Saturday, December 26, 2015

2015 in Television

{Originally written for The Hindu Metroplus}

It’s time for us to welcome the new year with family, friends, celebrations, and of course, somewhat pointless lists. So without further ado, here are my TV favourites from 2015 (in no particular order): 

  • Empire - Empire is a musical soap opera about a Hip Hop mogul, and the lengths he’ll go to stay on top. It’s the television equivalent of the pizzas that have cheese stuffed in the crusts, the kind which oozes yellow, processed glory, on to your fingers. Yes it’s disgustingly over the top, and you can’t really tell people how much you enjoy it, although you know that they’d enjoy it just as much as you do when they eat it, I mean, watch it. {FX India}
  • Better Call Saul - Better Call Saul was my favourite show this year. Yes, it’s a spin off of Breaking Bad, and there are plenty of recurring characters, but surprisingly, it has an entirely unique tone, and while one is occasionally reminded of Breaking Bad, Better Call Saul stands on its own. {Colors Infinity} 
  • Wolf Hall - Wolf Hall is a literary mini series which was produced by the BBC. The cast and screenplay is splendid, and Hilary Mantel’s masterpiece comes alive over the course of 6, hour long episodes. I do hope that more show makers take the hint from Wolf Hall and make more mini series from literary classics - that way I don’t have to pretend like I’ve read them anymore.
  • Game of Thrones - Dragons! Kings! Betrayals! Dragons! Death! Snow! Did I mention Dragons? The fifth season of the epic fantasy story came to an end this year, with a finale that shook the world, or at least, broke the internet. Game of Thrones is the show whose return I’m most looking forward to in 2016. {HBO}
  • Daredevil - While I enjoyed both The Flash and Arrow, Daredevil takes the super hero genre of television to a whole new level, the way Nolan’s The Dark Knight changed the game for films. Netflix has come out with a winner, yet again, and there is no doubt that Daredevil is the benchmark for super hero television shows to come.  
  • Master of None - If you’re not socialising with your family, and have plenty of time in your hands this weekend, why not cosy up with the entire first season of Aziz Ansari’s comedy for all seasons? It’s one the most relatable shows I’ve watched on international television (and not just because Ansari hails from Tamil Nadu), and the perfect candidate for marathon viewing. 
  • Quantico - This is right on top of my list of unexpected favourites. I didn’t want to like it, I watched it with great prejudice but eventually gave in to the racy screenplay and exaggerated drama. The show is addictive, and Priyanka Chopra has made an assured debut into American television and proved that she is a bonafide star. The penultimate episode before the season finale, and the season finale itself were a tad frustrating and I’m hoping (against hope) that it sorts itself out when it comes back next year. {Star World}
  • The Affair - One often talks about “mindless television” - The Affair is the opposite. It demands your attention in a manner that is unforgiving, and if you blink, you miss. The Affair follows a story of infidelity narrated through different perspectives, none of which are objective, and leaves it to the viewer to be the judge. I’m a chronic multitasker, but The Affair ensured that my attention only belonged to the screen. {FX India}
  • Mr. Robot - A terrific and well researched show that goes into the psyche and life of hackers. Given the rising coverage with respect to the hacking group “Anonymous” in the mainstream news, Mr. Robot is an excellent way to better understand hacking, and how the right information in the wrong hands could potentially break the world as we know it. {Colors Infinity}
  • Modern Family - It’s not from 2015, technically, but I have been watching it religiously, all year. I could never tire of this show, or it’s characters, and I am yet to find an episode I haven’t guffawed out loud in. A perennial favourite to end the list! {Star World}

Saturday, December 19, 2015

In A Flash

{Originally published in The Hindu Metroplus}

Barry Allen is just your average physics nerd who works in the forensics department of the police station. He is struck by lightning in a freak accident, put in a coma for nine months, and wakes up to find that the lightning has bestowed him with super speed and a new set of abs. He also learns that it isn’t just him who was on the receiving end of the lightning, and that there are other “meta-humans” in the city who have great powers, but not necessary good intentions. Barry, although initially doubtful about his abilities, with the help of the scientists who restored him from the coma (and were also the cause of the freak accident), brings down a meta-human who has the power to control the weather. While most superhero shows would take half a season to reach this point of the story, The Flash wraps it up in the very first episode. 

The show moves at the same breakneck speed that the fastest man on earth does. Barry takes down evil meta-humans with the help of his team, comprising Dr. Wells (Tom Cavanagh), the genius who revives Barry from his coma, and whose failed machine was the reason behind the lightning in the first place, Cisco Ramon (Carlos Valdes), in-house computer whiz and the inventor of all of The Flash’s cool weapons and Caitlin Snow (Danielle Panabaker), the moody but brilliant genetic scientist. The show for most part follows a “villain of the week” format while character development is relegated to the background, keeping the show light, and more importantly, easy to catch up on. 

