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Er, close the door on your way out

Er, close the door on your way out

A very important lesson that many shows must learn is quitting while you’re ahead. Sometimes, a great story stops being interesting if you take more than 8 years to say it. A lot of shows in the past have done it (I’m looking at you, post Topher Grace That 70’s show) and there are way too many shows, still on air that have overstayed their welcome.

Two and a half men: Currently in its 10th season and with talks of an 11th, this show should have ended many many many seasons ago. I’m a fan of Jon Cryer and to some extent, Charlie Sheen. Their banter was fun to watch in the initial seasons but after a point, the jokes got predictable and the plot lines got thinner than Anushka Sharma. I would be totally open to forgive the few weak seasons if they had shut it all down after Sheen left but they got Aston Kutcher in and now I can’t even stand to watch the ads.

The Office: The Office (the US version) is one of the finest and funniest shows I have ever seen. It is currently in its 9th season and it makes me so sad that every new episode now feels like a burden to watch out of respect, if nothing else. It barely manages to make it past the average line and that’s pretty bad for a show that has made me fall of a chair laughing on many occasions. They should have ended when Steve Carell left in that beautiful episode that was a perfect combination of laughs and tears and that is how I like to remember this show.

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How I met your mother: A guy telling his kids the story of how he met their mother while he lived in New York with a bunch of friends. A great premise that should ideally lend itself to 4 seasons, or 5 if I’m being benevolent. HIMYM just completed its 8th season with no sign of the mother or good writing and it breaks my heart.

Grey’s Anatomy: I have now invested seven years on this show. It is in its 9th season and a season 10 may or may not be on the way, but I have watched it, with dedication for 7 whole years. In an ideal world, Grey’s should have ended with five seasons. With the last episode being Derek and Meredith’s post-it wedding. And that entire Izzie imagining Denny bit should have been omitted. Also, Owen Hunt should have been introduced much much sooner. In an ideal world.

30 Rock: I absolutely love Tina Fey and everything about 30 Rock. I love Jack Donaghy, I love Jenna, I love all of Lemon’s boyfriends, I love Subash but the show should have ended with five seasons and its current season being it’s 5th. This season is actually quite brilliant, I just wish it had come sooner and I didn’t have to watch two seasons that made me question whether it was actually ever funny.

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Love in the time of texting

Love in the time of texting

I’m not an overly nostalgic person. I don’t dream of being in Paris in 1920 (although Hemingway and I would be great drinking buddies) or the renaissance or wish that I was part of India’s beautiful fight for freedom. I like 2012. I like that I don’t have to kill myself trying to remember little details: For instance, who was the guy who gets into Michel Cera’s car in Nick and Norah’s infinite playlist? Who knows? Wait, I’ll just google it (it’s Seth Meyers by the way). I like that we don’t use twigs and have really awesome flavoured toothpaste to brush our teeth with and I really, really love that a thing like instant soup exists.

And that is why I’m usually in a minority when people say that romance is dying in the digital age. Oh, you kids don’t know about yearning with all your instant messaging and skype-ing. Do I see the beauty in pining and writing long letters? Yes I do. But I also love that you don’t have to miss people and you still can. The most romantic stories I’ve ever read usually involves misunderstandings and lack of communication that could easily be fixed with one text message. Oh, and I love text messages. As a writer, who is not completely in control of her emotions when fighting, that perfectly composed text is a savior. I’m an annoying fighter because instead of using the effective, “Fuck off and please don’t talk to me again,”, I will wield powerful sentences with multiple commas, semi colons and em dashes in them. (I’m a little ashamed to admit but sometimes I will go back and re-read a text fight if only to admire my own work).

Is over information ever a bad thing? Oh, let me know less about this disease I have; let me put all my money in this stock. What is this research thing you speak of? No one ever says that and I don’t see the point in getting to know a boyfriend/girlfriend/date over time. Because really, if there is something gross or fundamentally flawed in a person, I’d like to know that upfront, thank you very much. I don’t want to spend a month with someone and then realise he uses ‘babez’ un-ironically.

chotisibaat

I recently re-watched Amol Palekar’s Choti Si Baat where Palekar, in bell bottom pants and polka dotted shirts stalks a girl around Bombay. Stalking is totally a legit love thing; we just use Facebook now. Facebook stalking is kind of a boon. Let’s not pretend otherwise. Information is power and knowing you’re ex boyfriend/girlfriend is dating someone whose favourite band is Limp Bizkit is extremely empowering.

