I know I am late to the party here in all possible senses. I have wanted to do these lists ever since I began reading for knowledge (2012) and this specific list since I closed 2019 with the best-ever reading record in my life so far (28 books). So, here goes a list of all the books I read in 2019 along with a short description of how I feel about them. The descriptions are based on my notes that I scribbled after finishing the books.
The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein – Finished it in 5 minutes. I can’t say I totally agree with the message (that unconditional love is the only love), but still amazing. (B+)
Sapiens by Yuval Noah Harari – Brilliantly written and eye-opening, especially about anthropology. (A-)
Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury – A classic story and one that I feel every reader should read at least once. (C+)
It’s Normal! by Mahinder Watsa – Sex ed basics for the ignorant. A book that every Indian couple should read, ideally together. My go-to gift to newly marrieds. (B-)
Educated by Tara Westover – Devastating, powerful, and mind-blowing account that seems too good to be true. A great reaffirmation to the power of education. (A-)
The lockdown has almost upended my life and now it is just a stream of unhealthy lifestyle choices including this new habit of writing at three in the morning. One of the major discussions that I participate in these days that is not work is about what food to cook and eat for the next meal.
I have been working from home for four months now, making a lot of time to read and write, and overall enjoying this stay-at-home model. But what is interesting to me is that I have some newfound activities that are not substantial enough to be called hobbies but just enough occupying to be regarded as work killers. They are keeping me sane.
I have started playing scrabble. And it has grown on me so much that I spend at least an hour hunched over my smartphone every day forming words out of random letters to beat my international opponents. I don’t know what beef TechRadar hasdespite giving a 4-star rating (out of 5) with Wordfeud but so far I have found it to be the best scrabble game for Android. (I’m at ‘Tejas Nair’ if you want to play a game.)
I have started making memes. I didn’t know I had it in me to be this funny (trust me) but I have been making a lot of memes using an Android application called Meme Generator (by ZomboDroid) and have been tickling the bones of my colleagues and friends. Sure, my memes may never feature on Know Your Meme but one of them at least got me a Brave Grande! award on Reddit. (See below.)
I have started to take my side project (Book Title Drops) seriously. I also started an Instagram account where I post regularly (once a week).
I have started recording my book readings and after-thoughts to help me retain more of what I read. This is going great so far but requires a bit more motivation than I originally imagined.
I have been shutting off from work on time. This was not possible during the pre-coronavirus days.
Overall, like I said, I am having the time of my life. Even more so enjoying the monsoon the way I have always wanted to: at home without having to worry about opening and closing my umbrella and get wet while commuting to work. TN.
On 16 April 2020, I completed a month of remote working. As I continue to practice spatial distancing and occupy myself with some indoor activities, I have grown nostalgic of some experiences that I used to enjoy before the Covid-19 epidemic. Experiences that I never thought I would have to live without. Or at least wasn’t prepared to live without for such a long stretch.
Here they are in no order.
Watching a movie in a packed theatre and sometimes getting so absorbed in it that I pay no attention to anything else (even my phone or my mom sitting next to me)
Going for a solo walk or just strolling through the busy streets near my house while running errands in between and observing people carry on with their own tasks
Going for an unrestrained bike/car ride with some music on to enjoy the feeling of moving faster (despite the threats)
Travelling to work in a local train (which I took up back in January) that for more than two decades was an activity that made me anxious and exhausted but still made me feel like a part of something, a collective group, a herd
Going to a restaurant with friends or family to have a complete meal and getting lost in the food and conversations
Catching up with friends and replenishing the feeling of belonging
Travelling to farther places to de-stress after weeks of hectic schedule at work (my Bengaluru trip earlier in 2020 is going to go down as very special in my personal history)
Staying at a resort and enjoying the comforts of a laid-back holiday characterised by borderline decadence.
Some or all of these may sound like thoughts of a privileged person. It’s not that I do not understand the gravity of the coronavirus situation where healthcare professionals, law enforcement, and essential service workers are putting their life on the line for the sake of the greater good. I also understand that the essentials – food, shelter, internet – that I am enjoying may look like privileges to those without some of them.
