Starting this Friday the NGTI team is kicking off a series of pop culture recommendations based on a new travel-centric theme each month. This month we’re tackling the subject of friendship and travel, the double-edged sword capable of making or breaking the strongest of relationships. Rather than dump a big ole jumbling list of titles, we figured we’d each pick just one book or movie to suggest, and give you a wee glimpse of the plot. We had fun drawing up this little compilation, and hope you enjoy our suggestions.
Director Michael Winterbottom’s 2011 movie features two pals (Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon) driving across the English north on an assignment for Observer magazine, as they make stops at ritzy restaurants and lob ripostes at each other. It’s less preoccupied with the romance of travel than with the awkward conversations between these man-children, whose arguments often escalate to comically absurd levels. At one point, sipping a mint-green cocktail, Rob remarks, “It tastes of a childhood garden.” Steve, obviously disagreeing, drolly responds, “There was a lot of alcohol in your garden as a child? Sorry, Rob.” Get the drift?
A whisky endorsement brings Bob Harris (Bill Murray) to Tokyo, where he bumps into a 20-something fellow American, Charlotte (Scarlett Johansson) at their upscale hotel. The former, a fading movie star, and the latter, a recent Yale Philosophy graduate, strike an unlikely friendship rooted in isolation. Together, the two maze through the metropolis, be it a rapturous karaoke bar, an unexpected strip club or a bustling video game arcade as lofty dream-pop scores play in the backdrop. The city is as much a character as the film’s protagonists—paradoxically stringing the audience along with a sense of alienation and belonging.
Three childhood friends—Imran, Kabir and Arjun—embark on a Spanish road trip as part of an extended bachelor party for Kabir, a pact the trio made in college. They spend three weeks together, driving around the Spanish countryside, and signing up for scuba diving in Costa Brava, skydiving in Seville and the Running of the Bulls in Pamplona, all life-changing experiences. Like the best of road trips, this enforced closeness proves healing for old wounds, and binds them back together stronger than Fevicol. Bonus? The movie spiked Indian footfall in Spain.
Passive aggressive quips, rampant infidelity, good food and even better wine… sounds like a French movie about friendship. Barbecue is the story of a middle-aged group of friends from Lyon who experience very ‘French’ problems as they holiday in the countryside. At the centre of the plot is our ‘hero’ Antoine (Lambert Wilson), a pompous philanderer in the throes of a midlife crisis, walking the tightrope of redemption. This comedy shows that despite all our flaws, the bond shared by long-time friends is one that can roll with the punches—just as long as nobody wastes good wine on sangria.
While adventure and food are the mainstays of Julian, Dick, Anne, George and hype dog Timothy’s escapades, the books, which hand-hold the reader through English cliffs, highlands, and islands worthy of lush picnics, are rooted in the tenets of friendship. The places visited by the five are rarely named in real-time, instead taking on monikers such as Demon’s Rocks and Mystery Moor. In the Five’s world, saving friends from baddies is as much an exercise in fellowship as putting heads together to solve mysteries. Just ask ol’ Timmy.
—Sohini Das Gupta
Sal Paradise and his bud Dean Moriarty hitchhike their way through a post-war America brimming with jazz, poetry, drugs, spirituality and the emptiness of the American Dream in the 1957 Kerouac novel. Sal, who is fashioned after the author himself, has a string of revelations about love and life as he sits with Dean in a new bar of a new town, talking about ‘going west’ and the cost of freedom. While the many grey layers of this friendship will cost Sal later, he credits Dean for being his catalyst into seeking adventure, right on till the end.
Friendship, like travel, is messy and marvellous. You learn nothing about either if you can’t get your hands dirty once in a while. Few books mine the complicated space of friendship as expertly as Elena Ferrante’s first novel in the Neapolitan series. Naples’ underbelly is both the backdrop and a central character in the book. To see where exactly Lila’s and Lenu’s lives unfold, walk along the stradone (main road) of the working-class neighbourhood of Rione Luzzati. Then, watch characters of all sorts and moods at Piazza dei Martiri in Waterfront Chiaia district, where Lila’s shoe shop was. Ambling this space after reading the book feels like you know every twitch and line in Naples’ face—like that of an old friend’s.
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