Posts Tagged Romance

WEDNESDAY REFLECTION #33: The Shop Around the Corner VS. You’ve Got Mail

Via: Daily Prompt – Proclivity & Confess

poster2b-2bshop2baround2bthe2bcorner252c2bthe_01Title     The Shop Around the Corner

Starring     James Stewart, Margaret Sullavan, and Frank Morgan

Director     Ernst Lubitsch

Writer(s)    Samson Raphaelson and Miklós László

Genre     Romance | Comedy | Drama

Release Date     January 12, 1940

Filming Location     Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios, Culver City, California, USA

Parental Guidance     TV-G

IMDB Rating     8.1

Synopsis: Alfred Kralik (James Stewart) is the First Salesman at the Matuschek & Co. boutique store, which has allowed him a rather comfortable bachelor’s living thus far. Sure, his relationship with the store’s owner Hugo Matuschek (Frank Morgan) is more-often-than-not contentious given that, whenever invited to share an opinion, he ends up challenging the old man’s decisions for the benefit of the store; nevertheless, he also knows that his longstanding tenure with the company and faithful efforts towards its success is appreciated by the big guy, albeit grudgingly. Besides, with a wonderful staff under his supervision, Alfred wouldn’t change a thing about his life. That is, until a steady mail correspondence with an anonymous woman has him wondering about married life and he decides, come Christmas, he will ask Matuschek for a raise. Just around the same time, a woman walks into the store and tries to cheekily talk Alfred into giving her a job by applying to his optimism regarding the upcoming Christmas sale that is likely to demand additional help. Alfred is less than approving of having his gullibility played upon by this Klara Novak (Margaret Sullavan) and refuses her a position. However, Klara, with her salesmanship, manages to impress Matuschek into hiring her and what follows is weeks of resentful verbal combat between Alfred and Klara where neither is aware that the other is the secret pen pal each has been gradually falling in love with. With just a week to go before Christmas, the epistolary lovers decide to finally meet and Alfred gets ready to ask Matuschek for a raise. Alas! His recent exchanges with the boss, who himself has been rather preoccupied with marital problems, is rockier than usual and Alfred ends up getting fired instead of being promoted. When Alfred decides to keep his date anyway, he discovers his mystery girlfriend is, in fact, Klara and there ensues a disastrous evening for both. Meanwhile, other events bring on unforeseen twists of fate for Matuschek that does not bode well for anyone related to their “shop around the corner”.

youve-got-mail-posterTitle     You’ve Got Mail

Starring     Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan

Director     Nora Ephron

Writer(s)    Nora Ephron, Delia Ephron, and Miklós László (play)

Genre     Romance | Comedy | Drama

Release Date     December 18, 1998

Filming Location     Manhattan, NY, USA

Parental Guidance     PG

IMDB Rating     6.6

Synopsis: Kathleen Kelly (Meg Ryan) is the owner of an independent children’s bookstore in Manhattan, NY. It was whimsically named The Shop Around the Corner by her late mother, who had founded the enterprise as the local creative resource for children, from everyday reading requirements to the most unusual literary undertaking – a responsibility that Kathleen was only too happy to inherit and now upholds with relish. All this, and her reflections on the mundane topics that interest her, she relates to a mystery man she met in a chat room many moons ago and with whom she has since been keeping up a steady e-mail correspondence. Though neither reveals any particulars about their lives that may compromise their identity to the other, it is clear that their online relationship gradually takes precedence over their individual longtime love affairs. Enter Joe Fox (Tom Hanks), the heir to the mass book retail chain Fox Books, who has been entrusted to expand the family business nationwide and whose current project is ready to commence operation, literally, just around the corner from Kathleen’s store. Kathleen’s fellow storekeepers are wary of this major corporation, which they feel should be considered a formidable adversary, intending to seduce readers away with its cutthroat discounts and designer coffee. Kathleen, however, feels Fox Books’s impersonal salespeople and overstocked shelves are no threat to the knowledgeable service and rare book collection that The Shop Around the Corner provides. At first, it seems that Kathleen’s predictions will ring true, as the community rallies around her store. Even Joe, who harbors something akin to survivor’s guilt over all the independent establishments he has put out of business, becomes enchanted by Kathleen’s naturally gracious disposition towards her patrons and genuine desire to help young readers connect with the world of books – though he cunningly hides his identity from her. However, when Fox Books begins operation, sales at The Shop Around the Corner begins to decline. And when Kathleen discovers Joe’s deception about his professional identity during a later chance encounter, she vehemently condemns him as a spy and the two cross words. Yet, each continues to remain unaware that the other is their online confidant. So while on cyberspace, Joe guides Kathleen to “go to war” with her rival, in the business world, a bitter struggle for survival ensues between the two that forces each to discover a previously dormant side to their natures – and maybe learn to accept the other for their better sides in the process.

Experience: THIS is what watching romantic comedy is all about – discovering the many ways people overcome everyday challenges to learn about their individual weaknesses and strengths to converge as a unit that is better for being a whole. I don’t know how many times I have seen You’ve Got Mail. My DVD experienced its share of wear over the years before I finally laid it to rest when online streaming became the norm. Therefore, it’s funny that it took me so long to get around to seeing The Shop Around the Corner, the original movie from which the famous Hanks-Ryan feature was remade. What did I discover? Well, despite the much higher rating on IMDB for the old B&W classic, I think Nora Ephron made a vast improvement. So much so that it deserves discussing.

