Review: The Rhythm Divine

Pung Cholom Dancers with Astad Deboo

A fusion of the avant-garde with the traditional, that was the Rhythm Divine. A collaboration borne out of Astad Deboo’s almost 11 year romance with Manipur where he came across Guru Seityabanji and his troupe of Pung Cholom drummers of Shri Shri Govindji Nat Sankirtan. The traditional Pung Cholom drumming metamorphosed with the body vocabulary (as he calls it) of Astad Deboo. A treat to the eyes!

The performance began painfully slow –an almost chrysalis like depiction, extremely slow, with classical background music. In fact, in the first 15 mins I was almost bored! And then the dancers picked up the tempo — with perfect synchronization once they had the beats of drums or of their palms on their thighs (which is how they practice apparently). What followed was visual poetry — the oriental music and dance of the drummers and Astad Deboo who complemented them with emoting fingers, emoting eye-brows and an emoting body.

When the drummers were finally given the drums in the last act (what they are most comfortable with), the music and the dance built up into a crescendo — a fitting end. In the discussion that followed, Deboo described how he’d worked with Manipuri martial artists in the past and then he’d put up a performance with the drummers at the Frankfurt Book fair when India was the guest of honour(2006), and it seems he has made it into a regular feature now.

To read more: Astad Deboo on RediffAn Interview with Astad Deboo Ranga Shankara’s Programme Site

Review: The Reluctant Fundamentalist

image Just finished reading The Reluctant Fundamentalist (Amazon, Wikipedia) written by Mohsin Hamid. The book is about the story of Changez, who grows up in Lahore, goes to the United States to obtain his bachelors from Princeton (mirroring the life of the author quite closely thus far), gets a job in one of the top financial consultancy firms Underwood Samson (the author worked in McKinsey), falls in love with a girl who still loves her dead boyfriend, and finally returns to Pakistan following emotional turmoil in the aftermath of 9/11. The book is written as a conversation that the protagonist has with an American tourist, and is quite brief. In fact, Hamid had remarked on it’s brevity:

I’d rather people read my book twice than only half-way through.

I took a while reading it since I had misplaced my copy and finally located it in my luggage. The book is a very easy read — no high flying philosophy, or cross references to Greek literature, but is quite alluring. There are so many things you identify with and you see such people around you. Changez, after passing out of Princeton thinks that the world is his oyster. He is uneasy adjusting with his high-flying lifestyle. The work (as a foreigner in one of the most respected firms in NY), the competition at the workplace, holidays, finding in unrequited love with a girl, the emotional turmoil at the contrast between his own life in a castle and his family’s in a moat, and finally giving it all up to return to a life where rewards are less monetary and more spiritual, the heightened sense of everything that is right about your country, the smell of the soil, the flower market, the food and even the beggars on the streets to regain a connection with his country all give you a sense of deja vu, a feeling that this is for real, I have seen this person somewhere.

What is also endearing is Hamid’s style. The pity remarks he makes while describing the contrasts between his country and the US. Of the heightened security in the airports he says:

Seen in this fashion I was struck by how traditional your empire appeared. Armed sentries manned the check post at which I sought entry; being of a suspect race I was quarantined and subjected to additional inspection; once admitted I hired a charioteer who belonged to a serf class lacking the requisite permissions to abide legally and forced therefore to accept work at lower pay; I myself was a form of indentured servant whose right to remain was dependent upon the continued benevolence of my employer.

His descriptions of life back in Pakistan is also unique, his observing the foreigner leering at girls and noting that girls milling in the streets joyfully is such an uncommon sight that it is hard not to notice. Small things that make the book a very enjoyable read.

I was particularly struck by the sense of turmoil Changez had, and I thought it was a little exaggerated, and his response artificial. Confronted with a motherland at war and a girlfriend who commits suicide, his work slacks and he is soon fired. He goes back to his motherland, becomes a lecturer and the nucleus of anti-American protests among students. However, with his knowledge of the States, he might have been well positioned to not only know its limitations but its goodness as well, and if that little bit had been brought in as well, the book might have a different flavour and perhaps a different ending.

More reviews: Akhil Tandulwadikar

How does the Elephant March without Trampling Others?

