My Top 10 Series – Part I

There was no way I could do just one list for My Top 10, so am going to cheat a bit, and do two lists:-) These are series which are either ongoing, or finished in the recent past, across platforms. Each of the below has given me many hours of unadulterated entertainment and joy. For that, I am truly grateful. I have mentioned and reviewed only the seasons I have seen. So, here goes:-)

  1. Game of Thrones (Seasons 1-7 on Hotstar): What can be said of GoT that hasn’t been said already? Except that this series has created extreme fandom, with each season awaited with intense longing and impatience. The cast, the locations, and the story, are at an epic scale, and the special effects are out of this world. The question which will be answered at the end of the last season next year is – Who will finally sit on the Iron Throne? My bet is Jon Snow (er, Targaryen)…whom are you betting on?
  2. The Peaky Blinders (Seasons 1-4 on Netflix): This series came as a bolt from the blue. It’s about a gang called Peaky Blinders running the bookie and other illegal business in 1919 Birmingham, England. Led by the ambitious Thomas Shelby (played brilliantly by Cillian Murphy), it’s a family run ‘business’. Murphy’s chilling eyes mesmerise, and even as his gang is violent, his own treatment of his women is extremely chivalrous. Each season deals with a fresh set of challenges the gang faces in its effort to become more powerful and influential. Season 5 is so eagerly awaited.
  3. Breaking Bad (5 Seasons on Netflix): This five-season series is one of those series, which if someone had narrated the story beforehand, I would have baulked. The very ordinariness of the characters is finally what attracts one the most. A rather dull, chemistry teacher, diagnosed with lung cancer, starts making and selling methamphetamine with the help of a student, and not only makes loads of money, but gets into much trouble in this life of crime. Bryan Cranston who has acted as Walter White, the chemistry teacher, is so very real. He’s the reason you must watch this.
  4. True Detective (Season 1 on HBO) – Mathew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson act as detectives investigating the murder of a prostitute and other connected crimes. The story line spans almost two decades, with a lot of flashbacks, but this winning combination of actors, particularly McConaughey’s absolute, absolute brilliance, is what makes this series stand out. McCanaughey brings so much conviction to the character, Harrelson being a truly worthy foil. When I heard Season Two didn’t have either of these actors, I just didn’t watch it. (My hubby says it’s foolish of me not to, so perhaps one day, I will). It has brilliant title score.
  5. Homeland (Seasons 1-7 on Hotstar): This is an American spy series, starring Claire Danes as CIA officer Carrie Mathison, who is bi-polar, and brilliant at her work. The series is shot amazingly realistically, and most of its plot is eerily close to reality. It also addresses American jingoism and insecurities. The next season is sadly, likely to be the last.
  6. Forbrydelsen (Seasons 1-2): What a  series this Danish whodunnit is! Brilliant actor Sofie Grabol plays detective Sarah Lund, with each episode in a season covering 24 hours of the crime investigation. It’s bleak, scary, and utterly suspenseful!
  7. Sacred Games (Season 1 on Netflix): This is the first original Indian (Hindi) thriller series on Netflix, with awesome performances by Saif Ali Khan and Nawazuddin Siddiqui. Saif Khan’s turn as police officer Sartaj Singh has to be his best performance to date. The series has violence and gore, sex and nudity, and somehow, it all seems to fit in. Season 1 ended as a cliffhanger, and the next season is eagerly awaited.
  8. Big Little Lies (Season 1 on Hotstar): Aha! This is my most favourite series of 2017. A complete gem of a series starring mega stars Nicole Kidman, Reese Witherspoon and Shailene Woodley, it is set in the community of Monterey, California, where it’s the first day of a new school year for a bunch of first graders, whose mothers are divided into close-knit groups. One of the kids gets assaulted by another on day one, and from there on, the battle lines are clearly drawn between the moms. There is also adultery, domestic violence, commentary on parenting, jealousies, and tests of friendships. And finally, a murder, which is revealed in the first episode itself (though not who is murdered), but is resolved only in the last few minutes of the final episode, leaving you strung out, gasping, exhausted, and absolutely shocked! The best news is, Season 2 is being shot even as I write this, with Meryl Streep joining the cast:-)
  9. The Outlander (Seasons 1-4 on Netflix): Much smaller in scale than Game of Thrones, but almost it’s equal in story and gore, Outlander is also an epic love story in a way that Game of Thrones can never be, given it’s sheer vastness. It’s based on Diana Gabaldon’s book series about time travel into 18th century Scotland by a married Army nurse, Claire Randall, at the end of the Second World War.  There she encounters the handsome Jamie Frasier with whom she falls irrevocably in love, and gets involved in the Jacobite uprisings. Am eagerly awaiting Season 5.
  10. This Is Us (One Season Only, on Hotstar): This American series is essentially about three siblings – Kevin, Kate and Randall, the last of whom is racially different from the rest of the family, and is adopted, and their lives with their parents, mostly told in flashback. They are adults now, and each is going through life, often facing demons from the past. What is it that tugs one’s heart about this series? It depicts the challenges of parenting, the choices we make as parents, and the ups and down parents undergo in their own relationships, in a very honest and forthright manner, which you can so, so, identify with. The bond between the parents and the siblings is heartwarming, and their deep angst is understandable too. You feel these are real lives being lived, and you become such an intrinsic part of this family. It’s a complete tearjerker, and if you don’t like an emotional overload, perhaps you ought to give this one a miss. Otherwise, Watch IT!

