Heartbreaking Universe

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Reviewing Fantastic Beasts: Secrets of Dumbledore today. The first little bit will be a spoiler free review, talking about the movie in general and then I will dive into a fully fledged spoiled review. I will definitely include a spoiler alert before I start talking plot points. Be warned, there is a high probability this will turn into a rant.

There are two ways to watch the movie. One is to watch it by itself, as a stand alone series and the second is to watch it in the context of the Harry Potter universe. If you are a fan of the Harry Potter series, grew up with it and are able to separate these movies – good for you! I am honestly jealous.

First things first, the Secrets of Dumbledore is better than Crimes of Grindelwald by a lot. This part of the review is spoiler-free and also more accurate if you are watching this movie without the context of the Harry Potter universe. It is an okay movie. The visual effects are amazing, all fight sequences are beautifully shot and it is a well paced movie. Mads Mikkelsen is great as Grindelwald – I may be biased here because I really like Mads Mikkelsen in villain roles. He was great as Hannibal. Honestly, those are the only positive things I can muster up about the movie.

I grew up reading Harry Potter and used to be a huge fan. It has gotten me through some really tough times, it taught me about inclusion and has been like a security blanket for me. It all came crashing down when the author came out as a TERF. In retrospect, I should have seen the signs but I guess I was just blind. It was a heartbreaking moment. It took a lot out of me to find a way to separate the books from the hatred. It isn’t easy because it would be one thing if the series had ended in a completely – however, JK seems adamant on dragging out the Harry Potter universe until its death. Constant tweets, retcon and video games keep it in the public eye. All these cash grabby techniques are annoying at the least. Anti-trans is now combined with anti-Semitism – the new game about defeating a ‘goblin rebellion’ is problematic in more ways than one.

The natural question here is, why did I go watch the movie? I was sort of forced to. Some friends really wanted to watch it and I couldn’t get out of it for different reasons. I am hoping this review can help you if you are curious but have no interest in watching the movie. As mentioned earlier, it is almost impossible to separate the Fantastic Beasts from the Harry Potter universe because of all the forced connections they keep making in the movies. I am also going to be very nitpicky – I used to be super fan. I was on a Harry Potter fan panel at comic con so yes, it might be a bit much, I might be taking this a bit seriously but whatever. A lot of my life is spent with fictional characters and they become important to me.

Spoiler Alert – Plot points and nitpicking begins here.

The movie starts with retcon’d relationship between Dumbledore and Grindelwald. On the one hand, I am glad they made their very non-platonic relationship obvious but it just felt like too little, too late. Lets get the little inconsistencies out of the way first, shall we –

  1. They use a Portkey to transport from point A but arrive via Floo powder in point B.
  2. There is a lot of magic performed out in public around muggles – is the American Statute of Secrecy different than the British?
  3. Some of the magic makes no sense: this one witch is able to magically change not just her clothes but also Jacob’s?
  4. Albus and Aberforth have way more of a relationship than we were led to believe in the original.
  5. WHY THE HELL IS MINERVA MCGONAGALL A TEACHER ALREADY?
  6. There is a fake Azkaban called Irkstarg or something – no information about it is given.
  7. Albus can create illusionary settings like in Inception – what?
  8. The Room of Requirements just appears without all of them imagining the same thing.
  9. Killing curse didn’t kill a beast entirely – it was still groaning…
  10. ABERFORTH HAS A SON (it is Credence, what the freaking hell!!)
  11. There is one leader for the entire magical world? Since when?
  12. Two movies were spent with Grindelwald manipulating Credence but in a matter of minutes, Credence’s loyalties are turned.
  13. What happened to Dumbledore’s flamboyance?
  14. There is a forced emotional scene between Aberforth and Credence and it ends with “Always” – come on!!
  15. Dumbledore’s and Grindelwald’s wands meet like in Harry Potter – there was a very specific reason for it.
  16. Jacob’s wand is fake – it is just a stick.

The worst of all is the main conflict in the movie is so ridiculously solved. The three movies were all about how Dumbledore can’t fight Grindelwald because of this ‘blood oath’ they had taken as lovers. If either of them tried to attack the other, the blood oath would kill them. But by the end of the movie the oath is just… broken. Without any consequences. Grindelwald aims his wand to kill Credence and at the same time Dumbledore aims his wand to protect Credence and their wands meet. There is a short scuffle and the oath just shatters. Apparently it is fate? What a let down!

However, the ‘scuffle’ was actually very well shot. I enjoyed the chemistry between them in that scene. Although, Grindelwald has the freaking elder wand so how is he unable to subdue Dumbledore? I can let this one go because Dumbledore is a very powerful wizard.