We take love seriously too. We are not a generation that doesn’t care. In fact, we spend a considerable amount of time ‘researching’ someone before we do and I do not see the problem. There is no charm in a beautiful husband in a suit who drinks scotch and sleeps with his secretaries while you stay at home and make a pot roast (though seriously, if Don Draper was on Facebook, he’d probably have two profiles. One for family and one of him dressed only in bathing trunks).

I wish people would stop talking like idiots sometimes. Stop talking about your relationship like it is a math problem that needs work. Stop talking about how beautiful the concept of dating used to be. Stop talking and wanting. Nostalgia is an indulgence. And I don’t mean that what’s gone is trivial. In fact it’s very well documented and that is why we know about it. You wish you were born in a time when people listened to jazz? Well, guess what? You have the internet to listen to whatever the fuck you want. It is absolutely ok to look at pictures and spend an evening drinking Old Monk and discussing that epic road trip sometimes. But you cannot live there. You are not that person anymore and this is not that time.

We are a generation of people always holding on tightly to a time that made us happy and comfortable. We really need to stop whining all the damn time.

Ooops, spoilers!

Ooops, spoilers!

Of all first world problems the one that rattles me most is the ‘Spoiler Alert’. And while I agree with Mindy Kaling that you should “be a man about it”, I also hate people who find joy in spoiling things for you.

But lets face it, if you aren’t on top of every show you follow, somebody somewhere is going to ruin it for you. But I do have some tips for you if you want to avoid them all.

– Invest in a pair of noise-cancelling headphones. This is a fool-proof method to ensure you don’t hear your friends gushing about the season finale of Breaking Bad and spend a few days like lonely sad person till you catch up. Wear them everywhere. No place is safe. Your office, the coffee shop, the bar…yes, it will suck to wear a pair of headphones at the bar and you might a miss a whole interesting conversation because you don’t know when they stopped discussing Walter White but hey, at least you don’t know Frank figured out…whoops, sorry.

Image Courtesy: The Interwebz
-Which brings me to the most essential point; the internet or as you could call it, the spoiler universe. If you’ve downloaded the last episode of Homeland but just haven’t managed to watch it yet, it calls for a blanket internet ban. You can check your email on your phone but no twitter, facebook (you know what happened with Talaash) and absolutely no other website. Sure, there is always the ‘spoiler alert’ just before it. What are you supposed to do? Switch you mind off as soon as you see those words? From Guardian to New Yorker to Time magazine they are all minefields of spoilers and analysis and memes and one stray word about a terrorist…

– Watch every episode as it comes out. If you aren’t caught up on a show, call in sick, stay home and watch it. Do not venture out of the house. Don’t call people; they could let something slip. It isn’t even just the drama/thriller shows. I can’t even stand it when people reveal important things about sitcoms. Ooh, did you see the episode when Ben proposes to..lalalallalala.

Thanks for all the fish

Thanks for all the fish

This past week, everything on the internet was about turkeys and thanksgiving. And though we don’t do thanksgiving here in India (except for a few people on Twitter), it IS November and that signals the end of year. The  Guardian already has a list of the best books of 2012, so this is my list of things I’m thankful for this year.

The writers of Community, The Newsroom, Mad Men and Homeland:

Personally, I haven’t had the best year. But as always I find distraction and solace in television and books. And I have to thank Community, The Newsroom, Mad Men and Homeland for getting me through it without going batshit insane, growing dreadlocks and living in a tree. It’s probably not the healthiest thing to do; being so invested in fictional characters but it just makes me feel so…so alive and so…you know, I’m just going to give my hard drive a big hug right now.

Books that find you:

As you might have gathered, my life decisions don’t always lend itself to a well-fed bank account. But that’s what second hand bookstores, sales and friends are for. This year I have read borrowed books, books I picked up for Rs 50 at a sale, and books that I abandoned or never got around to reading. And I have been consistently surprised and happy. They have been books I have picked up grudgingly because I was too broke to buy what I wanted. But the good ones just found me. In many ways, I’m an old lady who is afraid of new things. I like finding my comfort zone and sticking to it and sometimes have a closed mind. I don’t want to listen to your new favourite band; I don’t want to read an author I’ve never heard of before. But almost every time I have done it, I have been rewarded. I’ve read a great deal of books this year, even signed up for a post graduation course in literature (not made a dent in that list yet though) and I do hope the next pay cheque is big enough to do some splurging. But till then, there is always my Flipkart wishlist to check and sigh everyday.

