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Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Quo Theater 2: The Storm in the Soup Bowl

This post has been necessitated - rather precipitated - due to the views, opinions and comments expressed at me or levelled at me in response to my previous post on theatre that came down pretty critically on a certain comedy show performed in the city recently.
I was told telephonically that I was not disinterested in my critique; I was accused of impulsive writing via short messaging; and I was commented as being unfair on the audience (see one of the comments to the previous theatre post). I am not going to retract any of my views and I stand by it, because what I failed to experience that night that prompted to react strongly was born out of my conviction as to what comprises acting and the act of putting theatre together as a performer.
My reactions have nothing to do with the set design or the stage design or props or editing of the script to suit the production ends or any other facet. It has purely to do with the failure of the producers to adhere to the basics. By basics, I do not mean to any of the tenets or schools of acting that I subscribe to. I do not refer to any names of pantheons of theatre who have come up with theories and methods of acting or actor training. I do not quote any specific approach to acting from across the world. It is the very basic essence of what theatre is, drama is, acting is, narrative is and lastly, performance is. These are things that could be gleaned upon spending a little effort at analysis. I shall expound them here for the benefit of those who have stepped into theatre because it is cool to do it or there is money for their pre-paid recharge or for other divine purposes that justify their youthful hormones.

It's a small theatre world, the English theatre circuit in Chennai is! Then there must be a cohesive community. Naturally then, there must be a certain common face to it. Wrong! There are very few people and too many brands to accommodate them. In this scenario, groups hardly have a face thanks to the actor types who are the culprits. No sense of affiliation and constant horse-trading from stable to stable without any ethics to the trade. And there are many who just want to flit from production to production, churning out role after role from production after production. These people are neither trained nor educated in the fundamentals of theatre. It is one thing to expect a critical theatre culture among the audience (who need not be trained to watch entertainment) and it is another to not expect a certain standard and quality of performance that would help the audience get the critical faculty, in a culture where the concept of proscenium theatre - leave alone western theatre - is non-existent and borrowed. Yes, we are doing borrowed theatre of box sets from the west in the english theatre circuit. Mostly. And only very very recently some have started either designing performances or adapting Indian stories to stage or writing original plays in English.

I recently had the opportunity to be invited to present a paper in a theatre symposium in the city. I had taken that opportunity to talk about the malaise that besets English theatre in Chennai. It was titled Narrative Performance and Audience Interaction in Theatre. I quote some parts of it to facilitate this post:

"A lot of performance pieces being created are by the performing artists themselves. Especially in the area of non-English language theatre. My observation comes from having watched and still watching works written, produced and performed by the actor artistes over the last three or four years... In this sense, theatre is starting to coalesce boundaries with dance and dance theatre forms too.

Of course, English language theatre still seems to be trapped by and large in producing existing modern plays. Most audiences are comfortable sitting in the dark and share the private lives and worlds being shown on stage. Western concept of theatre and movie tradition, after all, evolved from the "Punch and Judy peep-show", where the audience would prefer to remain voyeurs of art. And it extends to anything western we imbibe, embrace or jolly well adopt. It is in this sense we are trying to draw attention to the specifically evolving trend in the contemporary Chennai and local language Theatre, where the audience is inclusive. Unfortunately the English theatre in India seem to be urbanized and exclude the audience in a non-participant way. Somehow the amount of immediacy and proximity between the actors and audience in a non-English theatre is not to be found in English language Indian Contemporary plays. They are no different from the non-Indian plays from English speaking world. By non-participant is meant that they are not inter-acted with.

One of the key factors in Indian performance ethos is the inclusiveness of audience as a myth-legend-tale-background knowing spectator who can respond to a question or query or a friendly jibe about the facts in a subversive way by the actor-narrator-performer; to whom direct address is possible. This attempt on the part of the actor-storyteller-narrator is what we term here in this presentation today as Narrative Performance. Let me explain three basic terms we are dealing with here.

Narration - a form of direct address to the audience; seminally drawn from narrative fiction form, where an author goes descriptive.