There were some funny moments, not laugh out loud but puff of air funny. There was one scene in particular that I really enjoyed. They need to make decoy suitcases to protect a certain beast. One is filled with pastries, another filled with the monster book of monsters and a third filled with bludgers. Once opened, they start replicating like the items in Bellatrix’s vault. This, I thought was super fun and cool.

I am being forced to include this in here by my partner. He insists this is the most unrealistic aspect of the movie. They travel to Bhutan in the third half of the movie. If you have been to Bhutan you would know that they believe penises are sacred/good luck – it represents a certain magical monk and also fertility. The walls in Bhutan are covered in penis art. There is an entire tradition revolving around this when someone buys a new house. There isn’t a single penis in the movie. I did try to tell him that they were in the ‘wizard’ part of Bhutan but he wasn’t convinced. He says people need to know.

Bottom line – there are two more movies and you really aren’t missing much. You could probably watch it when it is eventually released on OTT and on a lazy Saturday when you aren’t in the mood to do anything.

Have you seen the movie? Are you going to see it? What are your thoughts about Harry Potter? Let me know!

Anything can be funny

Review and spoiler alert for Wow, No Thank You by Samantha Irby.

I wasn’t sure what to expect from this book. I have not read their other works and didn’t really know what these essays were about. I never expected to have so much in common with Samantha Irby! (I am obviously very flattered). I never thought I would find so much solace in finding a piece of me in this incredibly witty book. But I do and I did. This book is hilarious, I was straight up laughing – real laughing, not just a puff of air. The humor is unexpected and delightful. From the dedication to the acknowledgment, the jokes are non-stop. Some are subtle, just casually strewn in and some quiet elaborate.

This review is not humorous because I am just not a funny person. I like to think I have a good sense of humor but I can’t tell a joke to save my life. Below you will find some serious talk about underlying themes, topics and issues talked about in the book. Don’t get me wrong, I thought the author did a great job with how they tackled chronic health issues, racism and poverty as funnily and poignantly as they did.

It was a very nice change of pace to read about some very serious issues in a dark-humor setting. I learned a lot, laughed even more and cried a little bit. If that doesn’t make a great book, I don’t know what does.

Here’s the thing, I did not grow up poor. Neither was I rich. I grew up in a very typically average middle class family in a third world country. I don’t claim to know the struggles of being an orphan or poor or black in America. That’s not what this is about. My childhood was traumatic, I am fat, I have a chronic illness and extreme anxiety. These are some overarching themes in the book that made me feel seen. This is what representation should look and feel like.

Maybe I am naïve to think everything in the essays is real, I am pretty sure it is – it doesn’t matter. At the end of the day, someone out there (someone as brilliant as Samantha Irby no less) has had these thoughts and feelings even if it is just a part of their imagination. I am not questioning their experiences or claiming they are untrue – I am just saying for me, it doesn’t matter. I am able to relate and appreciate either way.

Let’s talk about some of my favorite essays. If you are short on time but want to read some, these are the essays I would strongly recommend.

Hung up! – from casual straight people racism to gun-toting maga idiots. Honestly, I had not realized how much casual racism exists in American culture and have only recently been educating myself. From nonchalant talk of ‘ghettos’ to curly hair unprofessionalism; from being denied AirBnB reservations to white women marveling at the fact that you can read (in my case, people seem fascinated with how well I speak English. Do you know India was ruled by the British for over two centuries? Like we don’t go to school on elephants). Going from that to scary fascists who might shoot you just for existing.

I was going to say Love and Marriage but since I am picking my favorites, I am going to have to go with Are you familiar with my work? – This is one had me in splits. I am sure it is flattering to be confused with Roxane Gay but pretty sure that would get old real fast.

My absolute favorite is A guide to simple home repairs. I don’t own a home, never have and never will. I refuse to buy real estate for many reasons. Mainly, I would feel nailed down, caged sort of. I prefer being able to up and move to another country as easily as possible, if I wanted to. However, I didn’t even know half the things that goes into owning a home. I am going to print this essay out (credited of course) and give it to people who seem entitled to give me their constant advice about real estate.

Hello, 911? This essay is pretty much my anxiety in written form. There are some different ways that I particularly experience anxiety. Yes, I do the thing where I imagine the worst possible outcome for every situation – but I also continue to validate this when one of those outcomes is true. I mean, it is just simple probability. If I imagined everything that could go wrong, some of it will go wrong at some point. I am learning to unlearn this terrible habit. Most of my day is spent in a flight, fight or freeze state. I am not only constantly second guessing myself but when I do experience moments of self-confidence and do something, I end up obsessing over it for hours. This spike in adrenaline is associated with panic attacks and this is why I just can’t get on rollercoasters or watch scary movies or river rafting – it’s just not fun for me. I am conditioned to or rather, I have conditioned myself to this association. Second hand anxiety is a real thing. I do get anxious for the protagonists in movies or TV shows, for strangers on the road, for fictional characters in books. It definitely is exhausting.

