Here’s a nifty way to plan a fun get together with your women friends and re-live the pajama parties from your youth. I heard about this kind of party from a young woman I recently met. Every other month, she and her friends gather for an all day /overnight event. They cook up scrumptious dishes, drink great wine, gossip and watch films. A spin on this is to create your own DVD women’s film festival. The film line-up could be Best Actress Oscar winning performances, or an all female comedy night or a collection of films either written or directed by women. Plan the meals around the films. So, while serving up fantastic Italian dishes you could check out the wonderful divas of Italian cinema. I am planning my first PJ party/DVD women’s festival around my favorite Indian women film makers. For food, I’ll be whipping up a curried chicken salad. Ina Garten has a tasty recipe: Google – Ina Garten’s curried chicken salad. The films on my menu are: Mira Nair’s MONSOON WEDDING; Gurinder Chadha’s BRIDE AND PREJUDICE; and, Deepa Mehta’s WATER. These films will not disappoint and even a second viewing is a treat. I tell you a little about them since you may want to check them out.

MONSOON WEDDING is exquisitely shot and tells the story of an arranged marriage taking place in a well to do Delhi family. On the Mira Nair’s website, Mira Bai Films , the film is described as “….a love song to both old and new Delhi. It is also an exploration and celebration of Punjabi culture. Five interweaving stories are told in the four days and nights leading up to an elaborate upper-class wedding. Each story navigates different aspects of love, crossing boundaries of class, continent and morality.”

BRIDE AND PREJUDICE is a Bollywood take on the Jane Austin classic. There is much singing and dancing and the spirit of the film is positively exuberant. The color palate of the film is dazzling. Fans of the TV show “Lost” may be surprised to see Naveen Andrews cast as Mr. Darcy’s good friend, Mr. Bingley. In an interview in About.com, Naveen said he had to train 9 hours a day for about 40 weeks (surely an exaggeration) to learn the dance numbers which he described as, “…traditional Indian dance coupled with M.C. Hammer from the early ‘90s.” The singer Ashanti makes a cameo appearance and sings a song that has no connection to the plot. According to Gurinder Chadha, it is a traditional in Bollywood films for a celebrity to make such a cameo appearance and sing a song unrelated to the storyline.

WATER takes place in 1938 and it tells the story of 2 women who are living in a widows’ house. At that time, if a woman’s husband died she had 3 choices: to marry her husband’s younger brother, if his family permits; to kill herself on his funeral pyre; or, to live a life of celibacy, discipline, and solitude in a house with other widows. The movie follows the lives of two women. Chuyia, had been married to a much older man. When he dies, her family places her in a widows’ house where, despite being a pre-teen, she is expected to live out her days. As the film progresses, it is heartbreaking to watch Chuyia slowly realize that her mother is not coming to take her home. Kalyani, another widow, meets a handsome young man, who is a progressive thinker. He believes in a new law which, while unpopular, does allow widows to re-marry. But crossing the river to meet his family, Kalyani realizes that events in her past, tying her to her beloved’s father, may prevent her from marrying. This film, like the other two, is beautifully shot and the performances are outstanding.

By the way, here are some additional films directed by these very talented women. Other notable films by Mira Nair: VANITY FAIR, THE NAMESAKE, and SALAAM BOMBAY. Other notable films by Deepa Mehta: FIRE and 1947: EARTH – the other 2 films that make up a trilogy. Another notable film by Gurinder Chadha: BEND IT LIKE BECKHAM.

So, those are my party plans. I’ll happily take suggestions for future women’s DVD film festivals.

Jan Bina, blogger for In the Trenches Productions
First Entertainment Website for Women Over 40


“Caramel”- A Comedy from Beirut

    “Caramel”, now in limited release, is a light comedy about the love lives of 5 women filtered through the activities in a Beirut beauty salon.  A female ensemble comedy set in strife-filled, war-torn Lebanon sounds like an oxymoron, right?  But this is really an entertaining film that’s worth seeking out.  It is the feature directing debut of Nadine Labaki, a veteran director of commercials and music videos.  In addition, she co-wrote the script and plays Layale, the beautiful owner of the salon.   This film has received one of the widest U.S. theatrical releases of an Arab film in years.   Go to the website for specific release dates: http://www.newamericanvision.com/Caramel.html

This film finished shooting weeks before the beginning of the Israel-Lebanon war in July of 2006.  Add that tension into the normal stress of completing a film!  Not that this film is about war, because it isn’t.  It is about the romantic intrigues of 5 women.  Only through glimpses of the crumbled infrastructure do we see the toll war has taken.  But these references become comedic devices, like the salon’s hand- cranked generator that’s fired up every time the electricity goes out.  This is because the director has great affection for her city and has dedicated the film “to my Beirut”.   Here Christian neighborhoods co-exist next to Muslim neighborhoods with their separate religious rituals and traditions.  This religious tolerance is reflected in the women’s friendships; some are Muslim, others are Christian, even Catholic.  One of the most incongruous sights was a priest-led parade of a large Blessed Mother statue winding its way through the streets of  Beirut right into the beauty salon for the shop’s annual blessing.