You know how sometimes you hear actresses complaining that Hollywood greatly prefers telling stories about male rather than female characters, that there are more hero-centric movies than heroine-centric? If you watch The Shop Around the Corner and You’ve Got Mail back-to-back, you will realize that it ain’t all wack. The original screenplay was filmed entirely from the perspective of James Stewart’s character Alfred Kralik even though the plot aimed to show how a pair of mystery correspondents who, despite acting as foils to one another in their physical realm, unbeknownst to them, may fall in love over anonymous letters. It is a meeting of the minds that transcends all other superficial qualities one regularly seeks in one’s mate. It is the realization that even daily interactions with a person may only reveal so much about them to form an honest verdict of their character. Indeed it is a story that deserved to be told from both sides of the veil since something must’ve made Klara Novak fall in love with a man she knew not in person as much as Alfred did with her but alas! Luckily, Stewart is a talented actor and the story does not suffer from his singular presence on the screen. Also, the steady earnest gaze of his soulful long-lashed eyes is dreamy beyond comparison.

Mercifully, some six decades later, women finally gained greater access to the rein in Hollywood and thus could endeavor to do better. Ephron put on her hard hat and rewrote the screenplay to tell the story how it should have been told. By adding just twenty minutes to the plot, we are presented deeper insights into both the main characters’ backstories, discovering who they are as individuals and not just the superficial perception that each form about the other. I love how, this time, the screen presence is equally divided between Kathleen Kelly and Joe Fox. I love how both the lead characters are allowed time away from one another that demonstrate their actual individual lives and responsibilities. We no longer witness who they are just over a series of arguments. They are given ample room to breathe as separate entities so that when they come together, we can savor the full-bodied texture of their romantic endeavor.

And I’m grateful that we can have more of those letters read to us – letters that were the key component to the main characters falling in love. With The Shop Around the Corner, by the time I reached the end, I couldn’t see why Alfred and Klara finally choose to be together – not after all we initially see is how horrible each is to the other when they personally interact. It almost seemed that when it finally came for the curtain to fall, the two couldn’t walk away from each other simply because they had held fast for so long to the idea that the person writing the letters was the love of their lives that admitting they were wrong would be too great a blow. I did not see love but resignation. Comparatively, in You’ve Got Mail, whatever compromise each character makes with their ego is more believable – in fact, it seems like no great sacrifice. When Joe and Kathleen first begin to fall in love, we can see why those letters compel them to emotionally stray from their respective lovers despite the uncertainty that lurks in their minds regarding the moment they should really meet lurks. When they finally fall in love, it is a person with whom they know they can genuinely share the mundane realities of life – that they once only discussed over letters – without becoming bored. It’s also love that blossoms because two people allowed themselves to wait around long enough to be proven wrong about the lacking of the other’s real self to see how great the other person truly is. The months of war becomes only a prelude to a love that is irrevocable and a friendship that is enduring.

Which brings me to the main gripe I have towards the makers of the original movie. It’s not so much as the lack of focus on the female lead character – Margaret Sullavan did receive first billing in the credits, so there’s that at least – but the fact that Klara is never given the opportunity to rise in our esteem. In fact, if I ever re-watch The Shop Around the Corner, it will only be because Alfred managed to impress me with his integrity and resilience; and should I turn myself away from the opportunity to re-watch it, it will be because Klara managed to annoy me with her myriad of character flaws. Klara is self-serving, whether she is talking a customer into purchasing an unnecessary and trivial cigarette box by pawning it off as a candy box or suddenly complimenting the supervisor she despises to get out of working late on a night she has a date. Klara is manipulative in a way where she repeatedly tries to lead others in conversations so that they would give her what she wants but think it was their own idea. But most of all, Klara is spiteful; she demonstrates a natural tendency to say hateful things, attacking Alfred with a certain regularity and feels no remorse for the hurt they cause unless it has a chance of coming back to bite her in the ass. In comparison, we see genuine guilt etched in Kathleen’s face when she witnesses the hurt her words cause Joe; it is immediate and it is sincere even though she is reluctant to admit that she is at fault. And even though when she does get around to apologizing she also slips in a compliment to herself by professing it is uncharacteristic of her to not be a nice person, we also can be sure she truly is sorry to have caused hurt and that she knows that she has no right to do so. And since there is no self-interest in her apologies other than to rectify a misbehavior, the apologies are not hollow. While Kathleen’s personality just takes a wrong turn every time she comes into close proximity of Joe Fox the corporate big shot, we can’t be as sure that Klara is not self-promoting and mean. So when Klara claims she had found Alfred attractive, it rings abrupt and false, but when Kathleen cries she had hoped her mystery man would be Joe, we have to believe her. Frankly, I feel that, once the novelty wears off, marriage between Kathleen and Joe has much higher chances of survival than Alfred and Klara.

