Saturday, January 30, 2010

Five Point Someone by Evam - Like a dream on stage!

"We make the world happier – and currently we do this with our Live Theater Shows" - the site of Evam says!I can attest to the truth and my friends who accompanied me yesterday for the play at Rangashankara would readily agree.

I have read the book and seen the poor movie adaptation but this play is something else altogether. When you have the same story in three different forms - book, play and movie - it is not difficult to see what would work best and have the maximum impact. Of course, it also depends on which one came first and which of the adaptations are more honest to the original. 

One liners and turn-of-phrase when read stay with us not because they can be easily remembered but because they encapsulate a certain truth or condition so easily and effectively. The stage has an advantage here. The rendering is more physical than the other media - the audience is so close and so involved in the proceedings that an acknowledgment and appreciation is much more spontaneous when somethings strike a chord. 

The auditorium at Rangashankara was very lively yesterday considering that it was the last day of the play at Bangalore before Evam can come back again. Coming to the actual play, the narrator had a lot to do considering that he is voicing the inner turmoils and emotions of the performers. I feel he could have done a better job at it since one or two fumbles were quite obvious. Of the performers, Alok definitely stole everybody's heart. His character in the book with his helplessness, confusion, agony and relatively mundane existence was brought out exceptionally well on stage. 

Ryan was very good in the more dramatic sequences when he had to influence and criticize. Hari was somebody you had to like - as he romances Neha and serves as the perfect manifestation of the "infection" thanks to Ryan. Neha's voice didn't carry in certain sequences but otherwise she did her part well. The supporting performers like Prof Veera and Cherian were OK. 

The play worked because the book has become a definition of sorts - capturing the state of the higher education system with effective stereotypes and clearly etched out characters. The lights and their shifting focus gave a dreamlike feeling especially in the weighty emotional portions. I found myself feeling as if an elaborately intense dream is being played out on stage. Kudos to the whole Evam crew for this!

As we discussed the play, what remained with us were some one liners and the manner in which they were performed on stage. Writing a script for a play and then directing is not half as difficult as adapting a book for the stage. So crystallizing the ideas in a book to a production of 2.5 hrs and staying true to it all along - that deserves a lot of applause. 

The cast was young and have every reason to feel proud of themselves. Another Friday evening was thoroughly well spent thanks to friends and Rangashankara!

Friday, January 29, 2010

Mile sur mera tumhara - A classic case of poor imitation.

However best remixes and recreations of the originals are defined, at their heart, they are copies - copies of good originals; otherwise who would enjoy Ranbir Kapoor baring his midriff and wooing 3 gorgeous ladies here? Isn't it because something - something in our mind-scape - gets triggered harking back to this original classic (note that even the youtube video begins with "classic"! :) ) 

Consider the case of "phir mile sur" - the prefix of phir in itself belies the seriousness or rather the lack of it! It is what I am tempted to term as a classic case of poor imitation. The intent was noble and praiseworthy - unity in diversity and an effort to boost the nationalistic fervor and spirit around republic day. The result however is not pleasant and makes one yearn for those DD days when the original (minus the phir!) video used to grace the television screen. 

To compare and make my case, consider the people - Bhimsen Joshi, Balamurali Krishna, Ravi Shankar, Allah Rakha, Zakir Hussain, Narendra Hirwani, Prakash Padukone, Amitabh Bachchan, Lata Mangeshkar, Mithun Chakraborty, Jeetendra, Hema Malini, Shabana Azmi, Javed Akhtar, Kamal Haasan, Sharmila Tagore, Tanuja and Waheeda Rehman in the original and Ahishek Bachchan, Shahid Kapoor, Priyanka Chopra, Ranbir Kapoor, Deepika Padukone, Shaan, Sonu Nigam and Shahid kapoor in the recreation of magic

It is fairly easy to observe that while the original had illustrious names, they were established and strong ones whereas in the phir version, it is the A-Z of Bollywood. How does a Deepika Padukone and a Shahid Kapoor - one in a ill-suited costume (it is perfectly fine for a commercial!) and the other in a rock star stereotype do justice to the video? Priyanka Chopra and Aamir Khan too look plastic. Salman Khan is atrocious in what looks like a sequence for an ad for vests! In trying to fit all these actors and their commercially popular mass gestures, the video's otherwise aesthetic locales are marred in a tasteless manner. 