I found this film fascinating because we don’t often see the everyday lives of Arab women portrayed in film. What struck me were not the differences but the similarities in their lives and the lives of western women.  We think of Arab women as leading restricted lives, and mostly hidden behind yards of fabric.  The women in this film seemed independent, dressed in bright, stylish clothes and had strong, dynamic personalities, at times verging on campy, and somewhat reminiscent of the colorful women in Pedro Almodovar’s films.

The film is episodic, following 5 different story lines.  While the situations aren’t particularly original, setting them in Beirut gives the film its unique flavor.  Layale, the shop owner, is having an affair with a married man.  Because she is an unmarried Arab woman, she lives at home with her parents and shares a bedroom with her younger brother.  There is a lesbian character unable to live openly as a gay woman, who finds sensual pleasure shampooing the magnificent mane of an exquisitely beautiful customer.   One of the women is Muslim and about to be married.  Desperate to cover her past, she has minor surgery to restore the appearance of virginity for her wedding night. This type of surgery is not exclusive to Arab countries.  Not long ago, the Los Angeles Times ran a story about L.A. women going in for this very same procedure– promoted as a way to add a little spice to that special night.  No matter what culture, women can’t seem to escape the pressure to physically alter their bodies to please their men.

There is also the story of Auntie Rose an older woman working as a tailor while tending to her demented older sister; this sister thwarts Rose’s attempt to have a liaison.  Finally, there is a storyline of an older actress trying to appear younger and stay in the game.   As an actor who’s been on countless commercial auditions, I was laughing and wincing at the character’s clumsy attempts to appear youthful and radiant as she auditioned for a cosmetic commercial.

This film taps into what we all feel in searching for love – bliss, excitement, heartbreak, longing, frustration and jealousy.  Nadine Labaki has extracted fine performances from her cast and, with one exception, they are nonprofessionals.  So, kudos to this fine young director for discovering these “real” women and creating a wonderful ensemble piece that allows each of them to shine.  By the way the title refers to a depilatory method of sugar waxing with caramel.   You could see this as a metaphor for the things women do to look sweet for their men.  But it’s also an apt title for a film that is a bitter-sweet story about the strength of women’s friendships.
Jan Bina, blogger/In the Trenches Productions


Just saw Mandy Crest’s great Our Time Is Now blog, and it only reinforces the other reinforcement I came across…and one can never have too many reinforcements, as we all know.
Yesterday I read an article by Thea Singer in the Feb. edition of MORE magazine, and Singer has left me singing!
This article, “Power Surge”, reports on several studies that have followed women over many years (one for 5 decades) assessing various traits, including confidence, and guess what? Women in their 20s and 30s felt weak, incompetent and very unsure of themselves (no surprise to me, having been there). But in their 40’s these same women experienced an increase in confidence, felt that they had come into their own (as Mandy says), and that they could follow their own convictions no matter what others thought. Their sense of competency in their work and personal lives actually soared.
But how does the media portray most of us over 40? Dried-up and drifting from senior moment to senior moment. And I have to admit the media’s views of mid-life and older have always been tugging at my coattails, even though I knew that when I hit my 40s I was beginning to feel pretty good about myself. And then when I hit my 50s I even felt sort of complete…like I had come to know exactly who I was. BUT – as the 60s approached that nagging feeling that the media was right and it was all a mirage and I was really about to sink into the pool of senility grew ever stronger. Until – I read this article and all the info these studies had come up with. It, and then the follow up when I read Mandy’s blog, helped me realize what I had actually known all along – I have gotton better and better and better with age, and plan on continuing on this course.
So thank you, Ms. Singer, and Ms. Crest as well. And it couldn’t have happened at a better time, as I turn 66 this week. A better birthday prezzie I could not have hoped for!
Judith 66-and-lovin’-it Drake, Blogger for Women Over 40 Rock / In the Trenches Productions

Published in: on February 19, 2008 at 3:25 pm  Comments (4)  
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