Grant Gustin, former Glee star, is entirely believable as The Flash, and the fact that he plays an adorable 20 something who uses his super speed to sneak in an extra hour of sleep in the morning, makes him a refreshing change from the usually brooding, pensive brand of superhero which we are so used to today. The show’s creators throw plenty of unexpected jokes throughout the show, and even play on pop culture by bringing together the Prison Break brothers (Wentworth Miller and Dominic Purcell) as the deadly co-villains Captain Cold and Heat Wave. The Arrow, a vigilante hero and a friend of Barry’s (who has his own show as well) also makes frequent appearances, making both shows more cohesive with the comic books they were inspired by. 

While there is plenty to like and enjoy about The Flash, it isn’t particularly perfect. The complete lack of chemistry between Barry and the supposed love of his life, Iris West (Candice Patton), for example. Iris is the daughter of Joe West (Jesse Martin), a policeman who takes Barry in and raises him after his mother is murdered under mysterious circumstances. Iris and Barry are raised together, best of friends, and practically siblings. Barry pines for Iris as she dates Joe’s handsome young partner Eddie Thawne (the excellent Rick Costnett). While television can make us buy anything these days, the Iris-Barry-Eddie love triangle feels forced, and their time together on screen feels like time wasted.

Overall though, The Flash is something a lot of superhero franchises aren’t - fun. While it isn’t a show that is going to lend itself to serious cultural commentary, it is definitely one that does justice to the league it belongs to. 


{The second season of The Flash is presently running on Colors Infinity}

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Television & Tragedy

{Originally written for The Hindu Metroplus}

The past few weeks have been hard on Chennai, with floods ravaging the city, and stripping its citizens of possessions, homes, and livelihoods. While a part of the blame with respect to the massive amount of damage that the flood has caused, no doubt, belongs to poor urban planning, these were no ordinary rains. It was bizarre, freak weather, the kind that appears once in a hundred years, and it took mainstream news channels a good couple of days to realise that these floods were a far greater disaster than Aamir Khan’s comments on intolerance. 

Rajdeep Sardesai, the (very) popular news anchor and consulting editor with the India Today group was the first to speak up about the national media’s indifference towards not only the floods in Chennai, but also the fact that events in and around the national capital get far more coverage than what happens in South India. “I just feel, at the moment, that the focus of news channels must be on Chennai, to try and help people”, he concluded. 

Around the same time that Sardesai had released the video, the national media channels came in droves. I had been among those who were irked that the city was being ignored, but I suppose one must be careful for what they wish for. When I started watching the coverage (I was among the lucky few who had power for a good part of the rains), my exasperation only increased. It appeared as if every news channel was competing against each other for the most tasteless coverage of the calamity. Microphones were shoved into the faces of families which were only now trying to come to terms with the colossal damage that the rains had done to their lives. “What have you lost?” asked reporters briskly, and pressed for specifics as the camera panned to the family’s apparent anguish. 

Every channel had its own tragedy: If it wasn't a household which had lost everything in the face of their daughter’s wedding, it was an orphanage that was stranded with no access to food or water. Some channels took the trouble of creating video montage sequences of the flooding, punctuated with shots of people in grief, set to sad, funereal music, which they played every five minutes. Chennai, they declared, was devastated, and there is nothing but trauma here. 

Although there is no doubt with regard to the vast desolation and suffering that the rains have caused to the city, I found it surprising that no channel, in its initial coverage of the rains, was particularly interested in covering the resilience and uprising of the people of Chennai, and the way social media was used to mobilise help and resources across various areas. People opened up their homes to complete strangers who were stranded in the area, and a staggering number of people stepped out of their houses, braving the storm to help in rescue and volunteering operations.


News Channels have a special place in Indian television - after all, it’s never just news. Every news channel has come to believe that it is the emancipator of the people, with hosts who are convinced that they’re human courthouses which have the authority to question, and pass judgement on the nation’s Executive. While Arnab Goswami striking terror in the hearts of politicians isn’t a bad thing for our country, the way both natural catastrophes and man made attacks are reported on screen, has to change. It is imperative that reporters learn to be sensitive when interviewing and talking to victims, and understand that empathy is far more important than TRPs. 

