Books to Look Out For #6: Othello the Bard-Ass

If you ever thought the talents of Mr T were wasted and needed to be re-chanelled into the works of Shakespeare, search no more – Mr T is the new face of Othello. I’m hoping he knocks out Iago with a Snickers bar and tells him to stop being a dam’ fool in this one.

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Weekly Gurrrlll Links

I always enjoy doing these, although inevitable I go from one (more sensible page) and end up watching cat videos on Youtube.

What does ‘Guurrl’ really mean? I can relate to all of these.

Parenting. Nuff said.

For the Harry Potter Fans who want more after the ending – here’s a compilation of what happened to who in Life after Hogwarts.

For the Bollywood watchers, here’s an accurate and hilarious summary of Devdas. I remember when this came out (more than ten years ago now!) and it’s still pretty breath-taking (and emo!)

I almost wish my wedding pictures were this emotional.

I need to convince my mum to plant these in her garden – flowers that turn into transparent skeletal looking flowers.

If Disney Heroines had their mothers, they wouldn’t be in the mess they ended up in. That clears a lot of things up.

Instagram nonsense which is actually kinda cool

Words you never knew existed but which have lovely meanings.

This is cool – the Bechdel IMBD list about women who talk about something other than men.

Shakespeare illustrated – I liked this one from Romeo and Juliet!

The pencil case I would have hated as a kid, but which I want now so I can pretend it’s one of my mum’s rotis.

Haider – To Watch or Not to Watch

Haider – a Bollywood remake of the timeless Shakespeare classic Hamlet, set in modern day Kashmir.

I recently watched Bollywood art-film Haider, which interprets Shakespeare’s troubled hero Hamlet into a conflicted younger adult Haider, whose conscience and confusion leads the way through a canvas of Kashmir conflict, troubled relationships and the idea of love in more than one form.

I’m sure it’s no coincidence that there is a Bollywood version of Hamlet – after all, Haider is the third in a series of Shakespeare dramatisations in Bollywood by director Vishal Bhardwaj, after making Omkara which is based on Othello and Maqbool, based on Macbeth. I also recently saw Ram Leela, Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s version of Romeo and Juliet, set in the Rajhastan, India, which was a colourful albeit not as serious as the above films. What makes Haider works that it is not just a mere translation of Hamlet – the film takes the story and re-invents it into something much more.

I’ll admit, I’m not a fan of remakes – although there have been a few which have been terrible, and Bollywood on the whole is always churning out films which aren’t always a hundred percent brilliant. Haider-movie-posterIt sounds like a typical re-hashing of a clichéd storyline – boy meets girl, conflict from one or both families, and a macho battle at the end where everything ends well.

Haider take on the storyline is a more contemporary one, touching on the conflict in Kashmir, not only being caught in between India and Pakistan’s tug-of-war, but also the idea of conflict in family, between brothers, spouses, mother and child and even between lovers.

Shahid Kapoor plays the troubled youth, whose father goes missing after a military search of their village for terrorists being hidden. Thus sparks a search for the truth, questioning not only where his father is, but also who was responsible for his capture, who to trust, and the concept of revenge.

The primary thing which I note in this film is the spectacular cinematography, the beautiful scenes and landscapes, and the artistic presentation of Kashmir – this is Kashmir as it has never been shown before. For all that Kashmir is a stark, depressing place it also has a haunting beauty, and Bhardwarj depicts all of that – from snowy mountains, grassy hilltops, weaving trains which illuminate modern homes as well as ruins and castles.

Also layered in the film is music, which is infused with Kashmiri tones – there’s only a two or three songs in the whole movie (which is a relief after generations of films which pound out trance-style music or sexy tunes which have nothing to do with the plot) – but they are real Kashmir folk-style songs. Reknowned actress Tabu, who plays Haider’s mother Ghazala mesmerises on-screen, from her expressive eyes and heart-wrenching emotions, to the haunting folk songs she sings, which unravel through the film as we question her motives, her relationship with her brother-in-law, and her love for her son. She sums it up wonderfully when she describes herself as a a ‘half widow’ – half bride and wife, half a widow, forever searching and not knowing, caught up in her own obssessions and guilt which are never fully revealed.

