Saturday, December 30, 2023

Books, Shows, and Documentaries - 2023 Wrap Up

Excited to share the 3rd post of this newly created annual tradition (2021, 2022) - My Favorite Books, Shows, and Documentaries. Unfortunately I had to remove the Podcast section after adding it in 2022 as I almost heard the same shows again, and will still recommend all of the ones from last year.

Note: Unlike for my movies, shows, and documentaries lists where I keep "released this year" as the eligibility criterion, the books list is not restricted to just books released in that year, but books read in that year.

Books (all book pictures from Goodreads) 

Total books read in 2023 - 23. Full list available here. Feel free to add me as a friend on Goodreads.

5. Wrong Place Wrong Time by Gillian McAllister (Fiction)

My review (from Goodreads): Checks all the boxes of a simply good book. You're invested in the characters from the get go. The time travel angle adds a fresh angle to the whodunnit. The going back a few months, years, and decades is also filled with meticulous nuances of the life from the recent and not very distant past. You keep guessing on what our protagonist will find out, as much as what you truly want.

4. The Power of Geography: Ten Maps That Reveal the Future of Our World by Tim Marshall (Non-Fiction: Geography)

My review (from Goodreads): Strong follow up to the same author's 'Prisoner's of Geography' from a few years back. In the Power of Geography Tim Marshall takes us through some specific examples of countries e.g. Australia, Turkey, UK, the Sahel etc and explains why and how their geographies have been both their strengths and weaknesses in various cases. Some of the more obvious ones would be oil availability in the middle east, while the same abundance of riches in several African countries have been a curse. It felt like a continuation from where he left off in "Prisoners..." and while I may not retain all the details a few months from now, as the explanations provided were logical and some interesting tidbits throughout the book, made for an engrossing read and you will be better off even subconsciously by having a deeper understanding of the world.

3. Yellowface by R. F. Kuang (Fiction)

My review (from Goodreads): In R.F. Kuang's satirical novel Yellowface, aspiring writer June Hayward seizes the opportunity to present an unpublished manuscript as her own, catapulting her into literary stardom. However, her literary masquerade unravels amidst social media scrutiny, literary investigation, and a haunting ghost story (well, sort of). Through Kuang's thought-provoking prose, Yellowface challenges readers to question the ethics of literary appropriation, the impact of online personas, and the true nature of artistic inspiration.

I found the book compelling and while I won't say I was swayed wildly across the pendulum, I could see what the author was trying to achieve through the story and she manages to do so successfully.

A thriller/mystery quite distinct from your regular ones.

2. Unstoppable Us, Volume 1: How Humans Took Over the World by Yuval Noah Harari (Non-Fiction: Everything)

My review (from Goodreads): This is the kid's version of Sapiens, which is one of my all time fav. books. If you have a kid below the age of 13 you should read this one to them, if not then read it by yourself. It talks about the evolution of our species, from well before the stone age, till the time we became the big dogs on earth, and how we did so without size or muscle power. A hard read in places and kids can feel a bit scared of the chapters that talk about hunting and killing animals, so please use your judgement based on your child. My daughter and I can't wait for Volume 2. 

1. Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow by Gabrielle Zevin (Fiction)

My review (from Goodreads): I am a sucker for stories that span across eras with our characters growing and evolving to different versions of themselves. Tomorrow 3 is a solid example of this genre. The protagonists are relatable and interesting even if not always likeable. The rapport they share are similar to ones you would have shared with some friends, and their life charts out in ways expected and then there are the twists. You feel for them and want to drill sense into them at time. The writing is engaging without trying too hard. The hype was worth it.


Shows (all images courtesy IMDb and summaries by Bard)

Total shows watched in 2023 - 14

5. Kaala Paani (Hindi)

Summary: Kaala Paani is a Hindi-language survival drama web series set in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands. The series follows a deadly epidemic that threatens to wipe out the population. A mysterious illness spreads through the Andaman Islands' water supply. Dr. Soudamini Singh races to find a cure, but authorities ignore her warnings. The islands are quarantined, and the population struggles to survive. The epidemic is eventually stopped, but at a great cost. The series is a cautionary tale about the dangers of environmental destruction.

4. Beef (English)

Summary: Road rage sparks a dark, escalating feud between struggling contractor Danny and frustrated entrepreneur Amy. Secrets, betrayals, and violence spiral as they target each other's vulnerabilities. A car crash forces them into uneasy alliance, revealing their shared pain and unmet dreams. Forgiveness and understanding emerge despite the trauma, offering them a chance to heal. 'Beef' serves up a raw, darkly comic journey through anger, revenge, and unexpected compassion.

