Tuning In To The Zeitgeist In A Pandemic Year
December 06, 2020
Zeitgeist sign Learning to watch shows in a pandemic year Ranjani Rao zeitgeist

The end of each year comes with its own special nostalgia. December seems to be a time to make a list, of things accomplished or abandoned, of dreams that came true and the things that didn’t quite turn out as planned. 2020 will stand out for all the standard reasons of each preceding year and of course, for the pandemic.

Succumbing to the urge to write down all the ways in which this year has been different, here’s an attempt to capture some of the unusual aspects of a pandemic year. 

How I learned to watch shows during a pandemic year

Like most people, I spend many hours each day, watching a screen. A laptop for my work and for my writing, a Kindle for ebooks, and of course, a phone to connect with friends and listen to audiobooks and podcasts. 

Unlike others, I have resisted the lure of binge watching video streaming shows, an affliction that grew tremendously in 2020, thanks to the pandemic. 

At dinnertime, our family usually watches one show that we choose democratically. This strange practise goes against common wisdom but is a daily bonding ritual that we look forward to. But I refrain from commenting on trending shows, since I tend to only watch a handful that are recommended by those I trust. 

The pandemic nudged me towards things that I may not have otherwise considered.

Take for instance, yoga. As a regular yoga practitioner who made time to go to a studio during the work week, I initially resisted online yoga classes. But once I tried it, I found it to be a wonderful and convenient way to destress after a long day of sitting hunched over a laptop. 

Resisting the zeitgeist is futile

Having successfully avoided the manic following of Game of Thrones and other shows in years past, I didn’t expect this one to be different. But a few that got rave reviews and came highly recommended by people I trust and I am glad I watched.

  1. Rising Phoenix – An inspiring documentary about the Paralympic Games that made me tearful and grateful at the same time. Thanks to Rohit Brijnath, Assistant Sports Editor at Straits Times for the recommendation. 
  2. David Attenborough: A life on our planet – Having watched many of Attenborough’s TV shows, it didn’t take much convincing for me to sit down and watch his heartfelt commentary on the sad changes the natural world around us has undergone in his lifetime. But he ends with a hopeful note,about how actions taken today may still save mankind. 
  3. The Game Changers – A curious mix of science and sports that point towards the benefits of a plant-based diet kept my interest till the end, not only because I am a vegetarian but because the narrative was so convincing.
  4. A Suitable Girl – Not the streaming version of Vikram Seth’s A Suitable Boy, but the more believable, true-to-life precursor to the super-successful show “Indian Matchmaking” that had everyone talking this year. Following the lives of three young women in India who are on the threshold of marriage felt real, unlike it’s slick followup by the same director.
  5. Shakuntala Devi – A biopic based on the phenomenal life of an extraordinary woman with the unique gift for number who featured in the Guinness Book of World Records in an era when Indian women didn’t have many options. Her story reminded me of my mother’s mathematical training and how it impacted my life. 

Other notables include the English movie Little Women, and the Hindi movie Thappad, both of which should be made mandatory watching for women for all ages. 

What were your favorites this year? Share your reviews/opinion/memories that make this year memorable for you.

Photo credit Ranjani Rao’s archives

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