Friday, 31 January 2014

Brajesh's Review : 100 Films to See Before You Die

Anupama Chopra has compiled this collection of reviews of "her" 100 favourite movies. While the book is dominated by Hindi and English cinema, it also has a lovely sprinkling of Japanese, Cantonese, Spanish, Italian, Mandarin, French, German, Iranian and a silent movie as well.

Each review is about a page-long and is accompanied by a listing of awards for the movie, details on movie cast and the director in a trivia box. This makes the book interesting to read and more importantly helps one to make one's own list of films to watch.

After going through the book, here is a short summary of my list. I have already watched 32 movies from this book and have resolutely marked 30 as must-watch. This wish-list includes movies like, A Street Car Named Desire, Amadeus, Bicycle Thieves, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, City of God, Lawrence of Arabia, The Player, Shining, Vertigo and Z to name just a few. It even has 2 Hindi Classics - Kabhie Kabhie and Pyasaa which I have somehow missed watching.

If like me, you love making to-do-lists, this book would be a great help to make your own "have to watch" movie list.

Rating : 3 / 5

Thursday, 30 January 2014

Brajesh's Review : Sholay : The Making of a Classic

You aren't allowed to call yourself a Sholay fan if you haven't read Sholay : The Making of a Classic".

I re-read "Sholay : The Making of a Classic", on the day I was going to watch Sholay 3-D. Half of the book bracketed each side of the movie for me. There couldn't have been a better setting to relish this masterclass. If you are obsessed with Sholay, like half of my generation is, you SHOULD order this book today.

Even if you don't remember each dialogue of the movie, like most people watching the 3-D version had, the book still has so much of the inside story that it's a blockbuster in itself.

Anupama Chopra writes with the confidence of a Bollywood insider and recounts fantastic snippets. Here is a sample of a few :-
- The movie actually started as just a 5 line story by Salim-Javed which was purchased for 50,000 by the Sippy's.
- Amitabh's marriage and Jaya's pregnancy actually derailed the shoot by over six months.
- Danny refused Gabbar's role and Dharmendra wanted to do Thakur's role.
- The most fantastic story is about the first fortnight, post the release of Sholay and how the entire industry and movie critics wrote-off the movie as a flop. The Sippy's were then being asked to do a salvage operation by re-shooting the ending or cutting it by 45 minutes. Like any master creator they didn't listen either to the critics or to the stupid box-office pandits. We must thank God for the unadulterated version, which then turned into the best movie ever made in the Hindi film industry.

Rating : 4.5 / 5

Wednesday, 29 January 2014

Brajesh's Review : The Good Man Jesus And The Scoundrel Christ

"The Good Man Jesus And The Scoundrel Christ" is a part of a "Myth Series", where popular writers have attempted to retell the mythical stories in fictional format. Phillip Pullman has written a brilliant fictional account of twin brothers, which actually mirrors the two contrarian approaches to understanding mainstream religion.

The Jesus looks at purist, love and compassion based connect which is devoid of structured religion and has the freshness of natural wonders. Christ looks at a more practical and rational approach in making mass connect where institutions like Church play a critical role.

Christ's version is governed by the fact that humans are flawed and need guidance, support and institutional interventions to get closer to God. Jesus on the other hand believes that God's connection to Mother Earth is more personal and any discourse on Kingdom of God has to be anchored only in unconditional love and acceptance.

The book worked more for me as it followed my reading of "Jesus of Nazareth" by Reza Aslan. It was nerve tingling to look at the same narrative through the objective historical glass in contrast with the magical lens of fiction.

Rating : 3.5 / 5

Also read : Kim's Review of "The Good Man Jesus And The Scoundrel Christ"

Tuesday, 28 January 2014

Brajesh's Review : The Best of Laxman - The Common Man Tackles Corruption

I picked up "The Best of Laxman - The Common Man Tackles Corruption" from a library at a vegan cafe named "Philosophy Club" in Ahmedabad. The setting couldn't have been more apt for the book.

The cafe had some very interesting unconventional food choices and to read a book published in 1985 which remains totally relevant even in 2014 was sumptuous.

Every full page artwork of Laxman in this book is truly ageless and that's the reason I am not calling them cartoons. With corruption being the center-fold of national political discourse, I felt the power of common man and Laxman's vision in full force through this book.