3. Dahaad (Hindi)

Summary: Sub-inspector Anjali Bhaati investigates a series of deaths where women are found in public bathrooms. The deaths first appear as suicides but as the investigation progresses, Bhaati realizes that there's a serial killer on the loose.

2. The Last of Us (English)

Summary: Twenty years after a fungal apocalypse, hardened smuggler Joel escorts 14-year-old Ellie, immune to the infection, across ravaged America. Their bond deepens amidst brutal violence and lurking infected, but Joel's trauma threatens their journey. Hope emerges with potential rebels, the Fireflies, seeking Ellie's immunity for a vaccine. Betrayal and loss shatter their trust, forcing Joel to make a life-altering decision to protect Ellie. In a world shrouded in darkness, a fragile hope survives through their complex and unwavering bond.

1. Succession (Season 4) (English)

Summary: Season 4 of Succession throws the Roy siblings into a global chess match as Logan's health deteriorates. Kendall, desperate for legitimacy, pursues a hostile takeover while Shiv navigates the political minefield of Waystar Royco's legacy. Roman, emboldened by a surprise promotion, revels in chaos as Connor schemes for the presidency. Kendall's reckless pursuit backfires, leading to a public meltdown and a humiliating shareholder vote. Logan, ever the puppet master, uses the crisis to tighten his grip, forcing alliances to shift and loyalties to crumble. Meanwhile, Gerri navigates the power vacuum with serpentine grace, and Cousin Greg emerges as an unlikely kingmaker. As tensions rise and betrayals multiply, the siblings are left grasping for power, forced to confront the true cost of their ambitions and the legacy they fight to inherit. The season culminates in a shocking cliffhanger, leaving the Roy family on the brink of fracture and viewers gasping for more.


Documentaries (all images courtesy IMDb and summaries by Bard)

Total documentaries watched in 2022 - 20. 

3. The Romantics (Hindi/English)

Summary: "The Romantics" is a documentary series that explores the history of Indian cinema and its impact on the country's culture. Through interviews with some of the biggest names in Bollywood, like Shah Rukh Khan, Salman Khan, and Ranbir Kapoor, the series dives into the evolution of Indian cinema from its early days to the present.

The documentary explores various themes, including how Indian cinema reflects Indian society, tackling social issues and promoting cultural understanding. It also highlights the unifying power of cinema, bringing people together from different backgrounds through shared experiences.

"The Romantics" is a love letter to Indian cinema, celebrating its rich history, cultural significance, and enduring impact on the lives of millions. It's a must-watch for anyone interested in Indian cinema or the power of film in general.

2. Madoff: The Monster of Wall Street

SummaryWall Street titan Bernie Madoff built an empire on a lie: a colossal Ponzi scheme. The 2008 crash exposed his web of deceit, leaving a trail of ruined lives and shattered trust. This docuseries explores the rise and fall of the "Monster of Wall Street," from his meteoric success to his chilling downfall, revealing the human cost of financial greed and the dark underbelly of Wall Street.

3. The Hunt for Veerappan

SummaryDeep in South India's forests, Veerappan, a ruthless poacher and smuggler, reigns. The 1990s echo with his crimes: elephant slaughter, sandalwood heists, and audacious kidnappings. Two states unite against him, forming a special task force. The ensuing manhunt spans two decades, twisting through dense jungles, political games, and shifting loyalties. Veerappan, hailed as a Robin Hood by some, terrorizes others. The documentary dissects the myth and the man, weaving in the voices of his wife, police officers, and villagers caught in the crossfire. Ultimately, the bullet-ridden saga confronts the legacy of a criminal king and the cost of bringing him to justice.

Sunday, July 30, 2023

Rocky Aur Rani Kii Prem Kahani

 Karan Johar uses Rocky Aur Rani Kii Prem Kahani (RaRKPK, do we still do this thing?) to send a few OS updates equivalent of the messages he propagated through KKHH, K3G et al. Loving your family is still key, but there are lines that shouldn’t be crossed. Love above all else, but don’t forget yourself as an individual, your identity & your core values. Mutual respect in love is cool (SRK locket reference). We like it or not his movies played a role in establishing some of adulting crutches for the Indian millennials. And now as that generation is firmly in charge of the country and culture, he polishes a few rough, rusty edges. 

It’s not just OK to be different, it’s important that we accept and value differences among each other. It’s OK to not be born with or even grow up knowing all that’s right and wrong, in fact it’s OK to have mental models based on our conditioning, upbringing, and environment that may not feel quite all right as we learn new facts and think for ourselves. It’s OK to be wrong, as long as we are open to being wrong and making amends. As SRK says in Pardes, agar yeh woke hai, toh hai, toh hai, toh hai.

