Ali & Nino (2016)

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Ali (Adam Bakri) and Nino (Maria Valvarde) share a picnic on a hill.

[1] We get a rare glimpse into an era at the onset of the formation of the Soviet Union. Also, the interaction between two religions, Islam and Christianity, is carefully portrayed and interesting to observe for that time period and location.

[2] The culture of the East was well-depicted… revolution and fight for independence scenes, despite of low budget [$20 million], are well executed- impressive and tragic, as they should be. 

[3] My only concern is that movie is really short- only 1.5 hours. Way too little to show such a complicated time period of Azerbaijani history… You just cannot help but wish for story to slow down and take its time to show more details…

-Excerpts from IMDB reviews

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Bakri and Valvarde with director Asif Kapadia.

This little gem of a film is now streaming (Netflix). If you liked The Promise, or are interested in some of its themes, then you will enjoy this (smaller, yet well-done) love story. The director is British Asian (or South Asian, as we say in US) and a recent Oscar winner- Asif Kapadia. Amy premiered at the Cannes Film Festival in 2015; it focuses on the troubled life of singer/songwriter Amy Winehouse. The film was an international box office hit and is the highest grossing UK documentary of all time. 

There is only one word to describe the cinematography and music- AMAZING! The composer is Italian- Dario Marianelli; he worked on some very good films, including: V for Vendetta, Atonement, and Pride and Prejudice (2005 big screen version). The screenplay writer (Christopher Hampton) may also be familiar; he worked on Dangerous Liaisons (1988), The Quiet American, Atonement, and A Dangerous Method. Hampton adapted Kurban Said’s book Ali and Nino, which I had come across MANY years ago, BUT haven’t read. (There is a VERY interesting story re: the author of the book, too, if you want to look that up.)

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Ali (Bakri) and Nino (Valvarde) dancing at a ball after a graduation.

The desert doesn’t ask for anything, doesn’t give anything and doesn’t promise anything. -Ali explains why he loves the desert landscape 

The cast here is multi-national and multi-ethnic: Adam Bakri (who is a Palestinian Arab) plays Ali Khan (meaning: ruler) Shirvanshir, the handsome/cultured son of a Muslim nobleman. Maria Valverde (who hails from Spain) is Nino, the petite/wide-eyed princess from a Georgian Orthodox Christian family. Nino’s father is played by American film/stage actor Mandy Patinkin. Ali’s father is Iranian actor Homayoun Ershadi; he can be seen in The Kite Runner and The Queen. These veterans lend gravitas to the film, along w/ strong supporting characters (several of whom hail from Turkey, as does the cinematographer).

Ali’s father laments that though his family has been here for hundreds of years and is well-respected, they have no political authority (Russia was in charge). Though Ali and Nino have different religions and backgrounds, they move in the same small circle of upper-class society in Baku, Azerbaijan (an area rich w/ oil). Nino’s family is originally from Tblisi, Georgia; her father is in Baku on business. 

 

The Eudora Welty Lecture Series at The National Cathedral: Salman Rushdie (October 20, 2016)

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Salman Rushdie continues to be a controversial figure, but in today’s world, I feel that voices like his (British, Indian, and atheist) need to be heard MORE than ever!  Depending on your age, you may know Rushdie from the fatwa (which was placed on him by Ayatollah Khomeini of Iran), his cameo on Bridget Jones’ Diary, or his short-lived marriage to Padma Lakhshmi (of Top Chef fame).  Or maybe you have a FEW of his books (BUT are intimidated to read)?  A few years ago, a book club I organized both read Haroun and the Sea of Stories, which is Rushdie’s YA book. 

*NOTE: Special thanks to my friend Lana for above photo and taking notes.

The Beginning of Rushdie’s Life as a Writer:

He realized that he would never write a good book until he knew who he was (not English, but Indian).

He was part of first generation of free Indian Children.

His father told bedtime stories (oral tradition strong in his family)- animal stories; tales of heroes.  His mother told local tales: gossip,  scandal, secrets (when he included  in stories, she said he “got in trouble”).  One of his academic grandfathers took him to university library, where he discovered Agatha Christie.  His other grandfather was a very religious man (prayed 5X/day, fasted, etc.) He was also open to any/all ideas; Rushdie admitted that he didn’t believe in God (age 10).

