Sunday, March 28, 2010

Bikhre Bimb - Hallmark of a Genius!

If I had not booked my ticket online, I would have had reason to worry seeing the "House full" board that greeted me as I entered Rangashankara yesterday to see 'Bikhre Bimb' (Broken Images or Scattered reflections when translated to English). The queue started to form as early as 6.45 PM (People usually form queues starting at 7 for a play that starts at 7.30). At the 'Namaskara' announcement requesting people to switch off their cellphones, the conversational babble ceased; the lights slowly dimmed and the stage came into stark view. How I love this part, to me it is something like touching a portkey to be transported to a different place and setting; like entering a trance, only to emerge richer, thanks to whatever transpired during its course. 

Arundathi Nag impeccably dressed in a Sari walked in with a remark "Nice. Very Nice" as if commenting on the arrangements at Rangashankara itself.  Right at that very moment began the unfolding of a genius. Eminent playwright Girish Karnad and acclaimed theater veteran Arundathi Nag have come together in this play to enthrall the audience. This work is multiple things at the same time; to speak about any one of its identity leaving out the others would be an injustice. 

The hindi used throughout the play is so pure and runs like a clear stream unhindered and sure about its course. Arundathi Nag's voice, expressions and tone - the manner in which they undergo changes so very subtle and nuanced - is something that words fall short of capturing! Only the veteran is on stage throughout the length of the play, so the audience gets to see a treat! 

As Manjula (Arundathi in the play) explains to a TV audience why despite being a Kannada writer, she chose to write in English, the playwright has had ample scope to talk about the questions that confront Indian writers in English. Why they chose English? Do they write for a overseas audience and cater to their predefined notions or are they genuinely interested in bringing out the 'fragrance of the Indian middle class' as one British agent tells Manjula while appreciating her work?

At the end of the address to the TV audience, an image of Manjula pops up on a TV screen and doesn't let the writer leave the studio. She is initially befuddled, but later opens up to the image. While answering the questions posed by the image, the whole exercise turns out to be an expose of the self. While references to 'Freudian Unconscious', Dostoevsky's Double and Oscar Wilde's 'The Picture of Dorian Gray' (As an aside: I have read this one, it is one of my favorite reads, you can download it here) in the play do not fully capture the plight of the character, I suppose they are merely pointers to the manifestations of psycho analysis. 

The play takes on a moral course from then on, how the line between selfishness and blatant wrong doing blur in a manner that is complicated and how the human self deludes itself into vindication. This is exemplary achievement, unwinding layer by layer to get into the core of the psychological struggle. 

The appreciation at the end of such of a performance was every bit fitting the performer and the director. The genius of writing lies in leaving the ends open, in informing without sermonizing, in questioning without explaining and in drawing attention to the multitude of  layers that abound between black and white. Hats off to the writer, director and the performer for making it possible! 

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

An evening at ICH and Amoeba

There are few places that can make anyone fall in love at first sight. I would venture and say that Indian Coffee House (ICH) at Church Street in Bangalore is one such place. It has an old-world-charm that is unmistakably warm and alluring - the big frame with the photo of Gandhi, the cute girl smiling with a cup of coffee and the frame that says "Coffee making is a fine art" are so typical of an era gone by, an era where simplicity was valued as a virtue!
 We had not planned the evening out to the last detail. In fact, I love it when we don't; too much planning heightens the expectations and decreases the curiosity. We talked incessantly about things that anybody would expect of 6 young men!! 

The place was full of people who were so immersed and preoccupied that it led me to wonder whether 'a lot' actually happens over coffee. After running a record bill at the place, we came out and indulged in a long photo session that bemused quite a few people. What are 6 guys doing outside a place like ICH on a Monday evening changing their poses for the iphone lens?

We stepped inside Amoeba and the next hour went by in no time! Indulging in a game like bowling once in a while, on a evening with friends is such fun. As we said our good byes and good nights, each of us carried sweet memories of the evening. How I wish we could have had more such evenings!! 

