Saturday, 29 December 2012

Best of 2012

      Yes ..... It is that time of the year again. 2012 is slowly but surely drawing to a close. The Mayans were dead wrong and we are all still here relatively unharmed. So, lets get on with the annual list of best movies, books and TV series.


           There are very few things I state unequivocally. So the following statement is special  - The best movie I watched this year is The Dark Knight Rises ( Read my review ).The Avengers, The Hobbit, Skyfall, Zero Dark Thirty, Les miserables, Cloud Atlas, Life of Pi and Silver Linings Playbook are my picks for the best movies released this year. I still have to watch a few movies on this list but I heard good things about them from reliable sources. So, I have placed them on this list.

           There is one movie I especially liked - English Vinglish. What could have turned into a maudlin, over-dramatic mess is instead a light sensitive film with a superlative performance by Sri Devi ( the current crop of Bollywood actresses could learn a thing or two from her). There was a shot of Sri Devi clad in a sari walking along the streets of New York. It reminded me of my mom going out all alone in Abu Dhabi and that maybe why I found this movie so personal and touching. Watch this heartwarming film. You won t regret it.


             First the release of the final book of The Wheel of Time series gets pushed to next year. Scott Lynch and George RR Martin did not release any books this year. Sub par books like Fifty shades of Grey are on bestseller lists. All in all, a disappointing year for bibliophiles. However, I did find a few books that were worth my time.

          The new urban fantasy series I loved reading was The Iron Druid Chronicles by Kevin Hearne. Two books in this five book series were released this year. The books are fast paced, light in their tone and thoroughly enjoyable escapist fare.

           Another book I really enjoyed reading was The King of Thorns by Mark Lawrence. I have to confess I did not find the Prince of Thorns(the first book in this series) all that impressive the first time I read it. I reread it just before reading the second book and revised my opinion. This series is a look at the inner workings of a sociopath in a brutal world. It has an unapologetic tone and a dark undertone which sets it apart from the other series with a less than pure protagonist that keep rationalising their anti hero's actions. It is not a sweet fairytale; it is a story that will evoke a visceral response, make you uncomfortable and squirm but will ultimately make you empathize with the protagonist.

          The Emperor's soul by Brandon Sanderson and The Blinding Knife by Brent Weeks were other books I enjoyed reading. The book I waited for with bated breath this year was Cold Days by Jim Butcher. It was worth the wait and had an engaging storyline. Now I lie in wait for the 15th book in the series.

          I hope that 2013 will be a better year for bookworms.

TV Series

          I want to start this section with an apology. I am sorry I included Revenge on last year's list. I hope I don t get anything that spectacularly wrong this year.

         At number six are two series that will be a part of Television history and will only be seen in reruns from the next year - Fringe and House. The last seasons of these two series were mediocre but I included them in the list only because they were truly original and when they got it right they were truly brilliant. I will miss these shows in 2013.

          At number five is last year's number five, Suits. This series got significantly better in the second season. We got an insight into Harvey's past and his relationship with Donna and Jessica. Donna is still my favourite character with her trademark zingers and I can hardly wait for the series' return on January 17.

             At number four is Boss. Kelsey Grammar is exceptional as Thomas Kane, the Chicago mayor who is slowly losing control of his mental faculties. The extraordinary supporting cast and the intelligent storytelling make it one of the most watchable series on television.

          At number three is Game of Thrones. The HBO drama based on George RR Martin's books is a great TV show and probably the only series in the epic fantasy genre. Peter Dinklage is still brilliant. I know the series is true to the books but I can t help feeling that the absence of Sean Bean and Mark Addy in the second season makes it seem a little rudderless.

          At number two is The Newsroom. This Aaron Sorkin drama has its share of detractors. They say that it is just one sanctimonious tirade after another; Someone remarked that it was a vehicle for liberal propaganda. Maybe it is. It still is good television. I like this series because it makes a good point about media becoming more and more about sensationalist gossip mongering and less about reporting facts in context. Emily Mortimer is endearing and adorable as the idealistic Mackenzie. I could probably do without all the silly personal drama of the younger lot.

       Coming in at joint first are Homeland and Breaking Bad. First about Homeland - This series has about itself the air of a good Forsyth novel. It has unbearably tense moments that keep you glued to the screen and award winning performances by its leads. Claire Danes' portrayal of the bipolar Carrie is par excellence and Damian Lewis is riveting as the conflicted Nicholas Brody.

           I discovered Breaking Bad this summer and was immediately hooked. This drama is unusual because of the lack of melodrama and a sedate pace which gradually builds up to a climactic crescendo ; there are no emotional pyrotechnics, no over the top performances, just nuanced acting by the cast. Bryan Cranston handles all the subtle shades of his character's persona with a masterful adroitness. The writers must be lauded for writing a complex character like Walter White. This series has an inherent melancholy and its characters seem almost Shakespearean in their emotional spectrum. This final season gives me hope that this is a series that will end before it gets stale or ruined.