Getting fit, post-40!

In this, my fairly new quest to become fit, I have very serendipitously, come across this book Fit after 40 by Dr. Sheela Nambiar, who is an Ob-Gyn based in Ooty, a fitness consultant, and a practitioner of lifestyle medicine.

Like me, if you have clambered onto the fitness bandwagon only in your 40s, then your natural instinct will have been to take things slow and easy. The last thing you would want is an injury caused by over enthusiasm and ignorance, which ends up derailing your whole fitness plan.

Fit after 40

Almost three months after I embarked on this journey, I was at that stage where I knew I had to graduate to the next step, but was not sure in which direction. This book thus made an appearance in my life, when it was exactly what I needed, but had no clue! So my baby steps towards fitness have metamorphosed into toddler steps with Fit after 40. The writer addresses in very practical terms the psychological, physical and emotional changes we undergo once we cross 40. She discusses diets, disease, stretches, flexibility, exercises, weight training, stress, etc.

For me, the biggest challenge has not been the gymming or the walking, both of which I love and look forward to every day. The diet has been the biggest challenge. I have found that any drastic diet is not sustainable. Yet, the unhappy truth is that diet constitutes a significant chunk of any weight loss/fitness programme. Yet, if you are a foodie, how do you reconcile that, to the need to be, if not svelte (a pipe dream, in any case!), but definitely fit?

This book has a wealth of information on these and many diverse topics. The book particularly addresses the challenges of being fit post-40, and that to me is a winner. You must read the book for yourself, but I can’t resist giving some nuggets from the book which specially appealed to me. My main, and most practical takeaways from the book are:

Turn your plate around: Instead of serving yourself a large portion of carbs (rotis, breads, rice) and then ‘dot the plate’ with veggies and proteins, fill your plate with salads and veggies and lean meats, and place the carb/s in a far corner. This sounded eminently doable to me, especially since we all tend to ‘eat’ with our eyes first, before we ever get down to taste it. So a full plate like this, while visually satisfying, will also be a more healthy one.

Intermittent fasting: It’s a much-bandied phrase these days. Indians are already well-aware of the concept of fasting. The author’s brilliantly turned the same concept on its head. She says you can do it your way, with your fast lasting 12 hours or more. Instead of fasting during the day, you can fast at night, which anyway we do, but in a more controlled manner, and for longer hours. So, eat your first meal around 8 am and last meal around 6 pm, which gives you 14 hours of fasting period (6 pm-8 am). Or, delay your first meal till 10 am and that will give you 16 hours of fasting period.

The benefits? It improves over time the ability of the body to handle glucose,  enhances brain health, has beneficial effects on genes related to diseases like Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s, improves heart health, and may even protect us from cancers, says the author. Whoa!