Recommendation: Giving a final recommendation at this point seems superfluous, but unless you wish to do a comparative analysis of the two features, spare yourself from watching The Shop Around the Corner. Contrarily, my heartiest wishes to you for watching You’ve Got Mail; they rarely make sensible romance movies like that anymore.

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WEDNESDAY REFLECTION #32: Holiday Affair

Via: Daily Prompt – Relate & Calling

holiday20affair001Title     Holiday Affair

Starring     Robert Mitchum, Janet Leigh, and Wendell Corey

Director     Don Hartman

Writer(s)    Isobel Lennart and John D. Weaver (story “Christmas Gift”)

Genre     Romance | Comedy | Drama

Release Date     December 24, 1949

Filming Location     Paramount Studios, Hollywood, California, USA

Parental Guidance     TV-G

IMDB Rating     7.2

Synopsis: Mrs. Connie Ennis (Janet Leigh) is a young widow with a precocious six-year-old son Timmy (Gordon Gebert). Though Timmy is too conscientious of the daily challenges his mother must face to ever ask for anything that might hurt her dignities in being unable to provide, Connie slogs away at her job as a comparison shopper to make a comfortable living. An indubitable friendship exists between the mother-son duo that prevents her longtime boyfriend Carl Davis (Wendell Corey) from gaining an official entry into their family. Though he is a fairly successful lawyer, cares for Timmy dearly, and an all-around nice guy who promises to provide a safe loving home for Connie and her son, she repeatedly turns down his marriage proposals, assuring him that when her heart is fully recovered from the loss of her army husband, she will ask him for his hand. But then Connie meets Steve Mason (Robert Mitchum), a children’s section salesman at the department store where she purchases a train set on Christmas sale for her client. When Connie returns the toy the day after her purchase, Steve calls her out on her deception but, instead of passing her on to the store authorities, he takes pity on her and writes her a refund. As a result, Steve loses his job and spends the day assisting Connie in her professional shopping. Through a series of mishaps, Connie and Steve are separated and then he eventually ends up on her doorstep, much to Carl’s consternation. What follows are days of confusions in which Connie proposes to Carl even as she is drawn to Steve for his forthright manners, Timmy has his first temper tantrum, and a mysterious Christmas present arrives from “Santa”. Oh, and yes, someone ends up in jail.

Experience: Traditionally, December is the month when one would find me immersed in Christmas jollies. I sing, watch, and read all things red, green, and snowy. Since it’s been a month since my post-surgery recovery began, keeping me from any physical activity beyond eating, rolling over in bed, and making the obligatory trips to the loo, my winter binge began early this year whence it progressed uninterrupted. And though there is a bounty of Christmas entertainments out there, I eventually had to play roulette on what to watch next. And sometimes when you toss it up to fate, you end up catching a big one. I have to say, Holiday Affair was an unexpectedly heartwarming and sensible romantic comedy that just about made my season.

While I love B&W cinemas to bits, the element in midcentury romantic comedies that, I always felt, there could have been less of are the comedic devices used. The farce, the puns, the slapsticks, the double entendre, the frequent cases of mistaken identity – there was just so much of it back in the days. Yes, I fully appreciate how much writers and directors of the time relied upon such ruses to reward the audience with some much-needed relief from the mounting romantic conflict but I have often found them just as unnecessary to the plot as not and their impacts somewhat forced. I admit there are actors who managed to efficiently portray these “funny accidents” in a believable way, but the accidents themselves are distracting nevertheless – and not altogether relatable. Or rather, if you miss such a scene, you haven’t missed anything momentous to the story arc. I was happy to see that Holiday Affair kept these parlor tricks under tight wraps and rather focused more on satire and situations, observations and even self-derision to generate humor, often delivered with deadpan sobriety. This produced an effect much more in keeping with the struggles that surrounded the young family of a fallen soldier and those who come into intimate contact with them. Even the little plot twist involving the jail scene, though surreal and absurd, managed to amplify the consistency of each major character, helping them forward with their respective character arcs.

No, instead of slapstick comedy, this movie presented some truly insightful scenes that endeared it to me. I loved Steve’s direct approach towards nailing Connie’s issues with love and romance. He does not apologize for his feelings for her but he can also understand that she needs to make her own decisions and would not settle for scraps. I love how Carl does not blind himself to what is happening, his character is consistently loyal to Connie’s happiness but he also knows that his own happiness cannot be achieved by ingratiating himself to another. But most of all, I love how even little Timmy is so self-aware and willing to be taught and guided onto the right path, even when he is having a hard time adjusting to the surmounting changes in his life. He can appreciate the reasons behind the actions of the adults around him and truly is a responsible little man even as his soul is uncorrupted by self-interest.

In fact, it is the sincerity and generosity of each major character that onsets the conflicts in this movie. Connie is falling in love with Steve but doesn’t want to cheat Carl out of the conclusion to their relationship that he has been awaiting so long. Carl is pleased that Connie is finally ready to marry him but is unsure what brought on this change of heart and doesn’t want her to sacrifice herself. Steve is forthright about his feelings but, though often lacking tact, he is insightful and tries to help everybody. And little Timmy, a child with such a generous heart that he would sacrifice a deeply coveted toy by first hiding his desire from his mother and then by returning the gift to help a friend out with the refund, inadvertently brings on some terrifying crisis. It seems that everyone’s self-dilemmas get in the way of everyone else’s happiness. But even when one character accidentally acts as the foil to another’s wishes, you can’t blame them for it. Generosity of spirit is the making and breaking of all conflicts in this movie and that’s what makes it a great Christmas story.