Read comics from early age.  He was lucky to have a lending library/bookstore nearby where he got into Perry Mason mysteries, Alice in Wonderland.

The Wizard of Oz (film) inspired him to write his first story at age 10.

His family had a tradition of kissing books and bread to apologize to it and place someplace where wouldn’t happen again (food for mind; food for the body).

Left Bombay 1961 for English boarding school at age 13 (his idea, not his parents’).  Maybe he had an”unnoticed love of adventure” b/c was quiet as a child?

Got into Cambridge, but didn’t want to go b/ c of racism faced at boarding school earlier.  He went and enjoyed it a lot; studied history; wrote for student newspaper.  He also got into Borges and Joyce at this time, and learned about incident of satanic verses (in his last semester).

His parents moved to Karachi, Pakistan; this was not an appealing place for him.  His father initially disapproved, but then supported his return to England after he graduated from Cambridge.

Wrote TV commercials and scripts in London for an ad agency (where he worked part-time).  In the early 1970s, he wrote and published, but these works were not successful because he hadn’t known himself enough.  He decided to understand what he was doing wrong and traveled to India, which entered state of emergency (1977).

Midnight’s Children: Started in 3rd person, but then told from Salim’s voice and it was better (voice not my own, but gave me voice).  Kept working  in advertising again to pay bills.  This book took 5 years to write it because was learning how to write.  He also needed to blend news with fiction.

Quotes:

Geography is key [to a person’s writing]. Writers (like Faulkner): Have roots/history and can mine the earth for a lifetime of stories.

Work we do about the past, changes the future.

 As we discover, we remember, as we remember, we discover.

Stories are not true- but can make you know truths that truths cannot tell.

Can’t write until you hear people speak, because can’t tell their story if you don’t hear their voice.

I think the greatest gift my family gave me was freethinking. 

[On his trip to India when writing Midnight’s Children]: From childhood, dig out memories from attics of mind.  Healing of rift within myself that separated me from my past…  drank deeply from well of India. 

Write what you know, but only if what you know is interesting. 

What To Watch Now

On Netflix:

BroadchurchVeteran Brit powerhouse actresses (Charlotte Rampling; Marianne Jean Baptiste) join the strong ensemble cast as dueling barristers (lawyers) in S2 of the crime drama set in the quiet, beautiful, close-knit town. It’s time for the trial, BUT there is still suspense. We learn more re: another crime from the past of DI Alec Hardy (David Tennant). I’ve seen the first 3 eps so far.

Orange is the New BlackThis show continues to grow (new guards and inmates come in, incl. a young/hijabi/black/Muslim woman and a celeb akin to Martha Stewart, played by Blair Brown). How will Sophia deal w/ being in isolation?  What will Piper do next now that she has the rep of being a badass?  Will Crazy Eyes ever find real love?  The jail is overcrowded now, w/ a large pop. of  Latinas bused in.  I have only seen 3 eps- need to get back into it soon!  

In Theaters:

Finding DoryMy mom (big fan of Finding Nemo) & I saw this yesterday afternoon (TOO hot to be out)- we LOVED it! The short film (Piper) was SO cute/well-made/touching!  The octopus, Hank (Ed Oneill) was my fave; it was esp. cool how he blended into the environment around him (like a chameleon).  Gorgeous Brits Idris Elba & Dominic West play two seals. Veteran comedy actors (Eugene Levy & Diane Keaton) voice Dory’s kind/encouraging parents.

Free State of JonesThe McConaughssaince  continues w/ this (based on a true story) historical drama set during the Civil War. But I must admit that the first 5 mins are tough to watch (bloody/gory/realistic); the diverse audience I saw it w/ gasped and cringed at some scenes. There is absolutely NOTHING glam re: war, and boy does this film show us that! The pitch-perfect Matthew is joined by luminous Gugu Mbatha-Raw (Belle) and Mahershala Ali (who MANY will know from House of Cards on Netflix). In his role as Moses, an escaped field slave separated from his wife and young son, Ali gets to show us a LOT more of his talent. Even in the quiet moments, he is a strong screen presence.