Rating : 3.5 / 5

Monday, 27 January 2014

Brajesh's Review : Zealot - The Life & Times of Jesus of Nazareth

This book is NOT about "Jesus the Christ" BUT about "Jesus of Nazareth". I feel so completely fulfilled to start 2014 with "Zealot - The Life & Times of Jesus of Nazareth". This stunning non-fiction, historical examination of one of the most important personalities of modern history - Jesus Christ.

Zealot, has a line which summarises Reza Aslan's attempt through his views on the gospels of Mark - Mathew - Luke and John (in that chronology). In this he writes how the attempt of these gospels was NOT to record history as it happened through events BUT to record things as they "were meant to be".

In fact, I feel that if we all look at our mythology and religious writing as attempts of explain things "not as they were, but as they were MEANT TO BE", the world of ethics will be a richer, happier and saner place.

This objective and purely historian's point-of-view, helps you respect Jesus as a "man" separately from his identity as the Son of God.

I won't be surprised if this book generates a truck load of controversy and protests. I am already marking this as a strong nominee for the non-fiction book of the year.

I was in love with this book even before I met Reza Aslan (rockstar of JLF 2014) and got 4 of his books signed as gifts for family.

Rating : 5 / 5

Thursday, 23 January 2014

Kim's Review : The Bone Season & JLF Meet the Author - Samantha Shannon

The most amazing book I've read in the last year or so. I picked it up, because Samantha Shannon was one of the authors invited to JLF 2014. When discussing the authors who were coming and possible books that we would like to pick up, Brajesh said that "The Bone Season" was rocking the online world since it was released in August 2013. (I've been quite busy for the last couple of months, so I haven't been spending too much time online)

I started reading it on 18th night and couldn't put it down until 5am, when I had to force myself to get some sleep, so I could absorb at least a little of the next days sessions. And on 19th night, I just stayed up, until I finished it and now I can't wait for the next book to be released.

Fortunately, Samantha has promised to be more J K Rowling and less George Martin in the releases of her six subsequent novels in the series and hopes to be able to release at least one a year, even though a film deal has been signed with her as creative consultant and she will be busy overlooking that too.

The Bone Season is an anachronistic, Dickensian, dystopian, steam punk, fantasy combination set in 2059. The heroine of the book is 19 year old clairvoyant Paige Mahoney. The setting of the tale begins in Seven Dials (in Covent Garden) in the criminal underworld of Scion London and later moves to the familiar, yet completely unrecognisable, dystopian Oxford.

23 year old Samantha, writes beautifully. The plot is multi-layered and complex. Characters are well fleshed out, except the ones she wants to keep us guessing about. The story hurtles forward at break neck speed. I could not read anything else for the next couple of days, because anything that I picked up, just seemed too slow in comparison.

Its really tough to review this book, without revealing too much of the story line, but I'll try to give you an initial glimpse.

In the year 2059, all clairvoyant behaviour is illegal and they are pushed out into the fringes of society. If caught, it mostly results in torture, imprisonment and death. However, there is an underground network, controlled by multiple mime-lords loosely grouped under an overseer which works almost like a crime syndicate, which hires clairvoyants and uses their abilities. Like seers who channel dead masters and paint masterpieces that are sold as long lost originals.

Paige's boss - Jaxon Hall - is one of the stronger mime-lords and has a passion for discovering new types of clairvoyancy and classifying them. Paige finds her place in this world and manages to exist in it, while keeping her "gifts/abilities" a secret from her father.

However a stressful chance encounter on a train, forces Paige to confront the extent of her power while turning her whole world upside down.

We are introduced to new breeds of super creatures - other worldly - called the Rephaim and they are an extremely important part of the story.

I'd rather not give away any more of the story line, as you need to read it and figure it out for yourself.

Bone Season for me is a combination of Harry Potter, the Hunger Games, Game of Thrones  and many other fantasy - epic favourites of mine. Samantha herself said that she is heavily influenced by Margaret Atwood.

The germination of the idea for this series she said, came from when she was interning in Covent Garden and walked around the Seven Dials area. There were a lot of interesting shops here, including those that sold crystal balls and other magical knick knacks. These shops set her creative juices and wild imagination racing, which is why the novels are partly set in this area.

A lot of the slang and terms used in the book, come from19th Century slang, including words like mollisher which later developed into gun moll.

The title "The Bone Season" is a combination of the French Bonne Season as in - The 'Good' Season and Bones which signify skeletons and death.

