Tuesday, December 22, 2015

The Bestseller She Wrote




I am reviewing ‘The Bestseller She Wrote’ by Ravi Subramanian as a part of the biggest Book Review Program for Indian Bloggers. Participate now to get free books!

The book was well paced and well written. And certainly, Ravi Subramanian is one of India's better English writers. The language flows easily for Ravi and the story is viable. I must mention that I was able to complete the book in roughly 3 hours, which is generally a praise to the writer than to the reader.

The characters play along to our author's tunes. Reactions are real, actions are melodramatic and are worthy verses of a crime thriller. I felt the characters though, could do with better building. Everyone's back story is too short and too light so some of them don't make an impact on you. A deeper understanding of why Maya left her job "for" Aditya is very important to understand how she reacts at later points in the book. How the friendship between Sanjay and Aditya evolved over the years and the general possible gratitude that Aditya might have towards Sanjay would give the story a nicer touch. The fact that Shreya comes from a small town but isn't constrained by the small town ways is slightly unsettling without a bit more detail into her life before IIM.

The boon as well as the bane on any crime thriller is 'the' twist, or any twist. Twists are what make thrillers interesting but of course, the story itself can provide for a thriller without necessarily adding a twist. The twist however, needs to be really good. I'll come out and say it that the twist in this story was really good but feels pretty dull because it gets lost in confusion. The twist itself was well thought out but delivered rather hastily at the end. And the author is aware of it. So the author sits everyone down at a round table (much like in Detective Byomkesh Bakshi movie) and explains the whole plot. The fact that this kind of an explanation is required implies that the author did not do enough justice to the story in the fear of giving away the twist (much like in the movie). In fact, the author is so worried about giving away the twist that he jumps forward to the end and then jumps back to the twist for the readers' benefit. When Aditya comes out with the twist some of the earlier actions of certain characters make more sense, so the author was careful enough to insert some snippets through out the book.Yet the author in some cases creates confusion with the language (giving us an impression that the book was not well edited) to avoid the twist from being given away. I was disappointed by that. As a reader, I would have preferred if the twist was let slip over time to make for a good reading rather than sprung upon me as a movie-like twist with deliberately uncomfortable prose, which is in stark contrast to the rest of the book that flows so well. 

The setting of the story is interesting. It is the publishing industry itself which is of course, the author's forte. Aditya's 'gyan' reflects the author's inherent understanding of how the business works and the subtle name dropping excellently compliments the 'gyaan' creating a sense of expertise of Aditya's character as well as building him up as a rockstar author. It's a good read for any aspiring author and almost a 101 on publishing. His references to  BlogAdda also makes us feel part of this journey of a book from a writer's idea to manuscript to an author's published product on the bookshelves. I was happy to see that our author also touches upon on the issue of plagiarism and treats it with such contempt. We need more people of his stature to come out and say it because it should not be tolerated in any industry, and even more so in the publishing industry.
On this note, I would like to make an unrelated comment. I was somewhat disappointed that the book mentioned Ashwin Sanghi's first book in the passing, even though it (The Rozabal Line) has some clearly plagiarised lines. I do enjoy his other books, The Chanakya's Chant and The Krishna Key and plagiarism happens in other industries as well like The Valley of Astonishment played in London but since this issue was mentioned in the book I thought talking about The Rozabal Line was unnecessary. 

In conclusion, Ravi Subramanian is a good writer. His product is easy English flowing beautifully on a well researched topic and showcasing him as a leading author in our country who knows the ins and outs of the business. I am sure he is capable of a writing a brilliant piece of page-turning fiction (much like this book) from start to end. And I am also sure he can convert one of his brilliant books into a full-fledged screenplay. I think he short changed the book at the end into a screenplay, at the expense of his book readers.

Wednesday, December 02, 2015

Four minutes and Twelve seconds

I watched Four Minutes and Twelve Seconds at the Trafalgar Studios and give it a 3.5/5 rating.

Superbly contemporary, the story line is too obvious and yet too real. It's so obvious that the suspense is not really a suspense but then again you wish it wasn't too obvious because we invent fiction to make us feel like better human beings. You hope for the mother's sake that her son didn't do anything wrong. Then, you hope the mother would call the cops on her son for mistreating his girlfriend. Then you hope the wife would give up her husband's indiscriminate act of uploading the video online because he was proud of his son. You hope the girl gets justice. But it doesn't happen.
Everyone calls the girl a liar because she is poor and not polished enough. Everyone believes the boy because he is economically better and scores well in exams. His parents protect his future and hold their marriage together for his sake. And the girl gets on with her life as best as she can, not that she had much to begin with.

What's hard to digest is that you can take this story and set it pretty much anywhere in the world and practically any time in the past and it fits. The use of technology m makes it contemporary and relatable but the story itself would be contemporary anytime and anywhere because technology has changed but people haven't. If anything, technology has become a tool for the bad as much as the good in the society.

The space at Trafalgar Studios is awfully small. The stage is a smallish square and you have people sitting in 3-4 rows on three sides of it, the fourth side being the entry and exit for actors. The cozy space makes it impossibly real as well. But on second thought, I suppose the ticket was way too expensive for such a tiny space, even though it was cheaper than most west end theatres.

Roaring Trade

I watched Roaring Trade at Park Theatre and give it a 4/5 rating.

Well executed, fast paced and exciting. Hilarious and thoughtful. And the actors were good, especially the teenage boy, and set changes were impeccable. That's why a 4/5.
But having said all that, the story is terribly outdated.

What spoon does got him fired in the play. In today's reality, he would be suspended while internal compliance teams and regulators look into the case and after fact finding, his case goes to court and most likely he to jail. The general sense of people and workspace is also about a decade old. Perceptions don't change!

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

A Fine Balance


The story is sad. So sad that I was depressed when I closed the book. Depressed not just because the story is sad but that the story ended and that it ended on a low point. It could have easily turned sunny way up but it didn't. It made me so unhappy I wondered what is the point of the story, except to leave your reader feeling helpless and insecure about the future and about humanity.
After you have absorbed the story and lamented over it, you start to look beyond the main story and to the backdrop. The descriptive nature of the book paints you a picture of India in the 1970s in front of your eyes. 

The prologues give you the history of each protagonist and with them of different cultures and social nitty-gritties. It unravels the Parsi families and their modern culture that is still constrained to their singular community. In Dina, you see the young spirited potential of modern middle class women that is shunned and choked by the patriarchal society.
The story of Ishvar and Om is by far the most inspiring. It talks in detail about untouchability and the lives of untouchables in small villages that amounts to nothing for anyone. And that hopelessness and desperation gives them the courage and strength to break the chains of social custom and rise above, to step up their economic and social standing by learning a new trade. It helps them to change their caste and embrace all religions. It is the story of the rise of the middle class.
Then comes the story of Maneck and how the beauty and tranquillity of the mountains is transformed into the chaos of tourism and marketing in the name of economic growth. How large companies upset the local ecosystems! And yet again another story of the middle class when the locals need to find other ways of livelihood through education.
That's the prologue.