Oh also, I did get this book from the library but I intend on gifting it to one of my friends! I am so glad I stumbled upon this book. I thoroughly enjoyed myself! Have you read anything by Samantha Irby? Are you going to? Let me know!

Of Juxtapositions and Oxymorons

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Book Review for The Doctor and the Saint: Caste, Race, and Annihilation of Caste by Arundhati Roy and Tales of Nevèrÿon by Samuel R Delaney. As usual, spoiler alert in place for both of these books. If you intend on reading either of the books, stop here, bookmark this page and come back when you are done.

This review is NOT intended to compare the two extremely distinct authors nor the books. This review is my point of view, my thoughts and my opinions alone. You are welcome to click off if anything seems not to your liking.

Background on why these books and why in this combination. A few years ago, I realized that my reading habits were exclusively housed in the fantasy genre and more so in the YA fantasy genre. I decided that it was time to expand my bookshelf. Ever since, I have been trying to incorporate different genres, authors, countries and eras. It was one of the best decisions of my life. I have learned so much and I can feel my brain expanding covering up some of my blind spots that I would never have had otherwise.

It isn’t easy, however, to branch out of your comfort zone and commit to reading a book that you probably will have no interest in. Luckily, I know myself pretty well and am able to pick out books I know I want to learn from or is a topic I care about. I have had a few duds on the way (looking at you The King of Kahel) but for the most part I have really enjoyed this journey.

I try to pick a book I really want to and a book I really should, to read simultaneously. This way if one of them is not really doing it for me, I can take a break with the other one. It is also fun reading different styles of writing and storytelling at the same time.

Never before have I read two books that are stark contrasts yet vaguely related. I also did not expect to enjoy Delany as much as I did or be disappointed in Roy as much as I was. It was fascinating reading these two books together though. Social commentary hasn’t changed much in the past few decades probably because the world seems to be going backwards rather than becoming more tolerant.

I enjoy Roy’s works – a lot. I devoured The Ministry of Utmost Happiness and can’t get The God of Small Things out of my head even after all these years. I have heard very good things about her non-fiction narrative works. I was very excited to read The Doctor and the Saint. Perhaps my expectations were misplaced, I was hoping for a logical comparison of India’s two greatest leaders during the Freedom movement. Both had very distinct styles of rebellion, different causes and fundamentally different ideologies. Obviously, neither of them are perfect and depending on who you ask, they are going to pick a side. I was prepared for a somewhat biased discourse. Instead, what I got was an all out attack on the Saint and next to no analysis on the Doctor. Don’t get me wrong – my loyalties lie with the Doctor just as Roy. However, I was hoping for an in-depth analysis of how their ideologies affected the Freedom Movement, the impact of their involvement and how it shaped Independent India.

To say I was disappointed is an understatement.

Delaney however, absolutely blew my mind. Something about their writing style is so captivating; I was mesmerized by the world building, invested in the characters all the while very acutely aware of the social commentary. The story telling is amazing and the writer successfully brings all the stories into a full circle – which is no easy feat considering each story is a different part of the world and a different set of characters. At no point does it feel preachy and the commentary is so effortlessly woven into the story telling that it doesn’t feel jarring at all.

It was an absolute pleasure reading my first ever Delaney and you bet I am going to get my hands on some of their other works.

Movie Review – Sherni

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SPOILER ALERT: Movie review of Sherni. Key plot points discussed. If you hate spoilers, bookmark this page and come back to it after you have watched the movie.

Holy wow. What a refreshing change to all the garbage Bollywood has been churning out lately. I watched the movie twice in one week. So let’s break this down.

Plot: This movie isn’t plot-oriented. There is a plot but that is not the point of the movie. When I saw the trailer, I wasn’t sure what to expect. I am definitely a plot junkie. I watch movies for the storylines and character development more than anything else. Occasionally I will watch movies for social impact and even rarely for the art of film making. So if I say I freaking loved this movie, then everything else about the movie must have been fantastic. And it was! Basically, the plot is to capture a tigress that has ventured into nearby villages and attacked a few people. It is a race between the Govt Forest officials to save the tigress and hunters in cahoots with the local politicians to hunt it down. Doesn’t seem like much? Because that isn’t the point of the movie!