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

The Storm And The Mountain

Originally written for The Hindu thREAD, here

As I write this, Chennai is recovering from a second spell of debilitating rains. All of last week, the city had seen heavy rains with even heavier winds. Entire floors of houses were submerged, as water threatening to enter higher floors. Boats are still being let out, and the army and navy are hard at work, rescuing stranded citizens, along with volunteers who haven't so much as slept as the last few days. The Adyar river, which had only been famous for being parched and smelly, now flows with the strength of the Amazon. Bridges have fallen, roads have collapsed and water has pervaded the city in ways that one only encounters in apocalypse movies.

According to the weather reports, and the satellite images of the white, dastardly patches that are now moving away from the state, the city seems to be, fingers crossed, safe from more heavy rainfall. The sun is out, and people are now on the road, trying to get back to life as it was. Thanks to technology, we know exactly how long the weather’s going to be terrible, and when it’ll get better. One can’t help but wonder though, what did people do before science evolved this far? Ten years ago, when a similar kind of monsoon hit the city, I asked my grandmother this exact question. Her answer was simple - “We prayed”. 

Ancient civilizations across the globe worshipped the elements in one way or the other. The Greeks, for example, had assigned a god for almost every cause, even for merrymaking and wine (Dionysus was his name, in case you’re curious), but the chief god, Zeus, controlled the skies and the storms, and was often pictured with a thunderbolt. Farther north in Europe, Norse mythology had Thor, the god of thunder, lightning and storms. Thor was portrayed to be strong and mighty, and carried a massive hammer known as the Mjolnir. Thor is perhaps the most popular god in Norse mythology, to the point where he has his own comic book series now, and is also associated with strength, the protection of mankind, and fertility. Back home, we have Indra. Indra, apart from being the king of the Devas, is also the god of the skies, wields a thunderbolt called Vajra and rides Airavata, the glorious white elephant. Indra, Thor and Zeus, are proof of two things - that our ancients across the world weren’t too creative with their gods, and that they all feared the destructive powers that rains and storms possessed, to the point where they decided to not only deify them, but also make them the most important among the other gods. It soon became imperative for civilisations to do their best to appease these gods as well, for if they weren’t happy, they would take their anger out on the people of earth. 

Perhaps the most famous story in Indian Mythology involving weather gods losing their temper with the people of the earth is the episode of Govardhana Giridhara - the cowherd who lifted the mountain. Once, when the people of Vrindavan were trying to arrange a sacrifice to appease Indra, they came to Krishna for help. Krishna, instead of helping them out, convinced them that Indra didn’t need sacrifice to be appeased. As far as Krishna was concerned, Indra didn’t need appeasement at all. And so, the villagers of Vrindavan, placing all their faith in Krishna, decided to not proceed with the sacrifice. Indra, obviously, was not too happy about this development, and decided that their impudence must be taught a lesson. The blue skies turned black as Indra unleashed both his anger and his thunderbolt, and Vrindavan saw a storm the likes it had never seen before. Rain pummelled the land incessantly, destroying everything in its wake as the terror struck villagers ran to Krishna. Save us! they cried. Save us, Krishna! 
Krishna, who was now tired of Indra’s antics, made the villagers collect their belongings and their cows and follow him to a large mountain near the village. Once they were there, Krishna lifted this giant mountain, with his little finger no less, instantly making it a massive umbrella for the people around him. When Indra saw what was happening, he was incensed, and made the storm more severe. The winds howled, thunder roared, and the rains lashed, but Krishna stood, smiling serenely as he held the mountain with his finger. 
Indra exhausted all his weapons, and then himself, before he realised that it was no ordinary cowherd who was lifting this mountain, but someone who was higher up in the divine food chain. He stopped the storm, and went down to apologise, humbled. 

I believe that this episode, which is usually recalled to indicate the shift in Hinduism from worshipping smaller gods (Devas), to the prominent ones (Shiva & Vishnu), is relevant to the rains that have hit Chennai the last week. While mythology tells you that terrible storms occurred because the weather gods were taking their temper out on the people of earth, science will tell you that certain severe storms are actually the product of a larger environmental problem which came into existence because of man. We have plundered the earth, destroyed forests, polluted seas, wiped out entire species of animals, changed the composition of the air we breathe, manipulated natural drainage systems, all because we could. Is it any wonder that the gods are angry?
Having said that, the volunteer efforts across the city have been phenomenal. People are working day and night, without sleep to get food and water across to all those who have been affected. There are restaurants, preparing food in the thousands of kilos, free of cost, to be distributed. Temples, mosques churches, and common people have opened their gates to provide shelter. The kindness that one has seen the last week has been overwhelming, and the city, despite being battered and bruised, remains optimistic. Maybe, we have lifted our own mountain. 

