Friday, December 26, 2008

Something vaguely resembling a year-end list

Won’t do a detailed post about my favourite books and films of 2008, but here’s a quickly thrown together list. Generally speaking, there was a decline in my reading and (especially) movie-watching this year, but even so there’s been plenty to choose from, and I’m sure I’ve missed a few names here and there. Wherever applicable, the titles below are linked to blog posts I've written about them earlier. (For the titles that aren't linked to...well, do a Google search if you're interested enough!)

Favourite new (that is, published in 2008) read of the year: Musharraf Ali Farooqui's excellent translation of the Hamzanama, The Adventures of Amir Hamza.

Favourite books published earlier but read for the first time this year:
Climbing Mount Improbable – Richard Dawkins
Unweaving the Rainbow – Richard Dawkins
Nehru: A Contemporary's Estimate - Walter Crocker (first published in 1967, reprinted this year)
The Man Who Knew Infinity: A Life of the Genius Ramanujan - Robert Kanigel
The People's Act of Love - James Meek
No Country for Old Men - Cormac McCarthy (a little pretentious in places, but very lyrical)
Last Evenings on Earth – Roberto Bolano
Austerlitz - W G Sebald
A Science-Fiction Omnibus – edited by Brian Aldiss
Phantoms in the Brain - V S Ramachandran
Same-Sex Love in India: A Literary History – edited by Ruth Vanita, Saleem Kidwai
Trying to Grow - Firdaus Kanga
The Summer that Never Was and In a Dry Season - Peter Robinson
The Music of Chance - Paul Auster

Other favourites among books published in 2008:
Empires of the Indus – Alice Albinia
Home – Marilynne Robinson
A Case of Exploding Mangoes – Mohammed Hanif
Netherland – Joseph O'Neill
The Age of Shiva – Manil Suri

Honourable mentions: books that I hesitate to put in something as important-sounding as a year-end list, but which I enjoyed a great deal
Sea of Poppies – Amitav Ghosh
Unaccustomed Earth – Jhumpa Lahiri
The White Tiger – Aravind Adiga
His Illegal Self – Peter Carey
Derangements – Rajorshi Chakraborti
Wild City – Ranjit Lal
Indignation - Philip Roth
Escape – Manjula Padmanabhan
The Zoya Factor – Anuja Chauhan
The Woman who Thought She was a Planet – Vandana Singh

Favourite movies released in 2008:
Anurag Kashyap's short film "Pramod Bhai 23" in Mumbai Cutting
Zibahkhana (Pakistan's first slasher movie. Rebellious teens, psychopathic killer in a burqa. So bad it was superb. Easily the best watching-with-an-audience experience of the year.)
Oye Lucky! Lucky Oye!
The Fall (by Tarsem Singh, that great visual artist)

Favourite non-2008 movies watched for the first time this year:
No Direction Home: Bob Dylan
Manorama Six Feet Under
The Lives of Others
The Satanic Angels (Moroccan musicians arrested for playing hard rock and for other “anti-Islamic” behaviour)
Jhoom Barabar Jhoom
Summer Interlude (Ingmar Bergman)
Zodiac (David Fincher)
Bonga (Kundan Shah's manic diploma film, made in 1976)

Favourite films re-watched (after having last seen them a long, long time ago):
Greed (Erich von Stroheim)
Sherlock Jr (Buster Keaton)
(Between them, a good indication that cinema might have been better off without the invention of sound)
36 Chowringhee Lane (Aparna Sen)
Trouble in Paradise (Ernst Lubitsch)
Sullivan's Travels (Preston Sturges)
Stalag 17 (Billy Wilder)

Honourable mentions:
Bachna Ae Haseeno
Jaane Tu Ya Jaane Na
Rock On!


  1. I was a little surprised to see 'Bachna Ae Haseeno' in the category honourable mention. I think the whole movie was quite over the top and grossly unrealistic. It was another one from the Yashraj camp of crappy movie making.

    I agree with your list otherwise Oye Lucky! Lucky Oye! was superb and from non 2008 ones 'Manorama is an absolute gem. However I also liked 'Aamir' for its unflinching narrative and 'A Wednesday' as well, if only for some superb performances from both Anupam Kher and Nasseruddin Shah. However for me in this movie Anupam Kher was just too good to be true.

  2. Which version of 'Greed' is available in the public domain?
    The five hour version?

    Loved Sherlock Jr notwithstanding the jarring score which I presume was added later.

    Somehow, I couldn't quite warm upto Sullivan's Travels. Its attempt at serious satire seemed a little out of place in a screwball comedy. Enjoyed Sturges' The Lady Eve and The Palm Beach Story a lot more.

  3. You liked Jhoom Barabar Jhoom! I am greatly pleased to learn this about you.

  4. what a coincidence - (among other Wilders) - i watched Stalag 17 this year too!

