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To-do: Read

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To-do: Read

We are nearing the release of The Dark Knight Rises and people are going more insane than usual, yes, yes, Nolan, Bane, I get it, stop drooling already. Almost all the tickets are booked for the release weekend and I’m feeling the pressure. What am I to do if I don’t get tickets, what will I talk to people about? Will I be shunned from society?

I have a job and something of a social life and I have to make time to read books, watch movies, watch TV shows, stay updated with everyday internet business. I do it all and in spite of that there are so many things I’m still to do and watch. It cannot be done!  I’ll be having a wonderful conversation about television with someone and then they’ll start talking about Six Feet Under or The West Wing or some other show I haven’t watched and it pisses me off. Let ME tell what a good show is! Just shut your mouth long enough for me to look down upon you for never having watched Studio 60.

I’m so saturated with pop culture that I desperately need the world to stop creating things. Just stop. Stop doing everything, stop making shows, stop writing books, creating art so I can catch up already!

But what suffers the most is my reading. Every once in a while my reading takes a back seat and soon enough it takes me a whole half an hour to get through 2 pages and then I stop putting a book in my bag…it’s just lawlessness  and chaos from there.

So, I’m making a list of books I need to read from The Guardian’s The top 100 books of all time, BBC’s The Big Read and Flavourwire’s 30 books everyone should read before turning 30.

There are 148 books; which means I’ve read 82 books that were on these lists.

I will keep you guys updated on how many I manage to finish. I still have to watch Season 4 of Breaking Bad and Season 3 of Louie, so I might get distracted, but as NPH would say, challenge accepted.

You can tell me how many you’ve read and add to my list in the comments section. But don’t add too many, I’m already intimated. And don’t go all “you haven’t read xxyy yet? Wooooah” on me, ok? Ok.

  1. A Christmas Carol, Charles Dickens
  2. A Doll’s House, Henrik Ibsen
  3. A Prayer For Owen Meany, John Irving
  4. A Sentimental Education, Gustave Flaubert
  5. A Suitable Boy, Vikram Seth
  6. A Town Like Alice, Nevil Shute
  7. Absalom, Absalom!, William Faulkner
  8. Anna Karenina, Leo Tolstoy
  9. Anne Of Green Gables, LM Montgomery
  10. Artemis Fowl, Eoin Colfer
  11. Beloved, Toni Morrison
  12. Berlin Alexanderplatz, Alfred Doblin
  13. Birdsong, Sebastian Faulks
  14. Black Beauty, Anna Sewell
  15. Bleak House, Charles Dickens
  16. Blindness, Jose Saramago
  17. Brave New World, Aldous Huxley
  18. Brideshead Revisited, Evelyn Waugh
  19. Buddenbrooks, Thomas Mann
  20. Captain Corelli’s Mandolin, Louis de Bernieres
  21. Cat’s Cradle, Kurt Vonnegut
  22. Catch-22, Joseph Heller
  23. Children of Gebelawi, Naguib Mahfouz
  24. Cold Comfort Farm, Stella Gibbons
  25. Collected Fictions, Jorge Luis Borges, Argentina
  26. Complete Poems, Giacomo Leopardi
  27. Confessions of Zeno, Italo Svevo
  28. Crime And Punishment, Fyodor Dostoyevsky
  29. Dead Souls, Nikolai Gogol
  30. Decameron, Giovanni Boccaccio
  31. Diary of a Madman and Other Stories, Lu Xun
  32. Don Quixote, Miguel De Cervantes
  33. Double Act, Jacqueline Wilson
  34. Dune, Frank Herbert
  35. Ender’s Game, Orson Scott Card
  36. Essays, Michel de Montaigne
  37. Fahrenheit 451, Ray Bradbury
  38. Fairy Tales and Stories, Hans Christian Andersen
  39. Far From The Madding Crowd, Thomas Hardy
  40. Faust, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
  41. Gargantua and Pantagruel, Francois Rabelais
  42. Ghost World, Daniel Clowes
  43. Gilgamesh
  44. Girls In Love, Jacqueline Wilson
  45. Good Omens, Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman
  46. Goodnight Mister Tom, Michelle Magorian
  47. Gormenghast, Mervyn Peake
  48. Great Expectations, Charles Dickens
  49. Guards! Guards!, Terry Pratchett
  50. Gypsy Ballads, Federico Garcia Lorca
  51. His Dark Materials, Philip Pullman
  52. History, Elsa Morante
  53. Holes, Louis Sachar
  54. Hunger, Knut Hamsun
  55. I Capture The Castle, Dodie Smith
  56. Independent People, Halldor K Laxness
  57. Infinite Jest, David Foster Wallace
  58. Invisible Man, Ralph Ellison
  59. Jacques the Fatalist and His Master, Denis Diderot
  60. Jesus’ Son, Denis Johnson
  61. Journey to the End of the Night, Louis-Ferdinand Celine
  62. Katherine, Anya Seton
  63. Leaves of Grass, Walt Whitman
  64. Love In The Time Of Cholera, Gabriel García Márquez
  65. Madame Bovary, Gustave Flaubert

See the full list here.