I am trying to implement the 14-hour fast routine, while trying not to stuff myself too much during the 8 am to 6 pm period, which would kind of defeat the whole purpose, right? I do get ravenously hungry by 10 pm, which means I have been trying to sleep relatively early (there goes my Netflix time!). But I hope with time, my system will get used to this radically altered routine. Such a routine is not possible of course, on weekends or if you have a dinner commitment. But doing this even 3-4 days a week should help, is my hope. And boy, what self-control one develops:-)

Stretch to be flexible: The writer emphasises on a good stretch routine of at least 10 minutes in the workout. What’s more, she has illustrations showing the best stretches for you. Again, some of these stretches I had already incorporated, while so many more I have learnt new. According to the author, three of the most common causes of injury and pain during training or working out are overuse, lack of warm-ups, and poor flexibility. Stretches before and after an exercise routine or walking are therefore, mandatory.

Weight training: This is the most significant thing to burn fat, says the writer. As we age, we lose muscle mass, an area where Indians especially, are already deficient. The muscle is a very important tissue when it comes to mobility, and the main utiliser of carbs and fat as fuel for its own functioning. So the more muscle you have, the more the fat and glucose in your body are used up. So building up those muscles, is one of the most vital parts of fitness, post-40.

The author has touched upon many other relevant topics like the importance of sleep, the pros and cons of stress, how to age well while keeping the brain healthy, and so on. Read this book even if you are well on track with your fitness, as it will not only reinforce your healthy habits, but will further clarify your doubts about aspects you may not even have thought of.

To my friends who have hit their 40s, I can’t recommend this book enough. But even to my younger friends, I say this – don’t wait like I did, for wisdom to dawn. Make fitness (yoga/stretches, gymming, walking, swimming), a part and parcel of your daily life. After all, you yourself get to reap the rewards now, don’t you?:-))

P.S: Those who live close to me, around me, do feel free to borrow the book from me!

My Netflix Top 10

Those who know me are aware that I watch a lot of content on Netflix. And often there is a request, ‘Please recommend shows to us”. Okay, so here is my first list of serials and movies on Netflix that I highly recommend. My tastes run to romance, suspense-crime (chilling, but not too much gore), drama, and dramedy (drama-comedy). This is just a beginner’s list and I hope to keep updating it in the months to come.

My Netflix Top 10 series

  1. The Crown –  It is the biographical depiction of the life and times of Queen Elizabeth II, who is currently the longest reigning monarch in the world. The series has been dramatised superlatively, remaining faithful to the real events which are widely known, and you wonder, can an Indian series on India’s sacred cows, aka our politicians, ever be done so frankly and honestly? There would be lynching and violent protests on the streets. The British are indeed made of some other mettle. Two seasons are over and the third is eagerly awaited. Superb, not-to-be-missed series.
  2. The Outlander – This is a travel-back-in-time drama set in Scotland, which at its heart is an epic love story too. It’s about a nurse in the Second World War who is transported back to the Scotland of 1743. She falls in with rebel Scottish Highlanders, and is attracted to one of them. The problem is, she’s married. There is some amount of gore in the series, which I am afraid, I fast-forwarded. But the rest is amazingly and beautifully shot, the cast is fabulous. The whole production is reminiscent of Game of Thrones. It’s based on the brilliant book series by Diana Gabaldon.
  3. Alias Grace -This American-Canadian mini-series is based on a novel of the same name by Margaret Atwood. The main protagonist is the intriguing Grace Marks who is in prison since the last 15 years for having committed murder. She tells her story in flashbacks, to the psychiatrist Dr. Jordan who is here to evaluate her for a possible pardon. Grace is no ordinary person and till the last moment one is kept guessing about the veracity of her story. Stunning portrayal by Sarah Gadon as Grace.
  4. Fauda – This is an Israeli political thriller, which gives a glimpse into the complex security and other challenges between Israel and the Palestine territories. The story, though primarily told from the Israeli point of view, does depict the Arab thinking too. Though it has faced some criticism over its handling of the issue, for the rest, it’s a taut and suspenseful series.
  5. The Chalet – This is a a French crime-suspense mini series. As with most things French, it’s absolutely stylistic, and it’s chilling and spooky, without depicting much gore. Hats off to the director for pulling off this almost implausible plot on the basis of its production values, sets, location and cast. A special mention has to be made of the haunting title song and music. Fabulous and riveting. There are English sub-titles.
  6. Call My Agent– Another French drama series, set in Paris. This series has me almost decided about learning to speak French! This is about four partners in a an agency called ASK, which handles celebrities and their careers. It’s fast-paced, fun, and the partners are shown in ironical and humorous conundrums which get sorted by the end of each episode. The series has delicious humour, snappy dialogues and absolutely fabulous acting. And actual French celebrities have done cameos. A definite must-watch.
  7. Sherlock – Okay, most of us saw the first three seasons before it came on Netflix, but having said that, it’s one of the best series on the site. Watch it, watch it, watch it! Benedict Cumberbatch plays Holmes as no one before, and I say this having seen and absolutely loved Robert Downey Jr’s Holmes!
  8. Broadchurch – This British crime series is set in the fictitious town of Broachurch in Dorset. The investigation is into the death of 11-year-old boy which shakes up the close community. Leading the investigation is DI Alex Hardy (actor David Tennant), who is a sharp detective, but with his own personal demons to slay. Assisting him is actress Olivia Coleman as DS Ellie Miller. This unlikely duo works well. This is an outstanding series and keeps you on the edge of your seat.
  9. Shetland – This is another British crime series, much along the lines of Broadchurch. DI Perez (Douglas Henshall) is a cool, suave detective like no other. Watch it for him!
  10. My Next Guest Needs no Introduction with David Letterman – The American TV host and writer-comedian David Letterman starts the series with Barrack Obama, the latter’s first interview since leaving office. Then he interviews Malala Yousafzai, George Clooney, Tina Fey and Howard Stern. These are fun interviews and Letterman already has a deep connection with each, knows these people well, except perhaps Malala. A must-watch.

