Shashi Kapoor 03/18/1938-12/04/2017

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The great Indian actor Shashi Kapoor has died aged 79. A renowned Bollywood and Hindi star and scion of the great Kapoor theatre and film dynasty, he was part of the Western cinema audience’s world through his association with Merchant-Ivory and his role as Siddartha. He was a true legend, a charismatic and prolific performer, an accomplished filmmaker and hero to many.

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Happy Birthday Shashi Kapoor!

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The great actor Shashi Kapoor celebrates his 79th birthday today. I first discovered him in the wonderful Merchant Ivory production Shakespeare Wallah (with a very young Felicity Kendal) one Saturday night when I was a kid and the BBC was still showing an interest in international cinema. I was gobsmacked and sought out whatever films they made and whatever films he was in and I’ve a long way to go (he’s made 116 Hindi films alone…) but was fascinated to learn that Bombay Talkie co-starred his wife Jennifer Kendal, conjoining the famous Kapoor acting & filmmaking dynasty with the Kendals’ travelling Shakespeare family, who spent many years trundling around India with their repertoire (and daughters). Check out the amazing choreography on the giant typewriter! He started acting as a child for his father Prithvi’s theatrical troupe and after some screen roles playing the younger version of his brother Raj he worked as assistant director for Sunil Dutt and Ravindra Dave. It was in the Sixties that he became a Bollywood star and a great romantic hero as well as an international name. He turned to producing at the end of the Seventies and co-directed the film Ajooba, co-starring his regular acting colleague Amitabh Bachchan. He can rest on his laurels:  he is a true cinema legend. Happy birthday!

The Man Who Knew Infinity (2015)

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Tamil Srinivasa Ramanujan is toiling away as a clerk in Madras, a maths prodigy who is entirely self-taught and with little future in his home country. His work leads Professor GH Hardy to bring him to Cambridge and a difficult career ensues throughout WW1. Adapted by writer/director Matthew Brown from the book by Robert Kanigel, this biographical drama is puzzling and touching in equal parts:  the beauty of mathematics is difficult to convey to a dimwit like myself but the relationships and overt racism on campus bring out the best in Dev Patel’s acting skills. The essence of his character is religious faith – he eventually confesses to the gruff and irascible atheist Hardy (Jeremy Irons) that he believes his God is speaking to him in his sleep. Hardy’s inspiration is less theological and his insistence on proofs leads Ramanujan to a period of self-doubt, depression and serious illness. Hardy becomes his friend very late in the day, following racist attacks, vicious rivalries within the University and a declining marriage: back home in India, Ramanujan’s mother has been hiding the letters his illiterate wife was writing to him and his wife doesn’t know and ultimately writes to inform him she is leaving him. This is a beautifully handled drama about a little known man whose work during the last year of his life has been used to understand black holes. What was that about infinity and beyond?! Ah, sweet mystery of life. Gimme dat ol time religion.

The Jungle Book (2016)

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I was indisposed to the idea that the classic Disney cartoon would get a revamp. Part of my problem with photo-real animation is that when things get dark they get very lifelike and sinister indeed, as we found with the beyond-creepy Spielberg takes on Tintin and The BFG (where the villainous giant seemed like a big ole murderous paedophile). So when man-cub Mowgli gets separated from his wolf family and taken away to his own people by black panther Bagheera (Ben Kingsley) the shifts in tone from good nature (Baloo the bear, Bill Murray) to bad (Shere Khan the tiger, an almost incomprehensible Idris Elba) are very jarring. The musical interludes while entertaining seem like they’re dropped in from another movie. Overall however, it has to be admitted that it all works out in the end. Good stories are sometimes immune to strange interpretations. And how nice is it to hear Garry Shandling voicing the porcupine?  Written by Justin Marks, directed by Jon Favreau.

A Passage to India (1984)

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The last film of the magnificent British filmmaker, David Lean, whose epic dramas were actually intimate studies of men and women in crisis. He changed the text of Forster’s anti-colonial novel but it still works because it’s so horribly believable. Adela Quested (Judy Davis) is the naive bride to be who arrives in India and in the confusion of heat stroke and indecisiveness accuses an innocent Indian doctor of rape. There was criticism of Lean’s casting of Alec Guinness in a native role, and there are some notable alterations, but it’s so well cast and such a brilliant study of a woman so deludedly in love with the idea of seduction that you can overlook that and enjoy the entire text. Given his preoccupations, how fitting that Lean’s very last shot is of a woman’s face.

Eat Pray Love (2010)

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The zeitgeist sometimes throws up books that speak to a lot of people. This volume by Elizabeth Gilbert was one of them. It’s a given that 50% of the population (that is, the male half) will not get this. And a fair proportion of women who do not walk out on their toxic relationships will not get it either. (A friend in a dreadful marriage told me to ‘F… off and mind your own business’ when I gave her a copy of the book. Nice!) On a TV arts show I watched the women eviscerate this film:  it wasn’t ‘feminist’ or ’empowering’ and why would a good looking successful career woman with an idiot husband living off her need to leave him – like what’s she so UNHAPPY about?! … Etc.  And of those who do get this, some will remain sceptical about the benefits of handing over everything you own to a man just to be shot of him (he’s Billy Crudup but he’s a directionless tosser here, so that’s alright.) But when the next guy is James Franco, it’s slightly more understandable. But he’s not right either! Because life’s not all about sex with handsome empathetic actors into meditation! So Liz Gilbert got herself a book contract and took off with the proceeds of her travel journalism (and presumably some frequent flier miles) and decided to get back to basics – to permit herself to eat real food and not just lettuce leaves, to learn Italian and get some balance in her life. Julia Roberts is a skinny creature who will never gain the kind of weight we hear about here, Italy looks great and the men are delectable. Richard Jenkins is a kind of guru while Javier Bardem offers Liz the prospect of a marriage of equals in Bali. Okay – I understand that waiting for the right guy isn’t all of the answer but for some people … it’s some of it. Ryan Murphy is working from a screenplay he adapted with Jennifer Salt and you know, it’s pretty terrific.It was shot in sequence so that Roberts’ performance really achieves the gravity and grace she feels she needs to acquire to get through life easier. Sometimes you need to look at what a film is actually doing and saying as opposed to what it’s not attempting in the first place. Or something. What’s not to love? Eat? Pray?! Whatever! PS Speaking of the zeitgeist there’s a new book on the history of Chinese philosophy that totally discredits the mindless idea of mindfulness that seemingly intelligent people indulge right now – so get with the programme, eat pasta, learn Italian, dance! Cos the answer to life is not all inside – it’s outside! Enjoy yourself! Yeah!