While every possible bent and slant is given to the original song and the tune to extend it to a frustrating length, it doesn't help either. The music intensive sections like the Ayaan Ali and Amaan Ali sequence sounds great but somehow the vocal sequences lack the punch perhaps due to too much of an effort - towards striving for perfection ironically! The video is more a poor patchwork than a picture of smooth coherence.

The conclusion is that this version doesn't work and is a big letdown on republic day - one that the public didn't ask for but again does the public have any say on what it is being thrust with through the idiot box? Sadly, NO! A request to whosoever attempts to recreate any magic - please choose wisely and don't try to please too much!

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Prasanna Venkatesa Perumal temple - Spiritual bliss!

Temples in the hinterland - they hold a fascination and allure that makes the journey more pleasant and the expectancy of making the journey assumes an air that is laden with the perfect mystic harmony. So, when I found time to visit this temple after a long gap, I was thrilled. 

 Location of the temple- From
  • Chennai - 75 kms
  • Tambaram - 50 kms
  • Chengalpet - 20 kms
  • Vedanthangal bird sanctuary - 8 kms
How to get there: By Government bus - Route no 129v from Chennai/Tambaram to Vedanthangal and route no 3 from Chengalpet to Vedanthangal. 

Surroundings : Situated atop a small hill, the area is quite picturesque, silent and serves well as the abode for the Lord. 

Legend: As the picture shows (for readers of Tamil), the deity is so named because it is believed that Venkatesa Perumal revealed himself in a chariot here - obliging the prayer of the Pallava king who built the Tirupati temple. Hence the shrine is also knows as the Tirupati of the South. (தென் திருப்பதி)

Personally speaking, a visit to this shrine is something that I love because of the peace of mind and serenity that it inspires. This is also one of my most favorite temple shrines after Vaitheeswaran Koil down south. Vedanthangal bird sanctuary is also nearby. So, this would fit into an ideal weekend itinerary for a day!

Monday, January 25, 2010

Honestly tagged!

Shalini - the girl who is synonymous with wit and humor and who regales me no end with interesting anecdotes and perspectives - has tagged me and provided me a wonderful opportunity to reminisce about a few things. Thanks buddy! 

Here are the 5 rules (to be strictly followed by those I tag in this post!):
1. Thank the person from whom you have received the award listing his / her blog link

2. List 10 honest things about yourself (like I shall do here)
3. Paste the ‘Honest Scrap’ logo on your blog (this is self-evident as my title for this post says) 
4. Choose 7 other worthy bloggers and list their links (spread the joy) 
5. Notify the bloggers of the award, requesting them to follow the rules (so that they will not miss to notice)
Here I go - 10 honest things
  1. My fantasy is imagining myself on a date with Chitrangada Singh - this is the breaking news of this post :) Hazaron khwaishein Aisi was just brilliant cinema and Geetha was stunning!
  2. I dance to loud music when I am alone and bored.
  3. I love observing people - it is one of my favorite pastimes. 
  4. I hate the sound of burping more than any other sound. It drives me to a rage. 
  5. My wish is that I visit Japan at least once in my life. 
  6. I loved my 11th and 12th std days more than my college days.
  7. Chennai local trains and railways stations can move me to tears with nostalgia.
  8. I believe that everybody has some secret that they would shudder to confront even to their mirror images. 
  9. People who lie sincerely can expect cold shoulders from me.
  10. Somehow rather strangely, I exhibit a little of the mannerisms of people I admire.
  Now, 7 bloggers and their links - (apart from the blog of the girl who tagged me :) ) 