Monday, November 30, 2015

It

{This is a short story I wrote for the Madras Mag Anthology. It is a wonderful book, full of gems from authors the like of Srinath Perur, Sharanya Manivannan, MR Sharan, among others, and it's an absolute honour to be rubbing shoulders with writers of that calibre! It's published by a super hip independent publisher, Mulligatawny Books, and by purchasing the anthology, you'll be supporting quality Indian writing. You can buy it on Amazon, here.} 

Sarah’s cousin Natasha’s Labrador had given birth to six puppies, of which five had already found homes across the city. The last one came to us, something that Amma was not pleased about. What is that thing, she had asked Shrinidhi when she showed up at the door with a card board box that had holes and a puppy. Take it back right now. Shrinidhi, however, had different plans. She had been asking Amma for a dog for two years now, supplemented her pleas with research that had been the result of googling “How dogs make life better”, and even changed Amma’s phone wallpaper from photos of Srinivasa Perumal to photos of adorable, fluffy Golden Retriever puppies, but had never gotten what she wanted. Amma said they were dirty, and Appa, who worked twelve hours a day in his legal practice, was too exhausted by the time he came home to have a different opinion.

She had been on the verge of giving up when Sarah had told her during Lunch Break about her cousin Natasha’s Labrador, Choochoo Arockiaraj, and how they were having trouble giving the last puppy in her litter away. Why wouldn’t anyone want a puppy, Shrinidhi had asked Sarah. That’s because these puppies are a cross, replied Sarah knowledgeably. Natasha’s parents didn’t realise that Choochoo was in her heat when they took her out for a walk, and the neighbours’ male mongrel-hound, Dimitri, who was also on his walk, had seduced her. Her neighbours were Germans, and they were so happy about the pairing, that they immediately told Natasha that they’d not only take half the litter, but also pay for the vet and pregnancy. Shrinidhi nodded sagely, although she didn’t really understand what a dog being in the heat meant, after which she asked Sarah if she could take the last puppy. That, as they say, was that. Natasha was outside the school campus the next evening with the cardboard box laced with newspaper that housed the puppy, a chew toy, and a separate box with puppy food. Thank you so much, Natasha had told her. You’re doing an amazing thing! You’re going to love it! I’ve given you enough food to last you a week, and feel free to ask me anything about her, she said, pointing to the larger box.

Shrinidhi had had exactly three questions - how old the puppy was (she’s seventy days old now), whether she needed shots (she needs a booster on the 7th, I’ve already paid the vet - I’ll text you his address), and whether she could eat Thayir Saadham (hmmm, give her vegetarian puppy food first, Pedigree has it, with curd, definitely, because it’s good for their coats, also give her boiled vegetables but once she’s six months old, Thayir Saadham, why not. Just google to be sure). Once she got her answers she knew that the little puppy she was carrying wouldn’t just help her finish her lunch, but also be her companion for life.

When Shrinidhi suggested that they keep the puppy in the little verandah across the hall, Amma only cussed in response. Azhukku Shaniyan. Keep it in your room, with your mess. Appa had told her the same, and also that it would help her bond with the puppy better. And so, Shrinidhi kept the puppy in her room. She opened up the box where she had been putting away Birthday and falling-at-the-feet-of-elders money to buy a dog on her own, and spent the rest of the day shopping online for the puppy, feeding her, and cleaning up the dog’s piss and poop. 

Amma, why don’t you name her? Shrinidhi had offered the next day. 

Her? asked Amma incredulously. It is an it. I am not naming it. I don’t even like it. 

Fine, said Shrinidhi. That’s what I’ll name her. I’ll call her Adhu

Excellent name, said Amma. Now that the Punyojanam is done, shall I make some Carrot Payasam to celebrate? 

Shrinidhi stalked back to her room, and came back five minutes later to ask Amma if she could have a hundred rupees to buy her a few tennis balls. Amma said no. Appa gave her the money on the condition that she didn’t tell Amma.   

Adhu, whose name soon morphed into Addhu, and then Addhooo, was an adorable little puppy. She had inherited her mother’s droopy ears, short hind legs, stubby nose, and her father’s jet-black coat. She was of soft, timid temperament and was happy to be sleeping on most days, and whenever Shrinidhi brought her to the hall, it’s her home too she would say, Adhu was happy to just lie flat under the fan with all four of her paws spread out, making her look like a cuddly version of the macabre tiger skin trophy carpets that one saw in the houses of rich, villainous men in Tamil Cinema.
Despite the puppy’s obvious cuteness which had won all the other hearts in the house, Amma continued to show spite towards the dog. Ignore your mother, Appa told Shrinidhi. She’s been stressed and irritated all week. Prabha Atthai is due to call about her trip today.  