Finally, a note for Gordon Gebert, the child actor playing Timmy. Bravo! According to his records, Holiday Affair was his first credited role on screen but to see him act, you would not believe it. As the saying goes, the kid had a calling. Yet, for some reason, the character Timmy was considered a small role by Hollywood standards, which I feel is a total failure to recognize talent – since he had as many dialogues and scenes as the lead actor, which he performed with great gravitas. Gebert went on to perform in other roles in tinsel town though not in anything well-recognized. An utter underutilization of human capital, if I saw any. Not for little Gordon though; he went on to become an architect.

Recommendation: I really really liked this movie. To reiterate, it was rationally hilarious and had intelligent characters that benefited from the honest efforts of the actors who portrayed them. And most of all, it touched all the right notes that call out to the bounty of Christmas.

291966-season-s-greetings

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WEDNESDAY REFLECTION #30: Crimson Peak

Via: Daily Prompt – Ghoulish & Mystery

ec22screens_1_webTitle     Crimson Peak

Starring     Mia Wasikowska, Jessica Chastain, and Tom Hiddleston

Director     Guillermo del Toro

Writer(s)    Guillermo del Toro and Matthew Robbins

Genre     Drama | Fantasy | Horror

Release Date     October 16, 2015

Filming Location     USA | Canada

Parental Guidance     R

IMDB Rating     6.5

Synopsis: Edith Cushing (Mia Wasikowska) always knew there were ghosts. As a child, she lost her mother to the Black Cholera. The night Mrs. Cushing was buried, her ghost appeared to Edith with a cryptic warning to “Beware of Crimson Peak”. Edith received a visit again with the same warning fourteen years later, when she had blossomed into a young woman of unassuming charm – albeit bookish – and keen determination to prove herself as a novelist, with the blessing and encouragement of her businessman father Mr. Carter Cushing (Jim Beaver). While Edith prefers writing to society, she suddenly finds her world expanding with the return of her childhood friend Dr. Alan McMichael (Charlie Hunnam), who just set up a practice in town after completing his medical studies, and the mysterious inventor Baronet Thomas Sharpe (Tom Hiddleston), who is trying to gain her father’s confidence in order to gather the capital to build the machine that would help him mine the red clay on which his family estate sits in Cumberland, England. Attraction between Edith and Thomas is instantaneous and he takes advantage of this in hopes of gaining an ally before her father. Thomas’s sister Lady Lucille Sharpe (Jessica Chastain), who accompanied him to help gain the capital, is not impressed, having hoped her brother would have picked a more affluent and vapid quarry. Neither are Mr. Cushing and Alan, who had their own misgivings about the brother-sister duo from the start. Mr. Cushing hires an investigator to learn more about the newcomers, only to discover their very disturbingly suspicious history, and confronts the siblings about their intent towards his daughter, writing them a cheque to leave Edith alone and return to England. He also tells Thomas to break Edith’s heart so that she may move on, which Thomas does with angry reluctance but publically, announcing he will be gone the next day. Except the next morning, Mr. Cushing is brutally murdered and Thomas, who stayed back even though Lucille left, confesses to Edith that he had broken up with her under her father’s instructions. As Edith comes to learn about her father’s murder, Thomas takes advantage of her distress and marries her. Thomas takes Edith back to his home in England, with Edith hoping to have a new beginning with her husband. Only now Thomas is physically distant and avoid consummating their marriage while Lucille is cold towards her and perhaps a bit too intrusive about their marriage bed. Pretty soon Edith is visited by gruesome red ghosts on a nightly basis and is told that the family estate is referred to by the locals as “Crimson Peak”.

Experience: I’m not easily scared by horror movies, only ever startled when things jump out of the shadows and have actors screaming. This movie, however, instated its creep-factor from the first act. I’m not sure what it was, really. Maybe it was the hovering carcass-y melancholically-draped specter of Edith’s mother that crawls into bed with her when she is a child that did it [I mean, who hasn’t ever slept with their back to the wall out of vigilant fear as a child, right?] or the historic setting of the movie and romantic undercurrent between the various characters that made me feel invested and empathetic, or the appallingly possessive way that the Baronet’s sister watched his love and married life progress, but I could feel the morbidity of this movie take hold from the preamble. It definitely put me in the mood for all things evil and ghastly for this Halloween.

I felt the casting of the movie was very well done. From Jim Beaver to Jessica Chastain, everyone showed just the level of curiosity and invasiveness that the characters needed to possess to make the relationship dynamics – one of the most important mechanics of the plot – emanate from the screen. The characters themselves were well-developed and complementally contrasted one another. On the one side you have the open and honest friendship between the Cushings and Alan, on the other side you have the sinisterly co-dependent devotion between the aristocratic siblings. Watching the two worlds merge, split, and then reconnect was interesting and rather flawless.

