My list of shows to watch and books to read this coming week!

 

  1. Contagion (Amazon Prime): This Steven Soderbergh (Erin Brockovich, Ocean’s triology) 2011 movie is eerily prophetic. It’s about a virus originating in Southeast Asia which spreads across the world in a matter of days, leaving millions dead in its wake. The cast includes Matt Damon, Kate Winslet, Marion Cotillard, Jennifer Ehle (you saw her as Elizabeth Bennett in the BBC six-part series, the best ever adaptation of Pride and Prejudice), and Kate Winslet. What shakes you the most is the prophetic warning, with messages like social distancing, washing hands thoroughly, etc. These are the exact catchphrases of the current corona crisis too. The movie ends on a positive note though, with a vaccine being developed and an insight into how the animal to human jump of the virus happened. If you have not reached the point of saturation with corona news, watch this movie.
  2. Hunters (Amazon Prime): Set in 1970s New York, this is about a small group of Jews who are hunting down high-ranking Nazi officers living under assumed identities in the US. These officers had notoriously tortured the inmates in the concentration camps of Auschwitz, among others. The star of the series is Al Pacino. The series lags a wee bit in the fourth episode, but then picks up again. Overall, not brilliant, but watchable.
  3. Special Ops (Hindi, Hotstar): I just started this eight-episode series, and suddenly find myself on episode 2! It centers around a RAW officer Himmat Singh, superbly played by Kay Kay Menon, and his 19-year-long manhunt of the sixth terrorist and whom he believes is the mastermind of the 2001 attack on the Parliament in New Delhi. No one else believes there was a sixth terrorist. To track this mastermind he has placed five agents in cities of the Middle East, even as he is today undergoing an audit inquiry into how he spent Rs. 28 crores in 11 years, without being able to give a credible account for any the spend? I am loving it so far. I hope the pace and premise are consistent till the end.
  4. Marriage Story (Netflix): Directed by Noah Baumback, this movie is about the breakdown of the marriage of a highly successful theatre director played by Adam Driver and his wife played brilliantly by Scarlett Johansson. The movie takes no sides and by turns, you empathise with both. It chronicles a divorce, as also the inherent sadness in an unraveling relationship, which was once so full of love. A beautifully enacted and narrated story. It fetched a best supporting actress Oscar for Laura Dern, a favourite of mine, ever since I saw her in the mini-series Big Little Lies. The movie is a tad bit slow but worth every moment of screen time.
  5. The Grand Tour (Amazon Prime): I was introduced recently to this by Sachin. Initially I resisted as I have no great love for cars or interest in them. But after watching a couple of episodes, I was hooked! It has been created and anchored by Jeremy Clarkson, Richard Hammond and James May, after they quit the popular BBC series Top Gear. So, it is a show about cars, with the three testing, test driving, racing and ribbing each other, apart from great conversations back at the studio with a live audience. I love the show for the crisp diction, sparkling wit and sarcastic conversation between the three, their camaraderie, as also their rivalry – I was shocked to hear them cussing and calling each other names on TV! It’s British wit at its best. And the best part is, you can watch randomly any episode and enjoy it. Maybe along the way, you will pick up something about cars…or not!
  6. 50 Shades Freed (Netflix): Okay, so you are fed up with all the serious stuff and need something more risqué, erotic, and well, romantic. This movie, fourth in the series of movies based on E.L. James’ ’50 shades’ books, is just the right one for you. If you have read the novels, then you won’t find it difficult to plug into it. The story of Anastasia Steele and Christian Grey continues, now they are married, even more amorous, and more, er, adventurous in their romps. But always a threat looms.

Books:

  1. ‘Educated’ By Tara Westover: A beautiful, uplifting book by Tara Westover, who has been brought up by very radical and extremist Mormon parents in America. Her siblings and she are all homeschooled, and work the family scraps and junk business while stockpiling provisions, fuel, and weapons against the approaching “End of Days”. Tara manages to break free and go to college at age 17 and goes on to do her doctorate from Harvard. But she is scarred by the deprivations of her childhood, her parents’ radical worldview and one of her brothers becoming completely violent and abusive, Tara often being his target. This is a sad, poignant, but also a very uplifting book about the triumph of human spirit and the triumph of education. Evocatively written, with a wealth of introspection and insights. A must-read.
  2. ‘Three Cups Of Tea’ By Greg Mortenson: It’s literally an account of one man – Greg Mortenson’s – quest to build schools in remote areas, starting with the first one in the Balti region of Pakistan. A mountaineer, he gets lost and strays into this Balti village where the locals take him in, and where every conversation, however serious, begins with 3 cups of tea. He decides to help the villages build a school, returns to the US to raise funds and transports material from Peshawar. It’s a story of acute hardships and iron will and determination. Mortenson has come under much criticism from people who claim that he is delusional, and his organization corrupt. In my opinion, if after reading the book, if even one person gets enthused to do something similar, this book has accomplished its goal. Lovely account of one man’s journey of conviction.
  3. ‘Twice Born: Life and Death in the Ganges’ By Aatish Taseer: I love Aatish Taseer’s books. More his non-fiction than his works of fiction. I picked this book up with great enthusiasm. Taseer with his rather unconventional parentage of Indian journalist mother and Pakistani politician father has from the beginning been on an existential quest. His first book – Stranger to History: A Son’s Journey Through Islamic Lands, a biographical account of his travels across the Islamic world, culminating in Pakistan and his difficult, estranged relationship with his father – was brilliant. This is his second book of non-fiction, set in Benares or Varanasi, a bid to understand this India so isolated from his own version of India which is largely centered around New Delhi. I am halfway through the book and it’s been an engaging read so far.
  4. Books by Jojo Moyes – ‘Paris for One’, ‘Me Before You’, et al: Books by Jojo Moyes are easy, enjoyable and interesting reads. It’s got romance, strong stories, interesting female protagonists, and breezy language. Perfect for these socially distanced days.
  5. ‘The Master’ By E.L. James: Aha! What has E.L. James come up with now? After her controversial ‘50 shades of Grey’ series, what else could she have up her sleeve? Well, this latest novel is a story about a rich businessman who falls for his cleaning woman, who is expectedly ravishing, sensual, the works. Then follow many erotically written sex scenes, and a storyline which is well, adequate. But who cares? Did anyone pick up an E.L. James book for its storyline? Naah.

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