Monday, November 8, 2010

‘Zentropa’ rehashed

(Film: Zentropa /1991/ Director : Lars von Trier )

Zentropa, a film by Danish director Lars von Trier, in 1991, could be called as cinema that has been created in the realm of intersections; intersections of space, time, histories, identities and crises. The film is on a superficial premise set in Germany Year Zero, 1945, post World War II, when Germany is getting back to its feet after its ruinous debacle in the war. However, if one is to inter-textually read Zentropa , then it is the story also of Europe in the 90’s and its impending crisis. Zentropa released a year after the Berlin wall came down, and a year before the Maastricht Treaty was signed by the European nations. It was a time of uncertainty for Europe as ‘Neo Nazism’ threatened to resurface and Europe , as an international identity, was facing an identity crisis. In this light, Zentropa, through its texturally layered form, addresses ‘Europa’, Europe in general and with a double edged sword, cuts back to 1945 Germany, with a historical premise.

Displaced Realms : the ‘interstitials’

The film’s existence occurs in a continuous ‘displacement’. This ‘displacement’ can be further explored. The main character , the American , Lee Kessler, is presented as a subject under hypnosis. The hypnotic non-diegetic voice over that begins the film, introduces a ‘lag’ between knowledge and action, which till the end is never reconciled as the subject ultimately dies. Kessler, who comes to Germany, to help it in its nation building process, becomes a guard in the railways. The ‘train’ again is used as a medium of displacement. Rosalind Galt in her essay points out that Leo is never directly in touch with the landscape of Zentropa, but constantly mediating it through the train ; he is constantly on the train. All those junctions where in fact he is on the ground, form the crucial cues in continuing his ensuing disconnection with everything , ultimately leading to him getting killed in the space of the ‘interstitial’ , the drowning train.

The sequence of Max Hartmann’s suicide, is a key grounding factor and also a lead/ premonition of where Kessler will ultimately end up. The character of Max Hartmann is shown to be or have been a Nazi sympathizer, and his daughter Katherine Hartmann, also, is a former member of the Werewolf terrorist group. This is the sequence where the crucial secret of Katherine’s identity, is revealed in the narrative, and the ominous implications of it , henceforth, are also hinted at. As Katherine asks Kessler to ‘show her some kindness’ as they are poised before a vast expanse of a miniature network of the railways on the German landscape, one is certainly given signs of a certain power relation inherent in the mise en scene. Here is a former Werewolf, toying with her American ‘puppet’ Kessler, and using the railways to her whim , ultimately , crushing it with her own weight ; (as the toy train falls off the disarrayed tracks, it is an ominous sign of the fate of the actual train in the film). Meanwhile, downstairs, her father in his state of despair and helplessness ( out of his Nazi connection) grotesquely cuts himself up to his death , in the bathtub. The heightened use of a singled out ‘red’ colour of the blood, fills the mise en scene with an infusion of violence latent within the characters. The characters in Zentropa are almost never directly in connection with their surrounding contexts, except in this sequence where the immediacy of blood is effectualised to the highest measure.

The ‘interstitial’ film form

Zentropa’s interstitiality is foregrounded by Lars von Trier, through the use of his filming techniques. He makes use of selective colour against black and white photography, uses the wide angled lens with the telephoto lens, 35mm with 70mm , makes use of back projection techniques , and a wide variety of contrasting camera angles. With this variegated palette of polarized ingredients of film form, von Trier , skillfully stitches it all up into a deeply layered, pan-temporal, textual narrative. By making use of the back projection technique he effectively disconnects his characters from their contexts, ( since the characters are shot in isolation and the backdrop in isolation). By using a selective chroma scheme, the effect achieved is not only that of surprise and shock for the viewer but also, it acts as a coding system, like markers that make the anticipatory sensibility in the viewer alert. The use of various layers of foreground and background, also allows von Trier to play with scales within the mise en scene. Thus the ‘razor’ in Max Hartmann’s hand and its impending violence gets exaggeratedly fore grounded when it is shown in a scale larger than real, against the bath tub. The whole idea of a comfort of ‘spatial depth’ that the audience enjoyed out of deep focus photography is completely destroyed and the film constantly disorients the viewer’s preconception of space.

The use of symphonic music and the melodramatic tinge to the dialogue delivery by Katherine Hartmann, allude to the director’s simultaneous citation of classical film form, post war history, and the contemporary context. There is a graphic textural quality to Zentropa which is at odds with the seemingly realist plot narrative that Zentropa tries to deal with. Yet, till the end, ‘identification’ with any specificity is the one thing the film stays far away from. This kind of a non-identifiable, non-existential film form is von Trier’s larger critique of its times, of the crisis of a national ( read personal) and an international ( read social) identity of Europe. A crisis that may or may not be reconciled with on the count of three.


Saturday, October 30, 2010


Petals, in my pages.

The scent of a scene.

The road is taking turns,

In misty expectation.

In the air wafts


White blooms from northern land,

Why do they smell so?

