Congratulations, you're now the most interesting conversationalist in the room
Tired of talking about the coronavirus? We have a unique solution for you
Let’s turn back time, shall we? It’s February 2020 and you’ve just walked into your friend’s birthday party. You manoeuvre your way through a crowd of semi-drunk people (it’s still early) and give them all a hug. But the vibe feels slightly off. As the night proceeds, you hear the word ‘COVID-19’ in five different conversations. Everyone seems worried about the seemingly apocalyptic times that lie ahead. They startle every time someone sneezes. They’re advocating conspiracy theories that would make Stan Lee guffaw. You didn’t think anything of it then. The coronavirus had barely touched India and a global pandemic seemed as far-fetched as zombies running wild in the streets.
We’ve come a long, long way since then, but you know what hasn’t changed over the course of these two hellish years? The conversations. Especially with omicron entering the game, COVID-19’s upgraded version. Omicron seems like the cousin that COVID was compared to all its life. The Sharmaji ka beta of all coronavirus mutations.
If you don’t want to end this year wrapped up in another COVID discussion, we have a game plan for making you the most invigorating conversationalist in every room, armed with enough distractions in your arsenal to artfully steer the topic into fresh waters. This watchlist of cool documentaries has been designed to satisfy every personality type, so you never run out of true-life investigations and hard-to-believe facts to captivate everyone’s attention. Mithu Mama insisting the vaccine contains microchips that track him? Ask him whether he’s watched The Great Hack and let his jaw take a much needed-break.
Now, you have a reason to spend Sunday in bed watching documentaries and eating popcorn. Not that you needed one though.
For the one obsessed with true crime
Allen v. Farrow (2021)
Everyone loves a bit of Hollywood drama. But Allen v. Farrow follows one of the most gut-wrenching scandals Hollywood has ever seen. The next time you need to quickly and subtly change the subject from COVID to literally anything else, Allen v. Farrow is the case for you. It’s controversial, gripping and has more twists and turns than the rollercoaster at Ferrari World.
The documentary explores the sexual abuse allegations levied against infamous filmmaker Woody Allen by his adopted daughter Dylan Farrow, who was seven when the abuse allegedly occurred. It dives deeper and follows the ugly custody battle between Allen and his former partner Mia Farrow, and his affair and now marriage to her adopted daughter, Soon-Yi Previn.
The series includes a videotape made by Farrow that features her daughter, Dylan, at the age of 7 talking about the alleged assault shortly after it occurred. It also has recordings of telephonic communications between Allen and Farrow and suggests that Allen “groomed” Soon-Yi and that his sexual interest in her began when she was just in high school. Goosebumps and shivers await.
House of Secrets (2021)
This three-episode documentary uncovers the strange lives and even stranger deaths of 11 members of the Chundawat family. Was it a mass suicide, a case of accidental death or some occult practice gone wrong?
Relying on the testimonials of police officers working on the case, experts, neighbours and friends of the family, House of Secrets tries to answer a few questions about this absurd case. How and why did three generations of a family decide to commit suicide together? What was the significance of the 11 pipes that were protruding from their house? What was written in the diaries that seemed to be the key to unravelling this entire case?
This documentary’s appeal lies beyond the gory details, as it tries to penetrate into the psyche of the members of the Chundawat family. It’s the kind of show that all true-crime lovers have binge-watched the day it was released which makes it a good candidate to change the subject when someone brings up Omicron.
For the conspiracy nut
Behind the curve (2018)
There was a time when the world’s brightest minds thought the earth was flat. Although, that has been long disproven by scientists across the globe. The fact of the matter is that Earth is a sphere. But does everyone believe that? No. In fact, there is an entire community of people who believe that our home planet is flat and not a sphere. So, why not educate yourself about the flat Earth community just in case you need to as a conversation changer?
