Wednesday, December 31, 2014

2014: A Roundup

Chalo, my yearly roundup is here. 

Films
One of the things I loved about 2014 was the huge number of films that were led by a woman. Be it Mary Kom (which I found okayish) or Mardaani (which worked for me as an action film) or Finding Fanny (which I found to be a bit too quirky), 2014 was full of great women characters. Even a male-centric film like Haider had Tabu eating up pretty much everything around her.

My honourable mention for the year is Highway, an illogical story about illogical people doing illogical stuff but it managed to weave a spell around me. I think Alia Bhatt was a revelation in 2014, not only for Highway but also for Genius of the Year.
[Caveat: Highway did a business of about Rs 30 Cr while Humpty Sharma Ki Dulhania did about Rs 75 Cr. Hence, do not expect Alia Bhatt to go on too many arthouse road trips.]

And my favourite five movies of the year are:
[Disclaimer: I haven't seen the following films, which I think I would have loved: Ugly, Happy Ending and Sulemani Keeda.]

5. Hasee Toh Phasee
Parineeti Chopra just rocked this film, which could have easily become a Karan Johar cliche. But she was marvelous as the science genius who would steal from her family to fund her high-tech research instead of buying a lehenga, as Hindi film heroines are always doing.

4. Queen 
We have been seeing single heroines going on European holidays for a 1000 weeks now but Queen managed to break every cliche we knew. Kangana Ranaut was the eponymous queen but the entire ensemble cast of the film also chipped in wonderfully. I especially liked Rajkumar Rao in what can be called the exact opposite of an author-backed role!

3. The World Before Her 
Director Nisha Pahuja pulled off an amazing coup as hers became the first film crew to shoot inside a Durga Vahini (women's wing of Bajrang Dal) camp and they followed 24-year old Prachi who trains young girls there. Pahuja also followed the fortunes of Ruhi Singh as she prepared and competed in the final rounds of Miss India 2011. Placing these two contrasting worlds alternately, she created a riveting film on the wildly different lives open to the modern Indian women.
As the film ended, I wanted to just go home and hug my daughter tight. Six months later, I feel the same when I think about the film. 

2. Jatiswar 
A Bengali woman who is super-snobbish about her language. A Gujarati man out to woo the woman. A Portuguese man who made nineteenth century Bengal his home. A Bengali man who seems to be the reincarnation of the foreigner. And a musician-Prophet who blew minds with the score. Srijit Mukherjee explained why he is the most interesting Bengali filmmaker today with a masterful exploration of some legendary characters of Bengali culture and cinema. 

1. Filmistaan 
A film-crazy Indian gets kidnapped and lands up in the only other country which loves Bollywood as much as - if not more than - we do. What followed was magical mayhem as Sharib Hashmi became the comic performer of the year in a film that was at once a great entertainer and a poignant comment about our relationship with our neigbour. For once, #IndiaWithPakistan was a happy memory.

0. Sholay 3D 
What can I say about the Greatest Film Ever Made? Watching Sholay in a multiplex with people around me clapping, cheering, joking, mouthing dialogues and blinking back tears was easily my best cinematic experience of the year. 
(And oh, I watched the film with Gabbar Singh. When Ahmed's dead body reached Ramgarh, he quipped "#ThankYouSachin".)

Books
I read three great non-fiction books that were published earlier and therefore - strictly speaking - not part of the 2014 list.
Anita Raghavan's The Billionaire's Apprentice was a brilliant and tragic account of Rajat Gupta's fall from grace as an Indian icon to a convicted felon. While the book was really about the Galleon hedge fund scam, my abiding memory of the book was the devastating unfolding of Gupta's misfortune.
Rahul Pandita's Our Moon Has Blood Clots is a blow-by-blow account of the tragedy of the Kashmiri Pandits' exodus from the valley. This book looks at one side of the coin while Basharat Peer's Curfewed Night (which is on my to-read list) looks at the other.
Cathy Scott-Clerk and Adrian Levy's The Siege was a meticulous replaying of the 26/11 attack and it showed page-after-page, line-after-line how the Indian government's response made a bad situation worse. You always knew that but to be given proof-after-proof for nearly 300 pages is something that drains you out completely.

