Showing posts with label India. Show all posts
Showing posts with label India. Show all posts

21 January 2016

Film review: Like Stars on Earth (2007) by Aamir Khan, ****

Taare Zameen Par

Ishaa Ishaan is an 8 year old whose world is filled with wonders that no one else seems to appreciate; colors, fish, dogs, and kites are just not important in the world of adults, who are much more interested in things like homework, grades and neatness. Ishaan just cannot seem to get anything right in class. When he gets into far more trouble than his parents can handle, he is packed off to a boarding school to be disciplined.

Things are no different at his new school, and Ishaan has to contend with the added trauma of separation from his family. A new art teacher infects the students with joy and optimism and breaks all the rules of how things are done by asking them to think, dream and imagine. All the children respond with enthusiasm except Ishaan. The teacher soon realizes that Ishaan is unhappy and sets out to discover why. With time, patience and care, he ultimately helps Ishaan find himself.

Bonus features (in Hindi only, no subtitles) include: Director's Commentary, panel discussion on children, deleted scenes, making of, Music CD with two beautiful collectible postcards. This film is Aamir Khan's debut in directing.


In this film we see a story of commitment and hope against all odds. The film takes place in contemporary upper middle class India, but the moral of the story is one for all places and all times. The subtitle, "Every child is special" tells it all. Yes there are children with special problems, and they do need special attention in special schools. But there are perfectly "normal" children, capable to become integrated in society like everyone else, who simply need to find their own pace and place to do so.

What they all need is love and appreciation, even for quirky "special" inclinations that they may display and that may arouse scepticism and criticism from "normal" people, especially adults. "If you want to win competitions, then breed race horses, don't raise children, dammit!" says Khan, and sums it up well.

In the end, Ishaan comes out on top, while his "normal", super skilled brother, the repository of the family's expectations of success and achievement, does not.

Ishaan's triumph

Darsheel Safary as seen by his art teacher

You can see my other reviews of films on India here in this blog.

Click this link to buy more films with Aamir Khan.

01 December 2015

Film review: Earth (1998) by Deepa Mehta, ****


Earth, the second film in Deepa Mehta's controversial trilogy is an emotionally devastating love story set within the sweeping social upheaval and violence of 1947 India. As her country teeters on the brink of self rule and instability, 8-year old Lenny, an innocent girl from an affluent family, is in danger of having her world turned upside down. As the simmering violence around them reaches a boiling point, Lenny's beautiful nanny Shanta (Nandita Das) falls in love with one of Lenny's heroes, the charismatic and peace-advocating Hassan. Love, however, can be dangerous when religious differences are tearing the country apart, and friendships and loyalty are put to the test. Building to a shattering climax, Earth is a devastating human drama in which desire unfolds into a stirring tale of love and the ultimate betrayal.


This is a good movie about the dramatic partition events of 1947. It show the conflict between Muslims and Hindus though the eyes of a parsi family. Parsis are a Zoroastrian community that constitutes a substantial minority in the Mumbai area and were often caught between their two large neighbors. No happy ending, and indeed the history of India and Pakistan since then sadly shows that beyond doubt.

The movie is harrowing, Mehta does not refrain from showing horrific violence, if indirectly but not less shockingly for that. The question of identity in India is addressed in depth, with friends and neighbors who shared a lifetime finding themselves on the opposite side of the fence.

It's probably my least favorite movies among the three of Mehta's trilogy because it relates to well known events, while the other two address much less discussed issues in Indian society like child abuse, family violence and homosexuality. Aamir Khan is great as usual.  Aamir Khan is great as usual. I take one star off because compared to Fire and Water this is just a bit predictable.

See my other reviews of films on India in this blog.