Technical: The movie is shot like a documentary. No frills or thrills for the masala. It is a slow paced (not too slow), poignantly shot movie. The location is beautiful. It is mainly set in the forests and National parks in Madhya Pradesh. The background score is appropriate, elevates the tension and sets a perfect tone for the movie. Direction seems seamless, I would attribute some of that to the seasoned actors as well. Cinematography is so good! The forests and national parks are gorgeous and it takes skill to capture their beauty and essence without losing sight of the rest of the movie. The camera pans at all the right times and focuses on the various flora and fauna appropriately with the storyline. Lighting is great, especially for the night time scenes. And the CGI wasn’t too bad. They made a great choice of limiting the CGI and the framing of the CGI animals wasn’t centered so that lead to no awkward disjointed characters on the screen.

Casting: No whitewashing, no sexualizing, a lot of diversity, realistic and an almost perfect ensemble! Really can’t say much more than that.

Acting: Vidya Balan is a Rockstar! I absolutely adore her. She may have had some unfortunate movies in her portfolio but she has always been great in all her movies. Her tempered performance in Sherni is one of the best performances I have seen in the last decade. She definitely is the highlight of the movie. Her balanced performance is empowering, sobering and a jolt of reality. She is grounded, subtle and just a delight to watch. She is so beautiful in so many ways. No over-the-top melodrama or heavy handedness.

I really appreciated watching a woman who stood by her decision to not have children and never wavered. The supporting characters do justice to their roles.

Mukul Chadda as the limitingly supportive husband was great. Vijay Raaz’s empathetic performance was like salt in Saag Paneer, bland without it. Sharat Saxena is the saag and obviously Vidya Balan is the paneer.

Social Impact: India has had a long sordid history of extreme deforestation. This movie couldn’t have come at a more apt time. Not only does it deal with environmental issues, it incorporates patriarchy and caste issues. Political sabotage and the fascist state of our country are all prevalent themes as well. Sherni is one of those rare movies that successfully portrays multiple causes without feeling confused or unfinished. Perhaps because all the causes it deals with form a dialectic and intersectionality that can not be ignored. The movie isn’t about providing solutions either, which veers it away from the trap of sounding preachy. It shows the sobering story of reality.

Finally, hurray to no item numbers! Seems like it is possible to portray strong independent women. Who knew?

Queer Desi: Out of Line and Offline

SPOILER ALERT: This book is not really a plot based novel, it is a collection of interviews and stories. I am placing this spoiler alert anyway because I will be discussing some aspects of the stories presented. This is a book review for Out of Line and Offline: Queer Mobilizations in ’90s Eastern India by Pawan Dhall.

I have been woefully negligent in my research and own education of the queer movement in India. I would like to fix my blind spots and am actively finding books on the topic of Queer Movement, Gender Identities, LGBTQ+ as defined and existing in Indian History and Mythology. I would like to call these series of books and movie reviews as ‘Queer Desi’.

In the last few years, I have started to come to terms with my own sexuality and identity, what those words mean to me and how I view myself in the spectrum of lgbtq identities. I have always known I was different and didn’t fit in the romantic spectrum and gender norms in place in the Indian society. I was assigned woman at birth and I do identify as a woman however, I was never at home with what was defined as a ‘woman’ in the Indian society. The contradictions made no sense to my hyper logical brain. I was either too fat, too fair, too loud, too stubborn, too complacent, too dependent, too independent, too smart, not smart enough, too strong, too weak, too inquisitive or not enough. I always somehow seemed to miss the mark of what makes a woman. To add to the confusion, my romantic interests were both traditional and not at the same time.

My parents did everything they could to provide my brother and I equal opportunities, they treated us equally and tried to never discriminate based on our genders. However, what your parents want for you can only exist within the four walls of your house. Living in a community culture where family includes everyone from your first cousins to fifth or sixth based on geological proximity, parents lose a large amount of autonomy on how they raise their children. And of course the societal pressure to raise a ‘woman’ and a ‘man’ to fit the definition as imposed by the so called ‘Indian culture’ has it’s own set of problems.

Anyway, I digress. Out of Line and Offline is the first book I have read about anything relating to Queer movement and culture in India. I don’t have anything else to compare it to but I don’t think that matters. Let me discuss the wonderful aspects of the book first.

Why You Should Read this Book

I would like to applaud the author for doing a wonderful job of inclusion in this set of interviews and stories. There are multiple perspectives packed within this 150-page book, I was blown away by the diversity and range of folks included. I grew up in the 90s and 2000s in India. Although, I was pre-pubescent in the 90s and hadn’t a notion of my identity in the 2000s I do remember several political and cultural movements during the time. I remember the HIV/AIDS awareness campaigns and ads, I have my encounters with several Hijra communities (despite being told in no uncertain words to stay away by my family) and was exposed to a very subconscious understanding of the queer movement. BUT I had no idea the cultural changes and impacts of queer communities fighting for visibility during that era.

