Thursday, July 23, 2015

The Bell Jar

The Bell Jar is the only novel written by the American writer and poet Sylvia Plath. Originally published under the pseudonym "Victoria Lucas" in 1963, the novel is semi-autobiographical, with the names of places and people changed. The book is often regarded as a roman à clef since the protagonist's descent into mental illness parallels Plath's own experiences with what may have been clinical depression. Plath committed suicide a month after its first UK publication. The novel was published under Plath's name for the first time in 1967 and was not published in the United States until 1971, pursuant to the wishes of Plath's mother and her husband Ted Hughes. The novel has been translated into nearly a dozen languages.
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Friday, July 17, 2015


What's with all the hoopla, seriously?

Since its release, SS Rajamouli’s Telugu film ‘Bahubali’ has been making news, for being the highest grossing Indian film ever, and that too, a film, which has managed to woo the critics as well. Even foreign publications like The Hollywood Reporter and The Guardian reviewed the movie and gave brawny points for the film’s use of special effects, among other things. It has been hailed as a true-blue blockbuster, even when the film ends at the mid-point, a veritable cliffhanger, between telling of two stories of a king murdered and a son who must get his inheritance back.

The major reason why Bahubali is making news is its use of state-of-the-art CGI imagery, Made in India. It is being hailed as India’s answer to Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Ring trilogy and James Cameron’s technology wonder Avatar. It is also being hailed as the best sword-and-dhoti epic India has ever produced (I rather like the epithet, sword-and-dhoti epic), as India’s answer to Gladiator and 300.

Elsewhere, fans are also claiming that the film is a worthy descendant of quintessentially Indian epics like The Ramayana and The Mahabharata, and are saying that it is a ‘Hindu’ epic. The liberals, on the other hand, are a little uncomfortable with the poster of the hero in the movie, carrying a giant shiv linga on his shoulder. There is also a giant statue of Goddess Kali overlooking a giant battlefield.

Anyway, after hearing the constant chatter for three days, I went to see the film in a theatre. It was the first time since Avatar that I went to see a film looking for a spectacle. It was also the first time since Ravanan that I went to see a south India film dubbed into Hindi (though strictly speaking Ravanan was not a dubbed film). Anyway, the film was not as satisfying as Avartar (which I loved as a spectacle, despite its flaws) and it was not as maudlin as Ravanan.

Yet, I don’t understand this hype.

The film begins with a series of water-soaked scenes which is the best in Indian cinema I have ever seen since the aforementioned Ravanan (the ‘behne de behne de’ song). The scenes of our hero jumping from cliff to cliff were spectacular. But these early scenes have a problem which in turn informs the problem of the entire film. We are told that the huge waterfall is unscalable, and we are shown the hero, since his childhood, trying to climb up the fall. And then, one day, he finds the wooden mask of a girl, he becomes obsessed with her and two months later, climbs the fall, as he imagines the girl, in a fancy dress, singing to him, goading him to jump from one cliff to another. This is a disorienting scene to enjoy with a straight face. You admire the photography and the aerobics done by the stunt person, the stand-in for the hero, and yet you are distracted by the sexy posturing of the heroine, singing a not-really-a-hummable song (the music is by MM Kreem, of ‘tu miley dil khiley’ fame). Again, as the camera is more interested in showing the beauty of the landscape within the given frame, we do not really get a feel of the actual geography of the huge waterfall (unlike say, the Halleluiah mountain scene from Avatar). I wish if they would skip the song and show us some more action.

This is, of course, not possible. Even with its extraordinary technical prowess, Bahubali is a Telugu film and it cannot escape from the tropes of a Telugu film, which must feature a superhuman hero who can make 50 villains scatter with a single punch, who can jump and somersault in slow-motion and who can stalk and almost rape the object of his affection before she falls in love with him, almost immediately (I was particularly squeamish about the wooing scene. She is a warrior woman and our hero begins to undress her, a la Draupadi, before re-dressing her, making her a beautiful woman, as if the only role of a woman is to remain beautiful so that the hero can fall in love with her. Is the scene misogynistic? I thought so, but in the world of Telugu cinema, or Indian cinema for that matter, this is how love blooms). There are also scenes of rousing speeches by various characters, and the cheering of the assorted crowd of extras, a staple of all South India films. But, a good south India film can take all these elements and can make a loud, rousing film that tugs at your heart. This Bahubali does, more or less successfully (For example, the sequence of a shirtless Prabhas carrying the huge siva linga was particularly good, with thumping music, Kailash Kher singing in the background and extras reacting appropriately. The same was case with the scene involving a huge statue.).