In the UK buy it here

Available from

12 December 2014

Film review: Salaam Bombay (1988), by Mira Nair, *****


Mira Nair adds her angry voice to the cinema of forgotten children in this wrenching drama of an 11-year-old boy (real-life street child Shafiq Syed) who heads to the big city and joins a sea of homeless children and down-and-out adults scrambling to survive the pitiless streets. The fantasy of Bollywood dreams hangs just out of reach in posters, movies, and radio tunes, momentary respites from the hard reality of a world ruled by brutal pimps and drug dealers.

This is a gritty look into the underbelly and plight of Bombay's poor street children, who call the gutters of its filthy urban streets home. It is filled with the sights and sounds of this urban nightmare. This highly acclaimed film allows the viewer a peek at another culture, only to find that basic human needs and desires are universal.

This was Nair's first film and one of very few Indian film ever nominated for an Oscar, (the others being Mother India and Lagaan).


Another moving story by Mira Nair. India is changing fast and this is one aspect of the country which neither tourists nor scholars get to see much.

Drugs, prostitution and outrageous neglect of justice by the authorities paint a damning picture of the city we know of as the economic capital of India and home of Bollywood.

Not a pretty film, but, over twenty years after its shooting, still a must see to understand India.

Watch a trailer here

See my other reviews of films about India.

10 December 2014

Film review: Mississippi Masala (1991) by Mira Nair, ****


The story of an Indian family who after always having lived in Uganda, Africa, are forced to leave under the orders of dictator Idi Amin when he declares that Africa belongs only to 'black' Africans. The lawyer, his wife and little girl Mina, move to Mississippi where again, years later, racism presents problems. This time between the Indian and American/African community, coming to a head when the now 24-year-old Mina falls in love with a black carpet cleaner. 'Masala' in the film means a 'mixture of hot spices' which is how Mina sees herself through having come from such a rich mixture of cultural backgrounds.


This is a film about globalization that was shot before people started talking about the term. Indians from Africa move to America to meet descendants of slaves and contribute to the melting pot that makes America great. The plot may not be super original (boy loves girl, girl loves boy, girl's parents are not happy) but the context is. It made me feel of "Guess who is coming to dinner" and it could almost be considered a remake. of course, in a different context and twenty-five years later. But the romance drama intermixed with the racial friction makes it very current and as I watch it in 2014 it is ever so relevant!

See my other reviews of films about India in this blog.

15 November 2014

Film review: Fire (1996), by Deepa Mehta, *****


Ashok (Kulbhushan Kharbanda) runs a family business that sells takeout food and which also has a video rental store at the side. Ashok's extended family includes his wife Radha (Shabana Azmi), his brother Jatin (Javed Jaffrey), their ailing mother Biji (Kushal Rekhi) and their manservant Mundu (Ranjit Chowdhry), all living under the same roof.

Jatin, at the insistence of Ashok and their mother, Biji, agrees to marry the beautiful Sita (Nandita Das) in an arranged marriage, although he is actually in love with Julie (Alice Poon), a Chinese-Indian.

At first glance, you see a happy middle-class family going through the normal paces of everyday life. However, as the layers are slowly peeled back, we find a simmering cauldron of discontent within the family, with almost every family member living a lie. Both marriages in the family turn out to be emotionally empty, without love or passion. While Ashok is an ascetic who has taken a vow of celibacy, Jatin is a handsome ladies' man who is still openly seeing Julie even after his marriage to Sita. Ashok has pledged his total devotion to a religious holy man, a swami, in order to purge his life of worldly desires and temptations. Radha, bound by her sense of duty to her husband, agrees to go along with his wishes.

As you can imagine, with both husbands ignoring their spouses' emotional and sexual needs (albeit with reasons that are totally opposite from each other), it is only a matter of time before Radha and Sita look to one another for comfort and to satisfy their own passions. In this environment, it is only natural that Sita and Radha become fast friends, and, in time, much more than that. But their love is not without its share of painful obstacles.

Major controversy led this movie by Indian-Canadian director Deepa Mehta  to be widely attacked and banned in India. The film's unprecedented lesbian themes led to riots outside cinemas in India and necessitated police protection for the director for over a year.


