Wednesday, December 06, 2017

Book - Farewell: The Greatest Spy Story of the Twentieth Century

Farewell: The Greatest Spy Story of the Twentieth CenturyFarewell: The Greatest Spy Story of the Twentieth Century by Sergei Kostin
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Vladimir Vetrov, a high-ranking KGB spy in Moscow during the Cold War, was assigned the code name 'Farewell' by the French intelligence service that recruited him. This is the true story of Vetrov, presented with balance and objectivity, and the Farewell dossier handed to U.S. President Reagan during the Ottawa G7 Summit by Francois Mitterrand, the newly elected president of France. A 2009 French film was inspired by the 1997 French book, while an updated account was translated into English in 2011, a quarter-century after Vetrov’s death.

"Farewell: The Greatest Spy Story of the Twentieth Century" is an otherwise pacy thriller that occasionally falls victim to its own verbosity. Yet, the writers succeed in painting a vivid picture of Vetrov from the accounts of his family, acquaintances and handlers. Does the KGB discover the mole? No spoilers here, go read the book.

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Sunday, November 19, 2017

Books: Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout

Olive KitteridgeOlive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The first story in "Olive Kitteridge" is spell-binding and is among the best things I have read. Elizabeth Strout won the Pulitzer Prize in 2009 for this novel of 13 vignettes featuring the inhabitants of Crosby, Maine and linked by the title character, a retired math teacher. The other vignettes never match the brilliance of the first, but serve to breathe life into the characters in the lead-up to the final story, another masterpiece. Recommended. Yet to watch the four-part mini-series starring Frances McDormand.

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Thursday, November 02, 2017

Book: The Days of Abandonment by Elena Ferrante

The Days of AbandonmentThe Days of Abandonment by Elena Ferrante
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This is a short but powerful novel about a woman who is deserted by her husband and how her life goes to pieces. Olga the protagonist is trapped in a visceral struggle, even as her children and the family dog get caught up in her delirium. At times, I wished I could be there to shake Olga out of her stupor, to forget her unfaithful husband and start life afresh. Easier said than done, and yet, I couldn't help rooting for her to survive and move on.

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Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Bigg Boss 11 recap: (Day 29) Luv the new captain and love is in the air

[UPDATE: This is my last post with recaps for the current season of Bigg Boss 11. Too few people are reading the recaps to merit my writing about each episode. I'll continue watching, of course, but I no longer have to worry about having to write about it. Catch the latest on Colors TV or on ]

The overnight captaincy task continues despite Bihari lass #JyotiKumari's exit from the house. Folk dancer #SapnaChaudhary is chosen by the housemates to join #LuvTyagi and #BandgiKalra in being tethered to a semi-circular contraption.

Whoever stays attached to it till the end will be crowned the next captain of the #BiggBoss household.

Sapna doesn’t last too long and gets disconnected when she is trying to pick up a pair of socks for the night. Queen bee #HinaKhan stays up to ensure the task gets done and tells the contestants to try harder to loosen the other person’s hold. Finally, at 5.45 a.m. Bandgi gets detached from the contraption and Luv is declared the next captain of the house.

It’s not a result that rapper #AkashDadlani is comfortable with. After all, he’s had captaincy aspirations of his own. And he hasn’t forgotten Hina didn’t vote for him. Both Luv and Hina become subjects of his improvised rap. His child-like antics irk #DhinchakPooja as well. She loses her temper, but Akash is quick to apologise, and all’s well that ends well.

Sapna and bhabhiji #ShilpaShinde are criticising #ArshiKhan’s "provocative" dress and bare legs. The latter is not talking to them either. But it’s Shilpa/Sapna 1 - 0 Arshi in this round. They move away from the kitchen when Arshi walks in and wonder aloud where the bad smell is coming from.

#PriyankSharma hasn’t learned his lesson from the weekend scolding he received from host Salman Khan for revealing personal details about the housemates. This time he’s talking about something that appears to involve #VikasGupta. Vikas tried to make Priyank understand; Priyank walks off at first but later agrees he’s in the wrong and apologises on camera.

It’s nomination day and the housemates are called in pairs to the confession room where Mr. Bigg Boss tells them to decide in secret which one of them will be nominated while the other stays safe for the week. The mutually agreed decision has to be announced in the confession room itself and not revealed outside. Captain Luv is safe and cannot be nominated by the housemates.

#SabyasachiSatpathy sacrifices himself for #MehjabiSiddiqui, probably sealing his fate in the week’s nominations. He seems to be a decent fellow, but is rarely in the spotlight. Was this the right move?

Shilpa does Akash a good turn by agreeing to be nominated. Priyank and #HitenTejwani are both OK with nominations, but TV actor Hiten convinces him to stay safe for a week. Of course, his efforts come to naught later in the day when Mr. Bigg Boss punishes Priyank with a nomination of his own -- for revealing personal details of the housemates as also the nomination task when he asked audiences to safeguard Hiten.

