Book and Movie Recommendations: Professor Edition

Professors- those distant, learned entities whose storehouse of knowledge seems, at times, to be unattainable. We know they have obviously done a lot to get here, but what do they do when they aren’t pondering quantum mechanics, electrical circuits, postmodernism, or other such incomprehensible concepts? We asked a few of them the same question, to be pleasantly surprised at the answers we got- turns out that professors have more of a life than most of us! Here are their riveting recommendations.

Professor Uday Khankoje

Electrical Engineering 

Books

Search in Secret India – Paul Brunton

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This book details the travels of Brunton, an Englishman, who came to India in the first half of the 19th century in search of a “real” yogi. When a lot of modern India seems to be in a state of disarray and decay, his experiences bring out the living treasures of India that lurk below the surface — the sages and the wisdom continuing an unbroken tradition from ancient India.

 

Zen And The Art Of Motorcycle Maintenance — ‎Robert M. Pirsig images-9

Just a very quirky and interesting book about the larger than life search of the author for that indescribable thing called “quality”. In doing so the reader is taken through some very the annals of ancient Greek philosophy.

 

Gödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid — Douglas Hofstadter

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This is a riveting book bringing together math, art, and music with such flair and style!

Films:

Rashomon –  Akira Kurosawa 

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12 Angry Men — Sidney Lumet 

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Kai Po Che — Abhishek Kapoor 

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Professor Ayesha Iqbal

Humanities and Social Sciences 

Movies

Le Quatre Cent Coups (The 400 Blows-Francois Truffaut, 1959)

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One of the seminal films of the French New Wave movement, the film is told completely from an adolescent, Antoin Doinel’s  (Jean-Pierre Leaud) point of view. The film shows you actual Paris locations shot in natural lights. Truffaut and Jean-Pierre Leaud went on to make a series of films over a period of  years, tracing the different stages in Antoin Doinel’s life. Consider how this style anticipates Richard Linklater’s Boyhood.

 

Becket (Peter Glenville, 1964) p38305_p_v8_aa

A slice of the English history, with friends-turned-archenemies, King Henry II and Thomas Becket , the Archbishop of Canterbury.  The cast is the who’s who of the British stage and cinema: Richard Burton, Peter O’Toole and John Gielgud. If you like high-voltage drama, with intense performances, this period bromance is for you. Based on a play by Jean Anouilh. The Hindi film Namak Haram, with Rajesh Khanna and Amitabh Bachchan, was inspired by Becket.

 

Sleuth (Joseph Mankeiwicz, 1972)

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Sleuth is clever, thrilling, and brims with rapier sharp wit. Its charm lies in the way the lead characters indulge in violent mind and verbal games. Laurence Olivier and Michael Caine are perfect in this masculine theatre of one-upmanship. There is a recent version with Jude Law and Michael Caine, where the latter plays Olivier’s role this time. Based on a play by  Anthony Shaffer.

 

Once Upon a Time in America (Sergio Leone, 1984)

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Sergio Leone’s requiem for the American Dream is also an epic about organized crime in America of the 30s.  Unlike the Italian mafia of the more celebrated The Godfather, the focus is on Jewish gangsters, with Robert De Niro (excellent) heading the cast. I find OUATIA an essential viewing for its non-linear narrative, morally ambiguous characters, and closure that requires reflection. The soundtrack by Ennio Morricone is one of the greatest ever, and underscores the film’s elegiac mood.  The director’s cut is almost 4 hours long. Recommended for those who consider cinema as an art form, and not just a means of killing time.

 

Bright Star (Jane Campion, 2009)

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This is one of the sweetest films of the last decade, making one believe in good, old-fashioned romance. Ben Whishaw is John Keats, the great 19th century English Romantic poet. The film is an account of Keats’ love for Fanny Browne, his muse and inspiration for some of the most celebrated poetry, including Ode to a Grecian Urn and lines such as, “A thing of beauty is a joy forever.”