Amy Pohler:

Amy Pohler is not only television’s funniest woman, she is also the personification of woman power and an example for girls all over the world. Along with being the super ambitious and funny Leslie Knope on Parks and Rec; she also has her own youtube channel. Called, Smart girls at the party, it encourages young talented girls to be themselves and be proud of it (the last episode had a Sikh girl explain her religion and what her culture entails).  I imagine Pohler in real life to be something of a superwoman. Incredibly talented, funny, confident and amazing. Even if she isn’t, I’m just glad she’s on one of the best sitcoms I’ve seen this year.

The interwebz:

On a regular day, I spend about nine to ten hours on my laptop. I can find and read this on Wednesday, laugh till my ribs hurt at this the next day and watch this on the weekend. And I can sit here in Mumbai and read the New Yorker and The Slate and The Guardian and Flavorwire. I can spend hours looking at cat videos and I can also spend hours talking to a friend in San Francisco. We talk about dependence, we talk about how the internet has us by the balls (metaphoric ones) but I don’t see the problem. The good things outweigh the bad, a million times over. The internet is filled with vile and disgusting things offset by art. Beautiful art in the form of music, videos, literature and so much more.

2012

What a great time to live, I think sometimes when I’m standing inside a matchbox sized room and listening to the Bombay Bicycle club or when I feel gooseflesh on my arm from watching The manganiyar seduction on stage. I think about the lives my parents must have led when they were my age and I can’t believe my luck. International artists aren’t just those mythical creatures forever stuck on records (or iTunes library) any more. India isn’t just a far, exotic land of elephants and snake charmers anymore and every month we hear announcements of international artists performing here, international films being screened, international brands setting shop and we are here to witness this. It fills me with such a rush to realise that we are part of a turning point of sorts, for this country in the cultural field.

Yes, the world is still listening to Justin Beiber and One Direction, but you know what, fuck that. Every small singer, songwriter and trumpet player now has opportunity. Opportunity to reach out and make themselves heard (whether they’re good or not decides how far they go) and that’s as good as it gets. A million music, art, theatre and literature festivals have sprung up. Can’t find an audience there? Put your work online and somebody in a tiny town in Brazil may just become your fan.

I can tell my very tambhram family that I want to be a writer and they don’t automatically assume that all is lost. Just that much is great. I live in a time when I don’t have to mind my manners, wear corsets that cause asphyxia or be ‘married off’ when I turn 18. I don’t have to rebel. I know, most people don’t see the appeal in that and find rebelling against society and their parents very cool but really it’s not. We have been born in a time when it’s not rebellious to cut your hair real short and come home at 5am. It’s normal. It’s great that we don’t have to fight these tiny battles because the previous generation already paved the way for us. They fought to break out and now it’s up to us to take that chance and go as high and as far as we can. We owe it to so many, many people.

“A writer of uncommon elegance” – The NY Times: A tribute to Jhumpa Lahiri

“A writer of uncommon elegance” – The NY Times: A tribute to Jhumpa Lahiri

Boredom can lead to some great discoveries. A few years ago I was spending a summer in my grandmother’s house in Bangalore and ended up picking up a copy of Unaccustomed Earth by Jhumpa Lahiri.

I started it grudgingly because I had already read and disliked The Namesake (which I admit, I read just before Mira Nair’s movie version). The narrative of that novel was uninteresting and the details felt unnecessary and disconnected from the story of the Ganguli family.

But the poignant, subdued emotions of Unaccustomed Earth planted themselves in my mind. Lahiri, a Bengali born in London, raised in Rhode Island and living in Brooklyn explores stories of generations of Indian immigrants that struggle to hold on to their roots or shake them off.

Yes, too many Indian authors write about immigration and living in an unaccustomed world, but Lahiri’s writing moves and grows as if unguided by a pen. The characters are themselves and grow into who they want to be in the most organic manner. She’s in no hurry. The last three stories in this short story collection, about Hema and Kaushik are some of the most beautiful stories I’ve read. You can read the first one here.

Interpreter of Maladies, her Pulitzer Prize winning collection of short stories moves from simple immigration issues to insightful stories about relationships. And her Indian characters could, really be of any nationality. The New Yorker’s archive has Sexy, one of my favourite stories from the book, here.

Some books come to you when you need them the most. Almost like the universe saw your underlying restlessness and frustration, scanned its ginormous library and threw a book in your lap.

Displacement is universal. Whether you’ve lived in the same house since you were born or whether you’ve moved three cities in the past year, the feeling of not entirely fitting in, is universal. There is always some people, some place where you struggle between who you are and who you are trying to be.

