Murder on the Orient Express

Dream cast.

Visually sumptuous.

Fab footage for steam train fans (and let’s face it, who isn’t a fan of steam trains?).

But…

Despite all of the above, and without wishing to sound ungrateful and churlish, Kenneth Branagh’s “Murder on the Orient Express” never quite lives up to expectations.

Judi Dench.

Johnny Depp.

Michelle Pfeiffer.

Penelope Cruz

Derek Jacobi.

The list of this amazing cast is endless, but, with the exception of Mr. Branagh who produces/directs/stars in the film, they all seem under-utilised, Judi Dench in particular.

The film is a visual treat, undoubtedly, with lots of lovely footage of the Orient Express chugging its slow and stately way across snowy Europe.  Never have the Swiss Alps looked so gorgeous.

Avalanche stops the train.  A murder occurs while the train is stranded.  Whodunit?

And I can’t spoil the plot for you, so let’s leave it there.  I knew, of course, who did it, having seen the 1974 film – which has an even more breathtaking cast than the 2017 version, if that were possible.

I thoroughly enjoyed this remake, loved the lush period detail, loved the train, loved the clothes, loved the elegance.

Very much enjoyed Mr. Branagh’s less caricatural portrayal of Hercule Poirot, though, if I might be so bold – what’s with the moustache/s, Mr. Branagh?  Downright weird.

But.

I don’t really see what this film achieves, other than making M. Poirot a little more thoughtful and a whole lot more theatrical.
Do go see it.

Lovely film.

But not, I fear, a great film.

Indian Summers

How is it possible to be so out of step  – and, perhaps to coin a phrase – so out of thinking step, with pukka critics, with the folks with a day job, who review TV for a living, who get paid to pass judgement?

We just finished watching “Indian Summers” last night, and when Episode 10 was over, the mood was, “Thank the good Lord THAT series is done and dusted”.  But, hey, what’s this?  Everyone else seems to have loved it.

Can it be me?  Am I the one at fault for not liking such a super expensive period production?

Perhaps my critical instincts are not honed enough.

Or, perhaps, more prosaically, me a Brit, married to an Indian and the mother of two gorgeous Anglo Indian children, and living as we do here in India, and my husband having grown up in Simla…perhaps our critical antennae are tuned a little differently.  I say “our” because, for the record, hubby was as underwhelmed as I was.

We were given the boxed set last month, while on holiday in England, and once back in scorching Delhi, we settled down to watch it with great anticipation, naively imagining something as fabulous as “The Jewel in the Crown”, perhaps, or “Heat and Dust”.  I mean, after all, in the aftermath of such a totally gorgeous, glorious, fabulous production such as “Downton Abbey”, here comes a period drama about India in the last days of the Raj…ooh, yes, what could be nicer.  Gorgeous frocks, gorgeous scenery, drama.  We imagined it all.

Not a bit of it.

Frocks first of all, because it’s the easiest thing to deal with.

Why does Ms. Walters wear that same rather peculiar dress, looking more 1960s than 1930s, over and over and over again?

Why does Leena wear the same dark green sari over and over and…

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Now onto that gorgeous scenery.  My sister (who kindly gave us the DVDs) mentioned that it was filmed in Malaysia.  Perhaps if you don’t know India, don’t know Simla, it might have worked, but since we do and we do, it didn’t.  The look, the architecture, the vegetation, the sounds, the tea plantation – none of it looked nor felt Indian.  Sorry, but it just didn’t.  It looked and sounded like tropical Malaysia

Now I am going to have to tread a little carefully in my next comments, in this age of uber PC-ism…but sorry, the Parsi family did not look remotely like a Parsi family.  Ditto those orphans, who looked nothing like Ango-Indians, not even remotely like mixed race children.  It would have been so much more dramatic, I think, to have had children who looked the part.  Especially the oddly feral little boy Adam.  If he had looked pale and half European, I feel he would have been a much more haunting and dramatic presence.  More unsettling.

And, yes, on a point of order : I may be wrong here, but I do not believe in a million years that the Viceroy would have done bad Indian accent, head waggling impersonations.