My Netflix Top 10 movies

  1. Love Per Square Foot – A surprising gem of a movie about a topic which has been dealt with several times – the hunt for a house in this over priced metropolis called Mumbai. The young couple here decides to jointly apply for a home loan despite being near strangers. The ending is predictable, but the acting by Vicky Kaushal and Angira Dhar, is the strongest point of the movie. They bring a freshness to the whole beaten-to-death topic and the irony and humour in the dialogues and situations are fabulous. If you watch only one movie this month, watch this one.
  2. Jane Eyre – Charlotte Bronte’s novel has been dealt with earlier too, but this movie is well acted and produced. Actor Michael Fassbender’s Edward Rochester is a brooding, dark hero, whom one can’t but feel attracted to! An absolute must-watch.
  3. The HolidayOkay, this one is completely for the dreamy, rainy day. On a whimsical home exchange plan, Cameron Diaz and Kate Winslet find themselves in the other’s home on different continents, where they both meet the love of their lives. When one of the men is the dreamy Jude Law, your heart too does strange things!
  4. To Kill a Mocking Bird – I know, this is an old, beloved film, but it’s on Netflix now, and if you haven’t seen this beautiful, poignant coming-of-age story based on the novel of the same name by Harper Lee, then it’s an absolute priority that you must!
  5. Waiting – This is a simple story told simply, the powerful cast of Naseeruddin Shah and Kalki Koechlin, doing full justice. The two form an unlikely bond, as they wait for their respective spouses to gain consciousness from the deep coma they are in, at a Kochi hospital. Rajat Kapoor, who for me has never outgrown the ‘pedophile uncle’ role he essayed in Monsoon Weddings, does a good job here as the specialist treating the two comatose spouses.
  6. The Prize Winner from Defiance, Ohio – This is based on a true story of a housewife who feeds her family with the prizes she wins by participating in jingle writing contests. Julianne Moore essays the role of the cheerful housewife, who tries to remain stoic and undaunted in the face of her weak husband’s moods and tantrums, played ably by Woody Harrelson.
  7. Our Souls At Night – Widowed neighbours – played by Robert Redford and Jane Fonda – decide to alleviate their loneliness by starting a platonic relationship. Well, they sleep together platonically, to begin with. Till, real romance blooms. A sweet love story about falling in love in your sunset years.
  8. The Meyerowitz Stories – A dysfunctional family has a reunion and many perplexing, hilarious situations are thrown up. When you have powerhouse actors like Dustin Hoffman, Adam Sandler and Ben Stiller in the same frame, it can only lead to magic, albeit, quirky, whacky magic. I watched this one with trepidation, but was glad by the end that I watched it.
  9. American Sniper – Directed by Clint Eastwood, this is a well-told story based on the autobiography of an American sniper Chris Kyle, known for his deadly skills and more than 200 ‘kills’. Bradley Cooper essays the title role with consummate ease. It’s an American movie in every sense, some jingoism included. But worth watching for sure.
  10. Julia Roberts’s Movies – Watch Notting Hill, Step Moms, Mona Lisa Smile, even if you have watched them before. They are charming, lovely movies, and one can never tire of watching them repeatedly.