On a winter’s day,

There is always chai,

Masala and Elaichi,

Standing in the middle of

Intersecting memories,

Floating petals, and

Wilting trees.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

'New York Herald Tribune, New York Herald tribune'...

How do you hold a moonbeam in your hand? Yesterday, I caught one.

On the pavement of Champs Élysées. She was calling out to an invisible buyer, ‘New York Herald Tribune! New York Herald Tribune!’ Her lilting voice floated about in the air a few feet around her and vaporized into the afternoon sun. Her petite figure walked the pavement of Champs-Élysées like a daydream , calling out to sell the stories of the new world to grumpy Parisians on a Monday morning. Violins played a certain melody tinged with ennui. It was an ennui of a beautifully fatal lady, in trim trousers and a sweater with New York Herald Tribune written on it.

I sneak into her tiny apartment, and watch her proliferate.Her nape is her fortune. Her face is a myth. She flits and jumps across the bed, over my shoulders, and under the sheets. Her gramophone plays symphonies that turn her into Cleopatra, and her nose glistens in the sunbeams filtering in though the shades. Renoir immortally froze her, before she could turn around in restless boredom and make up a frown. She dons the mafia of the enigmatic bohemian. Her cigarette smells American. Her striped shirt is the scent of crisp newspaper.

She takes my dreaming hat, and grasps a reverie in the midst of a radio commentary. She cant shut her eyes hard enough to make everything turn black. The red plays around like the flame of her heart behind her eyelids. I sit here and gaze. It is all I can do. She stares back with competition. Who blinks first? She couldn’t care less. She is too busy making her way through Dylan Thomas and William Faulkner. Her head is up there, in the clouds. Breathless. Now I see it, now I don’t. She is Napoleon , now pinning me down with her telescope. Now hiding from the world by simply turning away.

You tell me to make you smile. And smile even before I begin. You ask for a reason , and then don’t even care for it. You close your eyes, and I lose you in an instant. You turn around to look, and ask why I look at you.

‘Between grief and nothing’ , did you choose grief?

What did you choose? Patricia, What did you choose?

Newspaper seller . Daydreamer. New Yorker in Paris.

la femme fatale, what did you choose?

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

The Swan and the Tomato

photo courtesy: photographer: Marek Weis

‘With an apple I will astonish Paris’ said Paul Cezanne, the French Impressionist painter. Well, Idan Cohen certainly astonished Delhi, albeit with the tomato!

Red round things on the stage. What were they? Tomatoes. Luscious and orange red in the yellow spotlights of the stage. They would be far from being just limp fruits by the end of the two hours on stage.

Edan Cohen and Group from Israel performed the Swan Lake at the India Habitat Centre on the 2oth of this month. Being an interpretation in contemporary dance, the classical Ballet , that was Tchaikovsky’s 19th century Swan Lake, transfigured before our eyes into a critically sublime modern day take on elemental questions of identity, beauty and control. Contrary and quite welcoming was that, here was a new , fresh and meditative reading of the Swan Lake, without succumbing to classicism in its original form, that was of the classical ballet with sculpted arched ballerinas striving towards an almost cruel perfection and the attempt of every being to become beautiful, from swan to human. Instead, Idan Cohen extracts the puppet strings of Swan Lake and embeds them so strongly into the present context, that it turns violent, grim and grey , from the humane to the animalistic.

There are only three dancers, Reut Levi, Rita Komisarchik and Daniel Gal who are continuously on the stage. And the performance juggles identities of the characters from the classical ballet, between these three bodies, each with their own symbolic markers, mixed with a grim disturbing undertone to it. At the beginning what looks like a prince who is having a birthday celebration, hinted by a child’s hat and a blowing whistle toy, slowly turns into a clown, with a red round nose. It is not coincidental that there are tomatoes on the stage after all. They become the critical clown-face of the beautiful, the sinful fruit of decadence, the toy, the tool of control, the blood of animalism, and eventually, a red sea that drowns the swans. The motif of this little fruit through its starkness on stage, as being the only prevailing element of stage design, evolves and grows on the dancers. The dancers enter the Swan lake as distinct individual identities, and emerge out of it stripped of paraphernal differences as a unified mass of mixed emotions, stripped of beautifications, and a violated rebellion of controlled selves.

Choreographed to the original composition with certain intermediate cuts, the movements we see on the stage are intense expressions emerging from the personality of each of the dancers. An element of control comes through strongly and may as well be a critique of the extreme severity of the ballerina’s physique and her training and at the constant attempt at sculpting and chiseling a body to achieve the bar of perfection. By creating motions resembling disembodied limbs and using the body as more of a dynamic tool of discord and turmoil, the dancers succeed to render this modern day Swan Lake, an unsettling, at times violent representation of the ambivalence of contemporary identity. The swan almost is the subaltern voice of the ‘self’. And as the first part ends with a methodical shedding (almost like a serpentine molting) away of the dancers external costumes, the voice of an internal struggle echoes against the silence of the classical orchestra. The second half opens to a visibly increased mass of red on the stage. The tomatoes are now more in number, and soon, they turn sinister as the dancers see hegemony inside their red and dance to crush them one by one, the smear looking like blood on their skin. Their movements turn primal and more animalistic , and finally, in a mass of entanglement , the sea of red consumes them.