Vikas and Sapna both offer to be nominated when their turn comes, but Sapna has the upper hand. Vikas warns her that indifference to being nominated could be a sign of her over-confidence, but Sapna doesn’t change her mind and keeps Vikas safe from the week’s nominations.

Hina and #PuneeshSharma are up next and I was surprised by how Puneesh begged her to safeguard him from being nominated. He even jokes about getting a Hina tattoo on his chest, but Hina is unmoved. It looks like a stalemate until Puneesh apologises for inadvertently abusing Hina the previous week and promises never to get personal with anyone in the house. A teary-eyed Hina then agrees to be nominated, dedicating this decision to her parents - of giving the guy who abused their daughter a second chance in the house. Bringing Puneesh to his knees is something Hina feels strongly about and she recounts the incident with great pleasure to her friends later in the garden.

Arshi and Dhinchak, who seem to be on friendly terms, are called to the confession room and Dhinchak is quick to nominate herself. Over-confidence again? Maybe, but I was disappointed Arshi accepted it so easily, even though Arshi later tells the cringe-pop sensation she shouldn’t have been so quick to get Pooja nominated in her stead.

VJ #BenafshaSoonawalla and model #BandgiKalra are the last remaining pair and neither is ready to make the other safe. In the end, Mr. Bigg Boss nominates them both for failing to come to a decision.

Love is in the air in the #BiggBoss house. Sabyasachi tells Priyank he really likes him, causing Priyank to blush. Sapna, who appears to be unaware of the concept of homosexuality, tells Sabyasachi he should have been born a woman.

Meanwhile, Dhinchak Pooja has apparently told her friends she loves captain Luv. The lights are off, but that doesn’t stop the news from spreading from wildfire from bed to bed. Cupid sure is in overdrive.

Who will be evicted from Bigg Boss this weekend?

Bigg Boss 11 recap: (Day 28) Jyoti is out and Priyank gets a scolding

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Monday, October 30, 2017

Book: "It" by Stephen King

ItIt by Stephen King
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Stephen King remains the undisputed master of the horror genre. His 1986 horror novel "It" sent chills down my spine. At around 1,200 pages, this was a long-but-engaging read about a monster (often manifesting itself in the form of a creepy clown) lurking in the sewer system of Derry, Maine. Seven children who wounded the monster in 1958 will battle it again as grown-ups in 1985. With a big-screen adaptation of "It" out and "Stranger Things 2" streaming on Netflix, there won't be a better time to enjoy this thriller. I think the book could have excised an underage orgy scene that didn't add anything to the plot - I'm glad Hollywood didn’t feature it in the movie.

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Bigg Boss 11 recap: (Day 28) Jyoti is out and Priyank gets a scolding

I have always found the #WeekendKaVaar episodes tiresome. We have host Salman Khan lecturing contestants, unfunny gags with Colors TV actors promoting upcoming programs, Salman talking to boring guests, and what seems to be less than 10 minutes' actual footage from the Bigg Boss house. Not stuff a true Bigg Boss fan would like.

Which is why I am keeping the Sunday episode recap short and waiting impatiently for Monday’s episode.

All you really need to know is that Bihari lass #JyotiKumari was evicted from the house after a unnecessary interlude where Salman pranks VJ #BenafshaSoonawalla into believing she had been evicted. Then it was  #LuvTyagi’s turn to go - until Salman relents and announces it’s actually Jyoti who got the least number of votes and has to leave the show. Looks like TV producer #VikasGupta will miss her the most.

Earlier, the housemates discussed the three nominations for the captaincy task. #AkashDadlani is pissed he wasn’t chosen - with queen bee #Hina Khan saying she wouldn’t vote for Akash. The captaincy task eventually saw Luv, Jyoti and model #BandgiKalra locked together attached to a semi-circular thingy - whoever can stay the longest will get to be the captain. With Jyoti’s exit from the show, only Luv and Bandgi remain in contention. Both go around the house tethered to the contraption - both claim they are ready to pee in their clothes if necessary. Ugh! I am hoping this task doesn’t last too long.

The housemates were also asked to use placards to describe a certain housemate (in most cases, their bete noire on the show) with the rest having to guess the name of the person being described. No surprises that the worst adjectives were used (kamina, kaamchor, chatur …) -- there seems to be no love lost among the housemates and all the names were guessed correctly.

Anything else? Well, when Salman was speaking to previous season contestants Lopamudra Raut and Manu Punjabi, the question of #PriyankSharma revealing personal details of #ArshiKhan’s life on the show came up. Salman scolds Priyank for doing so, and Priyank apologises to a teary-eyed Arshi. Bandgi asks Priyank again in #PuneeshSharma’s presence if Puneesh has a son. Priyank sticks to his statement, but Puneesh denies it and says even if it were true, it shouldn’t have been discussed on television.

