Search this Blog

Friday, November 26, 2010

Sense and Sensibility the Tamil Way


I enjoyed seeing Aisha – the Hindi version of Jane Austen’s Emma – recently, so I decided to get hold of the Tamil version of Sense and Sensibility, too. The film from 2000 is called Kandukondain Kandukondain (translating “I Have Found it”) and is a typical South Indian film with its colourful song and dance sequences and plentiful tears and drama.

The film features some of the biggest actors and actresses from Tamil cinema, such as Ajith, Aishwarya Rai and Tabu, as well as a score by A. R. Rahman who recently received an Oscar for his score for Slumdog Millionaire.

The film begins with an action scene, showing an Indian army commando fighting Tamil rebels in the jungle. We then move onto the beautiful setting of South Indian countryside, with scenic images of swaying palm trees and lush paddy fields and characters dressed in brightly coloured sarees.


You soon begin to see similarities to Sense and Sensibility. The film is about two very different sisters: Sowmya (Elinor - right)  – the quiet and sensible big sister, Meenakshi (Marianne - left) – the romantic, passionate younger sister. They live with their mother, little sister and grandfather in a grand family house.


                                                                                                      Sowmya (Tabu)

Sowmya is the village school principal, whereas Meenakshi, full of energy, dreams of becoming a singer and is shown to spend her days running on fields, singing and reading classical poetry.


                                                                                        Meenakshi (Aishwarya Rai)

As their grandfather is about to die, the girls face the dilemma of marriage. Both sisters have differing views on marriage; Sowmya is determined not to marry a man of her own choice, whereas Meenakshi wants to marry for love. They both know that the wisest thing would be to marry a wealthy doctor or engineer to ensure a comfortable future for all of them.


                                                                                       Sowmya and Manohar (Ajith).

Manohar (Edward), an aspiring film director, has decided not to continue his father’s business against the parents’ wishes. He comes to shoot a film at the family home, and falls in love with Sowmya. However, he can’t get married until he becomes more successful in his career. In the meanwhile, Major Bala (Colonel Brandon), a wounded ex-officer (shown fighting as a commando at the beginning) who now runs an attractive florist business, falls in love with Meenakshi.

Meenakshi is not interested in this older man and falls desperately in love with a well-known businessman, Srikanth (Willoughby). The scene is a direct copy from S & S; Meenakshi is out in the rain, slips off a stone and falls, Srikanth miracuously appears from nowhere and rescues her – the next day they are seen romancing over poetry.

image                                                  Srikanth (Abbas) rescues Meenakshi in the rain.


                                                                                                       Love over poetry.

Following the original story, the grandfather dies, and the ladies are ousted from their family home. While everyone else despairs, the sensible Sowmya suggests that they move to Chennai – the capital city – and find work. Both the girls succeed in their careers – Sowmya at a software company and Meenakshi as a singer – and make enough money to buy a flat for the family.

In the meanwhile, Srikanth goes bankrupt and marries a rich girl for money. Meenakshi hopes to meet Srikanth in Chennai, but he never answers her calls. When she finds out that he has got married, she runs out in the rain and (instead of falling ill) falls in a drain and gets hurt. It is Major Bala that rescues her and this heroic act makes Meenakshi fall in love with this older man.


                                                                                 Meenakshi walking in the rain.


                                                            Major Bala comforting Meenakshi at the hospital.

Sowmya, on the other hand, reads in a tabloid that Manohar has been romancing an actress from his movie. When he comes to see her, she refuses to see him. Manohar convinces her that he has done nothing wrong, proposes to her, and is accepted. The film ends in an Austenesque double wedding and everyone is happy.


                                   Manohar proposes to Sowmya who is watching him from the balcony.

Once again, I have to reiterate how well Jane Austen’s stories adapt to Indian culture, India being a traditional, class-conscious society with strong family values. Jane Austen’s characters are so much at home in a traditional and modern Indian setting. Thanks to Jane Austen’s wonderful characterisations, it is no wonder that Kandukondain Kandukondain became one of the biggest hits in the history of Tamil cinema.

So if you don’t fall asleep while watching a film extending to three hours in length, don’t feel too sorry for the gorgeous sisters ending up with revolting looking men with various amounts of facial hair, and don’t mind the endless song-and-dance sequences, I recommend this experience to any fan of Sense and Sensibility.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

My Regency Ball Gown

When I was 17 years old, we had a prom at school. For the ball, we rehearsed traditional ballroom dances for months before the event.  It was a custom to dress in a period dress for the ball, and the style of dress was an obvious choice for me. It was to be a Regency-style dress: a long gown with a high waistline.

My mum designed and stitched the dress for me overnight, and I loved it! She still has the dress in her wardrobe, so I asked her to send a picture of the dress.

Here are some photos of the gown, with mum’s beautiful friend as a model:


The fabric is a heavy silk (unlike the light muslins of the period) with lace trimmings on the puffy sleeves and neckline.



At the back, there are four buttons for dressing and undressing.


The dress flows beautifully and is a delight to dance with. 


I wonder if the dress still fits me… I hope to wear it to the Jane Austen festival in Bath one day. :)

Now where can I find a bonnet to match?

Sunday, November 14, 2010

‘Twas about time…

…to laminate the covers my paperback copy of The Complete Novels of Jane Austen. It was starting to become tattered due to over-usage. Now I can safely continue browsing through my favourite novels!

