The Paying Guests [Book Review]

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Rating : 2/5

Have you ever felt helpless and hopeless about a book, yet still hopeful for a turnaround? Confused? Sarah Waters’ The Paying Guests falls into this category. I picked this book up because it was listed as one of the best fiction books ever. Really? This is the last I am ever going to trust a list. The back cover premise did sound interesting, I admit. It’s about a couple who move in as paying guests and their interaction with the house owners. Most importantly, this sentence, “a love story which is a crime story”, pulled my attention. Having read so many crime fiction over the years, I am at a stage to explore other genres, more like crime mixed with other genres? This seemed the perfect recipe. Was I wrong? Not entirely, but majorly.

Set in 1922, spinster Frances Wray lives with her mother and is solely responsible for managing and maintaining their massive house. With no certain income, they rent the upstairs rooms to a young couple- Lilian and Leonard. Frances is intrigued by the couples’ relationship. She gradually forms a growing interest in Lilian. They begin to spend a lot of time together, sharing intimate details of their life. Their relationship, which becomes more than just a friendship, draws rift between Lilian and Leonard. An argument among the three, consequently becoming physical, ending with Leonard’s death. Frances and Lilian covers it up, Frances doing most of the brain job. With the police arriving, do Frances and Lilian get away with murder? Or not?

The above might sound interesting, I would say very simple too. But this simple story rambles on for nearly 600 pages and that’s where I began to lose patience. I never warmed up to Frances and Lilian’s relationship, not that I am against these relationships. I somehow never got to like any of them, or felt sympathetic or empathetic towards them. I know, it’s not necessary for us to like the characters, yet, I feel it’s necessary. Confused again? This is a strange story. I feel strange writing this review, honestly. The pace of the story wasn’t bad. It smoothly shifted gears throughout. It must have been engaging enough, as I didn’t abandon it half way. But, I don’t know. I feel highly disappointed for some reason.

This book isn’t like the normal, fast-paced, racy crime story- I get that. This is more about characterization, the 1920s setting, the social problems then, etc. I quite enjoyed the beginning as well. It was written beautifully and took me in a journey. But after Frances and Lilian admit their feelings to each other, I felt it was going nowhere. The author took a good time to get to the crime story from the love story. I felt the narration became dull and there were too many thoughts description (like what one felt and thought) rather than some action. At the end, instead of feeling triumphant, I felt relieved that the book was over.

I understand writing such stories like these aren’t easy. To understand the year/age the story is set it, and to involve a love story between two females and how it was looked upon then and weaving them into a story is brave. I give that. I wish, the book was a little more shorter, perhaps?

If you like slow paced, character oriented, period story- this is the one to go for. Else, it’s not.

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Atypical (2017 – ) [Review]

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Rating: 4.5/5

Number of episodes: 8

Atypical is an innocent and endearing tale about Sam, an 18 year old boy who is on the autistic spectrum. During one of his sessions with his therapist, Sam divulges his wish to have a girlfriend and is extremely surprised when his young therapist encourages the idea. The first season of this beautiful light comedy follows Sam and his amazing methodical ways to acquire a girlfriend.

The best thing about this show is it doesn’t expect the audience to sympathize Sam and his condition but just to accept him for what he is. Sam is autistic but very intelligent. He is passionate about Penguins and Antarctica and can speak non-stop on the subject. He has problems socializing and is troubled with overly noise. Apart from this, he is normal. And yes, he is radically truthful.

The family is a normal middle class family. Sam’s dating mission sends his mother, Elsa into intense restlessness. Having always been the go to person in the family, Elsa feels used and left out when Sam and the rest begin to lead their life on their own not wanting her help, sending her into having her own affair. I loved how the show portrayed different dynamics in the relationships within the family.

Sam and his sister Casey are amazing. Casey is so protective of Sam and loves him to the extent of sacrificing her own goals. She knows the family revolves around Sam and his needs. Yet, there are times when she feels her wishes and dreams are compromised for him. This scenario was beautifully written and executed. Sam and his father have a very interesting relationship. Doug has always had troubles connecting to Sam. There is a visible distance. But when Sam embarks on his girlfriend mission, he turns to Doug for guidance which surprises and excites him. Wonderfully, he takes the situation seriously and really wishes Sam could succeed in his mission.

