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The yearly round-up of the music, movies and shows that I enjoyed. I haven’t watched many of the much acclaimed movies or shows, so this list is drawn from whatever I could watch/listen.

Movies:

Get Out: Jordan Peele’s directorial debut is a novel take on the racial attitudes in today’s America. Its 9 years since, America elected its first Black President, which created a false “we are beyond racism” facade. Get Out shatters this myth by cleverly mixing horror and comedy. The result is an extremely unnerving experience. I am not white, and yet I could feel how uncomfortable a white person may have felt watching “Get Out”. I only wish someone (me?) remakes this in Hindi in the Brahmin/Dalit context.

Dunkirk: Christopher Nolan’s recreation of the landmark event of World War II, was one of the best “going to the cinemas” experiences for me (I watched it on an IMAX screen). There were many who didn’t quite get the narrative technique of the movie, and I can understand the confusion and the disorientation. Depicting one event from multiple points of views, is not a new technique (all such movies have Kurosawa’s Rashomon to thank), Nolan adds a dimension of uneven lengths of time for the main plot point of the evacuation of a group of soldiers stranded on the beach at Dunkirk. In one chapter we see events that lead to the evacuation over varying lengths of time – a week (from the POV of the soldiers on the beach), a day (the fisherman who come to the rescue) and just for an hour (an air force pilot who joins the mission via air) – all leading to the same end result. To me this time warped narrative, combined with a phenomenal background score, and sweeping visuals, made for an immersive experience like none other. But most importantly, amidst all the cinematic spectacle, Nolan never loses the “human-ness” of the tragedy that war is; and that’s where Dunkirk excels – it challenges your brain while squeezing your heart.

Lady Bird: Greta Gerwig made a lasting impression on me the first time I saw her in Greenberg. There was a quirky yet honest energy about her that wasn’t forced; it seemed to emanate out of every pore of her skin. After many small roles in indie films and eventually writing and playing the lead in Frances Ha and Mistress America, she makes a smashing directorial debut with Lady Bird. Dare I say, a near perfect coming-of-age film which seems like its drawn from her own life experiences.

Columbus: The best looking movie of the year. There is a lush, languorous beauty to every frame in this movie. The way the camera captures the modern architecture of Columbus, Indiana is hypnotic. This is the only movie that I have watched more than once this year, and I am sure to watch it again and again. It has all the elements that appeal to my design, cinematic, and emotional sensibilities.

Okja: This heart-warming film by the ever innovative Bong Joon-ho takes a swipe at large agro/food corporations like Monsanto and the state of modern food supply systems. Tilda Swinton, Jake Gyllenhall play the bad guys with a crackling, manic, hysterical energy. But the real stars of the movie are the little girl (Ahn Seo-hyun) and her adorable CGI pig.

The Post: I am a sucker for movies about news and journalism (Spotlight, All the President’s Men, etc.). So when I saw the preview of The Post in the fall, with three major and well-respected artists teaming up for the first time – Meryl Streep, Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks; I was ecstatic. The movie covers the tremulous few months of the time when The Washington Post decided to publish the classified Pentagon Papers by directly challenging the Government. The Post does an immensely entertaining job of a movie whose subject is about the freedom of press and its role as an unbiased-unwavering watchdog. Needless to say, this movie cannot be any more timely. The United States (and other democracies) finds itself at a juncture where the media is consistently being regarded as “fake” and “irreverent”. The Washington Post has also been at the receiving end of a lot of hostility from the current Government. And yet, the newspaper and its people continue to demonstrate exceptional integrity and courage in their work. I can only imagine how it must be for journalists around the world – it must require a great deal of added patience, courage and doggedness to merely do their job. Its movies like The Post that remind us, the consumers of news, the importance of a fair and free press. It reminds us to support ethical journalism and fight for it. The day the press is shut up, is the day democracy dies – just like The Washington Post’s tagline says: “Democracy Dies in Darkness”.

Trapped: Rajkumar Rao’s transformation from a meek urban young man (ironically named Shaurya -strength in the movie) to a primal survival oriented “human” is riveting. Aside from Rao’s performance, the movie does a more than adequate job of making  us look inward and evaluate what “traps” us.

Anarkali of Aarah: The concept of “consent” was introduced quite powerfully in the 2015 hit “Pink“. While that film had a male protagonist who fights for the female victims, Anarkali of Aarah makes the victim drive the point home. Swara Bhasker delivers an impactful performance: her physicality, her diction, her clothes, her swagger – are spot on. She made me root for Anarkali through her ordeal and when she delivers her revenge in the end, I was thumping my chest and raising my fist in a cathartic jubilation. Swara’s absolutely ballsy performance towers over all other performances this year (male or female).

