Man-Eaters of Kumaon Book Review

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Review:

A really well-written and fascinating memoir by Jim Corbett, one of the world’s greatest big game hunters, about his experiences tracking and killing man-eating tigers in India, including the infamous Champawat Tigress, who killed 436 people in Nepal and India before being shot by Corbett in 1907. Although I’m an avid hiker, my tracking skills are basic in the extreme and it was really fascinating getting a peek into the mind of a great tracker like Corbett. The amount of information he could pick up from something as simple as a footprint or tuft of hair was mind-blowing. There’s also quite a bit of interesting information about tiger behavior and habits.

As somebody who is morally opposed to big game hunting, there were a few chapters I found sad and depressing to read, because several of the hunts he discusses in the book were in pursuit of tigers who were not man-eaters and who he killed due to their large size or a similar factor that I don’t consider justification for murder. (Later in life, he apparently had a change of heart and refused to shoot any tiger that was not a proven man-eater, as well as lobbying for the creation of India’s first national park to protect tiger habitat.) However, the chapters on the man-eaters were thrilling reads.

Given the era and society in which he lived and wrote, I was pleasantly surprised by Corbett’s sympathetic treatment of both the poor Indian villagers he was trying to protect and the man-eaters themselves. There were several very moving passages about the courage of some of the tigers’ victims and would-be victims and their families and neighbors, including a brave young woman who chased after the Champawat Tigress with nothing but a sickle after it carried off her sister. Corbett also treats the tigers with respect and explains the factors that made them into man-eaters, with harsh words for his fellow hunters when he discovers bullet wounds that disabled but did not kill the animal, forcing it to turn to easier, human prey.

My rating:4 Stars (4 / 5)

Water Movie Review

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Review:

TRIGGER WARNING: Sexual abuse

One of the most horrifying films I’ve ever seen. I saw in an arthouse theater soon after it came out in 2005 and haven’t seen it since, but I still feel physically ill when I remember certain scenes.

Water was written and directed by Deepa Mehta, a native of Amritsar, Punjab, India who now lives in Canada. It is set in India in 1938, during the rise of Gandhi, but mostly follows the life of a 7 year old child bride who is widowed and sent by her family to live for the rest of her life in an ashram (house of prayer) with other widows. The women are desperately poor and survive by begging and, it turns out, by prostituting the younger and prettier members of the ashram to wealthy men. Starting in childhood.

It does end on a slightly more hopeful note than most of the rest of the film, but overall, it is very hard to watch. Nevertheless, I do recommend watching Water if you can safely do so without triggering yourself. Not only is it a beautifully made and well-acted film, it’s also a very powerful and important one. Call me a bleeding heart, but I think it’s important for those of us with comfortable Western lives to be aware of the struggles of people in general and women in particular in more superstitious and unforgiving times and places. The plight of poor widows in India remains dire. If you feel inspired to try and help, check out The Loomba Foundation and similar charities.

3 Idiots Movie Review

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Review:

3 Idiots was recommended to my husband by some Indian and Pakistani coworkers. It was a huge hit in India and is one of the highest grossing Bollywood films ever.

I was a little wary at first because some of the promotional material made it look alarmingly like an Indian Dumb and Dumber, but it’s really not. The story follows two college friends about 10 years after their graduation as they are trying to find a third friend (Ranchoddas Shamaldas Chanchad, aka “Rancho), who has disappeared in the intervening years. The search is interspersed with flashbacks from the exploits of the three friends in engineering school. 3 Idiots is both entertaining story and social commentary about the immense pressure placed on Indian youth by their families and education system, which results in a high rate of suicide. Though Rancho loves engineering passionately, one of his friends really wants to become a wildlife photographer, and the third is under so much pressure from his impoverished family to make something of himself that he nearly flunks out from the stress. The three have an ongoing rivalry with another student who has no talent for engineering but memorizes the textbooks and sucks up to teachers.

3 Idiots is more of a mix of different genres and styles than a typical Hollywood film, which takes a little getting used to. There’s a rather good review on Amazon that covers it better than I could, I think:

Indian film […] is kitchen sink filmmaking, throwing together themes and plots from many diverse genres to create tales of epic scope (this one is nearly three hours long). These sagas whipsaw the viewer back and forth from farcical parody to ghastly tragedy to musical fantasy to weepy melodrama to toilet humor to social protest to romantic comedy. The plots are frequently Byzantine in their complexity and the characters hopelessly unrealistic. As in the Hindu epic Ramayana, they are better thought of as caricatures of love, wisdom, heroism, foolishness, envy, ambition, and other traits.

