Saturday, June 29, 2013

TOP TEN TV SERIES you must watch before you croak!

10. Breaking Bad

One of the major highlights of this high-octane crime drama is the chemistry between the very odd lead pair. It is interesting at various levels. It’s suspenseful, its outlandish, its reckless, and it manages it all being not formulaic. Below all that nail-biting uncertainty of criminal activity and meth lab, the show addresses a man's continual descend into corruption on a very serious note. It has some great performances by the leads as well the supporting cast.

09. Madmen

Smart, sexy and suave; three words to describe this period drama set in the dog-eat-dog world of 1960’s ad agencies. One of the best productions with an eye for detail and visuals, Mad Men deals with, among other things, sexual dynamics at workplace as well as sexual and racial inequality from the recent past, along with universal themes like adultery and professional rivalry. The much talked about historical authenticity extends to the cover of a random cereal box in the kitchen cabinetry to the toy carried by the passerby’s baby. Madmen is, to brief it up in a word, a lifestyle.

08. Entourage

Many have panned this show as The Sex and The City for men. But the resemblance, if any, stops with the façade. It definitely has all the girls, and sleeping around, and celebrities, and what-not of showbiz! But Entourage stands out for its clever script and the ultimate male bonding that it depicts above the glitz and glamor of Hollywood lifestyle. The life of a superstar is dealt here with candor and panache presented with some quality humor. Watch out for the performance of Jeremy Piven as the outrageously cracked agent Ari Gold.

07. Freaks and Geeks

The best teen drama on TV to which the likes of The OC, One Tree Hill and Gossip Girl doesn’t hold a candle to. There is not another series that drew out the realistic sketch of the absurdities of teenage and the poignant picture of the uncertainties of those years. It was honest, affecting and charming. Only that, by the time the world realized it, the show was cancelled. It starred James Franco, Jason Segal and Seth Rogan before they became what they are today.

06. Friday Night Lights

This is the kind of series you go and become a fan of. American football is at the heart of the show as well as the small fictional town the events are set in. It shows the dynamics of a small-city living and explores the psychology that works behind team sports. Although the shaky camera might give some viewers serious motion-sickness, it only adds on to the nervousness that you attribute to the uncertainties of the narrative. And you don’t have to know anything about or love football to like this show 'cause there is not a dull moment in it.

05. Deadwood

An epic that was a western and a western that was a TV series. On a larger picture, Deadwood is an insight into the formation of a community. But fragmented, it is an ode to what contributes to form the complex idea called human nature. In a world swarming with gunslingers, gold miners and whores, innovative dialogues bedecked with profanities and meaty characters are sure to keep you hooked. Ian McShane as Al Swearengen is the performance of a lifetime that is a delight to watch and one of the best that ever happened to TV. Vigorously raw and as real as it gets, go have it if you are truly in the mood for some real style.

04. Sopranos

Real people, real places and real situations. Regarded by many as the greatest TV series of all time, The Sopranos is the story of an Italian-American mobster, his family and the crime ring he operates. The high point of the show is not the subject matter; it is the high-end technicalities that keep this work in par with near-perfection. It is a wholesome package with profound artistic merit. At the same time as being grounded, it has its fair share of twists and turns to keep up with the glands.

03. Six Feet Under

The setting is dazzlingly morbid. The characters, wildly original. And the humor darkly menacing and enjoyable. One of the earliest TV series that took its job seriously, Six Feet Under is the complicated journey of a dysfunctional family through times that never stops to be tough for them. Having to deal with death on a day-to-day basis can sound dismally monotonous but the quirky Fischer family that runs the funeral home never lets a damn thing go uneventful. Great writing and impeccable casting had every bit to contribute to the success of the five-season run of the series. It’s one crazy ride from beginning to end, that you surely will remember long after you are done.

02. Oz

The complex wonderland of HBO’s Oz, the boundary-breaking prison drama is one of the boldest series ever to have graced the TV screens, both due to its shocking content and its incredibly provocative characters. In addition to the uniqueness and the human side of the twisted array of psychopaths, serial killers, cannibals and rapists, the show’s consistency is what brings it this high up in the pick. When you start with it, all you know is that, you are getting sucked into a strange vortex of the devices of evil, but the extend of madness it has in store for you will only gradually unravel, shocking and amusing you, at the same time, every step. Top class writing and incredible performances. Creativity at it’s best and entertainment is a given.

01. The Wire

The law, crime ring and the corruption in the city of Baltimore is the pretext. There has not been another series that dealt with sociopolitical issues in an urban context with this amount of uncompromising commitment to realism before. Those who have issues tackling the Baltimore slang might have a little difficulty picking up, as there has been no concession done in that area either. The powerful exploration of the plight of the urban poor, the rightful depiction of the minds behind the law and the resonant writing earns a salute. The Wire is hardcore and deserves to be watched. There has to be some reason as to why it ended up here! Check out!