Prabha Atthai was Appa’s first cousin, and older to him by about ten years. The only child of her parents, she moved to the United States in the early eighties after marrying - Amma preferred to use the word capturing - a mild mannered neurologist who was making good money, and continued to do so. She rarely visited India, it was exhausting, she would say with her newly acquired twang, preferring instead to fly her parents to the States. Five years ago she had lost her parents in quick succession, and ended up spending a fair amount of time with Appa because he was the only lawyer who would help sort out her parents’ wills, house deeds, and other formalities without charging anything.  Before she left to the US, she called home, and spoke to Appa about how grateful she was, and that as a token of her gratitude, she would come to India more often, and stay with us. Appa had welcomed the idea heartily, much to Amma’s displeasure. If only you were less compassionate, she had told him. We would have got a BMW ten years ago.

The first time Prabha Atthai visited us, she hauled her suitcase across the airport to the Tirusulam subway station, took the train to Mambalam, and walked through the morning-after muck of Ranganathan Street to reach our house which was on the other side. Your city is so dirty, she’d accused once she got home. Look at what I had to get through to come here. 

Why didn’t you take a cab, Amma had asked. 

A cab costs Rs.450. Don’t you have a driver? Please send him from now.

Prabha Atthai’s schedule in Chennai was the same each trip.  As soon as she got home, which would usually be in the middle of the night, she would insist on waking us up immediately so that she could give us our gifts – items she had carefully picked out herself from the dollar store. You don’t get anything like this here, do you, she would ask, pointing to the acrylic pen stands and Jolly Rancher hard candies that she would get us year after year. The only way we were allowed to go back to sleep was if we said no.

Every morning, she would sit in the dining table, and draw up a long list of cousins and relatives to visit that day. She would then have breakfast, and talk. She would talk about her life before she got married, her life after, life in the States, and how life would have been if she hadn’t gone. It wasn’t the talking that bothered Amma as much as Prabha Atthai’s need to have a pertinent response. If Amma so much as hmm-ed, Prabha Atthai would turn her nose up, after which she would repeat the entire story again for Amma’s benefit, and the rest of the day would be spent on more such one sided storytelling, apart from lunch and dinner. Prabha Atthai ran out of stories quickly, and would often repeat her favourites - Amma, after listening to the story of how she saw Bujji Periamma elope with her Professor back in the eighties for roughly the thirtieth time, made the mistake of telling Prabha Atthai that she already knew the story. Prabha Atthai, who was quick to get offended, wasn’t one to give up.

She stopped telling stories, and started doling out advice instead – she would advise Amma on everything she thought Amma would benefit from, but her core focus was on how Amma had raised her daughters. Your daughters have too much freedom. Why did you put them in a Convent? They’re probably eating Non Vegetarian food behind your back. If you give your daughters smart phones, they will get boyfriends. For four years, Amma handled it with great finesse, choosing to comment in a neutral manner. Last year, however, Prabha Atthai crossed the line by straying from her chosen topic of daughter rearing, to commenting on Amma’s cooking, more specifically, by telling her that her Paruppu Thogayal could use some improvement.  Amma started giving her the silent treatment, and two days later, Prabha Atthai left to Latha Periamma’s house for the remainder of the trip. Things sorted themselves out the way these things usually sort themselves out – Amma and Appa had a fight, but neither Amma nor Atthai acknowledged or confronted the other about the incident.

 Prabha Atthai called on schedule to inform Amma about her trip, the timings of her flight, and whether the driver would be coming to pick her up. By the way, Amma had told her.  We have a dog in the house. I hope you’re alright with them.

Dog? What dog? When?

Amma told her the entire story about Shrinidhi and Choochoo Arockiaraj. It’s annoying, but it’s here. I can’t do anything. Do you have a problem with dogs?

Please don’t be upset about what I’m going to tell you, Prabha Atthai said. But I am deathly allergic to dogs. 

Oh, said Amma. I never knew about this. 

That’s because of who I am, she replied. I don’t like burdening people with my problems. Why should I give you one more worry? You must have enough with those daughters of yours. Anyway, this is the problem. Even if I so much as see dogs, I develop a cough and a severe rash. Is there any way to give her away before my trip to Chennai?

I’m sorry, said Amma. I’ve tried everything. Shrinidhi just won’t listen. The only way the dog is leaving the house is if Shri takes it along to her husband’s house after she gets married. 

Shrinidhi has to get married before the dog leaves? asked Prabha Athai. Who knows when that will happen! Or if that will happen at all! 

I know, said Amma. The times we live in. 

I suppose I should go to Latha’s house right away this time. 

I suppose, replied Amma. 

Ok then, bye. I’ll call you later. 

Bye, good night, said Amma and waited to hear the click sound of the call getting cut. She continued to stand with her ear on the phone as the events of the past fifteen minutes sank into her.