A must mention is Casey’s boyfriend, Evan. Somehow, Evan seemed to be the most matured guy both in his relationship with Casey and his understanding of Sam. Also, not to forget is Paige, Sam’s trial girlfriend. Her understanding and handling of Sam is marvelous, especially her idea of having a silent prom.

All said and done, Atypical works for the most part. The part it falters is in the handling of emotions in the scenes. Every time, I feel a void in the scene. Is it the writing or is it the actors, I am not sure. You don’t feel completely involved in the scenes. You enjoy them yet it is forgettable. The track of Elsa’s affair is boring and irritating. You don’t feel for Elsa and her needs. Equally irritating is Sam’s friend Zahid. It’s good that Sam is having good friends, but Zahid is extremely irritating and is forced to be funny.

Keir Gilchrist as Sam is amazing. He brings a lot of life to the character. Brigette as Casey is wonderful. The rest of the cast are good enough but not fantastic.

Atypical is a feel good show. It’s not perfect nevertheless there are loads of moments which you would thoroughly enjoy. It gives a different take on autism and at the end, it is very lovable.

Last Tango in Halifax (2012 – ) [Review]

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Rating: 5/5

The premise reads, “A romantic comedy between two 70- something widowed people”. For many, this would be enough to effortlessly overlook the show. But for many others, this would be enough to sit back and experience this intriguing story. I belong to the latter. The show boasts terrific actors like Derek Jacobi, Anne Reid, Nichola Walker and Sarah Lancashire and I have already enjoyed each one’s work except for Reid (I mean I haven’t seen her work before). This show is a breeze of fresh air. It presents the perfect balance between comedy, romance and sentiments. 

Attracted towards each other in their teens and unfortunately parted ways then, Alan Buttershaw and Celia Dawson, now in their 70s, find each other on social network and communicate after like 60 years. Their mutual attraction and silent love for each other hasn’t fizzled out. At the end of their first meeting, they decide to GET MARRIED! Haha. Now that’s the best possible way to begin the series. Season 1 follows Alan and Celia’s journey towards getting married. In a way, it’s after making the decision that they begin exploring and understanding each other. They get to know each other’s family. Oh yes! The scene where they inform their respective daughters of their wedding plans was so much entertaining. But it’s just not all about their innocent bubbling romance, it’s about the life they have led, a struggling life, and how they really wish to enjoying their remaining life to the fullest, especially when life is so unpredictable. The entire sequence where Alan and Celia get locked up in a Cathedral/Hall beautifully shows the ease between them and the comfort they seek in each other. Their family is skeptical and so should they be. But is it concern for their parents’ future or is it their own future they are worrying about? I felt they were probably jealous of their parents having found true love while they were struggling with relationships. 

Season 1 also traces the lives of the daughters of the elderly couple. Alan’s daughter Gillian (Walker) runs a farm and works temporarily at a retail store. She has a teenage son. A suspense track runs throughout the first two or may be even three seasons over Gillian’s husband’s death. The writer very interestingly gives us bits and pieces of information in every episode and we know that it’s not the end of the story. As a character, I felt Gillian lives with an inferiority complex. Her tendency to have casual flings doesn’t help her personality. When she meets Caroline (Lancashire), she feels lower to her. Caroline, with a PhD in Chemistry, is the headmistress of a school. She is a confident and bold woman, many a times arrogant. A mother of two teenage sons, she is at the verge of divorcing her husband after she found him having an affair. During this situation is when she realized her inner feelings, of her being a lesbian. Both the daughters are plagued with their own problems which seeps into Alan and Celia’s relationship, even nearly breaking it at the end of season 1. It was really interesting and realistic to see both Alan and Celia wanting each other but unable to leave behind their family. 

