Category Archives: Pop Culture

BOOK Revi: Thirteen Reasons Why – Jay Asher

ewThirteen Reasons WhyThirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I picked up this book after hearing everyone talk about the television show (which I still haven’t seen). The Wikipedia entry promised that this would be dark and it wasn’t lying. It’s nowhere close to Gone Girl but I’d say Gone Girl’s Amy may have been something like this book’s Hannah Baker when she was younger.

The things that happen to Hannah expose the brutal gendered violence and hostility meted out to women all over the world, even in privileged groups like white urban America. Slut-shaming, fuckboy manipulation, bullying, stalking, harassment, rape…all of these find graphic mention in the story. These are important issues that do not get addressed enough and worse, are invalidated by even the legal systems across nations.

The blurb already tells you about the dead girl’s suicide note via cassette tapes. There is a whiny, accusatory tone throughout, which I suppose stays true to this being a diary entry style confessional about a suicidal (now dead) teenager. There is a very specific point where Hannah’s narrative goes from shocked victim to mentally unstable. I’m not sure if that’s a good thing since it seems to indicate that depression could be caused by external events rather than being an illness of its own kind.

It’s not very clear why Clay is part of this story at all, given there’s absolutely no foreshadowing or indication that she even knows of his existence. Similarly, Tony is a bit too deus ex machina. All the characters other than Hannah and Clay appear one-dimensional. I’m not sure that this is a deliberate attempt to establish an unreliable narrator. It just seems like poor characterisation. Even given the first person narrative, it’s interspersed with enough of Clay’s point of view to balance out the other characters. The book does not do this.

I guess in sum, I’d say this book could have been better but considering there isn’t one mainstream one addressing these issues among teenagers in an easy-to-read way, this is as good as it gets. It’s quite readable.

View all my reviews

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If you liked this post, you’ll want to follow the Facebook Page and the Youtube channel. I’m Ramya Pandyan (a.k.a. Ideasmith) and I’m on Twitter and Instagram.

Aren’t You Glad I’m Not Carrie?

I tell people being an only child made me a reader because there was nothing much for a kid in 80s to do. I tell them I grew up in an environment surrounded by books so it was inevitable I’d become a reader. I say being a writer is a subset of being a reader and I’m even more voracious than I’m prolific. But the truth is, like the category of this post is called, my soulmate truly is a book. Books have appeared, like guardian angels or fairy godmothers (whichever mythical being you like better) in my life at opportune times with appropriate messages. People and situations now feel like illustrations of whatever the books I’m reading are trying to teach me.

A fortnight ago, Vivek Jejuja put out a call asking for people with whom to discuss Stephen King’s Carrie. I haven’t been a fan of Stephen King for a number of reasons I’ll explain later. But I have been dying for a book conversation and I have been wanting an inroad to get to know the magnificent Vivekisms (who is already a good friend, only he didn’t know it yet). So I bought the book.

In the same week, an old school classmate called to tell me about a high school reunion. These two events are significant but only if you know what the book is about. So if you haven’t read the book and plan to, here’s your SPOILER ALERT.

I was far from being the popular kid in school. By far I mean, the exact opposite. I know a lot of people now who lament that nobody knew them in school. That’s really not the worst thing to happen to a child. The worst thing to happen to a child is other children who know you but not as someone they want to be nice to.

I am not going to lament the tortures I suffered in classrooms. I know that children have no perspective on the future or morals. I know a lot of them grew up to be pretty decent adults. And like the characters in ‘Carrie’, many of them probably didn’t even realise what was happening and if they’d thought about it, they’d be as remorseful. The big problem with bullying and harassment is that they look disproportionately different depending on which side of the fence you’re standing on.

Last year I was added to a school Whatsapp group and I had a firsthand experience of why this is a groanworthy ordeal for us digi-nerds. My phone was pinging at all hours of the day and night with 768 notifications from people from all over the world, the messages ranging from “HELLO GM! Sooo great to see everyone here!” to selfies to “Who’s here? Oh him!” I bore well with it for 2 days, setting it on mute even as it annoyed me. I am one of those people who only relaxes when all notifications have been cleared, unread emails/messages read and responded to and so on. Then one more member was added and the string of “Hi!”, “What’s up with you?”s began before he asked the inevitable “Who else is already here?” (honestly, can 37 year olds not figure out how to go to the Members list on a Whatapp group?). I groaned at the slew of repeat introductions, repeat-repeats and interruptions that would follow. Someone said “Ramya’s here too.” To which he responded,

“What? Buck-teeth Ramya?”