Now for the tail end of the list...

13. 24

TRUE DETECTIVE & HOUSE OF CARDS have just begun, but seems very promising…

Wednesday, June 26, 2013


Cover photo by Amshunath Radhakrishnan
It made me sick. The little shriveled-up form under the shroud couldn’t have been her. Not bad make up, nor so many years of lonely living could be even considered as excuses. Up until that day, I had always believed that no forces could ever hide the timeless beauty of the divine Leela Banu, least to mention render unrecognizable. I was seeing her after forty odd years. The last I saw her was a day or two before she left Rani Lakshmi Bai Junior High, all red from crying or something. She obviously was sad about the whole parting issue, I assumed. She was that thick with the students. It was that week one of the boys from the eighth grade offed himself and the school remained shut for a week. So she couldn’t even say a formal ‘bye’ to any of us. When we were back, the eternally obese Ojis Borkar had already filled in and we never saw her thereafter.

My high school memories always starred Leela Banu in at least one of the lead roles. She was the singular most attractive woman I ever met my whole life.  She was quite a sight. All of the senior boys leched after her. Most of them would have become seasoned writers by now had they invested in their career path at least one tenth of the imagination they dedicated on her. She inspired most girls as well. (Heard Suman George got herself to becoming a teacher. That despite her heavy weight knockers, she didn’t exude even half ounce of Ms. Banu’s charm, she wouldn’t grasp.) Even forty years later I haven’t seen many women who inspired other women like she did. Banu was around for just a little more than two years. Within that short period, the influence she had on all the students, and few teachers as well, could only be compared to that of Pied piper, one of those stories she, in her classic sense of drama, narrated on numerous occasions. Back then, I assumed, she wrote it herself and secretly appreciated her terrific imagination. She narrated it in most classes including the primary section that even the losers in the fourth grade knew every detail. She was probably attaining some kind of twisted pleasure in doing it, ridiculing her loyal fans who worshiped her unconditionally, drawing analogy with the kids (or was it rats?) that followed the piper’s music in her story. Enchantment was one of her major life-goals, it seemed at the time. She spread her magic and then abruptly disappeared, leaving a gaping hole in the lives of all her young enthusiasts. She will return, I made myself believe for the rest of my days at RLB. But she never did.

I had heard about Banu’s illness a few years later; although I did not know how bad it was. Initially I thought it certainly had something to do with her leaving. But then, the case of Keshav Laul had not fully uncovered itself at that time. It was during my last year at the Junior High that I discovered the connection between Banu’s departure and the suicide of that eighth grader, which would rattle the many PTA sessions by storm for years to come.

Keshav Laul was one of the many under-age admirers of our darling teacher. He must have been one of the smart ones, because I remember him as the assistant school captain, one of those years- a tall good-looking bloke. I don’t know the details of how his case reached his parents (‘cause he didn’t seem like a tattle-tail), but the day his folks stormed into the Principal’s cabin to summon the teacher who “felt up” their son, Banu’s days there were counted. It must have been when the unsettling issue got out of proportion that the boy stepped on a passing cloud from his window on the seventeenth floor and Banu was subsequently asked to leave only to be detected with signs of mental illness shortly later.

Whether the Laul kid was bragging about a fantasy to his brother who took it to his parents or whether Banu actually had that unconventional streak about her, I couldn’t quite close. But then, the position she enjoyed in our minds did not err the slightest even after the disjoint set of events allied with each other making varying versions on its own, and spread.

One couldn’t tell the number of times the face of somebody like Banu graced one’s meditations because it never cease to happen. There was this one time I dreamed of her, dressed in a cloak and pointy hat, blowing on a pipe on the lanes of Rani Lakshmi Bai Junior High with a swarm of students dancing to her tunes following her in varying states of heightened ecstasy. That was after I came to know the truth about the story of the Pied Piper of Hamelin.

The first month after I got hitched to Kalpana, I tried to erase the teasing smile of Banu off of my memory swearing to a ludicrous oath of wholesome fidelity, but only in vain. It struck back full force continuing to partake in the virtual affair I so willingly cherished for the life from then on. Kalpana’s interest always remained within the confines of the sensation associated to her tragedy. You couldn’t blame her, ‘cause photographs never did full justice to the person that Leela Banu was.

Disturbed at the sight of her curled up stiff, moving away from the passive crowd and trying to recollect that handsome countenance, I knew not if it gave me the same sense of pleasure any more. In fact, I couldn’t say, as it was not the right time or place.

Banu was unforgettable. But the pain associated to her memory that I was almost succeeding in wiping off over the years, sadly returned. And this time it had a form, the upsetting distorted image of her tiny remains. 

