Fantasy

The 10 Best Shows of 2016

{First Published In The Hindu Metroplus}

There was an avalanche of new content that stormed our television screens during 2016, but some shows stood much taller than the rest. Here are the 10 best shows of 2016, in no particular order –

the crown on netflixThe Crown: The Crown traces the life and times of a young Queen Elizabeth as she struggles to balance the monumental responsibility that has been thrust on her, with her once ‘regular’ life. Claire Foy is stunning in her portrayal as a young woman with an immense burden on her shoulders. The show is visually arresting, tightly scripted and is proof that story-telling is, and always will be superior to big budget special effects. {Netflix}

Westworld: What happens when robots created solely for the purpose of human pleasure discover consciousness? Worse, what happens when they realize the magnitude of the abuse that they’ve been put through? A mind-bending storyline with equally confounding twists and a cast that reads like an honour roll, no show this year is capable of making you stay up at night the way Westworld is. {Hotstar, Star World Premiere HD}

Stranger Things: The eighties are back with this eerie sci-fi mystery that plays like a Stephen King novel brought to life. Stranger Things boasts of not only Winona Ryder (who is flawless as a distraught small town mother trying to make sense of aliens in her backyard), but also the most lovable 10 year olds in recent television history. {Netflix}

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The Night Of: Dark and gripping, The Night Of is, to borrow from the show itself, a subtle beast. Naz Khan, every bit a good Muslim boy, finds himself accused of a gory murder, and it doesn’t help that he has no recollection of events. Riz Ahmed, John Turturro and Bill Camp are fantastic in this courtroom drama that makes no mince of discussing racial prejudice and Islamophobia in the backdrop of the American justice system. {Hotstar, Star World Premiere HD}

The Night Manager: John Le Carre’s riveting espionage novel is brought to life by this lavish BBC production which has some sublime acting performances. Hugh Laurie doesn’t just play, but transforms into Richard ‘The Worst Man In The World’ Roper, a billionaire weapons dealer, and Olivia Colman is brilliant as Angela Burke, the very pregnant and very determined British enforcement agent who’s out to catch him. As for Tom Hiddleston, The Night Manager may as well be the show which cements his place as the next James Bond. {Amazon Prime Video}

Game of Thrones (Season 6): The sixth season of Game of Thrones premiered this year, with each episode having a bigger revelation than the next. With resurrections, family reunions and sweet revenge, the sixth season was probably the fastest moving in terms of storyline after the first, and the final episodes of the season, ‘Battle of the Bastards’ and ‘Winds of Winter’ were television masterpieces. If you’d abandoned the show a few seasons ago, now is the time to catch up. {Hotstar, Star World Premiere HD}

The People vs OJ Simpson – American Crime Story: The miniseries that swept the Emmy’s this year, People vs OJ Simpson resurrects the real courtroom drama of the infamous murder trial that shook ‘90s America. The screenplay is such that it’ll have you on the edge of your seat, even though the events that transpired are now history. {Hotstar, Star World Premiere HD}

Black Mirror: Black Mirror is a compilation of 6 episodes, each narrating a different (horror) story detailing our relationships, and growing reliance on technology. Whether it’s the story of killer robotic bees or a future where your worth is measured in ‘likes’, Black Mirror will have you looking at your phones very differently. {Netflix}

Better Call Saul (Season 2): Better Call Saul might only be two seasons old, but the spin-off has already outdone its much celebrated original, Breaking Bad. The series about a small time lawyer’s path to becoming an ace con-man has excellent story-telling, sharp dialogue, terrific acting, and is one of the best shows on TV right now. {Colors Infinity}

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The Americans (Season 4): The thriller series about two Russian spies living average American lives during the peak of the Cold War only got better this year. Keri Russell and Matthew Rhys give extraordinary performances, yet again, as the show dives even deeper into the complex themes of identity, patriotism and family, with a few wigs thrown in. {Hotstar, Star World Premiere HD}

 

You can read the round up of my favourites from 2015, here.