A Death in the Gunj: This atmospheric film which left me in a beautiful sad mood, which, very few movies manage to accomplish. Konkona Sen Sharma’s directorial debut is sure-footed. While everyone in this ensemble cast delivered lived-in performances, Vikrant Massey’s Shutu got my heart.

Newton: Rajkumar Rao gave three stellar performances in three very different movies this year. This story about a principled polling booth officer who “believes” in the spirit of the law and democracy is a very timely film. While the movie is about one person and his fight to do right by the law for less than a hundred voters in a remote village in Central India, we can see how this is a theme that resonates across the entire democratic world. A world which finds itself in a place where the very concept of Democracy is under an existential threat. I oscillate between feeling despondent and rebellious for the state of democracy in my birth nation and my adopted nation. In these two extreme states of mind, this movie made me ponder: “Am I Newton, or am I not-Newton?”. The answer may lie somewhere in between.

Secret Superstar: An underdog’s journey to triumph isn’t a new premise and in that regard Secret Superstar breaks no new ground . What won me over were pitch-perfect performances by Zaira Waseem and Meher Vij. Both deliver the kind of performances which have you eating from their palms : when they are happy – you beam with them, when they are sad – you weep, when they are scared – you cower. These two performers made me go through a gamut of emotions on their cue. I don’t exaggerate when I say, I wept quite a bit while watching this little film. The simplistic machinations of the movie may not stand the test of time, but I was so bloody emotional while watching this movie, and for that alone, I am willing to forgive the manipulative script.

Hindi Music:

Quite an average year for Hindi film music 2017 was. Pritam’s stellar soundtrack for the nonsensical “Jab Harry Met Sejal” was the only saving grace. My personal favorites : Safar, Ghar, Jeeve Soneya, and Parinda. Irshad Kamil’s lyrics cover a gamut of emotions, just like his previous outings with Imtiaz Ali.

TV/Streaming:

The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel: This show about a rich Upper West Side housewife trying her luck at stand-up comedy in the 1950’s New York City, is an exhilarating and raucous ride. The entire star cast led by Rachel Brosnahan give energetic performances while mouthing volumes of extremely funny/witty dialog.

Mindhunter: Slow-burn is trademark David Fincher, and Mindhunter is no exception. If Mrs. Maisel draws you into the world of its characters in the first minute of the show, Mindhunter takes over an episode to merely orient you in the twisted world of serial killers and the FBI agents who go about studying them. But if you stick around long enough, this is a rewarding show.

Saturday Night Live: This year has been an absolute horror show as regards to the new American Administration. SNL brought in the right amount of satire and sanity to deal with the insanity of the real world. When the reality is stranger and scarier than fiction, SNL’s comedy came to the rescue.  The writers and actors not only made reality bearable, but also shone a light of hope, and took a stand. The sketches and characters that stood out : Melissa McCarthy’s Sean Spicer, Scarlett Johansson’s Complicit, Kate Mckinnon’s Jeff Sessions, Alec Baldwin’s Trump, and last but not the least Kate Mckinnon’s rendition of “Hallelujah” on the Saturday after the election results. (although that happened in 2016, it reverberated throughout 2017).

Last Week Tonight: John Oliver filled the void left by Jon Stewart to an extent (confession: Jon Stewart is my biggest man-crush) with his sharp, intelligent, hilarious, and educational take on many subjects that us commoners don’t pay attention to: mega churches, coal, flood insurance, gerrymandering, etc. One may say, that just making a satirical show about these issues won’t help resolve them. But in a world of information overload, where we move from one issue to another at an alarming alacrity, its shows like these that makes say 1000 of us to pay attention and say about 5 of those 1000 do something about them, well then, that’s 5 more than zero.

Occupied: This taut Norwegian thriller about Russia occupying Norway due to Norway’s decision of ending all of its oil drilling operations cannot be more topical. It works on multiple levels : it touches upon issues of Global Warming, Russian hegemony, and the effects of capitalistic greed. And it does all this without making it a preachy affair.

Master of None: Aziz Ansari and Lena Waithe have written a show that is truly a mile-marker of the times we live in. It weaves contemporary subjects without jeopardizing the “entertainment” factor: Loneliness in an ever connected world, workplace harassment, religion and youth, dating in the flaky tinder world,  race and culture, etc. 5 decades from now, the humans of those times will surely reach back to this show to understand the human condition of this decade.

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