The story itself is how these characters, who were reasonably successful in growing out of their chains, are hit in the head by the Emergency and how they fight it every single time successfully. The Emergency is an overarching theme in the story and Rohinton Mistry is clearly critical of Indira Gandhi though she is never mentioned by name and just referred to as the Prime Minister - a very apt description since it is just a position for the masses and not really thought of as a person.
Through out the story the Emergency is seen as giving the police and other local lords a sudden boost in power, destroying the protagonists life little by little. And our characters are playing the role of the Indian middle class that grows prosperous economically, not because of, but in spite of the government policies and struggling  relentlessly again them. They do find a fine balance for a brief period where they are prosperous and happy, in an ecosystem designed by them, having overcome the barriers of caste, class and loneliness.
But not for long...

The epilogue is where the author could have made it end better but I suppose he was keen to show the drastic long term effects of a brief period of tyranny that leaves many people helpless and lost, even after the death of the Prime Minister. So here are our characters, main and supporting, having lost the battle against the powerful government. The economic growth of the country is stalled and the spirit of the people broken. There is a small hope with the kindness Dina shows on Ishvar and Om, yet laced with the fear of being found out.

Thursday, November 05, 2015

People places and things

I watched People, Places and Things at the National Theatre and I give it a 4/5 rating.



Such fabulous acting, I really thought Denise Gough would bag all the best female actor awards this year. ( That didn't happen, instead going to Nicole Kidman for some remarkably good acting in a limited character in Photograph 51, though mostly because it was Nicole Kidman I think).

I personally don't know anyone who went to rehab so it took me a while to get into the play but once I did, I was locked in. The journey that Denise takes on is difficult and mentally stressful, especially when everyone around her had written her off completely. There is also the physical element of withdrawal that breaks her down, her face expressing excruciating pain.  The play is perfect because it makes us feel hopeful at the end. it shows you that with a little bit of help, anyone can do it. But that help is hard to find.

All that the play has is Denise Gough. Other characters come and go but the play rests on her and her alone. And she embraced that opportunity delivering an exhilarating emotional performance.

The sets were intelligently used with the base being a rehab facility and the other sets for fragments produced briefly for the audience but the rehab facility continues to remain in the background with the brilliant startling white light reflecting off of white tiles.

The play has now moved to the west end. It's worth a watch but also a bit expensive now.

Martyr

I watched Martyr at the Unicorn Theatre and I give it a 3.5/5 rating.

A very interesting play and very contemporary theme (though it's actually a really old thence because people don't change much). A young boy in high school takes a sudden interest in the Bible and follows it literally, becoming more and more regressive. His mother pleads to the school to help him see reason. And his science teacher who believes in science and rejects religion becomes his biggest rival even though all she wants to do is help him.

The subtle undertones of sexist remarks that the principal passes on the rather good-looking science teacher, the general sentiment of our fanatic that a woman's place is at home and the way the tables are turned on the teacher shows that laws may change but justice is hard to find any people don't change.

It addresses religious fanatical ideologies but doesn't give us much hope. I'm not sure what the writer wanted to say when at the end the teacher nails her foot. That she likes Jesus is carrying the sins of people?? That was a bit random. And so was some scene where the guy goes totally naked for no apparent reason.

Reasonably well done with a strong theme but I give them 3.5 because they were too caught up in doing something spectacular that they lost the audience.

Friday, October 23, 2015

The Hairy Ape

I watched the #HairyApe  at The Old Vic and give it a 4.5/5 rating.

It's a bit out of date I suppose. Some what like Everyman I watched at National Theatre. The classism portrayed is so everyday like that the impact is far reduced. I wonder, 20 years from now, would please think the same about the so called contemporary issues of today?

The play was done flawlessly with multiple set changes that I did not expect from an old play in a West End Theatre. The steam engine room of the ship had a camaraderie of the working class. The singing tunes of manual labour shine on to the dreams the industrial revolution gave people and the eventual strength it provided in their musings questioning elitism.

Acting was good in general, though not too many actors had large roles. Most of the play is just our protagonist who an aristocratic spoilt brat sees covered in coal and screams. I thought he was really good looking covered in coal and screaming and shouting out propaganda of how it is he and his kind that run the ship and not the rich who travel on it. Once he cleans up, he looks a little meek and his vigour and passion seem reduced. The long monologue with the metaphorical hairy ape (our protagonist) and the actual hairy ape was slightly too drawn out but I get the drift.

Obvious special mention to the incredible ape and the actor behind the mask!

Photograph 51

Interesting it was, to understand the politics and the competition of the research world. But it was nothing like what it was made out to be for popularity. On the news, it was all about feminism and how Rosalind Franklin lost the opportunity to be the one to discover the double helix structure of DNA because she was a woman and wasn't taken seriously by her male counterparts and that her work was stolen. If anything, the play showed it the other way around. She didn't take her counterparts seriously enough to collaborate with them. But she also didn't get involved in the race and she didn't mind losing a race she didn't participate in. She cared about finding the truth and she was happy with that. True, the theoretic structure of Watson and Crick would have been worthless without her physiographic proof and also probably inspired by her potentially stolen photographs. But she didn't believe in theories. She was most certainly, not a feminist and I think she would not appreciate being called one. The world of science is competitive and ruthless, and she having become the most respected scientist in her field would know that better than anyone else. So the story as it goes, some of it is obviously fictionalised, some of it must be true, and it is what it is. And as it is, it's very inspiring. It's good to see a strong willed woman in science and I do hope we have more plays showing women in science and to children in school. The story didn't need a feminist angle or a love story to inspire young women to become scientists or young male scientists to respect their female peers.

The sets were simple enough with no changes. Nicole Kidman was remarkably good with the limited amount of acting the character needed. Certainly not the best actress this year in theatre as Evening Standard would like us to believe but definitely subtle and experienced.

I watched #photograph51  at the Noel Coward Theatre and give it a 3.5/5 rating. #NicoleKidman

Sunday, August 30, 2015

1984


One thing with old West End theatres is that they are all cramped, tiny and have bad views. So I'm generally not fond of West End theatres. This one was the same.

So obviously the set was bare and the little furniture in it changed frequently for a "set change ". And when a completely different set was required, it was telecast on the screen which looked to me like it was pre-shot. But at the very end, the entire set changes completely. That was really well done.
I had not read the book before I watched the play. So to me, the first 30 mins were very confusing. I didn't understand that it was a book shop and I didn't understand whether the people around Winston were real or if they were living inside his head. Though now I know that it was Winston who was living inside peoples' heads who were all sitting together and reading his diary. At least that's what I think.

It's a deeply disturbing play. What is most disturbing about it is that while you know it was written a long time ago about the suffocation in the Communist era where even thinking against the party was a thought crime, it strongly resonates with the current times. Isn't expressing an opinion on social media a thought crime for which you are punished in the comments section or in some countries worse? And I don't have to explain how we all feel that Big Brother is still watching given the constant electronic trail we leave. The most disturbing of it all is that Winston is ready to do anything, even the most extreme crime, for a Brotherhood that he believes exists when he makes the conscious decision to rise up against Big Brother.