  1. Chitralekha - the girl who reviewed and commented on my first-ever-proper-written-work. One day, I shall be reading her works and that is not far off. A girl of unbelievable talent. I digged up her blog today after seeing the tag and am eager to read what she is up to! 
  2. Madhuri - I have learnt more about blogging and books by reading her posts more than anything else. 
  3. Hari - A person of immense potential whose sincerity shines through in everything he writes.
  4. Shefali - A girl thanks to whom I delved into the World of classics. I hope she starts posting more frequently. 
  5. Sundar - The person behind coffee with Sundar. CWS is one of the most informative blogs I have come across in the blogsphere. 
  6. Charanya - a person with the most wacky sense of humor one can ever come across. 
  7. Layman - His blogs always make me think. I would love to know what inspires each of his posts. 
Loved this exercise, now got to notify these folks :)

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Conversations with Sharanya Ramprakash - On theater, acting, directing and Dramanon!

After seeing and writing about [sic], I happened to go through this - Dramanon. The site made me very curious and interested. I decided to do a email interview of Sharanya, actor, director and member of the Dramanon Bangalore team. Initially skeptical about how it would turn out, I would like to thank my friends who encouraged me to go ahead and Sharanya for the succinct manner in which she has answered by taking out precious time. (All the questions are from an amateur/viewer/admirer of theater standpoint). Hope, the spontaneity of this exercise is testimony enough! Since this was done through email, I have not done any edits and I have refrained from interjecting between questions.

Here we go -

Siva: How and when did your fascination with theater begin?
Sharanya: At the risk of sounding terribly cliched, my tryst with theater began as far back as I can remember.
There are some embarrassing photos of me being 5 years old and playing Ali Baba's donkey. From the photographic evidence it looks like I took my time to evolve. It was only by the time I was 8 that I was cast as a human being.

Siva: Which character that you have played do you most identify yourself with? (I read in a DNA review link provided in the site that you identify with Babette...)
Sharanya: There is no alternative to 'being' a certain character but to find that person in yourself. Honestly, there's no other way to do it. So there's no 'this is me' role. I enjoyed being Babette, she was really special. When we're finally through with sic, I'm going to miss her.

Siva:  What attracted you to take up direction?
Sharanya: It happened in the most unimaginative way possible! When Dramanon's Bangalore branch started, someone had to get down to the dirty business of direction. Me!

Siva: The director is also somebody who understands what everyone in the cast is best at. What kind of challenges does it entail, bringing out the best in the cast?
Sharanya: Directing a play involves some serious dysfunction. You have to believe in things you cannot see! The wonderful thing about it is at the end of the day, everyone in the cast and crew has to see it with you. You head together, as a group towards this reality that we've made up, much like children, who make up stories and believe in them. The quality of what turns out is how honest you've been through the process - honesty simplifies things. Ultimately, its this simplicity & clarity that an audience instantly responds to.

Siva: You act in the plays you direct. What do you love most? Acting or directing?
Sharanya:The quality of looking at real life - my own life - with a degree of detachment. That is what I enjoy most about both acting and direction. The ability it gives me,in real life, in a moment of happiness or tragedy to step just a little away from myself and appreciate the sheer theatricality of it. If I just had to pick one - I wouldn't. With a gun to my head - I'd pick direction.

Siva: In the "no retake" world of acting in a play, what are the qualities that would make somebody a good actor?
Sharanya: Effort.Attention to detail. Lastly, on stage, being acutely present, 100% THERE in every moment.

Siva: Who are you inspired by? Any role models?
Sharanya:Sure. Many. Too many to name. All for different reasons.But I have to say this :
The last time I found myself gasping for breath after a play was Hamlet the Clown Prince. That was magic. Unbelievable stuff. To be able to create that is, well, extraordinary. Perch is another one of those magic wielding groups.