The quality of good cinema is that its leaves you thinking. If that is the yardstick, documentaries would almost always be classified as good cinema, because the very reason they are made is to leave the viewer pensive. Sometimes, films like An Inconvenient Truth, or Michael Moore’s many movies, become popular, are seen by the multitude, and manage to affect society. However, sadly, in the vast majority of cases, documentaries hardly get to be seen by enough people that they will shape public opinion.

Thanks to Pedestrian Pictures, I saw two such documentaries — In Search of Gandhi and Freedom…!, and I have been pondering over them since I got back.

In Search of Gandhi (2007) is a film not about history, its about the contemporary India which lives on the trail of the Dandi March. The filmmaker visited various cities and villages en route to see how much people think about and remember Gandhi — and he finds that it is awfully little. Ellis Bridge in Ahmedabad, which was where Gandhi gave a famous speech about equity, is home to a slum, and the government threatens to use its muscle to clean up their homes and build a garden. In most places, people have no qualms in saying that Gandhi’s principles will not work in today’s India, because you have to resort to the unscrupulous and the immoral to get your job done. Perhaps the most shocking was the xenophobic diatribe which a 80 year old Gandhi follower unleashes — his opinions of the Muslim community is that they are like a dog’s tail which can not be straightened. Unfortunately, he is a well respected person of the society there. The tale is the same with youngsters and the emotions in both communities run high post-Godhra and Modi’s ascent to power. Statues of Gandhi lie dismembered, disrespected as Modi’s huge hoardings proclaim a period of wealth and development. In fact, in Surat, Gandhi keeps watch with grave determination over a bunch of people who have congregated in the name of ‘Mahatma Gandhi Laughing Club’. Elsewhere, people have shown little respect while cutting trees to clear off forests, livelihoods, societies, in their hurry to build castlesque shopping malls. The economy is booming, and the booming noise threatens to forever dampen the few noises that remain. (I had written an earlier piece about Mahadevbhai, a play I saw on Gandhi’s assistant, and some posts on India)

Freedom…! was a slightly older film (2002) concentrating on how our 9% Y-O-Y growth is affecting people we don’t think about, sometimes even consciously ignore. Floods in the Kosi river, cutting of Mangrove trees in Gujarat, destruction of forests in Orissa, are shown as case studies of how in some cases people rise up, complain, and ask for their rights. In many cases, the leaders were brutally tortured by the police (Colonel Salve in Kutch — I could not find a link, if somebody can, please let me know and I will put it up), in some cases murdered by perhaps the big-pocketed businesses they were fighting against (Chattisgarh Mukti Morcha’s Niyogi murdered in 1991). However their legacies have lived on, and the remaining unheard voices of fishermen and farmers are trying to make themselves heard, justifying the martyrdom of their leaders.

All this after having seen Hazaron Khwahishein Aisi last night. The story of Siddharth, Vikram and Geeta is a must watch. An extremely strong hat-ke story, incredible performances, and an ending that leaves you pinching your conscience. In fact, the ending is available at Youtube:

And where does all this leaves us? The reason for making these documentaries is to make people think. What is the right model for development? Rampant capitalism which most people are now purporting, can do irreparable harm to our country, its natural surroundings, culture, and even unity. At the same time, the juggernaut of growth and development will roll on, it is not something that can be stopped. The people who have tasted success will not stop at anything, and I am not even sure if they should, because this growth and development is giving India its rightful place in the world — with world leaders knocking at our doorstep ever so often. However, how can we channelize this hunger, and ambition, so that the growth does not come at the expense of the many that have not had the good fortune of being able to get the same level of training, education and opportunities. How does the elephant march forward without trampling his own soldiers?

I wonder.

Murakami, Mishra and Morning Jog

image

I just finished South of the Border, West of the Sun by Haruki Murakami. Murakami is widely celebrated as a brilliant new writer and has become wildly popular these days. He has a very different style — an almost childlike voice, very simple and very ordinary yet profound. Sample this (while commenting on Disney film The Live Desert the protagonist watched as a child):

Our world’s exactly the same. Rain falls and the flowers bloom. No rain, they wither up. Bugs are eaten by lizards, lizards are eaten by birds. But in the end every one of them dies. The die and dry up. One generation dies, and the next one takes over. That’s how it goes. Lots of different ways to live. And lots of different ways to die. But in the end it doesn’t make a bit of a difference. All that remains is a desert.

Earlier, he also described the words of a song the protagonist liked as a child:

Pretend you’re happy when you’re blue
It isn’t very hard to do.