(This short story was written for an online writing contest with NOSTALGIA as the theme and word-limit 1000, and was never entered. Check out the entry that actually made it... here...  THERE, ALMOST! )

Saturday, June 1, 2013


Because she was pushing hundred, and was laid up for almost a year with little balance, the news about my grandmother did not come as anything close to surprise. But my Aunt, the one who was taking care of her and who was by her side in her final days, seemed stunned out of her mind and startling the neighbors, as in my absence I heard was the case, hollered at the top of her voice tussling with her mother’s remains. Please note the details, as it’s of utmost importance to what is to follow. I’m mildly surprised when a few hours from then I arrive to the sight of her two daughters, my cousins, weeping on the stiff holding and caressing it copiously, as it suddenly seemed like I had always misjudged their family’s proximity to her.

A day later, the funeral takes place by the Hindu norms of cremation. She is sent up in flames. Then comes the uncanny part- the astrologer is called in to spread his dices in order to read out what the normal mortals cannot see. Instinctively, he finds a glitch in the process that calls for a special ritual to be conducted at the site of death, our ancestral house itself. He says that Yama, the god of death (from the Hindu canon), was interfered with while doing his duties, which is, at the time of claiming the life and getting the hell out of there. 
Even though a few of us were hearing it for the first time, it apparently happened quite often. That was an interesting piece of detail clearly added to further strengthen firm holds of beliefs of the slightly skeptical ones. This usually happens when immediately after the death, there is a racket surrounding the dead (pounding chest and pulling hair amidst crying bloody murder) or when the corpse is repeatedly touched or hugged in the drift of loss. Yama, who has already arrived on the spot with his noose on the mighty water buffalo, his vehicle, is rattled by all the commotion and when hastily exits with the soul, is believed to forget his tools and weapons in the rush. This is the pretext, and according to the astrologer, if he is not called back to recover his weapons through the prescribed rituals, he is surely going to return sooner or later, and in the process, claim another life from the same house on his way back! Creepy ain’t it? Nobody wanna take chances with that, I’m sure. So my family goes and subscribes to the idea. A few of them shoot around glances of contempt at the Aunt who bawled to high heavens and caused this humiliation.
After they set a date for the event, they tactfully decide to give the neighbors and friends a miss. Nobody needs to know about the charade, they say to themselves! Moreover, another of my aunt and uncle, die-hard devotees of the illustrious godman Late Satya Sai Baba, are not crazy about maligning their names amongst their peers associating with the occult. So, mums the word in fashion.

On the day of the rites, three men walk in at twilight and head right into the room where the dear departed exhaled her last. It was when they asked for the sacrificial rooster (that was a part of the advised material for the pooja), that the disparity of the devotee clan came to light. My devotee uncle and devotee aunt, strong opportunists of non-violence, resist the idea of taking the life of a bird. “We would be grateful if you could kindly manage without the fowl,” says my willful uncle. This upsets the head occultist. “We need blood to read the signs, or one of you have to cut your finger to spill a few drops.” My devotee aunt is outraged and is about to faint. Then he also explains how the death of the rooster invokes the lord of the dead and makes sure of his presence at the ceremony. Yama, who is there to claim the life of the bird, is forced to reclaim his weapons as well. Finally the devotees cave and the rooster goes to die. None of us had a clue of what was to ensue.

They begin the service by fashioning a human figure with rice and paddy inside the room. Then they shroud it with white and start of a series of elaborate rituals accompanied by loud chants. The startled bird is in the middle of all that spectacle. Each member of the family was asked to throw raw rice intermittently at the made-up dead body. By the end of it they all make a modest exist through the front door seizing the clueless fowl.

Suddenly the loud thud of one of the windows clapping shut followed by the scream of a woman alarms everybody. One of my cousins, her voice lost in the shout, runs out to the veranda panting. Then we hear more windows bang shut as the three men serenade around the house, yelling “Po Kaala! Po Kaala!” They uproariously continue to go in and around the house not exempting the first floor, like they were trying to frighten a giant out of the crack. A few suppressed giggles break out here and there amongst the assembled family. In the dark a small crowd starts to gather around the front hearing all that outlandish noises. The family cringes openly. The devotees gradually shift to the inner quarter lest they should be spotted in the middle of all that ruckus, and the fragmented giggles continue.

This intimidation formality goes on for a while before they settle to the western side of the rear yard. They then cull the bird and hurl it over the house in such force that, soaring over the roof, it lands in the front yard still bleeding and writing with a severed throat. At the precise moment my father, the eldest son, is asked to tight shut the front door with a bang, which he does in solemn compliance. The lord of death is now outta there! It’s good that way, I guess.

The direction, the head of the dead bird points towards essentially tells the mental state of my grandmother in her final moment, which was not very pleasing, from the way it squints towards the west. She had slight displeasure evidently. Everybody shoots another round of condescending glances to the aunt who nursed her in her last days, and howled after the death, and fell all over the corpse and wept, and caused us all that humiliation.
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