Siva: How do you define/interpret 'spunk'? It is a pretty interesting word to use. In a sense, this seems to define the Dramanon team and spirit!
Sharanya: Spunk is best defined in Melissa James's Gibson's play called 'Suitcase and those that resemble flies from a distance', when Sallie is talking to Jen.  Sallie says: "Isn’t it beautiful Jen I mean is there anything more beautiful Jen than people who dress in blatant disregard of their circumstances"
"See I like blatant disregard It’s got what people used to call spunk". Blatant disregard for everything that stops people from being a little crazy. I hope we have that.

Siva: "Dramanon Bangalore started in 2006, over some coffee, old friends and incurable optimism." - says the site. How do you maintain the optimism?
Sharanya: Its optimism or death. Really.
Its not that there are no dark moments of self doubt and mortality. There are many, many of those. In the end, I guess, its about what you choose to run with.
Every little bit helps - having fun doing what we do helps. Being great friends with each other helps. Helps big time.

Siva: Media sensationalism, quarter-life crisis, gadgets and mobiles in contemporary lifestyle and the nuances of relationship - what is it in these scripts that made Dramanon choose them to perform?
Sharanya: Nothing concrete. Nothing I can give a name to, really. They appealed, somehow, in a combination of ways. The most important one being 'Challenging' - challenging to who we were at that point in our lives. It presented a tantalizing set of possibilities that lurked beyond our present abilities, therefore, opening up new ways to do things.

Siva: How do you, as people who are professionals in different fields come together for Dramanon? Is there any goal that you set yourself and work towards or is it less formal than that?
Sharanya:Day after day for the past 3 years we've found the time and energy after a hard day's work to meet up to rehearse. Its got to be because its so much fun. No other reason can substitute fun :) As for a goal - yeah there is an informal, unarticulated but unanimous one - never hit comfort zone. Maybe that goal will change, maybe it won't. So far, so good. 

Siva: I don't see any 'desi' or 'Indian script that you have chosen to perform till now. Is it because of a lack of a good one?
Sharanya: To tell you the truth, we haven't found scripts. They've found us. There has been no conscious effort to do a 'desi' or 'non desi' script, its just turned out that way - more by destiny than by design. As far as Indian scripts go - there are stalwart playwrights - Kambar, Badal Sircar, T P Kailasam, Vijay Tendulkar, Sri Ranga, Karnad... there's no lack, really. Moreover, the regional playwrights abound in every language. But what is sorely missing is contemporary Indian plays.

Siva: How do you see the theater scene in Bangalore in terms of the interest shown by the people to get into theater through active participation or the encouragement
that you receive?
Sharanya: Theater is on the rise ever since Ranga Shankara revolutionized the way Bangalore looks at plays by making the play a day a reality. Its fantastic. In terms of the future of theater in Bangalore - at least with respect to amateur theater; there's a severe lack of mentoring. Who do you go to to learn? No one, currently. If  we've to get somewhere significant, this needs to change.

Siva: How is the English language theater different from that of Hindi or the Kannada one?
Sharanya: Not different in any way. No matter what the genre is, the language or the setting - people come to watch their own lives on stage. They come to see their own story.  Good theater can achieve this. Everything else is mere detail.

Siva: Theater has this aura or perception of catering to more refined or nuanced tastes. Is it true?
Sharanya: I disagree. Theater cannot be treated like this frail invalid to be listened to in silence and applauded in midst of polite company. That is one version of it.
Theater is a hardy, robust creature of the streets, addressing the everyday reality of our days and times.That is version 2.

Siva: How do you think the reach of good plays can be expanded to influence the society? Should theater have a goal like that in the first place or is it just a "nice-to-have" by product?
Sharanya: Not just theater, but anything that's worth something always influences and elevates current thought & perceptions, questions accepted constructs or just simply enchants. If a piece of art cannot move you in someway, its useless. Its a debt we owe, not just in theater, but in everything we do. That is my humble opinion :)

Siva: How is Sharanya like as a person? Where do her interests lie apart from theater?
Sharanya: Under the guise of being your average, working class human being, the Real Sharanya is actually from Planet Zor, eats amino acid broth, enjoys long conversations  in fluent Mandarin, she's right-all-the-time, extremely intelligent and quite, quite spectacular.  Her interests lie in pretending she's mostly harmless.