A daring movie for India. For any country really, but especially for a country like India where the issue of female homosexuality was a big taboo in the mid-1990s and it still is. We learn a lot about an India which travelers hardly ever read of hear about, let alone see with their own eyes. It is an optimistic movie, in the end the right of the women to pursue their own path to happiness wins the day.

The pace of the movie is deliberate, with no rush and no slack, it is just right. We are taken into the home of a traditional Indian family where the modern lifestyle of one young husband contrasts with the stale tradition of another husband of a generation earlier. Both neglect their women and this brings the two ladies together more than they would ever have planned. It is ultimately a movie about freedom and love, not necessarily a movie about male chauvinism in India.

It is also a movie about changing India: millenary traditions crumble under the impact of modernity, and the movie suggests that this is a necessary transformation for the country.

This movie is one of three sometimes referred to as the "Elements Trilogy" by Mehta, including "Water" and "Earth".

See other films about India I reviewed on this blog.

03 December 2013

Recensione: 700 ore in India - sulla scomoda sella di una Royal Enfield 500 (2013), di Giuseppe Santucci, *****


Questo libro parla di un viaggio. In India. Da solo. In motocicletta. Una Royal Enfield 500 Bullet Machismo. Monocilindrica. Tremila chilometri, divisi tra la parte sud ovest della catena dell’Himalaya (la zona in cui scorrono le sorgenti del Gange) e i deserti del Rajasthan. Conditi da duecentocinquantamila colpi di clacson (circa). L'autore Giuseppe Santucci è professore associato all' Università degli studi di Roma “La Sapienza” e tiene corsi di Ingegneria Informatica. Questo è il suo secondo libro che non ha nulla a vedere con il suo lavoro. Né con il suo primo libro.


Breve ma emozionante libro che racconta un viaggio in moto. L'autore prende per mano il lettore, se lo carica sulla motocicletta e lo porta in giro per l'India per tre settimane. La narrativa è coinvolgente al punto che l'autore, contrariamente a quanto scrive ripetutamente, non viaggia più da solo ma fa sentire il lettore come se fosse seduto sulla sella, dietro di lui, a cavalcare le buche delle strade indiane.

Questo libro non è, e non pretende di essere, un saggio analitico sul paese e neanche una guida su come visitarlo in moto. Riesce però a trasmettere un'esperienza, con dovizia di particolari, che ti far venir voglia di partire. Ho visitato personalmente, in vari viaggi intrapresi negli anni passati, tutti i luoghi percorsi da Santucci con la sua Enfield e mi ci sono ritrovato. Ad ogni curva ho rivissuto la mia esperienza (in auto, iin treno, a piedi) e posso garantire l'autenticità delle descrizioni.

Il libro centra dunque l'obiettivo che si è prefissato: raccontare un viaggio. Un viaggio difficile, che avrebbe potuto essere diverso e che sarebbe sicuramente diverso per chi decidesse di intraprenderlo. Ma questa è la differenza tra un saggio analitico ed un racconto. Ho letto questo volume in poche ore, è difficile metterlo giù, vien quasi paura che la moto non riparta! Consigliatissimo a chi conosce l'India ma anche a chi, non potendoci andare di persona, ha voglia di assaggiarla restando seduto a casa.

24 March 2013

Film review: Namesake (2006), by Mira Nair, ****


Namesake is a Bollywood drama by Mira Nair, based on the best-selling novel by Jhumpa Lahiri. Ashoke (Irfan Khan) and Ashima (Tabu) are a young couple who are brought together in an arranged marriage and soon leave Calcutta to seek their fortune in America. Before long, Ashima gives birth to a baby boy, and pressed to choose a name, they dub the infant Nikhil (Kal Penn), though he soon picks up the nickname Gogol, after Ashoke's favourite author. By the time the child is old enough to attend school, he insists upon being called Gogol at all times, and he displays little interest in his Indian heritage.