Yet, it is a Telugu film that wants to be a blockbuster Hollywood film. It not only wants to emulate the blockbuster formula (turning one film into two, among other things), it also wants to emulate other films, starting with the ‘Cliffhanger’ beginning. It was fun to spot the inspirations. The seduction scene is from ‘The Mask of Zorro’, the running from avalanche scene is from ‘Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom’, the imprisoned royal mother channels Rakhi from Karan Arjun, the blackface villains in the end are inspired by LOTR’s Orcs, down to their invented language (I am not sure if the invented language was successful. In the theatre when the villain spoke, by clicking his tongue, there were bouts of laughter; anthropologically speaking, however, clicking of the tongue is a part of many tribal languages.).

There are two things that stand out. One, the creation of the kingdom of Mahishmati. Indian cinema is not really good at world creation. Thus, you must praise Rajamouli and his team for this superb accomplishment. In a combination of set and CGI, they create sequences which are breathtakingly beautiful. It may not be in the same league as Peter Jackson’s creation of Minas Tirith, but Mahishmati inches closer. There is a shot in the middle of the movie where we see the entire kingdom like an architect’s diorama and it is spectacular. (Though I am not sure about the geography. In the same territory, we see a mighty river, snowcapped mountain and dry rugged hills. What kind of terrain are these?)

Second, the reason why the film is raking mullah at the box office is the climactic battle scene, which runs for more than 30 minutes and the entire sequence is meticulously constructed, and this scene can complete with anything from Peter Jackson. Unlike the major Hollywood films where most high-octane action sequences are incomprehensible, Rajamouli gives us the details of the war. It’s really the edge of the seat stuff.

Before you make up your mind about Bahubali, however, the concluding part is coming next year, which will give you more or less the same story, a love triangle, a betrayal, and a huge climatic battle scene.

Hold your breath!

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Omar Sharif

Omar Sharif (Arabic: عمر الشريـف‎, Egyptian Arabic pronunciation: [ˈʕomɑɾˤ eʃʃɪˈɾiːf]; born Michel Demitri Chalhoub [miˈʃel dɪˈmitɾi ʃælˈhuːb]; 10 April 1932 – 10 July 2015) was an Egyptian actor. He began his career in his native country in the 1950s, but is best known for his appearances in both British and American productions. His films included Lawrence of Arabia (1962), Doctor Zhivago (1965) and Funny Girl (1968). He was nominated for an Academy Award. He won three Golden Globe Awards and a César Award.

Sharif, who spoke Arabic, English, Greek, French, Spanish and Italian, was often cast as a foreigner of some sort. He bridled at travel restrictions imposed during the reign of Egypt's Gamal Abdel Nasser, leading to self-exile in Europe. The estrangement this caused led to an amicable divorce from his wife, the iconic Egyptian actress Faten Hamama, for whom he had converted to Islam. He was a lifelong horse racing enthusiast, and at one time ranked among the world's top contract bridge players.

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Omar Sharif, the dashing, Egyptian-born actor who was one of the biggest movie stars in the world in the 1960s, with memorable roles in “Dr. Zhivago,” “Lawrence of Arabia” and “Funny Girl,” has died. He was 83.

Sharif suffered a heart attack on Friday afternoon in a hospital in Cairo, his agent said.

It was announced in May that he had Alzheimer’s disease.

With the global success of David Lean’s “Lawrence of Arabia,” starring Peter O’Toole, in 1962, Sharif became the first Arab actor to achieve worldwide fame, thanks to his charismatic presence in the epic film — and the Oscar nomination he drew because of it.

In its wake he very quickly became a busy Hollywood actor: Sharif made three films in 1964, including “Behold a Pale Horse” and “The Yellow Rolls Royce,” and three in 1965, including his first lead role in an English-language production, as the title character in Lean’s “Dr. Zhivago,” for which he won a Golden Globe.

Thanks to his gentle continental accent and dark but hard-to-place good looks, the actor was not ethnically typecast: In “Behold a Pale Horse” he played a Spaniard, in “Zhivago” a Russian, in “Genghis Khan” a Mongol, in “Funny Girl” a New York Jewish gambler and in “The Night of the Generals,” a German major during WWII.

Nevertheless, there was no little controversy about his role in “Funny Girl”: When 1967’s Six Day War between Israel and Arab countries including Egypt occurred, Columbia execs considered replacing Sharif; later, when a still depicting a love scene between the actor and Barbra Streisand was published, the Egyptian press began a movement to revoke Sharif’s citizenship.

Streisand remembered her costar in a statement: “Omar was my first leading man in the movies. He was handsome, sophisticated and charming. He was a proud Egyptian and in some people’s eyes, the idea of casting him in ‘Funny Girl’ was considered controversial. Yet somehow, under the direction of William Wyler, the romantic chemistry between Nicky Arnstein and Fanny Brice transcended stereotypes and prejudice. I feel lucky to have had the opportunity to work with Omar, and I’m profoundly sad to hear of his passing.”

Other significant late-’60s films for the actor included J. Lee Thompson Western “MacKenna’s Gold,” with Gregory Peck and Telly Savalas, and tragic European political love story “Mayerling,” in which Sharif was paired with Catherine Deneuve.

