Sunday, January 19, 2014

Book Review: Legacy - Letters from eminent parents to their daughters by Sudha Menon

This is one of the most unique books I have ever read. Why? Because it is a compilation of letters written by eminent [read: businessmen & industrialists primarily] parents to their daughters. The book was released in 2013; at an opportune time perhaps for India which is currently grappling with how to protect its daughters. And it is fascinating to realize that, in this day and age of e-mails and watsapp messages, these individuals have actually taken time out of their busy schedule to write these letters.

The book's blurb reads: "They say a daughter may outgrow your lap, but she will never outgrow your heart. In Legacy, noted journalist and author Sudha Menon brings forth a rare collection of personal and evocative letters from parents to their daughters. Through their fearless approach to life, love, and overcoming obstacles, these icons from the world of business, arts, films, food, and sports share with us their experience and wisdom as they pass them on to their daughters. Deeply moving and thought provoking, Legacy is a remarkable collection of life lessons that will delight and inspire at the same time."

The book features letters written by 18 persons - Ajay Piramal, Amit Chandra, Capt. Gopinath, Chanda Kochhar, Deep Anand, Ganesh Natarajan, Jatin Das, Kishore Biyani, K.V. Kamath, Mallika Sarabhai, Narayana Murthy, Pradeep Bhargava, Prakash Padukone, P.P. Chhabria, Renuka Ramnath, Sanjeev Kapoor, Shaheen Mistri and Zia Mody.

Most of the letters have common themes running through them - the virtues of following certain values such as compassion and gratitude, the belief in a higher force, the willingness to give back to society and to live one's life only by one's passion.

I enjoyed reading the letters written by the mothers more, maybe because they did not expect their daughters to take a backseat in their careers for the sake of the family or to sacrifice for the family. That was the most disappointing part for me. These men who are leaders in their individual capacities and head such big organizations have such limited and traditional thinking even in these times! And if they expect their daughters to take a backseat, how can we ever expect them to be empathetic to the problems of women employees in their companies?

Sample Ajay Piramal's advice to his daughter Nandini: "But let me caution you that if a marriage has to succeed, you will have to sacrifice more than your husband." K.V. Kamath's letter is confusing. At one place he says, "Often in the world, women who are homemakers are not given the same place in society that a working woman is given." At another, however, "Your mother has a strong mind of her own but she has chosen to take on a supportive role in our family." Narayana Murthy tells his daughter: "The world admires a woman who brings a sense of balance to all the three responsibilities - being a loving wife, a caring mother and a competent career woman."

In contrast, the letters written by Renuka and Zia stood out. Renuka tells her daughter Ramya that it is important for her not to forget and give up her identity and to never stop living short of her own full potential. Zia exhorts her three daughters to live their lives with dignity and self-respect; she also highlights why it is important for women to have careers of their own - both to fulfill their intellectual needs and to keep them financially independent.

Almost all these leaders have had humble beginnings which led them to appreciate the value of hard work and money. Most of them are grateful to their parents for imbibing in them values and traits which have helped them become what they are today.

The book also has interesting little tidbits which are revealed through the individual letters. For instance, when Renuka joined VJTI in 1978, she was only the 4th girl in the institute's 99-year-old history. Nandita Das' father Jatin owns over 6,500 pankhas (fans) and is on the way to setting up a dedicated fan museum in Delhi.

The unseen and candid photographs of some of the parents with their daughters at the end of the book is a nice touch.

Trivia: Of the 25 daughters referred to in the book, the names of 13 (50%) being with 'A' :)

I enjoyed reading the book because it gave me a deeper understanding of the background of each individual and made me appreciate them more. Often what we read in the media is only the surface; through this book, Sudha has been able to scratch beneath the surface. There were so many things which I did not know about most of the parents; these came out in the letters they wrote.

Maybe, Sudha could have ended with a letter to her daughter Nayantara :) And, I hope, she's planning Part II because I already have a wishlist of people whom I want to see writing to their daughters - Anand Mahindra, Adi Godrej, Manmohan Shetty, Shiv Nadar, Nandan Nilekani, Gulzar, Amitabh Bachchan, Aditya Puri, Anu Aga, Pritish Nandy, Mukesh Ambani, Kumar Mangalam Birla - to name a few!!!