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Thanks Maa - Cinema can't get any better.

"Art house cinema is typically a serious, noncommercial, independently made film aimed at a niche audience rather than a mass audience" says Wikipedia. One of the elements of such a style is "Social Realism", again courtesy the same Wikipedia article. 'Thanks Maa' squarely falls into that category. It tugs at your heartstrings, it is intense and hits you with such ferocity that after you come out of the movie hall, you feel blank and dazed and move like a zombie. Your head is so heavy and simply too many things ceaselessly run within that you have to watch your every step carefully, lest you lose your whereabouts! 

If you want cinema that is hard hitting showing the stark societal realities, as they exist and above all, if you are courageous to bear such an experience, then do yourself a favor. Watch 'Thanks Maa'. Instead if you are happy when reality is just scratched at the surface and prefer escapist entertainment, then this one is strictly not recommended. 

Coming to the story of the movie, as I have always maintained in all my blog posts, I would prefer the reader - YOU - to experience it. All I can say is that, the movie shows the predatory nature of human behavior in a manner that can't be easily described. It is not vulgar, obscene, not in-your-face kind, but at the same time, very effective. To have accomplished something like this very courageously without any stars tells something about the whole cast - the conviction in the story and the strong impulse to convey it no matter the outcome, I doff my hat. 

The language, very street like and laden with expletives works to the movie's favor. The child actors cannot be more authentic and their acting still gives me goose flesh. When Municipality realizes that he can escape from the juvenile home he is placed in and when he agonizingly cries to explain his earnestness to his friends - these are just two examples of the several high points of this movie. The background music, when the children are happy especially, makes you want to jump in joy. The costumes enhance the 'social realism' feel that you take away ultimately. 

Rarely has such an exemplary movie been made by one of our countrymen on any social evil. 'Thanks Maa' is an unparalleled experience! It is a pity that the movie hall had only 20 people. Have we all become so escapist? Something to ponder...

Image courtesy -

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Musings on a golden era of Hindi Pop - Part 1

Hindi Pop music - Once upon a time, I used to look forward to the release of Private music albums and videos. The singers were earnest, the songs beautiful and the videos, all of them shot well, differently and having about them an air of such sweet innocence...that in hindsight seems to have been a golden era for the industry.

This post is all about trying to document that era. Lucky Ali, Adnan Sami, Alisha Chinai, Pankaj Udhas, Babul Supriyo, Falguni Pathak, Neeraj Sridhar, Strings, Euphoria...this list might go on. The sweet memories I have of my higher secondary and college days are linked closely with the enjoyment I derived from these songs. I used to take refuge in these songs - yes, refuge from the agony of bearing profanities and these songs provided an escape route. Perhaps escape would be putting it a little too harshly...they were something more than that. To me, some of these songs were pure poetry. Here we go, some of my favorites below -

 Lucky Ali - 

Song: Gori teri Aankhen Kahe -This is a pure gem from Lucky Ali and Kavita Krishnamurthy. If there is one voice that can evoke longing, nostalgia, pain and happiness, all at the same time, that would be Lucky Ali and this song is a perfect example of his genius. DD Metro used to have a weekend countdown on Sunday afternoons and this song was on the top of the charts for quite some time.

See the imagery woven in the lyrics -  

"Chanda Ne Bhi Dekha Nahi
Aur Taaro Ko Yeh Maloom Nahi
Ke Meine Tujhe Dil Diya
Tera Dil Le Liya"

Song: Tere mere saath jo hota hai  - "The Prime suspect is a female agent.." - an announcement on the air waves at the beginning of this song. Lucky Ali initially pursues this agent, begins to dance towards the end of the video, the crowd joins in and it is a carnival. A heady mix of good music, amazing video and extraordinary singing makes this my favorite. 

Song: Kitni haseen Zindagi - Malaika Arora Khan is gorgeous in this video. The lyrics are part philosophical and part romantic.