The performance throws wide open the door to something new, fresh and brave, capped with a critical manner of sensitive contextual interpretation and a new language of expression. Idan Cohen’s reading of Swan Lake is a welcome gift to the seekers of the new like us. Thank you Idan.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010


('Babel',2006,Directed by Alejandro González Iñárritu , written by Guillermo Arriaga, Music by Gustavo Santaolalla )

A desert is where it begins. In the arid dryness of Morocco , two boys Yussef and Ahmed, herd their goats and shape out their own little freedoms in their entrapped vastness. However, life turns oblique, when events crisscross comfort zones and death intervenes. The cozy urban domesticity of a couple is displaced in time and space , fragments shorn across a desert of the unfamiliar.As Richard and Susan Jones (played by Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchet) try hard to warm their cold relations in an ironic landscape, their tourist air conditioned bus, like a fragile bubble treading in the middle of nowhere, is punctured in an instant by death . Cate Blanchet finds herself , a victim of a bullet shot and a whole world around her comes crumbling down to its knees in its bid to fight against the ultimate leveler, death.

And the film cuts to Japan. With Manga comics,neon landscapes and stereotyped crowds, the texture of this urbanism is a stark contrast with the Moroccan landscape. Yet, the desert exists. It exists inside the mute girl, a frustration and famine of the loneliness of an urban lifestyle. The metropolis of the orient dances on the screen in montages of human vibrancy. And yet it is an oasis with its own mirages.

Meanwhile across continents , the American couple’s children, a son and a daughter are displaced from their familial place to a strange exotic land of the ‘dangerous’ Mexicanos, when their nanny, a Mexican migrant , has to attend her son’s wedding and cannot leave the kids behind alone. The fulcrum of this track is the little children and their vulnerability. As they are driven into the Mexico of the vibrant red , instinctive and earthy ,amidst another kind of people , they are dwarfed , intimidated and awed.

Mexico is shown like a red hot chilly, and made so tangible, it exudes the warmth and dust off the screen. At the wedding , the strange Mexican uncle (Gael Garcia Bernal) , in a game among the kids, twists a chicken by its neck and snaps its head off. This act has a jolting effect on the young boy. The grossness of the whole act is felt only by the tender boy, while the other children take it all as play. It is a fear psyche playing out of the civilisation's head.

Swapping back to the tourist bus of the desert, struggling between life and death is the Susan Jones . Amidst all the chaos, one people is not able to understand another people , and language steps in as the major hurdle of communication. The narrative at various levels, invokes Babel, the biblical tower of the confounded , through the reality of today.

With an assorted mixture of men and their peculiarities, the film has skillfully chosen assorted worlds and shattered their exclusivity by displacing their plots both in time, narrative, and juxtaposing textures. With a non – linear looped narrative, the film , gently yet in a pointed manner, unfolds and oscillates between the various plots. One could say that Innaritu takes a bullet that travels through the globe, and rips open people’s masks, prejudices and ideas.

‘Babel’ is a critique of the whole desperate human condition that has bound itself into language, created boundaries between each other, and then finds itself helpless with this disposition. Biblical literature talked about the tower of Babel, where the Yahweh is supposed to have confounded the language of the people , in order to destruct their monopoly over each other, and thus, no one could understand each other. The film, brings out the frustration that linguistic differences creates ; but the film has a further point to make, that there is an unsaid between man that needs no language and the same pulse runs through everyone.

“Jews and Christians say that man was created by God in his own image. And what that sentence clearly suggests is that there is some relationship between the nature of man and the nature of God ‘created in his own image’ . Islam says the opposite. Islam says that God has no human qualities. While Ibn Rush’d argued that language is a human quality and that God would be expected to speak God and not any human language.” Salman Rushdie says in a recent interview .

“To defend the freedom of language as a universal human right is justifiable not by appeal to this or that cultural tradition but simply to the biology of the beast.”

Innaritu in his film, streams forth a dialect of such a kind of universal language, the language of death. Death speaks to all, in the same tone, in the same voice and with a single meaning. It is also the one threat that makes man shed all his superficial discords, and deal with his core.

By mish mashing the timeline and plot narrative, Innaritu works with the fear that comes with de- familiarization. The unfamiliar territory that the children and their nanny ultimately find themselves in, brings them face to face with total desperation and lends the viewer into sharing it with the screen characters.

Babel, strips bare the human, and plays out an extremely intricate mesh of human bonds , the unspoken and the explicit, the fears, trusts , and insecurities of man, who has tried to make good his existence in his own little way. As the Mute Nude standing in the balcony of an apartment of a city dissolves into the multitude of many more apartments and many more windows, we know that , ultimately , we all speak human.

