View from my office for most part of the year. A definite perk.
Time for the roundup of the most unusual year of my life is here.
Work from home always makes you feel that you can sack
around in your shorts, taking an occasional call here, answering a stray email
there and bingeing on shows and movies. That went out of the window faster than
the virus went out of China! I was taking calls through the day and at decibel levels
that reminded my wife of the trunk calls from her childhood. Soon, my entire family
was up to date on all my work stuff and my mother was even coaching me on my
people management skills! (Note to self:
Go back to office asap. Don’t
get angry over work stuff.)
Anyway, I didn’t end up watching as many movies and shows as
I thought I would. Neither did I come close to hitting my target of reading 40 books
in the year. While I can try to blame the missing commute, the real reason was Twitter
where too many interesting (read: pointless) battles were happening for me to
look away. (Note to self:
Delete Twitter and Facebook. Spend less time
on social media.)
Anyway, here goes my Favourite Fives the year…
Honourable mention: Bongpen Aro 75 (by Tanmay Mukherjee) is that blender that squeezes your happy memories, sad thoughts, flights of fantasy, fears, insecurities and inspirations to create a wonderful elixir.
5. Habibi – Craig Thompson
This graphic novel is a tour-de-force in terms of both storytelling and art. Piecing together diverse strands from Islamic art, architecture, history, mythology, Thompson manages to create a fantasy world that’s as gripping as it is real.
4. A Clear Blue Sky – Jonny Bairstow (and Duncan Hamilton)
A story of an inspiring struggle and redemption in the guise of a sports autobiography. Bairstow’s searing honesty and (I am guessing) Hamilton’s prose lift the story of a young cricketer trying to live up to his father’s dreams to a different planet altogether.
3. The Body – Bill Bryson
The most predictably likeable book of the year, this Guide for Occupants is vintage Bryson. He condenses difficult concepts into humourous bytes, explains complicated experiments with blinding clarity and good-naturedly cautions us that – while a lot has been unravelled – there is still a lot of mystery left inside the body. Sobering thought in the year of the virus.
2. Parveen Babi – Karishma Upadhyay
This biography of one of Bollywood’s most alluring, mesmerising, enigmatic stars delves into the glamourous film industry of the 1970s as well as Babi’s descent into mental diseases. Upadhyay interviewed pretty much every major character in Babi’s life (and extracted brutal honesty from most), creating a vivid portrait of her life and times.
Even though Bollywood stars are more forthcoming about their mental issues now, the media/society is still as (if not more) casual about it – making this an extremely relevant book for the times.
1. Becoming – Michelle Obama
A girl from a working-class background fights discrimination on her way to an Ivy League school before joining a top law firm and then going on to work for the government and not-for-profit sectors. That she marries a guy with a funny surname (who’s less accomplished than her at that point) and moves with him when he gets a great job is almost incidental in the life of Michelle Obama. This is a book for all ages, all nationalities, all types of people – the amazingly written story of one of the most inspiring figures of the present day.
Honourable mentions: The Head (Netflix) is an eerie story set in an Antarctic research station where people (among the dozen-strong staff staying on during the winter) keep dying mysteriously. A delicious twist on the ‘people getting killed in an island’ trope.
A Simple Murder (Sony Liv) has some glitches but still manages to be a breezy watch, mostly funny and occasionally dark. And it fits in a lot of 1990s Bollywood references. I am a sucker for these things!
5. The Kominsky Method (Netflix)
Alan Arkin and Michael Douglas play two septuagenarian (octogenarian?) friends living in the fringes of Hollywood, having moved there from the centre of Hollywood. They are funny when they are sad, they exude sadness when they are being funny. They remind you of the uncles you hate, the friends you love, the people you wanted to become but developed cold feet later on.
Dream remake casting: Soumitra Chatterjee in the Douglas role, Amitabh Bachchan in the Arkin role.
4. Feluda Pherot (Addatimes)
For the last four decades, Bengalis have been waiting for a Feluda adaptation that’s not a disappointment. Srijit Mukherjee finally delivers that and more, a six-part show based on one of the best Feluda novellas, set in a lovingly recreated period setting. The best part of the show is probably that it doesn’t follow the book down to the letter, a clear failing of the previous adaptations. It brings in modern references (including two political ones), clever wordplay (beyond what was in the text) and satisfying references/extensions to other parts of the Feluda Canon.
3. Scam 1992: The Harshad Mehta Story (Sony Liv)
A TV show with the swag of Bollywood, with lines that would have made theatres erupt all over the country. The meticulous recreation of the period, the uniformly brilliant ensemble cast, the music, the pacing and the pop-culture references were all just brilliant.
2. The Boys S1 and S2 (Amazon Prime)
The cleverest allegory of our times, masquerading as a superhero story, garnished with blood, gore and eye-popping, jaw-dropping, butt-clenching action! The show does a great job of not shoving the real-life parallels in your face, letting things simmer for a bit and then – BAM – you realise what the mother****** c***s just did there!