But hiding these feelings wouldn’t have been right either. They had to be recorded. TN.
Earlier in 2020 before the Covid-19 outbreak paralysed all my travel plans, I was fortunate to attend the 12th edition of the Bengaluru International Film Festival (BIFFES). I managed to attend the festival for two days and watch a total of five films. It was a fairly exciting experience for someone like me who – in my first solo trip – took a bus from Mumbai to Bengaluru just to attend the fest which is perhaps Karnataka’s biggest cinema extravaganza. Yes, I’m a film enthusiast. And this was an important trip for me because I was also in need of a break after a certain kind of failure in February.
It was my first time at the festival, so I thought I would take the free time during this lockdown to jot down some of my thoughts about BIFFES. Essentially, these might answer some of your questions if you plan to attend it in the following years. The biggest one being: is Bengaluru film festival worth going to? The short answer is yes.
My Experience at the Bengaluru Film Festival
The first day, after alighting at the Navrang Theatre junction, I walked to my hotel and checked in. I took a shower, and without grabbing breakfast, went straight to Orion Mall where PVR was hosting the film festival across 11 of its screens.
I observed the following things when I entered the film fest scene:
You don’t have to book seats. Unlike the MAMI Mumbai Film Festival (MFF) – where you have to reserve your seats online on BookMyShow for each show – here your festival registration is sufficient. You follow the schedule for the day and directly enter or join the queue outside the hall where your chosen film is going to be screened. As simple as that. And because there is no seat reservation required, there is only one queue per auditorium
Eleven screens in a single venue is like a dream come true in a film festival organisation.Out of these, at the BIFFES, 2-3 are reserved for jury screenings. Much like how it is for the CannesThe Cannes film festival takes place entirely at a single large venue – the Palace of Festivals and Conferences – which has a total area of 3,80,000 square feet containing, among other rooms and offices, 18 film screening auditoriums the largest of which (Auditorium Louis Lumière) can seat 2,300 people. (https://en.palaisdesfestivals.com/meeting-space-and-lay-out) it is one of BIFFES’ biggest advantage over MAMI MFF where venues are scattered across places that are 10-30 kilometres apart from each other. Here, I didn’t have to spend time travelling between venues, something that a lot of people complain about other film festivals in India like the IFFI in Goa (and something that I frequently observed at the EUFF in 2019). In the 12th edition, BIFFES also had three more venues: the legendary Navrang Theatre at Rajajinagar, Dr. Rajkumar Bhavana at Chamarajpet, and Suchitra Film Society (the farthest from South Bengaluru)
The queues are bearable. Because I had planned my trip for the weekend, I was expecting huge crowds at the venue. Also since Orion Mall was the largest of the four venues, I was also expecting serpentine queues outside each screen. To my surprise, I found the queues much more bearable than how things are at other Indian film festivals. Even for popular films like Elia Suleiman’s It Must Be Heaven, I was able to get inside the hall despite joining the queue just 10 minutes before the show. (Of course, again, this is relative to Mumbai standards)
Cafeteria food is affordable. PVR in Mumbai usually robs you and turns you half richer by the end of a film festival, but not in Bengaluru. And if the regular low prizes of food and confectioneries are not enough, the fest ran a 50% flat off on everything for festival delegates in its 12th edition. This was especially useful because Orion Mall – being the only major mall in South Bengaluru – was crowded on both the days I attended the festival. The food court? Even more so
Each film is introduced in both Kannada and English before the screening. I liked this small feature which formally gave out a bit more information about the film being screened; its language and country of origin, director, and running time
Post-screening Q&As are rare. This was disappointing to learn because one of the pros of attending a film festival is that you can meet and/or listen to a film’s cast and crew to get more insights about their creations. Out of the five films I caught, Q&A was suggested only for one film (Geetha J’s Run Kalyani) but a majority people walked out soon after the credits began to roll. So, it didn’t happen
VIP culture is absent or restricted. This is another great feature of the Bengaluru film festival where all delegates are treated equally unless you are part of a film’s crew (which is fair). I was able to sit on any row that I wanted and no usher was present to tell me otherwise.
