Thursday, June 12, 2014

Books and Bollywood

ONE MORE WEEK TO GO UNTIL LIFT-OFF! I couldn't be more excited. My existence has been taken over by dancing around the house to Hindi and Urdu songs, teaching my family random Urdu phrases, watching every bollywood movie on Netflix, and of course reading about the incredible country I'm about to visit. I would like to share some of the books and movies that I have enjoyed the most in my pre-trip education of India, in the hopes that you also will want to learn more about the subcontinent.

Empires of the Indus: The Story of a River by Alice Albinia

Empires of the Indus is a blend of gripping travelogue and compelling history, chronicling a young British women's journey up along the Indus river that binds much of Pakistan together and is coincidentally what I want to focus on in graduate school. The brave and confident Alice had worked for several years in Delhi as a journalist and studied Indus River history at SOAS in London before she embarked on her mesmerizing journey in Karachi. She starts the book with a startling image of a man emerging from a sewer, and in the first few pages already uncovers the social complexity of Pakistan that goes against the stereotypical image of the country in the West. Amidst her own discovery of Karachi she also swiftly moves back in history to partition and what it meant for the region, and the region's rivers. She then follows the river upstream and introduces the reader to the Sheedis - the community in Pakistan of African descent. She seamlessly binds history with contemporary life, while simultaneously displaying the contrasts  of Pakistan that combat our unfairly monolithic idea of such a vast, diverse, and beautiful country.

As she moves up along the river from its outpouring into the Arabian Sea to its source in the remotest parts of Tibet, she swiftly interweaves her 21st century experiences of the region with the past that brought us to this point. Sufis, British colonialists, Mughal emperors, Sikh gurus, Alexander the Great, early Buddhists, Sanskrit writers of Hinduism's holy texts, lithic female hunters, matriarchal nomadic tribes, and nature's forces all appear to be inexplicably bound in this incredible tale of one woman's incredible bravery to uncover the truth about this river that has inspired literature, music, bloodshed and faith since the beginning of time. Each chapter seems to be the most riveting, from border-hopping between Pakistan and Afghanistan, trekking through unmapped tribal territories, to finding fear, desolation, and melancholy beauty in Tibet. The final chapter ruminates on the moment when the Indus itself was created, long before man sought to control it and (SPOILER ALERT) starts destroying it. The book left me incredibly moved and more determined than ever to travel around the region (including Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Kashmir – but when the time is right) and commit myself to uncovering the reasons for and solutions to their detrimental water problems.

That was one of the books I wanted to write a proper review of because I just recently finished it. Here are some books I have also read that I recommend:
I just graduated, which means in the past four years I had minimal time for reading for leisure. Therefore here are some books on my Amazon wish list that I hope to read in India or afterwards:
The list could go on and on but I'll stop here. Happy to receive suggestions in the comments!

Now on to one of my new favorite things: BOLLYWOOOOOOD!

At first it was something that played on the TV in Indian restaurants. Then I began to watch them in earnest and thought they were a bit annoying but entertaining. Now I can't live without them, and I've got my whole family hooked as well - including my grandma who thinks Shahrukh Khan is a total charmer.

Here is a list of the bollywood movies I have seen so far that I have liked, including my favorite song from the movie:
  • Three Idiots: Often the only Bollywood movie that Americans have seriously watched, in my experience. Great movie and the ending really made me want to visit Leh/Ladakh! Check out this song from the movie.
  • Bunty Aur Bubli: Before I was even planning to travel to India I watched this and really enjoyed it. A Bollywood Bonnie & Clyde! This song is fun.
  • Jab Tak Hai Jaan: Some of my Indian friends told me they heard this wasn't that good, but I really enjoyed it, mainly for the beautiful scenery and clothing and my obsession with the Punjabi song Heer. The two things that frustrated me were that the plot line was unusually farfetched and that all the women in the movie were too frustratingly perfect. But I would watch it again for the song Heer <3
  • Aashiqui 2: A sob story about alcoholism and celebrity sacrifices, with an incredible soundtrack and a breathtakingly handsome male lead. My best friend and I thoroughly enjoyed it! I will recommend two songs for this one: the heart-wrenching Tum Hi Ho and the beautiful sufi-rock tune Sunn Raha Hai.
  • Kai Po Che: This was the second bollywood movie I loved most after Three Idiots, mainly because I just fell in love with the passion and spirit of the lead character, played by Sushant Singh Rajput. It taught me a bit about cricket and Hindu-Muslim tensions as well! I mainly discovered it because I love the song Meethi Boliyan.
  • Shuddh Desi Romance: I was so happy when this turned up on netflix, because I had been dying to see another movie featuring Sushant Singh Rajput. It's a fun take on controversial contemporary attitudes toward dating and marriage in the beautiful state of Rajasthan. This is how I discovered one of my favorite actresses, Parineeti Chopra, a girl with some kick-ass attitude. Listen to this cute song.
  • Ishaqzaade: I watched this film for two reasons - it featured Parineeti Chopra and the entire thing is filmed in Lucknow. A warped Bollywood version of Romeo and Juliet, it was a moving tribute to all the ishaaqzaades (rebel-loves) in India, who (SPOILER ALERT) die for loving outside their caste or religion. The dancing in this song is just as fun as saying its title: Jhalla Wallah. There is even a remix!
  • Jodhaa Akbar: Long, expensive-looking, and ultimately impressive depiction of the famed love between Muslim Mughal emperor Akbar and his Hindu Rajput princess Jodhaa. The sufi wedding song has been stuck in my head ever since I watched it.
  • Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge: This was the Bollywood movie I showed my grandma to introduce her to the whole thing. Includes the European road trip that Indians seem to love, forbidden love of course, and lots of colorful song and dance numbers. A classic! This song started the peculiar Bollywood trend of women singing and dancing with only a towel around them.
  • Jab We Met: I watched this movie in my Politics and Conflict in South Asia class and found the main female character, played by Kareena Kapoor, kind of annoying but the male lead, Shahid Kapoor, very sweet. Manali looks beautiful as well! Unfortunately, I didn't really like any of the songs from the movie especially much, but here is one: Hum Jo Chalne Lage.
  • Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara: Fun movie about men who reevaluate their romantic relaitonships and bromances over the course of a crazy roadtrip through Spain. I loved the intermingling of Spanish and Indian culture in the songs - check out SeƱorita!
I can't believe I've already seen more than 10 bollywood movies! There are still a lot more to discover though. Please write suggestions in the comments if you have any ideas for how I should continue my bollywood education!

Now I'm off to celebrate the start of the World Cup. I'll be spending most of the summer in a country where I have heard they don't appreciate the beauty of football (for you Americans, soccer) but I'm too excited about India to be sad about that. SO MUCH TO CELEBRATE! *Cue bollywood dance sequence*

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