Books:

Bonjour Tristesse (Fancoise Sagan, 1954)

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French cool. Literally, the title means “Hello, Sadness.” It’s about a group of extremely wealthy people whose major business in life is to have a good time. At the core it is the story of a precocious teenager who believes that she can control the lives of the adults around her

 

Perfume: The Story of a Murderer (Patrick Suskind, 1985)

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Perfume is pure magic and a historical bathed in magic realism. Set in the pre-revolutionary France, it gives us a most unlikely hero, Jean-Baptiste Grenouille, a Devil-meets-saint-crossed-with-a rockstar-like figure, who has an exceptional sense of smell. Amazing incidents happen, and you will get sucked into the hero’s fascinating journey. And don’t miss the ending that is as stunning as the rest of the novel.

 

The Bonfire of the Vanities (Tom Wolfe, 1987)

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Tom Wolfe’s letter to New York is a gargantuan novel, along with an anthropological study of the city, its social hierarchies, its people, its accents and its claims to that most clichéd of all terms “multiculturalism.” Wolfe takes you right there with the prejudices, social mores and excesses of the New York people . You will enjoy Wolfe’s language — he coins the expression, “social X-rays”, socialites so thin that their rib cages are visible, just as in an X-ray photo.

Professor Arunn Narasimhan 

Mechanical Engineering 

 

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A week back I was watching (again) Solaris by Andrei Tarkovsky, so let me begin with that. I would consider this a good sci-fi movie, along with ‘2001, A Space Odyssey’ (Interstellar is a bad movie, before becoming a bad sci-fi one). Solaris is based on a book of the same name by the Polish sci-fi master, Stanislaw Lem (not to be confused with Ulm, the scientist, which I used to do until one of my students made enough fun of me on this to make me never forget who is who). Now, Lem is a master of the genre and all his books (including the sendup of a detective fiction) needs to be read for their ‘quirky and interesting’ quotient. Both the movie and the book Solaris offer a different (and interesting) perspective on human-alien communication, if we humanity get to meet them, aliens. We may not be able to interact with aliens at all if we are to meet them, as ours is ‘only’ a human consciousness, perhaps utterly incapable of communicating, leave alone understanding an alien consciousness. An interesting perspective written and presented neatly in both formats without doubting the intelligence of the reader/audience (unlike, say, an Interstellar does, and in doing so, resorts to making the characters sit around and ‘tell’ the story out to each other within the movie, instead of just narrating/showing it). Of course, there are differences between the book and the movie, enough to cause a permanent rift between the author and the director. The only two occasions I could remember this is not so — and the writer of the book and the maker of the corresponding movie had a continued good relation years after the success of both — were Lolita (Nabakov/Kubrick) and the more recent Prestige (Christopher Priest/Christopher Nolan), both of which would score on the ‘interesting and quirky’ — the former is interesting study on the human mind and its quirk and the later, a quirky sci-fi.

 

Speaking of Tarkovsky, his movie — previous to Solaris — Andrei Rublev is a masterpiece. It has a vague canvas of a storyline about the 14th century priest/saint Rublev with few other interesting and quirky forays — historical and fictional — discussing in general about art, creativity their meaning and purpose for humanity and so on. It is a must watch for understanding how thoughts can be communicated through the medium of the cinema.

 

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Speaking of thoughts into cinema, the best director who has repeatedly done this, in an era before I was born, is Masaki Kobayachi. Again, by coincidence, I was watching last week his The Human Condition, a nine-and-half hour trilogy. The trilogy is an adaptation of a six volume novel written in Japanese and recounts, if we look in one level, the anti-war struggle of one man against an army (both Japanese). On another important level, the movies try to convey to us what it makes/take to be human. I would love to watch this trilogy for the sheer epic-ness and the brilliance in movie making. But I wouldn’t rate this as the best one to influence me on humanity and its spirit. I couldn’t take bleak movies to represent the spirit of the human struggle. Let us say that is the quirk of my spirit. But not to take anything away from this director, let me recommend another of his  easily approachable movie, Kwaidan. This movie is a collection of ghost stories from Japan. Now, the interesting thing about ghosts of Japan — or in general, Eastern ghosts? — unlike the ones of the West is that, these Japanese ghosts are not incarnations of evil and so on but are understood to pervade the human life in a much more natural way, with complex feelings, more than just pure evil. Four different stories introduce to us the flavour of such Japanese ghosts in Kwaidan, where theatre and cinema seamlessly merge with haunting music and rapturous visuals — many of the colourful background for the scenes were hand drawn by Kobayachi — into an enjoyable adventure in cinema.