Monday, August 16, 2010

'The illusion of reality'

(after reading the essay 'An aesthetic of reality' by Andre Bazin , 'What is cinema?' vol 2)

‘Inception’ – our latest nailing point at the question of reality verses the realm of the dream. Emerging out of a philosopher’s satchel, the word reality seems very fragile, quite devoid of the concrete solidity that it is attributed to.

To incept from the idea of the movie Inception(Directed by Christopher Nolan) , reality has got a heavy contender - The Dream. The dream catchers, delve into dreams within dreams within more dreams, fiddling with sub consciences of people , expanding in space and in time. Real time expands exponentially into dream time on screen and into reel time off screen. As the audience sits riveted, keeping track of the tight paced events, one always wants to keep track of which is the real and which is the dream. The fact remains that his two and half hours inside that dark cinema hall, is probably the most real of all the realities he is trying to grapple with. End credits roll. The totem is still spinning in the viewers mind. Jump cut. He (the viewer) comes crashing into an existence outside of the cinema theatre ; another disconnected reality from the reality of the dark room. Squinting his eyes , he walks out into the sunny street. He then makes his way home, unknowingly intersecting into the realities of the hundreds of people around him in the city, and finally taking refuge into the notion of his own reality in his home.

This business of reality is really evasive. Just when we round up on one real thing , it slips and dissolves into another. And this evasiveness could be the food for all of cinema.

According to Andre Bazin, the acclaimed French film theorist, who speaks on the aesthetic of reality, “ Realism in art can only be achieved in one way – through artifice.” When an aesthetic aims at creating the ‘illusion of reality’ , this sets up a fundamental contradiction, both unacceptable and necessary.

“The ‘art’ of cinema lives off this contradiction. Reality is not to be taken quantitatively. The same event/object can be represented in various ways, either retaining or discarding various qualities, thus the initial reality has been substituted by an illusion of reality of complex abstraction, convention and authentic reality”, writes Bazin in his essay.

“Some measure of reality must always be sacrificed in the effort of achieving it.”

This close duel between reality and fiction brings me to mention Abbas Kiarostami’s 1989 film Close-up.

In his signature docu-fictional style of filming, Kiarostami takes a real situation and weaves the necessary frame around it to hold it tight. Sabzian ,a commoner , is so enamored by his idol film maker Mohsen Makhmalbaf that unknown to his psyche, he begins impersonating his idol and in the course of time, is tried in court for it. The director has filmed the trial as it happened. And this forms the narrative bed for the various connected , re-enacted events in the movie to elucidate.

“Close up is a key film in understanding Kiarostami’s fascination with cinema as a trompe l’oeil* medium, at the same time reality and illusion, creating uncertainty about what one sees with one’s own eyes . Film as a means of capturing reality both in ‘process’ and as reconstruction, is juxtaposed with a reality based on illusion and the suspension of disbelief” , writes Laura Mulvey in her article, ‘Kiarostami’s Uncertainty principle’.

(*Trompe l’oeil is French for ‘deceive the eye’. And referred to the style of painting wherein the painter created a likeness to reality in two dimension by making it appear three dimensional)

A precariously thin line lies between what is and what could be, given that, with our average aspiring minds, we tend to fill in the blanks of a statement, and always are eager to put the full stop point after a sentence.(Eisenstein took full advantage of this attribute.) An even thinner line exists between complete sense and complete absurdity. Try repeating a completely sensible word at random , such as say, ‘door’. After a few dozen times, your mind is sure to start detracting and abstracting the word till a stage comes when the word is a stranger to you. It is like a process of rediscovery through de-familiarization. When the familiar gets so familiar that you no longer see it as familiar.

The centre of gravity of reality topples heavily from dream to dream. From Familiarization to de-familiarization. Like the dodging doll ; however hard you hit it, it always tries to get back straight.

“You're waiting for a train, a train that will take you far away. You know where you hope this train will take you, but you don't know for sure. But it doesn't matter”. The more we try to focus on the sense underlying this line from "Inception" , the less we understand.

It belongs to that haze , between the state of sleep and wakefulness , when your kin wakes up from a realm completely unavailable to you and smiles , a familiar stranger, trying to helplessly recall and pick up the strands of reality he had left behind as he fell asleep.

Cut to the scene towards the end in Inception , when the dream catchers slide back to the reality of the plane in which they are flying, one by one, each nodding and giving the faintest smile of recognition, as they establish their (apparently) real dimensions.

It all needs a little blurring of vision, an iota of myopia, a pinch of idealism, the ingredients of a daydreamer, to appreciate this haze.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Sweet Water Apples

Often , the leaves of the sweet water apple tree found their way into his room, invariably alighting on his trigonometry textbook, which was left wide open on all days at all times by habit . As the leaves of the pages fluttered with leaves from the tree, Muni felt the sines , cosines and tangents fluttering through the room and magnetically funneling into his head, as he lay on his bed beside the window of his room.