For Children Of All Ages

{First Published In The Hindu Metroplus}

If you’ve followed, or are a fan of Guillermo Del Toro’s work as a film director, you’d be well aware of his bent for the fantastic and the impossible. He is the man who brought Hellboy to life, and gave us the monster fest that was Pacific Rim. Naturally, news of his collaboration with Dreamworks Animation and Netflix to produce an animated series was one that caused quite a stir. The result of this collaboration, Trollhunters, premiered on Netflix this Friday.

Trollhunters takes on the story of a 15-year-old boy, Jim (Anton Yelchin, who unfortunately, passed away this year), who is chosen by a magical amulet to become the Trollhunter – a hero who must protect both good trolls and mankind from evil trolls. Jim is helped in his mission by his best friend Toby (Charlie Saxton), and Blinky (Kelsey Grammer), a good troll who takes it upon himself to train Jim in the ways of the Trollhunter. Jim must now train, and defeat the evil troll Bular (Ron Perlman) who will stop at nothing to destroy the amulet and claim both worlds.

The series has twenty-six episodes in total, and they’re fairly short, with each clocking not more than twenty-five minutes, making them the perfect little work break, or the perfect binge, depending on how you watch Netflix shows.

It must be said though, that there is nothing in Trollhunters that’s particularly groundbreaking by way of story or characters, which is disappointing considering that someone with the caliber and whimsy of Del Toro is directing it. Trollhunters just has all the usual Dreamworks tropes – the underdog who is suddenly thrust with a hero’s responsibility, the sidekick who also provides comic relief, the adolescent love interest, adorable creatures and a fierce villain, who are all put together with the stunning animation that has become Dreamworks’ signature. The troll worlds are beautifully constructed with meticulous attention to detail, and the Man vs. Troll fights are impressively choreographed. The dialogue is fast and has plenty of humour, again, something that’s become standard with anything that Dreamworks produces. Occasionally, there are moments that stand out, like Jim’s interest in cooking and baking, and the way he takes care of his overworked mother, but there is nothing that particularly makes you go whoa, I’ve never seen this before – especially when you’ve watched How To Train Your Dragon, which is very similar in terms of storyline and characters.

That isn’t to say that the show is not fun, though – it’s immensely enjoyable to watch. In a time when television is getting darker and edgier, Trollhunters’ simplicity is actually its selling point. It’s light, visually arresting, clean, and possesses neither the pandering that kids’ shows today are in excess of, nor the risqué jokes that adult animation shows are infamous for. Trollhunters is a show for children, yes, but of all ages.

{Trollhunters is presently streaming on Netflix}

These Violent Delights

{First Published in The Hindu Metroplus}

It was the famed novelist, Michael Crichton, who had written and directed ‘Westworld’, the film, back in 1973. The sci-fi thriller was about an amusement park where guests with heavy pockets could indulge themselves in any way they wanted with the highly realistic robotic inhabitants of the park – from gunfights to lovemaking, everything is kosher to those who can afford it. These robots are programmed in such a way that they can never harm the guests, until one day, they begin malfunctioning and predictably, all hell breaks loose. Westworld was a film that was far ahead of its time, and a runaway box office hit as well. The truth is that I’ve not seen the film (although I am very familiar with Crichton’s similarly themed Jurassic Park) which is why HBO’s lavishly produced television reboot of the film was one that interested me as much as it did.

Westworld (the TV series) picks up thirty years from where the movie left off – the park is well established again and the robots are more human than ever, to the point where it’s impossible to distinguish them from the guests. The only tell that they have is their inability to harm live creatures, which means they’ll happily let flies sit on their face, and sometimes, their eyeballs. These robots live programmed lives wherein their fates are already have already been written, unless an interaction with a guest throws their day off previously scheduled events. Even then, once the guests leave, they go back to sleep and wake up with no memory of past events, ready to lead their scripted lives once again.

The entire scientific set up is headed by Dr. Ford (Anthony Hopkins, who is as hypnotizing as ever), who is in charge of creating and programming these bots. It’s when he installs an update in them, an update that allows the bot to access previous memories and have ‘reveries’, that the bots begin to malfunction, and chaos looms.