Though the ride can be dizzying (and the balance between the wacky hijinks of the friends and the serious social commentary embedded in the story results in some nasty cases of mood whiplash at several points), the result is a film that is both funny and moving, and yes, occasionally ridiculous. (The birth scene!!! o_O) The actors seemed like they were having a lot of fun, which always helps with a film like this, and although I was initially kind of side-eyeing the attempt to pass 40-something Aamir Khan (who also starred in my previous foray into Bollywood: Lagaan) off as a college student, I have to admit he’s a really enjoyable actor to watch and he did a great job with the role of Rancho.

Something that struck me watching Khan’s performance was how whole-heartedly he threw himself into the role. It’s possible this is common in Indian film-making (my limited experience with Bollywood films makes it hard to judge) but I have a hard time picturing a Hollywood star of Khan’s caliber allowing himself to appear as ridiculous as Khan does at many points in this film, unless he’s specifically a comedian like Robin Williams or Adam Sandler. Aamir Khan is one of the biggest stars in India, with many “serious” roles under his belt, yet here he is, bugging out his eyes and waggling his tongue like a 4 year old making faces! For example, the supremely silly (and ear-wormy) love song (mild spoilers):

To be honest, I kind of liked it. Some Hollywood stars guard their dignity a little TOO closely and end up just playing the same role over and over because they’re too scared to leave their comfort zone. I prefer a little more versatility.

Based on this film, I’m also guessing that Indian culture doesn’t have nearly as big a taboo against grown men crying as American culture (unfortunately) does – I lost count of how many times Khan and his co-stars teared up with sadness, joy, and everything in between. Again, it was kind of refreshing – men should be able to cry without being branded sissies or wimps.

My rating:3.5 Stars (3.5 / 5)

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The Hundred-Foot Journey Movie Review

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Review:

This film doesn’t have a lot of depth or originality, but it’s a charming, feel-good story about an Indian family who opens a restaurant in rural France and it’s helped substantially by good performances, particularly by Helen Mirren, in a role reminiscent of her Oscar-nominated performance as Mrs. Wilson in Gosford Park, and veteran Indian actor Om Puri. The cinematography is also top-notch, with many beautiful shots of the French countryside and mouth-watering shots of various dishes and ingredients, French and Indian alike. Don’t watch this movie if you’re hungry!

My rating:3 Stars (3 / 5)

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Lagaan: Once Upon a Time in India Movie Review

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Review:

I’ve seen a few Westernized Indian movies, like Bride and Prejudice and Monsoon Wedding, but Lagaan was my first experience with a real Bollywood film. I think it was a pretty lucky first choice.

The main plot of Lagaan revolves around a poor farming village in 19th century India, which is stricken by a horrific drought and unable to pay the taxes (lagaan) it owes to the British Raj. The hero, Bhuvan (Aamir Khan), makes a bet with the arrogant and cruel officer in charge of collecting the tax that if the villagers can beat the British in a game of cricket, their debt will be forgiven. But if they lose, their tax will be increased by three times.

What follows is good old-fashioned, feel-good fun. Although I’m not much of a sports fan and know almost nothing about cricket, I found it easy to get swept up in the film’s story, and it rarely lagged despite clocking in at nearly 4 hours of running time.

You always hear about Bollywood’s fantastic music and dance numbers, and several of the dances in Lagaan blew me away with how good they were. My favorite was Radha Kaise Na Jale:

Since there’s no subtitles in this copy of the clip, here’s what’s going on: Gauri (Gracy Singh) is in love with Bhuvan but fears he is falling in love with a British woman who has taken pity on the villagers and is coaching them at cricket. During a religious celebration in their village, Bhuvan and Gauri re-enact a ceremonial dance for the villagers (and the British woman) about a goddess (Radha) jealous of her flirtatious lover (Krishna), while Krishna tries to reassure her that his heart belongs only to her. Of course, there’s a double meaning in every line and gesture.

Great film! I highly recommend it.

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My rating:4 Stars (4 / 5)

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Bride and Prejudice

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Review: 

Not my favorite Austen update, but fun and enjoyable, with some fantastic music and dance numbers, as you’d expect from a Bollywood version of Pride and Prejudice.

My rating: 3 Stars (3 / 5)

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