During the 1970s Sharif remained busy, but there were fewer notable projects. Standouts included Blake Edwards thriller “The Tamarind Seed,” with Julie Andrew, and Richard Lester’s thriller “Juggernaut.”

Since the mid-1980s Sharif returned sporadically to Egyptian cinema, where he got his start.

In 2003 Sharif won acclaim for his role in Francois Dupeyron’s “Monsieur Ibrahim” as a Turkish Muslim shop owner who becomes an avuncular figure for a Jewish boy in Paris. Although the role was perceived as representing something of a career resurgence for the actor, he had in fact been working regularly over the previous decades in film and TV and continued to do so after “Ibrahim.”

The same year he starred in the 23-episode French anthology TV series “Petits mythes urbains,” in which he played a mysterious cab driver; he also wrote for the series.

He had a substantial role in 2004’s “Hidalgo,” with Viggo Mortensen, and appeared in ABC’s 2006 “Ten Commandments” miniseries and NBC’s 2009 “The Last Templar” miniseries. On the bigscreen he was the narrator for Roland Emmerich’s “10,000 BC.” He also worked a great deal in film and TV projects not distributed in the U.S.

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Omar Sharif, the Egyptian actor who rode out of the desert in the 1962 screen epic “Lawrence of Arabia” into a glamorous if brief reign as an international star in films like “Doctor Zhivago” and “The Night of the Generals,” died on Friday in Cairo. He was 83.

His death, at a hospital, was caused by a heart attack, said his agent, Steve Kenis.

Mr. Sharif — who later became as well known for his mastery of bridge as he was for his acting — was a commanding, darkly handsome presence onscreen. He was multilingual as well, and comfortable in almost any role or cultural setting.

He had appeared in a number of Egyptian films before the British director David Lean added him to the cast of “Lawrence of Arabia,” a freewheeling depiction of the real-life exploits of the British adventurer T. E. Lawrence, who led Arab fighters in a series of battles against Turkish occupiers. Peter O’Toole starred in the title role.

Mr. Sharif played the Arab warrior Sherif Ali, who joins forces with
Lawrence. The scene depicting his arrival is widely regarded as a classic piece of cinematic art. In it he appears at first as a tiny speck on the desert horizon and then slowly approaches, until he materializes into a figure riding a camel. Mr. Sharif’s performance, in his first English-language film, brought him an Oscar nomination as best supporting actor.

The 1960s proved to be Mr. Sharif’s best, busiest and most visible decade in Hollywood. In quick succession he appeared in “The Fall of the Roman Empire” (1964), as a king of ancient Armenia; “Behold a Pale Horse” (1964), as a priest during the Spanish Civil War; “The Yellow Rolls-Royce” (1965), as a Yugoslav patriot intent on saving his country from the Nazis; “Genghis Khan” (1965), as the conquering Mongol leader; “Doctor Zhivago” (1965), as a Russian physician-poet whose world is torn apart by war; “The Night of the Generals” (1967), as a German intelligence officer; “Funny Girl” (1968), as a shifty gambler, and — in a rare early-career misstep — the critical and box-office disaster “Che!” (1969), as the Cuban revolutionary Che Guevara, opposite Jack Palance as Fidel Castro.

There were more films to come, but it was Mr. Sharif’s performance in “Doctor Zhivago” that is generally considered the high point of his career. Adapted from the novel by Boris Pasternak, the film was a sweeping portrait of war and rebellion in Czarist Russia. Mr. Sharif, in the role of the sensitive, brooding Zhivago, plunges into a doomed love affair with another man’s wife, played by Julie Christie, as violence engulfs their lives.

World War II was the setting for “The Night of the Generals,” a drama about the Nazi high command in Warsaw that reunited Mr. Sharif and Mr. O’Toole. Mr. Sharif played a junior officer assigned to investigate a trio of generals, one of whom (Mr. O’Toole) has been killing prostitutes.


Mr. Sharif appeared in dozens of movies after the 1960s, but his film career was clearly headed downhill. He liked to gamble, became an aficionado of horse racing and spent more and more time playing competitive bridge. An expert on the game, he wrote a syndicated bridge column and a number of books on the subject, including “Omar Sharif’s Life in Bridge” (1983). His autobiography, “The Eternal Male,” written with Marie-Thérèse Guinchard, was published in 1977.

He was philosophical about the ups and downs of his career. “Look, I had it good and bad,” he said in an interview with The New York Times in 1995. “I did three films that are classics, which is very rare in itself, and they were all made within five years.”

He attributed his change of film fortune to what he called “the cultural revolution” at the end of the 1960s. “There was a rise of young, talented directors,” he added, “but they were making films about their own societies. There was no more room for a foreigner, so suddenly there were no more parts.”

