Monday, September 24, 2012

Russia's Most Famous Woman Soldier who later becomes an American Spy

A Book Review: The Beautiful Assassin by Michael White 

For the Soviets, Tat’yana is a symbol of a near perfect dream that they want to lure the Americans with – a stunning woman solider who fought and killed over 300 German soliders in the most difficult and terrifying conditions.

Russia’s Clandestine Plans to Spy on the White House
The Russian political hawks see her as an instrument to be used to lure the Americans to join the war against Hitler. That Tat’yana craves for no such fame or name other than to continue fighting as a solider for her country is of no consequence to the Soviets. They present her as their cultural ambassador to Eleanor Roosevelt but in reality they attempt to use her as their spy to findout everything about President Roosevelt’s future plans. Thrust into a political battlefield where the enemies play hidden games and make dangerous moves, Tat’yana is cornered by all sides, torn by her friendship and respect for Eleanor and the desire to serve and be true to her country – the Soviet Union.

Russia’s most famous woman soldier forced to dress up like a Doll to woo the Americans

From start to finish, the book is gripping because it has a fantastic protagonist, namely Tat’yana. You can feel her pain as your own. A woman solider has to live and take decisions in a doubly careful manner but few understand the compulsions she lives with, particularly the Americans who see her as a kind of cultural entertainment.

For instance, Tat’yana is appalled when she is advised dress up, expose her body and told to pretend that she is unmarried when meeting the American Press. She says, “ I am a soldier. Why do I need to dress up or pretend to be single?” The Russians tell her that the American Press need to feel she has a sexy element to her personality. She is told to wear perfume because the Americans cannot stand body odor. She learns how different the Americans are when it comes to judging people by their appeariances. If she didn’t dress up the way they expected her to, they would not write about her. American socialites ask her questions like "What did you do when you had your 'womanly time' on the battlefield?" and Tat’yana is struck by the frivolous nature of an American woman's mind during a time of war. 

The dilemma Tat’yana faces is one that most women in any profession are likely to face – why should dressing up to impress a target audience matter when you are damn good at what you do?

Life in Russia during Stalin’s rule
What interested me most was Tat’yana’s recollections of the past that take us through life in Russia at a time when Stalin’s rule was supreme. It is clear from her version that the Russians themselves despised what Stalin had reduced their motherland to.

Interesting conversations like these take us back to that period in Russia when Stalin’s law was supreme.

“I could recall at night, my parents sitting at the kitchen table, bickering about the government. My mother calling Stalin that ublyudok – mongrel dog – though she would always, as did most citizens even in the privacy of their homes, instinctively lower her voice when saying something the least critical about the government…”

Russian Spy in the White House: Torn between loyalties 
Destiny and political conspiracy catapult Tat’yana to meet Eleanor Roosevelt, the wife of the US President Roosevelt. The two women become friends instantly though Tatyana has been sent by the Russians to spy on everything that is happening within the White House. Torn between the loyalty she feels towards her motherland and the trust shown towards her by the First Lady, we can see Tatyana questioning her motives for following secretive directions that seem to have nothing to do with the welfare of the Russians.

And out of the blue, just like that, Tat’yana disappears while in the US. The Russians are livid and label their most respected woman solider as a traitor. The truth is never known. What happened to her? Why did she disappear? Did the Americans kill her on finding out that she was a Russian spy? Did she make a tough choice between being a good, loyal solider or a good, trust worthy friend?

The other characters in the book are not as interesting as she is except for the First Lady of the US who definitely makes a mark and intrigues our interest with her freedom and an instinctive sense of what is right and wrong. But I was not pleased with the way it ended – without fizz. 

It left one feeling as though at the end of a fantastically presented six course dish, there was simply no effort to whip up and serve a delectable dessert. The way this novel ended was with a bland bump and that should have been avoided because throughout the story, the plot and the pace had been gripping.

Friday, September 21, 2012

When Bookshelves become the Object of your Affections

While reading on the web, I read  this quote and I felt it resonated with my own thoughts about book shelves. So I am sharing the quote here.

"If I step up to a shelf and look at the books one by one, I can remember something about each. As a historian once said, some stare at me reproachfully, grumbling that I have never read them. One may remind me vaguely of a time when I was interested in romantic novels. An old college text will elicit a pang of unhappiness about studying. Each book has its character, and even books I know very well also have this kind of wordless flavor. Now if I step back from the shelf and look quickly across both bookcases I speed up that same process a hundredfold. Impressions wash across my awareness. But each book still looks back in its own way, answering the rude brevity of my gaze, calling faintly to me out of the corner of my eye. At that speed many booksremain wrapped in the shadows of my awareness--I know I have looked past them and I know they are there, but I refuse to call them to mind.” ― James Elkins, The Object Stares Back: On the Nature of Seeing

How do you look at the books in your bookshelves? Some books may remind you of a phase that you were going through, probably a challenging one whereas other books may remind you of a trip down memory lane or something exciting that you did. 

Tell me more about the books that seem to beckon you. Do you look past them or through them or at them? 