Performance -
as a form where people enact lives and situations as role-play, something similar to your direct speeches by the characters in a novel.

Narrative performance - actor as a story telling narrative performer who can switch in and out of persona.

Hereby the actor becomes at once endowed with the capability to role-play any roles in the plot, as well as remain conscious of the politics or discourse behind the text being performed. Herein lies the crux of theatre. The live performance mode presents with the distinct possibility of being in direct touch with the audience whereby we can not only tell or enact stories but also bring about why it is being done. Theatre has the ability to transcend being mere entertainment, address issues proactively.

Sadly enough, most modern and contemporary theatre have become like movies. No interface whatsoever with the audience. Because we make them too comfortable by placing them in dark halls and nice cushion seats that most times creak to remind us that we are playing in front of live audience. This also brings about a selfish smugness in the audience who is taught to take and not give back. But put a bit of light on them, and the story-teller as the subversionist who can twist tales to take you into the other perspective becomes possible in a very confrontive manner. Without confrontation there is no conflict, with this element of discomfort and consciousness, we cannot say theatre is a tool!"

Now you can see what my angst with Evam's productions is. They try to cater to an audience whose taste they have "cultivated" and have destroyed. They have created a certain smug audience whom they try to entertain (stress bust, as they have begun to call it these days). Noble and lofty ideals! but whoever said entertainment is only hall-fulls of ripples of laughter. By choosing plays they are comfortable in handling 1) they are limiting themselves to no-risk art, 2) they are precluding the audience from becoming knowledgeable about the variety of entertainment possible, 3) they just remain a clearing house of packaged routine diet of fast-food that is neither good for digestive system (here intellectual) nor profitable for the purse-strings that sees a wear and tear not worthy of the paper the currency is printed on. They claim their attempt is honest. If honesty were to be the blue-chip product of human beings, then why delude the audience by making them believe that the be-all and end-all of life is to make them be seen among contemporaries who all dress alike, drink alike, spend alike and smile alike, like automatons. Yes, they are swindling the intellectual layer of the Chennai theatre audience, who do not realise this. It is an insult. Even if the acting was genuine, it still is only bedroom comedy at the end of the day. Don't we deserve more than that in our lives? Aren't they living off our money? Our footfalls are what their statistics are made up of as they annually make their haj to the sponsors. We are being used for their commercial pleasures. At mid and late 20s they still cannot not claim ownership to responsibility. The trouble is with the minions they are sorrounded by, who again are picked by them. These minions are still in college or schools or in early-20s and do not know what it is to earn something.
TO EARN is to work hard, not hanging around a theatre house wearing t-shirts and lifting a couple of books that go into a shelf and claim money for backstage work or hang around FOH distributing fliers. These two guys slog their butt and waste their energies on people who are willing to hang in and chip in for a few bucks and some pretty belle's momentary company or vice-versa. In a sense, my respect for the generation preceding me goes up, and now I see the worth in the few paisas that our parents used to give us as pocket money. Every bit was well-spent and not casually thrown away at B&B or Coffee shops and we never could have a huge cast-party nite-outs at someone else's money. Things come so easy that the channel has no importance or what it stands for. What does it stand for? And inspite of a full house performance of Sircar's Indrajit, they have gone back to their Simons and Woody Allens! Without risk art cannot exist, because art attempts to go where life stops! To push boundaries, to cross thresholds, the discover lands beyond the horizon, that is what the metaphysics of the art is. And if this is possible in the West without compromising on the dynamics of commerce, why not? Commerce and one's own enjoyment alone cannot make art. Art is for people and the key purpose, I reiterate as I had done earlier, is to endow a certain sense of quality to the aesthetics of our lives!