Adding to this is Haider’s father himself, the missing and presumed dead doctor, weaving in his love of music and ballads which adds poetry to the movie, contrasting Kay Kay Menon as the smooth-talking, slippery Uncle of Haider, whose smooth lies and logical explanations add chaos and confusion to the mystery, making not just Haider but the audience question what the truth is.

Also a big part of this is love – Shradda Kapoor plays a feisty Orphelia who tries to support the hero, although his wall of confusion, search for identity and his growing depression pushes back at this. At the heart of this film is also the suggestion of an Oedipal complex – Haider’s relationship with his mother is wraught with jealousy, confusion, and anger, and at times it is almost uncomfortable to watch their awkward, intense scenes. Similarly, Haider’s memories of his father and his love for his father only serve to confuse more, as we question the reason for revenge and whether it is beign manipulated by militants for their own ends – scenes of Haider searching for his father with missing posters in his backpack, bloody, smuggled bodies in trucks and morgues and cemetries only makes this film more haunting and moving.

The best part of the movie, for me, though, was that even though the film has it’s own style, and captures its own struggles well, it still remains faithful to the essence of Hamlet – the self-doubt, the conflict, the questioning which pervades it. And of course, the director could not resist slipping in the eternal famous line “To be or not to be” (in Hindi, of course!) as well as the famous scene with Hamlet and the skull (which is not a horror scene but an amusing one, as Shakespeare intended!) While Haider is a unique story in itself, it remains faithful to the ideas that Hamlet promotes – a haunting scene, for example his Haider’s reasoning that he would not kill his father’s murderer while he is in prayer, because he does not want a sinner to be absolved and go straight to heaven – this is a scene I vividly remember studying in university and which resonated with me.

For all that this is a sombre film, there are also a lot of  quirky moments as well, surprisingly amusing moments which add to the depth of the film and add another facet to the character of Haider. Haider’s play-madness makes us chuckle, and the song in the cemetery with three old men digging graves reminds me of a quirky Cohen brother’s movie, something cheeky and slightly inappropriate because of the way it makes fun of death. There are plenty of jokes too, one of my favourite being a woman who is unable to understand why her husband stands outside their house for hours and refuses to speak or come in – which is solved by a quick request for ID card and then permission to enter – it’s a reflection of how their daily lives have become, yet handled deftly and lightly.

 

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For me, Haider works because of the many pieces which fit together and blend well – the music, the scenery, the dialogues and the ability of all of the actors to make characters come alive and make us question. The director cleverly re-shapes this storyline in a new context, while still remaining faithful to the essence of Hamlet, which is not an easy thing to do. I don’t often praise Bollywood films but this is a rare gem, it captivates from the first few scenes and carries through to a compelling, bloody and emotional ending. Haider is a film which is more than just a boy’s search for his father and his murderer, it is about identity of himself and his country, his love for his family, and the idea of truth, revenge and what the right thing to do is.

I would strongly recommend this film to most people – it is poetry, war and misplaced patriotism on screen which answers whether to watch or not to watch, although I say, watch it.

Queens, Knights and Dodos – Martin Brown’s Fantasy Art

I’ve stumbled across the wonderful Martin Brown‘s beautifully detailed paintings (not to be confused with Martin Brown the illustrator!), which look amazingly colourful, and have some seriously beautiful characters who look both  magical and eerie. I love how these appeal to the fantasy genre, adding leprechauns, elves and dragons among ordinary mice and dogs; and grands Queens and Knights in Elizabethan style dress and fairy-tale-esque glamour.

I’ve been trying to find more images by this artist, but haven’t had much luck, but the ones I have see are just amazing – definitely an inspiring artist.