The show is unapologetic about its (mostly) ridiculous and over the top premise, and takes itself very seriously, making sure you’re as immersed in their world as they are. The Westworld of 2016 has been created by Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Ray Nolan, and has JJ Abrams and Bryan Burk sitting as executive producers – all names and talent that need no introduction, least of all in the realm of science fiction television. The casting is also incredible – a veritable coup by itself, for it brings together the likes of Anthony Hopkins, Thandie Newton, Ed Harris, Evan Rachel Wood, Luke Hemsworth (the oldest of the Hemsworth brothers), Jeffrey Wright and Rodrigo Santoro, among others.

Westworld is only one episode old, making it the perfect new show to watch. To be fair, the premiere left the audience with more questions about the show than answers, but I do believe that it’s by design, for it makes sure that you’re counting down the days to the next episode. The sets are lavish, and it’s evident that every penny of its massive budget is accounted for, but the story is still the hero of the show, which is why a simple shot at the end of the first episode will have you more agape than all the special effects put together. Westworld calls itself a reboot, but think of the term as a technicality, for there is little else that is as original on television right now.

{Westworld is presently telecast on Star World Premiere HD every Tuesday, and is also available on HotStar}

Hits and Myths-es

{First Published in The Hindu Metroplus}

About a year ago, I had ranted in this very space about the lack of creativity when it came to mythology and epic based serials on mainstream regional television. It was around that time that Star’s production of Mahabharata, with its opulent sets and six pack flaunting Pandavas had had audiences glued to the television sets again, after all, the lure of a good story, no matter how many it has been retold, is undeniable. The show finally came to an end last year (after a Kurukshetra battle sequence that probably lasted longer than the original battle as described in the epic), but I suppose the over-the-roof ratings and popularity of the show made it clear to the producers that the mythology genre is one that would never get old in our country, thus giving birth to Seedhayin Raman (Siya Ke Raam in Hindi, Janaki Ramudu in Telugu and Seethayanam in Malayalam).

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Seedhayin Raman seeks to narrate the story of the Ramayana from Sita’s perspective. I know of many books that have given a new lease of life to epics by narrating the story from the view point of a character who is usually sidelined in conventional retellings. Chitra Divakaruni Banerjee’s excellent novel, The Palace of Illusions, for example, is the story of The Mahabharata as narrated by Draupadi. Randamoozham (Bhima is the title of its English translation) by MT Vasudevan Nair is another classic novel that brings to life The Mahabharata through the eyes of Bhima. Naturally, the idea that a television show, and a prime time television show at that, would be attempting to a showcase a different idea of a beloved epic was something that I found intriguing, and that was enough for me to sit with the show and see what the fuss was about.

Visually, the show is stunning. The sets are lavish, the makeup and costumes are beautiful, and the actors are very good-looking. The writers, though, have taken creative liberties with the story. Ram and Sita, according to Valmiki’s version of the Ramayana, are said to have met for the first time at her Swayamvaram (the ancient Indian practice where the princess chooses her husband among an assembly of potential suitors), but in the serial, they have a run-in much before. There are other changes in the story as well, but they’re minor, and it’s obvious that they’ve been made for the sole purpose of creating more dramatic television.

The Ramayana is very different from the Mahabharata – the former doesn’t possess the multitudes of characters or complexities that the latter does, but it does have its own intricacies. Seedhayin Raman’s treatment of those intricacies, however, are not well done. The story of the Vaanara brothers, Sugriva and Vaali, for instance, is one of the few grey areas in an epic that is mostly black and white. Although Rama sides with Sugriva, both the monkey kings had virtues as well as flaws, but Seedhayin Raman insists on showing Sugriva to be an incorruptible, virtuous king, and Vaali as a power-hungry villain who deserves to die. Seedhayin Raman might be creative in its setting and clever in its style, but without the nuance – without the grey, there’s no colour in its story.

