Dubai Diaries: When art imitates life

Dubai - '84 Charing Cross Road' is a film not to be missed.


Enid Grace Parker

Published: Tue 16 Mar 2021, 8:00 AM

Last updated: Wed 24 Mar 2021, 6:50 PM

Once in a blue moon, you come across a film that touches you to the core. You bask in its sunshine, mulling over why such things don’t happen in real life. Except in some cases, like that of 84 Charing Cross Road, a 1987 film starring acting luminaries Anne Bancroft and Anthony Hopkins, the wonderful story of an epistolary relationship between a New York based writer and a vintage book store worker did actually take place. While browsing through Netflix unsure of what I felt like watching, this film (based on an eponymous 1970 novel) caught my eye and, ever-enamored of anything vintage, I decided to give it a chance. Helene Hanff (Bancroft), a quirky middle-aged author living in New York in cheap digs struggles to make a living but being a bibliophile doesn’t mind spending her hard earned cash on books that she loves, most of which apparently, aren’t available in her surroundings. In 1949, coming across an ad for antique books by the London-based Marks & Co, she shoots off a letter on her typewriter to chief buyer Frank Doel, an English gentleman who works at the kind of bookshop I have often dreamed about; old-world wood interiors, shelves and shelves of leather and vellum bound tomes, vintage illustrated papers, and employees who go about their work quietly, yet bond over a cup of tea or a surprise food parcel (that Hanff despite her difficult times, loves to send). Doel replies to Hanff’s first letter of enquiry, setting in motion a chain of correspondence and dispatch of books that continues for two decades, till Doel’s death in 1968.

Myriad emotions were experienced while watching the film, with the burning question ever-present — would Hanff and Doel ever meet? Later on, while I was reflecting on this charming slice of life set in a time when things were slower, interactions were warm, personal and meaningful (even if you were writing to a stranger thousands of miles away), I wondered — did it matter?

Are we constantly attempting to romanticize and find permanence in everyday experiences that are so much more memorable as they are? There is a quiet yet powerful beauty in a scene when Doel sits down to dine and his wife (the brilliant Judi Dench) breaks into a hint of a smile when he says “it’s very nice”. I wondered, would they live happily ever after? But why do we always define a moment by its possible outcomes? Many may argue that this is a film where “nothing happens”. But ever so often, in films, as in life, when we keep looking for the extraordinary moments that we believe are owed to us, we miss out on those vignettes of daily existence that are truly magical.

Enid lives in the hope that old bookshops will return and letter-writing will flourish again.

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