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‘My Cultural Life’ – Elise Chowdhury

‘My Cultural Life’ – Elise Chowdhury

Mr Mark Zacharias, Head of English at Stamford High School, has started our latest lockdown project  – ‘My Cultural Life’. Inspired by the Times newspaper, amongst others: the Schools present interviews from individuals across our Stamford community, considering their cultural interests, loves and shortcomings.

We hope that these interviews help you to find inspiration during the unusual circumstances we find ourselves in, and that you enjoy learning a little more about us here at Stamford!

View all of our entries here.

 

Elise Chowdhury, an Old Stamfordian of the Schools, presents our latest entry.

The box set I’m hooked on…

Killing Eve. A rather unoriginal answer, I know, but I think it says a lot for the show that it just seems to have such widespread appeal. As someone who studies screenplays, I think it’s incredibly rare to create something that is driven by characters rather than storyline, but the depth each character has is astonishing. Plus, I love that it is powered by female screenwriters which is a very exciting step forward.

My favourite play…

This is one I don’t think I have a definitive answer to because there are so many that I love. At the moment I’ve been really getting into a few of Caryl Churchill’s plays which are like nothing I’ve ever read before. They’re definitely an acquired taste as they’re extremely abstract pieces but if you like the idea of new and creative styles of playwriting then they’re great – no two plays of hers are the same. I think my favourites are ‘Top Girls’ and the ‘Blue Heart’ plays. In terms of watching a play live though, anything Shakespeare is always be a hit with me. It amazes me what different companies can do with plays that have been performed thousands of times, to still make them unique and fresh – although that’s definitely not to say all adaptations work!

My favourite book…

Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë – a timeless classic. It’s both beautiful and dark, as well as being the novel that first introduced me to the Gothic genre which I now love so much, I have chosen to study it further in my degree. I can’t help but be infatuated myself by Brontë’s ability to make people swoon over a romance which, when you get to the core of it, is ultimately fuelled by toxicity and revulsion. Yet we love it. It makes me fascinated to observe the human capacity to romanticise things that are so clearly warped, and I think we are all guilty of it to some degree. It is a novel that will always be relevant, in my view, because of this rather alarming demonstration of human nature. It’s a novel I could ramble on about for hours.

The book I’m reading…

Alongside some others I have on the go, I’ve taken lockdown as a chance to revisit a book I read back when I was about eleven, which was Private Peaceful by Michael Morpurgo; it was a story that really stuck out for me as a child. Perhaps not the coolest thing for someone my age to declare but I just like to collect books that I’ve found powerful and keep them as dust collectors on my shelf! Of course, I couldn’t resist re-reading it as well since it has been so long since I last picked it up.

The book that saved me…

I don’t think I could be as dramatic as to say that a book has really saved me but in terms of my A Level English dystopian paper, reading The Power by Naomi Alderman in an attempt to try and get into a genre that I didn’t really enjoy, was the best decision I made. Not only is it a hugely thought-provoking book for anyone interested in feminism and the concept of gender roles but it also gave me a ridiculous amount to write about in my essay! So in that sense I suppose you could say it saved me. Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro is also one that had my back in this essay, another great book.

The book I couldn’t finish…

Definitely not one my professors or any literary scholar would like to hear but one I know a few can relate to: Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe. I picked it up, read exactly thirty pages, and put it back down again. I don’t think I’ll be trying again any time soon either. The first English novel written and regrettably the last I’ll choose to read…

The book I’m ashamed I haven’t read…

There are too many, more than I care to mention. To name a few: To Kill a Mockingbird, Jane Eyre, The Scarlet Letter… The list goes on.

My favourite film…

Cultural in the sense that it’s a very ‘British’ film but in general probably not the most enriching of films! Regardless, I’m not embarrassed –  Four Weddings and a Funeral is still a firm favourite.

My favourite TV series…

Again, there are quite a few contenders as I like a bit of everything and my favourite depends purely on what I feel like at the time. Sitcom wise, it has to be How I Met Your Mother or Gavin and Stacey. But if I’m thinking of the kind of series I really get hooked on, it’s things like Killing Eve, Normal People, Money Heist, Peaky Blinders… In general, I’ll watch anything that’s well written – I’m not very genre specific.