Two great books on Calcutta are being kept out of the ranking for sentimental reasons because I am never able to process Calcutta logically.
Indrajit Hazra's Grand Delusions is a 'personal biography' of the city. To start, any book on Calcutta with 'delusions' in the title has won half the accuracy battle. He does a fine job of identifying some of the key passions of the city - sweets, cinema, music, Pujo, politics, Park Street - and going back in time to the starting point. But the biggest triumph of the book is the 'mood'. The delusional Calcuttan, who sees change around him and is unsure whether he likes it or not, is captured just perfectly. 
[On a personal note, I was born in a nursing home run by one Dr Hazra in Beleghata. A few pages into the book, I realised Dr Hazra was Indrajit's grandfather and the book is dedicated to that nursing-home-cum-residence located at 203 CIT Road, Beleghata.]
In Longing, Belonging, Bishwanath Ghosh mixes the dispassionate outlook of an outsider (he is from Kanpur, now working in Chennai) with the erudition and charm of an insider (he is a Bengali, married to a Calcuttan). He looks at Calcutta's best known tropes - politics, football, literature, nostalgia, history, food - and takes a leisurely stroll around them. This is not a history book and the research is more context-setting than in-depth. The result is a beautiful mix of fact and opinion, past and present, happiness and melancholy, human and divine, modern and archaic, longing and belonging.

5. The Master & I - Soumitra Chatterjee / Arunava Sinha
Soumitra Chatterjee writing about his mentor and the greatest Indian filmmaker is now available in a flowing translation and a great, great read. One of the very few books in the world where a top actor goes into so much depth about his life and craft with one director.

5. And Then One Day - Naseeruddin Shah
The brutally honest, incorrigibly cynical, effortlessly funny autobiography of one of the greatest actors in the world has to be read to be believed. We are so used to sanitised memoirs that the book has to be read to be believed.

4. Korma, Kheer and Kismet - Pamela Timms 
When I read the couple of pages where the Amritsari Kulcha is described, my mouth started watering. This book is written like the way great chefs prepare food - with an eye for detail, a passion for the craft and the stomach to eat well.

3. The Silkworm - Robert Galbraith 
In what is becoming an annual tradition, Cormoran Strike is slowly building a web of familiar locations, memorable characters and likeable quirks that will eventually become a canon. The moody detective and his sleuthing have improved further from the first book and the ambience just makes it perfect. 

2. First Person - Rituparno Ghosh
This two-volume compilation of Rituparno Ghosh's weekly columns satisfies the low-brow voyeur and the serious film fan. Rituparno talks about his attending the Abhishek-Aishwarya wedding as well as the Cannes Film Festival with the same childlike enthusiasm that we saw in his talk shows. He talks about the difficulties of being gay in India and recounts silly anecdotes from his shooting, both casually and without any intellectual pretensions. He manages to convey a sense of wonder when he narrates his encounters with stars and displays a starry stubbornness as he holds on to some of his idiosyncrasies. Overall, a delightful read. 
The only disheartening thing is that there will never be a sequel. 

1. Rosebud Sled and Horses' Heads - Scott Jordan Harris
Fifty iconic items from world cinema. The severed head of Khartoum from The Godfather. The sled from Citizen Kane. Even the double-headed coin from Sholay. Scott Jordan Harris' book is a perfect blend of movie fandom and trivia geekery. Beautifully illustrated, this is a book that demands you to return again and again, savour the items like favourite snacks and silently rue that Indian cinema still doesn't have such luscious books. 
Oh... and there is one more item from Indian cinema that just took my breath away. Read the book to find out. 
[To get a flavour of the book, take a look at the website.]