Bhabhiji #ShilpaShinde seemed especially happy to see Arshi weep. Shilpa herself was pulled up by #MehjabiSiddiqui for a comment saying Mehjabi left her two-year-old to come on the show. Salman placates Mehjabi, saying the comment was actually a positive one and was taken out of context.

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Sunday, October 29, 2017

Bigg Boss 11 recap: (Day 27) Gauahar comes visiting; Pooja leaves Luv in the lurch

Former winner Gauahar Khan walks into the #BiggBoss11 house with a briefcase in her hand. Her mission: to grant a special power to one of the housemates, who each have to convince her why they deserve it.

After sessions with the inmates, Gauahar picks #ArshiKhan, #VikasGupta and #AkashDadlani for her shortlist and then announces Akash as the winner. The briefcase contains a suraksha kavach (safety armour) that will help Akash avoid being nominated for eviction - at least once. Use it wisely, Mr Rapper.

In a late-night altercation with Vikas, #ShilpaShinde gets personal and riles him up further. When Shilpa reveals a name from Vikas’ past, the TV producer threatens to expose details of Shilpa’s life. Later on the show, host Salman Khan jokes that this appears to be a pre-planned strategy by both to stay in the Bigg Boss spotlight.

When asked by Salman, the majority of the housemates name cringe-pop diva #DhinchakPooja as the weakest performer in the week’s task - and she gets seated on the bull. Salman isn’t convinced though and he wonders why, despite their mistakes, task referee #LuvTyagi, #MehjabiSiddiqui and others didn’t earn the housemates’ wrath.

Salman made Pooja sing her "Dilon ka shooter" number several times today, including an encore for the visiting cast and director of the 2017 blockbuster "GolmaalAgain". Methinks he’s obsessed with the song, considering he makes a few attempts at rap himself.

Next, Salman asks the housemates to pick three names based on their popularity among audiences. Akash is voted ‘Blockbuster’, Arshi is ‘Superhit’ while Pooja stands in the ‘Hit’ position on a makeshift podium in the house. Salman disagrees with the choices, although he retains Akash and moves him down to ‘Hit’ position. He gets Shilpa to take the second or ‘Superhit’ position and then invites Vikas … to escort queen bee #HinaKhan to the ‘Blockbuster’ slot.

For this week’s Sultani Akhada, folk singer #SapnaChoudhary squares off against Pooja. While Pooja wins the verbal round, Sapna triumphs in the tug-of-war round. In the tug-of-war tiebreaker, Sapna (aided by #HitenTejwani) gets the better of Pooja and Luv – thanks to Pooja letting go of the rope and leaving Luv in the lurch. Salman scolds Arshi for talking while the task was on.

Some relief for Shilpa, Vikas, Akash and Sapna - Salman declares them safe from eviction, with the final name to be announced in Sunday’s episode.

Three remain in the #BB11 nominations this week. Who will be evicted on Sunday?

#BenafshaSoonawalla #LuvTyagi or #JyotiKumari

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Saturday, October 28, 2017

Bigg Boss 11 recap: (Day 26) The return of Priyank and a new Dhinchak Pooja video

I had been wondering where #PriyankSharma was ever since Salman Khan announced last weekend that he will be entering the house. The choreographer/model/actor had been kicked out in the early days of #BiggBoss11 for assaulting rapper #AkashDadlani.

On Day 26, Priyank finally walks in and is welcomed (fake or not) by everyone. #BenafshaSoonawalla seems to have missed him the most - she breaks down as she hugs him. #VikasGupta gets emotional too. But Priyank loses no time in ratcheting up tension in the house, apprising housemates of what he learned in the days he spent outside.

He tells model #BandgiKalra to be careful with bosom pal #PuneeshSharma since Puneesh is apparently not wealthy, is divorced and has a kid. Bandgi who had the same conversation with Vikas some episodes ago, goes to Puneesh and asks him point-blank if he has fathered a child. Puneesh swears by his beloved grandmom (the closest to him in the whole world) and tells Bandgi he doesn’t have any children. Bandgi seems to believe him.

Priyank, who has no love lost for #ArshiKhan, stirs up more trouble when he tells folk dancer #SapnaChaudhary to mention the words "Pune-Goa" to Arshi, apparently in reference to an embarrassing incident in Arshi’s past. Sapna, who has her own bone to pick with Arshi, wastes no time in pointing it out during one of their frequent altercations. Arshi is flummoxed by how Sapna knows about the alleged Pune-Goa incident -- while Priyank denies having ever mentioned it. Arshi cries her heart out, saying her parents would never forgive her.

