Tag Archives: TV


Note: This piece was written by Nikhil Taneja (@tanejamainhoonfor Scholastic Yearbook 2015. The book can be bought here: https://goo.gl/JX06qa

At the fag end of September 2015, the top rated shows on Indian television were: Saath Nibhana Saathiya, Ye Hai Mohabbatein and Diya aur Baati (Star Plus), Sasural Simar Ka, Swaragini and Udaan (Colors TV), Kumkum Bhagya and Jamai Raja (Zee TV), and Taarak Mehta Ka Ooltah Chashmah (Sab TV). Sound familiar?

Yes, if 2014 shows like Abhinay Deo’s 24, Anurag Kashyap’s Yudh and Vipul Shah’s Pukaar were hinting towards exciting times ahead for Indian television, 2015 showed that the more things change, the more they remain the same. Indian television circled back to the same old formula of women-led soap operas, even as international television seemed to be at a watershed moment in its history.

Because September 2015 was also the month American TV honoured the very best in television at its flagship Primetime Emmy Awards. And for the first time in the history of its 67 years, the biggest winners were cable and streaming TV, instead of good old network television. Cable network HBO swept the awards with a grand total of 43 Emmys, whereas streaming networks like Netflix and Amazon also took home a few big ones.

To give some context: this would be like YouTube comedy groups AIB and TVF or the newly launched digital platform Hotstar.com taking home the biggest awards over Star Plus, Colors and Zee TV at an Indian Television Awards night!

And for all you know, in the next couple of years, that may just happen. Because if there was one major development in Indian television in 2015, it was the prospect of internet being the new TV. With the rise of internet collectives like The Viral Fever, whose original fiction series Pitchers, has over 1.5 million views on each of its six episodes, and the launch of streaming mobile and digital platforms like hotstar, which has both announced huge plans for original content, ‘television’ viewing may be all set to change. In fact, HotStar’s first series is a best of both worlds, with comedy group All India Bakchod teaming up with them for a news-based series.

Both TV and film studios are also joining the race to be the next ‘Netflix’ – and there are plans for the original Netflix to come to India too – so we’re up for some fun times ahead. ErosNow, the streaming platform from Eros International, has announced three big-budget TV series, with filmmakers like Rohan Sippy and actors like Bipasha Basu associated with them.  Yash Raj Films, on the other hand, has already launched its first original series, Man’s World, through its youth division, Y Films, while Balaji Telefilms, not to be left behind, has promised ‘edgy’ content too, to exploit the fact that there’s no censorship on the internet.

By next year, it is all too likely that television may want to change its programming to keep up with all the exciting things happening on the digital front, but at the moment, just like the audiences, television network heads prefer to wait and watch.

Five Indian Television Highlights:

One more English channel – There has never been a better to time to be a fan of English-language entertainment in India. There are already about 10 channels providing the same in India, Star World being the biggest, but Viacom18 has extended its Colors’ brand to start yet another GEC, Colors Infinity. With Karan Johar and Alia Bhatt curating the programming, and original English-language shows lined up, it remains to be seen whether it or not it will be a gamechanger.

Two Food Channels – If the popularity of Masterchef India, Junior Masterchef India, Farah Ki Dawat, Sanjeev Kapoor, and food in general, it was only time before more channels dedicated to food popped up. Food Food has already been doing well, and now, with Living Foodz entering the segment with English and Hindi language shows, it looks like too many cooks aren’t spoiling any broths at the moment.

Three Sports Leagues – The Indian Premiere League may be guilty on many counts, like Lalit Modi and reducing the ‘gentleman’s game’ to Wham, Bam, Thank you Ma’am entertainment, but it’s certainly done great wonders for other sports in the country. The idea of ‘Sports Leagues’ has caught on and how, proven by the smashing, celebrity-driven seasons of The Pro Kabaddi League, The Indian Super League, and the Indian Badminton League.

Four New and Improved Reality Shows – Dance, Music, Comedy and Adventure based reality shows are proven hits in India. This year too, a new entrant in each genre – Dance Plus in Dance, The Voice in Music, Comedy Nights Bachao in Comedy and the upcoming ‘I Can Do That in Adventure – has upped the excitement about each.

Five Fresh Ideas That Made An Impact – The official remake of Everybody Loves Raymond, Sumit Sambhal Lega, was appreciated for re-versioning Indian sitcoms; Chakravartin Ashoka Samrat’s fresh treatment of the show made it a big success, Reporters, was a novel idea that got a lot of love, Stories by Rabindranath Tagore was a stimulating piece of work by Anurag Basu, and TVF’s Pitchers was the first big internet series that proved that the audiences are ready for many more fresh ideas.

Five International Television Highlights:

One Indian star on an American TV show: At the time of publishing, Priyanka Chopra-starrer American TV show Quantico had just opened – to glowing reviews – but it was left to be seen how it would do ratings-wise. But if there’s anything that months of outstanding promotions with Chopra’s face plastered across billboards in New York and LA proved, it’s that American TV probably has its first big Bollywood star.

Two super hit network shows:  Empire and How to Get Away with Murder, as two shows that wore their diversity (behind the scenes and in front of the camera) on their sleeves, proved to critics that network TV isn’t going to go away anytime soon, but the trick is fresh voices, diverse faces, and dramatic content.

Three ends of eras – David Letterman retired from The Late Show after 22 years, Jon Stewart moved on from The Daily Show after 19 years and Mad Men ended after 8 years. American pop culture as a whole will never be the same again after 2015.

Four superheroes on the small screen – The big war between Marvel and DC comics spilled from the big screen to the small, with both DC Entertainment and Marvel Studios making a push to take over the television landscape. While DC’s big wins came through The Flash and Gotham, Marvel’s Daredevil and Agent Carter proved that the TV crown is still up for the taking.

Five shows to prove Netflix is here to stay – With the debut seasons of three big-budget and big-casted shows with big ambitions, Narcos, Sense8 and Bloodline, and two ace follow up seasons of House of Cards and Orange is the New Black, Netflix has proved this year that it wasn’t only on HBO’s trail… it may just have surpassed it.

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Liked/disliked the piece? Leave your comments below!
Note: This piece first appeared in The Scholastic Yearbook 2015.
Link: http://www.amazon.in/Scholastic-Yearbook-2015-No/dp/9351036588?ie=UTF8&keywords=scholastic%20yearbook%202015&qid=1477772519&ref_=sr_1_1&sr=8-1
Picture courtesy: Google. None of the pictures are owned by the author all rights belong to the original owner(s) and photographer(s).
© Copyright belongs to the author, Nikhil Taneja. The article may not be reproduced without permission. A link to the URL, instead, would be appreciated.


Best of 2015 TV (First quarter)

It’s already April and 2015 and I’ve sampled or seen 40 TV series through the first three months of this year – and this may not even be the full scope of good TV available out there. It’s been a great year so far in TV, with  many new streaming players getting into the television game and network TV upping its game to meet this new threat. Of course the breakout sensation of the year has been Empire – a show unlike anything else on network or cable, a ratings giant as well as a terribly addictive reinterpretation of a family soap opera. The must watch show of the year, undoubtedly. But there’s been other terrific entertainment as well, and here’s a list of all of them:

These are shows I’ve been watching week-on-week or have binged watched entirely. Ranked in order of awesomeness.

1. The Jinx: The Life and Deaths of Robert Durst (HBO): The could easily be this year’s The Serial (if you haven’t heart it yet, HEAR IT NOW) in terms of pop cultural impact. A brilliant, creepy, bizarre, f–ed up non-fiction documentary centered on real life multi-millionaire weirdo Robert Durst and his alleged murderous ways. The climax of the documentary is *the* pop culture moment of the year.

2. Better Call Saul (AMC): I’ll be honest and say that I don’t remember the first season of Breaking Bad but I doubt it could’ve toppped Better Call Saul. It may be because we are already familiar (and love) the characters of Saul Goodman and Mike Ehrmantraut or it could be because Vince Gilligan is the greatest TV creator of our times, but Better Call Saul is superlative television.

3. Marco Polo (Netflix): I didn’t make time to watch Marco Polo because of the mixed reviews but when I watched episode one out of curiosity this year, I was bowled over and how! Marco Polo is one of the most vivid, visually arresting, epic shows of our times, rivaling Game of Thrones in scope and spirit both – and far grander than its first season was. The Chinese setting and heart make it a world like no other. Don’t miss this!

4. Empire (Fox): The network TV phenomenon of the year, Empire is a must-watch purely on the strength of the names alone – Creator Lee Daniels, actors Taraji P Henson, Terrence Howard, Gabie Sidibe starring. But watch one episode and you realize that this show is a network television achievement. A show about the hip hop world as seen from the within a dysfunctional, f–ed up family? There’s more plot in every episode in this show than there’s in a season of Mad Men!

5. The Last Man on Earth: The freshest, most unique, most fun comedy in YEARS. Created by Will Forte, and produced by Phil Lord and Chris Miller (of Jump Street and Lego movie fame), this comedy about what the man, who is the last man on earth… until he’s not, is laugh out loud all the way through. An ingenious premise and perfect execution.

6. Fortitude (Sky Atlantic):  Brit TV is awesome, as I have documented through the last few years. But what I love about it is that it’s also bloody innovative. Fortitude is the perfect example. A show that starts off as a Scandinavian kind-of murder mystery unravels into fantasy into sci-fi into just a fascinating and completely unique genre in itself. And so much gore!

7. Togetherness (HBO): It was a matter of time before the Duplass Brothers came down to television but I didn’t expect their show to be so much fun! Togetherness is quirky, endearing, sweet and hilarious. The cast is fabulous with Mark Duplass, Amanda Peet, Melanie Lynskey and the breakout Steve Zissis.

8. Mozart in the Jungle (Amazon):  Another super quirky show, created by another indie genius duo Jason Schwartzman and Roman Coppola. A show about the mad world of the NY philharmonic orchestra, with a cast that is led by Gael Garcia Bernal and Malcolm McDonald, this is a fun binge-watch.

9. The Slap (NBC): How is this show on network TV? With a cast SO epic (Peter Sarsgaard, Brian Cox, Zachary Quinto, Uma Thurman, Thandie Newton, Marin Ireland, Thamos Sadoski and Melissa George *phew*) and some pure, strong, Mad Men-ish drama, this should’ve been on cable, where it would have been respected far more.

10. Bosch (Amazon): Though not at all an original premise – a cop with issues solving a case where a lot is at stake (obviously), Bosch takes the slow-burning, gritty approach to all this and with its LA setting and noir-ish vibe and of course, Titus Welliver as its lead, it turns out to be a pretty above average show.

11. American Crime (ABC): This show comes closest to what a good multi-narrative cable show about crime and race (a la Crash) would look like if there was no cable! Created by John Ridley (of 12 Years a Slave fame), a solid, complex watch with some very cinematic direction.

12. Babylon (Channel 4): Co-created by Danny Boyle, and with a star cast led by the ever-dependable James Nesbitt and the awesome Brit Marling (why isn’t she a STAR yet?), this drama which looks at the London police from a PR perspective (yes!) should’ve been better than it is, but even with its flaws, it’s still a fairly decent watch.

13. Dig (USA): Set in Israel, created by the creator of the Israeli series than inspired Homeland, starring Jason Isaacs, Anne Heche and Lauren Ambrose (Six Feet Under!),  this show about a conspiracy related to the history of Jerusalem, will probably be higher in my list once the 10 episodes are through. An interesting watch nevertheless.

These are shows that have had at least half a season, and that I’ve again watched week-on-week or binge-watched entirely. Ranked in order of how fantastic this season is.

  1. The Americans (FX): My favourite show on television for the last couple of years. The best show on television for the last couple of years. Hasn’t once failed to be brilliant so far. Watch it.
  2. The Wrong Mans (BBC Two): The second (and possibly concluding) season of action comedy mini series is HILARIOUS. More action, more comedy, more fun! Must watch.
  3. About a Boy (NBC): My favourite comedy on TV since last year, About a Boy is possibly cancelled because the world is not fair and people are stupid, but that shouldn’t stop you from catching up on this. The most rewarding comedy if you have a heart.
  4. Episodes (Showtime): After deteriorating over the last couple of seasons in spite of having possibly the funniest first season of a new comedy in years, Episodes became entertaining again this year, and how! Matt Le Blanc FTW!
  5. Last Week Tonight with John Oliver (HBO): If you aren’t watching this show, you are robbing your life of the best 30 minutes you can do each week sitting on your ass. WATCH THIS NOW.
  6. Broadchurch (ITV): Brit show Broadchurch shows you how to do a follow-up season of a hit crime drama so expertly that you are watching the same show you’ve seen and also a new one you haven’t.
  7. Suits (USA): I LOVE how Suits elevates a supporting character in *every* season and dedicates the entire season to showcase their skill. This season it was the turn of Donna (Sarah Rafferty) to get her moment to shine, and shine she did. Super enteraining!
  8. The Flash (CW): The only CW show I watch, and for good reason – this is the only CW show (I believe, apart from Jane the Virgin of course) where the focus has been on plot and acting and not (just) good looking young people. The only superhero show on TV that’s worth watching.
  9. Elementary (CBS): Elementary has generally been in the top 7-8 of any returning show list I make, but this season, the quality dipped ever so slightly, not because of the human part of the series, which is as strong as ever, but because of the cases, which were underwhelming. Still one of my favourite shows on TV.
  10. The Good Wife (CBS): Another show that dipped in quality this season, The Good Wife is usually among the top 3 network shows I watch. Still remains must-watch TV more than anything else on network TV, but I’m hoping the quality picks up post the new Alicia storyline.
  11. House of Cards (Netflix): House of Cards took an entirely different direction this season, giving the series an emotional, human underlay, and I absolutely enjoyed it. A lot of people didn’t, but that’s their problem. Better than season 2, I thought. Can’t wait for Season 4.
  12. Girls (HBO): For the last couple of seasons, I’ve kept wondering to myself why I watch Girls. I justify it as Adam Driver is funny, Allison Williams is pretty, the guest turns are great, I love New York, but usually this show has been my guilt-watch shame to bear. This season, however, Girls got less whiny, more story-driven and good fun in general.
  13. Vice (HBO): The show that week-on-week makes me feel like I’m more intelligent than I was the week before, Vice is must-watch TV.
  14. New Girl (FOX): New Girl’s entertaining as always and it has its ups and downs in quality, but this season had some jarring edit/direction issues, which threw me off. One new thing that happened this season though was that Lamorne Morris has suddenly become one of my favourite characters of the show. He’s SO funny!
  15. Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D (ABC): I watch this show only because Marvel, and since it’s always middling, but not entirely horrible, I’ll keep watching it only because Marvel.


Shows that I have only seen pilots of, some of which I fully intend to see and some that I’ll pass on.

1. Bloodline (Netflix): It’s a Netflix show, it stars Kyle Chandler, Linda Cardellini (Freaks & Geeks) and Ben Medelsohn (every gritty crime flick over the last 3 years). Can’t wait to binge watch.
2. The Man in the High Castle (Amazon): An Amazon pilot based on a book that reimagined what the world of today would look like had the Nazis won. Super pilot, can’t wait for the series to come out (possibly next year).
3. Agent Carter (ABC): The pilot had more sass than I have seen in all TV shows with female protagonists combined. Looks like this would definitely be better than the Gothams and Agents of SHIELDS of the world, so looking forward to binge-ing on this.
4. Fresh off the Boat (ABC): Hilarious pilot. Laugh out loud. Will binge watch this as soon as I get the chance. Should be must-watch TV undoubtedly. (Also, it stars the dude who played Kim Jong Un in The Interview!)
5. Jane the Virgin (CW): What a fabulous pilot, with the most perfect and assured screenplay and direction, stuff you don’t usually see in pilots. This is couples TV, so will watch with wife whenever we both are free.
6. Battle Creek (CBS): Co-created by two of the greatest TV creators in America, Vince Gilligan and David Shore, I was a little let down by the pilot, even though it was much fun. Will still watch the entire series out of respect.
7. Sin City Saints (Yahoo): Fun pilot and it stars two great actors – Malin Akerman, who’s so funny and hot!, and Andrew Santino, who was fabulous in the underrated Mixology. Will definitely watch this.
8. The Librarians (TNT): I want to watch it because it stars Noah Wyle (of Pirates of Silicon Valley fame) and has a very National Treasure vibe to it, but this is just one of those shows that you won’t miss not watching. Still will try to give it a watch.
9. Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt (Netflix): Fun enough pilot, but I’m not quite certain right now if I’ll watch this fully. I want to because it’s created by Tina Fey and it’s a Netflix show but it wasn’t a must-watch to me after the pilot.
10. Man Seeking Woman (FXX): One of the most unique and original comedy pilots in years. I want to watch it completely but the unique also borders on strange, so I’m a bit cautious.
11. iZombie (CW): Fairly decent pilot, and it stars a new Indian actor (Rahul Kohli) as one of the main characters, and it’s about a zombie girl, yet there’s something very teenage about this. So I’ll probably watch it if I hear critics constantly praising this.
12. The Late Late Show with James Corden (CBS): Pretty decent pilot but I don’t generally watch Late Night shows regularly, so will probably catch some of it on YouTube every once a while.

Note #1:
In case you are looking for more recommendations, I had made a best-of TV list for my 2014 roundup. Here’s the list of 50+ shows from 2014 that you should watch – https://tanejamainhoon.com/2015/01/26/bestof2014tv/

Note #2: In case you are looking for *even* more recommendations, I had reviewed 50 summer TV shows in August last year. Here’s the list – https://tanejamainhoon.com/2014/09/01/summertv2014

What are your favourite TV shows of the year so far? Agree/disagree with  this list? Any shows I missed out on? Do leave your favourites in the comments below 🙂
Follow the blog on your left and like The Tanejamainhoon Page on FB: /
Follow Nikhil Taneja on FB: /tanejamainhoonon Twitter:
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Picture courtesy: Google. None of the pictures are owned by the author all rights belong to the original owner(s) and photographer(s).
© Copyright belongs to the author, Nikhil Taneja. The article may not be reproduced without permission. A link to the URL, instead, would be appreciated.


I watched 119 international TV shows (at least 4 episodes of each show – and over 70 shows where I saw full seasons) this year .  Even by my ridiculous standards (I watch more stuff than I sleep, eat or take baths), I would say THAT IS A LOT. In spite of these numbers, I have  missed out on some super TV shows movies and that is my shame to bear. But among the ones I did watch, here are my recommendations for the BEST TV of 2014:


1. Fargo (Crime thriller/drama) –  Because the best ensemble of the year (Billy Bob Thornton, Martin Freeman, Alison Tolman, Colin Hanks, Key & Peele!) makes the best crime series of the year.
2. True Detective (Crime thriller/drama) – Because Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson are movie stars on *any* screen (also, what gyaan!)
3. The Missing (Crime thriller/drama) – Because Brit drama (& thriller) writing in the hands of James Nesbitt is a national treasure.
4. Manhattan (Period/War drama)- Because this outstanding show about the men behind the atomic bomb will probably explode in a big way into mainstream pop culture soon too.
5. Happy Valley (Suspense thriller) – Because this Brit crime thriller can match any American thriller worth its salt and may even whoop their asses every once a while.
6. The Honourable Woman (Political/spy thriller) – Because this whooped House of Cards’ ass last year for the best political drama.
7. The Flash (Teen superhero) – Because sometimes a fun and lightning-paced drama can be just as awesome to watch as the slow-burning ones.
8. The Affair (Drama) – Because the he said-she said structure is the most interesting play out of an age old premise (also, RUTH WILSON I LOVE YOU).
9. The Assets (Crime/spy thriller) – Because this is The Americans (a cold war spy thriller) if made by Brits.
10. The Leftovers (Drama) – Because this strange, sad and brilliant series is like the spiritual, mature and grown up Lost if there was no plane crash.
11. The Divide (Legal drama) – Because this Innocence Project-inspired series is the best surprise of the year (also, Marin Ireland RULES).
12. The Knick (Period drama) – Because what Steven Soderbergh could bring to 1900s racially charged New York needs to be seen and relished.
13. Mozart in the Jungle (Dramedy) – Because Gael Garcia Bernal and Malcolm McDowell facing off in the backdrop of the symphony   orchestra world is a bunch of fun to watch (also Jason Schwartzmann writes!).
14. Transparent (Dramedy) – Because Jeffrey Tambor.
15. Penny Dreadful (Horror) – Because THIS is how you do horror, American Horror Story.
16. Outlander (Period Drama) – Because a period romance set against the backdrop of a revolution is never going to go out of fashion.
17. Turn (Period/war drama) – Because a spy thriller against the backdrop of the civil war is just the right kind of awesome.
18. The Red Road (Drama)- Because it stars Jason Mamoa and the brilliant Julianne Nicholson and is on SundanceTV, which has shown the mad awesome Rectify, Top of the Lake and The Honourable Woman.
19. Kingdom (Drama) – Because Nick Jonas playing a mixed martial arts fighter is the gritty fix you need when your favourite shows are away (also, Frank Grillo is awesome).
20.  Satisfaction (Drama comedy) – Because this is one of the most interesting takes on a mid-life crisis you’d see.

Note: I haven’t caught up on Oliver Kitteridge, Marco Polo, How to Get Away with Murder, Gotham, Grantchester, Detectorists, and Glue yet.


1. Last Week Tonight with John Oliver – Because JOHN OLIVER!!!!!!!!!!
2. Silicon Valley – Because awkward nerds spewing R-rated curses is funny as f–k.
3. You’re The Worst – Because an antiromcom is just what was needed to give the genre a boost.
4. Deadbeat – Because an underrated Tyler Labine comedy is a thing to cherish.
5. Broad City – Because this is what Girls should’ve turned into before it went batshit crazy.
6. Survivors Remorse (Drama comedy) – Because Entourage set in the sports world is just as awesome to watch as it is to read.
7. Betas – Because before Silicon Valley came along, awkward nerds trying to launch a startup was executed to perfection here.
8.  Black-ish – Because a comedy that work its black-ishness on its sleeve is exactly the kind of fresh we need.
9. Married – Because Judy Greer, Nat Faxon, Jenny Slate and Brett Gelman is an FX comedy cast from heaven.
10. Mixology – Because this was the most candid, foul-mouthed comedy network television ever made (and hence scrapped).

Note: I haven’t caught up on Jane The Virgin, Selfie, A to Z, Please Like Me, Faking It, High Maintenance, Getting On, Looking, Doll and Em and Review yet.



1. The Americans (spy thriller/drama) – Because it is the best damn drama on television at the moment.
2. How I Met Your Mother (comedy) – Because in the year of its farewell – and perhaps its best season ever – it deserved a LOT more love from awards and critics lists.
3. Game of Thrones (fantasy drama) – Because The Viper vs The Mountain and the trial by combat, goddamit!
4. The Good Wife (political/legal drama) – Because it is the best damn network show on television on any given day.
5. Sherlock (suspense drama) – Because Benedict Cumberbatch.
6. The Wrong Mans (action comedy) – Because it is the funniest TV series you aren’t watching, Brit or otherwise.
7. Rectify (drama) – Because it is the most brilliant, affecting and sadly underrated TV drama you don’t know about.
8. About a Boy (comedy) – Because it is the most refreshing, funny and sweet comedy on network TV at the moment.
9. Ray Donovan (crime thriller/drama) – Because in its second season, Ray Donovan truly came into its own as a badass TV show.
10. Homeland (political thriller) – Because it managed to overcome the awkwardly written first half of the season with an OUTSTANDING second half.
11. Vice (news docu) – Because it is a gonzo style news journalism and it KICKS SO MUCH ASS I CAN’T EVEN…
12. Suits (legal drama) – Because Harvey Specter and Mike Ross are the best partnership on television by a long mile.
13. The Walking Dead (thriller/drama) – Because how does it stay so consistently good when its premise is basically, ‘Kill zombies’.
14. Bates Motel (mystery drama) – Because this show balances the suspense, the creepy, the atmospheric and the dramatic brilliantly.
15. New Girl (comedy) – Because there’s something endearing and awesome about the motley bunch of demented actors that form its cast.
16. House of Cards (political drama) – Because even with a season that had as many insane twists as it had people, Francis Underwood is a legend.
17. Elementary (mystery drama) – Because even with a shaky third season, this Sherlock Holmes interpretation remains one of the best done.
18. Veep (Comedy) – Because even when it falls short of being brilliant, it is still better than most comedies on TV.
19. Key and Peele (sketch comedy) – Because there’s always that one gag in every episode that will go down as a classic.
20. Boardwalk Empire (period crime drama) – Because though it may not have ended as strongly as it began, it was some of the BEST TV on TV.
and 20. (tied) The Newsroom (drama comedy) – Because it ended a pretty great first half with a messy second half, but it still remains a piece of art because AARON SORKIN wrote it.

Note: I haven’t caught up on the 2014 seasons of In The Flesh, Peaky Blinders, Person of Interest, Masters of Sex, Scandal, Mad Men, Justified, Parks and Recreations, Shameless, Brooklyn Nine Nine, The Comeback, Louie, Utopia, Banshee, Da Vinci’s Demons, Line of Duty, Rev, The Mindy Project, Orange is the New Black, Arrow, Hannibal and Vikings yet.

In case you are looking for *even* more recommendations, I had reviewed 50 summer TV shows in August. Here’s the list – https://tanejamainhoon.com/2014/09/01/summertv2014/

Next post: The Best of 2014 Indies – Over 50+ Indie movies reviewed!

What are your favourite TV shows of the year? Agree/disagree with  this list? Any shows I missed out on? Do leave your favourites in the comments below 🙂
Follow the blog on your left and like The Tanejamainhoon Page on FB: /
Follow Nikhil Taneja on FB: /tanejamainhoonon Twitter:
@tanejamainhoonon Instagram:@tanejamainhoon,
on Youtube: /tanejamainhoon

Picture courtesy: Google. None of the pictures are owned by the author all rights belong to the original owner(s) and photographer(s).
© Copyright belongs to the author, Nikhil Taneja. The article may not be reproduced without permission. A link to the URL, instead, would be appreciated.

The Best of Best Of Lists 2014 – TV

(Read The Best of Best of Lists 2014 – Movies here: http://goo.gl/a3W4zf)

‘Tis the season of Best Of Lists! And now that there are *SO* many out there, it’s quite difficult to get a real idea of TV that has truly stood out in the year – since the lists of every individual critic varies just that much. So I’ve drawn up the best of lists of some of the best TV critics out there.

Unlike ‘The Best of Best of Lists 2014Movies version (read here), there seems to be more unanimity in the TV lists. Film critics have generally not agreed upon the best films of the year, saving a very few; while TV critics have pretty similar lists over all, barring a few personal choices.

But here are some of the things that stood out after going through the lists:
The TV show on almost *all* lists: The Americans (My interview with Annet Mahendru from The Americans here: http://goo.gl/drIeeF)
The TV shows that’s *nearly* on all lists: Orange is the New Black & Transparent
The only network TV shows on most lists: The Good Wife and Hannibal
The only news comedy show on most lists: Last Week Tonight with John Oliver
The most buzzed about shows on least number of lists: True Detective & The Leftovers
The least buzzed about shows on a lot of lists: Rectify & Review
The new TV comedies on most lists: Broad City & You’re The Worst (My interview with Desmin Borges from You’re The Worst is herehttp://goo.gl/SmCV8u)
The only long-runnings show on most lists: Mad Men & Louie

Here are the lists, that will be updated as more lists come up (The name of the critic links to his/her Twitter page):

The Daily Beast’s ’14 Best TV Shows of 2014′ – By Kevin Fallon http://goo.gl/mCNOGH
(1 to 14) The Good Wife, Transparent, Veep, Fargo, Last Week Tonight with John Oliver,  Orange is the New Black, Hannibal, Broad City, The Comeback, Mad Men, Louie, You’re The Worst, Getting On, True Detective

Hitflix’s ‘Top 10 TV Shows of 2014’ – By Alan Sepinwall: http://goo.gl/wGL8gJ
(1 to 10) The Leftovers, The Americans, Transparent, Review, Fargo, Orange is the New Black, Rectify, Hannibal, Mad Men, True Detective

The Huffington Post’s ‘Top 10 TV Shows of 2014’ – By Maureen Ryanhttp://goo.gl/JElHlh
(no order) The Americans, Enlisted, Happy Valley, Jane the Virgin, Orange is the New Black, Penny Dreadful, Rectify, Review, Transparent, You’re The Worst

The New York Times’ ‘Best TV Shows of 2014’ – By Mike Hale: http://goo.gl/0gyrmy
(no order) The Americans, Broen, Fargo, Happy Valley, Homeland, The Knick, Louie, Masters of Sex, Mozart in the Jungle, The Walking Dead

Screencrush’s ‘Top 10 TV shows of 2014’- By Ryan McGeehttp://goo.gl/ewrRXg
(1 to 3, then no order) You’re The Worst, Review, Enlisted, The Americans, The Good Wife, Jane the Virgin, Last Week Tonight with John Oliver, Orange is the New Black, Penny Dreadful, Rectify

Slate’s ‘Top 10 TV Shows of 2014’ – By Willa Paskinhttp://goo.gl/DbASQU
(1 to 10) Broad City, True Detective, Transparent, Srugim, The Good Wife, You’re The Worst, High Maintenance, Orange is the New Black, The Americans, Louie

Thompson on Hollywood!’s ‘Top 10 TV Series of 2014’ – By Matt Brennanhttp://goo.gl/MhePZL
(1 to 10) Mad Men, Transparent, The Knick, Broad City, The Americans, Please Like Me, Masters of Sex, Orange is the New Black, Last Week Tonight with John Oliver, Gotham

TIME’s ‘Top 10 TV Shows’ – By James Poniewozikhttp://goo.gl/TiW4a2
(1 to 10) Transparent, The Americans, The Good Wife, Orange is the New Black, Fargo, Last Week Tonight with John Oliver, Broad City, Louie, High Maintenance, Silicon Valley

Vulture’s ’10 Best TV Shows of 2014′ – By Matt Zoller Seitzhttp://goo.gl/ZkIhSp
(1 to 10) Hannibal, Olive Kitteridge, Private Violence, Last Week Tonight with John Oliver, The Missing, The Americans, Mad Men, True Detective, Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey, The Roosevelts
So, obviously, after I made this list, I realised there are other such lists out there too. So I’ve kept this list exclusive to critics whose reviews I read and love. You can read other compilations with even more lists here:
Metacritic Compilation: http://www.metacritic.com/feature/tv-critics-pick-10-best-tv-shows-of-2014
Also, here’s a great article by Anne Thompson on ‘How to Make a Ten Best List in Five Easy Steps‘: http://blogs.indiewire.com/thompsononhollywood/how-to-make-a-ten-best-list-in-five-easy-steps-20141210


What are your favourite TV shows of the year? Do leave your favourites in the comments below 🙂
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Picture courtesy: Google. None of the pictures are owned by the author all rights belong to the original owner(s) and photographer(s).
© Copyright belongs to the author, Nikhil Taneja. The article may not be reproduced without permission. A link to the URL, instead, would be appreciated.


Note: This interview was taken by Nikhil Taneja (@tanejamainhoon) for The Sunday Guardian. An edited version of the interview can be found here: http://goo.gl/XDEmsZ

[My other interviews this season:
Rupert Friend from Homelandhttp://goo.gl/drIeeF
Joshua Malina from Scandalhttp://goo.gl/0FrRV8
Anatol Yusef from Boardwalk Empirehttp://goo.gl/drIeeF.
Annet Mahendru from The Americans is here: http://goo.gl/drIeeF.
Coming up next: My interview with John Cho from Selfie]

If you know me well, you’d know the story of how I became a writer, because I must have told it to you a million times. If you don’t know me, quick recap: I was in engineering college, and I saw Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip, and after getting my engineering degree and getting a couple of jobs, I left it all to go to Mumbai to make a TV show because Aaron Sorkin had corrupted me forever.

So ever since The Newsroom was announced, I was looking forward to it desperately. And the first episode of the show blew me away, just like every first episode of every Sorkin show ever has before. It had all the things I loved about it – the opening where shit hits the fan, the middle where a bunch of fantastic actors try to clean up the shit, and the end, by which you know that *this* show is going to be *the shit* (I really don’t know why I have used shit as a metaphor here, please forgive me).

I was obviously taken aback by all the criticism Sorkin faced for The Newsroom. The Newsroom is perhaps not as accomplished as The West Wing, but people weren’t even giving it a chance! The second season was a solid return to form by Sorkin and the series premiere of the third season, I thought, was terrific. Maybe I’m just biased but I do believe that in a world full of shows like Jersey Shore and Keeping Up With The Kardashians, it really can’t hurt to have a show that speaks of idealism. The Newsroom may not change the world, but at least it’s *trying to*.

Anyhow, just like all of Sorkin’s shows, The Newsroom has some fantastic actors at its helm as well. Pretty much every actor has made an impression (of course, my heart doesn’t stop beating for Olivia Munn’s Sloan!) but I really thought the way Thomas Sadoski, who plays Don Keefer, turned his character around from an anti-hero to a romantic lead, was amazing. Thomas is an actor-actor, and has always brought a lot of sincerity to the role. While everyone loved to hate Don in season one, I did believe that Sorkin could never make him an out-and-out villian… he never does.  So it’s been such a pleasant surprise to see Don be one of the good guys now, and he’s definitely among my favourite characters in the show, because Thomas has brought a rare complexity to him that I really admire. 

Getting to speak to Thomas was a great experience too. Nothing at all like Don, Thomas is, in fact, quite the thorough gentleman and polite all the way through. If I liked Thomas’ portrayal of Don before, I’m definitely a fan of Thomas himself now, and I can’t wait to see the work he does in the future. For now, five more episodes of The Newsroom and of Don!

Since the unedited interview is long, I’ve divided it into the following segments:


So you can skip to the part you want to, or go through the entire interview and enjoy Thomas’ answers.

“Idealism is possible if you have the support of the people closest to you.”

You guys have finished shooting the final episode of the Newsroom. The last day of shoot must have been very emotional.(Pauses) It was a sad day. We weren’t all together on the last day so it was additionally sad because the cast got to be very close over the years. We had put together a real family over the course of three years and was difficult to, sort of, let go of the whole experience, one person at a time. But we did end up celebrating a little. Olivia and I went down and watched Jeff (Daniels) and Emily (Mortimer) shoot the last scene of The Newsroom on the last day. We sat with them for three or four hours and watched them shoot it. And when it was all over, we all stood in the middle of a street corner in New York and hugged and talked and laughed… and had a very nice time. Then I walked back to the hotel. It was a sad evening but by the time I had walked all the way back to the hotel, I had, sort of, come back around to this real feeling of gratitude for having been involved in the process from the very beginning. And of course, for learning as much as I got the chance to learn and spending as much time with the wonderful people that I got the chance to spend the time with. It was a real blessing.

The blessing may have been compounded because from what I gather, this is the best season of The Newsroom yet. Olivia Munn and the others have said so in their interviews, and Aaron Sorkin mentioned in an interview that it was only in the third season that he started to learn writing The Newsroom.
(Chuckles) I am happy that Olivia feels that way about the season and I’m not going to disagree with her. But I disagree a little with Aaron that he has just figured out how to write the show. I think Aaron knew what he was doing from the very beginning and I think he sometimes doesn’t give himself enough credit. Personally, I was happy to be involved in the show from the very beginning in the way that he was writing it. It was interesting to watch it grow over the course of 23-24 episodes. This season is a different season than what it has been in the past and I’m excited to have been a part it and to respond to it. I thought it was fantastic, you know, in that every day that we came into work, we were happy to be there, and we were happy to be getting to tell the story that he was putting out for us.

What are you allowed to reveal about season 3 in general and about Don & Sloan’s relationship in specific?
This season begins pretty shortly after the end of the last season. So all of the things that are up in the air at the end of the season 2 are being dealt with in real time in the third season. So Don and Sloan have to figure out exactly who they are and what the status of their relationship is. Will and Mackenzie have to figure out how their relationship is going to work and Jim is off on his own path sort of trying to figure out how his life comes together, and Maggie, having suffered the loss that she suffered in the second season, is in a place of real change and figuring out how she should move forward with her life and her career. And Neal – well, some things are going to be asked and expected of him this year that he hasn’t ever dealt with before. And Charlie has to sort all this and manage a lot of these difficulties. So it’s quite an exciting season!
Unfortunately I am not allowed to give away exactly the things that happen but I think the teasers they have put out so far have done a pretty good job of highlighting some really interesting storylines and the quirks in them. But I can tell you this – a lot happens to our little gang of misfits this year and everyone leaves the end of the season a completely different person than from what they were at the beginning of the season. I think that’s the hallmark of good storytelling and I hope that people who watch it will feel the same way.

So what was Sorkin’s initial conversation with you guys about what he was trying to do with the show and how has that changed over seasons?
There wasn’t necessarily a big conversation that we all had about what we were going to do with the show, you know. Aaron wrote the first episode and we all came in and did it, and we just sort of handled it moment to moment. There were never any, sort of, great, big cast meetings with Aaron, where he sat down and said, ‘This is the big scene for this season,’ you know. He would write the episodes, and we would discuss it, scene to scene, moment to moment, and the arc would build itself organically that way. So it wasn’t that sort of situation where he said, ‘Well, this is what we are setting out to do and this is how we are going to change it.’ It just happened that way.

Then let me ask you this – after all the backlash that The Newsroom got for its morality and idealism, after the end of the series, what is the message that the audience will finally takeaway from The Newsroom?
My hope – and I don’t know if it’s going to be the case because people are going to respond on the basis of how they view things through the lens of their own personal experience. But it’s my hope that the takeaway from the show for people would be that if you are going to walk against the stream, you have to do it with the support of your loved ones and your friends, and take refuse with them. That, you know, idealism is possible, and an idealistic end is possible, if you are willing to have the courage, and if you have the welcome support of the people closest to you.

“I always liked Don, from the very beginning”

You’re quite the Casanova on Newsroom – where others are struggling to keep up one relationship, Don’s now moved onto your second! How much do people hate you for getting to be Olivia Munn’s love interest?
(Laughs) You know, I’m really not aware of the hate but I’m sure that I do get some and at some level, I’m just not noticing it. But Don’s really been a great character to play and I’ve enjoyed watching him grow and watching people’s response to him change over the course of a couple of years. I think that Don will continue to change even more in the third season.

Did you distinctly notice the public’s reaction towards Don changing – were people dicks to you when you played a grey character and are they more pleasant to you now?
I don’t pay attention to critics, so I don’t know what their perception of the character’s change or of my work has been, but I have very much noticed the change in the perception of fans and of members of the media who have watched the show and whom I have become friendly with. I have noticed that there has been a softening towards the character in their minds a little bit and I’m happy to not be the person that everyone loves to hate anymore, though that was also fun to do. I don’t know if I have changed everyone’s minds distinctly and I don’t know if I want to. I think that Don’s a fun character to play because he’s complicated and at any given moment you can either love him or hate him.

How did you go about making a character unlikeable first and then likeable? Was there a particular moment in the show that helped you to understand Don?
I think, for me, ultimately, the moment I came to understand Don the most clearly was in the first episode of the series, when Don says aloud, “Am I the only one who’s not dramatically doing anything?” I think that line told me everything I needed to know about that character was, and I just needed to hold on to that. You know, I can’t judge the characters that I play, because if I do, then I can’t play them honestly, and I can’t play them with integrity. So I held on to that and just created a character around that and around whatever I found in that moment. And, you know, Aaron was gracious enough to continue allowing the character to grow. I think, from the very beginning, we both had a very clear understanding of who this person was. Aaron never set out to make him the archetypal bad guy and he wanted the character to grow. So, in collaboration with Aaron and his great work, I was able to get the character to grow and spread its wings and have everyone get to know him a little bit better and add a little bit more depth to him as time went on. For me, he was never any different. I always liked Don, from the very beginning.

But now that Don’s a nice guy, what’s the conflict in his character?
Umm, I don’t think there is any conflict in his character. I have seen Don since the very beginning in the way that the rest of the people see him now. Don is a character of great integrity and I think he has very specific ideas of how he wants to do the news and why he wants to do it. His ideas obviously change and grow, you know, with the influence of Mackenzie and Will and everybody else, and with growth comes conflict. I think with Don a lot of conflict is internal: how is he going to change his beliefs (to align with the rest), and how he will go about handling things. So I think it’s the same conflict that Don was dealing with in the beginning when we first met him in episode one, and to some degree, it’s the same fight he’s fighting later on.

“You can’t have an off day on an Aaron Sorkin set”

So what is the process of an Aaron Sorkin show like? How did an episode work?
Oh! We get the script very, very close to when we begin shooting. So you spend almost all of your time trying to learn the lines till they are absolutely perfect, because that’s the way Aaron wants them. I actually found Aaron to be a really gracious collaborator in that you come in with your ideas and talk about a scene and he’s willing to hear them and he’s willing to watch your choices. And, most of the times, if you can make a good argument for why you are doing what you are doing and why you are choosing to say a line a certain way, Aaron is absolutely willing to let you, and also to support you. He certainly has his ideas on who these people are and what stories he wants to get across. So as long as your choices aren’t standing in the way of the story he is ultimately trying to tell, I found him to be a really gracious collaborator. He’s incredibly intelligent, very gracious, and obviously really cares about what he’s doing and what he’s putting on to the page. So it’s been a really great experience working with Aaron.

I would imagine working with Aaron Sorkin for the first time would be an interesting experience because you have to get used to his sing-song dialogue. You can’t possibly have an off day on a Sorkin set, right?
Yeah, he makes them wordy (laughs). His pace and his rhythm and his meter certainly make it very difficult to have an off day. (Chuckles) But we all have them, and they don’t feel good. You know, it takes time to get used to it. For all of us, the first few episodes of the first season were tricky because we were trying to learn who these people are, how to speak the words that were written and how we were going to shoot those words, and how it was all going to work out. By the end of the first season, I felt like we were up on our feet and had moved along quite well. But then, at the beginning of every season after a hiatus, it’s like a muscle trying to stretch out again (chuckles).
It take a long time and a lot of work to get all of those words in your head and then to speak them out. But it’s a great payoff as an artiste because you have that skillset now. Also, you know, because of the pace and the density of the dialogue, you are almost forced to be a team player and that takes a lot of pressure off. There are no big solo moments you have to worry about. No one’s solo on set and no one in any scene feels like they are bigger or grander or that anything they are saying is more important than anybody else is, because we are all just there for each other, you know, saying these words out as honesty as we possibly can and playing off of each other to the best of our abilities. It’s a great time.

You had trouble with the material even after coming from a theater background, I can imagine how difficult it must have been for the non-theater guys.
Well, you know, the majority of us on the show come from a theater background actually. So that helped us greatly to be ready for Aaron’s writing. Aaron is a playwright first and foremost and what he does is that he writes theater for the screen. But for people who weren’t accustomed to that required, you know, some extra work that they may not have necessarily been accustomed to. The great thing about our cast, though, was that everyone was up to the challenge and everyone was willing to put in the work and the effort to make it all happen. I know from the beginning of my career as a theater actor how difficult it is to, you know, get used to that sort of verbal dialogue, and to just the amount of stuff you have to say. I can only imagine how much more difficult it would be later on in your career when you’ve already got habits that you’re in or things that you are accustomed to. But I think it speaks to the quality of the actors that we have, who weren’t necessarily from a theater background, that they were able to pull off the show as easily and seamlessly as they have.

How does the table read at The Newsroom go, with all the back-and-forth dialogues you are reading for the first time?
Well, Aaron is there, and we all come in and sit down with most of our crew, our producers and people from HBO. And Aaron gives a little speech before we start, introducing all of the new people that we have in the show that week and then we sit down and we read it. For most of us, it’s the first time we have heard it, and certainly the first time we have heard it out loud; it may probably be only the second time we have read it, since we usually get the scripts only a few hours before the table read So it’s exciting, you know. It’s always fun, and we have a lot of fun. Like I said, it was a big family by the end, and everybody really enjoyed working with everyone else, and we had a great time. So there was a lot of joking and a lot of laughter, you know… people appreciating what other people were doing and appreciating storylines that other actors were getting to have. I remember that in season 2 when Maggie went to Africa and we all heard it for the first time about everything that happens to her, you know, everyone in the room was upset. There were a lot of tears and people were really choked up, because we all love Alison. We are big fans of hers, and of course, we were excited for her to get to play such powerful work. But, you know, we were heartbroken about what was to happen to poor Maggie too (chuckles). So you know our table reads are sort of a big family dinner without too much of the negatives of a drama.

I’m also very interested in knowing if it was particularly difficult for directors, particularly the ones that come in for a single episode, to shoot The Newsroom, with the way it’s written, as you mentioned, like theatre.
Well, being a television director just by itself is always a little bit difficult because you are often times walking into someone else’s world, and you are only there for a few weeks. So it becomes your job to get a very clear understanding of what the world is and who its characters are before you even step on set and that’s before you even start dealing with the actors, which, you know, (chuckles) is always another story altogether. But we were fortunate to have, over the course of three seasons, brilliant directors every episode. Putting that stuff and putting Aaron’s dialogue on film is a tremendous task and the fact that every single director was up to the challenge and every single director did as great a job as they did, I think, speaks to the quality of the person who was involved in our show and who wanted to work on our show. We were also very fortunate that our executive producer Alan Poul directed a lot of our episodes, and in this last season we were very lucky to have Anthony Hemingway, who had directed one of our episodes in our second season too. So there was a continuity that was really helpful there as well. But you know, you can go down the list of directors we have had, from episode one with Greg Mottola all the way to the very last episode that was directed by Alan Poul, every single one of those directors is incredibly capable and incredibly talented and we were really lucky to have every single one of them.

“As an artiste, If I’m asking my audience to be challenged, then I have to be challenged too.”

I’ve always wanted to ask this to an actor from an Aaron Sorkin show. Do you think, with all the idealism in them, working on a Sorkin show makes you a better person?
(laughs) You know, Aaron is a romantic. He is unapologetically romantic. And you know, it’s something that I appreciate very much about his work. As an artiste, you ultimately want your work to be influential to the people who see it, but you also want your work to influence you too. As the artiste, you want to change just as much as you are inspiring change in your audience. What I mean is that whatever growth you want to inspire in your audience, you really want to grow at least that much as an artiste too. And so, when you are dealing with great writers and great collaborators like Aaron and this cast and the great directors that we have had, it’s hard not to grow a little bit. That’s my take on it any way, other people will have different takes on it. Some people just want to be entertainers but as a storyteller and as an artiste, I feel like it is important and essential that if I’m asking my audience to be challenged, then I have to be challenged too, and Aaron definitely challenged us as artistes and I think we did grow. I know that I did.

I’m just curious here, so please indulge me. You’re working closely with two Indian actors – Dev Patel in The Newsroom and Hannah Simon in an upcoming romantic comedy, Lemonade. Have you picked up anything about Bollywood yet?
Oh yeah, I have fantastic relationship with Dev. Dev was always, (chuckles) well, he was the one cast member who was universally loved. You just can’t not like the kid. He’s a great guy and, you know, Dev is obviously very, very proud of where he’s from and he was constantly, sort of, giving people pointers into the ways that we could expand our knowledge of cinema and music. Many of us are still in the process of trying to take him up on it (chuckles), but he is a great guy and we loved working with him.
Unfortunately, the movie with Hannah hasn’t been shot yet and we’re still waiting for to get our dates and set up, but I’m really excited to be a part of it. I think she is fantastic and we’re both really looking forward to working with each other. I’m a big fan of her work and we’ve got together quite a few times to talk about how we’re going to make it. And we’re both really excited to get going whenever that happens to be!

Apart from Lemonade, you have a bunch of other indie films lined up after The Newsroom.
I think the other movies that are coming out are really special to me as well. I think Wild is going to be a big movie. I think a lot of people are going to be moved by it and I am hopeful that the movie will inspire people to read Cheryl Strayed’s amazing book. Then I have another film that’s coming out in December, which is just a charming romantic comedy with myself and Leslie Bibb. It was written and directed by Liz Tuccillo, who wrote Sex and the City for years and also wrote a book called ‘He’s Just Not That Into You’. So it’s this really fun, quirky, charming romantic comedy about two people trying to find their way back to each other after a couple of tragedies. You know, we made the movie on a shoestring budget but it’s a really fantastic movie. It got into South by South West and did very well there. It got sold and it will actually be out on demand and in theatre on December 5. I’m really excited for people to see that. I think it’s a great, charming piece of romantic comedy that people are really going to enjoy.

If you liked/disliked the interview, do leave a comment below 🙂
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Note: An edited version of this article first appeared in The Sunday Guardian in the November 16, 2014 issue.
Picture courtesy:
 Google. None of the pictures are owned by the author all rights belong to the original owner(s) and photographer(s).
© Copyright belongs to the author, Nikhil Taneja. The article may not be reproduced without permission. A link to the URL, instead, would be appreciated.




“I don’t look like Hollywood’s idea of an Indian woman”

Note: This interview of Annet Mahendru was taken by Nikhil Taneja (@tanejamainhoon) over Skype for The Sunday Guardian. Here’s the external link: http://goo.gl/AZrJsM

At some point in the middle of an hour-and-a-half-long Skype interview with Afghanistan born Indo-Russian actress Annet Mahendru, talk steers towards storytelling; in particular the stories she wants to tell the world. Annet, who is the star of American cable TV FX’s hit spy series, The Americans (that airs in India on Star World Premiere),  takes a long, deep pause, and then says, “I think human beings are capable of anything and I would like to show that through my work, in my storytelling.

“I want to tell transformative stories. I want to access things inside of me that turn me upside down, twist me inside out, stories in which I’m a princess and in which I’m also a dragon. Stories about the darkest dungeons that are also my home. Stories like that of Gia, from Angelia Jolie’s Gia, or of Lisbeth Salander, from Steig Larsson’s The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, or of superheroes – but not like the ones in films – of authentic superheroes, superheroes of the underground, who are real, free and genuine.”

Over the course of the conversation, Annet comes across as a genuinely likeable twenty-something who giggles at the end of just about every sentence and whose eyes twinkle each time she talks about her two homes, India and Russia, or her years growing up all over the world. But you would be anything but prudent in pegging her as merely girlish, because, like the aforementioned example, whenever she is faced with a question about the craft of acting, her role as Russian double agent Nina Sergeevna or filmmaking and cinema, she is a smart, evocative, measured and deep-thinking woman, who takes her time in coming up with a response that emanates as much from her heart as it does from her head.

And when Annet speaks about her craft, she is subliminally speaking about herself as well; her answers are not just a reflection of how she thinks, it is of who she is. So if Annet is interested in transformative stories, it is in essence because she has spent a lifetime embodying one herself. As a child born in war-ravaged Aghanistan to a Russian artist mother and an Indian professor and journalist father, she grew up a self-confessed nerd, with interests ranging from chess and karate to Bharatnatyam.

“It would seem like I had an identity crisis,” she laughs, “but the truth is, somewhere deep inside of me I knew that I’d be a storyteller. You never know what you can be asked to transform into to tell your stories effectively, and subconsciously, I wanted to be prepared for everything.

“Of course, another part of it is because I have had an affinity to all sorts of cultures and passions inherently,” she says, citing her ‘gypsy’ childhood , much of which was spent traveling between Germany and Russia, after moving from Afghanistan, before she finally moved to USA during her teenage years.

Her memories of growing up are distinct and striking, and she remembers fractured instances of life as a kid who had a malleable concept of home. “Of Aghanistan, I remember hiding in the bathtub thinking there were fireworks going on outside the apartment for New Years, when we were actually in the midst of war,” she recalls.

“And when we shifted to Russia, Russians would be fascinated with me. They didn’t have much interaction with the outside world at that time and they would literally touch me and call me ‘gypsy girl’ because I was this weird looking foreigner.”

The first legible concept of home that Annet ever had was staying in Germany where most of her father’s seven siblings lived with their respective families. “It was there that I picked up my love for performance by watching reruns of Bollywood movies,” she smiles. “When I was five years old, each time guests would come over to our house, I would come out in my Indian dress and put up a dance performance for them on ‘Choli ke peeche kya hai.’”

After she moved to New York and eventually LA, and her love for the arts took a life of its own, Annet’s ethnic ambiguity helped her realise that as an actor, she could both blend in and stand out. “I have always auditioned for parts of all background – from European to Afghan to Hispanic to American and Indian – because I wanted to move beyond ethnicity. I have also worn lose, baggy clothes to auditions because I didn’t want to be seen as a ‘hot girl’. I want to tell all kind of stories and not be limited by the colour of my skin or hair. I’m not just this or just that; like everyone, there are so many sides to me.”

The multi-faceted and culturally diverse identity she epitomizes helped her land her career-defining role in The Americans too. She was auditioned on Skype by the show’s creator, ex-CIA operative Joe Weisberg, and won the part because after learning of her eclectic background, Weisberg jokingly concluded that either her parents must be spies or she is one herself. “I think he was interviewing me as a potential agent and I passed the test on a human level,” she laughs.

Her role in The Americans was at first a guest arc that was soon converted into a series regular after the audience couldn’t get enough of Annet’s character, the enigmatic Nina. Apart from the professional success that came from playing a Russian double agent on a hit TV show, The Americans in many ways helped her  come even closer to her mother and her Russian roots.

“When I put on my makeup for the first time on the show and looked at myself as Nina, from ‘80s Russia, I saw my mom looking back at me and it was beautiful,” she glows. “Through Nina, I was able to connect with my Russian ancestry and access the truth of what it meant to be a Russian at the time my mother was my age, as well as explore it physically.”

It was also this ability to seek the truth that helped Annet comprehend and rationalise the partial nudity that was required of her character, Nina. “My body is sacred to me and I was fearful about approaching these scenes at first,” she says. “But I realised that when I’m Nina, I can’t continue being Annet. Nina doesn’t have guns so if she needs to survive, she has to use her intuition and her truth. And the only way you could be truthful as a woman spy at that time was to bare yourself physically and mentally.

“The writers were very careful in the story to ensure that Nina doesn’t just take her clothes off for frivolous reasons. When Nina is unclothed, she is a woman to her utmost and fullest degree and she owns everything in that moment. And for me, as an Indian woman, embracing the femininity and expressing my sexuality through that character was, in a way, empowering too.”

Annet is currently filming the third season of The Americans, has done guest parts in high profile shows like Grey’s Anatomy, stars in the upcoming animated film, Penguins of Madagascar, besides a couple of independent movies, in which she plays the all-American lead (Bridge and Tunnel and Sally Pacholok), she is now “thirsty” to find a role to express the Indian side of her genes and complete her transformation into the woman who can break out of the stereotypes and boxes the world tries to put her into, and achieve everything she wants. An offer by a big Indian film studio couldn’t work out because of scheduling conflicts, but Annet knows it’s only a matter of time.

“I have never been able to get the role of an Indian so far because I don’t look like Hollywood’s idea of an Indian woman, which is a brown-skinned exotic princess,” she says. “But I can’t wait for it to happen. When you tap into one part of yourself, you understand more about the other part too. Even the dynamic that I bring to Nina comes from this personal ability to shift perspectives and find truth in both worlds inside of me. I have all these perspectives within me, and I feel at home in different places because of that. That’s why I am never truly home at just one place… and yet, the world is my home.”

Note: If you haven’t seen The Americans, you *must* watch it since it is one of the best shows on TV today. Here’s what I had written about it in another article: http://goo.gl/aCMfGO 

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Note: An edited version of this article first appeared in The Sunday Guardian in the November 9, 2014 issue.
Picture courtesy:
 Brian Sunday. None of the pictures are owned by the author all rights belong to the original owner(s) and photographer(s).
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