"Jeene ko to dil yeh chaahta hai
Jaane phir kyon sharmaata hai
Rukta nahin hai, sab kuch bataaye
Chupta nahin hai, dil jaan jaaye
Ab rehna kisko yahaan"

Daler Mehendi -

Song: Bolo ta ra ra - How can any post on this be complete without Daler Mehendi thanks to whom Punjab can now boast of numerous singing phenomenons - youngsters to whom he is the ultimate inspiration. We as a family had embarked on a tour of Haridwar, Rishikesh and Mussourie. The driver of our bus, a Sardar with a smile of cherubic innocence played Daler Mehendi songs throughout the night as he maneuvered the hair pin bends.

Neeraj Sridhar - 

I have always found his remixes good. He pioneered the use of English words, weaving them into the originals, altering them a little, but nevertheless preserving and enhancing their appeal.

Song: Hawa mein udti jaaye - This one makes my heart beat faster whenever I listen to it. The pace and the beats were ahead of time if I can put it like that. Neeraj has moved on since then to playback singing and of late, churned out quite popular tracks. 

Euphoria -

This band had a flamboyance and was bold to experiment. Palash Sen with his unusual style and his band with their eccentricities, quite an irresistible lot!

Song: Maeri - The beauty of this song is that anytime you listen to it, you get the feeling that you are part of a long train journey. The jerk of the train compartments, the depth of the lyrics are things that come to mind readily!

"duniya parayi chod ke aaja
jhoothe sare naate tod ke aaja
sau rabdi tujhe ek vari aajaa
ab ke mile to honge na juda
na juda na juda aaa oooo"

Adnan Sami - 

Adnan has something about him that makes you want to like him. Is it his careless charm or is it his confidence? I know not!

Song: Lift kara de - This song was a HUGE hit. It was on everybody's lips when it came out. Who doesn't love a lift anytime?

"Bangla motor car dila de
Ek nahin do chaar dila de
Mujhko aeroplane dila de
Duniya bhar ki sair kara de" 
Boy! Isn't he ambitious?  

(To be continued)  

Monday, March 1, 2010

Drowned out by opinions

So many columnists, so many opinions, so many viewpoints, so much of everything!! Yes, you are right when you are able to relate to it. I am trying to say that too much of anything is good for nothing. 

That the number of news papers, 24/7 news channels, columns and blogs have multiplied and are multiplying at an astonishing pace doesn't help if I need the truth. It is like being left with the feeling that the 'search for truth' is incomplete. Having too many opinion-makers or rather, people who think they are opinion-makers, is not exactly helpful when the unvarnished story needs to be told. In the name of opinions, sometimes I feel facts are twisted or selectively presented. This is not altogether different from being the front of powerful barons or lobbyists to advance their interests. 

I am not trying to say that all of these esteemed camera-savvy gentlemen and ladies can be painted with the same brush. It is just that moderation and restraint are compromised. When a 1000 word column should be written on some thugs vandalizing an office (just to take an example), it is presented with so much vehemence and flamboyance of prose that is precisely not warranted. 

This has two major effects - 

  1. The reader/viewer (for the print and the electronic media respectively) never gets the real degree of importance an event/incident should merit. 
  2. The players who act out (like the MNS and the Netas) get free marketing. Their causes, reasons and plans are broadcast to the nation. 
To read or not to read, to seek or not to seek, to be informed or ignorant - these are not easy choices anymore . Take climate change for example. If I read 10 columns by eminent experts on the subject, it is as good as having read nothing or close to nothing. This is a shame. 

Discretion on our side is needed to stay aware, alert and informed. This can be done by reading selectively and relying on time-tested sources. Diversity is not always good and a little knowledge in today's world is better than getting bogged down by too much. Try reading Jug Suraiya and VR Krishna Iyer on the same day or the editorial of THE HINDU and TOI for that matter. It is a recipe for craziness!  One important thing before I end this post - things are not always as simple as some columns reduce them to nor for that matter is truth a matter of black or white. The reality always lies somewhere in between.