The author goes back down their memory lane to people they met during their time at Counsel Club, their interactions and the work that they have done over the years. They have painted a vivid picture of that time and welcomed us into their literary Pensieve (- Harry Potter reference) that I was able to imagine these moments. The writing takes you back to your own experiences as well without alienating you from the story at hand. I really appreciated the clarity of the author on page one explaining what to expect from the book. They clearly state that the book is not going to delve into the reason why a queer movement started in India and that set the tone of the book very nicely.

The recollections and interviews are genuine, profound and authentic in a way that is very difficult to capture. Pawan Dhall has successfully captured the nostalgia and soul of what they were trying to convey. The educational information on various CBOs and NGOs that existed in the 90s and 2000s is invaluable, even if some of them no longer exist. It is important to document the contributions of all communities that have helped us to get where we are today.

Pawan Dhall does not simply talk about the good times. This is what made this book such an eye opening and interesting read. They document the failures, limitations and gaps that existed in the time these movements were being spear headed. They explore the caste issues within the movement and acknowledge the privilege or lack thereof among activists and allies in the queer movements. There is no judgement in the author’s tone and he provides some very interesting questions for the reader to ponder over.

The book Out of Line and Offline is a beautiful piece of work that balances the good, the bad and everything in between wonderfully. There are several sentences and stories that may seem casually written but the depth and meaning behind them is endless. It does a great job of keeping the topic at hand centered and clear. I also really appreciated the scope of the book – it didn’t lose itself trying to cover movements all over the nation (though there are mentions of them obviously).

For my first venture into literary queer culture and movement in India, this was a wonderful introduction. The book is chockfull of references and further readings which is very helpful for someone like me.

Why You Should Avoid this Book

You should NOT. There is no reason. Read this book. It is only 150-pages and just by reading this book, educating yourself on the goings on of queer movements in India, you are contributing yourself. Step one is educating yourself.

Could Anything be Better in the Book? Yes, I thought it was bit jarring when the author jumps stories and interviews. Perhaps it was an artistic or story telling choice, I personally felt it could have been edited differently. Not at all a deterrer by any means. One other thing that did bother me, though it could just be the print I have, but there are a few places where pictures are inserted halfway through a sentence. I love the pictures, I just wish they had been strategically placed at the end of paragraphs though.

My Own Experience

In the late 2000s and early 2010s, I started to be exposed to and understand the terms and aspects of the LGBTQ+ community. I was deeply moved by (in my opinion) Queer Queen Falguni Pathak. I didn’t have the terms ‘gay’ or ‘lesbian’ (I do not identify as either) in my vocabulary but I knew that Falguni Pathak showed to me a way of being a woman that I had not known was possible. Her little love stories though supposedly heteronormative always put center stage on the relationship between her and the heroine. The guy seemed like an after-thought, either showing up almost at the end of the video or just appearing for a few minutes (if even). The position Falguni Pathak placed herself in these videos was that of a silent friend who always had your back, constantly available to provide advice and support, edging the heroine towards a more socially accepted relationship all while she herself quietly endures the pangs of unrequited love with a smile. This obviously is what my teenage queer brain interpreted at the time. I related to Falguni Pathak on so many levels.

I wish I had known about some of these CBOs and NGOs as I was growing up, perhaps the pain and loneliness could have been elevated in some respect. But now, being actively a part of the LGBTQ+ community, interacting with some wonderful people I have met and being a resource myself, I would like to think elevates that pain and loneliness I had felt in the past.

Have you read the book? Are you going to read the book? Let me know! The artwork featured here is my own, feel free to check out my Instagram for more.

Sven-jolly

Another classic, another disaster. I will include a spoiler alert because if you are like me and haven’t heard about this book other than the words – Trilby and Svengali – well you are in for a rude awakening. You may think you know the plot but trust me that is not even the half of it. So, if you want to read the book first, bookmark this page and come back to it after you have finished it.

If you are short on time, I can summarize the theme of the book in two words – Anti-Semitic and Misogynist. That’s all you really need to know but because this is a review, I will elaborate.

Let us start with the titular characters – Trilby and Svengali. Shocker: they are not the protagonists!! They are barely in the story at all! They make up maybe 30%, if I am being generous. The book is actually about a pathetic dumbass painter called Little Billy and his two friends. The story is set in 1800s Paris – or famously known as Belle Epoque Paris and revolves around three European painters. These painters are worse than Werther in some ways – they also possess the holier than thou, straight white male, chastity-worshipping, stalker qualities that were oh so prevalent in that century. All three of them encounter Trilby – described in the second most misogynistic way in the book – while they are spending their days in good old Paris’ Latin Quarter painting, drinking, being pretentious, looking down upon women that ‘sit for the figure’. A big deal is made about how Tribly is the worst singer they have encountered with a gorgeous sound and how much she hates Svengali.