It’s a message movie without ever forgetting it’s an entertainer first. And if there ever was a Bollywood character written for a person, not just their body of work, it is Rocky and Ranveer. Karan Johar just let him be and Ranveer delivered a performance of a lifetime. That’s saying a lot for someone who has ‘83, Bajirao Mastani, Gully Boy, Ramleela among others on his CV already, before he’s 40. We have all seen Rocky and we have all judged him from the other side of the street, from a distance, from Facebook photo albums. And yes, Rocky is not very different from the Rocky we have judged, but Rocky is a human who may just be able to be a bit more than we give him credit for. Ranveer is so clearly having a ball with the role that he takes us along for the ride in every scene from the first meeting with Alia in her office, the impish but not malicious interactions with Somen, bra shopping with Mrs. Chatterjee, or of course the Dola re Dola performance that will be remembered as a key moment in modern Bollywood story telling and risk taken by an A-list hero. Ranveer getting the accents and mannerisms right don’t surprise anyone anymore as we take him for granted, but here he gets Ranveer and Rocky right.

Alia’s Rani couldn’t be more perfect, and unfortunately that’s a drawback that’s impossible for Alia to overcome. She’s incredibly smart, successful, beautiful, pragmatic, fair, thoughtful, and all round unattainable. She delivered what was asked of her to a T, and she did a thorough job.

That Dharmendra -- Shabana Azmi scene had blockbuster written all over it, but like in many parts of the movie things were one step away from becoming melodramatic, and the actors and the makers, helped immensely by Bollywood nostalgia and music kept it at dramatic and endearing.

The rest of the cast - Jaya Bachchan having a party playing the Big B of Mohabbatein, K3G and other angry patriarchy man; Aamir Bashir as the manipulated Tijori with the alpha male complex; Tota Roy Chowdhury as the clear headed liberal kathak dancer dad, and Churni Ganguly as the caricature of the Bengali English teacher - provided the support necessary to keep this big, lavish, familiar-yet-fresh story from getting repetitive.

The music was the one surprising let down for a Karan Johar mega starrer. It’s been less than a few hours since I have come back from the theater and can only recollect the music from the older Bollywood movies that were used beautifully throughout. This is a proper planet now in Karan’s universe (where the laws are very different from ours) and we’re here for it.

Sunday, January 01, 2023

Books, Shows, Podcasts, and Documentaries - 2022 Wrap Up

Nothing screams 'Slacker' more than writing a year end wrap up on the first day of the next year. There we have that out of the way.

For the second post of this newly created annual tradition (2021) we have a new category in addition to last years Books, Shows, and Documentaries  - Podcasts. Let's get into the Top 5s without further ado.


Total books read in 2022 - 26. Full list available here. Feel free to add me as a friend on Goodreads.

5. The One Hundred Years of Lenni and Margot (Fiction)

My review (from Goodreads): I knew what I was getting into, and I had decided I will not let it break me down.

I weeped for a full minute when the most expected thing happened.

Sheer power in Marianne's writing and Rebecca Benson & Sheila Reid's narration. A simple story beautifully told. More of the how story than a what story, and those are the ones where an author truly shines (or falls flat).

Two terminally ill patients, of 17 and 83, develop a bond that sucks you in as they share their experiences of their 100 years. 17 year old Lenni is a firebrand, even if her body is giving up. 83 year old Margot has many more layers to her than you will realize at first. Plus some endearing characters like the priest and Humphrey.

Read if you're looking for a good time and some solid crying your heart out

4. The Illustrated History of Football (Non-Fiction: Sports)

My review (from Goodreads): If you have half an ounce of interest in football (international, or club, that debate doesn't matter here), this is the book for you. Covers the history in the most entertaining way possible, with brilliant comic strips accompanying the story over the decades. I am one of those world cup/Euro fanatics with next to zero idea or interest in club football, and found myself nodding along to long forgotten nuggets from World Cup trivia, to gaining a bunch of information about the same players and their achievements or lack thereof in the club leagues. No punches have been pulled by David Squires, especially towards FIFA or the various associations. There's a joke a minute hidden in plain sight, with smart references aplenty. A perfect companion to take care of the withdrawal symptom after the Doha final.

3. Homeland Elegies (Fiction: Contemporary Historical Fiction)

My review (from Goodreads): Is it fiction? Is it an autobiography? Which parts do we believe? Why does it even matter?