Earlier, jailbirds #DhinchakPooja, Akash and Arshi were released. Wannabe pop star Pooja has been tasked with making a viral video of her song about the Bigg Boss housemates, with some help from #ShilpaShinde and Vikas. This is no easy task since some housemates suspect Akash and Arshi have written lyrics mocking them.

Sapna is especially incensed by a line that says she sleeps all the time. She mocks Pooja’s music, saying listening to her sing for three months would give someone a brain tumour. She refuses to be part of the video song, but relents after queen bee #HinaKhan intervenes and changes the line to say Sapna is a good dancer. Arshi makes a comment about Sapna and that blows up into a shouting match between the two.

Later at night, the edited version of Pooja’s new song video is shown in the house. The housemates cheer for Pooja, but once she leaves the room, Hina grimaces and wishes someone would tell Pooja to stop singing.

Nominated this week on #BB11. Who will be evicted?
#ShilpaShinde, #VikasGupta, #BenafshaSoonawalla, #SapnaChaudhary, #LuvTyagi, #JyotiKumari or #AkashDadlani

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Bigg Boss 11 recap: (Day 25) Dhinchak Pooja sulks in the house

#ShilpaShinde has something nice to say about cool dude rapper #AkashDadlani. Shilpa tells queen bee #HinaKhan that Akash has a “good” heart, although he will still act like a child at the age of 50.

The after-effects of 
cringe-pop star #DhinchakPooja’s head lice infestation continue. #ArshiKhan is horrified to find a “kaali kaali moti moti tandrust joon”. Akash makes matters worse, scaring her by saying the lice will dig a hole inside her head.

Discussions continue over the weakest participant in the week’s “Khul Jaa Sim Sim” task. The axe falls on Pooja’s head. Even before her name is announced, Pooja is upset and sulks - even hiding in the bathroom for a good cry. She stays aloof and doesn’t talk to anyone - behaving as if the others don’t exist.

#BenafshaSoonawalla is feeling sorry for Pooja and offers to go to jail in her stead, but Hina tells her not to bother. The other housemates are not liking Pooja’s attitude either. In a rare verbal attack, #SabyasachiSatpathy tells the other housemates Pooja should wash her head lice out before she can act this way.

There is some relief for the 23-year-old when captain Hina nominates Akash and Arshi to join Pooja in jail. She gets along better with the duo and breaks into a rendition of her song “daaru daaru daaru” while in jail. Bihari lass #JyotiKumari and folk dancer #SapnaChaudhary mimic Pooja’s dance steps in the house.

Mr. Bigg Boss is being strict and takes away the luxury budget of the housemates for offences such as sleeping during the day, failure to protect their microphones, speaking in English, and discussing eviction nominations.

But he also offers them a chance to get it all back - IF Pooja can come up with a “good” viral song the #BiggBoss housemates. He allows her to take the help of jail-mates Akash and Arshi.

Meanwhile, outgoing captain Hina gets a chance to continue in Sapna Ki Adalat. Sapna presides over a court while Hina answers housemate questions in the witness box. Allegations fly fast and furious and Hina is mostly able to counter them until judge Sapna stumps her by catching her out in a lie. Sapna accuses Hina of having a “I , me , myself” attitude and rules that the house is ready for a new captain.

And what of the love birds? Well, #PuneeshSharma and #BandgiKalra continue to share some tender moments when the lights are off. Love is definitely in the air.

Nominated this week on #BB11. Who will be evicted?
#ShilpaShinde, #VikasGupta, #BenafshaSoonawalla, #SapnaChaudhary, #LuvTyagi, #JyotiKumari or #AkashDadlani

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Friday, October 27, 2017

Bigg Boss 11 recap: (Day 24) A kaali daayan and a dedh-footiya bandar

Day 24 in the Bigg Boss house opens with no one in the house as the "Khul Jaa Sim Sim" (Open Sesame) task is very much on in the garden. The activities of the previous day have taken their toll, and everyone is staying put in their makeshift beds outdoors.

Except for madcap #ShilpaShinde and rapper #AkashDadlani, no one is in the mood to dance to the wake-up song and it takes some convincing by Shilpa and Akash to get the others moving.

Team Blue love birds #PuneeshSharma and #BandgiKalra are coochie-cooing in one corner, while Team Red is busy discussing a mean remark supposedly made about #MehjabiSiddiqui in reference to her sacrificing her family’s Diwali gift the previous day. It is alleged that Puneesh called Mehjabi a kaali daayan (dark witch).