        So, what do you think? Do you know about any good books or movies I missed? As always, your comments are welcome.


A National Shame

         When I first started writing this blog, I thought keeping the posts apolitical would be a good idea. That stance lasted for a month before I realised I couldn t be candid and honest by censoring my own thoughts, that it would defeat the entire purpose of this blog which I envisioned was about providing me a space to sort the important stuff from all the other sensory dross I subject my brain to. I still am reluctant to comment on political issues because I, like most people in India, am woefully unaware of the entire truth on any given issue. I would like to preface this post by saying that I am aware that I do not possess all the facts pertaining to this case and am only giving voice to my views.

          The facts as I know them are that a 23 year old woman was sexually assaulted by a group of  six men in a moving bus in Delhi. The men savagely forced themselves upon her, rammed foreign objects into her, beat her repeatedly, stripped her and threw her out of a moving bus at a secluded flyover. She was with a friend who was struck on the head with an iron rod and thrown out. This moving bus passed several police patrol vehicles through busy thoroughfares in New Delhi. It took forty five minutes for a passerby to call the Police after she was thrown out of the bus.

          This brave woman after battling for her life at a hospital in Singapore is now dead. Six young men, all of them residents of a Delhi slum, have been arrested and four of them have reportedly confessed. Sheila Dixit, the CM, on being asked about this incident, allegedly, had initially remarked that the license of the bus was cancelled. Those were the only words she had to say before the popular outrage was evident. No comment was made about the woman's condition or of any efforts to apprehend the men responsible.

         Sushma Swaraj, a BJP MP, in an impassioned speech asked for the death penalty for the perpetrators but not before remarking that the girl would be a living corpse even if she lived. All the MPs were unanimous in their condemnation of this heinous act and support for imposing the death penalty cut across party lines. This was the first instance ( barring the bill that sought to increase the MP's salaries ) that I have seen our MPs agree about something. In the week that followed, many people, most of them students, took to the streets in protest against the ineptitude of the law enforcement in Delhi. There are bound to be developments in this case. Please feel free to post any new information in the comments section.

         I have refrained from writing about this abominable act till now because I wanted to reflect upon this before I spewed forth an expletive laden post which would be cathartic but ultimately useless. As I wrote the preceding paragraphs, I tried my best to leave commentary out of the facts. The facts are themselves horrendous enough to induce nausea and disgust. When I heard about this for the first time, I was appalled. I was outraged, angry and felt helpless. I felt ashamed that something like this could happen in a country I live in, in this day and age.

        I was heartened by the outpouring of support for this brave young woman from people all over the nation. The public outrage was palpable all over the Internet. People demanding chemical castration, hanging, emasculation, beheading and other inventive forms of torture were vociferously flooding the social media with their posts and tweets. One of the milder ones read- " Every one found guilty of sexual crime must be tattooed with the word RAPIST on his forehead. These beasts should undergo the same humiliation the victim does but shouldn t. " ( I do not know who the author of this post is but this suggestion does hold some merit )

        But when the outrage dies, the passionate cries lose their vehemence and this incident fades from the public memory, what do we do? Do we then wait for another such unspeakable horror to wake us up from our collective insouciance? Or will we become sufficiently inured in the future, as we have to endemic and systemic corruption, that nothing will shock us? Let us channel this outrage towards productive ends and come up with ideas to help ensure nothing like this ever happens. Blaming the politicians, the judiciary, the police and the media is momentarily satisfying but in the end, utterly ineffectual. Societal apathy and desensitisation are what we need to fight. This is a profoundly important democratic and social moment. The onus is on us, you and I, to keep fighting, whichever way we can.

         Because of the media spotlight, the political leaders have endeavoured to speed up the judicial process. They are talking about setting up fast track courts, recruiting more women as police officers, providing resources to set up more patrols and better public transportation. I have no doubt that these promises were made with a preresolved intention of breaking them. But let us hold them to their word. Inundate the social media with open letters to the President, the PM. Keep those posts coming. Blog about it. Send SMSes about it. Write letters to your MLAs, MPs, councilmen. Keep this issue current. Those of you who are reading this and have the wherewithal to influence the glacially slow political process in any way, consider this my humble plea to use your influence to effect a positive change.
        Finally, I cannot presume to be able to articulate the suffering the woman underwent or the hell her loved ones are going through. All I can wish for is that her family continues to fight but I can certainly understand if they don t want to.  My thoughts and prayers are with her family.