If you’re curious, I watched and reviewed the following five films:
Psychobitch (dir. Martin Lund)
Biriyaani (dir. Sajin Baabu)
It Must Be Heaven (dir. Elia Suleiman)
Run Kalyani (dir. Geetha J)
Market (dir. Pradip Kurbah)
Here are some pictures that would further help summarise the film fest.
Overall, I had a fun time at the 12th edition of the Bengaluru film festival. So much that I have plans to go back in 2021 provided travel restrictions ease by then. But before that, the question that comes to my mind is: will film festivals exist in this new normal? Screen has some guesses. TN.
The Cannes film festival takes place entirely at a single large venue – the Palace of Festivals and Conferences – which has a total area of 3,80,000 square feet containing, among other rooms and offices, 18 film screening auditoriums the largest of which (Auditorium Louis Lumière) can seat 2,300 people. (https://en.palaisdesfestivals.com/meeting-space-and-lay-out)
The PM of India has asked its citizens to observe what his office likes to call the Janta Curfew so as to try and restrict the further spread of the deadly coronavirus (COVID-19) disease. Essentially, we are not supposed to venture out of our homes on Sunday, 22 March 2020 from 7 AM to 9 PM unless there’s an emergency. As someone sitting in his Mumbai residence, it’s hard to know what all I can do tomorrow.
So, I did some research to come up with ideas to help you through the curfew, also spelled as ‘Janata Curfew’ sometimes, which I think is an obnoxious term for the regulation. I know you may already have plans to laze all day tomorrow but hear me out.
10 things to do during the Janta Curfew. Will also double up as handy tips for the future self-isolation days when most of us will continue to work from home.
Take a 30-minute walk at 6.30 AM or 9 PM
Learn how to take a better nude of yourself. (5-step guide by Sangeeta Singh-Kurtz for The Cut)
Read how to detect a fake news story or fake information in general (by Christina Nagler for Harvard Summer School)
Whatever you do, you should avoid following what others – mostly blind patriotic twits – in whatever they plan to do at around 5 PM tomorrow (22 March). Instead, explore better ways to congratulate and support your local healthcare professionals by donating either to Kasturba Hospital in Mumbai or by chipping into the global coronavirus relief fund.
2019 has been rather a weak year for Malayalam cinema. We had some terrible films come out this year, some of which were discussed and bludgeoned to death on Reddit. But there is no denying that we also had some fabulous poster designs that promoted these very films – both good and bad – through their various, often unnecessary, stages of publicity.
From two first-look posters to a trailer release countdown poster to character posters to a final official poster featuring the cast as a crowd, we had everything this year. And here I am picking the best of the lot, out of all the publicity designs (including every single version) made for over 150 films that released between January and December 2019. Fan-made posters were not considered but I should admit some of them were really good.
The advent of computerised designing tools and filmmakers’ willingness to question the status quo have given rise to these charming designs. And it is important to give credit where it’s due. A film poster is a work of both the designers and the film’s crew, but here I am going to focus only on the art. The art of promoting a film through an image.
Best Malayalam Movie Posters of 2019
Here are ten of the best Malayalam film posters that adorned social media posts and flex billboards in and around Kerala in 2019. In random order; poster files sourced from official channels with proper credits given wherever needed.
Dirt is the main character in this earthy poster design for Lijo Jose Pellissery’s loud survival crime drama Jallikkattu (that quickly became a sleeper hit post its October release) that has traces of the colour of blood to describe the Tamil-origin spectacle as well as the deadly mess that it leaves behind. Hand-illustrated (using clay) by Oldmonks, one of the most prolific and skilled design agencies currently working in Malayalam cinema, this first-look poster released back in 2018 earned the Malayalam indie a lot of attention even before it circuited across festivals around the world and grabbed awards. So much that I would like to note it as one of the chief examples of how a poster can ignite interest for a film even when the viewers have no clue about the cast or the plot. Film Companion ended up featuring it in its 2018 list of the best Indian film posters.