Theatre stands for many things. We would not go into that philosophical rambling of it. Let us look at it on the surface. Theatre is the art of bringing alive "as if by magic" a certain world and transport the audience so unconsciously and unsuspectingly into a world of illusion, where they get born, grow, live, laugh, play, fight, cry, die... with the characters that come alive on stage". But what is happening here is that we are conscious of who does it. Theatre is magic. Once we enter the world, until the lights die out and come back for curtain call, we must not be aware of ourselves. Theatre in the hands of these and several other new people has just become like film. I am not indicating these guys have elevated the art to the level of successful mass-market commercial celluloid status. But that they have degraded it to just a non-inclusive peep show where we consciously laugh at someone regurgitating some written lines (without a certain internalised ownership feeling of the emotion) and remain themselves. There is no transformation of the artist into a role. Hence there is such an amount of pushing the humourous act when the gallery responds. Just by getting into different clothes from different culture or making-up with a different type of face-do from one's own or chaning voice or giving the acting a certain gesture patterns does not become character-playing.

I am not going to puke words like "getting into the skin of the character, etc" or "method acting" or say "Stanislavsky this, Stella Adler that, Brecht that too, et al". Very simple. Only if you are consciously telling stories to your audience to you face them, look into them or look in their direction and talk. How can one face the audience all the time? If you say there is an invisible fourth wall at which the character is facing and not the audience, then pray, why should the fourth wall always be in the direction of the audience? Or in real-time would you turn away from your partner and talk every time you speak? In theatre there is story, story telling, narrative performance and role-playing. In story telling, you plainly tell the audience something. In a narrative performance, you bring in performance aspect of gestures, emotions, inflexion, a bit of histrionics while you still retain the aspect of narrating something. In role-playing you become somebody and then be that person. The process of becoming somebody is called rehearsal. The training to cultivate the process is called workshopping the essentials of trying to rehearse. Then when you have arrived at becoming somebody, you get on stage in front of the audience and be somebody so much so that the audience lose consciousness of your presence. The current generation of actors in Chennai's English Theatre are always themselves, like all those Kollywood and Bollywood stars who are always themselves... who just keep changing costume and names of characters and dance locations from movie to movie. Star-branding is not acting. Acting is living out a life there on stage. That is why Hollywood makes stars and British Broadway makes actors.

To conclude, this production I am talking of, like many others (there are exceptions) by them as well as a couple of groups in the city, smacked of star-syndrome. Pushing their personalities and preferences on the characters created by someone who doesn't probably know his work is being performed in some other part of the world! And I was talking to some people in the aftermath of their second week of performance. These people didn't even know me, these people are not even regular theatre-goers... and they had visited the show. They weren't much off my wavelength of response to the production. The problem is in the bowl that contains the soup and the atta noodle!

Monday, January 30, 2006

A Genius of Clarity - Friedrich Schiller

(This was an article I had posted elsewhere that has ceased to exist. So just updating my web-presence with this and some other articles from past. Upon approaching the 200th anniversary of Schiller...)