The story is about Hajime, who is just settling down in life with a loving wife and two daughters (after a very disturbing adulthood), but his childhood sweetheart Shimamoto returns in his life. Shimamoto is seductive, excruciatingly beautiful and enigma personified. He had never been able to get Shimamoto out of his mind and her returns rocks his relatively peaceful existence.

image

After finishing Murakami, I shifted to (Sudhir) Mishra. I had been enamoured by the trailers of Khoya Khoya Chand, and Soha Ali Khan is “oh-so-pretty” anyway. All through the movie, I kept comparing it with Om Shanti Om (which I had recently watched). The only comparison I can make is KKC is character and OSO is caricature. Of course, they are completely different genres and it is unfair to compare, but still, that is what I thought of. Both are very similar in the underlying theme — the movie industry far back. But completely different in they way the same thing is portrayed. KKC, I would highly recommend — a very well made film, of two artists in the industry, how they are exploited, how they fall in love, how they exploit each other, crumble and finally triumph. No khitpit, no khichkhich, just a good movie.

And all this after a good morning jog — hmmm — I feel good!

Aside: If you are a facebook addict, enjoy this video:

ART by Evam

I went to see ART by Evam yesterday, again a part of Bengalooru Habba. The play originally written by Yasmina Reza, a French actress and playwright. The play is about three friends, who have moved a little apart with time, but the death nail comes when one of them, Sarge, buys a painting. And before you think it’s a serious play, the painting consisted of white diagonal lines on a white background, and Sarge paid a whopping two hundred thousand Francs for it (yes, that is 200,000!).

The play was hilarious. Marc, who was completely against Sarge, and thought he had lost his mind, and was acting pompous, was extremely sarcastic, and Yvan, the bummer who was getting married in a week’s time, gave such amazing expressions that the audience couldn’t help laughing. There was this whole story about contentions between his biological mother, his step mother, and his fiance’s step mother about their names appearing on the wedding card. Marc’s sarcasm and Yvan’s innocent expressions made the day!

The play depicted the relationship becoming sour — Marc’s superiority complex, Sarge’s antagonistic attitude end up almost leading to the breakup of the friendship. The play ends in a sort-of a happy ending, but did leave a few strands for the reader to figure out.

The acting was superb — Evam has been doing this production for the last three years and it showed. The actors were very natural, and Karthik Kumar as Marc and Sunil Vishnu as Yvan were brilliant. The subtle querulous sarcasm, and Yvan’s dumb yet innocent antics lit up the stage. The set itself was pretty elaborate, using more than 30 carton boxes as I had said earlier, to distinguish between the houses of the three friends. The lights worked very well in sync (with only one slip) and it spoke volumes about their practice. I myself was in splits, falling off my seats ever so often. A must watch, if it ever comes around.

I got to talk to Sunil after the play — we had talked when they were here last time with Five Point Someone, and then they came again with And Now For Something Completely Different (but unfortunately, I was away at the time). They are coming back to Bangalore on 25th Dec with another play, and I hope to see them again!

Some more reviews of ART: The Hindu Dinesh (He has a picture of the set also)

Aside: If the text was too much for you, and you share my interest in Web 2.0 and the rest of the random things on the internet, you might like this video:

Aside-2: If you ever get sick of computers, see here for some alternate uses.

MahadevBhai

Went to see Mahadevbhai, performed by Working Title productions Mumbai at Chowdiah today as a part of Bengalooru Habba. Mahadevbhai is the story of the freedom struggle told through the eyes of Gandhi’s aide Mahadevbhai Desai. A solo performance by Jaimini Pathak (who had directed a play I saw sometime back “Thukra’s Dream”) who is shown as a budding actor, with a link to Mahadevbhai through his granduncle, and who discovers him and Gandhi through conversations with his grandfather.

The play was quite educative since it refreshed quite a few history lessons I had forgotten — the Champaran and Bardoli satyagraha, the Dandi march and the agitation against the Rowlatt Act (on the same lines as MISA and POTA). However, more than the history lesson, it was the human character it gave to the leaders of our freedom struggle is what I liked. Gandhi is not a chapter in History, but a living person delivering speeches, writing letters and fasting unto death for Hindu Muslim unity. Similarly for Mahadevbhai, a scholar in his own right, who is dedicated to Gandhiji as Hanuman was to Ram, his personal aide and secretary, who maintained one of the most detailed accounts of the freedom struggle in his 27-volume personal diary (I would like to read that sometime!).