Going back to the actors, Beaver was as usual just the right level of encouraging and frustrating as a parent to the honestly devoted daughter that Wasikowska played. As always, Hiddleston pulled off the younger sibling, misunderstood and committing immoral acts against those nearest to him (though here misguided by his sister) with aplomb. Once again I found myself wondering should I be disgusted by the character he portrayed or accept him for his redeeming potentials. I found Chastain, as always, alluringly potent. I think it might be her strong bone structure or set facial features or the matter-of-fact regard of her eyes, but Chastain always casts best as a woman of indomitable resolve, which her acting ability greatly complements. Next to her, Wasikowska featured a pale contrast, which cast a perfect effect to play the deceptively polite but equally gritty new woman of the household (I loved how Edith chased after the ghosts to get to the bottom of the mystery despite being utterly petrified by them). Hunnam took a back seat for most of the movie, acting mainly as a supporting role and a necessary plot device to help Edith out once she solves the mystery and rescues herself, but I admired the fact that he could remain subtly in the background until called to action without trying to overpower the screen.

With regards to the plot itself and the script was written and directed with a steadily accelerating pace. While there was little in the way of plot twists (the audience today has wizened up too much to the evil that lurks in people’s hearts to really be surprised with anything), the real mystery was how the truth will unfold and what will Edith do once she is faced by it (I think I was surprised by her last reaction more than anything). But all in all, there was just enough creepiness to make it interesting.

Recommendation: Totally worth watching this Halloween! Or any dark wintry night, really.

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WEDNESDAY REFLECTIONS #07 – The Lunchbox

Via: Daily Prompt – Expectation

fd9042c9b077fe393b18ae78feb58279_500x735Title     The Lunchbox

Starring     Irrfan Khan, Nimrat Kaur and Nawazuddin Siddiqui

Director     Ritesh Batra

Writer(s)     Ritesh Batra (screenplay), Vasan Bala (Hindi dialogue consultant)

Genre     Drama Romance

Release Date     September 20, 2013

Filming Location     Mumbai, Maharashtra, India

Parental Guidance     Rated PG for thematic material and smoking

IMDB Rating     7.8

Synopsis: Ila (Nimrat Kaur) leads a mundane life of an average Indian housewife, where her days are occupied by seeing her husband and daughter off to work and school, respectively, then gossiping with the upstairs elderly woman whom she calls “auntie” by shouting out the kitchen window as she prepares meals for her family and carries on doing daily housekeeping. Lately, her husband has been absentminded about their relationship and, on the advice of her neighboring auntie, she begins preparing sumptuous lunches to win him back that she sends off with the famously efficient Mumbai Dabbawalas (lunchbox service) to his workplace. By a fluke, this lunchbox ends up at the desk of an elderly widower, Sajan (Irrfan Khan) who is an accountant on the cusp of retirement from a place he has worked for 35 years. Sajan enjoys the delicious meal and when the lunchbox returns home to Ila, it is completely empty, i.e. every bowl in the tiffin carrier is wiped clean. Excited by this unexpected turn of events, Ila waits for her husband to return home and compliment her. However, not only is he as aloof as ever, when Ila asks him if he liked the meal, he says “the aloo gobi (potato-cauliflower stir fry) was okay”, and Ila realizes he received the wrong lunchbox. Her upstairs auntie advises her to put in a note inside the lunchbox the next day to find out where her meal goes, which Ila reluctantly does, telling this stranger the box was for her husband. Sajan finds the letter, eats the delicious meal but, being the dry codger that he is, his reply constitutes of only two lines: “Dear, Ila, the food was very salty today.” Ila’s neighbor advises her to put extra chili in the food the next day and she again complies reluctantly. Sajan gets the message and becomes more tactful in his replies. Over time, Ila finds that she looks forward to his replies just as Sajan enjoys hearing about her days, her marital anxieties, and sometimes even offering advice gleaning from his own satisfying domestic experiences. Sajan also shares about his last days in office and the antics of the new replacement, Shaikh (Nawazuddin Siddiqui), whom he is training to take his post.

Experience (some spoilers): If I were to describe this movie with one simple line, I would say, “It’s a gratifyingly romantic story with no fuss and no muss”.

The screenplay, the direction, the editing was all done with the aim to satisfy the story and nothing more. There are no superficial elements, no extra scenes, and no irrelevant dialogues to detract or titillate the audience. We are immediately taken to show Ila preparing that significant first lunch for her husband and then Sajan’s reaction to the meal. If one does not see the trailer or read the synopsis, one would think Sajan is her husband until another man walks in through her front door that first evening, and hence, commiserate with her anticipation. And in this way, the audience is made to share in each season of emotions as they take turn to appear: anticipation, irritation, empathy, sympathy, surprise, humor, disappointment, and hope. In fact, so well is the movie directed and edited, that there is an overall dry appeal to the storytelling, effectively capturing Sajan’s eccentric nature and Ila’s frustrating home conditions. Even when the movie cuts to comic relief with Sajan’s interludes with Shaikh, the senior’s less-than-welcoming attitude towards the junior’s enthusiasm to be trained, the movie picks up clean humor as we witness Shaikh finally penetrating and melting Sajan’s heart, which was already softening with his daily letter exchanges with Ila. And the fact that there are these montages to depict the lives and efficiency of the Dabbawalas only added to the drama and is such a fit tribute to the theme.

