Shades Of Words


Weekends in St. Louis

I do admit that St. Louis may not exactly be the most happening place in the US of A, but if you keep track, there is always a bunch of stuff happening over the weekend.

One of our favorite things to do is to keep track of the University Theater circuit.  There are always student performances up, and some really good visiting actor groups.

We actually caught some great plays. One was “The Crucible” by Arthur Miller performed by the dramatics department of University of Missouri, St Louis (UMSL). Based on the Salem witch trials, this play examines the power of superstition and hysteria as it grips a town of seemingly rationale people. Most of the actors in the UMSL production were senior year students who were quite remarkable in their roles. The only problem was in the acoustics of the actual theater.

I have read the screenplay before and realize that it provides a very powerful social commentary. Even if you cant catch the play in your city , I would recommend everyone to read it.

Another performance that I happen to catch, was that of the play “Shadowlands”  presented by the Mustard Seed Theater ( isn’t that lovely name?). This play written by William Nicholsan, describes the relationship between the famous British writer, CS Lewis and Joy Gresham. This play is based on actual events.

Honestly speaking I had no expectations from it. But within the five minutes, I was hooked. Split into two acts – the first act focuses on CS Lewis bachelor life, his correspondence with Mrs. Joy Gresham and their first meeting and their marriage of convenience. The first act is bitter sweet, witty and thoroughly entertaining.  The second act focuses on Joy’s illness which brings Lewis feelings towards her into the open. It focuses on their short but loving relationship and ends at Joy’s tragic death. Throughout the play we see struggle Lewis struggle with his faith and his changing thoughts about the nature of God.

As this was a professional production, the quality of acting was quite incredible. Gary Wayne Baker, Chair of the Fine Arts Department, St. Louis University gave a very good performance in the role of Lewis.  Kelley Ryan, was delightful and charming as Joy Gresham. The supporting cast was really good too. I would definitely watch more productions by Mustard Seed theatre.




Before I write this review, I must highlight that I am not qualified in any way to critique old classics. So some of my view might sound naive or immature or simply prejudiced.
Directed by Kamal Amrohi, “Mahal” is one of the first gothic horror movie to be made in Bollywood which would later inspire a series of “Haweli main bhatakti aatma” genre of movies. It also launched the careers of Lata Mangeshkar with her melodious and haunting rendition of “Aayega, Aayega”  and Madhubala  with her expressive face.
The review contains spoilers and if you really ever plan to watch the movie don’t read ahead.
Our hero, (Ashok Kumar) comes to stay in this Haveli by the river Yamuna all by himself. He soon learns of the tragedy that came to pass there – a young lady died in grief over her lover’s accidental death. He also learns that it is believed that the ghost of that girl still walks the old mansion waiting for her lover to come to her. Sure enough, our young hero chances to see this vision for himself. Against the advice of his friends, he tries to make contact with this ghost and finds himself falling in love with her. Frustrated with his behavior, his family marries him off  (what an idea, Sirji!) . Unfortunately, the marriage does not cure him of his depression and though he travels far to get away from his memories he is unsuccessful. His behavior drives his wife to commit suicide and as she dies she blames her husband for her death murder (you go girl!). What follows is a short and rather silly court case where all his revealed. Apparently the maid servant of the mansion, harboring dreams of being loved and being rich was pretending to be a ghost and walking around the premises in white/black clothes.
Now, dear readers, tell me – if one gets in one’s head to be pretend to be a ghost, to seduce a rich young man and then to convince hims to leave his wife and kill another person – is one not psychotic? How can that be passed of as great love? And then asking your great love to marry your best friend – isnt that superbly regressive? Also if you were just a ‘pretend’ ghost, then how can your voice actually haunt someone miles and miles away?
Those were my main logical issues with the movie – but then times have changed and for some twisted reason all of that made good sense at that time – which was why this movie was a blockbuster.
I felt that the movie was also a tad long and only some of the songs were good. BN Tagore’s art direction was brilliant – the Haveli, the costumes, the lights – everything was very classically gothic and I believe set the tone for design for movies like Madhumati, Karz.  Ashok Kumar was a really good actor – I haven’t seen that many old movies and I was quite impressed by the suaveness of this old school actor. The supporting cast was quite inadequate – a trend I have noticed in quite a few older movies – if the hero and heroine can act then it doesn’t matter if the other minor characters can’t emote. They just fill spaces on the screen. Madhubala was quite melodramatic in her role and her beauty did have that haunting quality that was required for this movie. However, her dialog delivery was very flat and that sleepy look in the eyes could barely pass as seductive. I think that is what was expected of actresses of that time – coz Vijayalakshmi who played the wife acted exactly in the same way.
So, the scariest moment in the movie – watch and find out -there are a few nice creepy scenes
And the funniest moment in the movie – The dance of seduction by two sisters ( I know, I know – so many wrong images pop up but watch this)
Verdict: Though it may seem silly in the 21st century, the movie is still much better than what we have out in the market today. Watch it.  However, “Madhumati” is still my favorite Indian horror movie.