Go read Legacy - it is one of those books which will give you a glimpse into the personal lives of these leaders in their own words - what drives them on a daily basis and what are their hopes and aspirations for their daughters. It is a no-holds barred account for which Sudha must definitely be applauded.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Book Review: I Am Malala by Malala Yousafzai with Christina Lamb

This is a very unique book in the sense that most of its contents were already known to the world much before its publication. The protagonist and author of the book – Malala – was shot by the Taliban in Oct-2012. Barely a year later, Malala was speaking at the UN and was also nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize at the tender age of 16.

The book’s blurb reads: “I come from a country which was created at midnight. When I almost died it was just after midday. When the Taliban took control of the Swat Valley, one girl spoke out. Malala Yousafzai refused to be silenced and fought for her right to an education. On Tuesday 9 October 2012, she almost paid the ultimate price. Shot in the head at point-blank range while riding the bus home from school, she was not expected to survive. Instead, Malala’s miraculous recovery has taken her on an extraordinary journey from a remote valley in northern Pakistan to the halls of the United Nations in New York. At sixteen, she has become a global symbol of peaceful protest and the youngest ever nominee for the Nobel Peace Prize. I Am Malala is the remarkable tale of a family uprooted by global terrorism, of the fight for girls’ education, and of Malala parents’ fierce love for their daughter in a society that prizes sons. It will make you believe in the power of one person’s voice to inspire change in the world. ‘Who is Malala’? the gunman demanded. I am Malala and this is my story.”

The book is a very brave and uninhibited narrative of Malala’s fight for education and why she was targeted by the Taliban. In it, Malala paints a very vivid picture of the Swat Valley; its lakes and mountains; its lovely orchards. Though Pakistan has always been troubled by terrorism in one form or the other, the Swat Valley was largely peaceful.

She had a very normal life growing up like any other youngster. Malala reveals that she is fond of Justin Bieber and watching the Twilight movies with her friends. She likes reading books of Leo Tolstoy and Jane Austen. She loved going on school picnics and enjoying the delicious picnic lunch.

However, her routine life changed when the Taliban entered the valley. Malala takes us through a terrifying account of how slowly and gradually their life took a turn the worse. They could no longer go shopping at the bazaars as they used to; women could not be seen out in the open without a male relative accompanying them; sources of entertainment such as DVDs and TV channels were destroyed.

Amidst all this, Malala had always been a vocal and active supporter of girls’ education. She never missed a chance at any public forum to drive home the importance of educating girls and the folly of discontinuing the same. Naturally, this enraged the Taliban who had by then also started destroying schools.

The book has a very Anne Frank-like feel to it; Anne, too, was caught in the crossfire of war and had to discontinue her routine life. Throughout the book, Malala’s courage and sheer determination shine through. And credit should also be given to her parents – her dad who was the founder of several schools and a strong believer in girls’ education and her mother, who though uneducated herself, never barred Malala from going to school or speaking her mind.

After she was shot, while the whole world thought she would die, Malala fought back bravely at a hospital in UK, without her family [who joined her later] to recover fully. Once recovered, she continues to fight for the cause of education, this time, on a much larger and global scale.

What affected me the most while reading the book was Malala’s response to the whole thing. Once threatened, she could easily have been cowed down and decided to toe the line. She was, after all, a normal teenager like any of us. Nothing in her past suggested her future would turn out the way it did. But, she chose to retaliate; she chose to question and she chose to refuse. While doing so, she inspired millions around the world. While reminding us that she still is a teenager. Recuperating in the hospital, she thinks, on seeing Angelina Jolie’s message to her, how she must inform her friends about it.

Malala’s story is a story of courage; it is a story of hope; and it is a story of how the willpower of a single girl living in a remote village can have global and far-reaching consequences. Read the book to get inspired; read it to get depressed and saddened. But, above all, read it to realize how each one of us has an innate power to rebel against the evil forces. It is only when we decide to tap into that power that we can work wonders.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Book Review: Mohammed Rafi My Abba - A Memoir

My Abba has been written by one of Mohammed Rafi's daughter-in-law Yasmin Khalid Rafi [It has been translated from Hindi by Rupa Srikumar & A.K.Srikumar]

The book's blurb reads, "Famed music director Naushad Ali described Mohammed Rafi as India's new 'Tansen'. In a singing career spanning 35 years, Rafi came to be regarded by many as the greatest playback singer the Hindi film industry has ever known. Apart from Naushad, Rafi worked with all the well-known music directors of his time, including S D Burman, Shankar-Jaikishen, Laxmikant-Pyarelal and O P Nayyar. He became the 'voice' of most of the leading stars of the day including Dilip Kumar, Shammi Kapoor, Dharmendra, Dev Anand and Amitabh Bachchan. He also playbacked for superstar Rajesh Khanna ['Gun guna rahen hain bhanware khil rahi hai kali kali' and 'Baagon mein bahaar hai, kaliyon pe nikhaar hai' in the film Aradhana]. It was songs like these and countless others like 'O Duniya ke Rahwaley' [Baiju Bawra], 'Yeh Zindagi ke Meley' [Mela], 'Naseeb Dar pe Tere Azmaney Aaya Hoon' [Deedar] and 'Shabaab pe mein zara si sharab phekoonga' [Amar Akbar Anthony], that have made Mohammed Rafi live on in the hearts of millions long after he passed away in 1980.