Speaking of Svengali, I stopped reading the book several times because I could simply not get past the Anti-Semitism. The misogyny is horrible, don’t get me wrong but maybe I have just come to expect such nonsense from male authors (even today!) and so it wasn’t as shocking as the racism. It was just as depressing though. It is quite impressive (sarcasm, duh) how George du Maurier was able to fit in an exorbitant amount of racism for a character that barely appears in the book. But since I had started it, I had to finish it.

The majority of the book is about how innocent and pure Little Billy is and how the three men spend their time in Paris. In a twist that everybody saw coming, all three men fall in love with Trilby but Little Billy is the only one that expresses his love and wears her down into saying yes. But immediately after, Little Billy’s mother lands in Paris because she won’t have a ‘figure-sitting loose woman’ for a daughter-in-law. In a turn of events, Trilby abandons Little Billy because he is too good for her. The rest of the book talks about Little Billy’s ‘depression’ brought on by Trilby’s rejection. Unlike Werther, Little Billy is unable to stalk Trilby because he has no idea where she is but it doesn’t make him any less insufferable than Werther. The moaning, the whining, the fetishizing of the ‘virgin’ is all just too much.

The last thirty-something pages of the book get to the actual plot. The entire world is talking about a new singing diva – The Lady Svengali and it is none other than our Trilby. Little Billy is immediately cured of his ‘depression’ – he starts to feel love again but is unable to believe that Trilby is with a man like Svengali. They also notice a huge change in Trilby. She almost seems like an entirely different person. Our three heroes have no idea what to make of it all.

A lot of anti- Semitism later.

Svengali dies during a concert and Trilby has no idea where she is. Her health starts to deteriorate rapidly. Everybody thinks that the grief of losing her husband has made her lose her mind and though it is peculiar that she only remembers parts of her life and none of the diva memories are retained, they are too occupied by her health to worry about these lapses. Eventually, Trilby is at death’s door and a few minutes before her life calls it quit, she encounters a portrait of Svengali. As though in a trance, Trilby belts out one last heavenly rendition of Chopin’s Impromptu in A flat and dies. Little Billy dies shortly afterwards overcome by grief.

The book was extremely tiring to read. It may have been that the translation I read wasn’t the best one but I don’t think so. I generally don’t enjoy reading racist misogynistic characters and I don’t enjoy reading descriptions of music. There are also an incredible number of adverbs used to describe things and it gets old pretty soon. Despite all that the final description of what transpired between Svengali and Trilby as divulged to Taffy by Gecko was one of the most haunting things I have ever read. All I can say is, at least, the ending lived up to the hype. But was it worth it? Tell me what you think in the comments.

Movie Review – Naandhi

I know I said this blog was for book reviews but I also did say it was for practicing my writing. Besides, I am feeling compelled to write a review about this movie. Without further ado let us get into it.

SPOILER ALERT: There are important plot points I have discussed down below that are considered spoilers. You have been warned! So, if you hate spoilers bookmark this page and come back to it after you have seen the movie.

For those unfamiliar with Indian movies – Naandhi is a Telugu language mainstream Indian movie (part of Tollywood). The movie is available in a few other Indian languages as well.

Let me get something straight before I write this review. I thoroughly enjoy Bollywood and Tollywood. I used to enjoy them unironically but since becoming an adult and seeing the world for what it actually is, I enjoy them secretly – in a nostalgic, childhood memory sort of way. I haven’t stopped enjoying them because the movies are all pretty much the same now, there are definitely some that are trying to experiment with the ‘formula’; I have stopped enjoying them because of the rampant misogyny and rape culture. Thank God or maybe the ‘woke’ audience for the reducing casual rape culture in Tollywood these days. Both genres of movies have a long way to go. Even the most liberal mainstream movies have their own set of flaws. Least of all is the gross age gap between the protagonists – which obviously is part of the patriarchy and misogyny I mentioned earlier.

I picked Naandhi as my first movie to review because I just had this urgent need to write down my thoughts about this movie. I have seen several movies in my life and very few of them have stood out for me as this one. In the last few years, I have also started to enjoy the art of filmmaking – I pay attention to things like camera angles, number of cuts per minute, mise-en-scene, etc. Naandhi is one of the first mainstream Telugu movies I have seen that has successfully pulled off one continuous no cut shot. That is it for the intro, let’s delve into the good and the bad of Naandhi.

