Daily Archives: November 22, 2012

Book Review: The Shadow Girls by Henning Mankell

Title: The Shadow Girls
Author: Henning Mankell
Publisher: Harvill Secker
ISBN: 978-1843430599
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 336
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4/5

It is very difficult to disassociate oneself from how one feels about a certain writer and his or her works and look at a new title, without any judgment. I was going through this predicament when I started reading Henning Mankell’s latest book, “The Shadow Girls”. This book by Mankell is unlike his crime novels featuring Wallander, which I have read in the past. This came as a surprise to me as it was a non-crime fiction novel. Having said that, I must also say that I did not expect anything out of it and was pleasantly surprised

“The Shadow Girls” as the title suggests is about girls and three girls at that who are at the center of the book. The book gives Sweden a new perspective, other than the crime angle that has been covered till now in literature. “The Shadow Girls” is about three girls from around the world and their encounter with a poet, each facing different challenges in their lives.

Tea-Bag, a young African girl, has come to Sweden fleeing a refugee camp in Spain, wanting a better life. Tania has escaped from the horrors of human trafficking. Leyla has come with her family from Iran. At the heart of them is a celebrated poet, Jesper Humlin, who is harrowed by his mother and girlfriend, whose publisher is not by his side and luck essentially is not in his favour. A chance meeting with Tea-Bag changes his life and perspective on the immigration experience in Sweden. He gets to know the girls and from there on, the book takes on a different turn.

The writing is essentially Mankell, albeit without the crime or thriller angle attached to it. There is wit in this book to Humlin’s parts which is refreshing. The book is different and therefore the quintessential Mankell fan may not be able to relate to it. However, if the reader carries on in the first couple of pages, then the read is definitely worth it. I liked the read. It was not a drag, and neither was it too fast. The pace was just right. The characters were well-etched and the immigration experience resonated with me, maybe because of my grandparents’ experience of moving home to a new nation. I liked the book to a great extent and it was a pleasant read. A very different read from the regular Mankells.

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Book Review: Guru Dutt: A Tragedy in Three Acts by Arun Khopkar

Title: Guru Dutt – A Tragedy in Three Acts
Author: Arun Khopkar
Translator: Shanta Gokhale
Publisher: Penguin India
ISBN: 9780143415053
Genre: Non-Fiction, Biography, Film
Pages: 168
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

There is no better way to get to know a film-maker than through his works. To watch them repeatedly – one after the other, till they charm you, make you smile, make you cry and make you think. That to me is the best way to know a filmmaker. To realize and understand what made him or her make movies like the ones you are watching, what is the psyche behind them, and what is the connect it has with you and the impression it leaves behind.

One such filmmaker whose works I have admired for years now has to be Guru Dutt. His cinema according to me was way ahead of its time. The depiction of a poet trying to come to terms with the world’s ways or the idea of a disillusioned filmmaker trying to cope with failure, Guru Dutt to me was a storyteller beyond words. He to me was successfully in creating poetry on screen – with eye movements, with body language and with silence. So when I got the opportunity to read, “Guru Dutt – A Tragedy in Three Acts” by Arun Khopkar, I jumped at it.

Arun Khopkar is an award-winning film director and scholar and it is through his eyes that the reader gets a sense of Guru Dutt and three of his films – Pyaasa, Kaagaz Ke Phool and Sahib Biwi Aur Ghulam. Arun Khopkar does not talk about Dutt’s private life even once in the book and that is commendable. He looks at the person and the director through his movies which is most essential.

The technical aspects of Guru Dutt’s movies are explored more – with reference to lighting, the play of shadows, the script, the music, the plot of his movies and ultimately to me, “the man who never tried to fit in”. Khopkar’s language is simple and retrospective, which has been beautifully translated from Marathi by Shanta Gokhale. The idea of a troubled genius is clearly communicated throughout the book, and what I found most intriguing was how Khopkar has managed to understand Dutt layer by layer purely through his cinema and silences.

For me, each film mentioned in the book is precious. Khopkar’s views on each of these three films are unique and intelligent. His writing does not ignore the minor or secondary characters. He takes into account every aspect of those films and presents Guru Dutt to the reader – raw and brilliant.

The book is not a long read and as the writer describes in the preface, that it was just meant to be a personal documentation on the legendary filmmaker and nothing more. It somehow took the shape of a book and I am glad it did. “Guru Dutt: A Tragedy in Three Acts” is a book that will make you think about art and the genius that Dutt was to devote his life to art and sometimes the madness that came with the devotion. A short and effective read, this is one book on cinema which you shouldn’t miss.

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