There were in fact at least a few parts. Mr. Sharif continued to appear in films, many made for television. In “Pleasure Palace,” shown on CBS in 1980, he was a European playboy who comes to Las Vegas for a no-holds-barred gambling duel with a millionaire Texan. In the 1995 A&E film “Catherine the Great,” starring Catherine Zeta-Jones, he was a Russian prince.

His later films included “Monsieur Ibrahim” (2003), set in 1960s Paris, in which he played an aging Muslim grocer who befriends a rudderless Jewish teenager; and “Hidalgo” (2004), as an Arab sheik who invites an American cowboy (Viggo Mortensen) to participate in a survival race across the desert. His most recent film role was in the French family drama “Rock the Casbah” (2013).

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Sharif was "an actor's actor," said Jack Shaheen, an author who has written extensively about Arabs and Middle Easterners in cinema. "Not only was he the first Arab star in American cinema, but he played Russians, Jews, Hispanics. He was Che. He was Genghis Khan. He did it all. What I admired about him most of all was his willingness not to be typecast. He would play Arab villains or heroes, or any role. If he liked the role, he took it."

Sharif said he landed his breakout role in "Lawrence" simply because he spoke English. "They looked at photographs of all the Egyptian actors, and David said if he speaks English, bring him here," he recalled to The Times in 2012.

Sharif's performance in the film earned him two Golden Globe awards and an Oscar nomination for supporting actor. He also forged an enduring friendship with O'Toole.

Three years later, Sharif played the title role in Lean's adaptation of "Doctor Zhivago," the Boris Pasternak novel about a sensitive Russian poet-doctor who finds himself torn between his wife and the love of his life against the backdrop of World War I and the Russian Revolution.

Sharif won another Golden Globe and reportedly received 3,000 proposals of marriage after the film debuted.

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Lawrence of Arabia made him a truly international star. The film earned seven Oscars and nominations for both Sharif and his co-star, Peter O'Toole.

He followed this with another intense portrayal, that of the eponymous Doctor Zhivago, in Lean's 1965 Russian epic, based on the novel by Boris Pasternak.

With his black eyes and famous gap-toothed smile, Sharif was depicted as a type of Rudolf Valentino of the 1960s.
I don't know what women are attracted to but certainly I have no notion about having any sex appeal

He later called this a triumph of hype over accuracy, but he certainly escorted some of the world's most glamorous women.

Sharif admitted to falling madly for his co-stars, among them Ingrid Bergman, Catherine Deneuve and Ava Gardner.

But, disillusioned with the regime of Colonel Nasser in Egypt, he began spending more time away from his native country.

The Egyptian authorities were also angered by Sharif's role in Funny Girl, alongside co-star Barbra Streisand.

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On the whole, though, nothing he subsequently did on screen could compare to that sparklingly authentic first appearance, on a camel as an Arab chief in David Lean’s Lawrence of Arabia.
It brought him a nomination for an Academy award, and leading parts in many other epics as assorted princes and warriors, though artistically speaking he seemed happiest in the company of, or pining for, beautiful women.

Sharif was a civilised man with cosmopolitan tastes and his first love was often said to be bridge. He found it hard, given the quality of most of his films, to take them as seriously as the pleasures of contract bridge; and by the 197Os he had begun to win as much acclaim and admiration for his poise and prowess at the bridge table as for his conquests on the screen.

Off it he also famously conducted a series of well-chronicled courtships of leading ladies, former leading ladies or leading ladies from other films, notably Miss Streisand, Catherine Deneuve, and Dyan Cannon.

“I definitely want to do mainly theatre now,” he would say when one of his blockbusters was released to little critical acclaim, “or two weeks in a film for a remarkable amount of money.” In 1983 he starred in a West End revival of The Sleeping Prince.
He was a syndicated columnist on bridge for various papers and periodicals and apart from writing a book on bridge also made an instructional video.

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The actor Omar Sharif, who has died aged 83, was introduced to the international screen in one of the most dramatic star entrances of film history. This was the scene in Lawrence of Arabia (1962) in which Lawrence (Peter O’Toole) first makes contact with the Arab chieftain Sherif Ali (Sharif), who will become his key ally in the desert fighting, and the latter, in a daringly protracted sequence, develops from a speck on the horizon into a towering, huge horseman, rifle at the ready.

Sharif was instantly elevated by this debut into a major box-office figure, and went on to star in a succession of big-budget films during the 1960s, most notably the contrasting blockbuster hits Doctor Zhivago (1965) and Funny Girl (1968), as perhaps the last of the “exotic” Hollywood heartthrobs in line of descent from Rudolph Valentino.

This situation, however, proved comparatively short-lived. Almost like the protagonist of a Victorian novel, Sharif was overtaken by his own success, to the extent that in order to service the debts incurred by gambling and a playboy lifestyle, he was thrown back on accepting any work that came his way, and entered a downward spiral into trivial and meretricious movies.