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Fairy Tales & Long Tails: The Top 10 Witches

One aspect of supernatural and fairy tales which take many forms is witchcraft, and of course, the witches who practise it. And witches have always appealed to me (more than the twee vampire stuff that’s floating around these days anyway), because of idea of magic they are able to have access to, and the idea of abilities beyond human ones. Here’s a list of the top ten witches which are most recognisable in both literature and film.

1. The Grand WitchThe Witches, Roald Dahl
Roald Dahl made us shiver with his imagination when we were kids, and with a kid-murdering, bald, toe-less, evil group of witches like these, it’s no wonder why. And of them all, the Grand Witch (is majestically and wonderfully captured by that good old magician Quentin Blake) is the scariest witch, being a creepy, mad-eyed woman whose beautiful mask hides an ugly heart and a plot to turn all the smelly children into miceys. If you didn’t read this in your childhood then you won’t know what a witch is.

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2. The Three Hubble Bubble witchesMacbeth, Shakespeare
One from the classic, the ‘original’ three witches who warn Macbeth of his future as a king. Sort of like a medieval, Scottish version of the three Greek Fates, but without the single eyeball between them. Much of the witchy lines we recognise today is taken from this play (“Something wicked this way comes” for example) and while their appearance in the famous play isn’t very long, they are pivotal to the plot and give a dark tone to the idea of being King . We never find out what’s boiling and toiling in the cauldron though.

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3. Jadis, or The White WitchNarnia Chronicles, C. S. Lewis
Literally a cool one, she a white witch by colour only, but her intent is all black. Keeping the land of Narnia in permanent Winter, turning her rivals and opposers into stone, sacrificing Aslan the lion and feeding Turkish Delight to Edward, the crime list goes on (I never forgave her for the Turkish Delight, I absolutely hate that stuff. Yeuch.) While her arrogance is her undoing, her reign in Narnia is one which becomes legend in both the book itself and in Narnia.

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Vogue baby, vogue.

4. Hocus Pocus sister witchesHocus Pocus
We loved watching Hocus Pocus (still do), if only because the witches are amazingly dopey, each sillier than the last. And they’re a personal favourite in my house because all of my sisters like to describe each other as being one of the witches (apparently I’m the Sarah Jessica Parker one, probably cos she jumps around a lot with her hair flying out. I dunno.) Bette Midler is never better as the goofy, evil witch in this film, and while it’s cheeky, it’s also a hilarious combination. The classic line in my house is ‘booooookk‘. Now there’s a real book lover.

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5. SabrinaSabrina the teenaged witch
Who said all witches had to be bad? Sabrina was the witch who was just like us…and also a secret witch. And who wouldn’t want to change her clothes in the morning with just a click of fingers? Sure, there were nosey Aunts, philandering black cat familiars and the annoying love rival at school, but Sabrina managed it all in time to come home for tea and do her homework in time.

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6. Mildred, The Worst WitchJill Murphy
I remember reading this series when I was younger, about a scatty, unorganised witch with the worst luck ever, making her a terrible witch. But it was always great fun, there was something slightly Enid Blyton-ish about reading about her school adventures, her little cat Tabby and of course her teachers, such as Miss Cackle (obvious name, no?) – although she also appealed to me because of her slightly geeky, and very messy plaits.

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7. HermoineHarry Potter series, J. K. Rowling
Who can forget this witch? She’s a genius with her academics, she’s  a crazily talented witch, and she seems to prefer redheads. ‘Nuff said.

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8. Samantha, BewitchedBewitched tv series
Witches have marriages, in-law issues and parent problems too. And no one does a nose-squiggle like Samantha. I always liked the older series over the new version, if only because I kinda want my marriage to be one like Samantha’s and Darrin’s (including the random penguins you’ll find walking around in their house!)