Happy viewing! And till the next list…

Veere di Wedding…or divorced from reality?


Warning: Spoilers ahead!

I watched Veere di Wedding last Sunday. I cannot lie. It is a most foolish and contrived film. I wanted to like it. In fact, I went with rather high expectations as the cast, especially Swara Bhasker and Sonam Kapoor, are actors who have worked in some good films, except the odd dud in the case of Sonam Kapoor. I have liked both these ladies in some of their previous outings – Nil Battey Sannata, NeerjaKhoobsurat et al.

So the premise of four women who are close friends and how they steer through a phase in their lives, seemed like absolutely the best way to spend a precious Sunday morning. Except that it wasn’t.

First of all, each person’s story seemed so contrived and pointless. These are women with unjustified angst. One, an accomplished lawyer (Sonam Kapoor) whose only obsession is to get married, or at least to sleep with someone, which she does, and with a most creepy, cheesy lines spouting, Lothario. The very same guy who gave her the shudders earlier. Another (Kareena Kapoor) is commitment-phobic and has deep seated, unresolved feelings about a father who has married a much younger woman with a most inane, high-pitched laugh. (Okay, it was really funny. The laugh, I mean). The third (Shikha Talsania ) is married to a firang and has a kid, though her angst is not very clear, except that she constantly harangues her husband in chaste Hindi, which the poor chap, just doesn’t get. And the last and the most disappointing (Swara Bhasker) has had a divorce (oh my god, what travesty in this day and age!!!) and is the ‘bad girl’ of her community.

She reinforces that by returning late or rather early morning in itsy-bitsy, fur trailing clothes, which provides more grist to her neighbours’ mill. And most times with a cigarette dangling from her lips. She is shown lighting up at the drop of a hat. Okay, we get it. She is badass, she is mad, she is a ‘modern’ girl. But also, so, so contrived. Swara Bhasker does her best, but one can’t help but overdo such a role, unless the hand of the director steadies one. Here, there is a hand involved, but it is the hand of Swara herself, in one of the most hilarious scenes in the movie: The big reveal about her divorce. She is caught by her husband in the middle of making out, and just when we think it’s a guy she’s heaving under the sheets with, it’s a BoB (Battery operated Boyfriend, get it?). And the lady in the throes of her big O, sees her shocked husband and just puts out a hand to stop him from saying anything till she’s achieved her goal! Dear lord!! Shocking, and So Very Bold Indeed. Especially For A Hindi Movie. It jolts one out of one’s reverie. Till you realise that her husband has not only divorced her, but has blackmailed her about this little vibrator fact, in exchange for Rs.5 crores. Huh??

Hindi films have come a long way indeed from the time we were tricked into thinking that a bee sucking at a flower, or two birds necking, was how little humans were made. ‘Coy’ was the nauseatingly, patronising tone in those days. Today, movies deal with issues like sperm donation, surrogacy and erectile dysfunction. And with this film they have shown pretty graphically that women have desires which can be fulfilled without, well, a man. Way to go! But, not the way to go.

Swara’s character is bold, devil-may-care, but she isn’t able to deal with talk about her ‘character’ and her divorce. She flees in tears when she hears bitchy aunties baring their claws about her. Duh! Under the veil of being progressive and contemporary, the movie is actually quite regressive. The man obsession and the feeble excuses for the wrongs that happen in these womens’ lives are so botoxed and made up that you think the whole facade is going to crack open any minute. One is just thankful the length of the movie is under two and a half hours.

Watch it for its beautiful actors (Kareena especially looks smashing), some hilarious dialogues, wonderful costumes and lovely sets and locations. Sometimes reason enough to go watch a movie. Just remember to park your sensibilities at home.

MyGoodEarth rating: 2.5/5