Another fine example of a publicity design actually having an impact on its target audience and piquing their interest is this first-look poster design by Thought Station. For a person who is not familiar with Malayalam cinema it is difficult to point out who the star is in this image. They might even say there’s no star in the picture. Unda by Khalid Rahman gave us a Mammootty that was different from his usual mass style (posters of such films often focus only on him and a few gundas flying in the background) and we embraced it.
It gives us a good hint about what to expect from the film. A police caper that seems funny but also seems serious (where is this group heading?). This is how first-look posters should be. And Thought Station nailed it. Don’t miss the bullet trails in the title typeface.
Pranaya Meenukalude Kadal
How do you describe a love story set on a shore and be obvious about it? You take a picture of the lead cast submerged in the water with fish around them and let the shades of blue do its job. That’s what Oldmonks did for Kamal’s Pranaya Meenukalude Kadal, a romantic drama. The shades work too well both against the darker background of the photo as well as an indication of what’s in store for us when the film hits the marquee.
Although, I will admit I haven’t yet figured out the inclusion of the shark beside the title, seen in most of the film’s posters.
When Helen‘s trailer was released, potential viewers got anxious as they complained that the story was entirely out there in under those two minutes. What would debutante director Mathukutty Xavier do to keep the audience hooked when they already know what’s going to happen to the protagonist in his survival thriller starring one of Malayalam cinema’s breakout actors of 2019, Anna Ben? I think Xavier must have wanted it that way, teasing his audience with just enough (or more) information and then pulling a fast one on them by supplying drama that is masterfully ambient, emotionally tugging, and superbly enacted. That sort of anticlimactic treatment is also seen in this para-minimalistic poster by one-man show Prathool NT that’s as captivating as the survivalism explored in the film.
Last year, I had given an extra nod to the poster of Rohith V S’s Iblis (2018) for featuring the names of the primary cast in it. In 2019, Helen and a couple others did it, which is a very welcome trend in Mollywood.
If we ignore the 50-year-anniversary stamp of the well-known soap brand and the dull font, we see delicate, wiry stems of water lily with bulb shoots and sprawling leaves embossed, engulfing the lead actors, Esther Anil and Shane Nigam, in their colourful attire, as they seem divided in their stance on a common topic yet unknown to the beholder. It’s enough to fire an interest in Shaji N Karun’s magical realism drama Olu where a young girl is trapped underwater and can communicate only sparingly. This Oldmonks poster gave vigour to the film’s campaign after its first look got dissolved in the cesspool of low quality content that is the internet.
The hue of electric green, cyan, and roguish pink in this poster featuring the ensemble cast is enough to terrorise you and also give you a very good idea as to what to expect in Aashiq Abu’s cloak-work fiction tale of the Nipah virus outbreak that spread in some parts of Kerala in 2018. This use of shades plus the dramatic faces (and portraits) of the cast helped Virus gain extra momentum in its publicity which it did not need at all.
For an outsider, this imagery is striking. Designed by Popkon.
I don’t think any other poster on this curated list comes close to how Thottappan‘s boldly signifies a relationship between the two main characters of the film. Of course, that one for Pranaya Meenukalude Kadal is based on a similar trope, but everything comes together here: the brown shade, the title with a suffix that is the Malayalam word for ‘father’, and that pose where the kid’s foot is on the man’s chin. Does this count as spoilers?
Designed by Oldmonks, this first-look poster for Shanavas K Bavakutty’s crime drama got much love when it premiered back in 2018. My only pet peeve here, though, is the lack of space between the periods used inside the director’s name.
Android Kunjappan Version 5.25
There’s more than three elements that make this poster for Ratheesh B Poduval’s technology-is-evil reminder Android Kunjappan Version 5.25 stand apart from the usual trope that involves a gang posing for a photograph. How is a robot a part of this family? How are these people related, especially the people who are not under the robot’s vision and care? What’s the foreign connection? And what the hell is a cow doing in this picture? It makes you think, with Oldmonks giving one of their best work of 2019 and the crew giving us one of the best Malayalam films of the year. Go ahead, scan that QR code!