Summer lethargy and a heavy humid stagnation infested this little room that Muni stayed in as a paying guest since the past four months. The trigonometry was a sidekick. He taught the land lady’s fourteen year old monster mathematics. While in the mornings, he went about this coastal town, trying to find a reason why he had come to the place at all.

Ever since the pat on his back given by his principle at college, for being an outstanding student of his batch on graduation day, Muni had been disgusted at his whole smug self and decided that he would do anything in life except make use of his graduation degree.

Sweet water apples . They came in pink and white. With pecks from the sparrows . Like kisses implanted specially for Muni. When Muni first came to this sleepy town, merely out of a random one fine morning whim rather than any logically aimed destination, he went straight to the 22nd street off the temple complex where stood a pink bougainvillea bush arresting any passerby with its vanity. Behind this bush was the house where Muni was looking to be a paying guest. And behind the house was the pink water apple tree. Well, the pink was from the fruit which hung voluptuously from its high branches, virgin fruits kissed by the birds, and challenging Muni to come and consume them. Muni agreed to move in just for the tree, the room having gone completely out of his selection criteria. Luckily, his room on the first floor faced the backyard, and was in full uninterrupted view of his new beloved tree.

“Muni dada?”, the little landlady’s monster peered into the room with watery sparkling eyes. “Yesss , my lord!,” replied Muni, eyes still closed , not stirring from his bed. “Today, I fell in school while playing! And there was so much blood , that even my teacher was nice to me,” he was saying with victorious pride beaming in his voice. “ The teacher told me not to study today,” very quickly, and confidently, he uttered these last words, and waited to see the effect on Muni dada’s face.

Smiling on the sly, Muni half opened his eyes and peered down his bed at this little plaintiff. His nose had a little speck of soot on it, and he was standing on the threshold, his wounded thrust to the front so that there be no doubt about his claim. Here was Napoleon Bonaparte himself, asking Muni dada release from his trigonometry class, with the help of a hopeless claim. “Your teacher told you not to study?! Wow, I had never come across those kinds before!”, Muni said with mild pretence of amusement. “Okay, no class today”, so saying he gave the little Napoleon a wink and got up to look out of the window.

The smell of wet earth wafted up to his room as far somewhere, rain clouds shattered. Grey and pink was the palette of the landscape this evening. He peered back at his doorway and saw Napoleon still standing in the frame, looking unsure. He had been hit by the unseen circumstance that , though he was free from his torturous class, his other friends in the neighborhood were nevertheless slogging in their classes . So he was left with no one to play at the moment. Muni scanned this little figure, deep in his sudden crises, and at once understood.

“ Come inside. There’s no class, but we could play something , no? Want a water apple? ”

Napoleon's eyes widened into a grin. “Yes! Ok. I will climb the tree and throw them down. You pick them up!” So saying he ran downstairs . Muni hadn’t expected this. He was referring to the fruits in the bowl in his room. Nevertheless, a tree adventure seemed much more alluring.

An unequal duo, they seemed. Delicate little hands searching out the sweeter bird pecked fruits, little dusty feet dangling from fragile branches which had the complete trust of a boy. Standing below, stubby fingers and course nails picked up the fallen fruits from the fresh rain soaked soil. Slowly piling up in the vessel, each fruit, made its own little clink as it settled into a new found company of pink peers, hand -picked by their very trustworthy Napoleon.

Back in the room, happy in exhaustion and fruition, the team shook hands and sealed a silent bond in all its solemnity. The room glowed a tinge of pink twilight on that grey evening.

With a satisfied silence, Muni and Napoleon perched on top of the window sill , surrendering to sweet water apples, rain drops and that odd evening in the life of a man and a boy, where nothingness made them equal.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

The Sarukkai effect / Summer school at MCPH Manipal

Wide eyed I enter Manipal. The University town is shrouded in a thin sheet of rain and I see umbrellas dodging about over white lab coats. I am here for the Summer school of Philosophy and Humanities on the ‘Idea of Justice’. Sundar Sarukkai , the master mind of this school, is on his fresh new venture , a new post graduate degree in interdisciplinary Humanities at Manipal . I am here on self probation, with my antennae receptors , alert and ready to catch on to fresh piece of knowledge that comes floating by. Apprehensive about finding myself without a firm grounding in this field, I am immediately put to ease after my first encounter with Sundar Sarukkai. He makes sense. And when philosophy makes sense, I doubt if anyone can resist its pull.

The first session is on Ideas and concepts. I enter the class thinking I am ready to take the ‘Ideas and concepts’ of justice. Instead, I am faced with the question, What is an idea? And what is a concept? So obviously, I am now realizing , words are taken very seriously here! The discourse is tentative yet firm, extremely inquisitive yet firmly basic. There are no answers. Only questions. Sarukkai flings the word ‘justice’ about , bouncing it haywire, shaking it up, rattling it empty of its preconceptions, and beginning from the basics. Up there on the podium , he seems like a magician juggling very precariously with his oranges , yet with an innate charm. Ah, ‘innate’. The word is to be noted.