  5. I feel you should have highlighted all the titles or none. Somehow, it appears as though the others are less important and people might even overlook those when they skim through your post.

  6. glad that you include Phantom in the Brain in your list . though i haven't read the book still i am a BIG fan of Vilayanur Ramachandran .
    His talk at TED [ ]

    is super awesome . the way he found a cure of Phantom Arm is simple and genius at the same time .

  7. My year-end favourite 2008 movies correspond closely to yours:
    Oye Lucky! Lucky Oye!
    The Fall (by Tarsem Singh, that great visual artist)

    Haven't watched the others.

    And yes,
    Manorama Six Feet Under
    Jhoom Barabar Jhoom (Jai & Supriya, we are a persecuted lot, I tell you)

  8. Shwet: Actually, I'm a little surprised at myself for including BAH (heh, didn't notice the acronym) in a year-end list. But somehow it just clicked for me, the way Rock On! did. And the "grossly unrealistic" made absolutely no difference.

    Also, in general this has been a bad year for Bollywood, plus I haven't watched too many fresh releases - and I wanted to include something from mainstream Hindi cinema in this list.

    Saw Aamir just a couple of days ago, liked it but had a couple of reservations which I might get around to articulating sometime. Still, I think I can add it to this post. Haven't seen A Wednesday.

  9. Shrikanth: there's a four-hour version available, but close to half of that is made up of stills from the lost segments of the film. And I'm not sure about this, but I think the DVD has the four-hour version plus an option (for viewers who aren't dedicated film historians) where you can watch only the two-hour, continuously running version.

    Aditya: ah yes, JBJ. It falls in the category of films I mentioned in this post - the ones I feel ultra-protective about. (Coincidentally I've written about Tarsem Singh's The Cell there as well.) But strangely enough, in recent times nearly everyone I've mentioned JBJ to is a fan of the film - or maybe that says something about the circles I move in! It already has a considerable cult following.

  10. Smita: watch Wilder's Ace in the Hole if you haven't already - I think the DVD is out now. Startlingly prescient film, and very relevant in many ways to the media circus in today's India.

    Anon: the "highlighting" is only because those titles have been linked to previous posts I've written about them. I guess I'll have to trust people to look at the post carefully, if they're looking at all!

    Prashant: thanks for the link. I have a lot of stuff to catch up on, on TED Talks, but I never seem able to get around to it.

  11. hey jabberwock, please post a review of OLLO. it is one of the most interesting movies of the year, but unfortunately it released at the wrong time, so it's not been seen by as many people as it deserves.and after being pounced on by all my friends for liking JBJ, at last I've got confirmation that other people thought it was a fun movie too!

  12. SS: I'll probably need to see it a second time (which I intend to do soon) - didn't take notes the first time, and now there are little scenes and fragments of dialogue that I keep trying to recall but which prove evasive.

  13. Reached your blog as I wanted to read the reviews of Dev Anand's autobiography. Enjoyed reading your post on the book and other posts too.

    I am adding your blog to my favourite blogs list and providing a link, I hope that is okay with you.

    Wishing you a happy new year,

  14. where did you manage to get a copy of Bonga?

  15. Suparna: it's one of the short films included as Extras on Palador's World Cinema DVDs - see this post. I think "Bonga" was in my DVD of Jim Jarmusch's Dead Man. Sriram Raghavan's diploma film The Eight-Column Affair is also worth checking out.

    Vivek: no problem, and happy new year to you too.

  16. Hi Guys!
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  17. Jai,

    A very interesting list there, a and a very eclectic one too. Trust you to find someting cerebral or "hatke" in an otherwise mainstream Bollywood product like "Bachna Ae Haseeno"

    "Jhoom Barabar Jhoom" is a curious case.I came out of JBJ thinking it had been the most boring movie watching experience. And then I read Rangan's review of the film. The man made the same movie look like a daring piece of avante-garde film-making.And I ended up agreeing with most of what he had written ! And now , it makes it in your year-end list as well.

    On OLLO, there is a very interesting interview (audio) on the site : Passion for Cinema.


  18. well "Bachna Ae Haseeno" and "Rock On!" could have easily made into the best films list but i agree they were lengthy and mediocre at times.
    Btw have you seen Danny Boyle's "Slumdog Millionaire". I loved it.

  19. It heartens me to see Jhoom Barabar Jhoom in such august company.. :) A very happy new year to you.

  20. Hey Jai!

    Another request for the review or a post for Oye Lucky.

    - Puneet

  21. Advice for new year. Stop being psuedo intellectuals to impress goras. Everybody watch Singh is Kinng. Got perspectve

  22. Appalling (but guess nothing new given your level of intelligence) that a film like Rock On! is included in the honourable mention.