I stayed on the group another hour, long enough to read people’s sniggers, someone else say, “Dude, she’s here and can read your message” and his “haha, just kidding” followed by awkward silence on a group that had been pinging nonstop for 2 days. I shouldn’t have wasted even that hour before I took myself off the group.

I have learnt that people have zero empathy. I have learnt that people like to play ‘My woes are worse than yours’ which is the death of that thing called empathy. And I can tell that that boy (if I think of him as a man, it will make thinking about the human race too sad) doesn’t even think he did anything wrong. Who is laughing at a joke about somebody’s bad teeth? Everybody. Because this is not about bad teeth, body shaming or any of those things. It’s about getting used to treating people one way and logic, empathy or even human fairness be damned. It’s about robbing a person of who they want to be and forcing them into an unpleasant role for your own entertainment.

I’ve been troubled ever since I received the invitation to the school reunion, not wanting to seem petulant, wanting to be that ‘good sport’. But I realised as I read Carrie, that this was never going to change. People who saw me a certain way as children, are never going to see me differently. They will react badly if I try to get them to do so. High school reunions are for those who were cool in school. But if their lives continue to be so wonderful, why do need to go back to their childhood/adolescent selves? And how are they going to behave in order to fulfil that need?

chool was possibly the worst time of my life and that’s counting abusive relationships, dirty politics at work, unemployment and people I know dying. I had agency in all those cases, even if only over how I could respond. I had none in those horrible years between 3 and 16. I have no desire to relive it.

I do not have Carrie’s powers and that’s a good thing for the world. It’s time life started being things that were good for me too. So on Saturday, I chose not to go to the school reunion and spent it reading Carrie instead. Thank you, Vivek, for two new friends – you and a book. 😊

Here’s my review of the book:

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CarrieCarrie by Stephen King

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I have been skeptical about Stephen King for over a decade now, mostly because I read ‘Misery’ at 20 during a breakup and just when I was working to be a writer. Years later, I read ‘Dreamcatcher’ which even King fans tell me is not one of his good ones. A friend asked me to read ‘Carrie’ so I could discuss it with him, so I decided to give King novels another chance. I’m glad I did.

Much has been made about the first period experience, which triggers off the plot of this story. Stephen King does a commendable job, as a male writer, of highlighting girl/women’s trauma. Parts of it still had me thinking, “No, that’s not what a period feels like. A man obviously wrote this.”

For me, the more interesting parts were the rabid religious beliefs and the effects of toxic/abusive upbringing on a child. What set this story apart for me is that it tells of such a child who did rebel and break out of it (even if, with disastrous results).

The bullying aspect also felt realistic, not painting the bullies as bad people but just people caught up in things that they don’t think about and regret later.

And finally, there was the semi-epistolary narrative (the story switches between excerpts of news reports and actual plot). It felt like a bit too much emphasis on Carrie, the WEIRD one. But perhaps the novel wouldn’t have been as impactful without it.

I can see why Stephen King is considered one of the best popular fiction writers of out times. And I definitely intend to check out his other books now.

View all my reviews

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I Wear: Fashionista In The Wild

I managed to catch a rather reluctant Reema on camera and she agreed to stop and tell me what she was wearing. This woman manages to look effortlessly chic even in the middle of a warm, sticky summer day in a suburban mall. Well, we are not all born with Libran taste, I suppose.

If you enjoyed this style post in video, check out the other I Wear posts and videos.

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If you liked this post, you’ll want to follow the Facebook Page and the Youtube channel. I’m Ramya Pandyan (a.k.a. Ideasmith) and I’m on Twitter and Instagram.

I Wear: Bohemian Rockstar

I was invited to feature as one of the performers at the US Consulate’s event for 100 Thousand Poets For Change, the theme being ‘Women Empowerment’. The event was in Kitabkhana and Reema agreed to come along so we decided to make a day of it. Here’s us suburban girls in town, on town!

And this is what I wore for a day out, traveling and to perform in my kickass, fashion-forward, sex-positive feminist avatar.

I Wear:

  • Pink top: ONLY
  • Black jacket: Life
  • Distressed jeans: United Colors of Benetton
  • Red handbag: Baggit
  • Red shoes: ONLY
  • Red fascinator: Mumbai local train

Reema was dressed in her classy-but-ready-for-travel avatar and here’s what she wore.