I especially enjoyed the fact that Ila and Sajan do not meet throughout the movie and still manage to fall in love. There is nothing superficial or artificial about their relationship. It’s a search of companionship that has transformed into something more sustainable. It is endearing to see this older gentleman, so resigned to living a life of retirement convalescing in a nursing community, take painstaking care in his appearance the morning he is to meet Ila only to stand her up; or the way she sends him an empty lunchbox the next day to give him a “silent treatment” and he accepts it readily, sending her an apology, explaining that he went to see her but lost his courage when he saw how beautiful she was and how old he is. It is a moment rich with impact when he explains that he realized that morning that he could “smell his grandfather” on himself. I was actually able to imagine what that could smell like – starched cotton, soap, talcum and Old Spice aftershave. I could feel his humiliation and sympathize with him thoroughly.

There is no point in discussing the acting of any individual actor in this movie. Every actor, starting from the three starring roles to the lunchbox courier man to even the faceless auntie upstairs, performed their roles with economy. They were each a credit to the art of their profession yet made their efforts seem artless. Without a doubt, the movie has been made on a small budget (so small that there is a copy error – ‘Reseach’ – in the end-credit roll) cinema but what budget they had was very effectively allocated.

Recommendation: Even though the movie is weaved with the use of Hindi, I would ask movie lovers and fiction writers to watch it alike. Not watching this movie would be letting a masterpiece slip by.

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I’ll Be True (Chapter 23)

Read Chapter 22 before you continue…

 

“I’m so glad y’all came!” There was a giant grin on Brooke’s face, as though she was genuinely happy to see them. Even Elaina. “C’mon in.” She led them through the small foyer of her Garment District factory-turned-flat to the living room.

“Oh, Brooke,” moaned Ahyoka very appropriately. “I do declare, this here is charming!”

A cavernous sitting room opened up into a dining area, behind which sprawled a shiny stone-and-steel kitchen. Picture windows lined the broadest stretch of wall in the expansive space, through which they had a panoramic view of New York City’s high-rises, from the concentration of industrial buildings across the street to the tip of the hotel they were staying in. It was the brightest, cleanest room Elaina had ever set foot in and she immediately became conscious of how dusty her boots were.

Everywhere she looked, gleaming white furniture occupied the prospect. Here and there, accents of gold and silver peeked out from metal and fabric articles ornamenting the alabaster scheme. She even spotted a pair of sequined throw pillows on the snowy leather couch that looked as though it was hardly ever sat on. On principle, Elaina knew she should feel revolted by its almost sterilized appearance. Yet she could not help admiring how tasteful it truly was – much like the image adapted by its resident. This was Brooke’s domain. The refined Brooke. Not the unruly, spirited best friend of her childhood.

She glanced at Brooke’s matching attire, which was a short white peasant frock cinched at the waist with a fat gold chain. Gold hoop earrings, bangles, and sandals completed the look. Elaina was ready to bet her horse that even the underwear was color coordinated with the living room. As usual, Brooke was showing off and Elaina once again wondered if this was not the worst plan that Brooke had ever had and she agreed to. She could never compete with the gorgeous Brooke of then, much less the glamorous Brooke of now.

Beside her, Elaina felt downright dowdy in her trademark plaid shirt and faded wrangler jeans. The newest item on her was the Suede jacket she had thrown on out of respect for the city’s cooler weather, the oldest were her spur-less boots and Stetson. The latter, she could not leave behind in her hotel room despite much deliberation because stepping outside without it made her head tingle too much to see whether she was coming or going. The overall effect drew too many curious glances down the four blocks they walked from the hotel to Brooke’s apartment building. Even Ahyoka had managed to citify her appearance, as indicated by the admiring smiles from the suits they had passed on the way. The knitted wool turtleneck in rich terracotta with grey-green safari pants and some kind of laced up heels perfectly suited the honeyed colorings of her exuberant companion.

“Thanks, the agency set this up for us,” Brooke was saying in response to Ahyoka’s profuse appreciation.

Ahyoka cocked her head inquisitively. “Us?”

“I have four roommates. We model through the same agency. The girls are all out now but they will be back in time for dinner. I told them y’all were coming and they canceled their plans to join us. Also, they usually try to stay in on nights I cook,” added Brooke with pride.

Elaina couldn’t help raising an eyebrow. “You cook now?”

Brooke smiled sheepishly, seeming to lose a bit of her nerve at the blunt question. “Yeah, had to teach myself when I moved out here. There was a lot of spare time in the first year while I was getting acquainted with the industry. I can make only a few dishes but I practiced them enough to make them edible.”

Elaina noticed again how Brooke’s drawl kept slipping in and out when she spoke. Must be a side effect of life on the East Coast, she concluded.

“I’m sure dinner will be delightful,” Ahyoka encouraged.

Brooke visibly relaxed. “Well, don’t just stand there. C’mon. I’ll show you my room. Then y’all can sit at the kitchen while I ready dinner and we can have ourselves a chat.”