We had Carrot Payasam for dessert that evening.

Saturday, November 28, 2015

The Snow On The Wall

{Originally Written For The Hindu Metroplus}

It would seem that George RR Martin, the writer behind the epic books and TV series, Game of Thrones, has a rather curious penchant for killing his characters, more specifically, the good, the brave and the honest characters. Martin, who confesses to have been “killing characters his entire career”, has talked about how he wants his audience to be “afraid to turn the page” when his character is in danger. When you watch the first season of Game of Thrones (based on the book, A Song of Fire and Ice), the narration begins with Eddard Stark, an honourable lord who we are led to believe is one of the key protagonists in the series. He faces death, but given his importance in the scheme of things, you think that there’s really no way that they could kill him, after all, where would the story go without him? The executioner brings his sword to his neck, and you still think, no, a miracle will happen - maybe the evil people will change their minds! Maybe he’ll escape from his shackles and put up a fight! Maybe the executioner is his man! But none of that happens, and  Eddard Stark dies a painful death, and it is that death which not only sets the coldblooded tone of the show, but also tells you that Martin was very serious about what he had said about making his audience fear for their favourite characters.

Game of Thrones, for those who are still unaware, is the television event of this decade. An epic medieval fantasy which has reduced fully grown adults into discussing dragons and dwarves, Game of Thrones cannot be compared to any other show on television right now. Five seasons have passed thus far, and the sixth is due around April next year. The sixth season is the most awaited season yet, simply because no one has any idea of what is about to happen. The past five seasons have followed the books, but the sixth and seventh books are yet to be completed by Martin, which means that no one, apart from the show’s creators, really know what is about to happen next. 

The fifth season ended with the death of the Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch, Jon Snow. Characters dying in the show is now routine, and many of my own favourites (Oberyn Martell in particular) have all died gruesome, bloody deaths. Every time Martin killed someone I was rooting for, I remember telling myself that the time has come for me to give up on the show and stop watching it altogether, but the very next week I’ve found myself glued to the screen again. 

Now Snow, who had become the audience favourite over the years because of his upright, brave, and stoic character (and also because almost every other character in the show worth rooting for, was brutally killed through the course of the five seasons), was stabbed in the back by his own men. Since there’s really no knowing what happens next, fans quickly recovered from the shock and horror to theorise about a possible resurrection, and a hundred other ways through which Snow could possibly defy death. After six months of heavy speculation, fans rejoiced last week as HBO released the poster for the sixth season, featuring Snow, alive, albeit with a bit of blood on his face. Is he going to be resurrected by the Red Priestess, Melisandre? Or is his Dragon blood going to pull him through? Apart from Snow’s “resurrection”, there is still mystery surrounding the other characters in the series as well. Whatever happened to Sansa Stark and Theon Greyjoy when they jumped off the castle wall? Did Stannis really die? Is Arya going to be blind forever? 
Knowing the show, I would take the worst case scenario for every character, but Jon Snow’s rebirth has given me something that I never thought I would ever associate with Game of Thrones - Hope.   


{Game of Thrones presently airs on HBO}

Friday, November 27, 2015

Stuff I Wrote This November

Ok, so I've been terrible at updating the blog with what I've been writing for The Hindu, and since the backlog for November is pretty high, I'm just going to post links here. Hope you enjoy reading them!

For Metroplus:
Lies & Prejudice - On the TV Show "The Affair".
Sense & Censurability - On the borderline ridiculous censoring that happens on television today.
Master of Some - On Aziz Ansari's new Netflix original, Master of None.

For thREAD
Quench My Hunger - In which I undertake a rather tortuous juice diet.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Trick or Treat

{Originally written for The Hindu thREAD}

Around this time, for the last few years, there has been a sharp increase of people on my Facebook feed posting photos of themselves celebrating Halloween, dressed up as vampires, ghosts, T.Rajendar and other miscellaneous frightening characters. Now Halloween, for those who aren’t in the know, is a holiday that was once celebrated exclusively in the United States, and has now spread across the world, including India. Halloween involves putting on elaborate costumes of spooky characters in a bid to ward off ghosts and evil spirits, although I am yet to understand exactly how that works. If a ghost were to see you dressed as one, wouldn’t it just put it’s ghostly arm around you, as opposed to run away? That aside, it’s a fun holiday, in my opinion at the least - The premise is simple, and since everyone loves dressing up, there’s no real surprise as to why it’s so popular. 