Season 2 is a marvelous set. Primarily, it’s all about Alan and Celia’s wedding. They have two weddings which is an added treat. We have Gillian having an on and off relationship with her husband’s brother Robbie. Personally, I never really liked Gillian’s love track. According to me, she isn’t trustworthy. Caroline begins a serious relationship with her colleague, Kate, and sees its ups and downs. Season 2 for me is full of life. Just looking at Alan and Celia so excited to begin their life together gives so much positive energy. We could also get to see more on their personalities. Alan is calmer and softer while Celia is more straight forward. Alan tends to look from everyone’s perspective which Celia takes time at. Alan is more a country man while Celia is purely a city woman. They tend to balance each other, but at times there is friction too. In totality, they are such an adorable couple, admired by everyone. Caroline warms up to Alan easily but Gillian takes her time. The grandchildren are all too good. 

There are two scenes which you just can’t stop watching it again and again. Alan and Celia jiving in Season 1. OH MY GOD! Both of them matching each others steps and that sheer energy! Wonderful! The second is Alan singing for Celia at their wedding reception and Celia’s expression of surprise! Wow! 

Now, this is the part which is going to be difficult to write. As much as I absolutely marveled at the first two seasons, from season 3 I could see the show struggle. I would say, it was because the makers couldn’t answer, “What next for Alan and Celia?”. Last Tango is predominantly Alan and Celia’s life. That took the backseat from Season 3. Not knowing what track to write for them, the season had the most outrageous track of Alan having had an affair some 30 years ago, and a son out of it. One of the main reasons Celia adored Alan is for his integrity. Her own late husband had multiple affairs, the reason for her life’s suffering. A track to compare her husband and Alan on the same factor was stupid. It destroyed Alan’s character completely and the beauty of their relationship. The makers could have ended the show with season 2 as the basic story was a finite one- Alan and Celia’s wedding. This season also focused on Caroline and Kate’s wedding and Gillian and Robbie’s wedding. I don’t want to say much more on this season. It was a complete disappointment and I just wish to forget how Alan’s character was butchered in this season. 

Season 4 had just two episodes as Christmas Specials. It had Celia exploring her acting skills which was rather funny and entertaining. The rest was the same as all the other seasons. 

As much I love the interesting personalities of Gillian and Caroline, their own strange friendship where they confide their personal secrets yet don’t like each other, somewhere it slowed down the narration. They never really had a solid story. It was the same story going back and forth throughout the seasons. John, Caroline’s husband has to be one of the most irritating characters. I felt there was absolutely no growth or redemption which was sad. I would have loved tracks between the grandchildren and Alan-Celia. 

One question which kept nagging my mind: How come Alan doesn’t know his best friend Harry’s own granddaughter? Won’t reveal much about the track. 

The main cast is so powerful you can’t take your eyes off them. It’s like a competition which everyone is winning. The locations are eye pleasing. The background music is so full of soul. 

Last Tango is a must watch- the first two seasons especially. It’s such a feel good show, something which is missing nowadays. It’s a great opportunity to watch stalwarts like Derek Jacobi and Anne Reid in an ordinary family drama instead of lavish period drama. This show without doubt will bring a huge smile on your face. Regardless of my disappointment with the last seasons, I still go with a 5/5 as the show’s first two seasons are a masterpiece. 

 

Soppana Vazhvil (Play Review)

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Rating: 4/5

Seeing a live performance is one of a kind experience. You get to see the actors on stage, performing their roles that very instant, reciting their lines with no retakes, emoting their expressions with no editing. You get to see the collective work of the entire team right before your eyes- the background music in-charge meticulously changing the tunes according to the scenes, the costume in-charge on his toes getting his actors ready for the next act, the stage manager making sure the right set is visible on stage for the viewers, and loads of others who work in tandem to get the play on stage perfectly right. I had the pleasure of seeing Y Gee Mahendran’s Kaasethan Kadavulada for my first theatre viewing. I was so impressed with the entire notion of theatre and drama that I had no qualms in making my presence for the 100th show of this endearing tale, Soppana Vazhvil. Hearty congratulations to the entire team on this impressive feat.