Yasmin Rafi grew up as a devoted fan of Mohammed Rafi, little knowing that she would one day meet and marry his son, Khalid. This transition from 'fan to family' as she puts it, led to this heartwarming memoir of an artiste who was an icon for the world, but for his family, a simple, caring and loving man who delighted as much in good food, flying kites with his children, and driving his parrot-green Fiat through the streets of Mumbai, as he did in the numerous awards that came his way, including six Filmfare awards and the Padma Shri in 1967."

Among the several memoirs to Rafi, this one is quite delightful coming as it does from a close family member. Yasmin was not just Rafi's daughter-in-law; she was his ardent fan much before that. And, thus the book captures lots of tidbits about the famous singer including his large heartedness and his willingness to enjoy the pleasures life had to offer.

The book takes us through Rafi's journey from his birthplace in Amritsar, Punjab to the Hindi film industry and how he came to be one of the most revered and respected playback singers. While Kishore Kumar was known to sing light & cheerful songs, Rafi usually sang melancholic numbers with amazing intensity. That is not to say, he didn't sing happy songs; in fact, 'Yeh ladkaa hai Allah kaisa hai deewana' from Hum Kissi Se Kam Nahin was a duet he sang with Asha Bhosle.

His friendship with music director O P Nayyar has been discussed in great detail in the book. Rafi sang some of his most memorable songs under O P Nayyar's baton including movies such as CID, Tumsa Nahin Dekha and Taxi Driver.

The book also has some never before seen pictures of Rafi with friends and family including one with all his grand-children and one with Mohammed Ali. Since the book is written by his daughter-in-law, it is written in a matter-of-fact and almost conversational style.

I enjoyed reading about one of Bollywood's most loved but sometimes under-rated playback singer. Among my favourite Rafi songs are 'Kya Hua Tera Wada' from Hum Kissi Se Kam Nahin for which he won both the Filmfare & National Award in 1977 and 'Dard-e-dil Dard-e-jigar' from Karz.

Read the book to know more about Rafi - the man behind the singer - who unfortunately died quite young when he passed away of a heart attack in 1980.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

5 Off-Beat Hindi Films that are a must watch

Having been born and brought up in Mumbai, the home of Bollywood, I am a huge movie buff. Bollywood is one of the largest centres of film production in the world; it churns out almost 1,000 movies per year on an average. It’s no surprise then that along with the ‘popular’ cinema, ‘off-beat’ or ‘parallel’ cinema has also grown in leaps and bounds. With the growth of the Internet and technological marvels, the audience too is demanding more from the movie industry in terms of scripts and performances.

My Top 5 Off-beat Hindi films, in no particular order, are detailed below. Watch them and you will not regret it. You might only feel sorry you did not catch them sooner!

Khosla Ka Ghosla [2006 – Director Dibakar Banerjee]

This movie was Dibakar Banerjee’s directorial debut and, other than Anupam Kher and Boman Irani, boasted of no other known stars. The movie was shot almost entirely in Delhi and made on a small budget. But the kind of impact it created blew everyone away, including me. The story was quite simple – a real estate agent usurps a plot of land belonging to a middle-class man and demands money in exchange of the plot. But the treatment Banerjee gave it made it an outstanding movie. The nuances of each of the characters in Kamal Khosla’s family, the marvellous portrayal by Boman Irani and the scheme hatched by the theatre guys to get the plot back – all these made the movie stand out.

In addition, there are the dialogues that have stayed with me long after the movie, including one of the most famous questions in the Hindi film industry ‘Tum broker ho ya party?’ Not surprisingly, the movie won the National Film Award for Best Feature Film in Hindi for 2006. Khosla Ka Ghosla is an education in itself in the real estate industry. And it is also an education in how the most creative ideas can fool even the most ‘intelligent’ person!