My wait for an original, bold, televised take on Indian mythology continues.

{Seedhayin Raman is currently telecast on Star Vijay, and is also available on HotStar}

Sense Of An Ending

{First Published in The Hindu Metroplus}

There is a theory that is often talked about in Behavioural Economics, one that was born out of the research carried out by eminent economists Barbara Fredrickson and Daniel Kahneman, called the “Peak End” theory. What the theory propounds is that our memories of an event, or an experience are not formed based on the entire duration of said event or experience, rather it is based on specific, intense, moments, or the highlights of it. If, for example, a somewhat dull episode of a television series finishes with a cracking revelation, or a complete twist in events, you’re more likely to remember it as a great episode for that revelation or twist, rather than a mediocre episode made better with a good ending.

The more I think about it, the more I’m convinced that the reason why I’ve enjoyed the Game of Thrones franchise as much as I have been, is because of the peak-end theory. The clarity with which I can recall the shock value of the scenes in the first season’s finale where Ned Stark (Sean Bean), who seemed to be a core protagonist, dies an ugly, untimely death, as well as the moment that Danerys Targaryen (Emilia Clark) emerges from the fires, naked, holding her baby dragons, far surpass my memory of other events which took place that season. My memories of the other seasons too, are essentially a combination of key turns in the story and particularly gruesome deaths – like a highlight reel.

The sixth season though, has put the peak-end theory to rest for me. Six episodes have come out so far, marking half the season complete, and every episode has had stunning revelations, and every episode plays like a highlight reel. Jon Snow (Kit Harrington) rises from the dead after a mystical haircut performed by the Red Priestess Melisandre (Carice Van Houten). Sansa Stark (Sophie Turner), after five and three quarter seasons, finally runs into some good luck and not only escapes the Boltons, but also gets the powerful Brienne of Tarth (Gwendoline Christie) on her side, and is reunited with her half brother at The Wall. Danerys rounds up an entire Dothraki army, at Vaes Dothrak after setting the local Khals on fire, and inspires her new Khalasar to be completely on her side to take over Westeros, with a stirring speech (the ferocious dragon she was sitting on might have helped, too). Theon Greyjoy (Alfie Allen), bruised and battered by the Boltons has managed to escape as well, and is now back home at the Iron Islands, helping his sister become the rightful leader of their people, after their father was murdered unceremoniously by a mysterious uncle.

Arya Stark (Maisie Williams) has quit the Faceless men (after wasting an an entire season) and looks to reclaim her identity. Bran Stark (Isaac Wright) has made an important comeback, and his abilities to warg, or see into the past, have evolved to the point where he can now interact with the past, thereby affecting the future, all of which bring in terrifying possibilities.

Back in King’s Landing, Cersei Lannister (Lena Headey) is plotting her revenge against the High Sparrow (Jonathan Pryce) and the Faith Militant which she foolishly empowered, but doesn’t seem to catch a break, as he manages to convert her daughter-in-law, Margery Tyrell (Natalie Dormer), and consequently, her son Tommen (Dean- Charles Chapman), the King, into the Faith. Jaime Lannister (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau), on the other hand, has been fired as the King’s Hand, and must set aside his ego, and instead, look to quell the rising rebellions against the Lannisters.

The show thus far has not left any room for the audience to catch their collective breath. Every episode makes you think, What now? What next?, and even before you can contemplate an answer, the show gives it to you, along with an entirely new question. It’s doubly exciting because the book on which this season is based on, The Winds of Winter, hasn’t been released by GRR Martin. It is also evident that the show makers have detoured completely from the story line that the book might have adopted (with the blessings of Martin, of course). The official announcement from the producers said that the show would only have eight seasons in total, and given that we’re already in the sixth, there should be some sense of an ending on the horizon, but the way the show is moving now, it feels like it’s only the beginning.


{Game of Thrones is on Star World HD every Tuesday, and is also available on the Hot Star app}

Winter is Coming

Game of Thrones returns this week, marking the end of nearly a year long wait for fans who were left to hang on multiple cliffs when the previous season ended. It didn’t help that HBO released three trailers which, instead of giving a clearer picture of what’s to come, only raised more questions.