To sum it up, it is surrealistically freaky, very well executed with many themes strongly echoing in today's world.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Simon Evans In The Money

3.5/5 rating
Simon Evans In The Money | Soho theatre

It was a very different comedy night; I give him that. What do you get when you mix money, economy and a very British man? House prices! To be fair that was only a part of it. Generally speaking it was very British humour. Everyone laughed a lot. I laughed some times. The jokes I felt, were not jokes but extremely long winded explanations and people laughed at his explanations and I couldn't understand why.
Thankfully at least he didn't go total left and misinform people like all other comedians. If anything he went total right. All his explanations were correct and normal which is why I didn't find them funny.
I also found the extremely long winded sentences funny for the first few times but having to listen for more than an hour with every sentence going at least 3 mins long was a bit tiring. And I seemingly dozed of mid sentence to wake up after its over and everyone laughed.

All in all, I suppose he was funny and so was the show. It was just not my cup of tea. Mine needs have tea leaves boiled in water.

Monday, August 17, 2015

Shadowland

2/5 rating
Shadowland

It seemed like a great idea. To go to a theatre show that's about a play on lights and shadows (see what I did there? Play haha).
It was good, when they did their psychedelic stuff. I could have watched it all day listening to pink floyd. But the actual stuff was crazy. I never understood why the girl becomes a dog. It's not even that hard. And the girl nearing the end of the show, gets topless for no apparent reason. It's not much of a difference considering that to begin with the girl and her parents were just maniquins in underwear who suddenly become parents and people when they wear clothes. It's probably to show that they are not using props to create the shadows. Some times they do and they show you the props. The dreamy sequences with all the well built guys with knees caps and in underwear, and the one guy who can compete with Undertaker is not too bad. I probably didn't understand it because I was a little too bored to care. It's crazy. It's fun to watch. A little too long. And it's crazy. 

It's a song! It's a movie! ...

... No! It's SIRO-A !!!

4/5 rating
SIRO-A | Soho Theatre

These guys are amazing. They use technology to the fullest extent. They had a projector feeding in lights and colours. They also used it to create clones of themselves. They had a live projector to create a large scary being out of the little guy sitting in one corner. They had a camera that helped produce a song live, even though nobody sang it. They made a music video with audience dancing even though nobody danced. They had a bit of a laser show. They had some live DJs too.
What more could you want !!!

Monday, August 10, 2015

Bears in Space

5/5
Bears in Space | Soho Theatre



Hilarious as hell!!
Now now, it's not really a play with a traditional story or sets so a high rating may not be warranted. But they wanted to make us laugh and they did.
It's a 4 member team called Collapsing Horse that told us an absolutely random story of two bears in space using all kinds of random home made props and puppets in a cosy setting in Jerrwood Upstairs. The story was so random that you laugh, and then you laugh some more.

A story keeper tells us the story of two bears traveling through space along with the frozen body of their dead captain. They have no idea what their mission is, and when they run out of energy they must go to the nearby industrial city country planet system of Metrotopia. Metrotopia is known for its evil dictator, crazy man with daddy issues who imprisons anyone and everyone. And of course at the end the bears save themselves and save the day, helped moderately by the spirit of the captain.

We booked it because it was transferred from Edinburgh fringe with great reviews and Jack Gleeson who played Joffrey Baratheon in Game of Thrones was in it. He was really good as a dimwit son of the story keeper who is telling us the story but he was his best self as the evil emperor of Metrotopia (wink wink). He was definitely not the star performer because all four of them were equally good. The versatile Aaron Heffernan played a various number of characters including the lead bear, the emperor's personal evil plotter, cool dude bear in prison, etc. The other two, Cameron Macaulay and Eoghan Quinn played the story keeper and his other son, complementing the team. I'm glad we watched it and can't wait to see more material from Collapsing Horse.
Jack Gleeson said it right. It wasn't acting really. It was just some mates having fun.

Motherf***er with the Hat

4.5/5 rating
The Motherf**ker with The Hat | National Theatre



Did I ever have obscenities in my blog? Don't think so. This time though I can't help it because there is one in the title of the play - The Motherf***er with the Hat.
Did the play need an obscenity in its title? Probably not, but I'm sure it got a lot of attention for it. The play itself has a lot of obscenities but it doesn't sound weird or angry, just hilarious.

It's currently playing at the National Theatre in Lyttelton. We got cheap but amazing tickets because we bought on the day the bookings opened, right in front on the stage, close enough to see every single expression.

The sets were not very special but immaculately done. Every time there is a set change the walls come from above and the floor from behind. There were only 3 sets but very detailed.

The story is so complicatedly simple it could have been a soap opera. There was nothing new, nothing extraordinary or nothing outrageous about the play. It's just a love story, with all kinds of complications of course.
What makes this play extraordinarily good is the incredible performance that all 5 characters put together to bring the play to life. Every single one of them played their characters with detail. The lead role of Jackie played by Ricardo Chavira had versatility and depth changing as the play proceeds while Veronica (played by Flor De Liz Perez) supported him strongly with her craziness. Ralph's character (Alec Neuman) was ironic like the guy who doesn't care and expects you to know that but not know that and his wife Victoria (by Nathalie Armin) was a bit dull on the role and acting. The best I thought, was Cousin Julio as a character, perfectly put together by Yul Vazquez, with a funny accent and straight talking attitude; every line delivered left the audience in peels off laughter.

The play was wonderful because it was heartwarming and funny, and well executed. It's been a while since I saw a nice play that it felt really good.

Thursday, August 06, 2015

The Elephant Man

2.5/5 rating
The Elephant Man | Royal Haymarket Theatre

We watched The Elephant Man in the Royal Haymarket Theatre. It was weirdly surreal because the theatre is so old and maintained that way. The play is set in 19th century London and the sets were simple and the use of lights basic. So when the lights were out and the actors were on the stage you felt like you were transported back in time. I suppose that was the intended effect.


Now before we go any further, let me just copy and paste the synopsis from the play's website:

Based on the real life of Joseph Merrick, The Elephant Man tells the story of 19th-century London man Merrick(Bradley Cooper) who became a star of the traveling freak show circuit. When the renowned Dr. Treves(Alessandro Nivola) takes Merrick under his care, he is astonished by the man’s brilliant intelligence, unshakable faith and, most of all, his resounding desire for love and understanding. He introduces Merrick to the beautiful actress Mrs. Kendal (Patricia Clarkson), who is deeply touched by this pure and genuine soul. As a complex friendship blossoms among the three, Treves and Kendal struggle to protect Merrick from a world of questionable intentions… and so begins a story of love as unique as “The Elephant Man” himself.

We bought tickets for the play simply because we heard Bradley Cooper was playing the lead role. After buying the tickets we read rave reviews of the show on Broadway. And then I read the story of The Elephant Man. It is a true story and deeply sad and moving.

The play was not sad or moving. And going back to the synopsis, Merrick became a star in the freak show circuit. He was shown to be a failure. 
Merrick was supposed to be astonishingly intelligent. Bradley Cooper was just someone who had never been spoken to and was just happy to talk to and seemed like a normal human being who philosophises mostly because he had so much time on his hands.
Merrick had a resounding desire for love and understanding. It seemed more like DrTrevis wanted to find Bradley Cooper company because he is aware the for most part of his life he didn't have normal human relationships.
Mrs Kendal was deeply touched by his pure and genuine soul. Patricia Clarkson truly was.
As the complex friendship between the three blossomed... It wasn't that complex and neither was it shown to be. It tried to be.