Several years on, Gogol has decided he wants to be called Nick (and is now played by Kal Penn) and has become a thoroughly Americanised teenager, openly rebelling against his parents, smoking marijuana in his room, and dating Maxine (Jacinda Barrett), a preppy blonde from a wealthy family. Ashoke and Ashima are uncertain about how to deal with their son's attempts to cut himself off from their culture, but Nick begins expressing some uncertainty himself when he meets Moushumi (Zuleikha Robinson), a beautiful girl who also comes from a family of Indian expatriates.


Multiple stories in this film. Indian immigration in the 1970s, with a bright young engineering student who finds opportunities at M.I.T., the dream university for many scientists around the world. What a coincidence, I went to M.I.T. in the seventies, same university and same decade! Some of my classmates and best friends were just like Ashoke!

Also a touching family love story, with the problems faced by parents of adolescent kids in every country.

The strong role of the family bonds in Indian culture is a message not to be missed, and from which we in the West have much to learn.

I found the puzzlement of the American born kids when they go back to visit India the most entertaining and amusing part of the film.

Everything rotates around the quirky name that Ashoke has chosen for his son, and the meaning of this name which only becomes clear to the son after his father's death.

See more of my reviews of films about India in this blog.

Buy your European Region 2 DVD here

For the US buy or download here

Buy the book here

10 March 2013

Film review: Outsourced (2010) by John Jeffcoat, ****

Time magazine cover, 2006

Todd Anderson (Josh Hamilton) spends his days managing a call centre in Seattle until he gets the bad news from his boss his job has been outsourced to India. Adding insult to injury, Todd must travel to India to train his new replacement. He expects the worst experience of his life, and it certainly begins that way! As he navigates through the chaos of Bombay and an office paralyzed by constant cultural misunderstandings, Todd yearns to return to the comforts of home. But it is through his team of quirky yet likable Indian call centre workers, including his friendly and motivated replacement, Puro (Asif Basra), and the charming, opinionated Asha (Ayesha Dharker), that Todd realizes that he too has a lot to learn - not only about India and America, but about himself. He soon discovers that being outsourced may be the best thing that ever happened to him.

17 February 2013

Film review: Born into Brothels (2004) by Zana Briski and Ross Kauffman, ****

"Running" by Gour, 13 years old

The most stigmatized people in Calcutta's red light district are not the prostitutes, but their children. In the face of abject poverty, abuse, and despair, these kids have little possibility of escaping their mother's fate or for creating another type of life. Directors Zana Briski and Ross Kauffman chronicle the amazing transformation of the children they come to know in the red light district. Briski, a professional photographer, gives them lessons and cameras, igniting latent sparks of artistic genius that reside in these children who live in the most sordid and seemingly hopeless world. The photographs taken by the children are not merely examples of remarkable observation and talent; they reflect something much larger, morally encouraging, and even politically volatile: art as an immensely liberating and empowering force.

The winner of the 77th annual Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature, Born into Brothels offers a tribute to the resiliency of childhood and the restorative power of art. Devoid of sentimentality, Born into Brothels defies the typical tear-stained tourist snapshot of the global underbelly. Briski spends years with these kids and becomes part of their lives. Their photographs are prisms into their souls, rather than anthropological curiosities or primitive imagery, and a true testimony of the power of the indelible creative spirit.

21 January 2013

Films about India

Eternal work in progress, these are the best film about India I have seen...

Born into Brothels (2004) by Zana Briski and Ross Kauffman. Some children of prostitutes find a new life in photography.

Earth (1998) by Deepa Mehta. Harrowing story about the 1947 partition.

Fire (1996), by Deepa Mehta. Two women find freedom and love in traditional India.

Himalaya: the Forgotten Valleys by Guy Costieux. Life in the Buddhist mountains of Northern India.

Kama Sutra, a Tale of Love (1997) by Mira Nair. Love, mysticism and tradition in classical India.

Like Stars on Earth (2007) by Aamir Khan. Success of a child one considered a problem.