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9. Serafina PekkalaThe Golden Compass/Northern Lights trilogy, Philip Pullman
This is one of the more interesting witches, she’s young, beautiful and fights on the side of evil. I like the protrayal of witches in the Golden Compass trilogy because of how non-conventional the witches are, they are seen as full of fire and vivacity, with Serafina Pekkala at the forefront as the witch queen. I thought Eva Green played this role quite well in the movie, especially because her style lends itself a lot to the fanstasy aspects of the novel.

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10. The Wicked Witch of the West, or ElphabaWizard of Oz, Wicked by Gregory Murphy, Orange mobile adverts
Out of all of them, this has got to be one of my favourites. And not just because of her stripy tights (I used to have a similar pair in high school. Those were not my best fashion moments). The Wicked Witch seems to encapsulate all the clichéd things about witches we grew up with – a green, pointy face, a black hat and cap, a wicked cackly laugh and evil creatures to do her bidding. One of my friends once said that I look a bit like green witch in the Orange adverts. All I can say is that if I had a team of flying monkeys at my disposal, I wouldn’t be chasing after a girl for her sparkly shoes, I’d send them to Louboutin instead. I also LOVE the re-interpretation of the Wicked Witch (and her sister, the Witch of the East) in Gregory Maguire’s Wicked, showing the political struggles of animals and their hierarchy, as well as the discrimination suffered by Elphaba  the green ‘witch’ due to the colour of her skin.

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I did try to think of more witches but didn’t have a lot of luck (apart from the ‘Disney witches like Snow White’s Evil Queen, or the cannibal witch in Hansel and Greta, similar to the Baba Yaga type character in African stories), especially because I didn’t want to churn out a list of the standardised idea of what a witch should be. For example, I was going to include the evil witch Maleficent from the classic Sleeping Beauty, but she’s more of an evil fairy, and there are many versions of this story which means there will always be another type of fairy or witch.

What other witches can you think of? And would you put fairies and witches in the same category?

Fairy Tales & Long Tails: The Top 10 Most Famous Literary Villains

I’ve always found villains in books to be fascinating, whether it’s because of their glee when they’re causing havoc, their deeply fascinating intellectual psych or whether it’s because they’re just downright entertainingly evil in a way that the heroes are never allowed to be. Maybe it’s also because the villains symbolise the free, uninhibited sides of ourselves that do all the things we’d want to do if only we didn’t have that darn conscience. Although for those of you listening to that pesky voice telling you to burn stuff…er…that might not apply.

Here’s my list of Top Ten in no particular order:

1. Lord Voldemort (or Tom Marvolo Riddle) – Harry Potter series, J.K. Rowling
This is a pretty disturbing character, showing how magic can go to one’s head (and burn off your nose to make you look like a cocaine-user in the process). Lord Voldemort is a sinister wizard, intelligent, manipulative and quite charismatic – a lethal combination which works well to gather followers who are willing to destroy, murder and battle in his name. With people being afraid to say his name out loud, he is almost comparable to a mythical legend whose actions have a long-lasting, although terrible, legacy. The film adaptation did justice to his creepiness, showing a ruin of a man with barely any humanity left and a consuming ambition to win – not to mention a seriously worrying face problem. Dentist, anyone?

2. The Grand WitchThe Witches, Roald Dahl
An old hag severely in need of a face-lift, The Grand Witch is the ultimate scary witch with features that you never even knew about until you read this book. Bald, blue-spitted, wonky teeth, square feet and with about a hundred other maladies which also sound suspiciously like something a lot of old people might suffer from (hate children, always telling children to take a bath), the Grand Witch has ambitions no less than to rid the population of their greatest pests – children. Quentin Blake captured the look well, using sinister looking figures with scary eyes and wonky noses to make us think twice about every other strange woman who offers us sweets in the street. Not that I ever took sweets, Werthers Originals were never my thing, hmmph.

