Elevate Difference

Reviews tagged India

Draupadi – Will My Spirit Live On?

On the heels of International Women’s Day, the Indo-American Arts Council in New York City hosted the North American premiere of a unique and thought-provoking Indian play called Draupadi – Will My Spirit Live On? Produced and conceptualized by Shivani Wazir Pasrich, and co-directed by Pasrich and Tina Johnson, Draupadi weaves a tale from the Hindu epic Mahabharata with an intense contemporary story of a woman battling her experience with sexual abuse. The play sheds light on the plight of many women suffering such abuse, connecting a mythological tale with a modern parallel, and delivers a mostly engaging experience.

Alimentary Tracts: Appetites, Aversions, and the Postcolonial

The introduction to Alimentary Tracts begins with a Salman Rushdie quote about peppercorns and includes the phrase “symbolic anthropophagy.” Similarly to the first two sentences, the remainder of the book would continue to intrigue and baffle me. Alimentary Tracts consists of four long chapte

Nrityagram: The Love of Dance

In the film Nrityagram: The Love of Dance, a short and simple story is told. A woman finds purpose in her was life when she learns how to dance and creates an institute to instruct others. It is the story of Protima Bedi and her Nrityagram Dance Ensemble. Protima Bedi was known in India as a socialite, until she saw a Narissi Dance and came to pursue it instead. A woman who was known as an emotionally vibrant and open person, pursues a dance form that is tells the story of feelings more than anything else.

The Last Pretence

In the South Indian town of Machilipatnam, Mallika gives birth to twins, Tara and Siva. Emotionally and psychologically damaged when her daughter dies during childbirth, Mallika finds herself unable to love Siva who is a constant reminder of Tara’s death. Pretending that Siva is Tara, both Mallika and Siva embark on a downward spiral of self-destruction that ends in tragedy.

No One Killed Jessica

In 1999 model/waitress Jessica Lall refused to serve drinks to a rowdy man in a crowded bar, who then shot her point blank in a fit of rage. That man turned out to be the son of an influential politician, but with 300 witnesses it seemed like a straightforward case. However, in an unfortunate example of the rot in the judicial system and rampant corruption, all the witnesses were either threatened or paid off, and the evidence was tampered with, leading to the release of the killer. No One Killed Jessica by Rajkumar Gupta follows the initial courtroom campaign relentlessly pursued by Jessica’s sister, Sabrina (Vidya Balan), and then the news media battle for the reopening of the case led by fictionalized reporter Meera (Rani Mukherji).

Finding Delhi: Loss and Renewal in the Megacity

New Delhi is a city that has undergone many incarnations in its lifespan. Just a century after the British built the city to be the capital of the crown jewel that was India, Delhi is racing towards becoming a world-class city. Published on the eve of the city’s hosting the October 2010 Commonwealth Games, which was supposed to serve as Delhi’s coming out party in the twenty-first century, the collection of essays in Finding Delhi explores what happens to the lives of its twenty million inhabitants as the city is re-engineered and re-imagined for the new millennium.

Threads of Hope

I have to admit to watching this film with much trepidation. Too many films and documentaries are dedicated to analyzing the poor state of women’s lives in the developing world, but few dedicate their focus to researching and explicating the systemic inequalities rooted in patriarchy, that exist to reinforce women’s conditions. However, while watching I was determined to keep an open mind and value the work and perspective of a young woman of color, endeavoring to make a difference in the world by documenting women’s lives in Kolkata, India.

Curfewed Night: One Kashmiri Journalist's Frontline Account of Life, Love, and War in His Homeland

Basharat Peer sits calmly on the stage at The Hay Festival Kerala, giving his full attention to a question from a man standing beside me. Peer resembles a slimmed-down, younger James Gandolfini, but it’s impossible to imagine his passionate-but-measured speech exploding in a flurry of curses and pronouncements à la Tony Soprano—the kind of spraying invective, in fact, that he is being subjected to right now. As the questioner continues his diatribe on “the lies we are getting out of Srinagar,” and ultimately has the microphone forcibly taken away from him, Peer keeps his gaze on the man and, with hardly a flicker of anger, frustration, or sadness, diplomatically invites the man to fact-check his book and moves on to the next raised hand. He’s seen worse. After all, he grew up in Kashmir.

Written on the Body of The Erasable Woman

When did you start writing poetry? At a very young age—probably when I started writing with chalk on my bathroom door or adding my own two cents to my parents’ biology textbooks they tell me I always furiously flipped through. I experienced a lot of racism, (hetero)sexism, and different kinds of regulation at a young age too, and I think what that did was make me really quiet and closed up in a lot of ways.

A Man’s A Man

If playwright Bertolt Brecht were alive today, he’d likely blanch at the contemporary tendency to seek common ground with those whose ideologies are diametrically opposed to one’s own. His dozens of plays speak truth to power in daring, direct language and, while farce and sarcasm are employed, his repeated denunciations of colonialism, war, and militarism are boldly presented. A Man’s a Man (sometimes called Man Equals Man) was first staged in Dusseldorf and Darmstadt, Germany in 1926. Eighty-four years later, The Phoenix Theatre Ensemble’s beautifully-presented staged reading of the play is so relevant that the audience quickly forgets the age of the work.

Beautiful Thing: Inside the Secret World of Bombay's Dance Bars

Beautiful Thing is an eponymous title. It is journalist Sonia Faleiro's first book, about the dancers and not-so-secret prostitutes of the “dance bars” of suburban Bombay (Mumbai). These now-illegal establishments offered the tripartite pleasures of alcohol, enticing women, and Bollywood music. Their dancers were “bootiful” young girls, sometimes in their initial teenage years, and well aware that their “booty”—pun unintended—is what defines them, and keeps them fed and clothed.

Pune Highway (11/11/2010)

During my childhood, visits to India were largely spent travelling. A lot of this involved time on the infamous GT Road, a dry scaly snake taking us wherever we wanted to go. Aside from the beauty of fields either side, there was always the fear of danger lurking nearby. Visiting these roads was always interesting—but you knew they had the potential to harbour deadly forces. Whenever something happened, people would react wildly. The road was both a blessing and a curse, progressive in its promise, but with a lot to hide. Whenever an incident on happened we looked on in wonder, not really knowing protocol. Minor scuffles in traffic would result in typical rambunctious arguments which proved entertaining for some—but larger incidents were a different matter. A cyclist thrown off his bike, for example, would result in a series of complexities not only for the culprit but also for spectators. Typically, they’d refrain from contacting the authorities, afraid of opening a can of worms.


Director Vinay Shukla returns to the big screen after five years with his latest film Mirch. Starring Arunoday Singh, Konkona Sen Sharma, Raima Sen, Shahana Goswami, Sushant Singh, and a whole host of supporting actors, this film is witty, cleverly told, and has delightful performances. It addresses the issue of women’s emancipation from restrictive roles in traditional storytelling, and ends up walking a very thin line between making a profound statement about empowerment and being potentially offensive for painting empowered women as cunning.

Aarekti Premer Galpo (Just Another Love Story)

Rituparno Ghosh completely reinvents himself from director to actor and delivers a gripping performance in this very lyrical film by Kaushik Ganguly. Just Another Love Story (original Bengali title: Aarekti Premer Galpo) is about a filmmaker Abhiroop Sen (played by Ghosh) who makes a documentary about Chapal Bhaduri, the legendary jatra (Bengali folk theatre) actor who spent his entire career playing female roles on stage, primarily as Goddess Shitala.

Monica Droga: Indie Musician, Bollywood Star, Feminist

Gone are the times when people would migrate only to the West to find better lives. Now we witness a reversal of sorts, with NRIs going back to India to seek the same opportunities that their parents or grandparents had left India to find. Monica Dogra is one such NRI who is rocking the independent music scene in the homeland.

Engendering Performance: Indian Women Performers in Search of an Identity

In its very fragmentariness, Engendering Performance: Indian Women Performers in Search of an Identity serves as an alternative to the traditional scholarly textbook.

You Have Given Me a Country

At the beginning of You Have Given Me a Country, author Neela Vaswani writes, “What follows is real, and imagined.” Thus begins Vaswani's memoir, a dreamy collection of reflections on her family's multiracial, multinational history. Ashok Vaswani, Neela's father, was born in Sindh (now a province of Pakistan) before the cataclysm of Partition. As a toddler, Ashok fled with his family to the new state of India, where his father found a job as a traveling railroad physician. Later, Ashok traveled to the US to practice medicine and to leave behind a tense postwar economy and a family that had fractured under the pressure of exile. “To my father, nationality was fickle, unreliable,” writes Neela. “My father said, 'Homeland is in the body,' and 'Land is in the blood.'”

Becoming Imperial Citizens: Indians in the Late-Victorian Empire

It’s important to state here that Becoming Imperial Citizens is a work of research best suited for academic audiences. The upper-level vocabulary, combined with analysis, makes for quite a heavy reading. Sukanya Banerjee’s work looks at the British Empire and citizenship with reference to Indians during, as the title notes, the late Victorian period.

Made in India

Made in India is a documentary about the growing trend of infertile American couples who outsource a surrogate pregnancy to a woman in India. The film follows one such couple, Lisa and Brian, from San Antonio, Texas, who have experienced seven years of infertility. They don’t have a lot of money (“by American standards, anyway,” they say) and are taking their last chance to start a family of their own on by using a “medical tourism” agency based in Los Angeles called Planet Hospital.

Tiger Hills

We used to argue as young literary critics that it wasn’t possible to have feminist romantic writing: the terms were contradictory by their very definition. Love stories were necessarily fissured by unequal relations of power, vulnerability, and injustice. This has always been troubling to me, as a diehard romantic, a firm believer in love stories, and a feminist. It was a niggling worry, too, as I read, and was instantly absorbed in, Tiger Hills.

Mother Pious Lady: Making Sense of Everyday India

The great Indian middle class is that layer of society that no one bothered about until couple of decades ago. People in this layer did not fall into the category of "have nots," and hence did not attract any sympathy. At the same time they did not have the luxury of "haves," so it did not make any economic sense for the others to target them. They lived in their own world where they had enough for their basic needs, but nothing for their desires.

Eat Pray Love

Pretty Woman meets Ugly American in Eat Pray Love, a gender reversal romp in which the woman, for a change, instead of the womanizing man, gets to be the one with commitment issues. And while this female free spirit fling junkie cruise around the planet for high carb self-fulfillment is clearly likewise cruising in search of the chick flick demographic, the misguided message seems to be that hedonism is the new feminism.

Son Preference: Sex Selection, Gender and Culture in South Asia

Son Preference is one of the most compelling insights into the issue of sex selection I have read. Written through a scholarly yet personal lens, the author takes reader through the narrative and complexities of culture and gender in South Asia.

Braking News: 1 Bus, 2 Girls, 15 Thousand Kilometers, 715 Million Votes

Sunetra Choudhury’s Braking News takes the reader on a trip across India to find the elusive Indian voter in both cities and villages. As an anchor and TV news reporter, Choudhury was asked to cover the elections for NDTV on a bus. The election bus planned to travel fifty kilometers each day for sixty days covering 3,000 kilometers. Two teams aboard the bus were scheduled to produce a half-hour show every weekday prior to the May 2009 elections.

Peepli Live

The women of Peepli… well, there are no women in Peepli. Yes, there are daughters and mothers and wives, and to them Natha is purportedly “son and brother.” Natha is in dire straits; he has taken a loan from the bank and now cannot repay it.


The wait for a high-octane, all-engrossing drama just became longer. But that doesn't mean we don't have a decent watch in hand with Raajneeti. The setup is certainly complex and intriguing, and there are a couple of sly and conniving twists, no doubt.

The Japanese Wife

Here’s what I can muster for Aparna Sen’s film The Japanese Wife: I still don’t quite get it. The Japanese Wife is not as simple as Madame Butterfly, but I think a similar analysis applies.

Becoming Indian: The Unfinished Revolution of Culture and Identity

Pavan K. Varma’s most recent book, Becoming Indian, argues that cultural freedom has eluded formerly colonized nations, specifically India. He sees a need for a cultural revolution in India. Although it reads at times like an extended opinion piece, Varma makes convincing arguments highlighting the importance of reclaiming language, architecture, and art in a way that empowers indigenous knowledge rather than oppressing it.

Everyday Nationalism: Women of the Hindu Right in India

Everyday Nationalism, a publication in "The Ethnography of Political Violence" series, offers readers a provocative and sometimes disturbing look at Hindu nationalist organizations and the role of Indian women in representing the nationalist movement.

Bina Das: A Memoir

“History is always in the making, and our struggle for a truly free country will not be over easily,” says Bina Das towards the conclusion of her memoir, brilliantly translated by Dhira Dhar, who was close to this firebrand revolutionary of Bengal. In its pages, Bina Das: A Memoir holds history in flashback.