And as for the slow, oh-so-slow lingering camera angles…that just went on and on and on…my goodness me but they did drag things out.  The action sort of speeded up in the final 2 or 3 episodes, where suddenly all the wandering plot lines were yanked together, but then – blow me down with the proverbial feather –  just when you thought they had dispensed with the slow filming, we have Mr. Dalal running in slow-mo.  And we have long, lingering footage of Mr. Dalal and Alice dancing …it’s OK, we get it.  They love each other and are gazing lovingly at each other across a crowded dance floor.  We.  Get.  It.

So, yes, actually – very disappointed, both in the muddled storyline and the seriously mediocre acting (other than the fabulous Roshan Seth, who dazzles.  And who is the only one in that family who really looks and sounds like a Parsi).

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Who is the hero of the piece?  Ralph Wheelan and/or Mr. Dalal?

Are we actually supposed to like Ralph?  I do hope not, because my only thought was that by marrying a woman whom he thinks is rich but is actually skint, at least this scheming manipulative man would be getting some kind of comeuppence.  What a nasty, two-faced hypocritcal bit of work he is.

Cynthia is just downright unpleasant.  And can anyone tell me why she was at the hanging?  Her role as a glorified innkeeper permitted her that?  I hardly think Dalal pere et fils coming to her all-white club was comeuppance enough for her.

So little did I like her character that I actually thought she was going to go up in flames in the final episode when she drunkenly lights candles – and why the Hindu shrine in her drinking den?

 

Not a fan.  Not at all.

And what’s with the plural “summers” in the title?  Does that mean there is more to come?

 

FYI, here’s what Channel4 said about their own show:

  • Set against the sweeping grandeur of the Himalayas and tea plantations of Northern India, the drama tells the rich and explosive story of the decline of the British Empire and the birth of modern India, from both sides of the experience. But at the heart of the story lie the implications and ramifications of the tangled web of passions, rivalries and clashes that define the lives of those brought together in this summer which will change everything. It’s the summer of 1932. India dreams of Independence, but the British are clinging to power. In the foothills of the Himalayas stands Simla; a little England where every summer the British power-brokers of this nation are posted to govern during the summer months.

    – Written by Channel4

Weirdass Pajama Festival

At first I thought it was an age thing.

As in “I am SO old that clearly I don’t get the humour of youngsters today.”

But then I looked at my husband and another friend our age, and they looked as mystified as I did.

Then I thought, “Oh, it’s because I’m not Indian that I’m not getting the jokes.”

But then I looked at my (Indian) husband and another (Indian) friend our age, and they looked as mystified as I did.

And then I decided that the truth of the matter was the “The Weirdass Pajama Festival” at Delhi’s Siri Fort last night was, quite simply, not funny.

Crude.

Vulgar.

Scatalogical.

Expletive laden.

But not funny.

I tried my best, I really did, to “lighten up”, as my 24 year old daughter kept admonishing me to do, but whatever passed for humour onstage last night at the Siri Fort just didn’t do it for me.

The concept is as follows :

7 stand up comics take turns at insulting each other and the guest for the show, one Suhel Seth, who then gets to insult them back.

Mr. Seth sits in an armchair on a dais, while the 7 comedians lounge around on charpois, laughing uproariously at each other’s jokes.

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Mr. Seth is one of those all-embracing figures thrown up occasionally by society –  an ad man, a columnist, a commentator, a staple of every gossip column –  and, it must be said, a man who sat there and laughed uproariously as each of the 7 young comedians was incredibly rude about him, while everyone laughed uproariously around him.  Both onstage and off stage.

There was a young woman sitting behind me who said at one point, “Oh God, my jaw is aching soooo much with all this laughing”.

If you took out the F word which was in continuous use all night, and if you took out every reference to vagina, penis, boobs, balls, foetus, abortion, sperm…you see where this is going, don’t you?

If you were to extract the swearing and the constant reference to body parts, and the pelvic thrusts, you would be left with…precious little.  One or two jokes, a coupe of witty one-liners, but not much else.

To be fair, the last performer, Suresh Menon, was good at accents which was funny, as he did a parody of a popular TV talk show, imitating a range of personalities.  Clever.

Otherwise, honestly, a total waste of time and money.  But everyone else was laughing uproariously, so don’t take my word for it.

And it is a concept that takes place across the country, to packed houses, apparently, so yes, actually, don’t take my word for it.

 

Parting shot, which is absolutely nothing to do with the Weirdass Pajama youngsters, I hasten to add.