He was born Michel Chalhoub in Alexandria, the son of well-to-do Lebanese-Syrian Christians, Claire (nee Saada) and Joseph Chalhoub, and educated at a private school and at Cairo University. He worked briefly and reluctantly in his father’s lumber business but fell for the lure of acting, and was delighted when a friend, the director Youssef Chahine, offered him a role in the film Struggle in the Valley (1954). The female star was Faten Hamama, who was greatly taken by her leading man and in the same year became his wife, Sharif converting to Islam in the process. The marriage lasted for 20 years and the couple had a son, Tarek, who was to make a brief appearance in Doctor Zhivago in the guise of Yuri Zhivago’s childhood self.

Sharif became established as a principal figure in Egyptian cinema and also starred in the French-backed Goha (1958), which afforded him wider recognition, if only in the arthouses.

But it was his selection by the producer Sam Spiegel and the director David Lean to play Sherif Ali in Lawrence of Arabia that proved the turning point in his career. As he later observed: “Maybe if I hadn’t made Lawrence, I would have gone on living in Cairo and had five children and lots of grandchildren.” He blamed the eventual failure of his marriage on the simple fact of his constant absences in Europe and the US.

The role of Sherif Ali was pivotal in the film’s dramatic scheme, and Sharif’s swarthy, romantic aura was played off to great effect against the blue-eyed blondness of O’Toole’s Lawrence. The two became close friends while making the film. Sharif’s performance won him Golden Globe awards as best supporting actor and most promising newcomer, as well as an Academy Award nomination, though he ruefully recalled that he had signed a contract with the studio that netted him only £8,000 for this and several subsequent appearances.

Fluent in English and French, he worked steadily for the next few years, though as an all-purpose “foreigner”, mainstream cinema never having been especially concerned about precise ethnicity. Thus he played a Spanish priest in Behold a Pale Horse (1964), the title role in a comic-strip historical extravaganza, Genghis Khan (1965), a Yugoslav partisan in The Yellow Rolls-Royce (1964), and even, a little later, a Nazi officer, complete with blond-streaked hair, in The Night of the Generals (1967).

But it was as the Russian hero of Lean’s Doctor Zhivago that he achieved his best-remembered screen role, a brooding, magnetic presence, even if some critics felt that the performance, like the whole film, manifested a degree of shallowness.

There was no doubt about his box-office stature, though, and it was revealing that the film version of the musical Funny Girl, which in the theatre had been an unabashed vehicle for Barbra Streisand, was marketed on the basis of her co-starring with Sharif. As the shady gambler Nicky Arnstein, by whom Fanny Brice (Streisand) was enslaved, Sharif was the essence of the homme fatal, and even weighed in with a couple of song numbers. There were rumours at the time that the stars’ relationship had blossomed off-screen too, a notion that was ill received in Sharif’s native land in the light of Streisand’s pro-Israeli sympathies.

Sharif later admitted that he had briefly imagined himself in love with Streisand, and also recalled being smitten by Ava Gardner, his co-star in Mayerling (1968), in which he brought a suitable intensity to the doomed Crown Prince Rudolf of Austria, and Gardner, with some incongruity, played his mother.

Mayerling was hardly a distinguished film, but was considerably superior to some others in which Sharif went on to appear, not least Che! (1969), a dully temporising Hollywood account of the life of Che Guevara, in which at one point Sharif’s Guevara is confronted by Jack Palance’s Fidel Castro with the mumbled expostulation: “Che, sometimes I just don’t understand you.”

The Last Valley (1971) and The Horsemen (1971) were poorly rated would-be spectacles. It seems significant that in the French-made thriller The Burglars (1971), Sharif was cast opposite a contemporary European box-office favourite, Jean-Paul Belmondo, but in the guise of a stereotypical scheming villain, who ends up smothered by Belmondo in a deserted silo under tons of grain, an intimation of the fate that was to befall him professionally as he appeared in increasingly obscure productions.

But there were still one or two brighter spots to come. In 1975 he reprised the role of Arnstein in the Funny Girl sequel, Funny Lady, and the previous year gave one of his most effective, because downplayed, performances, as the captain of a stricken cruise liner in Juggernaut. Of his playing in this film, the American critic Pauline Kael percipiently remarked: “He is not allowed to smile the famous smile, or even to look soulfully lovesick. He is kept rather grim.”

At this time, Sharif was perhaps more readily associated with the game of bridge than with acting. Though he took it up in adult life, he developed into a world-class player. In addition to competing in international tournaments, he wrote a syndicated column on the subject for several years for the Chicago Tribune, was the author of several books on bridge, and licensed his name to a bridge computer game.

He was also an inveterate high-stakes gambler, a regular at the casinos of Paris and elsewhere, and at the racetrack in Deauville. He maintained that claims of his philandering were ill-founded, but his lifestyle certainly encompassed heavy drinking and smoking more than 50 cigarettes a day, at least until he underwent heart bypass surgery in 1993. And the cost was high in financial terms as well.