My favourite piece of music…

Gloria by Vivaldi. The SES choirs came together to perform this on the tour to Barcelona and it sounded truly amazing; the sound we produced in the old chapels and cathedral gave me goose bumps like I’ve never experienced before. It was just the most surreal experience and is still one of my favourite memories. I also like the chaos of the violins in Vivaldi’s Storm, so this is up there with one of my favourites as well but isn’t nearly as sentimental.

The last TV programme that made me cry…

Normal People. Several times. What I love about this series is the way the experiences of young people are presented, and as a young person watching it you find yourself connecting with it on a whole other level because of the truth and rawness of it. Nothing is dressed up for show and I think every person who either has been through that part of their life or is still going through it, can relate to some parts of the story. There is at least one moment where you think to yourself that you experienced this or something very similar. There are so many films and TV shows out there that are great but are completely out of reach because they’re dramatized versions of real life, whereas, for me, this was that part of growing up in its truest form. I only wish I’d read the book before I watched it as, of course, it’s meant to be even better.

The lyric I wish I’d written…

‘You had the grace to hold yourself, while those around you crawled.’ Written by the great Bernie Taupin, the words behind Elton John, taken from Candle in the Wind. I think Elton John’s music is full of stunning lyrics but this one always sticks out to me because I like what it says about how we should carry ourselves in life, no matter how hard it may be and no matter how others around you are doing so. This song is famously renowned for its powerful yet tragic lyrics but the English student in me thinks there’s also a lot to be recognised in it about the way the world is and how we respond to it, so if I could have written this entire song I would have!

My guiltiest cultural pleasure…

I will hold my hands up and say I’m partial to a whodunit, I just love a classic, cleverly-written murder mystery that all ties up nicely at the end and leaves me feeling satisfied. And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie, or in fact a number of her books, are right up my street. In my opinion they are cleverly written but I know this is possibly an unpopular opinion.

The instrument I wish I’d learnt…

The piano. I will always be jealous of you if you can play the piano well. I tried to teach myself a couple of times but just couldn’t get the hang of it. I tell myself it’s because I have small hands but I think I’m just lacking in skill.

The music that cheers me up…

Fleetwood Mac, particularly their ‘Rumours’ album. There’s something about how mellow their music is, combined with the memories it brings back of my Dad introducing me to that album on long car journeys when I was younger, that never fails to put me in a good place.

The place I feel happiest…

It’s a cliché but honestly anywhere where I’m having a good time with my friends and family is somewhere I’d always like to be. Also when I’m free writing, whether it be for a blog post or travel journal, it always makes me feel relaxed.

The film/play I walked out of…

I can’t say I’ve ever actually walked out of a cinema or theatre because the principle of having just bought a painfully expensive ticket won’t permit me to do it. However, there have been several films I’ve started at home and had to switch off; one that rings a bell is Back to the Future, as unfortunately that was something I just couldn’t get into let alone stick around for the sequels.

I’m having a fantasy dinner party. I’ll invite these artists and authors…

I’d definitely have to have Sir Ian McKellen and Dame Judi Dench because they’re artists in my eyes and with both their incredible performances in countless Shakespeare productions and they’re general passion for Shakespeare would make them dream guests – if I could bring myself to summon up some words to say to them. Not quite an author as such but screenwriter Phoebe Waller-Bridge would also be someone I’d kill to have sat at my dining room table. Not only is she brilliantly witty but also probably the most talented screenwriter of her generation, and a female! So I would definitely have many screenwriting related questions to ask her amongst a great many other things.

Underrated…

The difficulty of screenwriting. I never thought much of it myself until I started doing it as part of my degree and now I have enormous respect for it. Not only the challenge of coming up with an idea and writing it but even just the industry standard formatting of a screenplay. It’s definitely its own art form, just as playwriting is, and it is something I really strongly feel should be studied alongside the study of plays and performance. Or this may be because I’m biased as it’s something I’m passionate about more personally.

Overrated…

Greek Tragedies. Something I really cannot get into no matter how much exposure I try to get. The closest I got to appreciating a Greek Tragedy was when I read Antigone as it was the only one that I ever felt compelled to finish, but I just can’t get into the concept of characters being unimportant and the sole aim being to deliver a social message. As much as I appreciate this was the performance style of its day and many find it very cultural and fascinating, it’s all just a bit too dull for me. I like to have really gripping characters that add something intriguing to the plot. Character type masks and chorus groups just don’t hold quite hold my attention.

 

Read all of our ‘My Cultural Life’ entries here. 

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