Awesome Foursome

Drama Crack: Every Drama addict craves it, and we all know that finding it is harder than Hunting for a Snark. It’s also different for every one of us, but the thrill when finding it is the same. An innate sense of rightness, a longing for each new episode, and a lingering wistful contentment when the end finally comes.  For me, Quartet was my latest dose, and what a solid hit it was.

The story of four social misfits who come together to play as a string quartet, I approached this Drama with much hesitancy. The writer’s only other work I had tried  was Mother, a soul-crushingly bleak and depressing tale that I was literally unable to finish.  For the first 3-4 episodes of Quartet, I kept fearing the worst.

Right from the start, this Drama kept me guessing. There was something off-kilter about every one of the four lead characters.  All had secrets, and the Drama delighted at suggesting  darkness  in those secrets.  Even the closing credits song seemed to be an edgy mix of glamour and  malice. When I first heard it at the end of episode one, I found it VERY unsettling, reminiscent in atmosphere of Pink Martini’s eldritch cover of Que Sera Sera . Which brings me to subtitles.

The version of Quartet I fell in love with was of course, a subbed version. Whenever I crush on a Drama, I regret and resent not knowing its language. The closing song is a good example of the problem. In the final episode, the lyrics were subtitled, and even though the style and presentation in the finale were brighter and more fun, it’s likely that had I had an idea of what the words meant when I first heard it, my reaction would have been quite different.  I am so very,  VERY grateful to the dedicated fansubber who gave me the chance to get a taste of this Drama, and reactions from those who watched it raw confirm that it was every bit as good as the subber’s selfless work made it seem. Yet the very excellence of their work makes me certain I’m missing so very much more.

I love the Pink Martini cover of Que Sera Sera, and  I grew to love the unsettling oddity of the Quartet. To the extent that in the finale, when they received a letter that was a lengthy attack on them, questioning the very point of their existence, I was raging in their defence. “If there is no hole, there is no doughnut”  was the way the leader and founder of the group described them. In other words, they weren’t very good, and they knew it, but the Drama wasn’t about their music. It was about 4 people who may have been a doughnut’s hole, but who made each other whole.

That may have been corny wordplay, but I make no apologies for it. One of the many things that made this show Crack for me was the way it avoided the trap of going for “quirky is cute, quirky is fun”. There was a lot of fun, and they were VERY cute, but we were also shown their wounds and weaknesses, their frailties and failings.

There is so much right with this Drama and so little wrong that I’m going to end on a note of simple  aesthetic appreciation.

Mitsushima Hikari is a very good actor and also one of the most strikingly beautiful people it has been my distinct pleasure to enjoy watching. Both the lead actresses were very attractive, but Hikari has that mysterious je ne sais WOW! factor. I’m looking forward to checking out some of her other works for both her talent and her beauty.

In conclusion, this is easily one of my all-time favourite Dramas, and has strengthened Japan’s place at number one in my Asian affections. I love it so much I am likely to buy the DVD/Blu-ray despite the near certainty that they will be both unsubbed and stupidly expensive. If the all-seeing Eye happens to overlook this upload, enjoy the closing theme from the finale, and if you haven’t already (or even if you have), DO WATCH IT!

 

 

 

Annus Horribilis – An Aotearoa Ajeossi’s Antidote

Few would argue against the view that 2016 was a bleak year. So I’m going to celebrate  Dramas that provided moments of relief. On Twitter and Instagram I’m a Happy Harabeoji, here are some of the highlights that helped me stay that way.

This is NOT a “Best of” list. These were my “Happy Pills”. Some were flawed, one was  mediocre (to be kind), but I loved them all for making me smile, and laugh, and swoon.

Contentment

Yeah, That’s How It Is

I’ve already waxed rhapsodic about this outstanding unseen gem, so won’t repeat myself too much. It tops this list because it provided a special kind of pleasure. There were funny scenes, most courtesy of a stellar comic turn by Wang Ji Hye, but the overall feeling it generated was quiet satisfaction, the contentment of knowing that “Yeah, that IS how it is”. 2017 WILL see a rerun of this Drama in my household.

Aesthetics 

Immortal Goddess

NOT a classic for the ages, but still a real highlight of my year. I am even more fond of my beautiful ballet-schooled bias than I am of alliteration, so an entire Drama built around showing just how beautiful she is was addictive ambrosia. The only complete Drama I’ve watched unsubbed from beginning to end, but I understood everything I needed to.