The Coral Thief

Hmmm. That’s my honest reaction to this historical novel.  An excellent recommendation from Danielle’s blog, but unfortunately not to my taste, this historical-romantic-philosophical-heist novel leaves something to be desired.

The plot is based a decade or more after the French revolution and the age of “Terror”, just after Napolean’s defeat at Waterloo. The story follows a young medical student, Daniel Connor, into the bedlam of Paris.

Paris, then, is the beating heart of Europe – the scientific, cultural and political center. As the city is coming to terms with the new regime, students from all over Europe are travelling to Paris to
make their own careers. And Daniel is just one of them– an aspiring researcher; Daniel comes to Paris to work with the famed Dr. Cuvier, with important letters of recommendation and rare fossils as an offering. The story begins with Daniel’s encounter with this dark haired beauty who mysteriously befriends Daniel on his night coach ride to Paris. When the morning comes, she is gone and so are the letters and the fossils.  Daniel is devastated and in his interview with the Police Commissioner Jargot , he learns that he encountered Lucienne Bernard – a famous Parisian thief and one of Paris’s most wanted.

I was interested so far…the novel had a lot of promise – mysterious strangers in the night, the bustle of Paris, questions of evolution and background political drama.

Now Daniel bumps into Lucienne again and there is some serious chemistry there. However, intead of reporting to the police, as he had promised, he just comforts her and asks her to return his stuff.  Eventually, he predictably falls in love with her and enters her world of Paris.

And this is the part where I begin to lose interest. So somewhere down the line, Lucienne has to do one last job before she can leave this life  forever and create a new identify – and then some Ocean’s 11 type of robbery is planned and ….whatever.

It’s really frustrating to give a few hours to some book and then it goes nowhere. Rebecca Scott is a gifted writer – there is no doubt about the beauty of her writing style. I was however, not so impressed by the story teller in her. I could not pin-point the central theme of the novel – it was about everything,   yet nothing.

There is another thing that I am noticing more about contemporary literature – all authors, I believe have in the back of the mind a potential movie deal. Hence, their characters become larger than life glamorous beings, there are some really smart dialog exchanges where every character is witty, some fast paced action scenes, great visual affects and ambiguous endings. I wish when they are writing a novel they would not treat it at as a screenplay

But nevertheless, the book wasn’t a total waste of my time, and there was some breathtaking writing. Some of my favorite lines below:

“ People talk about falling among thieves. I fell among thieves in the city of Paris in 1815, except that it didn’t feel like a falling at all – it felt like flight”

“And when the coral spawn, all the other sea organisms follow. It’s like a trigger. The fisherman say it’s the  moon that makes them spawn, she had said, and I said: How can they see the moon? They have on eyes. Perhaps they have other ways of seeing and knowing, she had. Perhaps we all do. There’s a grandeur in that.”