If you enjoyed this style post in video, check out the other I Wear posts and videos.

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If you liked this post, you’ll want to follow the Facebook Page and the Youtube channel. I’m Ramya Pandyan (a.k.a. Ideasmith) and I’m on Twitter and Instagram.

 

 

I Wear: Women At Work – Diva Minimalist Or Tomboy Chic?

Reema moved into a new place last month and I helped her (slightly) by keeping her company while her new place was professionally cleaned. The rather mundane circumstances didn’t stop both of us from dressing up. And this is what we each wore:

I Wear:

  • Yellow hoodie: Cou Cou
  • Blue racerback: Zivame
  • Loosened skinfit jeans: Levis Diva
  • Lavender jockey hat: Baggit
  • Snow quartz pendant: Magick
  • Checkered socks

and Reema in style!

I Wear:

  • Pink (almost bespoke) top: Miss London
  • Severely distressed jeans: Ross Dress for Less
  • Black socks with pink toes

If you enjoyed this style post in video, check out the other I Wear posts and videos.

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If you liked this post, you’ll want to follow the Facebook Page and the Youtube channel. I’m Ramya Pandyan (a.k.a. Ideasmith) and I’m on Twitter and Instagram.

I Wear: Ranger Ramya Goes Adventuring With Stories

Alphabet Sambar meets are always a pleasure. But getting up on a Sunday morning when the weather is so meh (rainy! cloudy!) needs all the willpower I can muster. So on this grey morning, I decided to ask colour to play sunshine to my mood. Here’s what I wore:

I Wear:

  • Yellow halterneck top: Flipkart
  • Olive green shirt: Cotton World
  • Denim miniskirt
  • Olive green boots: Pavers
  • Peacock necklace: Globus

* This video was shot by Gautam Sukhija.
If you enjoyed this style post in video, check out the other I Wear posts and videos.

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If you liked this post, you’ll want to follow the Facebook Page and the Youtube channel. I’m Ramya Pandyan (a.k.a. Ideasmith) and I’m on Twitter and Instagram.

I Wear: Candy Valley Girl

Reema and I had a funny experience last month. We met for a quick coffee-and-gab at a Kandivali mall. One of the things we enjoy doing together is dressing up and comparing notes. After all, the I Wear videos were Reema’s idea. On our way out, we decided to shoot in the open compound outside the mall. Midway through Reema’s shoot, we were interrupted by a mall employee claiming to be the manager. He told us that we couldn’t shoot there because of security concerns. He went on to say that,

“Photos are allowed. No videos. We have been told that terrorists will use it to do reiki.

I gawped, Reema stared. Then Reema began arguing with him while I, disgusted by people’s proud ignorance told her we’d just shoot elsewhere. It wasn’t till the next day that it occurred to me that the man may have meant ‘recce’. 😄

This is what we managed to capture.

I Wear:

  • Beige, floral chiffon top: Globus
  • Teal trousers: Jabong
  • Brown cloth lace-ups: North West
  • Turquoise earrings: Lokhandwala
  • Lipstick & turquoise gel pencil: Faces Canada
  • Pink handbag: Baggit

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If you liked this post, you’ll want to follow the Facebook Page and the Youtube channel. I’m Ramya Pandyan (a.k.a. Ideasmith) and I’m on Twitter and Instagram.

 

I Wear: Dressing For Rehearsal

A week before my September feature calendar unfolded I ran off to Bandra for a rehearsal with Gaysi. I wanted to be comfortable and protected from the monsoon but also look good. The gay community is so well-dressed! This is what I pulled on.

I Wear:

  • Denim tunic: Cotton World
  • Red silk tie: Borrowed from dad
  • White jeggings: Bandra
  • Red sneakers: Only

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If you liked this post, you’ll want to follow the Facebook Page and the Youtube channel. I’m Ramya Pandyan (a.k.a. Ideasmith) and I’m on Twitter and Instagram.

The Politics Of Cinema: Ideas, Influence & Agenda

Today I was asked to be part of a debate on Salman Khan’s statement that Pakistani actors are not terrorists and hence should not be asked to leave the country. I couldn’t make it to the event after all but it did force me to think about what my stance was.

My first thought was that the arts have nothing to do with politics and should not be interfered with, by politicians. But over the course of the evening, I had a chance to remember that artists and performers wield such influence that we may also bear moral responsibility for our personal ideas, beliefs and actions. Politics after all, is not just for politicians. Politics is every knotty dilemma, every complex life experience. Every single one of us ascribes to certain politics, whether we’ve reasoned them out or not, whether we live them out deliberately or under duress.

I’d be the last person in the room you’d call a cinephile (I prefer books). But I can’t deny the mass influence they wield. Three movies that I watched in the past month made me think about how they’re permanent chronicles of social mores. Especially so because they all came out in the 90s (a decade that doesn’t seem like that long ago). All three are movies I watched when they first came out, enjoyed tremendously and have watched again several times over the years.

Statements About Race

The first was Independence Day, that alien-bashing saga we all loved. It only struck me recently how independence_day_moviepostermathematically precise the film’s racial ratio was. The 80s started making a point about black/white integration. Remember the episode in ‘Small Wonder’ where a potential rich (and WASPy) employer comments on Jamie Lawson’s best friend being black and how such things would never happen in their new neighborhood?

By the 90s, it had gotten subtler and maybe storytellers were not supposed to point out how racially integrated they were. And enter Independence Day with one studly, wisecracking black male lead (Will Smith), one hunky, intellectual Jewish male lead (Jeff Goldblum) and one golden WASP male lead(Bill Pullman). Each man was paired up with a colour-coordinated female character. Is that how world is? Ha, no.

Mainstream Hollywood movies settled into all-white or all-black movies with token representation of the other racial group and barely-there nods to other racial communities. There’s a rare movie like Hitch which had a black male lead and a Hispanic female lead but did not once touch on the issue of race. Tokenism is so real, it’s an actual word.

Gender Politics in Bollywood

The second film I thought of was Rehna Hain Tere Dil Mein, which was rehna-hai-tere-dil-meinMadhavan’s entry into Bollywood. For years I have loved the film and enjoyed its music and its droolworthy hero (a Tamilian man can look like that??!). Sometime in the last decade I began thinking the story was a bit dated. Maddy’s lies (such a crucial part of the plot) started to bother me a few years ago. But it was only in my last viewing, that I was truly appalled. RHTDM is the story of a stalker with a history of violence who has no qualms about lying, cheating or misogyny. And I’ve been ingesting its narrative as a romantic film. I will never watch this movie with pleasure again. As for Madhavan, the actor. I can’t think of him as anything but Stalker Maddy anymore.

Transphobia or Awareness?

And finally, I just finished watching Mrs.Doubtfire. On this mrs-doubtfiremovie’s politics, I’m not sure. On this last viewing, I caught a subtle thread of antagonism towards the trans community. When Chris accidentally walks in on Mrs.Doubtfire peeing standing up, he reacts as if there is a criminal in the house. His sister Lydia automatically grabs a hockey stick, wielding it as a weapon. Robin Williams explains his actions and the situation is resolved. But the whole thing has an air of ‘I’m dad in disguise. I’m not really abnormal.’ He even says

“I don’t dress up like this all the time or frequent old lady bars.”

When the judge pronounces his ruling, he takes away custody because he wants to protect the children from unsavoury influences (not from a person who lies). All implying that a man who dresses like a woman is abnormal, unsavoury or a criminal.

At the same time, I can also see how revolutionary it was (still is) for a popular male actor to play a female character and do it without parody. The film deals with divorce and relationship breakdowns in a very sensitive way, projecting neither parent as bad but just victims of a broken relationship. It even makes me wonder whether transphobic attitudes were being subtly mocked. I really don’t know.

Cinema is a commercial medium and movies have to find ways to make money for their makers. They have to do this by catching attention and popular fancy but also by avoiding unpalatable ideas.

The politics of a Salman Khan

I was asked “Do you support Salman Khan?” and my answer is a definite NO. I have a problem with his history of partner abuse, endangered species killing, violence towards the media and of course, American Express bakery. I have boycotted Salman Khan films for over a decade (making a single exception for Dabangg). My politics do not permit me to support his work by paying for tickets, and that means I’ve brought politics into art too.

I’m still undecided on the original question, a prerogative I get to keep if I’m not on a debate. And here’s something of interest I found while considering the question (‘Dear India, Pakistani actors don’t need Bollywood to become stars‘). Let’s not forget that this is about economics and power, not justice.

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If you liked this post, you’ll want to follow the Facebook Page and the Youtube channel. I’m Ramya Pandyan (a.k.a. Ideasmith) and I’m on Twitter and Instagram.

 

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