Jimi Ni Sugoi (Pretty Proofreader)

Ishihara Satomi may not have the greatest range as an actor, but she is really, really, really, ridiculously good-looking, and when she smiles, dazzlingly pretty. So a Drama that played to her strengths was a guaranteed winner. Much like Immortal Goddess, the Drama is built around showing off its lead’s beauty. The English title really is a good description of the Drama, it delivers exactly what it says. And that is definitely cause to smile.

Adorable Age Gaps

Beautiful Gong Shim

In a year dominated by Korean Dramas’ repellently creepy ephebophilia fixation, one of the biggest shots of happy came from a Drama with a big OTP age gap but without the female lead either in or eligible for a school uniform. Beautiful Gong Shim suffered from bloat toward the end, but the pairing of Namgoong Min and Min Ah was pure magic. A true ajeossi romance, the thirteen years between them disappeared onscreen, replaced by irresistible fun.

We Married As a Job

This Japanese gem is now my firm favourite in the contract marriage genre, thanks to the leads. Hoshino Gen’s Hiramasa is frustratingly low on self-esteem and awareness, but his gradual awakening is satisfying to watch. Aragaki Yui shines as Mikuri, a gangly bundle of sweetness looking for fulfillment in life and love, and Ishida Yuriko’s Yurichan is all kinds of awesome, a role model for the fifty-ish everywhere. Even the end sequence deserves special mention. It may be the best I’ve ever seen. It’s definitely the most FUN end sequence I’ve ever seen.

Joie De Vivre

Juhan Shuttai

Joie de vivre is literally the very essence of this nearly flawless Japanese Drama. The lead character exudes joy at being alive. It gushes out of her so irrepressibly that it infects everyone she comes in contact with, both characters and viewers. A rare 10/10 in my personal Drama list, there were no villains, but there was a heroine, and watching this cute, perennially happy bear cub grow was a recipe for uncomplicated joy. I am 99% certain that the clip below describes the reactions of 99% of this Drama’s  viewers.

Lame Humour

The Gentlemen of Wolgyesu Tailor Shop

This fifty episode Drama still has sixteen episodes to go, but even though the requisite conflict is starting to seep in as we enter the final third, I don’t recall ever laughing so much through a weekender. I look forward to each new week with almost as much eagerness as I did for Yeah That’s How It Is. Up to this point, it has been a lowkey laughfest The OTP is similarly rare, a slow-burning, muted merging of two very quiet characters. The remove from Drama stereotypes is highlighted by the male lead’s love of puns and similar wordplay, the “lame humour” referenced above. Throw in the unique talents of Ra Mi Ran, and the implausibly cute Lee Se Young and the result is a gentle confection, the Drama equivalent of a hot chocolate with marshmallows. I hope that it ends similarly, leaving me with a warm smile, like the ones it features so prominently.

 

 

 

 

Besides the Dramas above, the biggest Drama-related source of happiness for me has been my bias, Wang Ji Won. 2016 began with her shooting her first film, and ended with her getting a new agency, one I hope will support and promote her much better than her last one did. 2016 was also the year she got her first magazine cover article, which meant that 2016 was the year I bought my first 400 page magazine in a language I don’t know. Letting my bias know I’d bought a copy earned me a second DM from her, which made it a very worthwhile investment. Making a sizeable contribution to a very well thought out gift package was another highlight of my fanboy’s year, and as I look forward to her movie releasing early in 2017, I’m already considering gift options for THAT milestone in her career.

Another reliable source of smiles this year has, once again, been my remarkable Twitter timeline. While 140 characters is not optimal for nuanced and complex conversations, it is a great medium for fun and frippery, and my diverse Twitterati have supplied plenty of both all year, thank you all. A professional polyglot man of mystery with an adorable niece, a pharmacist with a cute nephew, a salty film student in a VERY complex long distance marriage, an itinerant Aussie and a friendly Frankfurter are among those who deserve special thanks for having provided many smiles through the year as victims of my maliciously bad wordplay.

An end of year post traditionally references the year ahead, and my Drama calendar for next year includes checking out two sageuks, a development so shocking I’m surprised Dispatch didn’t break it as front page news. I am interested to see how Lee Young Ae’s return to acting goes in the fusion sageuk written specifically for her, Saimdang. I am also keen to check out the upcoming Hong Gil Dong sageuk, mostly for the talented and beautiful Lee Ha Nui. Fingers crossed she plays the gayageum in it! 2017 might also be the year I finally clear my backlog of both K and J Dramas waiting to be watched.

Other things that have brought this Aotearoa Ajeossi happiness this year have included seeing a lot more of Aotearoa, and getting to play Harabeoji a lot more often. I hope that any who read this have had real life joys and seen Dramas that provided entertaining distractions too. It is a festive time of year, so I sincerely wish everyone a happy, safe and satisfying holiday season. May you be snowed under with happiness, or baked brown with bliss, according to your hemisphere. Ka kite ano, noho ora mai!

The Best I’ve Seen? 그래, 그런거야

This is the first time I’ve been moved to write a review of a single K Drama. It’s also the first time I’ve cried when a drama ended. I didn’t cry because of how it ended, but because it ended. That’s a mark of how very special Yeah That’s How It Is has been for me. Before I get into the reasons why, I’m going to start with a lament.

Ratings show that this exceptional drama was watched by almost no one in Korea. It was watched by even fewer international viewers. I have a very strong aversion to watching dramas streamed. I will only watch dramas streamed as an absolute last resort, if they are not available at all for download, and assuming the streaming sites will even let me – the two biggest don’t. It seems the overwhelming majority of international viewers take the opposite position. The only way most international viewers will watch dramas is if they are streamed. If a drama is not streamed they will not watch, period. This means that for them, if a drama is not streamed it effectively does not exist. In a guest piece for couch-kimchi I wrote about taking the road less travelled, but on my Twitter timeline of over 400 , I was 50% of this drama’s audience. That really was the road less travelled. It saddens me that no streaming sites picked up this drama, consigning it to the abyss of nonexistence for all those international viewers who will not download dramas to watch.

My fan’s lament out of the way, onto the celebration. And there is so much to celebrate. Of the 160 or so K dramas I’ve started, Yeah That’s How It Is is probably the very best I’ve ever seen. It did pretty much nothing wrong. Ironically, my aversion to watching dramas streamed is partly rooted in the inability to fast forward them, while this drama which I downloaded required almost no use of fast forward at all. The big ratings winner among weekend dramas during the period that Yeah That’s How It Is aired was Five Children, which had many, many fans on my timeline. Many of them also tweeted advice to skip certain storylines or fast forward through sections. This is standard practice among experienced viewers of K Dramas. We all know that in many cases, K Dramas are unwatchable without the a significant use of the fast forward function. Not so with Yeah That’s How It Is. There was one character whose loud ranting dialogue I did fast forward at times, when I was not in the mood for noise, but in the end those apparently unbalanced rants proved to be yet another example of the drama’s excellence.

Yeah That’s How It Is is a slice-of-life drama. I would say it is THE slice of life drama. There is absolutely no makjang. There were no cheating spouses or exes, no birth secrets, no amnesia. The only thing that happens in the 54 episodes of the drama is life. Ordinary, everyday, relatable life. All of the characters are believable as real people, even the one who seemed most like a cliched OTT bullying drama Mum. Im Ye Jin’s character was hysterical and screaming a lot, and when watching the drama in the wee small hours of the morning I would often fast forward her scenes simply because I couldn’t handle the noise. She seemed so OTT it was like she was off her meds. As it turned out, she literally was. Her character turned out not to be another one in the endless conveyor belt of shrieking harpy K Drama Mums, but rather someone with a diagnosed and treatable medical condition, whose behaviour changed when she resumed taking her medication. That’s life.

Every character in the drama was very well written, and easy to accept as a real person. There are two main age groups represented in the drama. Three brothers and their wives in their late 50s to early 60s, and a group of half a dozen cousins and friends in the thirtysomething bracket. With my own age being neatly between those two groups, I found both very relatable. I also loved the simple genuineness of the relationship between the grandparents. The ever-reliable Lee Soon Jae and Kang Boo Ja gave me an aspirational image of what I hope my own marriage will be like in another 30 years.

I know that not many people will read this. I also know that because of the “no download” rule, of the  few who do, even fewer will watch the drama. So I’m going to take some time to celebrate some of the standout individual performances from this exceptional ensemble. Not a recap, but a tribute to excellence, a public shout out to hard-working professionals who’ve had some of their very best work almost completely overlooked. It is the very least I can do to express my gratitude to the writers and cast. I will start with the character who was the most fun:

Continue reading “The Best I’ve Seen? 그래, 그런거야”

Number 1: Day 19

Drama That Started Your Bias

 

 

I NEED ROMANCE 3

I said in the introductory post to this series that “The ten I’ve chosen are going to be listed more or less in chronological order.” We’ve had the nine less, here’s the one more.

When it comes to my bias’s fandom, I’m the ultimate outlier. I am the wrong age, the wrong gender, in the wrong country and speak the wrong language. I am, in short, just plain wrong.  Despite all of that, I AM  a fan, and as such will gladly seize any chance to sing her praises.

This was a challenging category to answer  because my crush on my bias did not start from Dramas. I fell hard for Ms Wang Ji Won (yes, that is her NAME, Google Translate) by following her on her first Instagram account. Before being hounded out of SNS  her Instagram showed a young woman with an irrepressible sense of fun, who loved being silly, with a  killer pout that captured an old man’s fan heart “with a wink and a smile”.  Add in the cat she rescued from a freeway and doesn’t torment  for SNS fodder, and she had my vote before any Drama.

A big part of that SNS fun also revolved around the first of her Dramas that really did cement her as my bias. The cast of I Need Romance 3 spent a lot of time together in social settings, and continued to get together as often as possible long after the Drama had ended. Following her IG at the same time as watching the Drama was a double whammy of cute and pretty, with a  large side order of fun. It also foreshadowed “the start of a beautiful friendship” with the scene below being re-enacted endlessly on Twitter by two fans of the actors involved:

 


fight

If INR3 was the Drama that came closest to being the start of my bias, Fated To Love You was the one that sealed the deal. The Taiwanese original featured a bad actor playing an awful character, a ballerina. The Korean remake featured a better actor playing a less horrid character, and was played by a real ballerina. Ji Won’s story of building a new career after the injury that put her in a wheelchair for 6 months and ended her 17 year ballet dream was a big part of what made me such a fan, seeing her dance again, even fleetingly, in FTLY ,  completely shattered any chance of my escaping the thrall of my bias. When she first shared the clip below, of her practicing for the FTLY role,  she said it had been 5 years since she’d danced ballet. I can’t help thinking it may have  been a bittersweet moment for her
Many of the people I follow on Twitter get to tweet enthusiastically and  at length about the aesthetic appeal of their male biases. When one’s bias is both female, and a second lead, such opportunities are rare. A sign of how low profile my bias is can be seen in the way Google treats her name. Of seven actresses I know called Ji Won, she is the only  one whose name is not recognised as such, and a youtube clip entitled “Wang Ji Won ballet”, actually features a compilation of several Ji Wons, much to my annoyance, So the missing piece of the “cement my bias” puzzle was finally supplied by the web Drama Immortal Goddess. The whole Drama was built around Wang Ji Won, with the key plot point being “Wang Ji Won is really ridiculously good looking”.

 

She got to do things  she’s never done  onscreen before, including throw up, get piggybacked, and laugh.
 FINALLY, I got to have the pure fan service experience so many of my Twitter friends get so often, and it was, as the lady herself might say, “wangderful”. While looking forward to her first movie role, a lead in a con film One Line,  I’ll close with some of my favourite shots from Immortal Goddess,  ones that highlight the Wang Ji Won I will always support:

 

And now it’s done. Thanks again to Indigo/Helena for her truly excellent Drama Challenge and for the chance to challenge myself by writing ten positive pieces. Incredibly self-indulgent they were, and that may have been off-putting to some. As a gracious host AND hardcore Wang Ji Won fan, to any who have waded through my waffle and now feel worse for wear, I will let my beautiful ballerina bias convey my sincerest regrets:

Number 2: Day 28

Top Three Drama Sisterhoods

Otona Joshi
Three working women in the circa 40 age bracket, good friends for years, each with their quirks and foibles, strengths and weaknesses, joys and sorrows. At various times in the Drama I got annoyed with the lead (centre) and the one on the left in this screencap, but the working single Mum on the right was all kinds of cool, as attested to by the harshest critic possible, a teenage son. As he said  after she had proved the point yet again, she really was
It was the sisterhood that won me for this show. From my perspective, they seemed like real friends, with no Drama nastiness and a solid connection that survived the sorts of up and downs any friendship has. A feel good favourite in which the bond of the three women proved more of an appeal than the OTP for me.
It’s back to another Japanese favourite for sisterhood number two. The clip above nicely illustrates the relationship between these three. They were  part of a “marriage club” formed at the school they all taught at, and despite different ages, personalities and life stages, they became very close friends. The clip above shows the faux combativeness of their friendship. They claimed to be rivals, who would prey on each other if needed to get their man, but in fact they were very supportive and loyal. One more reason to give this excellent low key Drama a look!

OFFICE GIRLS

Office Girls is an interesting Drama. There’s A LOT wrong with it  – stupidly overlong, with a tiresome “comic” side character, a truly vicious second female lead, and far too much drawn out melo. The main reason it works is the quite astonishingly magical chemistry between the leads, Alice and Roy. The other consistently good point in its favour is the bond between Alice’s and Yao Yao’s characters, shown above. Roommates and workmates, they were a reliable source of positive vibes, even when the Drama was in its tedious low points. For helping make the long journey to the end worthwhile, they round out the top 3 for me.

Number 3: Day 25

Drama Character You’d Actually Want To Date

As a happily-married man, I used this entry to celebrate female characters who appeal for their authenticity, the sort of characters I might want to date were I single. The fact that there’s zero chance they would want to date me is happily irrelevant.The clear winner here is the remarkable woman above. And what makes her such an attractive person is the self-awareness summed up in that screencap. She was called Ms Temper by others and the mental images people had of her ranged from this:

To this:

but the reality is she was neither, and both. Ok Da Jung was a woman who knows herself, and that is very attractive. She owned her past mistakes and had learned from them. She refused to bullied and cowed, and it’s that lack of servility that earned her the Ms Temper tag from the chauvinist men she worked with, who all either struggled to, or were completely unable to come to terms with a competent, confident woman who was good at her job and who knew it. She confronted incompetence and the patriarchy head on, every time, usually at the same time:

I really enjoyed the progression of her character throughout the Drama. She was not a one-dimensional Superwoman. She had a fractious relationship with her mother, and having been divorced several times, she had a wariness of emotional closeness. Again, she knew and accepted these things about herself, and tried to change them when she saw a need.

In terms of the Drama Challenge category there was a similar progression. The “I’d like to date her” went from the perhaps predictable attraction felt by a (very) beta male for an alpha female to the attraction felt by an adult who saw another adult. That sense of grown up realism is exactly what I’d be looking for, and the end of the Drama was perfectly in tune with that reality. Too bad that I know for a fact I’d be at the back of a LONG line of people wanting to date this awesome woman!

Option B
Hayako Sensei
Not a runner up, since she’s also someone I’d be happy to date in this hypothetical alternate reality.  I tagged the image Hayako Sensei because being a teacher was at her core. Like Ok Da Jung, she was very good at her job, and knew it. She was thoroughly committed to her job too. The whole Drama was about her looking for someone she wanted to marry, but when she found one, both their respective jobs were put first, and the marriage was left as an assumed future event.
Again like Ok Da Jung, the 34 year old Hayako knew herself quite well, except when it came to love. Towering above everyone else in the Drama, “awkwardly gangly” would also be a good description of her personal interaction. Seeing her get advice from her married and pregnant little sister showed her uncertain hesitancy in understanding her own feelings. Staying at home all her life to help and support her parents and pouring herself into her work as an elementary school teacher had been her focus, leaving her uncertain and awkward in dealing with romantic love.
Another woman who knew who she was, in terms of her strengths and weaknesses,  Hayako had a sweet heart, and a disarming diffidence. Like the Drama she was in, she was a no-drama person. Her description of what constituted her ideal marriage gelled very nicely with mine, perfectly summed up here:
Two women with much in common and some significant differences. The hypothetical harabeoji would be happy to date either one.  Such a pity that one is far too alpha, and the other far too tall!

Number 4: Day 21

Favourite Ajeossi Romance

BEAUTIFUL GONG SHIM

“It takes one to know one” – that age old childhood taunt explains why I feel uniquely qualified to tackle this category of the Drama Challenge. I am an ajeossi, nicknamed 나쁜 아저씨 by one acquaintance, a badge I wear with amused pride.

If  I’d done the 30 Day Drama Challenge a year ago, I’d probably have picked My Spring Days as my favourite ajeossi romance.  But  a new Drama has come along to claim this coveted prize. It’s so good that I’m risking The Fates by awarding it while it’s still airing. So if it tanks in the last four and becomes so bad it looks like the bastard spawn of Dr Jin  and BoF, y’all will know who to blame. Sawwry!I put a 90 second clip at the start of this piece because it so perfectly captures why this Drama is a great ajeossi romance. The 15 year age gap simply doesn’t exist, all we see are 2 people having a GREAT time in each other’s company. The onscreen chemistry between 38 year old Namgoong Min and 23 year old Minah is simply superb, a surprise and a delight.The other thing that marks this Drama as different from other ajeossi Dramas I’ve seen (so far!) is that there’s no looming end to the OTP. In both Marriage Contract  and My Spring Days, the beautiful young girl had a terminal health condition, generating a melo air, and guaranteeing a downbeat ending of one sort or another. Here, the only one likely to die IS the old man, at his young girlfriend’s hands!


choke

As natural and unselfconscious as the chemistry is between the pair, the age gap is not hidden. One scene in particular had me in stitches precisely because I’m an ajeossi. It was built around the (at time of writing) current Korean SNS trend to append the  (ng) character to words for “cute” or “aegyo” effect. Barely two weeks before the scene below aired, I’d made a jokey comment on SNS playing with this trend, so it scored a direct hit on my funny bone. Mea culpa, mea maxima culpa! 
 
 

KAMSAHAMNIDANG

There are plenty of flaws in Beautiful Gong Shim, but it’s still a fun watch, lit up by the performances of the two leads, their great onscreen chemistry, and the rarity of a non-tragic ajeossi romance. It’s been a great display of comic acting, especially by Namgoong Min, long typecast as evil psychopath type characters. And Minah has been a wonderful surprise for me, one more young idol whose acting has been a delight to watch. I hope both of them get to show off their comedic skills in future Dramas, and  I really, really hope that it stays like this for the 4 episodes that haven’t aired as I write this. Stay beautiful, Gong Shim!

Number 5: Day 20

Favourite Non-Romance Drama

Those who follow my twittering know that I’m an out and proud brony, not ashamed  to bawl at sad scenes (e.g. K-FTLY)  and swoon over cute OTPs (too many to mention). So non-romance Dramas don’t figure prominently in my viewing list. Of those that did, the one that really snuck in past  the rainbow arch and marshmallow gates and made a permanent home in my heart was Punch.The Drama is the story of an estranged couple, and the ex-wife of one of them.  That line was too easy for me to omit, but for all its lazy jokiness, it does touch on one of the key features of the Drama. The relationship between  pragmatically corrupt prosecutor Park Jeong Hwan (Kim Rae Won) and his mentor Lee Tae Jun (Jo Jae Hyeon) might have seemed like that between Anakin and Palpatine, except that there was a very real, very deep mutual affection. One of the best bromances I’ve seen in a K Drama, very well-depicted and so strong that jealous  resentment of the bond was a driving force for another character.For me the show did so much right, in both plot and characterisation, that I have no real quibbles (aside from miraculous neurosurgery that left KRW’s hair unscathed), but I want to single out one truly remarkable element. PPL.

PPL is a necessary evil in K Drama production of course, and the source of much tired amusement from long-suffering fans. We all know that there is a subway on every corner in Korea, and apparently even in domestic kitchens  and military tents in one recent Drama. Generally the words “subtle” and “thoughtful” are not well-suited to describing PPL insertion in K Drama: “You must be hungry” “I am, you know what feel like?” “A sandwich”  That more or less verbatim dialog from a currently airing Drama I like helps explain why I’m in awe of the way the Punch team inserted PPL into the Drama. They made it fit, and made it integral to the storyline in a way that actually made sense!

What makes that all the more remarkable is that the PPL in question was  for a smartwatch/phone combo. Smartwatch PPL is generally really bad, cringingly awful shots of a character paying for something by waving their watch or laboriously crafting a message on a watch, when both actions would’ve been done in half the time by normal people using normal devices. In Punch the smartwatch and phone’s pairing was exploited sensibly, in a way that served the needs of the manufacturer to promote their product by actually showing how the pairing could be used productively in a situation where other methods would not work.

Of course, I didn’t watch the Drama for the PPL, but the fact that they were able to insert it so intelligently is an example of the skill and craft that went into the making of the Drama. From the dual “it’s complicated” relationships of the lead (with ex wife and ex boss), to the “no looking back” Smeagol-Gollum  conversion of the jilted wannabe lead second, this Drama did everything right. Including the way it kept characters true to themselves to the end. Jeong Hwan may have ended up more or less fighting on the side of the angels, but he never was one, And then of course there’s this – a remarkable scene in which dramatic tension came to a  surprisingly tiny conclusion:

The subset of  “people who will read this” who are also “people who haven’t seen Punch”  is likely to be very small, but I urge both of you – WATCH IT!
Silver Medalist
Achiara’s Secret, about which I’ve raved here and here.

Sangeet ke liye shukriya, Shamshad!

Other people much more qualified have written moving tributes to Shamshad Begum, who died today at 94. I have nothing to add to the praise rightly poured out, except to say that ever since I became interested in Hindi cinema, I have loved her songs, and felt that she was undervalued while alive. This is not a biographical paean, just an inadequate expression of my gratitude for all she gave us, and my sadness at her death.My introduction to the legends of Golden Age playback singers set me on a different path to many in terms of appreciation. I first heard Lata in films from the 90s, by which time her falsetto was a hideous, torturous screech, physically painful to listen to, made all the more so by being paired with actresses young enough to be her great-grandchildren.To this day, I’ve been unable to complete my plans to watch more Karishma Kapoor movies because my ears recoil in pain when Lata’s screeching fills the air. I have since heard and come to love many of Lata’s earlier songs, but in terms of a place in my affections, those 90s films as an introduction guaranteed that she would never take first place

Lata’s sister, on the other hand, I first heard from her heyday, and she remains my favourite female playback singer. After her comes Shamshad, whose distinctive voice makes it easy even for me, with all the musical perception of a dead fish, to jump up with excitement when watching a film and hearing a new song saying “Hey, that’s Shamshad!”. Here is the first song that I reacted to in that way:

I’ve subsequently been educated by several Hindi film buff friends  in the many grievous flaws of that film, but all I really remember is all the lovely Shamshad!

Being a fan of both Asha and Shamshad, watching Naya Daur was a real delight for me when reshami salwar started and I realised that my favourites were singing together. When I heard the sad news of her death, this song was the first one I turned to, to remember them both, in what was not their only “drag duet”.

 

A highlight of the film Tanu Weds Manu for me was when Kangna’s character dances to a song I had not previously heard. Now that I have  seen the original picturisation for kajra mohabbat wala I understand why it’s top of so many people’s lists of Shamshad songs, and I know that I need to see Kismat. My two favourites together again, once again blurring gender lines:

 

Since this is a celebration of Shamshad’s impact on my experience of Hindi cinema, and a look at why her death literally made me shed a tear when other “bigger” names have not, I will conclude this brief tribute with the song that started it for me. The very first time I ever heard Shamshad’s voice made an instant impression, in no small part because in the picturisation of this magnificent qawwali, she “won” the sing-off against the singer I still resented for hurting my ears. I can think of no better way to remember the unique treasure that was Shamshad than by letting her beat Lata one more time, in untainted monochrome – khudaa haafiz, begum:

 

Crivens! I’m Done!

Discworld

 

Writing Discworld has taken thirty years of Terry Pratchett’s life. Reading it has taken thirty months of mine. It’s the first time I’ve read thirty-nine novels by the same author, so it seems appropriate to take a look back at the series. In 2012 as part of my fiftyfiftyme challenge, I  wrote up almost every book I read, including eleven of the Discworld series. I read the last ten books of the series in the first five weeks of 2013, finishing with Snuff.

As a long-time fan of all things HHGTTG, I enjoyed the Adams-lite feel to the first few books in the Discworld series. Starting with The Colour of Magic, I was struck by the similarity in style to that of Douglas Adams. Rincewind and his psychopathic luggage are very entertaining characters, and the introduction of the witches in the hilarious Shakespeare-skewering Wyrd Sisters was a portent of better things to come.

DEATH

If the young Pratchett of the early books was to some extent still looking for his own voice, he found it when he started speaking in SMALL CAPS. Pratchett’s Death is one of my favourite literary characters, and his attempts to understand the psyche of humans, who gave him form,  are touching, thoughtful and very, very funny. His fondness for humans and his battles on their behalf with the Auditors of Reality make the Death series my favourite. Even in the most serious of the novels, Death’s cameos can be counted on to lighten the mood. Death’s granddaughter, Susan Sto Helit is another favourite character, and the TV adaptation of Hogfather imprinted its cast as the characters in my mind.

The City Watch

The biggest series arc within Discworld is the City Watch series. It is the vehicle Pratchett uses to most openly and loudly expound his own political and social views. It also features his two most interesting and complex characters, Sam Vimes, Commander of the Watch (and eventually Duke of Ankh-Morpork) and Havelock Vetinari, Patrician (tyrant) of Ankh-Morpork.

Vimes is a street kid made good, and Vetinari is a Machiavelli-type politician with a humorous edge, as in his name, a play on the Medicis. The interplay between Vimes and Vetinari, and their development of an edgy symbiosis, is the real strength of the City Watch series. The  common social message of the novels is the focus on equal rights and tolerance, represented by the Watch hiring officers from all the various species of the Discworld. The political targets of the series include nationalism and patriotism (in Jingo, one of my favourites) and the role of the police in a “free” state (Night Watch).

Kidstuff

As the City Watch books became  more overtly political and serious, Pratchett’s humour found more frequent expression in  books he wrote with younger readers in mind. The Amazing Maurice was a revelation, a thoroughly enjoyable read that at times scared me, even though I’m outside the target audience by three decades or so. The most truly horrific and frightening thing about the book was the afterword that revealed the hideous truth behind the story’s central “villain”. That made me squirm with shame and revulsion.  The Tiffany Aching series that starts with The Wee Free Men is not just an excellently constructed look at growing up, and what it means for a young person to have to assume adult responsibilities prematurely, it’s also very funny. The  Nac Mac Feegle are hilarious, and it was great to once again laugh out loud a lot, something which the later Watch novels provide less opportunity for doing.

My Personal Favourite

After thirty-nine books that amused, entertained and educated me, my favourite remains the one that directly challenged Faith. A thought-provoking and often  funny look at religion and belief, and the way the former can suck the life out of the latter. “Around the Godde there forms a Shelle of prayers and Ceremonies and Buildings and Priestes and Authority, until at Last the Godde Dies. Ande this maye notte be noticed.” Religion and belief have been responsible for horrible atrocities on this world and on Discworld, but throughout the series, Pratchett celebrates belief, and especially the power of belief, even when mocking or teasing it. It’s a theme he comes back to again and again, the idea that “Humans need fantasy to *be* human” and that “You need to believe in things that aren’t true. How else can they become? ” He lauds belief as a wonder of the human imagination, the same miracle factory that produced boredom: “Human beings make life so interesting. Do you know, that in a universe so full of wonders, they have managed to invent boredom.”

The one thing I haven’t touched on is how wonderfully well-written most of the books are. Pratchett writes deft literary zingers with real skill, and draws from all sorts of inspirations. In I Shall Wear Midnight,  I laughed out loud when I realised that he’d paid homage to P.G. Wodehouse with the main antagonist’s back story. His humorous explanations of everything from folklore to physics are clearly the product of careful research and the way he often sneaks them in shows that he loves learning and trying to infuse the same delight in others. The novels featuring The Sweeper are great examples of this, but almost every Discworld story puts a broad range of human knowledge to work entertaining its readers. I know that I’ve laughed out loud at things that many  others would not find funny, and I am certain that I totally missed laugh lines that others would have found hilarious.

Hilariously funny, bitterly angry, poignantly scary, eruditely entertaining, and thought-provoking – Discworld is all these things and more, with lashings of puns and other clever wordplay on the side. From a raven called Quoth who warns people not to say the “N” word, to the multiverse’s most interesting Librarian, the Discworld is filled with characters that will make you think while they make you laugh.  If just one person reads this and decides to look past the “fantasy” genre label and visit Discworld, then I shall have given Sir Terry at least a grain of the thanks I owe him. Ook!