The good – Allari Naresh is and has always been an extremely underrated actor, in my opinion. I was very impressed with him back when Nenu was released in 2004. He did an amazing job though the movie was slightly lacking. And that is true for Naandhi as well. Allari Naresh did a great job – his acting is on point. He was the right amount of dramatic and somber as the script demanded. He was expressive without over doing it, charming without being sloppy and overall a great casting choice.

The direction in the first two acts is amazing. Director Vijay was able to experiment within the realm of mainstream Telugu formulae and I think it was a risk that paid off. The 8 minute long shot of when Surya Prakash is finally released is so heartbreaking. The music, the direction, the lighting and the acting were fantastic. I re-watched that scene three times and you bet I cried. This was the scene that did it for me – the whole movie was made wonderful despite any shortcomings. Telugu movies tend to get overly melodramatic but the depth of this scene was just perfect.

I enjoyed the court scene when Aadhya calmly disproves the prosecution’s entire case with some brilliant matter-of-fact legal arguments – You would think the prosecution would have been more careful with the false evidence and testimony, it seemed a bit too weak to me but perhaps that was the point? To me, it felt as if the writer made the prosecution case so weak on purpose to show up Aadhya but maybe they were also trying to show the overconfidence of men in power?

This segues neatly into the bad – Naandhi’s social commentary is weak and falls flat – it is trying to bring awareness to convicts serving sentences while awaiting trial but Surya Prakash’s story is too unique and implausible to apply to any such convicts. It also fails to provide a solution. I think the movie tried to tackle too many topics – innocent people convicted for crimes they didn’t commit, corruption, powerful men being beyond law’s reach, under trial convicts and I wish they had just picked one cause to fight for. In the end, the message was unclear.

The entire third act seemed like a last minute put together pandering to the masses. The story was hurried, there was unnecessary violence, the ending was plain stupid and the entire mood of the movie was ruined. Up until then, there was this obvious subtlety, a balanced melodrama and a darkish tone but the third act was plain masala. If I were to re-watch the movie, I will always end after the 8-minute long shot of Surya Prakash being released and that’s my true ending. I am going to pretend the third act never happened.

In conclusion, I would rate the first two-thirds of the movie a 4/5, the last third a 1/5 and so overall – 3/5.

What did you think about the movie? Have you seen it? Are you going to watch it? Let me know in the comments!

The OG Emo

SPOILER ALERT: Spoiler Alert in place for The Sorrows of Young Werther by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. Do classics need spoiler alerts?

I am a sucker for star crossed lovers and romantic era stories. I thoroughly enjoy the classics. Wuthering Heights is my all time favorite novel very closely followed by Little Women. Frankenstein was chilling and Dracula genuinely scared me. Three of the four books I just mentioned were written by women and maybe I am biased. Werther is not going to make my list of top ten and least of its problems is the misogyny. It may be obvious to point out that a novel written in the late 1770s is misogynistic but I feel a need to mention it to maintain a holistic review.

I really enjoyed Goethe’s writing style, I am definitely open to reading other books by him. I wasn’t too upset by the plot either. Considering it was the first of its kind, the plot has been very well paced and comes along quiet well. What I didn’t enjoy is the character of Werther himself. The first half Werther is at least tolerable but the second half Werther is insufferable. He is nothing but a creepy, whiny stalker. His infatuation with Lotte is sudden and obsessive. Though Lotte’s personality and beauty are described in great detail, she comes across as nothing but ditzy. Albert is there.

I liked the descriptions of nature – the linden trees, the mountains, the suicidal ideation but was put off by all the Christianity. I was impressed by the observations of class behaviors especially because it was written in a time before class was even a thing. Werther’s isolation makes you sympathetic until he starts ranting about how all the people around him are foolish. He seemed extremely pretentious for someone with a low self-esteem. His suicidal ideation is very characteristic of the Romantic era and I think the Werther mania that followed the publication of the book emerged from this ideation.

To summarize – Albert is no Edgar, Lotte is no Cathy and Werther is no Heathcliff.

Necromancy Anyone?

SPOILER ALERT: Spoilers for Gideon the Ninth.

I absolutely love all things fantasy. I went through a Goth phase in my teenage years (the love is still there). And so it is astonishing that I have never read anything in the necromancy fiction genre. As someone who is part of the LGBTQ+ community, I am starved for well written queer characters. When my friend suggested we read Gideon the Ninth for our book club, I was entirely on board. But, boy oh boy, I had no idea that I had found my next obsession!

It is rare to find well fleshed out female characters let alone queer characters. It was a wonderful change in pace to read Gideon, Harrow and all the amazing characters. I was completely lost in the world Tamsyn Muir built for us. I was laughing, crying and bleeding with the Houses. I fell in love with Gideon so hard and I never saw the heartbreak in my near future. What a bittersweet ending?!