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Speaking of portraying the human spirit, I would rate Vittoria de Sica’s The Roof (Il Teche, 1953) to be a notch above The Human Condition trilogy even. Of course, de Sica is known by his other movies (like The Bicycle Thieves) but I would rate The Roof to be his best for the elegance and the positive way in which the same feelings about the indomitable human spirit, which The Human Condition attempts to showcase, are conveyed. The storyline is simple: a newly wed poor couple wants to have a roof over their head — a house — in a ‘poramboke’ land in Italy at the turn of WWII. Their struggle and success in this endeavour is The Roof, a masterly portrayal of the human struggle and associated spirit kept deliberately hence conveyed effectively at an ordinary daily-life level.

Speaking of art expressing feelings in daily-life settings, one successful directorial team that keep doing it in recent times repeatedly are the Belgians, the Dardene brothers. One could start with their Kid with a Bike (2011) and move on to other movies like Two Days One Night and so on.

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While all of the above — provided from the top of my head — are certainly interesting and unique and made an influence on me, just to complete the series with a quirky and modern one, I would recommend Midnight in Paris (2010) by Woody Allen. Now, Woody is known to most (all?) of us: the theatre-guy mistaken for a movie director by Hollywood, and hence has made the same story with minor modifications into about 30 movies in as many years. His Midnight… is quirky in the cute sense with a sci-fi-ish plot that talks about artists and creativity and nostalgia and so on, in the city of Paris, across a few decades, displaying the smartness of the director in spinning an enjoyable yarn. (BTW, both Midnight… and Two Days… employ the beautiful Marianne Cotillard in very different roles)

No Indian movies? I would recommend the movies of Rithvik Ghatak (Mega Dhaga Dhaara for instance) and K. C. George.

I guess that is more than a handful of movies for now. My book recommendations can perhaps wait for some other time — if there is one, after the reception of this 🙂

Professor Rupesh Nasre

Computer Science 

Steve Jobs- Walter Isaacson images-14

The book was gifted to me by my first MTech project advisees, along with a pack of liquor-filled chocolates. Unsure how I treated my students for a year that I received those gifts, but reading Steve Jobs turned out to be an intense experience, worth repeating.

Many of us know him as Apple or MacBook or iPad. Walter Isaacson does a good job that by the end of the book, we start knowing him as a genius.

It starts with a depressing experience of getting abondoned — by his parents. And it repeats, when he is thrown out of his own company — Apple. These two experiences mark two saddest events of his life. If I want you to read this book, it is less so to know the genius, but more to experience the making.

Clearly, life is much more than a few saddest moments. Jobs is chosen — by his new parents first, and later as iCEO – by Apple. The story highlights a genius’s inventions but does not fall short of exposing his persistence.

I presume our Engineering Drawing students would be able to better understand Jobs’s drive towards looking at a gadget as a piece of art. His father mentions: perfection is caring about the craftsmanship even of the parts unseen.

We witness inventors associated with one invention for their lifetime. Jobs was prolific, and gave the world a sequence of innovative products: be it iPod, iPhone, App Store, or Pixar movies. His contributions overshadow his extremism, his ability of reality-distortion, and his fight against cancer. We start liking him despite his meanness.

The book also consists of several light reads: getting his head shaved in India, parking at the spot reserved for the disabled, and drawing a salary of $1.

I hypothesize that the book tastes better than those chocolates.

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