Judging ’em by the covers

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Judging ’em by the covers

The cover of J. K Rowling’s highly anticipated novel for adults, The Casual Vacancy was released a couple of days ago as was Manu Joseph’s new book, The Illicit Happiness Of Other People. Both are bright yellow, eye-catching and you know they will command a place of prominence at all bookstores (Not accounting for the popularity of the writers, of course).

If you walk into a book store, with absolutely no reviews, tweets or marketing ploys hard-selling books swirling about in your head, what would make you pick a book? The unfortunate and inevitable answer is the cover. The second is the title and synopsis.

We can try to not judge a book by its cover, but judgment comes naturally to us. Book covers, like magazine covers are pretty important to make a sale.

This is why it is so surprising that so many writers have such terrible book covers. Almost the entire rack of books written by new Indian authors (The journalist-turned-author, the IIM graduate-turned author, The-nutritionist/fashionista/twitter account turned writer) have uninspiring, boring and corny covers that give you no indication of what the book contains. Hearts, coffee mugs, clip arts of women with shopping bags; they just blend into each other and you can’t tell them apart.

Having sat in on a few magazine cover ideations, I know that the writers and designers work together on a cover that will best represent the magazine (or at least the writers will agree with the designer’s point of view). Unfortunately in publishing, the writers have only so much control over the cover design. At a discussion panel on the rise of Indian chick-lit I attended, Kiran Manral, author of The Reluctant Detective pointed out that she has no idea why the publishers decided to put a high-heeled shoe on her cover. And, that as a first-time author, she had no choice but to agree. You’d think a writer who has finally got their work published would fight tooth and nail to have it look the way they want. But then again, you’d rather lose that battle than not have your book published at all.

Aesthetics are important in almost every field and while we want to be idealistic and say that if the writing is good, who cares what it looks like, for the average book readers and buyers, the cover is the first thing that attracts your attention. (Disclaimer: This is only applicable to retail items. You can look like Einstein or never comb your hair like APJ Abdul Kalam; if you’re a genius, it doesn’t matter. You don’t need to adhere to the society’s superficial standards of beauty.)

Think of the beautiful cover of The Great Gatsby or the iconic Lolita or the simplicity of the Godfather that manages to thrill you. Of course, book covers take on a different meaning once you’ve read the book. In my head, angst is the cover of J D Salinger’s Catcher in the rye, Harper Lee’s To kill a mockingbird will always make me feel homesick, DBC Peirce’s Vernon God Little always makes me feel wretched and Zen at the same time.

Colours, fonts (JK Rowling’s new book cover has two different fonts and it grates my eyes), images all contribute to the emotion they are trying to convey.

Here is some visual stimulation for you. Flavorwire has some great minimalistic book covers here, some book covers compared to their movie posters here and some book covers with exceptional design here.

A universe of awesome

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A universe of awesome

I’m often accused of overselling books, movies and TV. When I recommend something to you, the words and phrases you are mostly likely to hear are “Brilliant”, “Best. Thing. Ever.” and “I want to have its babies.” At some point I’ll say, “If I had to just watch/read this over and over again for the rest of my life, I’d be the happiest person on the planet,” I may also say, “Superdupermegaawesomesexykillmenow.”

I don’t dabble in the extreme so much as I wade, swim and build little colonies in it. Why would I recommend something that’s just “good” or “nice”? What is the point of wasting time with mediocrity when we live in a world full of sparkling brilliance? When I tell you that book is the next major world religion, I mean it, goddamit!

So be warned. What is about to follow is a gush fest of great proportion. It’s a compliment carnival, it’s a glory jamboree, it’s a Mardi Gras of Mardi Gras (es?). The Newsroom, Supermen of Malegoan and Gangs of Wasseypur.