Behind The Curve focuses on Mark Sargent, who discusses his interpretation of the flat Earth theory and talks about his podcast. The documentary follows Sargent to a few flat-Earth community meetings and covered several conferences including the 2017 International Flat Earth Conference that was held in the USA. Yep, that’s a thing. To balance it out, the makers of Behind The Curve also interviewed professionals from the scientific community and asked them their opinion on the flat Earth theories. If not utterly believable, Behind The Curve will certainly provide you with some food for thought.
The Great Hack (2019)
Have you ever wondered how the advertisement for an H&M clutch shows up on your Instagram feed half an hour after you’ve talked about it with your friend? Or how you start getting messages about real estate right after you decided to buy a house? It’s freaky, isn’t it? The thought that our phones are listening to us and someone somewhere has written an algorithm that tries to use our likes, dislikes and social media activity to control our behaviour. It’s the dark side of social media and that’s what The Great Hack attempts to explore by discussing the Facebook–Cambridge Analytica data scandal.
In 2010, a data company, Cambridge Analytica, collected personal data belonging to millions of Facebook users without their consent. This data was used as sales strategies that involved massive campaigns and disrupted the politics in the USA and the UK. The work of one journalist led her to a whistleblower who previously worked at Cambridge Analytica. This whistleblower exposed the truth about data harvesting and microtargeting done by the company and even talked about its impact on the 2016 US Presidential elections.
For someone who loves conspiracies, this is a brilliant one. You can use this scandal when your Area 51-obsessed friend starts talking about how COVID is actually China’s attempt at biowarfare.
For the travel junkies
Magical Andes (2021)
What should you do when your best friend is complaining about COVID travel restrictions for the 100th time? It’s simple really. Start talking to her about travel documentaries, like this one. Magical Andes is for all the people who want to spend the end of the year amid mountain ranges, but can’t. It takes you on a visual journey to South America’s majestic Andes mountains so you can vacation vicariously through it.
The six-part docu-series explores the region, its culture and the ever-changing lives of the people living there. Each episode features a new place surrounding the Andes Mountains. The beauty of this documentary is that it shows the audience how different each village and town on the Andes Mountains is. Using tourist experiences and narratives from locals, Magical Andes focuses on the unique stories of people who share a deep love for the mountains and adventure.
For the one who loves animals
My Octopus Teacher (2020)
A rare, unassuming friendship is the best kind. That’s what My Octopus Teacher is all about. A life-long friendship between diver and filmmaker Craig Foster and an eight-tentacled octopus in South Africa’s Cape Town coastline.
Every day for a year, Foster went diving in the frigid ocean near Cape Town. He swam into the den of the octopus and documented her every move ,foraging trust and an emotional bond that took Foster on a journey to find himself and learn all kinds of life lessons about loyalty and having a purpose. This Oscar-winning documentary doesn’t go on and on about marine life conservation, but it teaches us to stop and seize every moment. It’s also a brilliant documentary to talk about when you’re tired of discussing COVID and the impact the lockdown had on our environment.
Life in Colour by David Attenbourough (2021)
Have you ever wondered what your dog is barking at when he is randomly staring into space? Chances are that he can see and sense things that humans can’t even fathom. Biology classes have taught us enough to know that various species of animals have heightened senses in comparison to us, using basic things like colour for protection and communication.
This mini-documentary narrated by everyone’s favourite nature broadcaster David Attenborough (you don’t really know what gravitas sounds like until you’ve heard him speak) looks at how various animals perceive the world. It also holds the answer to the question- “How to change the subject when my co-worker starts talking about COVID?”
The three-episode documentary is a treat for your eyes. Using innovative technology, it takes you on a sensory experience that will leave you in equal parts shock and awe. From peacocks showing off the rich colours in their plumage and mandrills with their colourful faces to answering questions about why zebras have stripes and how animals use colours to trick predators and thrive in nature, Life in Colour is a comfort watch that will instil more knowledge in you than your 7th-grade biology tutor could.