I am struck in my seat, paralyzed by the speed and clatter with which a million window shutters of my brain are opening up. I am reveling in the tickle of a new kind of confusion. The feeling that you are getting it , yet, you are not getting it, yet ,you feel sure you got it, when in fact , there is no way of getting it, is exhilarating. I have not understood something as a whole number, and this fractional non-understanding has motivated positively.

What is the meaning of justice? What is the synonym for it? Is the feeling of justice biologically or socially innate, if at all? Is it a personal concept or a social concept? Is justice a primal instinct or is it subordinated by ‘guilt’? Is justice the concept or is ‘Injustice’ the seed concept for justness to exist?

There is room for thought and reaction in class. Sarukkai flings sincere and inquisitive questions at us ; to which he seems to want the answers from us, and we feel responsible in some way, to get him out of his seemingly perplexed position of unknowing , only to find that he is probing us to probe more. He is trying to make us use our mental mechanisms in a novel way to think, and not telling us what to think. Unsettling, is the order of a Sarukkai class. Just when things seem to get ordinary, an exotic string of words are flung at you , which light sparks. So there comes up a question of, What is the Idea of a Chair? And What is the Concept of a chair? And then we go on to essentialise it into a ‘Chairhood’ that ultimately makes a chair a chair, a treehood that makes trees trees, a red(riding?)hood that makes red the red it is. Not to forget, the ‘theory-theory’ of the theory of concepts, and that a concept cannot have a definite definition except in terms of other concepts! So its all really a circle, pointing out successively only to lead back to itself. Back to square one, we could say, but it’s a square with a larger dimension now, and now it will take longer to get back to point A .We are in fact, getting ourselves a Kurukshetra built around us! Then there is Leibniz at point A, saying “Will we ever know, if the world doubles in the next instance?”

Will we?!

Saturday, June 26, 2010

FA 2010 - FTII, Pune

The Prabhat Bell calls for take.

Shot number 35 ! Film Appreciation 2010 ! Lights Camera Action ! Clap !

We are serenaded by the lilting and suave notes of our Pied piper , Suresh Chabria ji . With his magic lantern , he invites us into the powerful hypnosis that is Cinema. Synesthesia sets in. Our senses blur as the screen before our eyes lights up with Sergio Leone’s gunned outlaws, Kubrick’s waltzing spaceships, the inevitability of Apocalypse Now. Yes it is Apocalypse Now. An Apocalyptic dose of cinephilia.

Where is the Friend’s home? Kiarostami asks us on the first day, and we set out on a quest in search of our old friends, Films.( By the end of the course we pride in calling ourselves Foofs ; Friends of Old Films) We wind down the cobbled streets of time , and encounter our great grandfathers, the Lumiere Brothers, George Melies, D.W.Griffith and many more. We walk through the Narratives, past the Tableaux , up the hills of Montages, sail past illusory lakes.We enter the world of Sonimage, now Real , now fragmented, through Surreal waters, and ride the gales of wretched Realism .

Edvard Munch Screams through the Cabinet of Dr.Caligari, and we know the Germans have Expressed through their Metropolis! As the Bicycle thief rushes past us, and we are left stranded on the pavement watching Breathless, Pierrot the fool, catches us unawares and splashes the walls around us with colour! Swept away by the Wave of the French Nouveau, we land in midst of a Red Dessert, and find an oasis of metaphors, satires, the Blues of a trapped lady, the Reds of passion blood , the yellows of summer and sadness. We walk into the lush green fields of an Ozu landscape and find Seven Samurais waiting to attack us with an effusion of Kurosawa’s passing seasons.

Eventually, we enter the Noir streets of the city , chased by shadowed figures, dark alleys, gunshots and cornered by femme fatales. Now and then a train rumbles along , and dark smoke shrouds the immaculate conscience of the city, making the city a place of the anti-heroes and Helens. We waltz to a labrynthian city symphonies and take a high ride with Thelma and Louise.

Meanwhile, halfway across the world, three fathers ,V. Damle, V.Shantaram and S.Fatehlal sit under the wisdom tree of Indian Cinema and sound the Prabhat trumpet into history. In the distance, standing on top of the great Mount Melodrama, Nargis holds the cross on her shoulders, and questions her son, “Tujhe ma chahiye ya chaney?” This is the quintessential Indian emotiscape, the Indian Madonna who sheds rivers of blood to inundate fields of a Bharat who brackets his stories by proclaiming, “Mein Bharat hoon” while, somewhere in the dingy lanes of this Bharat , a cynical bard sings ‘Jinhe naaz hai hind par who kahaan hai?’ We are yet to get an answer to that question amidst throes of War and Peace In the Name of God.

We meet Bhai Miyaan and Bilaal, go in search of The other Song with Rasoolan bai, and marvel at the Great Indian School Show. The Digital Camera takes us a step too close to the human mindscape of Love sex and Dokha .