Bradley Cooper was really good at contorting his body, yes. May have been a little difficult, yes. But with practice it's not that hard and he had no other expression.
Alessandro Nivola had the weirdest diction I've heard in theatre and never properly projected his voice across and many of his lines had him facing his back to the audience. So it was really difficult to hear him.
Patricia Clarkson was remarkable. If anyone touched your heart, she did. It didn't make me happy that the most talented performance in the show needed to bare herself. It was so avoidable and easily doable in many other ways.
The story was pretty plain but the sadness was not very evident and the fact that Merrick was dying doesn't hit you as it should. And what really happens in the second half was not that clear or necessary.

What I make of all of this? It is all down to bad direction from Scott Ellis. And that a star studded performances in the Broadway doesn't need to be good. And that the producers can getaway with ticket revenues from audience who adore the stars. Not very different from mass local cinema in India. Oh wait, that at least has some entertainment value.

The Elephant Man at Royal Haymarket was plain disappointing.

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Switzerland

Can't get any more touristy than that. Following the massive success of the movie Dilwale Dulhania Le Jaayeinge in India, Switzerland is a dream location.
So when we were making plans to go there, I really didn't feel up to it. Now that I've been there, I'm glad I did. I have never seen anything like it.
We landed in Basel on Saturday morning and needed to get to Luzern. Before we took a train, we quickly went up the Munster (or the cathedral) to get some views of River Rheine and the city. Here is a picture.

Soon we reached Luzern. There is a free walking tour of the city starting at the station that we wanted to take. But unfortunately we got the timing wrong and we missed it. It's at 1.15 pm on most days. We weren't too disappointed though, it is not advisable to go walking around in the middle of the day under the sun, when it's 30 degrees. And we also woke up real early for the flight so we slept for a couple of hours and then explored the city by ourselves. They have this dam made of timber needles that's really interesting, a wonderfully detailed sculpture of a dying lion and the most famous landmark is this beautiful bridge.


People go to Luzern to go to Mt Titlis. But if you are not going there you can skip the city altogether. It's pretty but just another pretty European city.
The next morning, we woke up late, leisurely had Sunday breakfast and took a train to Interlaken. This is another reason people come to Luzern. The train ride from Luzern to Interlaken takes about 2 hours and is one of Europe's prettiest rail routes passing by at least 5 lakes and each more beautiful than the other. Here are pictures of Sarnersee and Brienzersee



We then took a connecting train to Lauterbrunnen, a valley in the Swiss Alps known for its 72 waterfalls. We had pretty much the whole afternoon with us. So we grabbed something to eat, stuffed our luggage in a locker and jumped on a funicular to Grutschalp. At Grutschalp we changed to a train to Murren. Murren is high up on the mountains and had great views of the Alps.


We walked from the train station to another funicular station. This is where you would catch the funicular to go up Mt Schilthorn. In summer though, it's unlikely to have much snow. So we didn't go up. Instead we took the funicular down to Gimmelwald which is tiny unbelievingly pretty village.  Here is a picture.

Then we took the same funicular to Stechelberg. It moved so fast that I had mild vertigo and had to sit down. Check out the view that freaked me out.


We stopped moderately at Stechelberg walked around a little and took the bus to Trummelbach falls. This is a breathtaking natural beauty. The waterfall keeps cutting the mountain with every twist and turn with such force, it's glorious. I would highly recommended it. I do have a picture though it's hard to understand from it.


In the summer heat the splash of the waterfalls is comfortable but otherwise carrying a poncho is useful. After chilling by the eventual flowing rivulet of the waterfalls, we made our way to the bus stop only to realise we just missed it and the next one was in an hour later. So we walked our way back to Lauterbrunnen which is only about a couple of miles by the highway. Here is a beautiful view from the road. Makes you want to go Heidiiiii...


When we got to our hotel we had issues with it that I have elaborated at the bottom so as to not upset the flow of natural beauty here. Practically pretty much all hotels have a view of some or the other waterfalls. Here is a view that I woke up to the next morning.



The next day, Day 3, we had planned to go up Jungfrau and woke up at 6.30am. But the webcam on the top of Jungfrau showed a fully clouded summit. You can see it here So we decided to sleep some more and go to Jungfrau the day after. We woke up later on and took a train to Interlaken.
Interlaken is a smallish town which serves as a transportation hub. We directly headed to Flying Wheels to hire some incredible e-bikes, that we totally loved after Tenerife. We cycled around the lake Brienzersee from Interlaken to Islewald, had a light lunch and then cycled to Giessbach waterfalls which was a bit of an edgy ride. 

From then it was pretty easy ride to Brienz where we took a train back to Interlaken. The cycling route was around 25km. When we reached the hotel we were tired and the bed was comfortable.

The next morning we woke up at 5.30am and checked the webcam to see a beautiful sunrise on top of Jungfrau. We woke up early because we wanted to take the first train out so we can avoid the tour groups as well as get a considerably cheaper ticket. We started our journey from Interlaken West to Interlaken Ost where we split ways so one of us could put the luggage in the locker and another could buy the Good morning ticket all in 10 minutes. Then we took a train to Lauterbrunnen and connecting train to Kleine Shiedegg and then a connecting train to Jungfraujoch which is col between Mt Jungfrau and Mt Monch. We took the first train out and reached Jungfrau at around 9am. On the way the train stops to show us some view points like this.

The train actually goes through the mountain itself so there isn't a view except at the view points. These pictures are incomparable to the actual view once you get there. At Jungfraujoch there is a small tourist centre with some fun things, restaurants, shops and a viewing station called the Sphinx. Everything was shut when we arrived so first we went to the Sphinx and took a couple of snaps like this.

Then we came out on to the snow and we could feel the air thinner but quickly got used to it. Everything was bright. The sun was shining strong, the snow reflecting it all and the sky the clearest I've seen at 3466m altitude. There was a huge truck pressing down on the snow to make it easier to walk on. And there was some form of a pathway created. So we started walking and taking some snaps on the way...


After walking for about 20 mins we asked another fellow walker (or hiker) where this path leads and found out it's to a hut where you can get some hot chocolate. It was 2 degrees so the prospect of a hot chocolate led us on. Ultimately, it took one hour in all to get to the hut, Monchsjoch hut, literally in the middle of nowhere at 3,658m altitude. It had heating, great soup, awesome hot chocolate and a divinely spectacular view. This view justifies our entire trip to Switzerland. I have a photograph here but doesn't come close to what you see.