The Goth in me was ecstatic reading about re-animated skeletons and the part of me obsessed with sci-fi was jumping with joy at the concept of space necromancers. SPACE NECROMANCERS!!! What a story Tamsyn has written for us – I am a plot junkie and this satisfied my craving. The character arches are well thought out, well paced and sufficiently engaging. Plot twists and deaths are unexpected. You would think that someone who is a fan of Game of Thrones would be prepared for sudden character deaths. That is not true at all. My shock when Isaac exploded into a burst of necro-light was greater than my shock at the Red Wedding. And I wept harder at Gideon’s sacrifice than at Dobby’s death. I had not realized how attached I had gotten to these characters over a course of 500 pages.

The last battle between Cytherea and Harrow went a little too long. I enjoyed how you think Cytherea is almost defeated but comes back bigger and badder, however, it got a little old when the same trope was used over three times. Initially, I thought the first Lyctor was too powerful. I was worried Tamsyn had written themselves (I don’t want to miss-pronoun Tamsyn) in a corner, like so many other writers. I wasn’t sure how Cytherea would be defeated, I hoped it wouldn’t be some lame ex machina weakness she throws at us in the end. Gideon’s sacrifice, though tragic, was genius writing.

I read some articles arguing that Gideon the Ninth falls under fiction that romanticizes toxic relationships. I strongly disagree. I think that the book does a good job of portraying dis-functional relationships. Portrayal is not romanticizing. It is important for fiction to depict these relationships, for readers to have an avenue to read about what abusive relationships look like in a disconnected, fictional medium. These depictions beget conversations, important dialogue that goes a long way to help those in these types of relationships. And it is important for us to distinguish between stories that celebrate it (Twilight!) and those that talk about it.

I can’t wait to finish Harrow the Ninth – currently reading (check out my Goodreads on the right hand sidebar).

Depression

Some days are good and some days are bad. You never know when a bad day is going turn into a horrible day, seep into the next and the next – all of a sudden you have had a bad week or a bad month. All of us experience our depression in various forms. We all have our telltale signs of the impending doom. I never seem to see it coming though, I always see the signs after the fact.

It starts with a disinterest in taking a shower, I go days without showering and after the first three days, I start to lose interest in everything – I watch my favorite show, do my favorite activities but I am disconnected. It is as if I am going through the motions like a dream, it’s a habit – wake up, go to work, talk to my loved ones and all the while I am disconnected. I don’t realize anything is wrong until this moment when I can’t get up off the couch or the bed. I realize I have been sitting or laying down for hours; without really engaging, without really thinking, just sitting there. The final, worst stage is a complete lack of interest in food.

It’s this huge gaping whole in the middle of my body. Every breath is like breathing black smoke that only adds fuel to the ever growing darkness inside of me. When I was single, I just stewed in my head, letting the feeling wash all over me. I had a job that allowed me to work from home. I slept with my laptop. I woke up, logged in, worked in bed, ate junk food trying to fill the hole, logged off work, watched TV and fell asleep watching TV. I stayed indoors for days, had food delivered, never even opened the windows or the blinds. It was an ordeal trying to get out of the funk. I forced myself to cook or take a shower. I talked to my therapist, made plans with my friends and the good days would return. Or it would be something mundane that kicked me out of it: it’s incredible that while my brain is buried deep under a cloud of sorrow, my body is still running through it’s functions. I get hungry, I get sleepy, I have to use the bathroom. I realize I am taking a lot for granted, being alive and healthy in my body is a gift.

It has been a few years, and I have learned to manage my depression, doctors found the root cause and things are a lot better for sure. There are still bad days but they are few and far between. The darkness and the chasm are all too familiar, so much so that sometimes when I am having a particularly bad day, I feel comforted. Relieved in some ways and the relief is immediately followed by guilt because what am I doing? Finding relief and comfort in my depression?

I am in a relationship now and it is both harder and easier dealing with the bad days. It is hard when my partner finds me vegging – I feel I am letting them down, it is hard when they ask me to talk to them – I don’t want to be vulnerable, it is hard to maintain self-esteem and to function. But now, I remind myself – I am not broken, I am not a failure. It is okay to be depressed, it is okay to have bad days, it is okay to feel bad. This will pass, I will feel better, I will function and there will be good days again. I practice the tips and tricks my therapist taught me, I keep myself engaged in constructive, creative activities and I remind myself that I am human. I try to stay healthy in body and mind and I know that a bad day is not something to dread.

P.S. This was a difficult post to write. Talking about mental health is not easy, sharing your story to strangers is not easy. I hope I can spread some awareness, some comradery and some love.