Ahyoka made to follow but Elaina hesitated. “I better not walk in here with my boots on. They’re dusty,” she explained.  Read the rest of this entry »

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I’ll Be True (Chapter 21)

Read Chapter 20 before you continue…

Matthew stared at the massive blank wall. He had it, along with all the other walls prepped for the exhibition, painted jet black with a finely grooved texture to make them appear as though it was suctioning the light out of the surrounding space. What little light he had left on, that is. Straying from the usual still exhibition format that displayed colorful arts on white surfaces in a brightly lit atmosphere, he had decided to showcase his series in a dimmed hall with strategically located accent lights. Soon photos developed in sepia hues would hang on black walls as though blossoming out of a void. Because that’s how the subject affected him these days.

Elaina had not relented to his plea. As promised, he had called her as soon as he returned to New York and numerous times in the week that followed, always with the same desperate reasoning to make her have faith in their relationship. While she received his calls, she had pointblank let him know that his return to Lainie’s Creek will not be welcome. She did not own a cell phone and it had costed him a bruised ego to so often call the ranch and ask for her only to have her tell him it was over between them – but he had done it nevertheless. He would have gone back to see her anyway if it were not for Hayden finally informing him during his call the night before his scheduled return flight that Elaina no longer wished to speak to him before hanging up sharply. After which, he had torn his air ticket and threw himself into his work.

Yet, try as he may to keep his mind and time occupied with teaching photography to college students or supervising the existing exhibition at the gallery or even shooting hoops with his friends, memories of Elaina was never far from his mind. He particularly missed her when developing the images for the Fall exhibition when even the photos without her in them brought on a wave of nostalgia of their shared experiences those summer days. Moreover, as he had sifted further and further through the photos, he soon realized that she occupied over sixty percent of the shots he had taken in Lainie’s Creek and most of the rest forty percent shots were also in some way linked to the story of this striking woman he had now pieced together. He had eventually embraced the inevitable and built the story of his series around her. Now with only two more weeks before “The Cowgirl” showcased, his mind was swimming with thoughts of the protagonist of his pictorial narrative more than ever, as though he had not last seen her two months, ten days and twenty-two hours ago.

“You should really turn on some more lights in here.”  Read the rest of this entry »

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I’ll Be True (Chapter 20)

Read Chapter 19 before you continue…

Elaina lay awake in bed. Her head felt battered. There was a dull ache just behind her eyes that felt as though her brain had swollen to twice its size and refused to fit in its enclosure anymore. Side effects of too much thinking.

Hayden had cornered her again that morning and hadn’t that been a barrel of laugh. It was to impart yet another sermon about the potential danger of mixing with Matthew. When she refused to listen to his lectures, he told her about a discussion he had had with Brooke at the fair the previous day where Brooke had let drop that Matthew had come to Lainie’s Creek as her date but was now dating Elaina instead. The news had stumped Elaina for a few minutes and Hayden had taken her silence as sanction to carry on with his raving against dating outsiders, which he did verily.

But the rest of it had fallen on deaf ears. Elaina was preoccupied with putting together all that she had learnt about Matthew through their interactions. Sure he would not be in Lainie’s Creek if not for Brooke, but Matthew had already explained to her his role in visiting with Brooke. And all that he told her about himself only reflected on his candid nature. Matthew was not a liar and Brooke had a history of it. So she had thanked Hayden once again for looking out for her and sharing the information. She told him she would discuss this with Matthew and sent a grumbling older brother on his way.

Then she waited for Matthew to drop by. He had told her the previous night that he might be on an outing with Brooke and would come over once he became free, which he expected could be around late afternoon. Yet afternoon had rolled into evening and that into night, until the family had supper and turned in for the night – without him ever in sight. She cajoled herself that he was after all Brooke’s guest and it was not fair that she had monopolized most of his time since they met. She told herself this but it did not stop her from wondering if Brooke was taking advantage of their time together to put up a bit of competition. That was a thought which kept popping into her head and she had to keep stamping down.

Elaina growled into the shadows of her room. She was being unfair to Matthew again. Over the past few days, he certainly had proven himself as anything but fickle and deserved better than her suspicious musings. Those were the results of cultivating a five-year old stock of insecurities. Entirely her own problem. But he had not visited her today and tomorrow was originally the date of his departure so she wondered. He could have changed his mind about staying without Brooke’s help. Photography, three to four exhibitions per year, a teaching position at a renowned university, owning a gallery – the man liked to keep busy and he kept busy in New York. She wouldn’t be able to blame him if he had to bail on their fledgling relationship. Even if staying was his own idea in the first place.

She needed to turn off her brain and go to sleep. It had been a scalding summer day and the night had only melted the heat so it stuck damply to the skin. An air conditioner had been installed in her room some years ago. She had soon discovered that working in the sun all day after sleeping in the frigid air at night played havoc with her sinuses so she refrained from using the contraption. She usually kept the window wide open with the curtains drawn aside to allow whatever air that stirred outside to flow in. Sleeping in semi-darkness never bothered her. Tonight, however, the light wasn’t helping. If her nerves had not been frayed from overthinking she would have been asleep by now. She tossed to her side, facing away from the moonlight filtering in through the window.

There was a muffled thud behind her, as though something large had dropped to the carpet. Elaina sat up to discover the crouching shadow of a man beneath the window and it was all she could do to stop herself from screaming in alarm. Then the shadow rose to stand in the moonlight and Matthew loomed closer. She felt a thrill shoot up her spine as he swiftly sat on her bed and clamped a hand over her mouth.