Then we trekked back within 30 mins and by the time we reached Jungfraujoch it was bustling with people and some snow games were setup. You can do sledging, tubing etc but we had to leave quickly because we needed to catch the 1pm train which is the latest train you can catch with the Good morning ticket.
On the way back we decided to go to Grindelwald instead of Lauterbrunnen. It's a cute village in itself. We didn't go around it much because it was really hot and just found some place we could relax under the shade while our sports shoes that was soaking wet from the snow could dry out in the sun. Kid you not, our shoes dried completely only leaving a little dampness where the sun could not reach. And then we made our way to Interlaken, collected our luggage, bought a ticket to Basel and got on the train. We reached home at midnight London time thanks to the consistent delay of Easyjet's night flights. (We checked the stats of our flight and it pretty much never flew on time)

Apendix:
As I was saying, the experience with the hotel in Lauterbrunnen was really poor.
When we got there the hotel wanted to charge us to check in even though the room was already booked and paid for. To be sensible, even if you didn't pay ahead, hotels charge you at check out and not check in. But our hotel insisted we do and they didn't have clear systems. They see the booking but claim it's not paid for. Their card machine they said, is not working and then charged my card on some different hotel and gave me a bill with a different credit card number and where the additions and subtractions actually don't make sense. We argued till we got a bill at least with my credit card number. By now I was convinced they are frauding me. After I returned to London I called the booking agency who spoke to the hotel about the booking. After 5 phone conversations and multiple denials and 10 days, I still haven't got the money back but at least the hotel has finally agreed that I was double charged and said they would refund. Fingers crossed.
Update: 8 phone calls and 28 days later, no update.

Update: my credit card company gave up on trying to get the refund because all they say is the person incharge of refund is unavailable and will be here tomorrow at 4pm, a tomorrow that never comes. So my credit card company refunded my points that I used to book the hotel. So no loss to me except hours of phone calls. But the hotel kept my money and the points!!! Hotel Schuetzen Lauterbrunnen is the name.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

The Trail

4/5 rating
The Trail | Young Vic


I didn't know anything about the play before I walked in. I had an amazing experience.

The stage is one largish conveyor belt and the sets keep changing as the belt moves. The seating is on either side of the conveyor belt. We got lucky. We sat in the front row. While this undoubtedly gave us a great experience, even without it would have still been good.

The play is based on a book by Kafka. It is about a society ruled by law where the law is ultimate and as the dialogue goes, everything belongs to the court. From stealing his clothes to stealing his life, K sees the power of the court that wouldn't even tell him what he is guilty of but hold him on trial. In a sense the conveyor belt shows that K is caught in a process that he can't fight. Rory Kinnear plays K and bears it all till he crumbles down. And when he does you see that while his fingers are shaking visibly for the benefit of the audience, his character is shaking all over, even his little toe. A remarkable actor that he is, the play is rewarding for a single actor. That said, equally amazing was Kate O'Flynn who is so versatile playing all the women who are either his love interest or the other way around.
As the play goes on K searches for what he is stands accused of by combing through his life. He recounts all his mistakes in life, however small even at the age of 4. But his mistakes get less and less negligible until the weight of his guilt crushes him on to the conveyor belt.

Well done and well executed. The audience closest to the conveyor belt are never dimmed. While it could be that the audience are the jury and the peeping neighbours the light was a bit annoying. And while I have never read Kafka, I am familiar with what people refer to as Kafkaesque. I didn't find the play particularly Kafkaesque, neither the terror nor the surrealism. Acting however was flawless from all of them and not just Kinnear.

Kafka on the Shore

4.5/5 rating
Kafka on the Shore | Barbican

My first response as soon as the play started? Oh Damn!
It's nothing to do with the play. I just realised that the play is in Japanese. There were subtitles, or serftitles as they are called in theatre, in English on two large screens placed at the top corners of the stage. Given the expensive nature of theatre and the number of times we tend to go, we mostly buy cheap tickets (theatre monkey is your friend). So while we still had a great view of the stage, the serftitles were not exactly in line with our view and we had to keep switching the eyes from the board to the stage. I should have researched the play a bit more.

Ignore all the above. No question that it was authentic.

Kafka on the Shore is a book by Haruki Murakami. I haven't read it. I wanted to watch it without any prior impressions. The Ninagawa theatre company had adapted it into a Japanese play and is currently touring in London. 

I must say it was beautiful, surreal and heart warming. The sets were all encased in glass boxes on wheels moving around dizzyingly. The song had the melody of a floating lonely soul like all Murakami stories. The actors were brilliant and Kafka was as confused as one can be, even during credits. At one point, when the song was playing, I looked around the audience, only the faces lit by the light from the stage like moonlight, who seemed all entrapped and all drawn into the play that I could feel they are all ready to float away gently in the air and towards the stage.

It's a lovely play.
Would I have preferred it in English? May be not. It was perfect the way it was.

Everyman

2/5 rating
Everyman | National Theatre


I believe it is an old 15 th century play adapted to modern times. 

The opening scene with the cleaning lady and the first scene with Everyman partying with his friends on this 40th birthday was done ravishingly well and very much in today's times indeed. But that's where the modernity stops.

Much of the play about Everyman's reckoning is mostly old school. May be the god fearing among us would agree with it. But it's a dialogue from my grandmother's life, if not from the middle ages. The dialogues were rhyming a bit too much for the modern era.

It was the Olivier theatre and the use of sets was minimal. There was so much more that could have been done with the sets - with the party that is turning dark and his fear, with the streets when he sleeps with the homeless, with the execution of everyone but not Everyman. The execution of the execution was so juvenile that it was almost like a school play.

At first I thought they could have taken more time to explore the relationships. But then again, it might have been a bit too boring.

I must say the acting was good especially from the cleaning lady and of course, our Everyman Chiwetel Ejiofor of 12 years A Slave fame. With a praise worthy performance, Chiwetel held the whole play together. There are only ever few minutes of stage that he wasn't there and his face lit up every emotion Everyman could get. That was the connect to the audience.

The music was beautiful and the singer who portrayed Everyman's mother had a glorious voice.

You can watch it for watching Chiwetel live. That's about it.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Election plays from the first week of May

I've watched NewsRevue before and I loved it.
It's a series of comedy sketches on current affairs and they make minor changes to their content almost every week so within a couple of months it's nearly entirely new and sometimes even the cast is new. They are always playing at Canal Cafe Theatre which is a small theatre space above a pub.
So we went to watch them again the weekend before the UK general elections for all the election mockery. 

It was truly hilarious.
I cracked up so much, I don't think there can be one favourite. 
Most of the sketches were about how Dave Cam owns the world or how Nicola is slowly conquering it. The others are just interacting each with their own typical characters.
They didn't leave the Americans out either. Hil-ary was strikingly awesome that I could actually picture Hillary Clinton being on stage herself. 
They had a few other sketches involving Katie Holmes, the birth of the princess, etc.
Even though I watched many other comedy shows on TV around the elections, nothing came close to New Revue! Come elections, comedians surely make money.

With the interest in elections picking up, I also went to another election play at Soho Jerrwood downstairs. While I knew that it was actors reading from scripts, I still went assuming the script will be hilarious. 
But it was boring. It was so boring but it's one of those pretentious intellectual ones so you are not supposed to say it loudly that it was boring. It was supposed to be written using all the language the campaigners used and supposed to be gibberish (but in a highly intelligent way of course). But it was basically 6 people on stage making random election speeches and not funny at all. I heard it a little, dozed off a little and the ticket came with a drink so I got myself a Big Tom after the play. So it wasn't too bad.


Saturday, June 06, 2015

Lake District

It was definitely beautiful but certainly not as laid back as I thought it would be, may be it was just timing.

Firstly, on a normal day there is a direct train from London to Windermere that's roughly 3 hours and a bit. For us it took more than 6 hours due to engineering works. Secondly, it was the Easter weekend, the first big holiday after winter. Thirdly, it was supposed to be raining but in the last minute the weather turned and it was brilliant sunny weekend bringing in a lot of unplanned holiday makers from an hour away. 