This riles Mehjabi up. She lets loose a stream of invective at Puneesh, referring to him as a dedh-footiya bandar (midget monkey) who has somehow managed to attract a hoor (nymph = Bandgi). In a country obsessed with the complexion of the fairer sex, it is no surprise that the kaali daayan taunt has piqued Mehjabi. She goes to great pains to explain that her fair and handsome husband loves her despite her dark skin and never even looks at another woman.

Mehjabi says it’s better to have dark skin than to have a “black heart, kidney and lung”. Her comments may have some bite, but I wonder if Puneesh even understands half of what she is saying about him. When they eventually kiss and make up, Mehjabi’s rant goes waste -- because she says she is transformed into a great beauty when she applies make-up.

Back to the task - and Team Red’s Shilpa makes the first move. Folk dancer #SapnaChaudhary has the misfortune of getting some manure flung in her face and on her mic. Beware, Shilpa, your days are numbered - Sapna is not going to forget this slight in a hurry. Team Blue’s Akash resumes his bucket dousing - and queen bee #HinaKhan’s microphone is soaked. She declares that henceforth anyone getting microphones wet would be out of the task. This irks Akash and Puneesh, who question Hina’s credentials to make such a decision -- sparking another war of words with #ArshiKhan adding fuel to the fire. Puneesh uses the word badzat (lowborn) for bossy Hina and that gets her goat.

Hina does get her way when referee #LuvTyagi punishes Shilpa and Akash by sending them inside the house when Mr. Bigg Boss next intones “Khul Jaa Sim Sim”. Sometime after midday, Team Red’s Mehjabi and Team Blue’s Arshi decide they had enough and accept the invite to go inside the house. Four down, but many more to go. But who will break the stalemate?

With everyone too tired and lying around in a sort-of-drunken stupor, Mr. Bigg Boss decides to up his game. Pizza and cans of Appy Fizz have been delivered inside the house, and Akash can’t help showing off to his starving friends stuck outside. Will pizza help lure the remaining housemates?

Cringe-pop sensation #DhinchakPooja is in a philosophical mood. “Who’s a friend, who’s an enemy, who knows?” she wonders aloud. Pooja says she can’t stand being outdoors any more. She says she doesn’t care about becoming captain, but is worried about being locked up for being a bad performer. Hina assures her not to worry, even offering to go to jail in her stead. She attempts to reassure Pooja that this talk of being sent to jail is just an attempt by the rival team (mainly #VikasGupta) to brainwash her.

Still, Pooja tells referee Luv she is too tired and goes inside the house. She soon breaks down, saying she is feeling faint. Shilpa offers her a shoulder to cry on. Methinks it was the prospect of pizza and Appy Fizz that finally broke Pooja’s resolve.

When she feels a bit better, Pooja tells Akash she had initially refused to be part of Bigg Boss 11, but caved in later. “I don’t need this,” she says, claiming the “public” wants to see her. Akash and Pooja even talk about collaborating after the show. I can already visualize another Dhinchak video in the works, this time featuring Bang-Bang rapper Akash. Heaven help us.

By 3.15 in the afternoon, even Mr. Bigg Boss is bored. He announces that the task is over and declares Team Blue the winners since they outnumbered a Dhinchak-less Team Red. Everyone troops in for some much-needed showers preceded by a celebratory group hug for Team Blue. Almost immediately, everyone starts discussing who will be house captain next. Akash seems a tad over-confident about his chances considering even bosom pals Puneesh and Bandgi think he doesn’t have a snowball’s chance in hell. #HitenTejwani wards off Akash diplomatically, promising to support him “in case” he does become a contender for the post.

Later, Arshi finds Akash lying with his head on Pooja’s lap, prompting Arshi to comment that he likes her. Irritated, Akash says he “loves” Pooja - as a “friend”. Pooja sidles away on hearing this. Arshi pretends to faint when she hears the 23-year-old hasn’t had a boyfriend yet. Puneesh mocks her as well, saying someone who hasn’t tasted anything sweet won’t even know what diabetes is -- whatever context he was saying that in. Pooja is embarrassed further (was that a blush I spy spreading across her cheeks?) and moves away.

And what of current captain Hina? In the evening, she takes a stroll in the garden, appearing to select camera angles for the best view of her face -- and promptly breaks down. Between her sobs, she wonders aloud about the kind of language being used for her by Puneesh and others. #SabyasachiSatpathy appears briefly to offer her solace. But methinks he seemed too eager to get back inside. Does queen bee Hina Khan have no one to turn to anymore?

The bully has become the bullied. Or is it too soon for the tables to have turned? That’s a thought for the next episode. After midnight, the other Khan - Arshi (ably aided by Akash) is doing her own coochie-cooing with a cardboard cutout of host Salman Khan.

BTW, I am wondering about ousted housemate #PriyankSharma - didn’t Salman announce he was coming back the same day Dhinchak entered the house? Or is he hiding somewhere in the Bigg Boss house? Hmmm.

