Unmissable Classics: Films, Shows, Books and Music

Our picks of genre-defining classics

Shreevatsa Nevatia Published Mar 22, 2021 11:13:50 IST
Unmissable Classics: Films, Shows, Books and Music Poster for Monty Python And The Holy Grail (1975)



Searching for men who will join his Knights of the Round Table, King Arthur decides to travel the length of England. The premise sounds simple, but as Arthur encounters a three-headed giant, rude Frenchmen, a killer rabbit and finally God himself, Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975) leaves you in stitches—almost needing respite from laughter. This comedy is now streaming on Netflix.


Murakami (Tishoro Mifune), an inexperienced detective, is having a bad day—his gun gets pickpocketed in a hot, crowded bus. Things, however, get worse when the gun appears on a crime scene. Available to view on The Criterion Channel, Akira Kurosawa’s Stray Dog (1949) doesn’t just explore the darkness that engulfed post-war Japan, it also deftly examines Murakami’s own dark side.


In 1979, the year of its release, Volker Schlöndorff’s The Tin Drum won both the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival and the Academy Award for the Best Foreign Language Film. An adaptation of Günter Grass’s acclaimed novel, the film tells the story of Oskar, an unusually gifted boy who even in the midst of World War II, refuses to grow old. Available to view on the Criterion Channel.


Starring Soumitra Chatterjee, Simi Garewal and Sharmila Tagore, Satyajit Ray’s Aranyer Din Ratri (Days and Nights in the Forest, 1970) follows a group of four urbane youngsters who are forced to re-examine their privilege when faced with danger and desire in the wild. Streaming on YouTube and BongFlix, the film is considered by many to be one of Ray’s finest masterpieces.

 image-109-c_031721045710.jpgPoster for Satyajit Ray’s Aranyer Din Ratri (Days and Nights in the Forest, 1970)




Ramesh Sippy might be remembered for giving us Sholay, but in 1986, he had also given Indian television, Buniyaad, a show that explored the trauma of Partition so deftly, it would later be considered canonical by many. Seen through the eyes of Master Haveliram (Alok Nath) and his wife Laloji (Anita Kanwar), Buniyaad’s 105 episodes (available on YouTube) still prove cathartic.

Doctor Who 

First aired in the UK in 1963, Doctor Who gradually grew to become a global cult hit. The show follows the adventures of a time-traveling alien called ‘The Doctor’ who finds himself transported all around the universe, putting out fires on Earth and other planets. Eleven seasons of this still popular series can be viewed on Disney+Hotstar.


image-109-b_031721045843.jpgA still from Doctor Who



The Guide by R. K. Narayan (1958), Penguin Classics

The lasting popularity of the film Guide (1965) can, of course, be ascribed to S. D. Burman’s unforgettable score and Dev Anand’s charm, but in the end, it’s the film’s storyline that makes it relevant to modern audiences. R. K. Narayan’s The Guide, the novel from which the film borrows its unusual narrative, is an early exemplar. It shows us how abundant Indian writing in English once was. As the book moves between past and present, switching effortlessly between first and third-person, Narayan tells us the story of Raju, a disarming tour guide who invents history for a living. Seeing him mistaken for a godman, readers are forced to balance truth against the possibilities of transformation.





Orlando (Vintage Classics)

First published in 1928, this novel sees Virginia Woolf at her satiric best. Funny and fantastic, the book follows the adventures of a poet who changes sex from man to woman.

The Idiot (Penguin Classics)

With this late 19th century novel, Fyodor Dostoevsky asks us all a simple question: Is it possible to be open-hearted and guileless in a world beset by conflict and egoism?

Speaking of Śiva (Penguin Classics)

Translated by A. K. Ramanujan, this volume collects the poetry of four major 10th-century saints for whom bhakti meant love, yes, but also protest.



Why Read the Classics? by Italo Calvino (Penguin Classics):

Says Calvino, a classic is “a book that has never finished saying what it has to say.” The author of Invisible Cities further argues that “your classic author is the one you cannot feel indifferent to, who helps you define yourself in relation to him, even in dispute with him.” Calvino’s essays on Galileo, Voltaire, Defoe and Dickens all help prove that what makes a work a classic is first a matter of personal choice.  



Tune In

Artists: Pandit Ravi Shankar and Ustad Ali Akbar Khan with Ustad Alla Rakha

Album: In Concert, 1972



Ustad Allauddin Khan gave to Hindustani classical music over 600 compositions, but the master’s more memorable contribution, perhaps, was the musicianship of Pandit Ravi Shankar and Ustad Ali Akbar Khan. Ali Akbar’s father and Ravi Shankar’s father-in-law, Khan was also their guru. Weeks after his death in 1972, the two musicians paid tribute to “Baba” in New York City’s Philharmonic Hall, and the concert, as a critic pointed out, was “the living, fire-breathing embodiment of one of the greatest partnerships ever forged in Hindustani [classical music].”

In no way was this exaggeration. When played together, Shankar’s sitar and Akbar’s sarod seem perfectly synchronous. As they played the raags Hem Bihag, Manj Khamaj and Sindhi Bhairavi, their jugalbandi exceeded the confines of an instrumental duet to arrive at a sound that was almost transcendental. Ably assisted by Alla Rakha, they demonstrated the very abundance of their tutelage.




Sylvia Plath’s novel The Bell Jar, a literary exploration of mental illness, despair and womanhood, is made even more evocative by Maggi Gyllenhaal’s brilliant, pitch-perfect narration.


On The Great Books, John J. Miller discusses classics within the Western literary canon, deconstructing everything from Shakespeare and Hemingway to Ulysses and Lord of the Rings.


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