What disappoints me when I see these photos though (apart from the fact that nobody invited me for any of these parties), is that people choose to be vampires, assorted ghosts and banshees as their “scary” alter egos. This is a joke, because ever since the Twilight series released and after multiple appearances in the Backstreet Boys’ music videos, vampires have long ceased to anything remotely close to scary or evil. Ghosts and banshees, on the other hand, have zero personality, and most people end up looking like either moving bedsheets or Shahnaz Hussain. 

It bothers me at a certain level that people from in and around India, choose these kinds of costumes when the country has such a rich history of demons. We are the land of Rakshasas and Rakshasis, Asuras and Asuris! Honestly, it’s downright disrespectful you’ve decided that you’re going to be a zombie for Halloween. From what I know, all zombies do is eat brains. The demons from our scriptures on the other hand are far more accomplished. You could be Hiranyakashipu, for example, the demon king who was so obsessed with himself that he was ready to kill his own son for not worshipping him. Why not be Ravana, the brutal ten headed king who conquered the three worlds, and sparked an epic war? You could be Hiranyaksha, the Asura who continuously beat and abused Mother Earth to the point where Vishnu had to take an avatar to fight a thousand year long battle with him. You could also be Kumbhakarna, the demon who plundered and then ate his enemies, like they were free mini samosas at an office meeting. These four demons made the Devas tremble and cower in fear, for they were the best and greatest of their times, rather, the worst. They also have something else in common - they were the result of an irreversible curse. 

If you have gone to a Vishnu temple, you would have definitely noticed the twin statues which flank the sanctum sanctorum. They look like Vishnu, with the conch, chakra, and mace but they also have fangs. They are Jaya, and Vijaya - the door keepers of Vishnu. They are also Hiranyaksha and Hiranyakashipu, they are Ravana and Kumbhakarna, and they are Sishupala and Dhantavakra. 

How did this happen? The story goes that the sons of Brahma, called the Sanat Kumaras, who had great cosmic powers and bore the appearance of children, took a trip to Vaikunta, the heavenly city of Vishnu. They passed through six of the city’s gates with no trouble, only to be held in the last gate by Jaya and Vijaya, who were notably amused by these innocent looking infants seeking an audience with the Preserver of The Universe. Our Lord is sleeping, they had told the Sanat Kumaras. He will not be disturbed by little children. The Sanat Kumaras in turn, replied that Vishnu would always be there for his devotees, but were turned away by Jaya and Vijaya. Three times the Sanat Kumaras approached the door, and they were denied all three times on the same ground. Our Lord is sleeping, and He will not be disturbed by little children. The Sanat Kumaras had understandably lost all their patience by now,  and reacted the same way most of us do when we get unsolicited phone calls from loan agencies - they cursed. They cursed Jaya and Vijaya to lose their divine status as Vishnu’s door keepers and instead, be born on Earth and live a mortal life. 

Vishnu soon woke up, only to realise that the damage had already been done. He apologised profusely to the Sanat Kumaras, and felt great remorse for his two well meaning, and loyal doorkeepers, who were just doing their job. He could not lift the curse off of them, but he could modify it. He told them so, and gave them two choices - they could take seven births as an ardent devotee of Vishnu, or take three as terrible demons who will die a brutal death in His hands. Jaya and Vijaya, couldn’t bear the thought of being away from their Lord and master for seven births, and chose to take the short, but unpleasant route. 

Thus were born Hiranyaksha and Hiranyakashipu, Ravana and Kumbhakarna, and Shishupala and  Dhantavakra. They were all  frightful looking: Hiranyaksha and Hiranyakashipu were massive Asuras whose very sight shook the ground, Ravana had ten heads and Kumbhakarna was the size of a small village. Shishupala and Dhantavakra, both large, bulky and revolting, weren’t demons though. They were evil, but they were human, and their deaths were tame in comparison to their predecessors. It was said that Jaya’s and Vijaya’s powers gradually reduced with each birth they took, although I don’t whether it was because of the beating they got in their previous birth, or because they were in a great hurry to get back to their original jobs. When Jaya and Vijaya got back to Vaikunta though, they retained a souvenir from their time on the mortal realm - fangs. They have serene smiles on their faces, similar to that of their boss, Vishnu, but the fangs confirm their position in the temple. We don’t bless, they say. We guard. 


At the end of all this, an important question remains - who is the scariest of them all? The demons who who raided, plundered, took the Earth to the brink of extinction? Is it the doorkeepers themselves, for choosing these evil, cursed lives? Or is it the Sanat Kumaras, underneath whose infant faces lie curses which are capable of creating demons? I can’t tell for sure, but I’ll tell you who isn’t scary - some guy from Transylvania who can change into a bat. 