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Jane Austen and The Oxford Connection

During my trip to the UK, I stayed with my brother in Oxford. Through family connections, Oxford was also a place familiar to Jane Austen in many ways.

Jane Austen’s father and two of her brothers, James and Henry, studied at Oxford. Her father, and later James, became Fellows of St John’s College.

Jane’s maternal grandfather, Thomas Leigh, was a Fellow at All Souls College (below).

Thomas Leigh’s brother, Theophilus, was President of Balliol College (below) in the early 18th Century.

                                                           From the Balliol College website:

In the spring of 1783, when Jane was just seven and Cassandra was ten, the sisters were sent to a boarding institution in Oxford. Being so young, Jane was probably sent there as a companion to Cassandra. At the time, Theophilus Leigh was President at Balliol and James was resident at St John’s, and could chaperone the girls.  The sisters were tutored in Oxford by a Mrs Ann Cawley, who was the widow of the former Principal of Brasenose College. Mrs Cawley was in the family – her brother, Dr Cooper, was married to Jane’s Aunt. Jane Cooper, Jane’s cousin, accompanied the sisters to Oxford.  


Oxford appears to have been a gloomy place for young Jane to stay in. Mrs Cawley is said to have been “stiff and solemn” in her approach, imposing petty rules and regulations on the girls. James took the girls sightseeing through “dismal chapels, dusty libraries, and greasy halls than Jane at least could bare to remember” . Later, Jane described the experience, saying “it gave me the vapours for 2 days afterwards”. Luckily the girls were soon moved to another boarding school, which is another story altogether…

Oxford certainly influenced Jane in many ways, indirectly if not directly. With limited formal education, Jane learnt literature from her father and poetry from James, both Oxford scholars. As suggested by Issawi, her vivid style of writing may have been influenced by The Loiterer, the weekly periodical edited by James and Henry between 1789-90, while they were at Oxford.


What is interesting is that many of Jane’s prominent male characters,  all clergymen, went to Oxford: Edmund Bertram, Henry Tilney, James Morland and Edward Ferrars. These are all respectable characters with strong moral values.

In Sense and Sensibility (Chapter 19), Edward describes his unfashionable choice of profession, saying “I was… entered at Oxford and have been properly idle ever since."

In Mansfield Park (Chapter 28), “Fanny proceeded in her journey safely and cheerfully, and as expeditiosly as could rationally be hoped in the dirty month of February. They entered Oxford, but she could take only a hasty glimpse of Edmund's college as they passed along”. Fanny, of course, admired Edmund for his choice of profession and was excited to see where he studied to become a clergyman.


Oxford must have left an impression on Jane, as in 1816, Jane wrote to her nephew Edward, persuading him to go to Oxford. “You must go to Oxford…a little change of scene may be good for you”, she wrote.

I can only conclude that you must go to Oxford, if you wish to know Jane Austen better!

Austen-Leigh, J. E. (2002). A Memoir of Jane Austen and Other Family Recollections. Oxford World Classics.
De La Faye/Austen-Leigh, W. (2004) Jane Austen - A Family record. CUP. 
Issawi, C. (1983). Jane Austen, Oxford and Cambridge: Pride and Prejudice. Persuasions. Jane Austen Society of North America.

Monday, November 1, 2010

The First Biography of Jane Austen

I’ve finally got my hands on the most authentic piece of work on Jane Austen’s life – the memoir written by her nephew, James Edward Austen-Leigh, who knew Jane Austen when he was still young. No longer do I have to rely on an e-book!

Interestingly, this edition has been edited by Kathryn Sutherland of the disputed Austen manuscripts fame. 


                   James Edward Austen-Leigh

In 1870, over 50 years after Jane Austen’s death, Austen-Leigh asked for letters, opinions and reflections from his sisters, brothers and cousins - all those who knew Jane - and wrote this memoir with what little information he had. The memoir also features Jane’s brother, Henry Austen’s brief Memoir from 1833, Jane’s niece, Anna Lefroy’s Recollections and Caroline Austen’s Memoir, as well as letters from Jane’s nieces.


               Henry Austen

Although the Memoir is the most authentic piece of work ever written on Jane Austen’s life, we have to bear in mind that it has been written with Victorian sensibilities in mind. Some interesting details of her life were shunned to maintain the reputation of the family, such as the existence of Jane’s handicapped brother, George, and other family histories of negative connotation, such as the arrest of Jane’s aunt, Mrs Leigh-Perrot. 

AnnaLefroy2 CarolineAusten

                               Anna Lefroy                                                                         Caroline Austen

The interesting letters included in the contemporary edition truly shed light to the work behind this memoir and to what was omitted and what was included in the final edition, e.g:

  • Caroline Austen asks Austen-Leigh not to mention the name of  Harris Bigg-Wither (who proposed to Jane and was later turned down), as his family were, at the time, still living in the neighbourhood. 
  • Caroline also asks Austen-Leigh not to “rake up” the “old story” about the “Chief Justice” (her youthful romance with Tom Lefroy).
  • Caroline says to Austen-Leigh that he has been “merciful”  in omitting the most ridiculous parts of Mr Clarke’s (The Prince Regent’s librarian) letter, where he made suggestions to Jane on what she should write about in her novels (Jane subtly ignored his suggestions).

It was fascinating to read all the different accounts – while reading the memoirs and letters, you almost feel like these people are still alive and sharing all these beautiful memories of their aunt…  I highly recommend this book to anyone who wishes to become well acquainted with Jane Austen!