Professionally, he drifted from one minor role to the next in a run of TV movies and mini-series, often costume dramas of one kind or another, and mostly of the sort only liable to be found at off-peak hours on the more obscure channels. He candidly told a journalist in 2003 that “for 25 years I have been making rubbish movies”.

There were, moreover, some unedifying moments in his private life. In 2003, he headbutted a policeman in a Paris casino rumpus and was subsequently fined and given a suspended jail term, tactlessly telling the press that to assault a cop was “the dream of every Frenchman”. Two years later, he slugged a parking attendant at a Beverly Hills restaurant. He was placed on probation and ordered to pay restitution.

But at least he had returned into the realms of serious acting by taking the leading role in the 2003 French movie Monsieur Ibrahim, in which his characterisation of an elderly Turkish Muslim shopkeeper secured him a best actor César award, the French equivalent of an Oscar.

In 2006 he declared that he had abandoned gambling and even bridge in favour of family life, and described himself as semi-retired from the screen.

In the previous year he had been the recipient of a Unesco medal for contributions to world cinema and cultural diversity. Lawrence and Zhivago might by then have seemed a long way in the past, but despite – or possibly even because of – the intervening vicissitudes of his life, Sharif’s reputation remained undimmed.

He is survived by his son and two grandsons.

Omar Sharif, actor, born 10 April 1932; died 10 July 2015

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Wednesday, July 15, 2015

The Pregnant King

The Pregnant King is a book written by Devdutt Pattanaik. It follows the story of Yuvanashva, a childless king, who accidentally drinks the magic potion meant to make his queens pregnant. It is set in the backdrop of the Mahabaratha and makes references to characters and incidents in the Kurukshetra as well as the Ramayana.

Among the many lesser-known sub-stories in the Mahabharata is one told by the sage Lomasa to the exiled Pandavas, about a king named Yuvanashva who accidentally gets pregnant, later revealed that it was no accident but by design by the ghosts of 2 young boys who were burned alive by the King at the stake. For the author, Devdutt Pattanaik, a medical doctor, marketing consultant and mythologist deeply interested in the relevance of old myths in modern times, this was an instantly intriguing story. Pattanaik has written several books on myths and rituals already, but The Pregnant King is his first work of fiction, a retelling of the Yuvanashva tale to examine gender roles, the blurring of lines between parental duties and the malleability of Dharma to fit a given situation.

The conflict between desire and social obligation/destiny is a major theme in the book. It also speaks about questions around the idea of gender.

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Among the many lesser-known sub-stories in the Mahabharata is one told by the sage Lomasha to the exiled Pandavas, about a king named Yuvanashva who drinks a potion meant for his barren queens and ends up pregnant himself. For Devdutt Pattanaik, a medical doctor, marketing consultant and mythologist (!) deeply interested in the relevance of old myths in modern times, this was an instantly intriguing story. Pattanaik has written several books on myths and rituals already, but The Pregnant King is his first work of fiction, a retelling of the Yuvanashva tale to examine gender roles, the blurring of lines between parental duties and the malleability of Dharma to fit a given situation. The result is a sporadically successful book that tells an engrossing, subversive story but meanders a little too much.

According to the Mahabharata, Yuvanashva, king of Vallabhi, lived many generations before the Kurukshetra war. The Pregnant King situates the story at the same time as the central narrative of the epic, making him a contemporary of the Pandavas and Kauravas, and one of the few kings who doesn’t participate in the war (because he’s preoccupied with the more important business of siring an heir). This shift in chronology allows Pattanaik to use episodes in the epic as parallels or counterpoints for the Yuvanashva story. The characters in this book make chatty references to the lives of their more famous contemporaries in Hastinapur, and the effect is a little like Delhi Times readers discussing the latest on Aishwarya-Abhishek or Saif-Kareena (“ooh, did you know Kunti is rumoured to have had a son out of wedlock?”). The question of whether the impotent Pandu and the blind Dhritrashtra were fit to become king are set against similar dilemmas involving characters in Vallabhi. Shikhandi, who was born a woman but procured a penis from a yaksha later in life, has a small but important role. There is some healthy irreverence on view: when a messenger arrives with the momentous news that the war is over, no one in the kingdom is particularly interested, being more concerned about internal matters. When the hero Arjuna makes what amounts to a guest appearance and is asked about a story Bhishma narrated to the Pandavas before he died, his reply is a curt, “I’m sorry but I remember no such story. He said so many things” – a neat dismissal of the ponderous Shanti Parva, Bhishma’s long deathbed discourse about a king’s duties.