Joggers’ Park [2003 – Director Anant Balani]

This movie, released more than 10 years back, probably had a storyline which was a bit ahead of its times. A retired judge, played brilliantly by Victor Bannerjee, is attracted to and eventually falls in love with a young model who reciprocates his feelings. I loved the movie because one of its main characters was the lovely Joggers’ Park in Mumbai. And for the way the director handled the delicate relationship between the two protagonists. Nowhere did it come across as vulgar or insensitive. You empathised with the characters and wanted them to stay together happily ever after. The movie also had one of the finest ghazals by Jagjit Singh [Badi Nazuk Hai Ye Manzil’].

If Victor Bannerjee looked so handsome in this movie at his age, I can only imagine how handsome he must have been in his heydays! Joggers’ Park makes you think; it makes you question society’s norms of family needs vis-a-vis individual desires. Is sacrificing for the family always a good thing?

Honeymoon Travels Pvt. Ltd. [2007 – Director Reema Kagti]

This movie had one of the most stellar star casts of recent times including Abhay Deol, Shabaza Azmi, Ameesha Patel, Boman Irani, Arjun Rampal, Ranvir Shorey and one of my favourite actors Kay Kay Menon. It is one of those movies which you go watch without any expectations whatsoever but come out pleasantly surprised. Six couples are on their honeymoon and take a four-day bus journey to Goa. The movie tracks their experiences and lets us in on each of their stories. Despite there being so many characters, each of them has been nicely fleshed out. For instance, Kay Kay Menon stands out for his traditional views while Ameesha for her vivacious and extroverted nature.

There is also a bit of suspense at the end for the viewers. I enjoyed most of the songs in the movie especially Sajnaji where almost all the characters seem to have gone berserk while dancing. Honeymoon Travels Pvt. Ltd. portrays the fears and dreams of couples on a honeymoon quite accurately.

Main Meri Patni Aur Woh [2005 – Director Chandan Arora]

This has to be one of the most underrated off-beat films. I loved and enjoyed watching the movie for several reasons. Firstly, Rajpal Yadav plays his role of a short, middle-aged man who has insecurities about his height splendidly. Rituparna Sengupta as his tall, devoted wife is quite brilliant. And then the movie has Kay Kay Menon! Add to that, Mohit Chauhan’s superb rendition of ‘Guncha Koi’ and it was a sure-fire formula for me to like the movie.

It is shot in Lucknow, and we get a glimpse of daily life there – people riding the horse carriages on their way to work, the stately Lucknow University where Yadav works and the terraces where people gather to have a good time. Main Meri Patni Aur Woh is a feel-good movie which will make you believe in love. And the goodness of people.

Dor [2006 – Director Nagesh Kukunoor]

After the triple success of Hyderabad Blues, Rockford and Iqbal, I though Nagesh Kukunoor could not come out with a better movie. But he did. And how! The lead actors Gul Panag and Ayesha Takia carried this movie entirely on their shoulders. A stray incident in a foreign country links the two ladies living in Himachal Pradesh and Rajasthan respectively. How they meet and resolve the issue forms the crux of the movie. In addition to the mind-blowing performances, Kukunoor has also captured the landscapes quite well – contrasting the snow and the hills of the north with the barren flat lands of the desert.

Dor reinforces your belief in the power of good overcoming evil. And it does that without appearing preachy. It also informs you that sometimes, unfortunately, a woman is another woman’s worst enemy. I loved the movie for the acting and the sheer strength of the script. And for the motivational song ‘Yeh Honsla’.

What I loved about all the 5 movies is the fact that all of them have been shot locally, with small budgets and mostly 'non-stars'. They are no-frills, no-nonsense kind of movies which make you identify with its characters. Who, amongst us, does not fear the real estate mafia? Or question societal norms? We all do. We all have some idiosyncracies in us like the couples on a honeymoon. We all share Yadav's insecurities because we have some of our own.

In addition, all the movies have wonderful performances by the actors which has done justice to an amazing script. And each of the movies has a nice soundtrack which keeps playing in the background as you enjoy the movie.

This post is a part of the Miss Lovely Activity in association with BlogAdda.

Another off-beat film, Miss Lovely, directed by Ashim Ahluwalia is scheduled for commercial release on 17 January 2014. It is set in the lower depths of Bombay’s “C” grade film industry. It follows the devastating story of two brothers who produce sex horror films in the mid – 1980s. A sordid tale of betrayal and doomed love, the film dives into the lower depths of the Bollywood underground, an audacious cinema with baroque cinemascope compositions, lurid art direction, wild background soundtracks, and gut-wrenching melodrama.

You can check the trailer of the film here: