A year ago I was living in Singapore.
A year ago I worked in a startup that was building cool things but that many hadn’t heard of.
A year ago I was still in my 20s 😉
A lot can change over a year. 2017 was that year for me.
After living in Singapore for 3 years, it had started to feel like home. I felt comfortable there – perhaps too comfortable and both Sid and I were itching for a change. That’s when the opportunity to move to the USA presented itself to us. We both weren’t sure about it – it is one thing to come to the US as a student and a totally different experience to move after having lived and worked in other countries. However, we decided to pack our bags and move to the other side of the world with cautious optimism. Almost an year later we feel like we are getting a hang of the place. Every country is unique in its ways but the stark contrast between Singapore and US can be unsettling initially. At first, we compared everything – the taxes were higher (ridiculously high if you ask me), navigating healthcare was like doing a Ph.D in a week (I don’t have a Ph.D so I am just guessing here), the rents were crazy (we downsized) and the culture of tipping drove us nuts (especially when you get a fraction of the customer service when compared to most Asian countries). I was excited about experiencing 4 seasons for a change but when the sun sets at 4pm and walking to the grocery store in 3 layers of clothes becomes a daily occurrence, you start to miss the freedom that predictable warm weather brings. Like I said it was a big change for us. The silver lining though came in the form of friends- old, new and re-acquainted and family who helped us navigate some of these changes. Plus living in the New York area is a blessing since you do not have to rely on a car, there is always something to see and do, the food scene is amazing and there is diversity – both visible and subtle. I am still not completely sold on the ‘USA dream’ though. Sure there are tons of opportunities here but the trade-offs sometimes don’t feel worth it. I am willing to give it more time. After all, a lot can change in a year.
One of the biggest questions I had when making the move was – what about my career? Will I find a job there and will I like it. I will be honest, it was a struggle to find a job – reaching out to connections, brushing up on skills, interviewing numerous time, facing rejection and so on so forth. But I definitely noticed how responsive the HR folks here were, how thorough the interview process was and how dynamic the work environment is. Again, the work culture is very different here in comparison to Singapore and it takes a while to break in but putting myself in these new and sometimes challenging situations is a good thing I think for both my mind and soul. I am now working in a completely different industry that is pushing me to learn and un-learn at the same time. I have always wanted a breadth of experiences, which can run counter to career progression that often values depth, but I am willing to go with the flow for now!
November is a celebratory month in our household. It serves host to both my birthday and our anniversary. This year came with milestones – I turned 30 and we turned 5! We decided to celebrate in a way we best know – by traveling and being thankful for not only having found each other but also for all the people we have in our life because of it. I could write a whole separate post on what it feels like to be 30 (I have flashbacks to Rachel’s tv birthday on Friends). Sure, my metabolism has slowed down and anti-aging skin care is slowly making it’s way into my cabinet and I am giving myself a hundred other reasons why 30 is the new 20 because let’s be honest I am freaking out and that is why this topic shall not be discussed! As a side note, check out this fabulous lady on Instagram who personifies the “age is just a number” adage(https://www.instagram.com/iconaccidental/?hl=en)
If you have made it to this part of my post then the fun part truly begins. Rounding up my favorite things of 2017 below
Favorite Movies of 2017
Hindi Medium: Hindi Medium tackles an important subject – that being able to speak English, and a certain kind of English, is linked with social status and upward mobility in India. Whilst doing so it puts it’s protagonists through the ringer. They conjure elaborate plots to ensure their daughter gets into a prestigious English medium school. And while these antics are funny. after a point they seem to far fetched to be taken seriously. However, with Irfan Khan at the helm of things, even the average scenes become gold and the movie manages to rise beyond it’s flaws.
Bareilly Ki Barfi: We happened upon this movie out of boredom. We wanted to go and watch a movie but could not figure out which one and a quick google search suggested Bareilly Ki Barfi had good reviews. I don’t trust reviews AT ALL these days but decided to give the movie a shot because I like both Rajkumar Rao and Ayushman Khurana (I know I am misspelling their names but numerology can wait). Set in small town north India, which suddenly seems to have become the 90’s Switzerland of Bollywood, the movie chronicles the story of Bitti who often sticks out like a sore thumb amongst the more conventional woman that inhabit her world. She is ‘different’ she says and does not want to change in order to get married. What unfolds next is the story of two men who enter her life and seem to accept her for who she is albeit hoping for different outcomes. Through this process they also find themselves changing. Super funny and touching at different moments, Bareilly Ki Barfi gets both it’s authenticity and plot right which makes for a nice breezy, viewing.
Newton: I have mixed feeling about Newton. When I saw the trailer I was very intrigued. After all when was the last time you saw a movie being made about the electoral process in India or thought about what it takes to conduct free and fair elections when all elements are against you. The movie however left me slightly disappointed with it’s pacing. It was so slow at times that I drifted away. And while Newton, portrayed wonderfully by Rajkumar Rao is interesting, his holier than thou stance puts the storytelling to test because he is not like-able. Au contraire, Pankaj Tripathi, who plays an army commander charged with protecting the electoral officers, comes across as more sympathetic because he is more like us – adjusting and compromising and practical. Not sure what that says about me but the fact that it made me think about something like this is why this movie features on the list.
Shubh Mangal Saavdhan: I cannot think of many actors who would have said yes to playing Mudit in SMS. Mudit is one of those regular guys who have now become fairly common in movies set in the Hindi heartland. But what’s uncommon about him is that we the audience become privy to his very personal secret – he suffers from erectile dysfunction. It is a topic that could be milked for crude jokes to no end but in R S Prasanna’s very able hands, Mudit’s condition becomes a trigger for several pertinent conversations – his inability to talk about it openly with his own father, resorting to quacks to solve his problem as opposed to seeking professional medical help in order to avoid embarrassment, his parent’s refusal to accept that this situation has nothing to do with his fiancee Sugandha and finally Sugandha’s own conflict of deciding whether she loves this man enough to lead a life of compromise with him. Ayushman Khurana and Bhumi Pednekar are in fantastic form in the movie and share a genuine chemistry with each other (watch out for the scene in the park between them) as they struggle to navigate the stress an arranged marriage in India brings although theirs is a love-cum-arranged-cum-love marriage.
Honorable mentions: Secret Superstar, Jolly LLB 2, Tumhari Sulu
Baahubali 2: A visual spectacle combined with great storytelling by S S Rajamouli has propelled the Baahubali franchise to great heights. There were a lot of things to like in the second installment – Anushka Shetty’s character arc and performance, the music and some creative action sequences. However, the incessant use of slow motion and background score overshadowed some of the on screen proceedings and some of the acting was over-the-top. Despite that, this movie was one of those rare occasions when one felt like going to a movie theatre to watch a film. I think that sums up the impact of Baahubali.
Fidaa, Arjun Reddy, Ninnu Kori, Mahanubhavudu: Wrote about these movie here – Guide to the 10 best Telugu movies in the past two years (2016–17)
Gruham: Siddharth (who is also a co-writer on the movie) stars in this horror movie that gets a lot of things right. The visual palette of the movie and it’s setting are both unique and lend a distinct mood to the movie plus there is a great momentum build up till the interval. It is the second half that lets the movie down where the movie meanders a bit before a surprise twist brings back some excitement again. Well acted and with one of the most interesting sound tracks I have seen in a south Indian movie, Gruham is a movie made with the right intentions and worth a watch.
Honorable mention: Shamantakamani, Nagaram, Mental Madhilo. Did not see PSV Garuda Vega
Theeran Adhigaaram Ondru: Very few films reel you in the way Theeran does. It starts off as a cop drama with a romance angle and while this part is entertaining you get a sense that things are about to get serious. It is to the director’s credit that he manages to keep that sense of urgency and fear throughout the movie. Based on a real investigation spearheaded by Tamil Nadu police in the 90s around murders and robberies committed along the country’s highways by a notorious gang, Theeran has a lot of ground to cover – from the robber’s motives and history to the actual investigation itself which is why the distractions in terms of songs and some other characters seem like speed breakers. Despite these flaws, the movie managed to keep you engaged due to its intensity – thanks to Karthi’s fantastic performance and well-researched plot.
Vikram Vedha: My most favorite Indian movie this year. I loved everything about the movie – the acting, music, references to Vikram Betal and the perfect blend of style and substance. Vikram Vedha pits it’s lead actors against each other and on the surface they represent the opposite sides of law. However through clever flashbacks in the narrative the lines get blurred as do the two characters and you leave the movie hoping to learn more about what happens to the characters. Madhavan is rock solid in his performance but is it Vijay Sethupathi who steals the show with a performance that would appeal to both his core fans and neutral ones.
Honorable mention: Adhe Kangal, Kuttram 23, Maragadha Nanyam. Saw Mersal but did not like it.
Thor – Ragnarok: The Marvel universe has so many movies now that it is hard to keep track and they seem to sometimes blend into one another. However, one thing they consistently get right is ‘entertainment’. Ragnarok is one of the most entertaining Marvel movies and easily the best Thor movie. The use of humor, music and action sequences are top notch and Ragnarok gets all the other characters right too – Cate Blanchett is amazing as are all the other usual suspects like Loki and Hulk. But the real icing on the cake are the new introductions in the form of Korg and Grandmaster and Thor himself who seems to have loosened up and doesn’t have a chip on his shoulder anymore.
Wonder Woman: Can I just say how incredibly proud and happy I am to have a female superhero movie that seems to match the standards of mostly male driven superhero franchises. Played beautifully by Gal Gadot who brings charm, female vulnerability and strength to the character, Wonder Woman is an engaging, well-directed movie that should set the foundation for hopefully even better WW movies in the future. Plus, how amazing was Chris Pine in the movie.
Get Out: It is easy to see why Get Out made such a cultural splash when it released. Although it is cleverly guised as a horror movie, it also serves as a reflection of what’s happening in the American society now. Saying anything more would give away the plot but I would highly recommend watching the movie.
The Big Sick: My most favorite English movie this year. Based on the real life story of Kumail Nanjiani and his wife Emily Gordon, The Big Sick is a relatively straightforward movie – it is a story about two people finding love, losing it and then re-finding it although the situations here are quite unique. The leading lady is in coma for the majority of the movie and the story plays out between Kumail and Emily’s parents. Filled with humor (there are lots of laugh out loud moments), great writing, great acting (Holly Hunter and Ray Romano are brilliant) and a sincere performance from Kumail, TBS was a total delight to watch.
Also enjoyed watching Okja and Mudbound
Haven’t seen Lady Bird, The Shape of Water, The Post, I Tonya, The Florida Project, Darkest Hour, Call Me By Your Name. Did not like Dunkirk.
Best TV shows of 2017
Stranger Things (S2): Not as organic as the first season but still consistently engaging in it’s plot and charming in it’s portrayal of teenage friendship, love and misplaced bravery, the second season of Stranger Things shifts the focus from Mike to Will (Noah Schnapp in a surprisingly strong performance) who has returned from the upside down but carries something evil within him. However, the biggest revelation this season was Steve who makes a fantastic turn from Nancy’s whiny arrogant ex-boyfriend to the best babysitter/hair-advice giver ever!
Mindhunter: I am not yet done with the show but I can see why this show has been garnering such positive reviews. Behavioral science is a dry subject so the show obviously is not your typical FBI drama thriller but instead builds slowly with each episode helping us delve deeper into the minds of people who commit crimes and that of those who try to understand them.
Big Little Lies: My favorite TV show this year. So much so that I saw it twice in a span of a month. Set in Monterey where people’s family drama seems to contrast with the mundanity of suburban life and headlined by A-listers Nicole Kidman, Reese Witherspoon, Laura Dern, Shailene Woodley, BLL is slow in the first few episodes as it builds momentum towards it’s exhilarating finale giving us memorable characters (I will never look at Aleksander Skarsgard the same way) and a fantastic background score.
Catastrophe: The show that keeps on giving. I have written before about how much I enjoy this show and that love continues for it’s most recent season. As Rob and Sharon’s life takes turn for the more complicated, we also get a sense of their individual struggles withdrawn from the lens of unplanned pregnancies and parenthood. Despite getting more serious on the face of it, the show manages to also be funnier and sweet. Really sweet especially with the extended family characters. And boy oh boy, that finale just hit me in the gut. Highly recommended!
Riverdale: You would imagine I would be past the high-school dramas that I thoroughly enjoyed a few years back (The OC and One Tree Hill will always remain close to my heart), but Riverdale was all over social media and I wanted to give it a go. Although the setup is a high school the focus is not on teen heartbreak and love triangles although these themes do exist. The focus is on an unsolved murder and how it affects all the residents of Riverdale. Oh and I forgot to mention, the characters are all based on Archie’s comics.
The Keepers: Netflix has a treasure cove of documentaries and The Keepers is one of the best. Based on the unsolved murder of a nun almost 5 decades ago and the quest to uncover the secrets and stories around her disappearance, this mini series is engaging and disturbing on many levels.
Some podcast recommendations
S-Town: From the team that gave us ‘Serial’, S-Town is an interesting, often disturbing story of John Mclemore and his uncomfortable relationship with his hometown of Woodstock, Alabama. The plot shifts from the investigation of an alleged murder to the town itself and then John who is a colorful personality but troubled in more ways than one. A must listen!
Dirty John: Brought to us by the LA Times, Dirty John is a story about bad decision making and how going with one’s heart can sometimes have disastrous consequences. John Meehan is the central character of this podcast – a man who raises several red flags even to us listeners and yet he somehow manages to marry Debra Newell who overlooks all of his flaws. As Debra’s family struggles to make her realize the peril she is placing herself and her family in by inviting this man into her life, John turns more and more dangerous.
At Home with: Hosted by Anna and Lilly, two Youtubers/bloggers whom I have followed on and off for a while, “At Home With..” focusses on telling the stories of women through their home. The home hear serves as a conversation starter and helps pivot the discussions into interesting places and the good thing is you can pick and choose which episode you want to listen without having to worry about continuity.
Reply All: This podcast has a one subject per episode kind of approach which is great if you are a casual listener and want to pick and choose a theme. Some of my favorites include “Vampire Rules”, “The Secret Life of Alex Goldman”, “Return of the Russian Passenger” and “The Prophet”.
Other honorable mentions: 99% invisible, Modern Love
Things I discovered in 2017
Playing Keyboards: From time to time I decide to take up a new hobby for no rhyme or reason. Sid comes home to amazon packages housing “weird craft stuff” (his words not mine) but I am his lobster so he humors me. This year I made a DIY earring holder and a macramé hanging for our hallway but the biggest decision was to start playing the Keyboards again. I had actually taken classes for a couple of years in middle school but lost touch over time. So, I bought a compact keyboard to restart my learning process and the first song I learnt to play was Kal Ho Na Ho’s title track. I know, how Bollywood of me, but I just love that song and movie. The end goal is to be able to play one of Hans Zimmer’s songs (I do not dream small).
Cooking & Baking: I have always been a decent cook but baking overwhelmed with it’s precision and measurement, especially for someone like me who goes by gut and taste. But, the easy availability of baking ingredients and a great oven in the house sparked an interest in egg-less baking this year. We now make everything from pizzas (including pizza crusts) to muffins to cakes to breads at home as much as we (and by we I mean I) can. I am by no means an expert but you only get better with practice so if you ever look at us and wonder “what happened to their weight” you know there was a legitimate reason behind it! Here are some places where I find my food inspiration
Doing Yoga: I have been doing Yoga on and off for a few years now. More off than on but this year I made a resolution to get into it seriously and thankfully I was able to stick to that resolve for most of the year. I can feel a difference when I do it regularly (2-3 times a week) and I hope I can make a habit of practicing it 5 times a week in the new year.
Amazon Echo: I had always wanted an Echo and one of the first things we bought after moving here (got to put Amazon Prime to use) was this cylindrical device that somehow seems less useful once you have it in the house. We barely use it to set alarms and ask for weather conditions, so there is still a long way before “devices take over our race” but yeah, very underwhelmed!
Board and Card Games: Thanks to winter conditions for half the year, you end up seeking out options other than Netflix for those days when you want to just cozy up in the house with a cup of hot chocolate. I remember playing a ton of board games growing up and somehow that habit waned as I grew older but I am going through a tech fatigue right now so board games have made a comeback into our household. Apart from the usual suspects like Chess, Ludo, Chinese Checkers, Uno, Settlers of Catan and Poker, we have been really enjoying Clue. Also shout out to Anusha for introducing us to some great new games -Ticket to Ride and Dixit (the latter is probably my favorite of the bunch). We also recently bought a puzzle that is almost done.
Cryptocurrencies: Aah the C-word. It was hard for anyone to escape the assault of altcoins this year. I have long been interested in learning more about the coins and the technology (Blockchain et al) that powers them but always put it off. This year I finally took the plunge and started learning more about these coins and what it means to invest in them. I honestly do not know if this is a bubble or a watershed moment for how we trade and use money in the future but I am glad I got in on the crazy ride.
That was my recap of 2017 – an year like any other and an year unlike any. Would love to hear how your year went by and what were some of things you guys loved/liked/hated? Here’s wishing all of you a Happy and Prosperous New Year. May we all learn to be happier, healthier and kinder in 2018.