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Quantico

{An edited version of this appeared in The Hindu Metroplus, here}

There’s a scene in the second episode of Quantico where the recruits at the FBI Training Academy are made to solve a crime scene, a crime scene which was dummy to begin with, and it is Priyanka Chopra’s character, Alex Parrish, who isn’t just the first among her peers, but the first in the history of the Academy to solve it. If someone were to have narrated this scene to me, I’d have rolled my eyes and made a mental note to never watch this show, but when I saw it unfold on the screen, I bought it. In fact, I bought all of it, and I am here to finally come out and say that Quantico is well worth your time. 

I had watched the first eight minutes of the show when it leaked online, and yes, I found it entertaining but I still had many apprehensions - with the hype around the show, it seemed like it would be one that was poised to become the television event that I would love to hate. I’d already had half a column written in my head which had the words “wasted potential”, and “Priyanka Chopra should have stayed in Bollywood”, but now, 4 episodes into the show, I’ll eat my words. Quantico is tremendously entertaining, and Priyanka Chopra is not merely good, but entirely believable as Alex Parrish, the intelligent, bold, and tough FBI Agent who is wrongly accused of being a terrorist. 

The screenplay of Quantico is fast and furious - it shifts back and forth from the past, where Alex Parrish is training in the Academy and the present, where she is accused of being the prime suspect in the bombing of New York’s Grand Central Station, and transition is seamless. Alex gets to know that it is one of her classmates from the Academy, who is responsible for the bombing and is framing her for the it, and must find out who it is before it’s too late. Could it be Shelby Wyatt (Johanna Brady), the pageant queen who nurses a secret vengeance? Or is it Simon Asher (Tate Ellington), the Jewish guy with a murky past?

Every character has a back story that deserves it’s own television show (the Nimah Amin story, in particular), and the writing is such that it’s impossible to judge any of them as “good” or “bad” upon first glance. There are also lots of little surprises about the characters which keep popping up during the course of the show, surprises which really pull you into watching, and ensure that you’ll be waiting for the next episode. 

Finally, I feel like I have to talk about Priyanka Chopra’s accent in the show, despite the fact that there’s an entire library of material on the topic. It is not American, yes, but so what? The show has an explanation for it, even - After a traumatising incident which happens in the family (her father is shot dead), Alex is sent to India for ten years to finish her schooling, out of which her mother only knows where she had been for nine. And just like that, her accent becomes a part of the story.  Truth be told, I’ve heard far worse accents from family and friends who have spent brief time in the US - drawls that suddenly appear like colourful underwear in a hastily packed suitcase, so Priyanka’s is really not bad. 

There is still some room for improvement in the show - some of the dialogues are really cheesy, and the show does get over the top from time to time, but it’s an action soap opera, so that’s expected. What was unexpected for me, though, was how much I enjoyed watching Priyanka Chopra play Alex Parrish. I suppose it’s time now we stop focussing on her accent, and instead start writing about how she’s well on her way to becoming a legitimate star on American Television. 


{Quantico is presently running on Star World} 

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Epic Television

I’m not one to call anything a phenomenon very lightly, least of all something that airs on screen, but the Mahabharata is a legitimate television phenomenon. I have been watching the story unfold on television for as long as I can remember watching television. The version that left the maximum impact on me is BR Chopra’s. Yes, the sets were gaudy, the effects comical, and the acting got a little too dramatic at times, but the writing and the way the episodes were paced ensured that the series was ahead of its time. There was no compromise with regard to story in the Mahabharata of the nineties, for no relationship or character from the original epic was left behind. One would think that taking on all the subplots would make the series translate unfavourably for television, but the writers managed to juggle them all on screen with consummate ease. BR Chopra’s Mahabharata revolutionised Indian television of the nineties. I have heard stories of empty streets during the telecast, and about folks with television sets “hosting” people and children from their neighbourhood to watch the show together.
The second version I remember was animated — it was called Pandavas. It aired on a channel called Splash, one of the few exclusive to children in the nineties, and by god, it was awful. It was 3D animation; the technology was new at that time and the execution, terrible. Yet, I didn’t miss a single episode.
Two new versions of the Mahabharata have been on air over the last couple of years — one produced by Sun Networks, and the other, by Star. I prefer Star’s version — it has better special effects and modern casting (the hairy paunched Pandavas have been traded in for ones that have flat, muscular abs). Both productions, however, have people hooked on to their television sets again, and that just proves that the draw of a good story, no matter how many times it has been retold, is undeniable.
You can read my column for The Hindu Metroplus Melange, on why Indian TV needs to be more epic, here.  
Please note: The views expressed in this blog are the author's own. However, she is not responsible for the comments that have been left on the page and the same need not necessarily reflect her viewpoint on the same and are entirely the commenters' own. Ok, now read the rest of the blog already.