Soppana Vazhvil follows the life of Ganesan (YGeeM), a simpleton. His wife Meera (Yuvasri) is highly annoyed and worried that her loving husband is the target of fun and mockery in the society. She tries making her husband understand, but Ganesan is happy with the way he is. He realizes he isn’t normal, but is helpless. He seeks peace in his wife’s love. An unfortunate accident, a hit on the head enables Ganesan to acquire special powers to dream the future. Simpleton Ganesan is replaced with Future Reader Ganesan. Ganesan resorts to help the police using this power but a meeting with a weird lady from France puts wicked ideas in his mind. He decides to misuse his power to seek revenge on the people who made horrible fun of him. Does Ganesan succeed in his new cunning plan or does he get caught? Will the old simpleton Ganesan ever rise back?

The beauty of this play is its simplicity. It’s a simple story with no conniving plots or twists. Every scene is written with a purpose either to move the story forward or project Ganesan’s thought process establishing his character. I felt the end mission of this play is to drive few messages forward. Don’t resort to revengeful acts. Don’t make fun of people with physical or mental disabilities. I can confidently say that the troop successfully accomplished this mission and very effectively as well. There was a lot of emotion in the narration. You can feel for Ganesan. You feel he is one of our own and feel the need to protect him. You feel proud on his victories. You feel sad on his failures. This, I accredit as success to the actor and the writer. This play belongs to the marvelous Y Gee Mahendran. He shouldered the entire play wonderfully. Gopu Babu, the writer, beautifully puts together all emotions required for a perfect entertainer. Great job!

If you may have noticed, even though I say the play was a perfect entertainer, I still have given only 4 on 5. That’s because the show was near perfect, but fell short on certain factors. The humor quotient! References to Big Boss- was a clever move. Big Boss is what is on everyone’s mind now. But it had nothing to do with the play, hence it didn’t fit well. Same goes to political jabs which I felt was completely unnecessary. I wish, the play, the characters and the situations were more comical. Also- one of the main scenes of the show is Ganesan’s meeting with the lady from France which I felt fell completely flat. Ganesan’s motive for revenge was never properly established. To add more, I felt the supporting cast was completely wasted. Yes. This play belongs completely YGeeM, still I wished to see more from the supporting cast. Ganesan decides not to use his powers at the end. Isn’t he restraining himself from helping the public from troubles then? A slightly better ending may be?

Coming to the performances. I have already said a lot about Y Gee Mahendran’s magnificent performance, a special mention to his monologue at the end. Yuvasri was fantastic so were the rest of the cast.

A round of applause for the crew- Music, Costumes, Lights and the Set. It wasn’t extravagant but suited the play very well.

Soppana Vazhvil is a wonderful family entertainer with a beautiful message. Powerful performance from Y Gee Mahendran is all that is needed to watch this excellent play.

Sarabhai Vs Sarabhai (Take 2) [Review]

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Rating: 1/5

I feel immense distress in writing this review. I did my best to postpone reviewing this show, even skip reviewing it. I was in denial to be honest. How can one of the best written comedy shows in the history of Indian Television come up with such a poor script and structure! I remember being on cloud nine when the season 2 of Sarabhai was announced, especially with almost every show currently on Indian TV being either disgusting or bizarre. Hatsoff Productions have always given us magnificent shows in the past with the likes of Khichdi and Baa Bahoo aur Baby. Not to forget the first season of Sarabhai itself. I believed there was no way the writers would mess with the cult status of this show. But I was proved terribly wrong.