Siva: Anything that you would like to tell a budding theater aspirant...?
Sharanya: How about - 'Hello' ... ha ha.
No really, I'd tell them to jump right in. Down the rabbit hole is a great place to be.

Again, this is a novel effort as far as my blog posts go and hoping to do more of this in the future!

Saturday, January 16, 2010

[SIC] - A funny catalogue of obsessions and mistakes

Sic is a Latin word meaning "thus", "so", "as such", or "in such a manner". The play performed at Rangashankara by the Dramanon troupe proved that having low expectations could have been more rewarding. (the handout said, the troupe "experiments with scripts with that elusive quality - spunk".)

Bringing together an aspiring auctioneer (Frank played by Nakul Bhalla), a struggling writer (Babette played by Sharanya Ramprakash who has also donned the director's hat) and a "amusement park ride theme music composer", (Theo played by Deepanjan Dey), [SIC] sets the stage for action right away. The audience warms up to these characters (even though as Indians, we seldom meet a struggling writer let alone an auctioneer or a theme ride music composer) because their lives are fragile and a little directionless. In this aspect, their existence mirrors faithfully the questions and choices, the youth of today confront.

There is a routine to the manner in which the characters interact with each other - this routine essentially captures the reality of the "quarter life crisis". The three friends brought together hilariously by a mutual acquaintance commit the same mistakes again and again - believe in their potential, at times with a sense of self -confidence and at times because they have hardly anything else to believe in, or seek refuge in. In relating to each other, they are mutually suspicious, distrustful, vain and funny, all the while retaining their vulnerable humanity and exposing it for exploitation.

The humor and the dialogues, not "indianized", are a little hard to relate to, but given the changing mores, when embracing every conceivable idea is more of a fashion, it is easier to laugh. Here, the performers resort to vainglorious pronouncements and repetition to inject humor.

The sexual connotations appear contrived and it is probably because they indeed are. There are sequences in the play which I wished had prolonged - for example, when Babette describes an instance when she happened to read a book over an old lady's shoulder until the lady dozed off. At times, the switches in the script appear abrupt and sudden serving to arouse interest and kindling bewilderment in equal measure. Theo's obsessive longing, Babette's optimism and Frank's despair provide the right mix to the performance.

The high point of the performance comes towards the end when the three performers come together in what can be described as either "an acknowledgment of their resignation to their own fates" or "a moment when they bare their souls clearly and unabashedly to the World". They try to make sense of the choices before them and ultimately proceed to reject everything. The interpretation is open to the viewer here.

The cast did a decent job. What stood out was their mockery of each other and their need for warmth and true comradeship.

Overall, this is not the best of the 3 plays I have seen at Rangashankara, but certainly one of its kind that I wouldn't regret having seen either! The title is creative and suits the script by somehow suggesting "in such a manner"!

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

2 States - A laugh riot!

What is Chetan Bhagat good at?

Simple answer - Entertaining!

Now that he has become a columnist with TOI, it is difficult to describe him as "entertaining" probably because seeing him alongside MJ Akbar and Gurcharan Das and the like, you think you are probably unjust. But on second thoughts, it is not so, because one can be entertaining and serious at the same time. In fact, We need to redefine populism a little in order to accommodate his style. 

Populist - "relating to or representing ordinary people, rather than rich or very highly educated people
Witty - "using words in a clever and amusing way"

Wittily Populist would be something that would be apt as a description. As I was telling a good friend, in publishing parlance, Chetan Bhagat knows his readers as well as any writer can hope to! Communal rioting, the rots in the prevailing educational system and the phenomenal rise of call centre jobs - these have been his themes earlier and each of them served to make the "youngsters relate very well to his writing" - to quote my friend. This has its advantages and disadvantages. While it equips him with the knowledge of his readers' exact preferences, it also means that he has to engage in spicy turn of phrases every few pages to keep the reader engaged. 