Any case, we thought the same and woke up at 11 thinking if it rains too much we won't make the effort. But it was looking al right so we left at 2. A tube ride and three train rides later we reached Windermere. It was already dark and it took us a while to get to our B&B so that was that.

Our B&B was a small cute family run place like most B&Bs are. Ross, who runs it, was extremely helpful and he is as local as anyone can get.

Since we don't drive and you really need to if you want to see the highlands, we were considering taking a day tour around the Lake District. Ross suggested we take "the high adventure" tour rather than the "ten lakes spectacular" tour (both by mountain goat tours. That was great advice. The high adventure tour is not really adventurous or anything but Ann (our driver and guide) took us to a few different places and we had time to walk about as well. She knew the roads in and out (which I think is really important given the highlands can have dangerously steep roads). We were lucky weather wise and it such a clear bright day that at Hardknott pass we could see across the sea to the Isle of Man. We also too the heritage railway La'al Ratty at Eskdale valley.


The highlight of the day was probably Wastwater, a perfectly still reflecting lake, like this:


The next day, we were planning on taking some cycles to go around the little towns. Ross recommended taking electric bikes instead. The highlands are too steep. So we called someone who said we don't need to book but when we arrived there we were told they had run out. After many attempts, we just got normal cycles. But then again it was really hard so we pretty much ditched them.

We took a bus instead, to Grasmere. It's a really nice bus actually - a double decker with an open top and commentary about places as we pass by them. It's not a tourist bus but they have modified it for the summer. And from the top you can drive through the pretty little villages to Grasmere, barely 8 miles from Windermere. We went there in the perfect spring to see daffodils everywhere, some tended to and some wild.

These were the highlands where Wordsworth fell in love with the daffodils.
We visited the Wordsworth cottage - a tiny little remodelled pub. The stories are inspiring of the number of poets that visited the little house. There was also the Grasmere ginger bread shop where everyone was buying ginger bread. We bought it too and after 6 weeks is still lying at home. It's too sweet.

We came back to Windermere. There we took a circular cruise of Lake Windermere. It is truly pretty.

The next morning we woke up, had a lazy breakfast, checked out and caught a train at 10.30. We reached London and home around 5.30. We obviously had to change trains but we were also showed down by 'unforseen' circumstances. But Virgin trains said we could get a refund. We did. 

So there goes are underutilised Easter weekend. To be fair, Lake District was beautiful and we got to see quite a bit of it.

15 days after this trip, we were heading to Tenerife in the canary islands (that I blogged about already). Such contrasting holidays!

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Tenerife

That's the place with the British sun! Truly! It follows British Summer Time even when clearly it does not need to save any daylight.
To be honest, the island looks pretty bad from the sky. I was expecting a tropical island. My bad. It's not a tropical island. It's a volcanic island. It only grows shrubs and bushes, and not beautiful palm trees. But once you land and are transported off the highways, you will go into a tourist haven and the world is transformed. Luxurious resorts full of innovatively designed pools overlooking the sea with the mountains behind you, beautiful golden sand beaches with sunbeds in the sand and jet skies in the sea, and tonnes of seafood. That's Tenerife for you.

We took the first flight out of London and it's a rather long flight so we landed around half past ten. We made our way to our hotel through a network of buses. We couldn't check-in immediately so we thought we can take some time to get there and get a view of the place. As you can imagine most of it was barren lands and construction of new resorts (or abandoned?). But we loved our hotel/resort the moment we saw it.   A lovely large room and a little balcony with two sun beds and a beautiful view. Like this one.

The resort was beautiful, the rooms big and the service immaculate. We were welcomed warmly and the reception was always there to help. That's Vincci Plantacion del Sur for you, in case you have come here looking for a recommendation.

After settling down and a long bath, we went looking for some lunch. We couldn't really find any restaurants anywhere until we realised they are all hidden inside these resorts. We had some lunch at another fancy resort sitting next to the pool where a lot of people were swimming but really making no noise, like they were almost just floating and drifting slowly. It felt like the world just slowed down. We decided to go to the beach, just lie down on the sand with our kindles.
The island is very hilly so it's actually a little tiring to walk around too much. May be that's why most people rent cars. We went to a nice restaurant for dinner which has a beautiful view with the sea and the setting sun. Food was not that great, may be because it's an Italian restaurant on a Spanish island. To be honest, the lunch wasn't remarkable either. I'll tell you when it is.

The next day too we actually did nothing. We just walked around, lay by the pool, went to a spa circuit with a jacuzzi and a sauna. You have understand, it is important for me to mention we did nothing. K and I are not used to doing nothing. We hadn't planned at all for the trip apart from booking flights and hotel and buying some summer clothes. We did go out for dinner to summer Asian place, only because trip advisor said it was good. It just about al right. I'm not really good at reviewing restaurants, am I?

On Saturday we were determined to do something at least. Turns out you need to book in advance so we couldn't go to the mountain top of Mt Teide, which is a highly recommended thing to do. Since we missed out let me tell you. There is a cable car that takes you to the top. There is a tour that helps you hike halfway to the top and then star gaze. There is another service that let's to hike halfway to the top, star gaze and then take a night trip on the cable car.  And we missed all of that.
Next, we tried to hire a moped and drive around the island, which is a also a highly recommended thing to do generally in a car. But our Indian licences don't get us vehicles for hire apparently. 

Luckily, we saw a leaflet on electric bikes that we missed out on in Windermere two weeks earlier and we hired them. Must say, the best discovery of the year! I would recommend this more than any other powered vehicle. They are almost like scooters but not really. The silver lining is that you can't take a moped on the promenade at the beach but you can take electric bikes. So we cycled along the beach to see views like this.

And had lunch in Playa de la Americas which was a Spanish tapas lunch at one of those little shacks overlooking the sea - calamari, sangria that kind of a thing. After coming back to the room tired (well not really because the motor did all the up hills for us), we spent an hour at the jacuzzi, this time in the one under the sun with the pools and the sea in front of us and the resort and the mountains behind us - a holiday like it should be. Later we had dinner at a Spanish tapas place at the resort. The food was really good as tapas tends to be. We ordered some chicken wings, prawns, a mini burger and three fruit juice shots. Portions were very filling. I ordered some strongly minty to drink that felt like I was having undiluted pudeen hara so that was left unfinished. For dessert we had crème brulé which turned out to be three types of them one of which had coffee in it. It was amazing and a lot even for two people. See I do mention the food when it counts.

The next day, after a long breakfast by the pool, we checked out of the hotel and headed towards Submarine Safari, the only thing we managed to find tickets for. It was the cutest submarine painted yellow and looked like a toy, like this

If you can't scuba dive yourself, this is the next decent thing. You can go down in a submarine and watch a scuba diver attract an angel ray. It was truly an unbelievable experience. May be next time I must do something about this scuba diving.
After the submarine experience, we still had some time left on our hands before we needed to be at the airport. So we went to a beach closer to the airport called El Medano. We ate some more authentic Spanish food at one of those beach shacks (which invariably have really good food) and then just lay on the beach pretending like we never have to leave. But then we took a cab a little too soon may be to catch our flight, well not too soon, but then you don't want to leave the sun and the sea of 25 degrees to return to the darkness and the rain of 10 degrees.