Expectedly, wry humour runs through the story. Long before Yuvanashva finds himself in the family way, the kingdom has had to permit the bending of convention: his mother Shilavati, widowed at a young age, is a proxy ruler, and the Brahmana elders are disturbed because “they were not used to a leader who nursed a child while discussing matters of dharma”. (It’s notable that the unconventionality of Shilavati’s own life doesn’t make her any more tolerant of her son’s situation later on, which underlines the point that non-conformity/anti-tradition can take many shapes, and these aren’t always kindred spirits.) There are multiple references to bulls, fields, soil and seeds as euphemisms for sex and conception, and to illuminate the vexing question of “ownership” that arises when a woman is made pregnant by someone other than her husband. And then there are those troublesome dead ancestors, the “pitrs”, waiting for the arrival of a child so they can be reborn in the land of the living. Taking the form of crows, they perch outside bedchambers, waiting for quick results, flapping their wings impatiently when foreplay goes on for too long. (“Does it not bother you that your son’s seed is weak?” one of them indelicately asks Shilavati.)

More here/

The Hobbit

The Hobbit, or There and Back Again is a fantasy novel and children's book by English author J. R. R. Tolkien. It was published on 21 September 1937 to wide critical acclaim, being nominated for the Carnegie Medal and awarded a prize from the New York Herald Tribune for best juvenile fiction. The book remains popular and is recognized as a classic in children's literature.

Set in a time "Between the Dawn of Færie and the Dominion of Men", The Hobbit follows the quest of home-loving hobbit Bilbo Baggins to win a share of the treasure guarded by the dragon, Smaug. Bilbo's journey takes him from light-hearted, rural surroundings into more sinister territory. The story is told in the form of an episodic quest, and most chapters introduce a specific creature, or type of creature, of Tolkien's Wilderland. By accepting the disreputable, romantic, fey and adventurous sides of his nature and applying his wits and common sense, Bilbo gains a new level of maturity, competence and wisdom. The story reaches its climax in the Battle of the Five Armies, where many of the characters and creatures from earlier chapters re-emerge to engage in conflict.

Personal growth and forms of heroism are central themes of the story. Along with motifs of warfare, these themes have led critics to view Tolkien's own experiences during World War I as instrumental in shaping the story. The author's scholarly knowledge of Germanic philology and interest in fairy tales are often noted as influences.

Encouraged by the book's critical and financial success, the publisher requested a sequel. As Tolkien's work on the successor The Lord of the Rings progressed, he made retrospective accommodations for it in The Hobbit. These few but significant changes were integrated into the second edition. Further editions followed with minor emendations, including those reflecting Tolkien's changing concept of the world into which Bilbo stumbled. The work has never been out of print. Its ongoing legacy encompasses many adaptations for stage, screen, radio, board games and video games. Several of these adaptations have received critical recognition on their own merits.

More Here/

Tuesday, July 14, 2015


This is how the river visits you
Not like a long-lost lover, but like a coy bride
Tentative and silent and determined
It coils around you like a frozen snake
As you wake up and find your feet under water
Like a coy bride, the river bares its heart
Filled with green slime, rotten leaves and dead
Hyacinth roots, tiny tadpoles and taste of the red earth
You are a virgin bridegroom, entranced and fascinated
You remain a virgin bridegroom, entranced, as the river
Takes over your house, like a coy bride, one item
At a time, your bed and your study table, your books,
Which are easiest to dissolve, your fountain pen, which is now
Its colour, your shirts, your gas stove, your cooking pots, and you
Limb by limb, with slime and grime, limb by limb, the river takes you…

This is how the river departs
Not like a coy bride, but like a long-lost lover
Heartbroken and furious and vindictive
The river, its purpose done, recoils from you
Like a drunk patron in the red light district after
Premature ejaculation, leaving on you traces of
The violent fervour, green slime and grime and
Rotten leaves and tiny tadpoles and dead hyacinth roots
You remain rooted inside your house, like a jilted lover
You cannot touch the river, its coils like a frozen snake
Its shimmering presence vanish like a love song half forgotten
What remains is the red earth that sticks to your brown skin
Like manifestation of a venereal disease, your shame
Around the torn pages under the muck, next to the pen without a nib
And cooking pots and discoloured clothes marking your territory…