Ayad Akhtar's 'Homeland Elegies' is a unique mix of a first person fictional account where the protagonist shares the name and more with the author, and is a good part fiction mixed with facts. If that premise wasn't intriguing enough, the subjects covered - racism, immigration, Trump, capitalism, current events mixed with fictional situations - makes this an engrossing read.

As a desi immigrant to the US, I identified quite a bit with both the protagonist/narrator and the parent. It helps that Ayad is a brilliant storyteller, and his dialogues, lots of it throughout, is so realistic, both for the immigrant parents, and the first gen narrator.

Sharp, witty, and one that will make you think every time you take a break.

2. The Bollywood Pocketbook Series (Box Set) (Non-Fiction: Bollywood Trivia)

My review (from Goodreads): Disclaimer: Dipta is a friend, so giving this Pocketbook series 5/5 stars. Would have given it 6 stars otherwise.

There is likely no other book/series with a higher trivia/sentence in the world. Likh ke diya.

Also, each of these hundreds (maybe thousands) of trivia nuggets pass the quality bar that would make them good questions at any Bollywood quiz worth their salt. As an entry level employee in this corporation of Bollywood trivia, I look up to Diptakirti as the founder-CEO, who is simply better than all of us in his chosen field.

This 4 series collection includes Iconic Dates, Places, Characters, and Things (likely a hat tip to the popular Indian time-pass game of Name, Place, Animal, Thing). Each book is ~150 pages, with ~50 chapters. Every chapter, at ~3 page is like a healthy yet tasty snack that you can't stop popping in your mouth, much like the popcorn tub in the dark theater which is the spiritual birthplace of this series.

Each pocketbook follows the chronological order of a century of Bollywood. However, the chapters that cover the movies from a hundred years back are no less interesting than the much more recent ones.

This is obviously not Diptakirti's first rodeo at this. He has been writing books on Bollywood trivia for over a decade now with Kitnay Aadmi Thay, Bollybook, Bollygeek, Written by Salim-Javed, Bioscope etc. In this series, not only has he honed his craft to the sharpest level, but it feels like he's also had the most fun writing all of these books, with references and throwbacks to other nuggets within the series itself. 

1. Dictatorland: The Men Who Stole Africa (Non-Fiction: History)

My review (from Goodreads): One of the hardest books I have read, in my life. Not because the author used obscure words I didn't know the meaning of. On the contrary he used lucid language to describe some of the most heinous forms of flouting of human rights and sheer torture carried out by the colonizers and then the native dictators across the continent of Africa.

Stories of how the European colonizers ravaged the continent and its people for centuries is well known by now and is as pathetic as it gets. However, it is just heartbreaking to read how the same story of these nations winning independence and then falling into equally horrifying fate, and in many cases perhaps worse, by the home grown dictators whose cruelty knew no bounds. Repeated across Congo, Zimbabe, Nigeria, Equitorial Guinea, Libya, Ivory Coast among others.

The extensive research that has gone into writing the book jumps out. Kudos to Paul Kenyon for coming up with this brilliant work of history and lessons to be learned from it. 


Shows (all images and summaries courtesy Wikipedia)

Total shows watched in 2022 - 20. 

5. House of the Dragon (Season 1,  2022)

Summary: House of the Dragon is an American fantasy drama television series created by George R. R. Martin and Ryan Condal for HBO. A prequel to Game of Thrones (2011–2019), it is the second series in the A Song of Ice and Fire franchise. Condal and Miguel Sapochnik served as the showrunners for the first season. Based on Martin's 2018 novel Fire & Blood, the series is set about 100 years after the Seven Kingdoms are united by the Targaryen Conquest, nearly 200 years before the events of Game of Thrones, and 172 years before the birth of Daenerys Targaryen. Featuring an ensemble cast, the show portrays the events leading up to the beginning of the decline of House Targaryen, a devastating war of succession known as the "Dance of the Dragons".

4. Only Murders In The Building: Season 1 (2021)

Summary: Only Murders in the Building is an American mystery comedy-drama television series created by Steve Martin and John Hoffman. The ten-episode first season premiered on Hulu in August 2021. The plot follows three strangers played by Steve Martin, Martin Short, and Selena Gomez, with a shared interest in true crime podcasts who join together to investigate a death in the apartment building they all live in. The series has received critical acclaim for its comedic approach to crime fiction, as well as the performances and chemistry among the lead performers. In the first season, after a suspicious death in their affluent Upper West Side apartment building, the three neighbors start their own podcast about their investigation.

3. White Lotus: Season 2 (2022)

SummaryThe White Lotus is an American black comedy-drama anthology television series created by Mike White for HBO. It follows the guests and employees of the fictional White Lotus resort chain whose stay is affected by their various psychosocial dysfunctions. The first season is set in Hawaii and the second season is set in Sicily.