3. Count DraculaDracula, Bram Stoker
The original of the Gothic bloodsuckers, this character is surprisingly understated in the actual book itself, rather than the Hammerstein-style, blood-spatter and gore we often see today. Nor is he like the sexy-pire seen in Angel and Buffy, with their techno-gadgets and sparkly stakes. Dracula is a Transylvanian aristocrat who uses dreams, charisma, manipulation and intelligence to fool the hero, Jonathan Harker, and manages to get very bitey with Mina, his fiance/wife. What follows is a difficult journey to hunt down a cleverly hidden vampire who is difficult to defeat.
Not to be confused with Vlad the Drac, the vegetarian vampire, who incidentally also is a pretty nifty dancer too.

4. Lady MacbethMacbeth, William Shakespeare
Quite possible one of the coolest villains, both in level-headedness and erm…levels of awesomeness, Lady M is a very memorable female anti-hero who isn’t quite villain nor heroine. Unlike her weaker-willed other half, she’s a strong character and willingly pushes her hubby onto meet her higher ambitions (who WOULDN’T want to be Queen, eh?) Although she’s finally reduced to a hand-wringing wreaked, unravelled by her own imagination and visions of blood, she’s proof that behind a successful man is a pushy woman who may not necessarily always be his mother.

5. SauronLord of the Rings, J. R. R. Tolkien
This villain is more than just a big eye in the sky, it’s a FIERY, angry eye in the sky. Unlike the more subtle, politically-charged eye of Orwell’s Big Brother, this eye is constantly searching for the One Ring which will bring him better broadband quality and more Sky channels. Or something like that anyway.
Makes you want to buy some eye drops for the poor, cranky thing.

6. IagoOthello, William Shakespeare
Another of ole Billy Shakespeare’s creations (yes I’m a fan of Mr S, as you can see), this time of a master of the manipulative mind-changing and seed-sowing. And he’s not very nice to his wife either.  Iago is the epitome of the whispering devil on your shoulder, being careful to side-step any actions which could land himself in trouble while always encouraging the worst in others for his own entertainment and jealousy. Racist, jealous and sexist, this is a pretty nasty character, and not someone you’d want to your pet guinea pig to in case he micro-waved it out of pure spite.

7. Professor MoriartySherlock Holmes Casebooks, Arthur Conan Doyle
Moriarty is the ultimate brainy villain, designed to be Sherlock’s perfect arch-enemy to match his wits. Always in the middle of a network of thieves, spies and murderers, Moriarty represents chaos and villainy, always escaping away in the background without being caught in an exasperating slippery way. Mind you, this is from the Victorian period where people were so prude they’d put pieces of fabric around table legs to hide any potential scandal from looking at…well…it’s legs.

8. The White WitchThe Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe, C. S. Lewis
With her shares in the Turkish Delight Factory, a questionable hairdo and a face seriously in need of some make-up to liven it up, the White Queen is another female delight who does the usual tyrannical thing of keeping the land in ice and terror. Oh, and turns anyone who defies her into stone. While her social skills need some serious dusting, her levels of scary-ness and witchy-ness are pretty up to scratch. My sister dressed up as the White Witch once, all she did was wear a white dress and put a white scarf on her head and she won the prize for best dressed costume. I went as Alice in Wonderland but just about managed a blue dress and a random apron which nobody understood what I was meant to be. I’m guessing the long black Pocahontas-hair didn’t help much.

9. The JokerBatman, Bob Kane
Although technically a graphic novel villain rather than a literary villain, I still think the Joker deserves his place in this Hall of (obscure) Fame. Having several facets to his personality, and being seen as genius, insane, evil, criminal and heck, even funny (well, he IS the Joker), he is arguably one of the most famous and fascinating villains in graphic novels which has been interpreted and re-interpreted by so many. I love the fact that several actors have made this role their own, each representation unique to the other, and yet still open to others to be re-invented. Not sure I approve of his crazed make-up style, but you gotta love the jokes : )

10. President SnowThe Hunger Games, Suzanne Collins
I had to mention this sinister fella, due to all the hype recently from both the books and the film adaptation, and it can be agreed that this blood-breath’d and rose-obssessed President is one you certainly wouldn’t want to cross paths with. Cold, politically inspired and willing to sacrifice anyone to make an example, this is a character who uses brutal, Battle-Royale style games to keep the country in check. While his motives are continually questioned throughout the novel, he is a character that is hard to feel sympathetic for, simply because he’s just a smug git.