Despite hosting President Obama last week and getting an expensive makeover, so we are told, the Siri Fort Auditorium is as awful as ever.  One whole section of the balcony ended up shouting in anger & disrupting the show, because they couldn’t hear a thing –  the sound system wasn’t working.

And as for the utter chaos of the entry: one small gate with hundreds of people pushing through.  An accident /stampede just waiting to happen.  WHAT is it with India and closed gates and forcing people to push & shove their way into venues ?

And the car park & the traffic were as horrid as I had remembered.

 

But as I said, that’s Siri Fort, and nothing to do with the show.

Hong Kong Ballet

On a recent trip to Hong Kong at the end of August/early September, my daughter and I (both balletomanes of note) were thrilled to be able to see a performance of “Swan Lake” by the Hong Kong Ballet.

It was the first time either of us had seen this company perform and what a pleasure it was.  We live in India, so are are completely starved of ballet, and with a classic like “Swan Lake” to boot, it was an afternoon to savour.

The dancing was excellent, and the corps de ballet could not be faulted.  Such co-ordinated precision, not a hair out of place, which made for a visual treat of the first order.

What was lovely about this performance was that it was traditional to a tee, which, when you are deprived of ballet, is exactly as it should be.  The (recorded) music washed over us, the dancing was perfect, and the matinee audience of lots of yummy mummies and little girls in frilly pink was delightful.  There were even a few little girls in tutus, and during the intervals, much twirling and pointing of pink-shod feet took place. (Guaranteed to feed the nostalgia!)

We went to the matinée on the 1st, and our cast was as below:

swan lake

Wu Fei Fei was very good as Odette and truly outstanding as Odile, absolutely fabulous.

In Act III,  Candice Adea as the Italian princess was a delight, and Kostyantyn Keshyshew (Prince Siegfried) was excellent.  Leung Chun Long, who danced in the Pas de Quatre in Act I, is a talent to be watched.

 

After the noisy anarchy of Indian audiences, the crowd was a model of good behaviour.  Quiet, on time, appreciative, phones off, no talking, no texting, no leaving before the end of the performance…

“Abducting Diana” at the India Habitat Centre, Delhi

I was very happy to be going to the theatre, to see a play in English, in Delhi.  With friends.  And so off we went, 6 of us, to see “Abducting Diana” at the India Habitat Centre.

Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear.

Had it been a middle school play, it would have been a painful evening (“and a school play with one of our children in it, at that” commented one of our party).

But this was no school play.

Actors gabbling their lines so fast, rather like teenagers, so you literally could not understand what was being said.

Wooden acting.

Masks that made comprehension even more difficult.

Oh, the whole thing made for a dismal evening.  The play lasts 1 3/4 hours, without an interval, but that didn’t stop some people just getting up and leaving.  We were too pusillanimous to follow them.

 

We booked our tickets via bookmyshow.com.  Seats are Rs 250 or Rs 350.

And there is another performance tonight, Sunday 21 April at 8Pm at the India Habitat centre.

 

The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel

Take a generous helping of the best of British acting talent.

Add an exotic (yes, really) location like Rajasthan, India.

Combine with great filming and the result is a colourful, happy, feel-good, entertaining confection.

This film is  a delight.

It may not be the most searingly important film on the circuit, and it might not address issues of world importance, but it manages to make you happy, make you smile, make you cry a little bit (though I do cry at the drop of a hat, to be fair) and after all, why else do you go to the cinema ?

Our standard noisy Delhi cinema audience, who had chattered and gossiped on their mobiles through all the trailers, were pin-drop quiet during the movie.

Admittedly a few mobiles did go off, but that’s par for the course. There’s always one who ignores the request to turn the critters off.

It was extra fun, as a Brit living in India, to sit and watch a film about Brits moving to India.  The (Indian) audience clearly loved the movie, though I realised I was a lone voice laughing out loud at “building tea.”

The film tells the story of a group of British pensioners lured to India in separate ways and by separate decisions, to spend their twilight years in what they imagine will be palatial splendour, with almost certainly an overlay of colonial glory.

The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel is, shall we say, not quite what they had expected.  Despite the bubbling enthusiasm of the young manager Sunny (Dev Patel) the palace of their dreams is little more than a tatty, run down hotel.  Bags of charm but certainly not splendid.