Mississippi Masala (1991) by Mira Nair. Romance between races and the American melting pot.

Namesake (2006) by Mira Nair. Family values and Indian immigration to the US in the 1970s.

Outsourced (2010) by John Jeffcoat. Losing your job because the company is outsourciing to India might be the best thing that ever happened to you!

Salaam Bombay (1988) by Mira Nair. Drugs and prostitution in the glittering economic capital of India.

Water (2006) by Deepa Mehta. The desperate plight of widows in traditional India.

30 December 2012

Film review: Water (2006), by Deepa Mehta, *****


Set against the epic backdrop of the River Ganges in 1938 during Mahatma Gandhi's rise to power, this is the inspiring tale of an eight year old Hindu girl named Chuyia. Chuyia's life is suddenly changed when she is widowed and sent to a home where Hindu widows must live in penitence. She refuses to accept her fate and her feisty presence begins to affect the lives of other residents, including a beautiful young widow, Kalyani (Lisa Ray of Bollywood/Hollywood) who has fallen in love with Ghandian idealist, Narayan (Bollywood star John Abraham).

Extremist groups waged a campaign of death threats, arson and riots to stop the production of this controversial film, but director Deepa Mehta would not be silenced. Set against Gandhi's rise to power, Water tells the profoundly moving story of Chuyia, an Indian girl married and widowed at eight years old, who is sent away to a home where Hindu widows must live in penitence. Chuyia's feisty presence deeply affects the other residents, forcing each to confront their faith and society's prejudices.

24 December 2011

Book Review: Inferno, by James Nachtwey, *****


A document of war and strife during the 1990s, this volume of photographs by the photojournalist James Nachtwey includes dramatic and shocking images of human suffering in Rwanda, Somalia, Romania, Bosnia, Chechnya and India, a well as photographs of the conflict in Kosovo. An essay by the author Luc Sante is included. The book is published to coincide with an exhibition of Nachtwey's work at the International Centre of Photography, New York.


This book is a masterpiece of what I would call "political" photography. Nachtwey is a traveler, big time. He goes to war, or follows war's footsteps, and closes in on his subjects where most others would turn away. He prevails over his own emotions in order to show us the horrors of the world. He feels he has to do it, as he explains in interviews (see DVD below) because if he does not, who will? He is humble, understated and brilliant. The book contains only B&W pictures, is big and heavy and expensive, and it is probably the best photo reportage book you will ever buy. It certainly is for me.

You might want to buy this Oscar nominated DVD, made by Swiss director Christian Frei, who followed Jim Nachtwey and placed a micro cam on his film camera. He is also extensively interviewed and so are many who work with him. I have reviewed this DVD here on this blog.

Vous pouvez aussi acheter l'édition française de ce livre:

31 August 2010

Map Review: Indian Himalaya Maps, sheet 6, by Leomann maps, *****

This is probably the best set available for this part of the Himalaya. Not so much for trekking but good for trip planning. Sturdy paper and all the names of towns, gonpas, topography.

Would have been useful to have driving distances in km, but in this area kilometers don't mean much: mudslides and floods slow you down so much that time and distance don't always relate to each other! 1:200.000 scale should satisfy most travelers.

29 August 2010

18° g - 29 AGO: Delhi, tempio Sikh e partenza per l'Europa

Ultimo giorno di viaggio. Ancora una volta, molto a malincuore, lascio l’India. Ma so che tornerò presto. Quasi non mi sembra più di essere in viaggio quando vengo in India....

28 August 2010

17° g - 28 AGO: Chandigarh – Delhi TRENO: km 300

Alle 9 alcuni di noi partono in rick-shaw a motore per il Neck Chand Rock Garden, un enorme parco/giardino surreale, pazzesco, iperbolico, creato da Neck Chand, un artista locale, con materiali di scarto riciclati. Sculture, allestimenti, corsi d'acqua, cascate... Un mix di kitsch, postavanguardia e delirio puro. Da non mancare. Caldo umido già la mattina presto, ma il rickshaw a motore fila fresco per i grandi viali alberati della città...