2. Ozark: Seasons 1-4 (2017-2022)
Summary: Ozark is an American crime drama television series created by Bill Dubuque and Mark Williams for Netflix, and produced by MRC Television and Aggregate Films. The series stars Jason Bateman and Laura Linney as Marty and Wendy Byrde, a married couple who move their family to the Lake of the Ozarks and become money launderers. Bateman also serves as a director and executive producer for the series. The first season was released on July 21, 2017; the second season was released on August 31, 2018, and the third season was released on March 27, 2020. The first three seasons are 10 episodes each. In June 2020, the series was renewed for a fourth, and final, season consisting of 14 episodes split into two parts.

1. Ted Lasso: Seasons 1 & 2  (2020 & 2021)
Summary: Ted Lasso is an American sports comedy-drama television series developed by Jason Sudeikis, Bill Lawrence, Brendan Hunt, and Joe Kelly. It is based on a character of the same name that Sudeikis first portrayed in a series of promos for NBC Sports' coverage of the Premier League. The series follows Ted Lasso, an American college football coach who is hired to coach an English soccer team in an attempt by its owner to spite her ex-husband. Lasso tries to win over the skeptical English market with his folksy, optimistic demeanor while dealing with his inexperience in the sport.


Documentaries (all images and summaries courtesy Wikipedia)

5. The Tinder Swindler (2022)
SummaryThe Tinder Swindler is a British true crime documentary film directed by Felicity Morris and released on Netflix on 2 February 2022. The documentary tells the story of the Israeli conman Simon Leviev (born Shimon Hayut) who used the dating application Tinder to connect with individuals who he then emotionally manipulated into financially supporting his lavish lifestyle on the pretext he needed the money to escape his "enemies."

4. Harry Potter 20th Anniversary: Return to Hogwarts (2022)
Summary: Harry Potter 20th Anniversary: Return to Hogwarts is a television special released on 1 January 2022 on HBO Max. It is a reunion special for the cast and crew of the Harry Potter film series, marking the twentieth anniversary of the series' first instalment, Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone (2001). The films' protagonist trio Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, and Emma Watson appear in the special, with surviving principal cast members Helena Bonham Carter, Robbie Coltrane, Ralph Fiennes, Jason Isaacs, Gary Oldman, Tom Felton, James Phelps, Oliver Phelps, Mark Williams, Bonnie Wright, Alfred Enoch, Ian Hart, Toby Jones, Matthew Lewis, Evanna Lynch, producer David Heyman, and filmmakers Chris Columbus, Alfonso Cuarón, Mike Newell, and David Yates. The special also marked Coltrane's final on-screen appearance before his death in October that year.

3. Ben Stokes: Phoenix From The Ashes (2022)
Summary: A refreshingly honest film about an extraordinary cricketer. Directors Chris Grubb and Luke Mellows were allowed unprecedented access to Ben's life with interviews and insight by Sam Mendes.

2. McEnroe (2022)
Summary: It follows John McEnroe as he finally tells his side of his storied career and performances on the court..

1. Roadrunner (2021)
Roadrunner: A Film About Anthony Bourdain is a 2021 American documentary film directed and produced by Morgan Neville. The film had its world premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival on June 11, 2021, and was released in the United States on July 16, 2021, by Focus Features. The film grossed $5.5 million at the box office and received critical acclaim, but also garnered controversy over its use of artificial intelligence technology to reproduce Bourdain's voice for some audio clips.

The film follows the life and career of chef, author, and travel documentarian Anthony Bourdain, who died by suicide on June 8, 2018, at the age of 61 while on location in France for his CNN show Parts Unknown. The documentary features interviews with David Chang and Éric Ripert, as well as members of the production crew from Parts Unknown.



Listing the 5 Podcasts I make a point to listen to whenever a new episode drops.

5. Market Measures and The Skinny on Options by Tasty Trade (Options Trading)

4. Attention Pliss by Greatbong (Variety show)

3. The Daily by  New York Times (Daily News Analysis)

2. Pivot by Kara Swisher & Prof Galloway (Tech-Biz News and Analysis)

1. Decoder with Nilay Patel by The Verge (Tech Deep Dive and Interviews)

Other notable mentions:

1. Bad Bets (Business History)
2. Hard Fork (Tech/Biz Strategy)
3. Sharp Tech (Tech/Biz Strategy)
4. Plain English (News Analysis)
5. The Journal (Daily News Analysis)
6. On With Kara Swisher (News Analysis/Opinions/Interviews)