Almost everything about Sarabhai Take 2 is wrong. Season 1 worked extremely well for several reasons- Maya’s high class attitude, Monisha’s middle class antics and Rosesh’s weirdly entertaining poems.  These three factors were given in balanced proportions which paved way for the huge success of the show. Take 2 completely messed with this balance. We had an overdose of Rosesh for one. Every scene of his had a poem which seemed to have been written in such haste without any thought. Jasmine, Rosesh’s girlfriend, has to be one of the most irritating characters written by the Hatsoff writers ever. In the beginning, she did seem entertaining with her funny English and giving a strong fight against Maya. But later, it became too much to bear. The simplicity and innocence of Season 1 was a complete miss in Take 2. The story line was never funny. Maya Vs Monisha didn’t have the earlier charisma. Maya was so preoccupied with Jasmine that Maya Vs Monisha took a back seat. Indravadhan was wasted. I missed his one-liners. Sahil looked helpless. His character seemed so different. I couldn’t see the purpose behind including Arnab in the family. He didn’t make any difference to the story line. Only Dushyant and Fufaji were enjoyable.

One of the major success factors of Sarabhai was its situational comedy, clean comedy. Take 2 boasted itself to be clean comedy but took high liberty in using double meaning lines especially from Jasmine. The show being a web series, there is no issue of scrutiny by censor board, yet, these jokes damages the image of Sarabhai. It’s painful to see the wonderful characters reduced to such jokes when they are capable of much more.

Another con for Take 2 is it’s continuous story line instead of it being episodic. I give it. It was an experiment but it didn’t work. I loved the apartments in season 1. The apartments in Take 2 didn’t feel like home. I know it is unfair to compare but it is also inevitable. I felt the show tried very hard to be modern, to be contemporary which was unnecessary in my point of view. They could have stuck to normal family incidents.

The actors were in form, no questions there. They performed their best sticking to their characters. I wish they had a better script.

Having said all the above, when compared to all the awful shows on TV, Sarabhai Take 2 is still watchable. It’s different. It’s online. And there is no meaningless melodrama. It falters badly only when compared to its legacy.

I hope the team learns from their mistakes and give us a better show the next time.

 

In the Name of God [Book Review]

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Rating: 4/5

Year: 2017

It’s really difficult to find a good Indian thriller. From the experience of having read quite a few number of Indian books in this crime/thriller genre, I find it safe to say that it is heavily clouted by Television/films. The characters and the plots are too filmy and the central character is undoubtedly highly heroic. The story is as always taken for granted and loads of loopholes are left unattended. Breaking the above norms, author Ravi Subramanian has given the readers brilliant thrillers, set in India, with the plot, characters and background as authentic as possible. It is a shame that I have read only one work of his previous, The Bankster, but I remember enjoying it thoroughly, even surprised that an Indian author has been able to come up with such a good crime thriller.

In the Name of God is predominantly set in the backgrounds of Kerala, specifically the very popular, and if I may add, and the very rich Anantha Padmanabha Swamy temple. The central idea behind the book, with respect to the narration, is having various storylines running in tandem and connecting them at the end. Hence, first, the story begins in Dubai, where the jewellery shop at the Wafi Mall is attacked by a bunch of thieves, one of whom leaves behind a clue which sets the ball rolling from Dubai to India. Kabir Khan, CBI is invested with this case. Simultaneously, we have a bomb blast in Mumbai at Zaveri Bazaar, the acute center for all the top rated jewel designers. Nirav Choksi, a leading designer, leads the jewelers in the protest against moving to another building. At Kerala, Rajan wants the State to take control over the Anantha Padmanabha Swamy temple, seizing the powers from the current King and controller, Dharmaraja Varma. Rajan believes hidden malpractices are in motion, and lodges a case in the court, which he subsequently wins, but also which leads to a huge lot of chaos and riots from the King’s supporters. The court orders an audit team led by Vikram Rai to open the vaults and calculate the value of the treasures in it. When Rajan’s friend, Kannan is found murdered in the temple premises, Kabir Khan is presented with the case. All the above happenings are connected in some way. How?

Every case is written with extreme conviction that it’s very difficult to pick which one of them was the best. Of course, my point goes to the Padmanabha Swamy Temple Vault case since a lot of historical references are involved. The narration is very racy. The chapters are short, sometimes too short, but it jumped between cases and places at ease and clarity. The investigation process, how so many organisations are involved, how contacts are useful, how political pressure brakes the progress of the case, how religion seeps anywhere and everywhere- the author brilliantly yarns all the social factors into this story. The dilemma between truth and belief is subtly portrayed differently for different characters. The bringing together at the end was very nicely done, all stories covered and ended.