The British pensioners react in various ways.  Some complain, some hate it, some good-naturedly accept it and some eventually come to love it. Each one of them tackles this new chapter of their lives with different degrees of positivity and gung-ho-ness.

The pensioners are all ever so British, in ever so many different ways.

I won’t spoil the plot, but suffice it to say that it has (almost) a totally happy ending.

The cast is beyond stellar with Dame Judi Dench and Dame Maggie Smith turning in fabulous performances.  Maggie Smith is utterly brilliant.

Bill Nighy, Tom Wilkinson, Penelope Wilton –  the cast is absolutely perfect.

Despite the revulsion some of the Brits feel at the squalor and dirt and chaos and noise of India, overall the country comes out a winner.  India is not romanticised, but by and large the Indians are kind, polite, caring, non-whingeing nice people.  Certainly nicer than the British families most of the pensioners have left behind in England.

A happy feel-good film, beautifully shot, and a perfect family choice.

 

DAVID HOCKNEY A BIGGER PICTURE at the ROYAL ACADEMY

The  timing of my visit to the Hockney exhibition could not have been better. An early weekday morning, and the weather was grey, windy, piercingly cold, with a hint of snow. London at her most miserably winterish.

The contrast between the freezing grey outside and the explosion of colour inside the Royal Academy was electric. Just walking into the first gallery was like a dose of warmth and sunshine.

Today was my Road to Damascus moment as far as David Hockney is concerned.

I knew a little of his work – “A Bigger Splash”, obviously, and some of those extraordinary photo collages of the Grand Canyon, but, to my shame, not much else.

To my eternal shame, I didn’t even know know Mr. Hockney is a fellow Tyke.

But this morning, if a fairy godmother had waved her magic wand and given me enough money (and ginormous walls) I would have bought every single painting there, so bowled over was I by the work of this wonderful talent.

Wandering round the galleries full of colour and happiness made me feel happy. I know I had a daft, dippy expression, smiling at people –  but then again, everyone else looked happy too, and smiled back, and chatted, so obviously I was not alone, in the feel-good stakes.

I have frequently been moved by seeing a particular masterpiece – the Madonna of the Rocks last week, for example at the Leonardo Exhibition at the National Gallery –  but never have I felt so incredibly happy at an exhibition.

And never have I felt so ridiculously proud of being a Yorkshire(wo)man.  There, I’ve said it.  True, I have never actually seen my native west Yorkshire looking as riotously colourful and vibrant as Mr. Hockney’s landscapes, but I have seen the hedgerows full of meadow sweet and hawthorn bushes that he so eloquently paints, in the countryside I remember as a child.

Favourites from amongst these amazing pictures ?

The effect of all those canvases in “The arrival of spring in Woldgate East Yorkshire in 2011 (twenty eleven)” was amazing – an array of fabulous little details of grass and flowers and shadows and leaves, all contributing to a stupendous whole.

And as for those films (digital video) –  utterly glorious and I laughed out loud during the dancing, as did my neighbours in the projection room, and when Mr. Hockney appeared, brandishing a mug, lots of people applauded.

The exhibition is a delight.  An utterly delightful treat for the senses and the soul.

I am cross with myself that I have wasted so many years of my life not knowing enough about David Hockney : today I became a total and utter adoring fan.

Mr. Hockney’s talent and exuberance and mastery of so many media is impressive.  Damn it, why can’t I do such amazing things with my iPad ?

Entry to the exhibition costs £14, and you really do need to book.  I was incredibly lucky, walking by yesterday afternoon and being told I could go straight in, or choose whatever time I wanted, but I understand that booking online isn’t quite as easy.

I opted for the first time slot, 10am, when the Royal Academy opens, and by the time I left, it was getting quite crowded, so I would advise the earlier the better.

There is more merchandise in the shop than you can shake a stick at, but if you buy only one thing, let it be the catalogue.  It’s heavy, and at £29.95 it’s expensive, but it is well, well worth it.

THE COMEDY OF ERRORS at the NATIONAL THEATRE, LONDON

This is going to be one of those gushingly enthusiastic reviews, be warned.

When you see an absolutely pitch perfect, drop-dead wonderful production of Shakespeare, with not one foot put wrong at any level, what else can you do but gush ?  Other than advise anyone in London who hasn’t yet seen “The Comedy of Errors” at the National Theatre to hurry up and go see it.