“I am too old to be governed by fear of dumb people”

The Newsroom is Aaron Sorkin’s newest show on HBO that explores the working of Atlantis Cable News and centres around the anchor Will, his executive producer Mackenzie and the others that work there. The pilot reeks of Sorkinism in the way that makes me wonderfully happy. There are long soliloquies, there are dramatic head twists and walk outs, there is a messed up love story and there is an idealistic dream to rise above shallowness and do something amazing. We’re not new to the feeling, though it usually comes to us in a haze of alcohol at 4 am. Also known as Wednesday night. We say, “Fuck this, I’m really going to change the world.” The Newsroom is that feeling with wings made of red bull, fortified with brilliance, dragons blood and glitter. I love it. I love everything about it. I love the actors, I love the verbosity and I absolutely love that most critics hate it for the moral high ground it takes. Screw critics. It has the makings of a masterpiece, even if it does come across as trying too hard. It deals with news issues that happened 2 years ago, effectively telling the media what they SHOULD have done, but so freaking what? At least, it assumes that its audience is smart. One of my biggest problems with Indian Television is that it doesn’t give the audience credit for intelligence. I was once a part of a focus group for an Indian channel that expounded the “you must dumb it down or most people won’t get it” theory. It angers me. Aaanyway, as I was saying, The Newsroom is a smart show, but I can’t help the feeling of foreboding I get whenever Sorkin puts a good show on the air. Ahem, Studio 60 on the sunset strip. Will The Newsroom go the same way? I really hope not.

P.S: I love Sorkin, but you guys should check out this video

Malegoan ka Superman

I saw Supermen of Malegoan this week and cannot stop recommending it to everyone I know. It’s a charming movie about passionate people who dream big and actually do something about it. The documentary is about a bunch of people attempting a parody of Superman, using a “koroma” (chroma) screen to make him fly. The aim is simply to entertain and the result is heart-warming and inspiring. The people of Malegoan are an audience that blurs the lines between the screen and their lives. Their passion made me walk out smiling and feeling like putz for whining about my life and work; you can do so much, if you really want to. It’s a movie that deserves a larger audience and more screenings. Go watch it before it leaves theatres; it’s the best way to spend an hour.

“Keh ke lenge uski”

Oh, Anurag Kashyap, how I love you so.  I’m sure, by now everyone’s read enough reviews of Gangs of Wasseypur to care so I won’t talk about the brilliant music, gritty visuals and the slap-you-in-the-face storyline. The movie stands out for incredibly cute love scenes (permisssson to lene chahiye na), the background score and Manoj Bajpai’s face. His face is so intriguing, vile and perverted; it floored me. Despite its run time of 2 hours and 40 minutes, your eyes are glued to the screen. Oh, and one of my favourite parts? The trailer of Gangs of Wasseypur II.


We’ve seen this Jhalak before

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We’ve seen this Jhalak before

On Indian Television, adaption means three things. Add tears, add bright shiny colours or add both.  India’s version of Dancing with the stars, Jhalak Dikhhla Jaa is back on Colours. A set that looks like Jodha Akbar the sequel and judges like Karan Johar (who fits 50 Hindi words into one second, like he’s afraid to breathe), Remo (the only judge with anything of value to offer) and of course, Madhuri Dixit (Smiles. Then more smiles) and contestants that include the usual motley crew of saas bahu soap  actors and the random musician and sportsman.

The first episode was feel good with many compliments, points scattered like largess and warm slow-mo hugs. It was sugar rush stuff. The contestants are pretty boring and lackluster. Except my girl, Bharti. She’s extremely funny, in love with Remo and she aims to move like a skinny girl. I’m not biased but I absolutely hate Darsheel Safary, Archana Vijaya, Gurmeet Choudhary, Shibani Dandekar, Ravi Kishan, Pratyusha Banerjee and Gia Manek already.

The dances in the first and the second episodes were not spectacular, although they had potential. The hosts are the usual mix of annoying and pathetically funny.

But the problem I have, is that I can already predict what’s going to go down this season already. They’ve all been set up that way.

There will be a controversy over Isha Sharvani. She’s already a dancer and Jhalak Dikhla Ja is meant for non-dancers. Bringing a trained dancer to a show for nondancers is an obvious controversy pothole. The same thing happened in Season 1 with Mona Singh and Shveta Salve.

No season of Jhalak is complete without a contestant-choreographer fight. Every season, one star throws a tantrum to justify their low scores. Then casts accusing Kohl-lined glances at their choreographer.

The two people who will get enough votes to stick by for a while will always be a soap hero and a sportsperson. Remember how Karan Singh Grover made it to the finals despite the most ridiculous dancing? India loves soap heroes. And sportsmen. We get to watch someone with no clue about dancing, attempt to do it, with just the right amount sportsman’s spirit, hard work and humility. I mean, aaaaaw. There was the sweet heart, Mir Ranjan Negi and the endearing Baichung Bhutia. He even managed to win with his fancy footwork. This season it’s Sanath Jaysuriya.