But of course, I am lying when I say Rosebud Sleds was my favourite book of the year. My favourite book of the year and probably the favourite book of my entire life  is Bollybook
For a large part of the year, I was writing it, revising it and re-writing it till I realised I hadn't really read it! It was only in the last three-odd months that I started re-discovering some nuggets in the book (yes, I forgot stuff I wrote myself) and said a silent prayer that the book turned out to be something I enjoyed myself. 
And how cool is it that the year  is ending with Bollybook ahead of at least one book that it was inspired by.

Thank you for making Bollybook - and 2014 - so special for me! 
Wish you a great 2015. 

Friday, December 19, 2014

#BookADay

Penguin India is running a month-long campaign on Twitter, asking people to name their favourite books in various categories - one for each day.
I got lost in the many responses they got from a large number of readers. So I thought I will indulge myself in a bit of book-thinking here. (A good excuse to revive the blog as well!)

Ideal December read: WTF is a December read now? My favourite December reads are the annual round-up issues of magazines.

Most beautiful cover: Pretty much everything by Satyajit Ray. In recent times, I really liked the cover of The Blaft Anthology of Tamil Pulp Fiction.

A book you identify with: Eric Segal's The Class. Specifically with Andrew Eliot.

A book character you'd like to meet: Professor Shonku, I guess.

Wisest book you've ever read: Carl Sagan's Cosmos.

A book you keep going back to: Lila Majumdar's Din Dupurey.

First book you remember reading: Satyajit Ray's Shonar Kella (The Golden Fortress). Wrote a post about this.

A book that gives you the chills: Arnab Ray's The Mine.

Favourite mythological tale: Rajshekhar Basu's Mahabharat. Specifically the Agyatabash episode.

A book that makes you want to write: Anupama Chopra's Sholay: The Making of a Classic. I realised a book on cinema can be informative as well as enjoyable.

A book character that you want(ed) to marry: Florentyna Kane a.k.a. The Prodigal Daughter (Jeffrey Archer).

A book that you have pretended to read: Most of my textbooks.

Your curl-up read: Can I say Bollybook?

Your favourite book series: Feluda. Feluda. Feluda.

Your favourite Jane Austen character: Have to shamefacedly admit that I haven't read a single Jane Austen novel.

A book that makes you hungry: Pamela Timms' Korma, Kheer and Kismet. One of the better books I have read in 2014.

Favourite autobiography: Ken Jennings' Brainiac: Adventures in the Curious, Competitive, Compulsive World of Trivia Buffs. A brilliant memoir (along with a history of trivia in the USA) of a 75-time Jeopardy winner.

A book to read when homesick: Indrajit Hazra's Grand Delusions. One of two great Calcutta books of 2014, the other being Bishwanath Ghosh's Longing, Belonging.

Favourite fairy tale character: Aladdin. I could do with a lamp like his.

A book to gift around Christmas: Jai Arjun Singh's Jaane Bhi Do Yaaro: Seriously Funny Since 1983, a joyous book that would fit snugly in a stocking.

A book that makes you cry: Sanjib Chattopadhyay's Iti Tomar Ma, a not-so-well-known tear-jerker in Bengali.

Best book you ever received as a giftTen Bad Dates with De Niro: A Book of Alternative Movie Lists from my childhood friend, Nilendu. The idea of a 'book of lists' came after reading this book.

Favourite family read: When I was a kid, we used to read Sukumar Ray's Pagla Dashu together and laugh our guts out. 

Favourite Christmas book: Dr Seuss' How The Grinch Stole Christmas. What else could it be?

A book on your shelf you haven't read yet: Pranab Mukherjee's The Dramatic Decade. Downloaded on Kindle, to be read next.

A book you couldn't put down: Sidney Sheldon's Master of the Game. Actually most of Sheldon's early novels.

An author you discovered this year: Naseeruddin Shah.

Your best read of 2014: Scott Jordan Harris' Rosebud Sleds and Horses' Heads: 50 of Film's Most Evocative Objects - An Illustrated Journey. [This was probably the most agonising question to answer.]

Your favourite Rudyard Kipling character: Know only one, naming that one. Mowgli.

Most awaited book of 2015: A biography of Salim-Javed, to be published by Penguin India and being written by a Delhi-based author. 

Done.
Now you do the same list.