Thursday, April 16, 2015

Feminism is in Vogue

Yes, feminism is in vogue. It's the talk of the town and the hottest topic these days. That's a good thing of course. The more you talk about it, the more awareness you raise and the more people strive for women empowerment.
A women's magazine would generally cater to women, but all women are not alike and hence, they tend to concentrate on the most reachable section of the population. While I have no doubt that all kinds of women read all likes of magazines and watch all kinds of TV shows, I'm going to make some generalisations which I'm sure many of you would scream and shout saying I'm stereotyping. Well guess what, stereotypes exist because statistics say so and as long as I'm not stereotyping a single person, I think I'm alright. I digress. Women's magazines, I don't think have many working women as their readers. Working women may read them, but not fully or not with the same vigour as stay at home women or young teenagers do, only because they have less time than the latter two groups. So what magazines would like to do is connect with the those that read their product most.
As unfortunate as it may be, it is hard for a woman of 40 who has stayed at home all her life apart from schooling, to say I want to start a boutique or I want to go back to college or I will not cook for a month or I will walk away from this marriage. That is something we need to change. But a women's magazine (or a TV soap), which is the most uniquely positioned to change this point of view, also needs to make money and cannot expect a woman to stay loyal to the product if it constantly preaches to them especially if it ends up highlighting their helplessness rather than empowering them.
Easiest way to keep loyalty is to connect with them. Yes, feminism and women empowerment are in vogue these days. Everyone is taking about it. And if you aren't, you are left behind. But you can't really empower these women because that means a lot of work and sacrifice advertising revenues from certain products like fairness creams. But you still need to talk about it. So you do, you tell your readers that they are empowered. Make your choices, whatever it may be. And include all the phrases taken out of the agony aunt section because those are real problems real women have and you are telling them you connect with their problems. (It's surprising how many of the agony aunt questions hover around sexual issues and relationship issues like infidelity).
And that is what Vogue India did with their Vogue Empower campaign.
They are capitalising on Indian women's need to empowered without having to really sacrifice their revenues.  So that's why it ends up sounding hollow and like a teenagers rebellious statements.
Deepika Padukone is just an actor who is getting paid to do the ad. Personally, she may be glad in doing her part and happy to be doing this than endorsing some slimming cereal, but she will not sacrifice her other endorsements and livelihood.
But at the end of the day, she is acting for Vogue and not making any of those statements herself. As a child I firmly believed that Tendulkar drank Boost everyday. But now that I have grown up, I know Amitabh Bachchan probably never ate Dabur Chyawanprash or certainly none of the popular heroines use Lux soap. While I have long debated that the actors may act in commercials but one should not be allowed to appear as oneself and endorse a brand that one does not use, that's not the way the law is. So if you don't expect Deepika to use Liril, you can't hold the Vogue ad as her own statements. (Unless she actually says so herself)
In spite of all this, I'm glad Vogue has this campaign. They didn't get it perfectly right. But it's better than a bunch of stylish super-thin models with unaffordable handbags walking around. We as a society are trying to change, so is Vogue. And I'm glad for that. Let's applaud the effort rather than criticise the result. More importantly they are getting better. Let's start with the boys, as Madhuri Dixit says (as an actor for Vogue India)!
PS: I don't think it would have made so much news if it didn't have the statement about infidelity. If the film maker thought any publicity is good publicity, it's ingenious.

Wednesday, April 01, 2015

Shakespeare

Today I start a new label - The Stage.
I remember reading Merchant of Venice and many abridged versions of many Shakespearean plays many years ago, Hamlet included. (I'm writing this in a cab and I looked through my window when a pub named The Shakespeare passed me by. Talk about signs.) You see, I never really liked Shakespeare. Love is supposed to be unconditional and selfless according to Bollywood. Shakespearean love is selfish and destructive.
When K made plans to watch one of my favourite actors as Othello, I refused to join in because my dislike for Shakespeare overshadowed how much I like Adrian Lester. Then.
Now. I regret missing that performance. Not only did I miss watching him as Othello, I also missed Rory Kienner's award winning performance as Iago. And, I also regret missing Shakespeare's Othello.
Haider is the reason.

Haider is extraordinary. There is another blogpost describing how extraordinary it is. But for now, this statement suffices. Haider is a remake of Hamlet and when I realised it's extraordinary, I also realised it was because of the length and breadth of the play itself that gives its directors and actors the opportunity to expand and display their multitude of skills in performing arts.

And now I'm more than excited about Hamlet that I'm going to watch in September. Because now I like Shakespeare, especially Hamlet and I know I won't be disappointed because it's Benedict Cumberbatch who will pay Hamlet.

Irrespective of Haider and Shakespeare, I think I do need a new label for performing arts because K and I have a year's worth of plays.

Monday, March 30, 2015

Radiant Vermin

5/5 rating
Radiant Vermin | Soho Theatre

Unwavering performance. Period. There is no set. There are no props. There is just one light change. There is good story but not strong enough by itself. And there are but two actors. Actually, there are three actors but two of them holds it together for most of the play.
As I said, the story is good. It's a darkly funny story and full of surprising metaphors. Gill and Oliver, a young couple from the Generation Rent, find themselves with a free home when they never thought they might own a home. As it turns out the home needs no money for renovations, only the sacrifice of homeless people or 'renovators'. And as the locality is gentrified with the number of homeless people reducing and the net worth of the neighbours increasing, Gill and Oliver find guilt clawing at them but convince each other they are doing it for their children. Wouldn't you do the same for yours?
They couldn't have given a better metaphor for gentrification than the actual sacrifice of the homeless which gets more 'humane' with more practice, who then transform into fairy sparkles that renovate the house and make it shine. I think that's where the title radiant vermin comes from. Miss D (the third actor) who gives the couple their home is the government that is seen as less bothered about the homeless or even the middle class but more worried about raising the value of property and accommodating the rich and she gets her dues of course, when the NeverEnough shopping centre opens up catering to the new neighbourhood. In the end, Miss D gives them another contract which requires double the work. You see, it's hard to be first-time buyers but it doesn't get any easier for second steppers or the third or the fourth.
Still, as I mentioned, while the story is really good it's not good enough to live it's own life. The actors made it work. And clearly if you had 90 mins of two people on stage, you need really good actors to pull that off. Gill and Oliver were both wonderful as actors. The epitome of their acting is  the well-timed and well executed scene of dual-monoacting (for lack of a better word) of Gill and Oliver as the three couples, their children and a single man in the neighbourhood,so that's 6 roles per actor (if I did my math right). Yes it starts out clearly but it starts getting confusing and that's how it's supposed to be as the light turns red, the actors change roles faster, they start mutters and spluttering their dialogues and the heat is turned up until Oliver has a nervous breakdown. 
Here I wish the play allowed for an audience pause for a burst of applause, unfortunately missed.
While all three of them are incredible actors, special mention must be given to Gill played by Gemma Whelan for her outstanding performance. I didn't realise she is the same actor who plays Yara Greyjoy in the TV series Game of Thrones until after the play. No wonder!