Nominated this week on #BB11. Who will be evicted?
#ShilpaShinde, #VikasGupta, #BenafshaSoonawalla, #SapnaChaudhary, #LuvTyagi, #JyotiKumari or #AkashDadlani

(NOTE: I am watching the show on Voot and I realized it’s missed counting a day. Have switched to calling it Day 24 instead of Day 23 for the purposes of this recap. Hence, there will be no recap for Day 23.)

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Thursday, October 26, 2017

Bigg Boss 11 recap: (Day 22) Cow dung and Arabian Nights

As the housemates settle down for the night, they notice #MehjabiSiddiqui seated on the bed and staring menacingly at them. It’s unclear whether she is in a catatonic trance, but #ArshiKhan is quick to ascribe her stupor to the presence of an evil spirit.

Rapper #AkashDadlani isn’t liking all this talk of ghosts - sleep has deserted him. What if something happens in the night, he asks. When “aunty” Mehjabi recovers, he pesters her by asking what happened. Mehjabi didn’t like his “aunty” reference either. Akash’s Hindi isn’t great and he’s stumped by the word “jallad” used for him.

Day 22 dawns with queen bee #HinaKhan interrogating cringe-pop sensation #DhinchakPooja in the living room. Turns out Pooja’s parents aren’t too pleased about her presence in the #BiggBoss house. As the 23-year-old leaves the room, Hina tells the housemates she appreciates how Pooja conducts herself, despite knowing people are not really fans of her so-called music.

When the week’s task begins, it’s a jungle out there in the garden and the contestants are wearing blue and red Arabian Nights costumes. Players from both teams can enter Ali Baba’s cave (the house) only when Mr. Bigg Boss intones “Khul Jaa Sim Sim” (Open Sesame). But entering the house equals losing and the task would be won by the team with more members remaining in the garden, giving the winners a chance to become the next captain. #LuvTyagi is the referee for the task.

Easy peasy to stay put outside? Well, at least till we hear contestants are allowed to trouble members of the opposing team. There’s plenty of cow dung and water outside to ensure things won’t remain peaceful for too long. Self-appointed cook #ShilpaShinde starts making lunch on an outdoor stove.

Some of the housemates discuss whether destroying clothes is acceptable torture. Model #BandgiKalra proclaims she will cut the hair of anyone who targets her clothing. Fair warning.

The drenching begins shortly with wildcard #DhinchakPooja bearing the brunt of the initial bucket dousing. Some microphones get wet, some shins get kicked and things hot up quickly when the Bigg Boss version of cowdung Holi begins in earnest. A war of words ensues between Hina and Akash, with #PuneeshSharma coming to Akash’s aid.

Hina and Bandgi also square off over their celebrity status, a long-standing ritual in the Bigg Boss timeline. Hina’s first tears begin to flow at 6.45 p.m. but #HitenTejwani is around to keep her spirits up. Akash provokes Hiten into a bucket-dousing challenge, but they are shaking hands by the end.

No one is showing any signs of going inside the ‘cave’ so Mr. Bigg Boss changes tack. Mehjabi’s Diwali present from her family, the one she didn’t get last week, is displayed with a caveat - she’ll get her hands on it only if one contestant from both teams enters the house the next time “Khul Jaa Sim Sim” is intoned.

Arshi is seen trying to convince an emotional Mehjabi to go inside, but Team Red rescues her from the naagin’s clutches, pepping her up to withstand the temptation. When it’s time for the next “Khul Jaa Sim Sim” at 9.30 p.m., no one goes in - although Mehjabi requests Luv for a final look at the family photo wrapped over her gift.

It’s going to be a long night, folks, but tomorrow’s a new day and who knows - maybe cow dung, hunger, bladder control or the plain ol’ sun may break the deadlock.

Nominated this week on #BB11. Who will be evicted?
#ShilpaShinde, #VikasGupta, #BenafshaSoonawalla, #SapnaChaudhary, #LuvTyagi, #JyotiKumari or #AkashDadlani

BiggBoss 11 recap: (Day 21) Enter Dhinchak Pooja - and lice

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

#BiggBoss11 (Day 21) recap: Enter Dhinchak Pooja - and lice #BB11

I am beginning to feel sorry for #DhinchakPooja. It’s no cakewalk entering #BiggBoss as a wildcard two weeks after the other housemates had time to understand the lay of the land and form alliances to survive.

Don’t get me wrong. The cringe-pop sensation’s songs do make me shudder. Still, I didn’t appreciate the way actor #SalmanKhan rolled his eyes and mocked her “singing” in Sunday’s episode before Pooja joined the house guests. To her credit, the 23-year-old appeared unfazed and later sang a few lines while queen bee #HinaKhan and others laughed in contempt.