1. Paatal Lok (Amazon Prime)
“It’s just that I don’t like you Left liberal behnc***s. Trying to hide your failures with your annoying righteousness!” How can you not like a show that has a line like this? Paatal Lok could well pass off as a hidden-cam and found-footage documentary, something that would (nearly) get banned by whichever party is in power.
0. Dark (Netflix)
It is somewhat demeaning for a show like Dark to be ranked and compared with other shows. It is also simplistic to say Dark is based on time-travel. It is a mind-bending ride that breaks every trope of time-travel and forces you to consider a new world view, a world that probably exists but we are not worthy enough to have made sense of it.
I got on the journey a couple of years back on the insistence of a friend, who made me persist beyond the slow start of S1. After S1E5, I was like an addict – watching and rewatching episodes, taking notes, making family trees, reading up on fan theories, following Reddit threads to make sense of this bewildering, bewitching, beguiling show.
Don’t miss Dark. Don’t miss it for the world.
Honourable Mentions: CU Soon (Amazon Prime) is a thriller shot entirely during the pandemic, using phones, webcams and CCTV footage.
Gunjan Saxena (Netflix) is a rousing tale of a young girl becoming a helicopter pilot in the Kargil war, a coming-of-age story merging beautifully with a war film.
AK vs AK (Netflix) is a deliciously wicked meta-film, where the premise of a kidnap drama is just an excuse to make fun of Bollywood.
The Platform (Netflix) takes place in a futuristic world and asks you the uncomfortable question: “How far will you go to survive?” and then gives the answer you don’t want to hear. Not for the fainthearted.
Raat Akeli Hai (Netflix) is a triumph of writing, where multiple characters and timelines merge in a detective thriller set in the Hindi heartland. Everything from the locations to the action to the emotions are spot on.
5. Gulabo Sitabo (Amazon Prime)
The first ‘big’ movie to go straight into streaming instead of theatres seemed like a comedy about two down-and-out Lucknow wastrels. It turned out to be a biting social satire, with Amitabh Bachchan returning to form in his most non-heroic role ever. Srishti Srivastav as Guddu, Farrukh Jaffar as Fatima Begum and a dilapidated mansion as Fatima Mahal turned in stellar performances in this Juhi Chaturvedi script.
4. Ludo (Netflix)
Anurag Basu brings in a touch of chaos and madness to the four (Or is it five? Maybe six?) interconnected, colour-coordinated stories hurtling towards a common end. The vibrant colours, the studied frames, the quirky lines, the sanki characters are now hallmarks of an Anurag Basu film, thanks to this, and Barfi and Jagga Jasoos earlier. These films didn’t set the box-office on fire but had enough felicitous touches to make them cult favourites.
As they say, some films have logic. And some films have magic.
3. Aamis (Movie Saints)
Bhaskar Hazarika’s film about the relationship of an older woman and younger man, developing over meals of exotic food takes an unexpectedly creepy turn but – and this is a triumph of the direction – it seems perfectly normal. The two lead actors (Lima Das and Arghadeep Barua) perform out their skins to make this one of the most memorable films I have watched this year. The kind that keeps you awake at nights.
2. The Trial of the Chicago 7 (Netflix)
In every country, in every age, whenever someone criticises a government for attacking freedom of expression, many smug bastards jump up and say that if you’re able to criticise the government, then how can you say that? The Trial is a gut-wrenching, goosebumps-inducing reminder that tells us if the government is letting you speak, you’re probably not big enough. Yet.
I hope India will make many such films in the coming years. All of which will run into trouble with the censor board.
1. Kaamyaab (Netflix)
Between the time this film released and I managed to watch it, I must have received a dozen messages from friends who were convinced that I would love it. They were right.
Right from the very first scene in which a character actor’s filmography is stuck at 499 to the uplifting climax where he plays his greatest role, Kaamyaab and Sanjay Mishra warm every sinew, every muscle of your heart. The humour with which films-within-the-film are recreated by merging footage from real actors, the care with which the sidelines of the film industry are populated with detail, the focus with which yesteryears actors have been assembled for the cast – it is a wonder and joy! And of course, it also gave us the line that could well be the mantra for surviving 2020: “Bas, enjoying life! Aur option hi kya hai?”
And that brings us to the end of this year’s roundup.
A year in which I was luckier than most. I had a fulfilling job to attend to. While I lost two uncles, the immediate family was safe and sound. While the virus caught me, I came out of it unscathed. And I had the means and mindset to enjoy many fun things.
One of those fun things was to complete writing a book, which will (hopefully) release in the first quarter of 2021. It is a return to my favourite genre – Bollywood trivia. A geeky look at all things that make and break Bollywood, things that are fun and exasperating in equal measure, things that still inspire a debate or two! So that’s my thing to look forward to in 2021.
Here’s wishing everyone a very happy new year. May the year bring success and happiness in equal measure, may all your daydreams of 2020 come true in 2021.