For the lover of all things art and sports
Formula 1: Drive to Survive (2019)
To someone with no knowledge of the sport, like me, car racing may seem pretty straightforward and not particularly physically taxing. But all my assumptions are based on Saif Ali Khan’s character from Tara Rum Pum. Until he had that fiery crash, of course. Although, this documentary has recently brought to my attention that Formula 1 is more than good drivers driving fast cars. If you’re ever talking COVID-19 with someone who loves everything to do with sports and need an out, look here.
Formula 1: Drive to Survive shows us a different perspective and a deeper glance into the fast-paced world of car racing. The documentary that spans three seasons showcases not only the incredible skill set, lightning-fast reflexes and finesse that the drivers need, but also allows the audience an insight into all the Machiavellian tactics that are prevalent in the sport. Who knew that there was as much drama and cattiness in Formula 1 as there is in Ru Paul’s Drag Race. Drivers are often pitted against each other while they’re all feuding for attention and affection from monarch-like team bosses.
Abstract: The Art of Design (2017)
I watched Abstract at the peak of the COVID-imposed lockdown. I didn’t expect to get hooked, especially considering I only put it on as white noise because I ran out of things to watch. But after the first episode that featured illustrator Christoph Niemann, I couldn’t help but click that “Next Episode” button.
A two-season documentary, Abstract: The Art of Design profiles creators and designers across various fields. From graphic and shoe designers to an automotive designer and even a bio-architect, this docu-series is a source of inspiration to anyone with a creative bone. The show argues that design is all around us, whether we see it or not.
Not to mention, Abstract will provide you with excellent talking points. The next time you want to drive the conversation away from COVID-19, you simply start talking about one of the people profiled in this series and watch how the conversation moves to art and design rather than focusing on the doom and gloom in the world right now.
For the one driven by drama
Tell me who I am (2019)
The premise is irresistible for a person who spends all their free time watching shows that seem to be scripted by the same people who wrote This Is Us. Distracting them away from COVID and onto Tell Me Who I Am should be easier than dropping dal on a white shirt.
After a brutal motorcycle accident, 18-year-old Alex Lewis wakes from a coma and the only person he recognises is his twin brother, Marcus. He has no memory of his formative years. So, Marcus starts filling the amnesiac holes in Alex’s brain with all the information he needed to function in the world.
Here is where things get murky. In the first part of the documentary, Marcus paints an alternate reality to the one he and his brother actually grew up in. He embellished their family life, invented vacations they never took and left a lot of things out including their childhood sexual abuse at the hands of their mother. Marcus was rewriting large chunks of their childhood trying to keep his brother from the ugliness of their reality.
In the second part, Marcus tells Alex that he had been hiding one dark secret about the past and admits that he had created a fantasy life to protect him. But for the next 20 or so years, Marcus refused to give him any details about the sexual abuse. This left Alex disgruntled and confused about who he really was.
In the final part, Marcus and Alex finally sit down together. After all these years, Marcus reveals what actually happened to them as boys. The beauty of this documentary is that the audience enters into it as blind as Alex. We go through the same twists and take the same harrowing rollercoaster ride as he does and it poses the question- can one person create a sense of self through someone else’s memories?
For the promoters of everything environmental-friendly
Our Planet (2019)
Eight episodes shot over 3,500 days in 50 countries spread across the globe, Our Planet speaks directly to that little voice in your head that squeals every time you see someone litter. It’s one of the most impactful environmental documentaries and not only because it is narrated by David Attenborough.
So, the next time your eco-conscious cousin corners you at a wedding to vent about the effects the lockdown has had on the environment, Our Planet is your saving grace.
From the impact global warming has had on polar bears, walruses, seals and penguins to following elephants and bison through the grasslands of northern America, each episode of Our Planet showcases precious creatures in their fragile habitats. It takes you on a virtual expedition to the remotest corners of the world and at the end of the journey, that tiny voice we were talking about earlier will be much, much louder.