(C) Dibyajyoti Sarma

ৰ'দ পুৱাবৰ কাৰণে মতিবানো কাক |

ৰ'দ পুৱাবৰ কাৰণে মাতিবানো কাক ?
ৰ'দ পুৱাবৰ কাৰণে মতিবানো কাক?
ওলাই দেখোন আহিলেই ৰহদৈৰে জাক
লগে লগে লৰি আহিল সেউতীহঁতৰ মাক 
পাহাৰ বগাই নামি আহিল ডালিমীৰে জাক
শুৱনীকৈ অসমীৰে একতাৰে সূতাবোৰে মহুৰাতে ল'লেহি পাক।
অ' আইতা আইতা অ'
এনেই আইতা নাচনী তাতে নাতিনীৰে বিয়া
অসম আকাশ পোহৰ হ'ব উৰুলিটি দিয়া।..
তেজীমলা কোন ?
সোৱণশিৰীৰ সোণ
সোণ চেঁকুৰা মাটিতে সিঁচি
দোকমোকালিতে চোতাল মচি
আজি হেনো দেখিছে গাঁৱৰে কঠীয়াতলীত
পোহৰ শিশুৰ কোমল হাঁহি
নতুন দিনৰ ধুনীয়া সপোন
চেৰেকীতকৈ চৰিছে যে আইতাৰ হে পাক। ..
আজিৰ মূলা গাভৰুৱে দপদপাই ওলালে
হেংদানে মাকো দেখি ক'ৰবাতে লুকালে
মূলাই আজি সমাজ শালত চেনেহ চেলেং লগালে
সজাবলে' পৰাবলে' কাক?
মকৰাৰে পুৰণি জালবোৰৰ এলান্ধু
সাৰি-পুচি নিবলৈ আহিলে বতাহ এছাটি
তাতে উৰে হেজাৰ কপৌৰ জাক
পৃথিৱীৰে আকাশৰে শুকুলাকৈ ডাৱৰে
উলাহেৰে সাবটিছে তাক।
অসমীৰে চোতালতে ৰ'দ কাঁচলিত বহি বহি
ব তোলাই ব তোলে বাটি কঢ়াই কাঢ়ে
আমাৰ দেশৰ চেলেংখনিত নতুন ৰহণ চৰে
সজাবলৈ হেজাৰ জনতাক
আনন্দতে পুৱাই উৰিল
হেজাৰ হেজাৰ কপৌৰে জাক
ধিয়াই মাথোঁ ৰঙা বেলিৰ
জীৱন যচা তাপ।

লুইতত ভোটোঙাই ওলাল শিহু by Bhupen Hazarika

লুইতত ভোটোঙাই ওলাল শিহু 
আজি বোলে ৰঙালী বিহু বিহু
যেন লেতেকুৰে থোক
এ' দলদোপ দলদোপ হেন্দোলদোপ
ধেমালি চাই যা ধেমালি চা।
সমাজৰ পথাৰত কোন খেলুৱৈয়ে
কাক বা সাজিছে ঢোপ
ৰাইজৰ এইগাল লোক
দলদোপ দলদোপ হেন্দোলদোপ
ধেমালি চাই যা, ধেমালি চা।
এ' ইফালেদি লথিয়ায়-- ৰংমন-ভদীয়াক
সিফালেদি লথিয়ায় তোক
নাজিতৰা, ইফালেদি লথিয়ায় তোক
ৰঙালী বিহুটিক কঙালী কৰিলে
পোটৰো নুগুচে ভোক
নাজিতৰা, পেটৰো নুগুচে ভোক
এহ দুদিন বিহু কৰি এবছৰ কান্দিবি
গিলিবি দুখৰহে ঢোক
এ' ৰাইজৰ এইগাল লোক
এ' দলদোপ দলদোপ হেন্দোলদোপ
ধেমালি চাই য়া, ধেমালি চা।
এ' বিহু কাপোৰ বিচাৰি খালো হাবাথুৰি
সূতাও মহঙা হ'ল ঐ গোৱিন্দাই ৰাম
হুৰৰ বৰ বৰ দেউতাৰ পদূলি সাঁৰোতে
ককাল মোৰ ভাগিয়ে গ'ল ঐ গোৱিন্দাই ৰাম
চাওঁতে চাওঁতে গ'লবাৰ বিহুতে
গৰুহাল বন্ধকীত গ'ল ঐ গোবিন্দাই ৰাম
কোনোবা সমুদ্ৰত বোমা ফুটুৱালে
ক'ৰবাত পৰিলে ছাঁই
এগণ্ডা বোমাৰে পৃথিৱী পুৰিব
ক'ৰবাৰ ৰণ বলিয়াই
উদজান বোমাৰে গুণগান বখানি
ন'কবি ভণী তই মোক
বোলো ৰণ হ'লে খাম কি
ৰণ হ'লে গাম কি
মৰিব দেশৰহে লোক
শান্তিৰে নিঃজৰাত নিজৰি নঃ নগলে
আমি হ'ম বৰশীৰে টোপ
অতিকৈনো চেঃ চেনেহৰ বহাগৰনো বিঃ বিহুটিৰ
সুৰটিনো পাবগৈ লোপ
ৰাইজৰ এইগাল লোক
দলদোপ দলদোপ হেন্দোলদোপ
ধেমালি চাইযা ধেমালি চা
বোৱতী সূতিটিক ভেটিবযে নোৱাৰি অ' আইতা
ভেটা ভাঙে ঘনে ঘনে
দেশৰে ৰাইজে অ' আইতা কঢ়িয়াই লৈ যোৱা
অ' আইতা সময়ক ভেটিব কোনে ...