At the end of the fifth season, Danerys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke) looked to be in a ‘out of the frying pan, and into the fire’ sort of situation. Although she was airlifted out of a deadly revolt in her kingdom by Drogon the dragon in one of the greatest computer generated action sequences on television thus far, she was captured by the Khalasar, the powerful tribe she was previously married into. The trailer had a few scenes where it’s evident that the sixth season will see this once powerful queen being stripped (literally) into slavery. Having said that, we also see her big, bad, dragons casting giant shadows over the nomadic kingdom, so rest assured that an explosive rescue mission is also on the cards, and maybe we’ll get to see her make that long awaited trip to Westeros to claim the Iron Throne this season.

At the other end of the Game of Thones world, Sansa Stark (Sophie Turner), who managed to rescue herself and Theon Greyjoy (Alfie Allen) from the clutches of her psychotic husband Ramsay Bolton (Iwan Rheon) now looks to have been presented the opportunity to regain control of her father’s kingdom. When Sansa Stark is first presented as a character both in the books and in the series, she is portrayed to be feminine and delicate, ready to be the rose to her future husband’s crown of thorns. As the series progresses, her luck worsens in the worst way – her future husband and the boy she dreamed of turns out to be a textbook psychopath, her future mother-in-law is a power hungry queen who will do anything to keep her kingdom, and her father is executed right in front of her eyes. She escapes with great difficulty, only to be forced into marrying Ramsay Bolton, who makes her previous fiance seem like harmless farmer. At the cusp of season six, Sansa is not only free, but also hardened. It will be interesting to see if the eldest surviving Stark manages to avenge all that has happened to her family.

The Stark family will also see Arya (Maisie Williams), blinded and left to death at the end of season five, given a second chance at life, albeit without vision. Bran Stark (Isaac Wright), who we last saw in season 3 as a chubby and adorable little child with mysterious powers that allow him to take over the minds of those around him, returns to the show, this time as a gangly adolescent with better control over his abilities.

Lastly, is Jon Snow really dead? It’s safe to say that no one, with the exception of the cast and crew has any real clue. Kit Harrington, who plays Jon Snow has been seen at script readings, and at shooting locations but vehemently insists that he’s dead. The internet has been flush with rumours ever since his blood seeped the snow in the final scene of the fifth season, but with barely a few days left for the premiere, it doesn’t matter what the rumours are. We’re all about to find out, and I’m not sure if we’re going to like it.

{Game of Thrones premieres April 26th on Star World and will continue to air every Tuesday}

2015 in Television

{First Published in The Hindu Metroplus}

It’s time for us to welcome the new year with family, friends, celebrations, and of course, somewhat pointless lists. So without further ado, here are my TV favourites from 2015 (in no particular order):

  • Empire – Empire is a musical soap opera about a Hip Hop mogul, and the lengths he’ll go to stay on top. It’s the television equivalent of the pizzas that have cheese stuffed in the crusts, the kind which oozes yellow, processed glory, on to your fingers. Yes it’s disgustingly over the top, and you can’t really tell people how much you enjoy it, although you know that they’d enjoy it just as much as you do when they eat it, I mean, watch it. {FX India}

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  • Better Call Saul – Better Call Saul was my favourite show this year. Yes, it’s a spin off of Breaking Bad, and there are plenty of recurring characters, but surprisingly, it has an entirely unique tone, and while one is occasionally reminded of Breaking Bad, Better Call Saul stands on its own. {Colors Infinity}

better call saul, better call saul gifs

  • Wolf Hall – Wolf Hall is a literary mini series which was produced by the BBC. The cast and screenplay is splendid, and Hilary Mantel’s masterpiece comes alive over the course of 6, hour long episodes. I do hope that more show makers take the hint from Wolf Hall and make more mini series from literary classics – that way I don’t have to pretend like I’ve read them anymore.