At least one person will forget their moves mid-gyration/decide to opt out of the show. Just like that.

If they could introduce any new overtly dramatic stories, it would really make this season my watch-the-four-hundredth-repeats show.

P.S – I love Bharti.

The art of storytelling

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The art of storytelling

People are storytellers. Some are good and some, not so much, but people tell stories all the time. A bar fight, a stupid boss, a date, a bad batch of popcorn; everything is a story and people get dramatic and emotional while telling them.

Children’s literature is full of the most brilliant writing techniques and ideas possible. It requires a special talent to hold a child’s attention. In my brief stint as an intern/writer/Harry Potter junkie at a magazine called Disney Adventures, I learnt that the only way to amaze and interest kids is to be amazed and interested yourself. I wrote about artificial satellites, flag designs and the Olympics, when I was convinced that kids only cared about Pokeman and Hannah Montanta (which they did) but a bunch of drawings, hand-made friendship bands and “I love buzz lightyear and want to go to NASA” emails reinforced my faith in humanity (this was before Justin Beiber). Children will read and love everything, if you know how to tell a story.

Speaking of stories there is something to be said about the ones who can take a complex, fantastic tale and make it simple and child-friendly. Uncle Pai. Tinkle and Amar Chitra Katha taught me science, maths, geography and mythology in an 8-panel page. ACK is responsible for my having absorbed Krishna’s life to Anandamath and all of Indian literature’s classic stories: The gods had large biceps, maidens had large lustrous eyes and demons had long tongues: Ah the glory days. Clearly, Ananth Pai’s aim in starting this series has been fulfilled.

And then there is Dr Seuss commonly called The Genius (commonly called by me) where all of life’s lessons and philosophies came together in the most unfussy, simple way. Every time I write a sentence, I take a step back and wonder why it takes me so many words to explain one idea, when The Cat in the Hat, a Suess Favourite, has less than 250 words. Dr Seuss taught me brevity (although, I’m still learning, as is evidenced by the length of this sentence).

Then there were people who can just tell such an awesome story, it becomes actual formula in other books and art forms. I believe Earl Stanley Gardeners work (he wasn’t really writing for children but his books were a big part of my childhood) is the basis for all good courtroom dramas. I see traces of Perry Mason everywhere, from 1965’s Waqt through to 1993’s Damini and in 2004’s Aitraaz.

Stories, reading them, listening to them, watching them in film and television are important and they never leave us. As we get older, we begin to appreciate other good things about Art – Context, skill, craftsmanship, theme, subtext, metaphor, symbolism- but no matter how old you are, a good story gets you every time.

The best men on TV

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The best men on TV

It’s that time of that year again when most of my shows are on break and I’m trying to watch and get interested in the midseason shows (Girls, Veep).

But mostly I watch reruns and make lists. Here is one of my 10 favourite men on Television.

Steven Hyde from That 70s’ show

Curly hair, sideburns and boots; Steven Hyde is the epitome of Zen. His life’s philosophy is “whatever”. He has a streak of anti-establishment that makes him utterly hot.

P.S – Jackie and Hyde forever!

Dr John Dorian from Scrubs

JD is an insecure, compassionate and validation-seeking doctor with dreamy eyes. He has a constant inner monologue and frequently creates dream scenarios to make real life more like TV. No, I don’t identify with him at all. What do you mean?

Also, try getting this brilliant ode to Zach Braff out of your head (I don’t care what you say, in a non gay way, I love Zach Braff, Zach Braff).

Marshall Eriksen from How I met your mother

What kind of cold-hearted bitchasaurus rex would not love a grown man who believes in monsters, ghosts and calls the Loch ness monster, “Nessy”? He has a good job, he is funny, he wants to save the environment, he can fight when he has to, he makes adorable songs (Lily made some crème brulelelelele, you just got slapped woahohohoho); Marshal Eriksen is the perfect husband.

Dr Gregory House from House MD

Oh, Dr House is so manly. He is brash, he is in pain and he handles it like a man. An angry, crazy man. House is so hot; I want to cut my arm off so I can meet him. I want to be closed and intriguing so he wants to know me. I want to sit on his lap. I want to be Wilson so he can be best friends with me. (Just to clarify, I know he is fictional)

Matt Albie from Studio 60 on the sunset strip

Matt is the head writer of Studio 60. He is incredibly witty, smart and intelligent. He is an award-winning writer but his struggles with writing, depression, addiction and religion is so endearing, you just want to give him a hug. He is also incredibly hilarious.