If Oldmonks used blue to signify an ocean in Pranaya Meenukalude Kadal, they used the shades of the colour of blood to show what Geethu Mohandas had built using her story about an unscrupulous, small-time yet bumptious goon from Mumbai. Almost all the posters, that involve Nivin Pauly in his bhai look, are smeared with the colour red, and that is enough to ignite an interest in people who otherwise don’t feel their throat go dry at the mention of Kamathipura.
The man at the centre also signifies another element that comes full circle when you complete watching Moothon, one of the best movies I watched at MAMI MFF 2019. Such little bits are also what makes a poster more delightful when you look back.
What more do you need to symbolise desperation for union garnished with lechery? Than Vinay Forrt in character with a peculiar form of pattern baldness staring at the camera looking like he will approach you right this moment and profess his love. This is another example of bull’s eye marketing and caching in on star power (Forrt’s similar character in the 2015 hit romantic comedyPremam had won hearts). Extra marks for those words in Malayalam script in the blackboard behind him.
For the seventh time here, designed by Oldmonks.
It is always fun to go back to these posters and select the best. And unlike last year, I won’t avoid mentioning the films that had equally good designs as part of their marketing strategy but just didn’t get included in the final list. These posters should also get some love when we look back. In no order, those are Ishq (Oldmonks), Allu Ramendran (Thought Station), Kumbalangi Nights (Oldmonks), Under World (Oldmonks), and Praana (Vinci Raj).
What do you think about these posters? Which one is your favourite?
2019 was the best year for me in terms of the MAMI Mumbai Film Festival. I watched a total of 19 films over the six days of the festival which has now given me another treat: I have come down with a bad cold. And I think the culprit is Robert Eggers’s The Lighthouse, the last film I watched, on the day when there was a light drizzle in Mumbai. Slightly soaked hair plus the air-conditioned auditorium of Regal Cinemas in Colaba. What more do you need to catch a cold?
Anyway, without digressing more, here’s five of the best movies I watched at MAMI 2019. In no specific order.
Ali the Goat & Ibrahim
A sweet little tale about love and death garnished with original humour. I was lucky to catch the rare screening of this 2016 Egyptian comedy drama that brought a broad a smile to my face even as I ran out of the hall to catch the next screening, a common occurrence when you talk about MAMI MFF.
This was the comic powerhouse of the 21st edition of MAMI MFF where Jean Dujardin, in a role that was made only for him, plays a man obsessed with a jacket made of 100% deerskin. This French comedy drama cracked me up bad, especially because of its excellent writing and screenplay. Bravo!
Straight out of the meat-loving land of Assam, Aamis (Ravening) is more about the interpretation and subversion of platonic love than gluttony. In it, the lead characters fall in love and execute an outlandish activity to keep their love igniting. It took me by surprise and I am still thinking about it as I write this stub.
A groundbreaking film in the most basic sense of that word, Mahesh Manjrekar’s Panghrun (Cloaking) is a profound period drama that explores woman’s sexuality and her part in a traditional matrimony setup. It is a critique of the traditions. Intensity is high throughout the film and there’s not one element that I disliked about it. 10 stars.
Geethu Mohandas’s crime drama set in Mumbai’s Kamathipura is a wild and true depiction. And it samples so many themes at once I thought I was watching at least three films. Nivin Pauly, Shadhank Arora, and Sobhita Dhulipala are vibrant and unmissable in this gritty yet poignant Malayalam film (translates as The Elder One in English) that numbed me for a few minutes after the final shot.
Choosing five out of 19 is usually difficult but not this time. These five blew me away and I am going to sing their praises for some time now. If I had to expand this list, I would include Wet Season, Aadhaar, You Will Die at 20, Gamak Ghar, and I Lost My Body.
A Dog and His Old Man, Ghost Town Anthology, and Cargo, on the other hand, if I were to create a ‘worst films’ list. I walked out of two films this year: Joanna Hogg’s The Souvenir (boring) and Rob Garver’s What She Said: The Art of Pauline Kael (had to rush for another screening).
This is a great improvement for me since the 2018 edition and I think most of the credit goes to the some planning I did this time. Here’s another year of waiting till MAMI MFF comes back in November 2020. TN.