Jhumpa Lahiri is credited with having changed the future and course of American fiction and was slammed by some Indian critics for not painting Indians in a more positive light. But I think she has the ability to spin life’s most simple, monotonous chore into the most wonderful story, like this one about her father cooking pulav. Lahiri’s stories have a universal appeal aided with the slow and steady pace that makes you feel like your own life (if chronicled in it’s truest sense by a really brilliant writer) would fit right into the pages of a Jhumpa Lahiri book.

Bonus : Hell-Heaven

– Sharanya

In which we get incredibly self-indulgent

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In which we get incredibly self-indulgent

Let me take a moment here to pat our backs, raise a drink, and generally discuss how awesome we are.

Project Small fry is now a full four months old. *A million hi-fives all around.* And yes it’s a huge deal. As writers, Sheena and I are two terrible things, lazy and arrogant. I can tell you from experience, that you cannot start out like that.

The wonderful thing is, the PSF you see and read now is actually a continuation of a tiny idea we had a year ago. One day, we were stuffing our faces with cinnabon at Pali Naka and we had one of those “where are we going conversations” that were becoming all too common. We were feeling extremely hemmed in at our jobs and life had lost its sparkle and charm. We are in our 20’s dammit! We should be doing kickass things like writing plays and going to Assam! People at coffee shops should be talking about us! The president should be inviting us to tea!

As writers we had forgotten about writing for us. At work, it was work. We started saying meh at each byline, we pitched story ideas that got shot down. We read constantly and felt envious perpetually. We were restless and bored with company. Partying and alcohol had lost its flavor. We needed a 180 degree whirl of epic amazingness.

After whining and crying and hoping that blank word documents would show us the way, we decided to do something about it.

Let’s write! For the love of writing and for the discipline we lacked. We wrote down rules.

Basic Rules

Must write 5 articles in a week.

Articles 1, 2 and 3 must be submitted before 12pm of Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday.

Articles 4 and 5 can be submitted anytime between Friday and Sunday (12am)

Minimum word count: 100 words

Fiction and non-fiction may be submitted.

No poetry. Nobody wants to read that.

All posts must be marked ‘read’ by the other member. Feedback is optional.

If any of the co-founders want to add a rule, a mutual consensus must be arrived at by discussion.

Exemptions

You are allowed to slack off three times in a month, no questions asked.

An extra two can be taken in case of death or displacement.

Punishments

If articles 1, 2 and 3 are not submitted before deadline (a half an hour margin may be kept), the defaulter will be charged 50 Rs.

On slacking off more than three times a month, a fine of 100 Rs will be levied.

If either member backs out mid-month (due to de-motivation, extreme cynicism or any other reason) the fine levied will be 800 Rs.

We were pretty broke at this time, so having to pay money seemed like good motivation.

We started off superbly, we were eager and this little secret project of ours made us feel incredibly cool. I came up with the name Small Fry and it seemed like a great idea to call it Project small fry, like it was an important mission like Project Manhattan or Project Chicago. What? It was a big deal for us.

We wrote stories filled with angst and philosophy, about moon gazing and navel gazing, our fickle lives in this fickle city and about the illusions of passion and the hollowness of existence. Little vignettes that tried to be dark and funny. Short fiction that we would break up into series to take the pressure off. Gosh, we were cute.

For the first month, we sent in our stories way before deadline and discussed it excitedly the next day at work (we shared a desk). And by the end of it (4 months it lasted. Kind of poetic, no) we were writing it 3 minutes before deadline.

When it became a chore, we gave it up.

Six months later, we were back to our emo gtalk conversations about our lives and where we were heading.

Then randomly, one day, Sheena sent me an outline for a website. A tribute, two columns….

We both had the same guidelines in our head, don’t write for the lowest common denominator (we do that at work anyway and we were inspired by David Simon’s “Fuck the average reader” philosophy.), don’t explain all your references, if they didn’t get it, they were not our intended readers anyway. And just like that, this website began.

Every Sunday, we sit down with our laptops for about 5 hours, 3 out of which are spent talking or playing scrabble and writing.

It’s been four months since we started. We figured out wordpress, asked all our friends for opinions and masthead designs and even if four months is nothing to get nostalgic about, what the hell.

Okay now for the next bit. We are changing things up here a bit. The Dr. Deman column is now defunct. No, we haven’t run out of heroes, hero-worshipping comes naturally to us. But there will be a whole new thing to look forward to next week and you guys are going to love it. YAAAAAAY. Already, so much excite.