Don Draper from Mad Men

I have only seen half of one Mad Men season (yes, yes, I should be hunted down and my head should be shaved) but that’s enough to fall in love with Don Draper. He is a smoker, drinker, womanizer and suit wearer and his eyes can cut though ice. I don’t think I’d really survive in 1960 (dresses that end tightly below your knees are uncomfortable) but Draper is a man that will stay hot in every decade.

Troy Barnes from Community

You know what’s great about Troy Barnes? He likes no-no juice, he can pop and lock like a champ, he has a talent in plumbing, he is distracted by shiny things and cries very easily. Also, he is the best friend anyone can ever find.

Stringer Bell from The Wire

Russell ‘Stringer’ Bell is the second-in-command of Avon Barksdale’s drug organisation. He is intelligent, ruthless, he has rock-hard abs, he takes business classes and owns a copy of Adam Smith’s The Wealth of Nations. Rock-hard abs. Rock. Hard.

Phil Dunphy from Modern Family

“I’m cool dad, that’s my thang. I’m hip, I surf the web, I text. LOL: laugh out loud, OMG: oh my god, WTF: why the face?”

– Phil Dunphy, ex-cheerleader, peerent.

Ron Swanson from Parks and Recreaction

“The less I know about other people’s affairs, the happier I am. I’m not interested in caring about people. I once worked with a guy for three years and never learned his name. Best friend I ever had. We still never talk sometimes.”

As much as I’m in love with Ben Wyatt, Ron Swanson is THE man on television. He eats meat, he drinks scotch, he is a woodworker, he hates the government and he has the bushiest moustache in the world. He is also secretly a jazz player, Duke Silver.

Trivia: Nick Offerman who plays Ron Swanson is married to Megan Mullaly who plays Ron’s crazy ex-wife Tammy 2. 

Other Contenders: 

Ben Wyatt and Tom Haverford from Parks and Recreation, Jack Donaghy from 30 Rock, Blaine Anderson from Glee, Neil Caffery ranfrom White Collar, Steely Booth From Bones, Richard Castle from Castle, Cameron from Modern Family, Omar from The Wire, Sherlock Holmes from Sherlock, Jeff winger and Abed Nadir from Community, Mark Sloane from Grey’s Anatomy.

From Everybody lies to Everybody dies: A tribute to Hugh Laurie

From Everybody lies to Everybody dies: A tribute to Hugh Laurie

But mostly just to House.

I’m still reeling from the fact that House MD, a show I have followed for the past eight years, has ended. Show finales are tricky; they have to be so many things. Keeping aside the fact that the series finale of House wasn’t the greatest (the best finale I have ever seen is Scrubs; perfect amount of tears and laughter. But then they decided to start season 9 with a new cast and completely screwed everything up. But that’s a whole new column), I have to admit; I will miss Hugh Laurie immensely.

No one could have played Gregory House MD better than Hugh Laurie.  He gets the accent right, his hand gestures are perfect, his pain is believable and his sarcasm is spot on. From the character of Gregory House I have learned that you’d be surprised what you can live with, Humanity is overrated, everybody lies and it’s never lupus. All important life lessons, imbibed in my most formative years and all because Hugh Laurie gave his everything to a character that became a phenomenon in television history.

But enough about House. Laurie was incredibly funny in Fry and Laurie, in real life, his songs are genius, he’s also an expert oarsman, he cooks like an angel and he looks great in a bow tie. What more could you want from a man!

Wait, I can’t say ‘enough about House’, what was I thinking. (It’s still too soon. ) House MD is a show written by David Shore and usually follows a pretty simple format. Patient comes in. House is disinterested. Patient develops an outrageous symptom. House is back in. A parallel story with an other character, mostly Wilson, usually gives him an idea. And bam, case solved. With a purposeful walk down the hospital corridors thrown in. Of course there are small twists and a bunch of great characters like Eric Foreman (what?), Lisa Cuddy, 13, Darryl Nolan and Chi Park.  My favorite episode by far has been season six, episode 1, Broken. I kept an hour aside on the morning of my first BMM board exam to watch it. I didn’t know it was an extended episode but it was so brilliant, I had to watch the whole thing. And I got late for my board exam.  (I’m super punctual, so instead of reaching my center an hour before the exam as I like to, I reached 10 minutes before. But it was still quite badass, ok?)

The point of all this is that as an actor, Hugh Laurie has done his bit. He has effectively brought a character to life in a way that no one else could.

While I will mourn the end of House for a while, here is some good news. Stephen Fry and Hugh Laurie will reunite to work on a mystery project.

– Sharanya

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