“Don’t shout,” he instructed belatedly. “It’s me.”  Read the rest of this entry »

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I’ll Be True (Chapter 19)

Read Chapter 18 before you continue…

Matthew spent most of next day with Brooke as he had promised. And though he missed Elaina terribly, it turned out that he also had a stimulating time sightseeing with Brooke. She had driven them to a bike trail through a forest in a nearby county that ended up in a cave hidden behind a short waterfall. She had known both the trail and cave familiarly, being able to point out the entrance to the fissure in the cliff that was otherwise hidden by dark foliage and rushing white water. It had made for a very picturesque outing and since Brooke had already warned him to come prepared so as to take his equipment into the water, his growing portfolio of imagery had thoroughly benefited from the trip.

It was curious because, in the years that he had known her, Brooke had never given him the impression that she was outdoorsy. Even when they had been romantically involved, they had rarely held their dates alfresco. A walk in Central Park now and then was the extent of their nature excursions, preferring night clubs and chic restaurants for their rendezvous instead. In fact, this was the first time he had actually seen Brooke perform any vigorous exercise, though he heard her complaining often enough about the regime modelling kept her in. Matthew suspected that this particular display of nemophilism was really in response to the fact that Matthew had spent so much time with Elaina in the outdoors. Feeling threatened, Brooke may have just hoped he would see that she was just as country. Since he did not want to fuel another argument, he had wisely refrained from commenting on this new adventurous side of Brooke.

And it had worked. While Brooke had met him that morning with considerable reticence, by the time they had reached the cave, her silence had given way to exaltation for the beauty of their natural surroundings. It was clear that she missed the country, which only made him wonder more why she stayed away from home for so long. He had gathered a while ago that it had something to do with the falling out between Elaina and her – one couldn’t have not deduced as much after watching how each woman reacted to any mention of the other – but that only made him more curious about what the discord had been about. He was not stupid enough to ask, mind. He liked his head where it was, thank you, and did not fancy it being chewed off. So as the day wore on, he had kept mum on any topic that could lead to offsetting the dearly retrieved good mood of his companion.

Which made the predicament of informing Brooke about his decision to stay in Lainie’s Creek all the more difficult. Yet as they drew closer to the end of their daytrip, he knew he must gather his resolve and notify Brooke of his plans. The sooner he got it out in the open, the better. He decided to spill the news the moment they got back to McKenna ranch. It will just be like pulling off a Band-Aid.  Read the rest of this entry »

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I’ll Be True (Chapter 18)

Read Chapter 17 before you continue…

“This is getting ridiculous,” Elaina repeated for what now seemed like the umpteenth time.

Matthew had got four out of seven shots into the cups with his previous bag of softballs and was now purchasing a second bag to continue his mission to win her a prize. “That was my practice set,” Matthew repeated, as he had claimed previously every time he missed a shot.

He was tenacious, she had to give him that. Every time he missed, he would shrug it off and try again. When he got in a ball in the cup, his elated whoops drew attentions of nearby fair visitors. His spirited attempt to win his date a prize had acquired him a set of groupie too – the teens who had earlier praised his pony had stuck by his side through thick and thin. Nothing achieved the adulation of adolescent girls than a man wanting to be a knight in shining armor, however misplaced that ambition may be. Elaina sighed.

Matthew heard her and raised an eyebrow. “You don’t think I can do this?”

Elaina had her fists on her hips much like her mother usually had when one of her brothers demonstrated their overtly macho and competitive traits. “Whether you can do this or not is not the point. The fact you don’t have to do this, however, is.”

“I can do this.”

“I’m sure you can but, again, not the point,” she ground out.

She was talking to a wall. Grinning, Matthew turned away from her, stepping once again up to the counter, determined to defeat the wobbling cups.

Elaina noticed the change in him immediately from how the sinews of his raised forearms peeked out from under his rolled up sleeves, more defined than before, the fine white cotton of his shirt stretching over his biceps and broad back, as though he was holding something much heavier than a softball. He crouched slightly, balancing himself on his calves and she appreciated as even the denim over his buttocks flexed. Whether he won her a toy today or not, she was going to reward him tonight for trying because his attempt was a fine thing to look at.  Read the rest of this entry »

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I’ll Be True (Chapter 17)

Read Chapter 16 before you continue…

Brooke watched as Mathew finally detached himself from Elaina’s form after a long lingering kiss before laughingly leading her back into the fairgrounds, hand-in-hand. She had had her fingers crossed when Elaina had come out in a huff, but trouble in paradise did not even last five minutes before Matthew had cajoled cowgirl back into his arms and then back to the fair. If she did not know she was so awesome, Brooke would have thought the burning sensation in the pit of her stomach was something akin to self-loathing. But as she was fully confident in her awesomeness, it must be an acid imbalance from all the fried food her mother has been exposing her to since she came home. She could not wait to get back to her life in the city and away from this town once again because her return has been anything but the triumph she had anticipated it to be. In fact, it had been quite humiliating.

How was this even possible?  Read the rest of this entry »

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