It is, quite simply, outstanding.

Lenny Henry as Antipholus of Syracuse is the big ticket draw, but there isn’t one single member of this multi-racial cast that is anything less than perfectly cast.

Basically, the plot is the story of twin boys with twin servants, who get separated shortly after birth, during a violent storm at sea. Separated from their siblings as well as their mother, one noble and one servant grows up adopted by fishermen, whilst the other 2 grow up with the father.  This latter pair sets out to try and locate their mother and missing brother(s).

All of this is the framework on which to hang a classic comic tale of mistaken identities, confused love interest, slapstick comedy, double-entendres and all this interspersed with lots of gags and risqué jokes, and just a hint of impending tragedy –  until it all comes right, just in time, with a big happy ending.

A big happy ending that certainly had me in tears.

First performed at Christmas 1594, you have to hand it to Shakespeare that over 400 years later, a packed house was roaring with laughter at his jokes and I know I wasn’t the only one who shed a tear at the long-lost re-uniting of Egeon and Emilia right at the end.

The play is set in an edgy modern world of graffiti-ed walls, red-light areas, and billiard dens.  The men are definitely dudes, and the 2 main female characters, Adriana and her sister Luciana are Essex WAGS –  all dyed blond hair, killer heels, designer bags and short short skirts.  And as for those accents…

The set is brilliant, with the opening shipwreck scene frankly frightening in its noise and intensity.

Favourite moments ?

The lift in the apartment block where the WAGS live – childish, I know, but a lift, and a working intercom –  Shakespeare would have loved it.

A police car roaring onto the stage.

Glimpses of rooms where hookers are at work – when the upstairs room S & M session is over, the girl gets on with her knitting.

It is hilarious, fabulously slick and well-produced, and you leave the theatre happy an laughing and marvelling at the freshness of Shakespeare’s dialogue.

Every single member of the cast is perfect, and absolutely perfectly cast, so it is hardly fair to single out one for special praise, but I will. Michelle Terry as Luciana is superb.

YOKO ONO TO INDIA WITH LOVE

Yoko Ono’s solo, lone performance in Delhi, India, at the India Habitat Centre last night (15 January 2011) was a distinctly odd event.

The auditorium was packed to the gills, with an orderly and clearly enthusiastic audience, all seated a good half an hour before the performance began.

Because I suppose that’s what it was.

A performance.

Ms Ono looks amazing for 78, absolutely fantastic, with her trim figure, snappy dressing, and sort-of-Michael-Jacksonesque hat.  Oh, and the trademark dark glasses, of course.

Ms Ono moved around the staged with a mike, looking fit as a fiddle.

The 2 Indian musicians, a sitarist and a tabalchi, looked elegant and smiled and were models of the best kind of Indian elegance.

As for the rest…

…the best I can say is that it was rather like watching a sloshed relative at a party who grabs the mike and thinks she can sing.  And dance.

Off-key careening is the word that comes to mind.  Lots of shouting and panting and wailing and a few lines in English, and the 2 lovely Indian musicians valiantly accompanying her, while she tripped around the stage, wiggling her hips from time to time.

Ms Ono performed 2 songs (?) which lasted an ear-splitting 30 minutes.  I swear I saw the musicians smiling at each other in a sort of “oh what the heck?” kind of way.

Interval = about 15% of the audience voted with its feet, including my husband and son.

They missed the best bit which was the Q & A.

All the inevitable questions about John Lennon – “Does he still live in your heart ?” –  I ask you, what a daft question.

What is your favourite song ?  I suppose the questioner meant a Beatles song, as opposed to her own, and I don’t think she really replied.

Do psychedelic drugs enhance creativity ?  Ms Ono gave a not really specific answer, and then when the questioner persisted, turned away.

She was much more of an appealing figure answering/not answering questions, so I am glad I stayed.  She made many of we ladies of a certain feminist generation cheer (and we were quite numerous, I was happy to see) with some of her answers to questions like “What is women power ?”  (Obviously asked by a man)

Ms Ono talked a little about the Beatles and John Lennon and made a rather endearing comment about how much she was hated after the Beatles broke up, saying “I was not a very hateful person before.”

Glad I saw her in person.  But sitting through another performance ?

Never again.

Never.