No man outta tell another man what he’s gotta live for or what he’s gotta die for!  Newton Knight declares to his small band of followers- runaway Confederate soldiers, poor white farmers (including widows w/ children), & runaway slaves

I can’t believe that history like this is NOT taught in schools!  I’m SO glad that I got to see it for free at a pre-screening. Unlike what Col. Robert Gould Shaw (played by Matthew Broderick in Glory) said in one his letters to his mother (“I do not know these men, their jokes, their songs”)- Knight can relate to the blacks around him. He lived in the swamps w/ them, foraged for food/fished w/ the men, etc.  Check this film out if you can!

On TV:

The Night OfThis is an HBO limited series starring British-Pakistani actor, Riz Ahmed, and veteran actor, John Turturro (who had to take over after the death of James Gandolfini). The story centers on a Pakistani-American college kid from Queens, Nas Khan, who is questioned, then arrested, for the murder of a young woman he picked up in his father’s cab one night while on the way to a party.  The original story comes from across the pond (England), where the accused suspect was played by boyish/waifish Ben Whishaw; that story was focused on class from what I’ve heard.  This version doesn’t shy away from the fact that the suspect is a Muslim male, or the inherent suspicions that come w/ that in post-9/11 era. 


“The Who and the What” (Round House Theatre: Bethesda)

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This domestic comedy (w/ dramatic themes) is a MUST-SEE for theater fans in the DC area! It’s a powerhouse production (laughter, tears, and VERY timely themes) playing until SUN, 6/19, at the Round House in BethesdaI was interested in seeing this play from the day that I got the flyer in the mail! My friend (who is Pakistani-American, like the lead characters) and I went to see the 2nd pay what you can (PWYC) show- a SUN matinee. We both LOVED it, as did most of the audience (which included just a sprinkling of POC).

“His [Ayad Akthar’s] characters are well-defined and three-dimensional. His dialogue is nearly peerless in American writing.” -Ryan Taylor (DCTheaterScene.com)

The Who and the What centers on successful, pious, Atlanta businessman, Afzal (Tony Mirrcandani), and his two grown-up daughters: scholarly Zarina (Anu Yadav) and bubbly Mahwish (Olivia Khoshatefeh). Since his wife was lost to cancer many years ago, and he is now retired, his daughters are now his main concern.  Since Mahwish has had a serious boyfriend since age 16, Ali (a Pakistani-American young man from a well-off, local family), Afzal is worried re: Zarina’s singlehood.  He takes some steps to find her a husband (using an online platform, of course) w/o her knowledge. Ayad Akthar was partly inspired by Shakespeare’s comedy, The Taming of the Shrew, and also by the stories of many 1st gen Pakistani-American/Muslim women he knew growing up.

In his search, Afzal finds Eli (Brandon McCoy), who he feels has the right mindset to be a good match for Zarina. Eli MAY seem like an odd choice to a LOT of the audience- he’s a white convert who came to Islam while living in inner-city Detroit w/ activist parents. But he’s also the imam of a humble masjid, very smart, and passionate about putting faith into action (which Afzal admires).

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Zarina is amazed and (a BIT) angry when she hears about her father’s matchmaking!  She has ONLY been focused on writing a book for the past 3 yrs, neglecting her personal life. But Zarina decides to give Eli a chance, much to the joy of BOTH Afzal and Mahwish. There is NO denying that they have a LOT in common, which helps create chemistry between the two. Zarina doesn’t intimidate Eli- he is intrigued by her… and her book (though she is reluctant to divulge much info about it).  In the second half of the play, this book’s controversial content will be the main point of conflict between Afzal and Zarina.

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Disgraced, for all its brilliance, is a cold piece of work, mechanical in its stripping down of its character’s dignity. The Akhtar of The Who & The What is a gentler sort, more interested in the possibility of his flawed characters finding a little bit of grace and Eleanor Holdridge’s fine production at Round House is one of my favorites of the year.” -Ryan Taylor (DCTheaterScene.com)

Mr. Mirrcandani is a standout here- he is NOT only very adept w/ the text, he ALSO connects to it (unlike what I saw in the recent Arena Stage production of Disgraced). Though there are universal themes in this play, it will have a special resonance for those from Muslim/South Asian/immigrant backgrounds.  “Everyone looked familiar,” my friend commented (wiping away her tears) after the final scene.  I couldn’t agree more!