In her mind Paige and the other characters are dressed in Neo Victorian clothes. With Paige specifically in boyish clothes and a Page Boy hat.

The genesis of the current situation was the Solar Storm of 1859 during the Victorian era and the story is set in 2059 (200 years later) this is partly the cause for the anachronistic nature of the story.

For Samantha, (who is not yet 25), her story keeps evolving as she travels. For eg: She spent 6 months on the 1st draft of The Bone Season and then she visited Ireland, so she just had to include it in the book, so she added more to The Bone Season using the Cromwellian Conquest of Ireland as a take off point.

She hopes to include more locations in her future books and is going to keep us guessing about the motivations of some of the other character and the romantic parts of the story line

I'd heavily recommend this book to anyone 15 and above who is interested in fantasy, anachronistic, steampunk novels. you will not be disappointed. However if you hate having a tale left hanging, you may be better off waiting for her to complete the series before you start.

Rating : 5 / 5

Tuesday, 21 January 2014

Brajesh's After-Thoughts on JLF 2014

1. Can realisation of ignorance be a source of enlightenment?

2. Can feeling of insignificance be a liberating seed?

3. Can one be firm in thought and still be a believer of self-doubt ?

A Big YES from me to all these three questions, post JLF 2014

"I know that I do not know"

— feeling blessed with Kim at Hotel Diggi Palace, Jaipur.

Saturday, 18 January 2014

Brajesh's First Day AT JLF 2014 - January 18th

It can happen only at #JLF.
In one day experienced a massive variety of topics.
True exercise for the grey cells.

1. "Art by Caravaggio" through his Biography written by Andrew Graham Dixon

2. "Photography Lessons" by Dayanita Singh

3."African Writing" through a three way debate between Somalian-British, Ethiopian-American, Nigerian/Sudanese-America women writers - Maaza Mengiste, Nadifa Mohamad & Taiye Selasi (via skype from Delhi.

4. Debate on "How can the Sacred also be Sensual?" with Vidya Dehejia, George Michell, Kavita Singh, Naman Ahuja, andrew Graham Dixon and William Dalrymple.

5. "The Non-Fiction Rennaisance" as experienced by Anthony Beevor, Reza Aslan &Geoff Dyer.

6. "Mathematical Language of Symmetry" by Marcus Du Sautoy

7. "Young Adult to Adult Fiction" through Bone Season with Samantha Shannon.

Totally satiated and feeling like a young child might feel at the end of his trip to Disneyland.
This is my idea of heaven. . . . .

..... and I have three more days to go.

#ZeeJLF — feeling accomplished with Kim at Hotel Diggi Palace, Jaipur.

Friday, 10 January 2014

Cartoon : New Books

A friend sent this to me, because she thought it reminded her of me.

It was too cute not to share.

Tuesday, 7 January 2014

Gujarati Literature Festival - January 3 - 5, 2014

This weekend, saw Ahmedabad host the first ever Gujarati Literature Festival at the Kanoria Centre for Arts, and it was such a roaring success that I hope the organisers make this an annual affair.

We are regulars at the Jaipur Literature Festival. This year, will be our 5th pilgrimage to Literature. However, we (my husband and I) have so far been content to be just attendees at the JLF, soaking in the experience, and drinking in the words of authors new and well loved.

Shyam, Samkit, Jumana, Leena, Nimitt and Tanvi took their love for books and literature one step further, they combined it with their love for all things Gujarat. Instead of just lamenting about the decline of Gujarati as a language, they conceptualised and conducted the first Gujarati Literature Festival 

Their enthusiasm was contagious and convinced even me (who understands just a smattering of Gujarati) to attend.

Inspired by JLF, entry was free for all, there were 3 simultaneous sessions through the day, performances in the evenings, a couple of book stalls, some food stalls, stalwarts of Gujarati literature, controversial authors and a writing competition for kids. On the side, the Kanoria Art Gallery also hosted an exhibition of Art Works inspired by Gujarati Authors and Literature.

Here are some glimpses from the 3 day festival.

From Left - Ms Minaxiben Patel , Mayor , Ahmedabad City, Mr Saurabhbhai Patel - Minister for Energy and  Petroleum , Gujarat State & Brajesh Bajpai - COO Vodafone Gujarat at the inauguration of Vodafone Gujarati Literature Festival held at Kanoria Art Center, Ahmedabad on 3rd January 2014 morning.