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  • Game of Thrones – Dragons! Kings! Betrayals! Dragons! Death! Snow! Did I mention Dragons? The fifth season of the epic fantasy story came to an end this year, with a finale that shook the world, or at least, broke the internet. Game of Thrones is the show whose return I’m most looking forward to in 2016. {HBO}

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  • Daredevil – While I enjoyed both The Flash and Arrow, Daredevil takes the super hero genre of television to a whole new level, the way Nolan’s The Dark Knight changed the game for films. Netflix has come out with a winner, yet again, and there is no doubt that Daredevil is the benchmark for super hero television shows to come.

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  • Master of None – If you’re not socialising with your family, and have plenty of time in your hands this weekend, why not cosy up with the entire first season of Aziz Ansari’s comedy for all seasons? It’s one the most relatable shows I’ve watched on international television (and not just because Ansari hails from Tamil Nadu), and the perfect candidate for marathon viewing.

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  • Quantico – This is right on top of my list of unexpected favourites. I didn’t want to like it, I watched it with great prejudice but eventually gave in to the racy screenplay and exaggerated drama. The show is addictive, and Priyanka Chopra has made an assured debut into American television and proved that she is a bonafide star. The penultimate episode before the season finale, and the season finale itself were a tad frustrating and I’m hoping (against hope) that it sorts itself out when it comes back next year. {Star World}

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  • The Affair – One often talks about “mindless television” – The Affair is the opposite. It demands your attention in a manner that is unforgiving, and if you blink, you miss. The Affair follows a story of infidelity narrated through different perspectives, none of which are objective, and leaves it to the viewer to be the judge. I’m a chronic multi-tasker, but The Affair ensured that my attention only belonged to the screen. {FX India}

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  • Mr. Robot – A terrific and well researched show that goes into the psyche and life of hackers. Given the rising coverage with respect to the hacking group “Anonymous” in the mainstream news, Mr. Robot is an excellent way to better understand hacking, and how the right information in the wrong hands could potentially break the world as we know it. {Colors Infinity}

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  • Modern Family – It’s not from 2015, technically, but I have been watching it religiously, all year. I could never tire of this show, or it’s characters, and I am yet to find an episode I haven’t guffawed out loud in. A perennial favourite to end the list! {Star World}

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The Snow On the Wall

{First Published in The Hindu Metroplus}

It would seem that George RR Martin, the writer behind the epic books and TV series, Game of Thrones, has a rather curious penchant for killing his characters, more specifically, the good, the brave and the honest characters. Martin, who confesses to have been “killing characters his entire career”, has talked about how he wants his audience to be “afraid to turn the page” when his character is in danger. When you watch the first season of Game of Thrones (based on the book, A Song of Fire and Ice), the narration begins with Eddard Stark, an honourable lord who we are led to believe is one of the key protagonists in the series. He faces death, but given his importance in the scheme of things, you think that there’s really no way that they could kill him, after all, where would the story go without him? The executioner brings his sword to his neck, and you still think, no, a miracle will happen – maybe the evil people will change their minds! Maybe he’ll escape from his shackles and put up a fight! Maybe the executioner is his man! But none of that happens, and Eddard Stark dies a painful death, and it is that death which not only sets the coldblooded tone of the show, but also tells you that Martin was very serious about what he had said about making his audience fear for their favourite characters.

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Game of Thrones, for those who are still unaware, is the television event of this decade. An epic medieval fantasy which has reduced fully grown adults into discussing dragons and dwarves, Game of Thrones cannot be compared to any other show on television right now. Five seasons have passed thus far, and the sixth is due around April next year. The sixth season is the most awaited season yet, simply because no one has any idea of what is about to happen. The past five seasons have followed the books, but the sixth and seventh books are yet to be completed by Martin, which means that no one, apart from the show’s creators, really know what is about to happen next.