It also brings to light what Gandhiji stood for — equality for everybody including one self (being able to stand up against the British and not write in servile language), his Dandi March which was not just an agitation against the government, but the act of the march gave it a life of its own, his fast unto death against untouchability which is perhaps the reason why the curse has reduced so much in our society. It also brings out subtle sarcasm in Godhra being the venue where Gandhi and Jinnah jointly addressed Hindus and Muslims together for the first time, and the attitude of the M.B.A. (Mujhe Bahut Aata hai) elder brother, and the British-obsessed history teacher Ms. Priscilla.

Jaimini Pathak carried off the performance really well. Keeping the audience engaged for 2 hours alone is no mean feat, and Jaimini Pathak and director Ramu Ramanathan are very well deserving of all the praise (it was the 111th performance!). By interspersing Mahadevbhai’s life story with his own, and the conversations with his grandfather and his history teacher ensure that the play gets a graph, and the audience some entertainment. A very good performance, which you must visit if the play comes to your city.

Tomorrow is Art by Evam Productions from Chennai, and I was chatting with Sunil, one of the actors and co-founder of Evam, and he mentioned that they are going to use 30 carton boxes as props. Hmmmm, I need to check that out!

More coverage (from the past): The Hindu IndianExpress

Brighter Than a Thousand Suns: A Review

[Cross posted on my Spaces blog]

I have often wondered what makes accomplished people participate in something that would hammer their conscience for the rest of their lives, and I have found myself unable to come up with an acceptable answer. How does a lawyer defend somebody who murdered somebody in cold blood? How does a soldier kill a helpless victim? How does a scientist invent a weapon of mass destruction?

All the answers to the third question are in this book. The byline reads ‘A personal history of the atomic scientists’. I was recommended the book by a colleague and even though its not a thriller, I could hardly keep the book down until I had finished it!

The story of the atomic scientists is so intriguing that I would doubt if any other real story would come even close to it in terms of their truth and sincerity, their single-minded devotion to the science, and their shock at the results of their discovery. The book paints these scientists as real human beings, with greed and compassion and dedication and ruthlessness, rather than a human-computer many others would.

The story itself is fascinating — it begins in idyllic surroundings in Europe, where students all over the world learn from the Gurus about the new emerging field, the great friendship and competition amongst the scientists, the carefree concentration in their research (they would routinely switch their shoes!). It shows how science can bring the world together, cut across state boundaries and get people with extremely diverse backgrounds to work together amicably and solve problems for a larger cause.

Great progress was made in the labs in Europe at the time. However, as the clouds of the second world war gathered, and Hitler started rounding up the scientists, this utopia soon started crumbling. Many had to move to other countries because of their Jewish backgrounds — and became extremely paranoid about Hitler’s plans. At the same time, many threw open the doors to their friends and collaborators — welcomed them with open arms sometimes even putting themselves in the line of fire. The paranoia, however, grew and it was some of those scientists who approached their governments with suggestions of developing new materials to halt Hitler’s stride. They wanted a deterred strong enough such that Hitler would not even think about trying to expand his power base. They were also worried that the dictatorship in Germany might be forcing its scientists to develop an atomic armoury and the race began.

Thus was the Manhattan Project started and the Los Alamos National Laboratory set up. Oppenheimer assumed leadership, and the scientists worked day and night, living in an uninhabitable place, disconnected from the rest of humanity. However, very soon, they were going to be shocked. They had never anticipated that once a weapon is in the hands of the government, it would be obliged to use it. Despite their protests, and their initial baby-steps towards a third-party controlled nuclear certification policy, the worst annihilation of the century was perpetrated by their government.

What we see now of the IAEA and other such bodies was germinated by the scientists. However, some of the scientists in their greed, promoted the idea of the Hydrogen bomb — the world has never recovered as yet! It was also quite topical because all the Indo-US nuclear negotiations were still going on while I was reading it.

The book is almost like the fall of Adam and Eve — an idyllic world interrupted by evil forces and disintegrated into the morass that now remains.

image

[Unfortunately, I found it extremely difficult to find the book. Had to read from an almost tattered second-hand book which I bought at Blossoms]

Technorati Tags: , , , ,

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,843 other followers

%d bloggers like this: