Several people from Bagni di Lucca are surprised to know that we like to stay in Longoio during the winter rather than going to live in a town or city. Actually, the cold season is here much more acceptable than in Bagni di Lucca. At a height of almost two thousand feet we are located well up the valle di Lima and, therefore, get more sunshine. Also, damp is not so much a problem here as it certainly is in Bagni. We, on the other hand, wonder how people can survive by a river in the bottom of a valley at Bagni di Lucca. It’s quite often that the clouds are below us and we have to descend through mist and fog to reach the spa town’s poor inhabitants who are living in a temperature often five to ten degrees colder than where we are.
Winter is a good time to do bracing walks in the hills, enjoy cosy evenings by the fireside and, naturally, read a lot of books and watch videos. We spent February in Tamilnadu as winter, no matter how much better it is here than in Bagni di Lucca, is a good time to get away to some seductive tropical clime. (I hope you enjoyed our account and photos of the wonderful places we visited. Now that we’re back in Italy there will be plenty more pictures to sort out).
We miss India and winter is a good time to watch films about that fascinating sub-continent and to read books and, maybe, plan a future visit there. India’s film industry is now the biggest in the world as any aficionado of Bollywood will know. I suggest there are three main categories of feature film involving India. The first is Bollywood itself with its lively mix of action, love and dance. The second is the art film of which the greatest exponent is Satyajit Ray, especially his classic ‘Apu trilogy’ describing the growing up of a boy in Bengal.
The third are films aimed particularly at a western audience and involving both Indian and western directors. David Lean’s ‘A Passage to India’, based on the Forster novel and dating from 1984, is a prime example of this genre. More recently, John Madden’s hilarious ‘The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel’ of 2011 and its 2015 sequel, ‘The Second best Exotic Marigold Hotel’ in which a group of pensioners from the UK travel to India to take up residence in what they believe is a newly built luxury hotel, has entertained a world audience and also given sharp insights into a fast-changing country.
On a more serious note, Danny Boyle’s ‘Slumdog Millionaire’ of 2008 related the trials and tribulations of 18-year-old Jamal Malik, an Indian Muslim from the Jehu slum, when he enters a TV quiz show. Here, again the situation gives an excellent chance to describe the incisive multifariousness of fast-changing Indian culture today.
Looking at films first aired on TV there are more adventurous Indian web mini –series which stand apart from the usual conventions of Bollywood with their bolder outlook on life. Such are ‘Roommates’ and ‘I don’t watch TV’. Regarding miniseries in general I have my three favourite ones which tempt me back to the DVD’s I have of them.
Th first is ‘Queenie’ from 1987, relating the life of actress Merle Oberon and based on the book of that title by Michael Korda, the son of Merle’s main film director and husband, Alexander. The mini-series is particularly noteworthy in showing how chee-chees ,or Anglo-Indians ,were looked down on by both the British (who described them as ‘blacks’ and made fun of their sing-son accent and their pretensions in dressing up in European clothes and the Indians who saw them as boot-lickers of the Raj and not to be trusted in any independence struggle. In real life Merle Oberon pretended she was born in Tasmania and only at the end of her illustrious film star life (where among other films she played Catherine alongside Laurence Olivier’s Heathcliff in ‘Wuthering Heights’) did she confess to having been born in a Mumbai slum. Fortunately, the whole perception of Anglo-Indians has completely changed today. After all, who would think that such singers as Cliff Richard and Englebert Humperdinck and actors such as Diana Quick and athlete and politician Sebastian Coe would once have been looked down as being chee-chees?
The second is probably the finest miniseries ever made for TV: ‘The Jewel in the Crown’, based on Paul Scott’s ‘Raj Quartet’. With a star-studded cast including Art Malik, Geraldine James, Saeed Jaffrey, Peggy Ashcroft, Charles Dance, Tim Pigott-Smith, Eric Porter and Susan Wooldridge, and the most immaculate attention to detail in scenarios and costumes, this offers the finest insight into a gone but not forgotten India at the end of the Raj. ‘The Jewel in the Crown’ is compulsory viewing for me at least once every two years and certainly warms up my Longoio winters.
The third TV mini-series I love coming back to is ‘The Peacock Spring’ based on Rumer Godden’s book of the same title and dating from 1996. This time we are in the post-independence India of 1959 when a widowed United Nations official stationed in Delhi, India brings his two daughters, Una and Hal(cyon),from England to live with him. In fact, the two are a ploy to justify his liaison with Alix, a chee-chee who becomes their governess. Tensions arise and Una, in turn, has a love affair with an Indian…. but let me not be a spoiler here. Again, the acting and scenarios are perfect and a very young Hattie Morahan and Naveen Andrews are bewitching.
The three mini-series have the advantage for me in that I feel they are more effective on film than in book form.
Michael Korda’s book is, in my opinion, repetitive and without style. The film based on it certainly tightens the plot and makes it much more credible. Paul Scott may be a fine writer but clarity, both in plot and flair, are not his forte. Rumer Godden fairs much better and, certainly, her book deserves to be read, although it was primarily addressed to teenage girls (and their mums?)
I’m told by some the two seasons of ‘India Summers’ are worth a look too.
I am so glad that I have these miniseries on my shelf and re-watching them can while away the long Longoio winter evenings. In their separate ways they bring back the fascination of India – its wonders and its miseries, its highs and lows – they certainly make me think of a return visit to the sub-continent in the not too distant future!