Things got worse on Day 21 when the housemates noticed lice nits in Pooja’s hair. There was much banter behind her back, and not of the good kind. Pooja looked perplexed when various housemates led by captain #HinaKhan snuck up behind her to ascertain the extent of the lice nit invasion. Eventually, madcap #ShilpaShinde comes to her rescue, takes Pooja aside and graciously explains why she’s become the butt of jokes. Shilpa and #HitenTejwani request Mr. Bigg Boss to send Pooja a bottle of lice medicine. Thank you, Shilpa -- for being the sane one for once. Pooja didn’t react, but I suspect a teary tantrum is in the works. She's been quiet, except for an impromptu sing-off with "Bang Bang" rapper #AkashDadlani.

[Warning: #GameOfThrones reference ahead]

When she’s not busy deriding #DhinchakPooja, captain #HinaKhan calls the shots in the house. In her most Cersei Lannister moment yet, Hina tells Akash he won’t get to eat if he doesn’t listen to her. But Akash is not one to pay his debts. Instead, egged on by allies #PuneeshSharma and #BandgiKalra, Akash throws a tantrum of his own.

Elsewhere, the housemates are plotting the week’s eviction nominations, something we know from past experience Mr. Bigg Boss doesn’t take too kindly to. This week, he doesn’t allow the contestants to nominate people and arbitrarily chooses #BandgiKalra, #ShilpaShinde, #ArshiKhan, #VikasGupta, #PuneeshSharma and #MehjabiSiddiqui. They do have a chance to save themselves - if a ‘friend’ paired with them at the 30-minute “friendship wall” is nominated in their stead.

Arshi doesn’t waste much time in getting rid of VJ #BenafshaSoonawalla, leaving the latter in tears. Which was surprising, because the unwritten rule of Bigg Boss is to take care of oneself, escape the nominations and stay put in the house. Why should Arshi be expected to sacrifice herself for Benafsha?

Puneesh follows suit, ditching folk dancer #SapnaChaudhary (Puneesh hadn’t liked her remarks about his girl pal Bandgi over the weekend so this was no shock). Bandgi herself didn’t stick too long with #LuvTyagi. And #MehjabiSiddiqui was quick to leave Bihari lass #JyotiKumari in the lurch.

But actress #ShilpaShinde and TV producer #VikasGupta didn’t follow through - opting to stay nominated to safeguard #HitenTejwani and #SabyasachiSatpathy respectively. Strategy or foolhardiness? That we’ll get to know this weekend.

Lest we forget, Cersei Lannister (Hina) took centrestage at the friendship wall to take revenge on Akash for his remarks about her captaincy, losing no time in relegating him to the eviction round. "When you play the Game of Thrones, youwin or you die - there is no middle ground". Yes, we know, Cersei. But also remember "Spider-Man" - "with great power comes great responsibility".

New alliances are constantly being formed in the Bigg Boss house. I noticed Arshi getting friendly with the Puneesh gang -- or maybe it’s a case of ‘enemy of my enemy (read Hina) is my friend’. Former bosom pal Vikas was pacifying a teary-eyed Benafsha when Arshi walked off. An inopportune remark by Jyoti at bedtime saw Puneesh and Akash gang up on her. That girl sure needs to keep her mouth shut.

Nominated this week on #BB11. Who will be evicted?
#ShilpaShinde, #VikasGupta, #BenafshaSoonawalla, #SapnaChaudhary, #LuvTyagi, #JyotiKumari or #AkashDadlani

Monday, October 09, 2017

Book: 4321 by Paul Auster

43214321 by Paul Auster
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

"4 3 2 1" is the coming-of-age tale of Archie Ferguson, with four dramatically different yet parallel versions of his life, his relationships and his experiences in the 20th century. That's creative in itself and while its length may make Paul Auster's 17th novel seem long-winded, his attention to detail and his control over the multiple narratives ensures the reader is enthralled throughout. This is a long read and it took me a month to finish. Worth it? I think so.

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Monday, August 21, 2017

Book: Orange Is the New Black - My Year in a Women's Prison by Piper Kerman

Orange Is the New Black: My Year in a Women's PrisonOrange Is the New Black: My Year in a Women's Prison by Piper Kerman
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The hit Netflix show piqued my interest in the memoir that inspired it all. Piper Kerman's narrative of some 13 months in prison is a more subdued affair - there is no lesbian sex or prison riot, almost everyone makes her feel welcome, she never spends any time locked up (at least in Danbury) with her ex-girlfriend, and fiance Larry is a really nice guy who waits patiently for her to get out of prison. While the show gave us many more interesting characters, a few with recognizable characteristics appear just in passing in the book. And yet, this is a poignant memoir where the reader accompanies Piper through the whole prison experience. The show on the other hand relegated Piper to the sidelines by Season 5, giving viewers a diverse range of characters and much more drama. Not that I am complaining. I liked them both.