The fifth season ended with the death of the Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch, Jon Snow. Characters dying in the show is now routine, and many of my own favourites (Oberyn Martell in particular) have all died gruesome, bloody deaths. Every time Martin killed someone I was rooting for, I remember telling myself that the time has come for me to give up on the show and stop watching it altogether, but the very next week I’ve found myself glued to the screen again.

Now Snow, who had become the audience favourite over the years because of his upright, brave, and stoic character (and also because almost every other character in the show worth rooting for, was brutally killed through the course of the five seasons), was stabbed in the back by his own men. Since there’s really no knowing what happens next, fans quickly recovered from the shock and horror to theorise about a possible resurrection, and a hundred other ways through which Snow could possibly defy death. After six months of heavy speculation, fans rejoiced last week as HBO released the poster for the sixth season, featuring Snow, alive, albeit with a bit of blood on his face. Is he going to be resurrected by the Red Priestess, Melisandre? Or is his Dragon blood going to pull him through? Apart from Snow’s “resurrection”, there is still mystery surrounding the other characters in the series as well. Whatever happened to Sansa Stark and Theon Greyjoy when they jumped off the castle wall? Did Stannis really die? Is Arya going to be blind forever?
Knowing the show, I would take the worst case scenario for every character, but Jon Snow’s rebirth has given me something that I never thought I would ever associate with Game of Thrones – Hope.

{Game of Thrones presently airs on HBO}

Epic Television

{First Published in The Hindu Metroplus}

I’m not one to call anything a phenomenon very lightly, least of all, something on airs on screen, but the Mahabharata, is a legitimate television phenomenon. I have been watching the story unfold on television for as long as I can remember watching television. The version which I can remember most clearly, and the one that has left maximum impact on me is BR Chopra’s version of the epic. Yes, the sets were gaudy, the effects, comical, and the acting got a little too dramatic at times, but the writing and the way the episodes were paced ensured that the series was ahead of its time. There was no compromise with regard to story in the Mahabharata of the nineties, for no relationship or character from the original epic was left behind. One would think that taking on all the subplots would make the series translate unfavourably for television, but the writers managed to juggle them all on screen with consummate ease. BR Chopra’s Mahabharata, revolutionised Indian television of the nineties. I have heard many stories of empty streets during the telecast, and about folks with television sets “hosting” people and children from their neighbourhood to watch the show together.

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The second version I remember, was animated – it was called “Pandavas”, and it aired on a channel called Splash, one of the few exclusive to children channels back in the nineties, and by god it was awful. It was 3D animation, and the technology was new at that time, but the execution was just terrible (even by the standards that were prevalent at that time). I must confess though – I didn’t miss a single episode. Two new versions of the Mahabharata has been airing over the last couple of years – one produced by Sun Networks, and the other by Star. I prefer Star’s version – it has with better special effects and modern casting (the hairy paunched Pandavas have been traded in for ones that have flat, muscular abs). Both productions, however, have got people hooked on to their television sets again, and that just proves that the draw of a good story, no matter how many times it has been retold, is undeniable.

Given the wealth of stories we are blessed with in our country, though, I’m disappointed that Indian television isn’t experimenting enough with the “epic” genre of television. When you think about it, the Mahabharata has enough cloak-and-dagger activities, evil lords, kingdoms, creatures and dysfunctional relationships to make Game of Thrones look like an amateur western spin off, and remember that this is a story that has been handed down from a thousand years ago! I would love to see a bold, raw version of it, a version which doesn’t pander to family audiences (and a version, I’m sure, which will never see the light of day).

Apart from experimenting, there is also a great lack of variety in this genre. I’ve seen bits and pieces of series that have covered Hanuman, Shiva, the Ramayana, and I can also vaguely remember one that focused on Krishna. This is again, disappointing, because we are country of stories! There is plenty of material, hundreds and thousands of myths and legends, warriors and princesses, that are waiting to be showcased. Why, for example, isn’t anyone doing a Karna series? Or an “Adventures of Lava and Kusha”? Why isn’t anyone exploring a Vaanara based story line from the Ramayana? And why, oh why isn’t anyone coming up with an original mythological hero or heroine? Because that, would be epic.