 

Picture by Nikhil Chalam

The clash of the knives

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The clash of the knives

When I see Sam making oysters with champagne jelly, I immediately think, “That’s awesome, that’s going to be a good dish for him.” Which is really ridiculous, because being vegetarian, I have never eaten oysters, I don’t particularly like champagne and also, this is Masterchef Australia on TV, so I have no idea what it’s going to taste likes.

My earliest memory of food shows on TV was Tarla Dalal making custard flavoured coffee or something. Then the point of a food show was to teach you. With ingredients and perfect instructions, you could whip up a little somethin- somethin and give yourself a good pat on the head for being a great home maker.

While we still have an entire channel, called Food Food dedicated to ‘how-to’ shows, shows like Masterchef and Top Chef have become so popular on prime time television, that I’m amazed.

My dad doesn’t understand why my mother and I watch these shows, when we never actually cook any of it and we are tired of explaining that that isn’t the point.

How many people watch it and actually attempt to make any of it? (I always get inspired and go chop potatoes with purpose, like chefs do. Then I get tired and just cook them with butter and eat it. Which is still something honestly, because after 10 seasons of Project Runway I have never attempted to sew a fierce and fabulous dress)

Like this New York Times article points out, while these shows don’t really teach you to cook at least they teach you to be more confident in a restaurant (the article also discuss why Julia Child revolutionized food shows on TV, so read that). Gone are the days when ‘foie gras’ was the fanciest food term we knew.

Here’s my opinion (hey, enough with the groaning) on what’s cooking on TV these days.

Top Chef vs Masterchef Australia

On Masterchef Australia, the contestants are all amateur cooks who’ve left their day jobs to cook and their passion is so apparent, it’s endearing and you get invested in their journey.

Top Chef has trained chefs vying for big prizes. They already know they are good and can get pretty pompous about it. And yet, it’s an extremely entertaining hour of TV.

The judges on Masterchef Australia, Matt Preston, George Calombaris and Gary Mehigan have amazing chemistry and are very funny.

Top Chef has Tom Colicchio, who is very good and Padma Lakshmi, whose comments I cannot bring myself to believe. I think Tom Colicchio just humours her critique, which is almost always about smooth and crunchy texture or some such.

Masterchef Australia is dramatic, yes, but the calm, clean setting and the incredible niceness of the contestants makes this a reality show like no other.

Top Chef on the other hand is dramatic and fancy and has huge egos being hurt every other second.

Spin offs

Top Chef Masters has famous chefs of Michelin-starred restaurants making mac and cheese fine dining and tailgating with  Prosciutto and Caramelized Onion Pizzas to win money for their charity. You’d think watching great chefs do what they do best would be boring, but instead it’s actually fun to watch them squirm, navigate a supermarket and talk about their culinary journey.

Top Chef: Just desserts is hosted by Gail Simmons (who is a judge on Top Chef) and the contestants are bakers and pastry chefs. They make edible chocolate clothes and live-sized cakes and for some reason, are majorly dramatic and full of break downs and ‘my cupcake philosophy is’… type insights. I guess it’s all the glitter and fondant or something.

Masterchef Juniors will make you hate yourself. For real. There are 8-year olds who whip up Moroccan Lamb with Couscous while you cry over your overcooked instant pasta. You know, what I was doing when I was a kid? I don’t even remember, probably watching TV or something. Anyway, these kids are crazy talented and super cute. They talk about their careers in molecular gastronomy…and they are freaking eight!

Masterchef USA with Gordon Ramsay of Hell’s kitchen, restaurateur Joe Bastianich and chef Graham Elliot  (who we’ve seen on Top Chef Masters as a contestant) take away all of the nice, calm and loving warmth of the Australian version and replace it with quick eliminations, cattiness and some major negative energy.

There’s going to be a Masterchef All stars as well. See the preview here.

Masterchef India

Star Plus had their own version of Masterchef India at prime time. Yup. The first season came under much criticism because of Akshay Kumar’s ridiculous antics and then Season two had Chef Vikas Khanna, a major improvement on the khiladi. Where Masterchef India loses the plot is that it is treated like every other reality show. There are too many tears and sad stories, and while I’m not saying they’re untrue, it also takes away from the main focus of the show; the food.  Also, because of the sad stories, the passion for cooking diminishes and I wonder if they are all there for the monetary prize.

Both the Indian and US version are so far removed from the Australian version that nothing but the M motif is similar.

All this talk of food has made me hungry. Mashed potatoes. Cheese. Okay bye guys.

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