There are, of course, hundreds more villains out there that I’ve missed out (otherwise I’d be here all day), but to me, these are definitely the ones which come to mind when I think of ‘villain’ in the traditional sense. Oh and I’d like to make an honoury mention to Dahl’s The Twits simply because they always made me laugh, and they look like half of my family does first thing in the morning :).

Any more literary villains you think there are worth mentioning?

Fairy Tales and Long Tails: Middle Eastern & Arab Romances #1

We’ve all heard the classic, archetypal story of Romeo and Juliet (and it’s various versions) and how their romance ends in legendary tragedy. I thought it would be appropriate to write about similar legends which have been carried down through the centuries, but from different cultures, and which are still spoken about today. Some of these stories are pretty passionate (compare Edward and Belle’s pangs of the heart-strings to this lot, for example), and most of them are quite tragic stories, which is probably one reason they have resounded over the years. Here are a couple which are probably the most well known stories in the Middle East, being sung today in stories, being portrayed in paintings and being slipped into popular references and films.

Heer Ranjha
Firstly is the most famous Punjabi romanctic legend which comes to mind, and one that is still depicted in story-telling and pictures today. Heer is a beautiful young woman of the prestigious Jat caste, and from a wealthy family, while Ranjha is the youngest of the four brothers (also from the same caste), who spends his time playing the flute and basically skiving away from working the lands. After an argument with his brothers (presumably about him being a lazy sod), he storms away from his village and travels around until he reaches the village where Heer resides. Offering to look after her father’s cattle, Heer becomes mesmerised by his flute-playing (a olden day Justin Beiber fan, perhaps), and they begin to meet secretly for years. Eventually they are caught by Heer’s uncle, and she is married off to another man (which was always the best answer in those days). A heartbroken Ranjha wanders the Punjabi hills as a jogi until he again finds the place where Heer is living, and manages to convince her parents to let them get married. Mr Meddling-Uncle again interferes, however, and poisons Heer on the wedding day, leaving a heartbroken Ranjha to follow suit and poison himself too.

Layla and Majnun
This is a similar love story, this time of Arab/Middle Eastern descent, and has several (often embellished) versions. The version more familiar to me is one in which the lovers meet as young children in school, where ‘Majnun’ (which means mad-man, his real name was actually Qais) used to get beated by the schoolmaster for not paying attention to schoolwork. Yet wherever he was beaten, Layla would be the one who bled his wounds. Sounds Stigmata-type creepy, but it’s meant to be romantic. This led to a lot of uproar about devilry and a whole lot of scaremongering, and the children were seperated until they met in their youth (so they were teenagers really) and carried on their love affair. Along came another meddling relative, this time in the form of Layla’s brother Tabrez, who refused to let them get married, leading to a fight in which Tabrez is murdered by the crazed-with-love Majnun. The standard punishment is, of course, a good stoning or two, which Majnun is subjected to until Layla agrees to marry another man to save him. See a pattern here? Layla is married off (cattle again) while the boyfriend is exiled to the deserts. Layla’s hubby, however, got fed up of Layla pining after Majnun like an emo, and, with his men, went to hunt him down and kill him. The climax of this story is that when Hubby kills Majnun, at the exact same miment, Layla also dies.
The less dramatic version of this story is pretty much the same except for the mystic bleedings and the lovers both dying after writing a lot of poetry.

There’s a few more stories (to come soon!) which follow a similar theme of unreconciled, noble love and a lot of wandering around/soul-searching/tending sheep which is often the results in tragic endings.

Can any of you think of any more popular romances from non-Western cultures?