The play is not magnificent but it is really good, will make you laugh and is certainly worth 90 mins of a your time, especially if you a Generation Rent Londoner.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

3 winters

3/5 rating
3 Winters | National Theatre

K and I watched 3 Winters at Lyttleton before we watched Dara. But it just took me a long time to collect my thoughts on the unfamiliar. 
For most part, the set is just one living room, except shown across three winters, decades apart in Zagreb, Croatia. The play alternates between these three winters, one set in early communist era post the second world war when Rose takes possession of this house that the rest of the play is set in. She takes the house where her mother used to work as a maid and who was turned away with the then two year old Rose, to spite fate. The play then goes forward to when Croatia is in turmoil during the fall of the Soviet Union fighting for its independence then forward again to the privatisation of Croatia and the equality of all replaced with capitalism and it's exploitation.
The play alternates between these three winters and the same living room is altered every time to the detail to maintain the differences in the times. Old Caroline, the daughter of the original master of the house, keeps muttering that the house should stay within the family. And it does. Such love we have for property and how we build our securities and identities into it brick by brick.

I don't know much about Croatian history and I must accept it might have been more powerful to me if I did. But I do believe the play could have done better in terms of explaining the social and political situation. And something more innovative than the projection of chaotic colourful images on the stage with the set already on it. (Since the play already has a clear timeline on it's website, may be that could have been projected instead?) While I should have read up on Croatia before going to the play, it helps for the director to remember the play is set in Zagreb but not its audience.
The second winter is the one after the fall of the Berlin Wall in the churning Soviet Union, where Croatia is trying to find its identity and independence. Rose is long dead and her grandchildren continue living in the house even as some portions of the house have been given to others. Here is where to some extent I've lost the plot as to who they support or how that support breaks up marriages and if that is what the play was trying to convey.
Apart from the storyline being very subtle for a foreigner, the play was impeccable. Acting was amazing, my favourite being young Lucia, and the distinct transformation of young aloof Lucia into possessive adulthood as any young Croatian to uphold the identity of the country with such passion equalling that of her great grandmother's to own what is hers by right from the clutches of her oppresses was so brilliantly done. The struggle of Croatia through history unfolded beautifully in the generations of women from one family in one living room. Though, a couple of times I felt the alternating time line was a tad too confusing for the audience and a little unnecessary.

PS: while we watched 3 Winters, the entire set of Dara was lying to one side of the stage, hidden from view. And this living room was at the back of the stage when it was replaced with the Mughal courtyard of Dara.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Fireworks

5/5 rating
Fireworks | Soho Theatre

It's a Palestinian play adapted in English called Al'ab Nariya or The Fireworks by Dalia Taha.
Let me begin by saying that I was so shaken and overwhelmed that even after the play it took me a few minutes to find my bearings.
The stage was very small at Jerwood upstairs, and the audience was small too but every seat was taken and people squeezed in to accommodate more. That's one cosy setting. So when they showed us living rooms on stage it felt like were all inside the living rooms making the play that much more intense.
The play focuses on two families living in a building in a war struck Palestine. Not that they wanted war. They just happened to be living somewhere where war happened to break out and now they have blackout tape and bombs dropping everywhere. While all the neighbours are leaving because of the bombing, these families haven't yet.
Simple stories of simple families caught in the extraordinary. This heart warming story shows the children of the fiercely protective families and how they deal with the loss of loved ones. 
A mother mourns for her young boy, a casualty of war, that she neglects her daughter. A father who protects his girl by making her believe the bomb raids are fireworks in the sky. A mother who starts believing in God when she is helpless in protecting her family. A wife who fears for her family when her husband starts to yearn for revenge. A boy whose games turn progressively abusive growing up in an environment of violence.
They used a startling electric blow out to change scenes and the feeling you are left with is electrifying fear. It keeps you glued from the beginning to the end. Every time the scene changes you feel electrocuted with a chill in your spine.
Every single actor was brilliant, specifically the two mothers. The play is real and so real that it stays with you for a long time. And you know this was what theatre was meant to do.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Dara

3.5/5 rating
Dara | National Theatre



I'm very ignorant about history and that's something I've been trying to correct but the vastness of it all is a bit overwhelming. So when K and I booked tickets to a play called Dara, it was only because we found the marketing summary interesting - that Dara was one of Aurangzeb's older brothers and that it's a Pakistani play adapted in English for the NT. The only history we knew was that Aurangzeb imprisoned his father and killed his brothers to ascend to the throne. When I mentioned to my mother, who has a bachelor's in Indian history, that I was going to a play titled Dara, she told me he was a poet and a painter, and a patron of Islam art in the golden Mughal era. With the downfall of the Mughal empire not long after Aurangzeb, there were many discussions of an alternative history of the country had Dara become the ruler. So what I originally expected, a little known and well imagined rivalry between brothers was then altered by my mother's input into a rivalry of lifestyles - Aurangzeb with his rigidity and shunning of luxury and Dara with his love for poetry and music.
I must say, I was a little disappointed. Yes, it was a clash of lifestyles but not a very new one. I had imagined they would portray Dara as a man who loved beauty and poetry. But he was shown as a fakir stuck in a warrior's role who has been commanded to kill, an act he finds despicable. Even so he was his father's chosen heir (as was the case with the Mughals where the king chooses his heir who is not necessarily his eldest son). He was benevolent, open to religious ideologies and understands that all religions are different means to the same end. He appreciates art as a part of culture. His poetry is mostly philosophical. Aurangzeb of course was the exact opposite. He was blinded by his faith and comforted by his righteousness.
Many smaller plots, like a fakir's predictions of Aurangzeb's betrayal of the family, the sisters Jahanara and Roshanara taking sides, added fuel to the rivalry. Brothers so different and so self-righteous each in his own way would eventually grow to hate the other. But that did not develop much in the plot. In fact, Dara and Aurangzeb barely shared the stage together. Most of the clash was depicted as the trail of Dara's religious allegiance in a court room scene - the easiest  form of ideological clash is any theatre play. And even then, Aurangzeb hid from Dara's view.
Much of the argument is valid today. I can see why it is compelling and very contemporary even though it's a few centuries old. But haven't we heard the argument a few too many times?
The play also shows us that Aurangzeb doesn't understand another perspective except his own. He is shown to repent in his old age, but only for the murders of his own blood and the corruption in the system that he once perpetrated for power. He does not show remorse of his religious intolerance.
May be I'm missing something, a context, like where and when and how it was originally written. But for me it showed the futilely of the argument rather than raise awareness of it.
I dwell too much on the plot.
The sets and production were incredibility detailed and the simplicity of the use of stage was astonishingly beautiful. A regal marble Mughal palace was turned into a court, a fakir's poor patio and many more, all by the gentle movements of intricately carved metal dividers. Dara was fabulous in his role with a strong voice and an imposing personality. Aurangzeb blended beautifully into his role of a mild mannered yet ruthless emperor. Roshanara's character was a bit odd, with her emotions less subtle than the rest - childish I thought but I also thought it was much like Lakshmi in Behind the Beautiful Forevers, and then I find it's the same actor. It was nice to spot a few more in the cast from the earlier play including, Emperor Shah Jahan.
It's a strong play supported by a composed production and I would definitely recommend it. Only, it's not extraordinary.