There were way too many characters, not to my liking honestly. Kabir Khan was exceptional. His passion for his work and his intelligence during the case investigation was very entertaining. I loved Krishnan. He represented most of the top ranking police officials. Bound by pressure from the top, helplessness over being unable take necessary steps for the case, adding to it his own personal life troubles. The rest of the characters had their own contributions to the story, no character was wasted.

The book works for most part of it. There wasn’t anything that nearly sabotaged the story. But there were certain things which I felt pulled the book back from being perfect. For one, I wasn’t really keen on having very short chapters. Even though it helped in having the story in fast forward mode, it contained me from involving myself into the story, like I didn’t really have the time to delve into the writer’s world. Way too many subplots, perhaps? Loads of clues open gates for several storylines and it becomes difficult to keep track of everything. For eg: Who opened Kannan’s Swiss account? The Madurai smuggling? Suthamalli theft? These may not have any bearing to the actual story, but these gates were opened and left open at the end. I wish the story still stayed on the Temple Vaults case, rather than drifting away into something completely different. Also, I admit, I wasn’t greatly impressed with the climax. The timelines got way too complicated and repetitive. I expected it to be much more.  But that is just me.

As a whole, In the Name of God is a fantastic read. It combines history, art, smuggling, terrorism, police- everything into one story, and with amazing clarity.

Page-turner!

 

Faceless Killers [Book Review]

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Rating: 3.5/5

Year: 1991

For the success of any book, series or a movie, the key is the central character. If you like or get down to love the lead, you naturally garner interest in knowing what happens to his or her life. The central character of this Henning Mankell series, Wallander, is a troubled, drunkard and an ordinary police officer, and yet there is something about him which glues you to read the books. I watched the TV adaptation of this series with Kenneth Branagh playing Wallander, before I started reading the books. I was pretty impressed with the TV series as it was a complete contrast to the usual cop procedural. As I said before, the lead character is not a likeable one. Yet, there is a good dosage of realism in the character portrayals which forces you to accept the flaws of the characters.

An elderly couple is brutally murdered in their farm and Wallander is assigned the case. When a clue points that the suspect could be a foreigner and when this detail leaks out to the press, a racist war breaks out where refugees gets targeted leading to more killings. Wallander, a disturbed middle aged police officer, with a troubled personal life, tries meticulously to balance his personal and professional life, mostly failing when he succumbs to drinking. But with a very capable team behind him, he navigates through the obstacles to solve the cases.

A little more on Wallander as the series seems to be more about the man than the cases per se. He is very sincere when it comes to his work but has a very muddled thought process. He struggles to prioritize his work. His wife has applied for divorce, his daughter lives independently and away from him and his father suffers from dementia. Now that’s more than a difficult personal life. Perhaps, it is this that becomes problematic with the story after a while. There is too much self pity and self loathing which isn’t very impressive for a police officer. I don’t mean to say that a policeman cannot have his own problems, but it just seems too much. His professional conduct, like his cleanliness for example is highly questionable and cringe worthy if I might add. On TV, Kenneth Branagh performed the character really well that I didn’t really hate him, but on paper, the character isn’t definitely impressive for me to worry about him.

Having said that and coming back to the story, the two cases are really interesting and the way the police works with the other departments and plan their course of action is commendable. The racist attack case takes predominance after a point even though the double murder case seems more interesting and contains more scope for a powerful story. I was waiting to see how they tie up the horse connection but was left disappointed with the answer.

The book is a Swedish series. Hence the character names and locations are in Swedish which causes huge trouble in understanding. The author has described the locations so beautifully well that I could feel the chillness of the cold and the soggy rain.

I wish the author had made Wallander a little more likeable especially considering this book is the first one in the series. Yet, as a whole, I really liked the story telling and want to see how Wallander breaks away from his depression and leads a normal life, become a normal person.