In Two States, he doesn't disappoint. The character of Ananya Swaminathan (his own wife) abounds with so many possibilities that she is the sort of ideal that every Indian Woman would secretly aspire to be, minus certain exaggerations. Born into a conservative Tamil family, her achievements and beauty make her the cynosure of all eyes when she joins IIM-A. She meets Krish and in bollywood style, their relationship thrives and blossoms. 

Only the families of Krish and Ananya - two opposite poles - one a Tamil Brahmin and the other a stereotypical Punjabi, (Tamilnadu and Punjab were the two states whose assimilation into the Indian Union presented the most strenuous challenges!) pose problems. The novel then peels off stereotype after stereotype to finally reveal simple human beings - here, Ananya's father and Krish's mother provide ample material to warrant LOL! 

The obsession with caste, money, customs and orthodoxy when taken to an extreme become nauseating and as Chetan demonstrates, funny too. It is this aspect of the novel that endears the reader because at no point in time you feel the caricatures become annoying or exasperating. The human element always shines through and makes for a truly page-turning masala filled read! Having said that, the second half is so dramatic that I am sure half the population that has read the book would love to see a movie adaptation.

Some of my favorites from the novel:

"When in doubt, the pretty girl is always right"

"She was covered up enough to go for a walk in Afghanistan. I kind of missed her shorts, but I had brought it upon myself". 

"My desk had only books, unlike Ananya's who always had cut flowers from campus lawns or arty incense holders or..."

"Tamil women, all of them, wear flowers in their hair. Tamil men don't believe in pants and wear lungis even in shopping distrcits"

"Marble flooring is to a punjabi what a foreign degree is to a tamilian" 

"It is cruel to keep Punjabis away from their food at a wedding.."

Overall, at the cost of sounding repetitive, a entertaining read!

Now, a little wishful thinking and specualtion - 

If Two States is made into a movie - here is my cast:

Krish - Ranbir Kapoor 
Ananya - Trisha 
Ananya's friend (special addition for the movie) - Swathi 
Ananya's dad - Prakash Raj
Ananya's mother - Nadhiya

Krish's mom - Kiron Kher 
Krish's dad - Anupam Kher
Krish's boss - Vivek
Music - AR Rahman
Director - Siddharth Anand

I was too tempted to miss this out!!

Friday, January 1, 2010

On remembrances and wishes!

2010 is upon us. So, what is special on any special day? Messages, mails and calls to/from friends, relatives and acquaintances means the mobile is always busy. But, isn't something interesting here?

Why is it that we remember people suddenly when a new year or a Diwali comes? Why is it that we feel the urge or rather the necessity to scan through our contacts in gmail, facebook, orkut and cell phones to dash off messages like -

Happy new year 2010!
Wish you a happy new year - X
Wish you a prosperous Diwali!

The next day, we revert to our usual busy selves and don't even bother to smile if we meet the same person face to face! Indeed, this is the beauty and bane of the internet and mobile communications. It makes it easier to reestablish bonds, atleast momentarily thereby leading to a sense of self-delusion that all is right between two people when the reality is far removed.

In this context, there might be some pleasant surprises. People whose numbers you haven't bothered to store call and wish which proves how much you mean to them. oh! the complexities and nuances of relationships and communications in an age when speed is the mantra and technology is everybody's favorite topic!

Even here, the intention is the clincher. Of all the days, given all the busy schedules and the paucity of time we continually find ourselves in, the fact that somebody has bothered to click on "send" for you is something to be happy about.

So, the next time, you scan through contacts, please don't bother to choose. Don't scan. Send your wishes to everybody. After all, everybody on this earth needs hope. When you don't know who needs it most, it is always good to be generous. It is just a wish - it may well come true or as reality so often proves, wishes might remain wishes...It is like the universal conversation opener - "How are you"? Most people don't want you to reply or even if you do sincerely reply, they might have already moved on. A concern, an exchange of words, a wish - nothing matters in a world where everybody is generous to the point of uniformity and boredom. Take it and be happy!