27 August 2010

16° g - 27 AGO: Manali – Chandigarh, km 350

Partiamo alle 8, Thakur ci affida a due Toyota Innova fiammanti, con due autisti impeccabili e un po' formali e taciturni, ma comunque bravi nel loro mestiere. Scendiamo nella valle di Kullu. Verdissima, meleti e fabbriche di scialli. Ci fermiamo al mercato di Manali, frutta, verdura di più... coloratissimo e puzzonentissimo, ma ovviamente anche molto fotogenico!

26 August 2010

15° g - 26 AGO: Chandra Taal – Manali (2050 m) km 129

Colazione all'aperto contornati dalle montagne, molto suggestivo anche se fa freddo. Partiamo a piedi sulla strada del ritorno mentre l'equipaggio smonta il campo. Un'occasione per godersi il paesaggio con il silenzio e la luce del mattino, anche se per Luisa e Paola il motivo principale sembra essere quello di minimizzare il tempo a bordo dele Toyota su quelle strade strettissime e sgarrupate, con centinaia di metri di strapiombo sotto di noi...!

25 August 2010

14° g - 25 AGO: Kaza – Kunzum La (4550 m) – Chandra Taal (4270 m) km 102

Sveglia prestissimo e colazione indiana alle 7! Che vi devo dire? A me il chai con ceci e patate a colazione proprio piace da pazzi! Ma sono praticamente l'unico. Gli altri saltano la colazione, salvo sgranocchiare qualche pezzo di pane con burro. Mi sento un po' in colpa perché avevo chiesto specificatamente (ma di nascosto) a Puran di farci la colazione indiana... Il nostro cuoco era tutto contento! Però pensandoci bene non mi sento in colpa, dopo tutto, in fondo sto cercando solo di far apprezzare il viaggio ai miei compagni anche sotto l'aspetto gastronomico. Pane burro e marmellata, certamente miglio di di quelle che ci propongono qui, li possono mangiare anche in Italia. Arrivo (apposta) per ultimo a tavola, con Francesco cui avevo confidato la cosa all'ultimo momento, e trovo tutti gli altri affamati e disperati! :-D Alla fine anche Aleardo ci prova e si trangugia un bel po' di ceci e patate. Io e Francesco facciamo strage! OTTIMO!

24 August 2010

13° g - 24 AGO: Kaza – Kibber (4205 m)–Kee Gompa (3957 m)– Kaza, km 42

Giornata in giro per la valle dello Spiti. Partiamo da Kaza in direzione di Kee. Ci inerpichiamo su per i pendii vertiginosi, ma ormai ci siamo abituati, non fanno più così impressione come i primi giorni! Assistiamo ad una puja nel gompa di Kee, una ventina di monaci con tutti i loro strumenti. Molti bei tangka antichi, tenuti male però. Alcuni sono coperti da teli protettivi che li nascondono completamente alla vista, però possiamo sollevare i terli per ammirare le opere.

23 August 2010

12° g - 23 AGO: Kungri – Kaza – Langza (4300 m) – Kaza (3680 m) km 86

La mattina presto un paio di monaci artisti stanno lavorando alle sculture sul tetto del gompa nuovo, modellano l'argilla e poi la dipongono di colori sgargianti. Partenza alle 8.30 e risalita del fiume Pin, spazi infiniti, costoni ripidissimi. Arriviamo presto a Kaza e prendiamo le camere poi a spasso fino a pranzo nel paese, dove c'è qualche negozietto di artigianato. Il paese non dice molto. Dall'albergo si attraversa uun fiumiciattolo saltando sui sassi che emergono dall'acqua, e si arriva al "centro", con negozietti e internet cafè. Rigagnoli di acqua e scarichi di fogne a cielo aperto, puzza notevole, anzi direi un certo schifo, anche perché non si capisce perché non puliscano, non ci vorrebbe molto...