves to explore the darker side of crime, especially when those of passion are in question. Meenal meets this man who declares that he’s quite forthright about things of love and passion. “I’d rather have sex with you than conversation,” he confesses having said to some women.

Moon Das is a model-cum-dancer who was lucky enough to have escaped the hysteria that had overcome her boyfriend, who, in a fit of rage, ended up shooting her mother and uncle dead, before checking himself out of the world too. What makes these girls (such as Moon and Maria) suffer pushy and disastrous relationships and what are their trappings, is what Meenal tries to decode, over several cups of coffee with Moon.

My precious author-signed copy of Death in Mumbai!

The best part of Death in Mumbai is, of course, about how the Mumbai police team, lead by Rakesh Maria, then Joint Commissioner of Mumbai Crime branch, cracks the case. Inspector Satish Raorane plays a lion’s part in the madness that was of narrowing down suspects and finally interrogating the tough Maria Susairaj to a vulnerable point, when she eventually confessed about the gruesome incident. The tedious procedure which the police implement, the infinite patience they posses, the number of people they have to deal with before laying hands on the criminal – all this, as recollected by friends of Neeraj, Maria and Emile, not the policemen themselves.

Death in Mumbai is a hard-hitting, riveting read, and I suggest you pick it up just for Meenal’s writing, if the mystery of the case fails to excite you. The book was released at the recently held Times Literary Carnival where Meenal, after a discussion on the book, was also signing copies. This was the first time I got my book signed by an author, and I was quite thrilled, for I do admire the lady.

By the end of this unputdownable book, one also suspects that Meenal has a soft spot for Rakesh Maria, who currently heads the Maharashtra Anti-Terrorism Squad. But oh well, given his reputation for cracking cases and coming down hard on criminals, who wouldn’t!

Title: Death in Mumbai

Author: Meenal Baghel

Pages: 231  |  Price: Rs 299

Book review: Prince of Ayodhya by Ashok Banker

It is interesting to note that Ashok K. Banker’s version of the mythological saga Ramayana is published under the genre of ‘Fiction.’ For it well feels like one, thanks to the surprisingly eerie details Banker fills our mind with.

Banker reconstructs the epic poem, and painstakingly so. I’ve read the first book – of the series of six–and found it to be immensely engaging. In fact, I finished the fat volume in no more than 3-4 sittings (of course, it helped that I’m unemployed at the moment), and though it will probably take you a few more sittings, every minute will be worth it. This, provided you are ready to accept Banker’s version of the tale.

Prince of Ayodhya by Ashok K. Banker

Banker puts his disclaimer well, in the prologue. No two versions of this eons-old tale are same, as it is passed down from grandmother to her grandchild, orally, he says. What we hear today, is the dumbed-down version of the story, the original being in cryptic Sanskrit verses. He insists that the Ramayana most of us know today is reduced to a mere “moral tale,” as opposed to the actual story of Prince Rama, which is packed with amorous escapades of King Dasarath, grim details of the battles fought, detailed explanation of the way Ayodhya’s seemingly unconquerable armed soldiers worked (Ayodhya translates to ‘the unconquerable’), physical description of the asuras, uncouth mannerisms of Queen Kaikeyi, astounding powers possessed by the great seers, and so on.

Book One is a mix of all of the above. It begins with Rama having a vision of the horrific misfortune that awaits to befall his beloved home city of Ayodhya, ravaging it to nothingness. We see the story – if I may call it that – move on to how sage Vishwamitra warns Ayodhya’s king (Rama’s father) of the impending doom with the imminent and eventual rise of the Ravana. After much debate and persuasion, the father’s heart in the king reluctantly allows Rama (and Lakshman) to accompany the learned sage to a forest to rid it of asuras and other demons. Meanwhile, Ravana, of course, is readying a colossal army to capture Ayodhya, and eventually the whole of Prithvi lok.

To praise Banker’s work seems embarrassing to me, for those who have read him will testify of his prowess with words and ability to transport the reader to the actually place of the event taking place, in the book. Read his work to know the fascinating times of yore – their traditions, practices and talent. Their social and moral dilemmas, and eventual decisions are mirrored in the book. Banker sprinkles a few Hindi words here and there to bring this nascent part of the Ramayana to life. I’ll admit the book did feel tedious to me a couple of times, but I blame that on the lateness of hour I read into.

For those of you aren’t interested in this book, for the only reason that the subject is of mythology, I urge you to pick this book up as fiction, if nothing else. For the tale is imaginatively told.

This blog post ends here, for the second book, Seige of Mithila, beckons me much.

Title: Prince of Ayodhya (Book One of the Ramayana)

Author: Ashok K. Banker

Pages: 517  |  Price: Rs 350

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