In the midst of it all it rains. The fancy umbrellas are out . The streets are sparkling wet in the early morning mist. The Chaplins, Mrinal Sens, Kurosawas, Toshiro Mifunes, Satyajit Rays and Ritwik Ghataks in FTII soak in the monsoon’s first showers and greet us with wizened visages as , we take our final walk down the FTII street, and meet again under the wisdom tree to sing songs of a new bond. We are the FA 2010.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Sunday, March 21, 2010

A scene from Akahige (Red Beard ,1965) - Akira Kurosawa

Chobo, the little urchin thief , lies on the hospital bed , struggling for life , after consuming poison. Till yesterday he was chased away and cursed by the hospital nurses for stealing rice from the kitchen . Today, the nurses worry for him, as a mother for her dying child. An old myth of the hospital says that if all the kin of a dieing person called out his name into the well in the courtyard , the spirits would send him back from the otherworld. “ Chobo! Chobo! “ his little friend Otoyo ‘s screams echo from the well. Together , Otoyo and the nurses , bent upto their waists into the well, salty tears dripping into the well, call out, “ Chobo! Chobo!” tearing at their guts , as if their voices would lend life to the well. The sobbing screams pierce the silent air of death around. The water in the well ripples with Chobo’s final breath.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Louis Kahn in Ahmedsaa Badsaa's city

Glittering city lights like neurons and cells spreading their connectors around. I enter IIM-A campus. Sodium lights reflect off lofty walls, all of brick and awe. I cant help feeling the excitement slivering through me. Sriram kaka takes me on a late night tour of Louis Kahn’s monastic campus, the Indian Institute of Management – Ahmedabad. It is shivering cold at 11 in the night and mist has descended over the brick fortress. Through the arches and student blocks with their heavy buttresses anchored to the ground, the bricks overwhelm one’s vision. In the almost ethereal walk at midnight, I suddenly run my hand over one of the walls, feeling brick and mortar in an attempt to make sure it is all real. The sudden slants of the brick arches and hooked lintels that defy the constricted massiveness of the built, take me by surprise. All at once, I am overcome with a sense of depression. I feel sad somehow, for the building. For the bricks that are stuck in there for eternity. For Louis Kahn himself, the outsider who came to this foreign land and sought to manifest and trap himself within the stoic bricks of India. I can almost feel that intensity of nothingness in those humungous circular punctures on the walls. With exotic migratory species of birds filling the midnight air of IIM with a morbidity of their screams, IIM falls asleep brick by brick.

The morning is almost shaken from its slumber by the hair raising chirping and rattle of what seems like a battalion of birds in the campus. House number 413.M.S.Sriram has peacocks in the garden. I go on another round of the brick fortress. This time it appears quite harmless and vulnerably exposed (literally) in the bare open. We maneuver through the great Louis Kahn court which looks like a great grand father whose grandchildren have not yet woken up. Walking past empty classrooms awaiting their designated students(quiet literally as each desk has the students name plate on it! ) the great Vikram Sarabhai Library ‘s circular arch looks ready to engulf the entire place like an enormous black hole. A mango tree gives the Harvard steps at the entrance a human touch, while an enormous Stanford ramp extends an invitation into the belly of the bricks. Meandering through the hostel blocks, I feel small, as moons of windows loom large above me giving glimpses into the life inside. While Kahn’s bricks make the old campus, Bimal Patel ‘s exposed concrete makes the new campus. I like the relief of the lightness of grey after an overdose of heavy brown bricks. Although in places there is the indecisiveness of a modernist, the new campus tries to balance well.

The Forum ( my reason for visiting Ahmedabad) is at Cept university. The place looks worn, active and full of sand. Having had some godlike image in my mind after having heard so much about CEPT as “the place” for architecture, I am left confused with mixed reactions. Well, that is always the case with having images and then seeing them shatter with reality. The great North Lawn, the mound where all beings lie down, looks inconspicuous and subtle. A pair of parrots hover up on the tree by the lawn. For the next two days, I spot them at the same spot, frolicking among architecture students, cement, bricks , panel discussions and rolls of paper.

Sabarmati is elusive. Only once, I get a complete picture of her, as I stand amidst the Ravivaar market, Ahmedabad’s 150 year old legacy, surrounded by cot makers, lamb traders and rising silt. Sabarmati Ashram , molded by Correa into an architect’s subject, stands across the river. I can imagine it once , as a lone standing hut amidst the sand across the river while the old city was only on this bank. Now the new city has engulfed land beyond the other bank and expanded around this little ashram mercilessly.

The blue windows of the old city are closed shut as I wander through them in the chilly morning of the Sunday. The labyrinth of pols and ols, take me into a cocooned city hidden underneath the bustling glazing of the new city. As we are taken through Ahmedsaa Badsaa’s city, where once upon a time even rabbits would chase away dogs , our guide in a peacock blue kurta churns out interesting tales of the place. Sculpted for life, a gujarati poet sits on the porch of his own house, stuck on a pillow with a book in his lap for eternity. Such a pity that , while hundreds of tourists gape with hungry lenses and goggled eyes, he himself is not able to turn back and look at his own house, which has undergone a facelift over the years!