Friday, September 14, 2012

Mankles in the Men's Fashion World: Jyotiraditya is an Early Adopter

Mankles? It's the word that fascinated me. New words entice me because they bring up possibilities in writing. So I read about Mankles. Simply put, these are cropped pants that allow men to expose their ankles. Before you laugh, let me also tell you that mankles have taken the men's fashion world by storm across the world. Celebrities and film stars are loving it too. 
The glitch is that this trend has made socks suffer and therefore in countries like Britain, sales of socks have drastically come down. But this new trend has sparked off another trend- short loader socks that have gained tremendous popularity.
Apparently, this trend is catching up fast in India. Personally, I cannot imagine my  husband or brother or cousins wearing Mankles. But the funny thing is that Adi had adopted the Mankles style nearly three years ago and he called it his new style because he wanted to show off his ankles.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Malayalam Movie Review: Run Baby Run cashes in on "Reuters Venu"

The PVR Mahagun Mall was packed with a crowd of Malayalis who had gathered to watch Director Joshiy’s Run Baby Run, starring Mohanlal and Amala Paul. The excitement and anticipation was almost electric. Right from the beginning, this film takes you through a gripping portrayal of how warring TV news channels stoop to new lows so that they can 'break news.'  It also reveals the media gimmicks involved, the conflicts and the greed for name, fame and money among other things.

Reuters Venu: A Lovable, Irreverent Professional Cameraman

Mohanlal plays the role of “Reuters Venu” who is a high profile news camera man who is wooed by all big TV channel during his short visits to Kochi. He  He is irreverent, funny and emotional at the same time.
The leading lady Amala Paul plays the role of a bold, aggressive and ambitios executive editor of ‘Bharath Vision.’ 

For a change, the leading lady’s make up and clothes are smartly done and not looking like they have been rented out from some dinghy shop that would cater to colourfully dressed characters.  Her body language is confident and poised. She has all the makings of some one who can be an Executive Producer in a TV channel, corporate style of course. 

At the beginning of the film, we are left to wonder for a while how she had started at a junior level and suddenly catapulted into the higher ranks but later the mystery is solved in bits and pieces. She minces no words. She deals ‘soft’ blows easily especially to colleagues. 

The tension between “Reuters Venu” and “Renuka” is well portrayed, electric and deeply sensual. The moment they are assigned to work together, we know that we can expect nothing less than well timed retorts, dialogues and yes, all the fireworks that is expected of a sizzling on-screen couple.

Run Baby Run: What I liked

Mohan Lal’s performance is simply awesome. He looks refreshed and stylish too. The dialogue delivery, the humor and the impeccable sense of timing came alive in his portrayal of the character ‘Reuteurs Venu.’  I liked the on screen chemistry with ‘Renuka,’ which sent the audience wild with clapping and cat calls. 

It was also good to see that Amala Paul has emerged from the cocoon and stood her ground in the presence of Mohan Lal, something that few actresses can accomplish naturally – examples would include Urvashy, Shobhana, Manju Warrier, Meera Jasmine among a few. However, the story could have fleshed out a meatier role for her and go beyond the obvious of portraying her as a sexy siren.  

I also liked Mohanlal’s song Aaattumanal.  He exercised tremendous voice control for this song. Besides voice control, the  rhythm, the tune and the overall picturisation were good. 

But what took me by real surprise is Biju Menon. For a change, he is looking more stylish, fitter and he is acting better. The role that he has in this film - he has fully absorbed it and portrayed it. He plays the role of the head of a newly born channel that is resorting to ‘low’ tactics to pay off the salaries of its team and is going through a severe financial crunch. He matched Lal's sense of timing in dialogue delivery with absolute perfection. The scenes and dialogues between Lal and Biju are a delight to watch.

Run Baby Run has several glitches particularly in its story line, particularly the second half of the movie. Towards the end, it becomes unnecessarily 'filmy' and predictable. I'd still say that overall this is a well made movie that has packed in many interesting ingredients that make it an entertaining, pacy movie to watch.  So, go ahead and watch it in the theaters. 

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Introducing Friends and Footprints: A Tribute to Special Friends

This is my first post in the series that I am introducing on this blog  and this series is titled 'Friends and Footprints.' At every phase in my life, I believe that my friends have helped me to evolve into a better human being. The lessons I have learned from them cannot be fully captured by writing blog posts but I want to at least try and express my gratitude to friends who have inspired and helped me. I will not bring in any family members into this series because that's a completely different space, that I am not ready to do as of now.  

After a series of interactive discussions I had with Sanand and Juhi Mohan who is a very close and dear friend to us, I decided to pay tribute to all the friends who have been 'special' in my life. When I discussed this with Juhi, she suggested the title for this series and I am grateful to her for this because it sounds perfect and matches the purpose and context of this series perfectly. Sanand loved the sound of this title series and said, "go for it!"

Soon, you will read my posts in this series about some wonderful friends. I will not ask their permission to write simply because I want to surprise them. But I'd love to have your feedback and encouragement for this series.

Like Eleanor Roosevelt once said, "Many people will walk in and out of your life, but only true friends will leave footprints in your heart."

This is my humble tribute to those who left footprints in my life.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

About Ramayana Story: Believe in Peace, Prepare for War

So much can be written about the Ramayana story and about the countless gems of wisdom that we can learn from Lord Rama who believed in Supreme Dharma.

In one sentence, I am reminded of an apt quote that reads like this:

Let him who desires peace, prepare for war. – Vegetius


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