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Monday, August 14, 2017

'Gunda' turns 19

I accepted the movie challenge thrown by Anupriya Kumar and watched the cult classic "Gunda". Users on give the 1998 Bollywood film an average rating of 7.6/10 and it ranks 214 on the list of top-rated Indian movies of all time - higher than “Raajneeti”, “Rustom” or “Sultan”.

"Gunda" is, erm … different. Each character speaks in silly rhyming couplets for the opening sequence and much of the film. This is all the more bewildering because the lines are delivered randomly during scenes that would be tragic in any other cinematic context - such as a woman being raped, a villain cradling the lifeless body of his brother, or sporadic stabbings.

At its heart, “Gunda” is a revenge thriller, involving coolie Shankar (Mithun Chakraborty) caught in the middle of a gang war between weirdly named dons Bulla and Lambu Atta. Lambu Atta is out of the picture before you can ask “What does Lambu Atta mean?” - leaving Bulla as undisputed villain and connoisseur of all things evil. Shankar ends up in Bulla’s crosshairs after helping the incompetent police arrest his henchman.

Double entendres abound, and there are plenty of heaving bosoms, pelvic thrusts and penis/gay/Viagra references to give any self-respecting censor board chief nightmares.

The basic plot, without giving away too many spoilers, sees our hero losing his sister, father and sweetheart to the maniacal villain and his bananas-and-other-things-obsessed cohorts. To ensure that the bloodthirsty action is evenly spaced out, director Kanti Shah inserts titillating songs to give audiences a welcome break from all the rapes, castration and throat-slashing gore.

Animal lovers rejoice, there are plenty of non-humans on display. A pet monkey who insists the hero’s sister ties a rakhi on him. And Bulla takes his house-trained leopard out for walks: it deserves a Nobel Peace Prize for tolerating Bulla’s tuft-of-hair brother (Shakti Kapoor) who keeps insulting it by calling it a tiger. There is a special appearance by two stray dogs whose blissful dreams on a beach are disturbed when Shankar appears, in hot pursuit of an evil politician with an uncanny resemblance to former minister George Fernandes. There’s also a wailing baby in the mix. Shankar and Bulla play catch with it, occasionally allowing the monkey to get in on the fun.

As for the visual effects, they are out of this world. Backdrops (airstrip, port, desert, coal mine) change in an instant; brothel charpoys swing from the sky in the director's homage to Salvador Dali; the baddies indulge in one-too-many somersaults because they feel like it; an on-foot Shankar keeps overtaking a VIP convoy just to demonstrate Einstein’s Theory of Relativity.

Not to forget Shankar uses his bare hands to clobber hordes of Bulla henchmen who attack him with machetes, swords, knives of various sizes, revolvers, rifles, grenades, machine guns, auto-rickshaws, Ambassador cars and even a helicopter sponsored by Deccan Aviation. If you must know, Shankar escapes all that with barely a scratch. His victims are not so lucky.

I’m still not clear on what Shankar does for a living. He never wears the coolie uniform he wore in the beginning. But he’s definitely wealthy enough to pay for the bright yellow suits, cars, and rocket launchers that Shankar seems to produce out of thin air. But then this is a film that is designed to make you think and ponder over the meaning of life. Not like the other rubbish Bollywood churns out.

The ball is in your court, Anupriya. "Student of the Year" (SOTY) awaits.

(An earlier version of this post incorrectly stated that "Gunda" had turned 21)

Tuesday, August 08, 2017

Books: "Alex" by Pierre Lemaitre

AlexAlex by Pierre Lemaitre
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The second novel in a trilogy by French crime writer Pierre Lemaitre, "Alex" (2011) was the first to be translated into English and drew obvious comparisons with "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo". A woman is abducted, tortured and kept in a cage with some hungry rats for company. But an unexpected twist in the tale turns the police rescue mission into a hunt for a serial killer. Gripping, gory and with enough thrills to keep you reading till the end. A Hollywood adaptation is in the works. Meanwhile, I will be on the lookout for more translations of Lemaitre's work.

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Sunday, August 06, 2017

Books: Look Me in the Eye: My Life with Asperger’s by John Elder Robison

Look Me in the Eye: My Life with Asperger'sLook Me in the Eye: My Life with Asperger's by John Elder Robison
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This is a moving memoir about living with Asperger's syndrome. John Elder Robison, who wasn't diagnosed till he was 40, describes a painful childhood due to his inability to pick up on social cues. Having a dysfunctional family didn't help. His only comfort: an uncanny ability to tinker with machines and make them work. I found some chapters a bit repetitive, but there is little doubt that younger brother Augusten Burroughs is not the only writer in the family.

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