Wicked Maleficent

I saw Maleficent with my extended family ten days ago and let the movie sink in. Like rich food that needs time to digest. This was how I felt after reading Gregory Maguire’s Wicked.

Initially both Elphaba and Maleficent are feared because of they don’t adhere to the typical feminine template. Elphaba, is born green and Maleficent has horns.  The wicked witch is constantly compared with the pretty Galinda and the dark fairy is pitted against the three ditzy and petite flying godmothers.

Both are typecast as villains because they are strong, powerful and outspoken women who fight the inherent patriarchy and associated propaganda present in their society. Interestingly they are betrayed and hunted by men of power who are unwilling to recognize their wisdom and seek instead to suppress them. Both women retaliate by embracing their full potential and ride roughshod, uncontrolled over their worlds and have to pay a heavy price.

Elphaba is a reformer and all manner of grievances are laid at her doorstep as she is hunted. Maleficent is both Gaia and Kali. Nurturing at first and enraged later. Protective and destructive. Both women step over the edge when they erect thorny barriers and retreat into isolation.

Dorothy and Aurora are young girls who walk the world wide eyed and with an open heart.  Yet untainted by the world around them, they represent the unfettered inner child.

Disney’s departure from the typical fairytale where sleeping beauty slumbers till she is rescued is once and for all put to rest.  There are some discrepancies in the movie and the script could have been tighter. Angelina Jolie is nothing but spectacular as she essays the role to perfection. And Lana Del Rey reprises the classic Once Upon a Dream, adding her haunting voice to the soundtrack.

“I had wings once. They were strong. But they were stolen from me.” ~ Maleficent


Two worlds collide in Chitra Divakaruni’s Oleander Girl

Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni has a mystical streak that is evident in all her books. Take the Mistress of Spices, or The Vine of Desire or my favorite Palace of Illusions –she assails your senses with her words and carries you to a different world.


Oleander Girl brings the author back to a narrative that is in a few ways similar to Sister of my Heart as it is set in both India and the US.  It is in many ways a coming of age story of Korobi Roy who is orphaned at birth and is raised by her maternal grandparents in Kolkata. Korobi’s life is a fairytale. She has fallen in love and is engaged to Rajat Bose, the scion of a wealthy business family.

When her stern yet loving grandfather dies unexpectedly, Korobi is privy to a few skeletons in the family closet and cannot rest till she has the answers. She must turn to her grandmother who will also have to find her own strength having lived under the long shadow her husband has cast.

The urge to discover the truth about yourself regardless of where it leads us is a core theme of the novel.  As is the clash of tradition, heritage, class and race. As Korobi journeys to America to unravel her mystery and origin, other voices and sub plots enter the narrative. Prejudice, sacrifice, secrets, loyalty, lies and love color the palette of the story which is hinged on redemption. It is also centered on family and the ties that can bind or break us. There is always a choice between forgiveness and pride. Korobi is a catalyst as well, as we see most of the key characters faced with external and internal change.

Korobi is the Oleander Girl. “Because the oleander was beautiful – but also tough. It knew how to protect itself from predators”

The idea for this review was courtesy of my good friend, Tanya Bhadra Pal who also put me in touch with Chitra Divakaruni. As a fan of her work, I was thrilled to have the opportunity to interview her.

Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni
Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni

How was Oleander Girl initially conceived?

CD: It came out of several recent visits to Kolkata. I saw the growing clash between old and new, modernity and tradition, and wanted to explore it through a novel. Korobi’s family represents Old Bengal; her fiance Rajat’s family are the nouveau-riche. Their engagement will lead to unexpected conflicts and change both of them in unexpected ways.

The theme of transformation touches all the main characters as well as your supporting cast. The journey though is not easy and not everyone embraces change easily. Did it pose a challenge to bring all the different threads together?

CD: This novel is more tightly plotted than some of my earlier ones, with some reversals and revelations of secrets, so it was a challenge to depict each character’s challenges and changes and weave them all together.

Your books always underline the importance of familial ties and the need to walk the tight rope between nourishing and devouring. Korobi and her mother walk this path as do some of the others. Would this be different if Korobi was raised in the US?

CD: Right.  The dynamics of family vs. individuality would be different, as external culture does affect that balance. However, in many South Asian American families, members–especially the younger generation– are quite concerned with this issue–family love vs. autonomy.They love their parents but they want the freedom to live their lives the way they want to.

The novel is drenched with hues and issues of class, caste and race. You handle it very sensitively in the novel. Prejudice sits deep in the bones, however. When writing about it, how did you approach it in your head.

CD: It was challenging. These issues mean a lot to me, but I didn’t want them to weigh down the novel or make it didactic. so i stayed close to the characters, trying to imagine how they would feel, think, act.

Oleander Girl raises many questions about empowering yourself, identity and the love of family. Do you plan to continue these conversations on your Facebook page.

CD: Absolutely. On my FB page,
We have many such discussions. A big one is going on right now about violence against women in India. I invite all your readers to join in.

I understand you are quite active in your advocacy against domestic violence through local non profits.

CD: Yes and I would like to encourage my readers to participate in any way they can. Pratham, Daya and Maitri are doing some great work. Saheli, which is based in Austin, is another non profit that helps Asian and other immigrant families dealing with domestic violence. I will be meeting them in Austin next week.

I understand you have a hectic book signing tour!

CD: Right! I am looking forward to my book signing at Book People on April 17 in Austin and would love to meet my readers and answer any questions. For my fans who live elsewhere, you can check the schedule on my website.

Thank you, Chitra…I am looking forward to getting my book autographed on April 17 🙂

Signing off with an exquisite poem I found in the book.

He who binds to himself a Joy
Doth the winged life destroy;
But he who kisses the Joy as it flies
Lives in Eternity’s sunrise.

Marvelous Avengers


Last Mother’s Day, I saw Thor and keeping with tradition, we decided to watch The Avengers on May 13.  The film was certified fresh…positive reviews from most critics and breaking box office records worldwide.

I had my own four reasons why I felt that this was a “fail proof mood lifter made for me” movie treat.

1. The brilliant Joss Whedon

If you weren’t familiar with Whedon, you have much catching up to do.  A small screen legend, Whedon moves to the celluloid with remarkable ease.  He has to be one of THE most creative people in Hollywood.  As a big Slayer fan, I had seen Whedon’s ground breaking work on the small screen and was thrilled to be able to catch his session at SXSW. Only Whedon could multi task with the ease of a consummate artist, writing, directing, dealing with plot complexity, multiple story arcs, relationship dynamics and weave it into a tight screenplay, inject humor and hold the movie together till the post end.

2. Men in tights, in metal, going green, a hammer, a widow and more

Each Avenger had enough baggage that had already been made into a full length block buster movie except perhaps the two spies.  Alpha super heroes look great mano a mano but would they play well in the sandbox? Who knew that they could pack a punch, dodge aliens and coalesce this well for a good cause.  The narrative is solid, not missing a beat and when my girls asked me “Hey mom, who was your favorite Avenger?”  I honestly was undecided.  Tony Stark raises the bar.  He has some great dialogue and sizzling chemistry with Paltrow’s Ms Potts.  Mark Ruffalo is fantastic as the laid back, tormented Dr Banner and as the raging out of control green destroyer.  Whedon always has strong female protagonists and he doesn’t disappoint with Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow who pairs up well with the other super spy, Hawkeye played nicely by Jeremy Renner.  The old young man, Captain America doesn’t have much time to adapt after being frozen for 75 years and he doesn’t miss a beat either.  Hammer swinging Thor battling sibling rivalry issues with Loki is genius.

3. The Super Villain

Tom Hiddleston’s Loki is menacing, brooding, sadistic and envious.  The typical outsider who is sick and tired of being mighty Thor’s little brother. He is the anti demi God who believes that freedom is wasted on the humans.  There is a great line in the movie where Loki is standing smirking after one of those easy human kills and already celebrating his sure fire victory and the dying guy tells him calmly “You’re going to fail because you lack conviction.”

4. Laughing out loud

Nothing brings the audience together than the heady combination of laughter and tension.  Think of the Avengers who are self absorbed in their own greatness and get pulled into attending a marriage presided by a secretive yet powerful patriarch.  Some of the squabbles remind you of any dysfunctional family trying to show off their powers and outmatch each other at the dinner table.

“Apparently I am volatile and don’t play well with others.” Tony Stark sums it up for himself and the others as well.

Stark and Banner banter: “Dr Banner, I am Tony Stark.  Your work is unparalleled. I am a huge fan of how you lose control and become this enormous rage monster.”

Whedon takes the time to interject humor and pathos, a common cause and suddenly it doesn’t matter if it is 3D or 2D, the story isn’t about stunning visual effects or the alien attack, it is a testament to the resilient human spirit.

I would give this movie two thumbs up and happy to throw my other fingers in too for good measure 🙂

Is it kid friendly? It is action packed but without bad language or sexual innuendo.  It’s PG 13 but IMHO, would say appropriate for 9 and above.

I leave you with some memorable Joss Whedon quotes from the past.

“The thing about a hero, is even when it doesn’t look like there’s a light at the end of the tunnel, he’s going to keep digging, he’s going to keep trying to do right and make up for what’s gone before, just because that’s who he is.”

”Passion, it lies in all of us, sleeping… waiting… and though unwanted… unbidden… it will stir… open its jaws and howl. It speaks to us… guides us… passion rules us all, and we obey. What other choice do we have? Passion is the source of our finest moments. The joy of love… the clarity of hatred… and the ecstasy of grief. It hurts sometimes more than we can bear. If we could live without passion maybe we’d know some kind of peace… but we would be hollow… Empty rooms shuttered and dank. Without passion we’d be truly dead.”

“I think everyone who makes movies should be forced to do television. Because you have to finish. You have to get it done, and there are a lot of decisions made just for the sake of making decisions. You do something because it’s efficient and because it gets the story told and it connects to the audience.”

“Bottom line is, even if you see them coming, you’re not ready for the big moments. No one asks for their life to change, not really. But it does. So, what are we, helpless? Puppets? Nah. The big moments are gonna come, you can’t help that. It’s what you do afterwards that count. That’s when you find out who you are.”