Ahmedsaa ‘s secular city looks helpless under the weight of so many people. The old city quite literally apart from the new with Sabarmati cutting across. A multitude of exposed concrete, brick, modernist architectural jargon and a much publicized architectural following lies one side, while on the other bank subtle, aged , fading yet full of life, the old city tries silently to save itself behind blue doors.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

An Odomos sunset

An Odomos sunset,
A swim
A guitar,
Shoe strings
Music in the sand
A past left behind,
A cigarette stub in hand
Sea salt
Biscuits for breakfast
In anonymous land.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Oh Scarlett Oh Hara!

The name is not just a name, it is a symbol. 'Oh scarlet oh hara !' Margaret Mitchell was not playing around the weak hearted when she envisioned and gave life to this character that has ever since been immortalized by a staggeringly vivid performance by Vivien Leigh , the legendary British actress. The book of course, is the classic tale of a civilization ‘Gone With the Wind’ with Scarlett O’Hara at the centre of it all, the eye of the whirlpool in which she sucks in all people who ever matter to her and who eventually succumb to her ubiquity.

Vivien Leigh proved as the only person who could have take on this character so perfectly, and her own persona has beyond doubt added to the screen image of this masterpiece. Quite contrary to the defeatist little coy dancer, Myra, that Vivien plays in Waterloo Bridge, this remarkable character by the name of Scarlett O Hara is a conceited optimist, a go – getter who has so much energy and life that no room would be unaffected in her presence. She exudes herself into all surrounding things and quite without her knowledge, all things bend towards her, just like a field of sunflowers towards the sun. And just when one starts to think she could be the most remarkable person, Margaret Mitchell goes on to ruin every little reputation that could form in our minds by making her such a faulty and marred character, full of follies, fury and conceit, that she edges on being an object of hatred. Here is a selfish robust girl who cares about no-one but herself, many a times quite unknowingly. We watch with helplessness as she steers her life ruinously and recklessly all for someone, she has so naively talked herself into loving; the unattainable and married Ashley Wilkes. It doesn’t come as a surprise that every man she lays her eyes upon, is undoubtedly affected and appears as a helpless weakling before her.

Scarlett’s never say die spirit, takes her through the roughest times as we see a childish little schoolgirl transforming into a hard hearted, strong, and a ruthlessly matter-of-fact lady. She survives her war, hunger, and public detest. And she has no one but herself to give all the credit for it. It is a cruel portrayal the survival of the fittest, and fitting enough she turns into the predator and not the prey. From dancing in public as a widow, to acting as a midwife in times of riots, to plowing her own fields and doing business with the enemies to raise money, to riding her own horse carriage when it was considered unacceptable for ladies to even ride alone in public, there is nothing that she does not do to keep the promise she made to herself at during the hardest time of her life, ‘ that she would never go hungry again’.

Of course the whole world would topple on one side with such a strong unchecked force. So along comes Rhett Butler, the anti-hero, the deserter who is as conceited , as selfish and as hot blooded as Scarlett, but with more years behind him and with shrewd wisdom that is good enough to check Scarlet’s rampage. Only a diamond cuts a diamond; “sirf loha lohe ko kaat saktha hai”, as Thakur says in the Bollywood classic, Sholay. So Butler is the unlikely antimatter to our O’Hara matter. It is a welcome surprise that we are not in for any predictable romance blooming between them, but a peculiar love hate bond, which leaves each of them bitterer than the last.

Yet, after three marriages and a child, she is still a robust child, who wants to get back her 18” waist. She says she was never meant to be the marrying kind. She naively confesses that she can frankly love nobody else but herself. One could only affectionately laugh at this little child’s admission of her weakness and say ‘my poor girl, it took so much to get you to know yourself, but there, you’ve finally realized!’

It is a bitter sweet admiration between Scarlett and her readers. You never know when you start loving her, and the next moment she’d do something, you would absolutely hate her for. She is a living flesh and blood conjugation of our minds and aspirations, so real, that reality seems fake before her. Red as wine and warm as the sunshine on cotton fields, she is a true toast to life and a tribute to man, flawed and imperfect and beautiful.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

The Last Waltz

(photograph: Jozef Krajko. Source

The Last Waltz

Standing on the window ledge of the 33rd floor,
She wonders why the traffic
Below is unusually still.

Yesterday's tequila glass
Still clinking in her ears,
She edges inch by inch
On high heels.
A black suede waltz
On the 33rd floor
On the 17th day of the 3rd month.

The music of the taxis,
Ringing like an orchestra,
All awaiting the lady in red,
To make the first move.
One step in front.
One step back.
Two to the right, one to the left.
Back and front.
Aaand let go.

Down on the pavement,
Beside a yellow cab,
A man in a tuxedo,
in black suede shoes,
and Elvis burns,
Heels clicked in attention,
And lips curled in,

Up on the 33rd ledge,
She gets ready for the free fall,
Into the waltz of a lifetime.