For more pictures, visit my Gujarat Blog - WhazzupGujarat

Monday, 6 January 2014

Brajesh : My Top 10 Reads of 2013 – Books

I read over 50 books last year, and possibly purchased over 100. While I can nail the number of books read exactly to 57, the number for purchased books will be an approximation, as my wife is in-charge of ordering books for both of us. The genres I read last year, were wide and the authors varied. As with every attempt of life, some reads were delicious, some obnoxious. Fiction, Travelogue, Cartoon Collection, Literary Classics, Thrillers, Leadership Guide, Anthologies, Mythological and Speculative Fiction, my last year read-list had it all.

Through the year I clicked a phone picture of every book I read, posted the same along with a short review on my Facebook Album “Soul Food (Books) in 2013″. My wife, the more disciplined writer and chronicler gave space to my reviews on her own blog – “Kim’s Bookshelf” (started in 2007), which she promptly re-titled “Kim and Brajesh’s Book Shelf”.

It is thanks to this FB album and blog that I am able to construct this post. I also rate every book on a five point scale along with my reviews. The list below consists exclusively of 4.5+ raters. My “Top 10 Reads of 2013″  list has 6 Fiction, 2 Non Fiction and 1 each from Travelogue & Management genre. A click on the title of the book will take you to a short review hosted on our site.

Top 10 Reads of 2013
10. King Solomon’s Mines. A Quest in Ethiopia by Tahir Shah [Travelogue] 
9. Goat Days by Benyamin [Non Fiction] (Translated from Malayalam) 
8. Chronicle of a Death Foretold by Gabriel Garcia Marquez [Fiction]
7. How To Get Filthy Rich In Rising Asia by Mohsin Hamid [Fiction]
6. The Visitor by Lee Child [Fiction]
5. Gone Tomorrow by Lee Child [Fiction]
4. Why CEOs Fail by Dotlich & Cairo [Management]
3. The Kill List by Frederick Forsyth [Fiction]
2. Cain by Jose Saramago [Fiction]
1. Our Moon Has Blood Clots – The Exodus of the Kashmiri Pandits  by Rahul Pandita [Non Fiction] This also gets “My Book of the Year 2013″ mention. This was one of the only two books to get the perfect 5.0/5.0 score in 2013.

As you would have noticed that some of the prominent genres are under-represented in the list above, I thought it would only be right to compile another  list of top 5 honorable mentions for the lover of other genres. Each of the below books got a rating of 4.0/5.0,  except “Madhushala” which was the second book with a perfect 5.0/5.0 rating for the year. 

Top 5 Honorable Mentions (other genres)
  1. Madhushala by Harivanshrai Bacchan [Hindi Poetry]
  2. Popcorn Essayists by Jai Arjun Singh [Collected Essays on Movies]
  3. Cat v/s Human. Another Dose of Catnip by Yasmine Surovec  [Cartoons]
  4. 9 to 5 Fit by Namita Jain [Health & Fitness]
  5. 99 Thoughts on Ganesha by Devdutt Pattanaik [Mythology]
I would like to mention that these lists consist of books “I” Read in 2013, and NOT releases of last year. While the list does have many releases from last year, it also has classics from yesteryear.  Hope this list  and the linked reviews will give you motivation to pick-up a few and feel the same joy as I experienced.

This article would be incomplete, without mentioning  the 4 books which my friends released in 2013. Each of these are an inspiration to me personally.  All four of my friends mentioned  below are my heroes and role-models. It takes enormous courage to write a book and enormous talent to write good ones like these three have done. So I would recommend each of these, even though I don’t rate books written by my friends.. 

Friend’s Books
  1. The Secret of Leadership by Prakash Iyer [Management]
  2. A Mentor A Novice & A Cup of Cappuccino by Subrat Padhi [Management]
  3. A Pinch of This, A Handful of That by Rushina Munshaw-Ghildiyal [Food]
  4. Leadership – it’s in your DNA by Rhea Duttagupta [Leadership]
Books Read in 2014 (My Life Line)

I am excitedly looking forward to 2014, as you can see from the attached picture of my reading pile.This pile is going to explode dramatically, courtesy my annual pilgrimage to  Jaipur Literature Festival coming-up in end January.

I also wish you all a Happy Reading New Year for 2014. Keep reading till we meet again.
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