Friedrich Schiller - the flamboyant heart and soul of German Literature!
Well, there was this article in Der Spiegel of 18th Oct. 2004. The title is as above. It's about Schiller and is about time we started taking stock of this flamboyant contemporary of Goethe. It's such a sin that we need to know of Schiller today in the context of Goethe, made an iconoclaustic better-known of the former's times. And I love the way Ruediger Safranski (59), a Schiller Biographer goes about how Schiller has been underestimated as a poet, dramatist, writer and most of all philosopher. He is the Poet as Philosopher.
Schiller, for the lay-men/women to German Literature, was a writer very popular in his time (aren't all geniuses and recognised writers so?). Today unfortunately Schiller is known more as a contemporary of Goethe and as a man mostly known to contemporary international audience through his stage plays such as Die Räuber (The Robbers) and Don Carlos. It doesn't say all. The man himself and his personality and his women and the sleaze that sorrounded him and his casual attitude to everything makes him more fascinating (why does an artist's sordid life attract people more than art itself? Remember Mozart? Monroe? Wilde? Oh, all you artist- and art-tits lovers, do you hear me?) and is made of stuff that makes biographies worth writing.
The first time we come to know of Schiller... So goes Volker Hage in his cover story on Schiller ('course am juicing it up a bit): "The first audience had come already about 1 pm to the theatre. They were told they were to wait for a Genius whose genius is much talked about and raved and touted about in Mannheim and the sorrounding art-circles. The 22 year old author, who was all the same at that time travelling from Stuttgart with his friend, just ran into a very buxom serving-lady of a tavern, whose company assumed more importance that he stayed behind in preference to a Performance that was supposed to start at 5 pm and expected to run for 5 hrs." What do we say? what do we assume?
And on 13 January 1782, his The Robbers opened. There was total chaos and the world broke loose and the foyer and balconies were straight out of Hell upon inhabitation by all the Fallen Angels floating about in the Phosporous Sea after being chucked out by God! The Myth has it so! The theatre was like a madhouse - rolling eyes, fiery faces, rolled fists, stamping feet, crescendoing cries of disgust in the audience area... That was Schiller's entry into the world of Theatre. Now, how dare one calls him Goethe's contemporary. Goethe never incited people to set fire... he may have set a few more hearts a-fire. But Schiller was better with his women as well! Schiller was a veritable Dantonian figure... the type of hero in real life that Büchner would have loved to immortalise.
But getting back to the Poet as a Philosopher... Schiller's idealism is all about how one continues to live longer through his power to impress, than through one's physical life on earth. Schiller achieves this through his capability to be playful with what he calls as 'perishable material'. How does one take inane stuff and make eternity out of it? To rephrase and vice-versa a statement by a Neil Simon character, the trick is in making a Goose-liver paté out of a Hero-sandwich. Consequently, we understand that we all do go down, but how much one extracts from life - without being competitive and getting motivation from outside, out of winning, doing everything to the best of enjoyment - well, Schiller's success as a writer comes from this. Is there a better ground-zero philosophy possible? Hegel and Fichte and Hölderlin held him in awe. He is compared with Sartre. Not that he needs a Sartre to compare against. But his existentialism smacked of the quintessential Sartrian hero who takes things by their balls and owns up the responsibility of success or failure thereof! And a man who explored (ask Safranski please!) more areas - poetry, literature, art, philosophy, politics and history... well what about science! - than Goethe ever did. Oh yes, he came very handy for some of the 19th century political movements, not to mention radicals, to quote from. How about this: his 100th birthday was celebrated as a national event in Germany by BOTH the Liberals and the commoners. He belonged to all. That probably was his weakness... exposing and keeping himself fundamentally accessible to all and sundry. He could never be a Goethe you see, elitism was not in him! Am I eulogising him? You bet, if you don't believe what am saying, listen to the man himself: "A Person is a whole person only where he plays." Like his Marquis Posa says, "Sire, give Freedom of Thought". Well, therein lies the core of a writer, the Might of the Word as against the Words of the Mighty!
We are around the bend at marking his 200th death anniversary. For a detailed celebration of this genius of freedom, hang in there till 9th May 2005. Oh, shall provide a timeline of his life, shortly. Until then... Vive la Freedom!

Tuesday, January 24, 2006


Title: God is Brazilian (Deus É Brasileiro)
Language: Brazilian (Portuguese)
Year of Release: 2003
Director: Carlos Diegues
Cast: Antônio Fagundes, Wagner Moura, Paloma Duarte, Bruce Gomlevsky and Stepan Nercessian
Genre: Picaresque, Travel, Comedy, Adventure, Fantasy
What happens if God is bored! With his own creation - Man. A comic adventure fantasy, God Is Brazil is a conceptual comedy. God (Antonio Fagundes) decides to take a break. Wants to go on vacation. Comes to earth, lands up in Brazil. The country is supposed to be the most religious country with most believers and more church-goers and many more missionaries than other countries. And he finds that a certain 'Quinca of the Mules' is a person worthy to be canonised so that Quinca can take His place until He returns from the vacation. God is joined by Toaca (Wagner Moura), a conman and a cheat and a fisherman son of a guy who owns a tire puncture shop on the beachside high-way of the picturesque north-east Brazil. And the two are appended with by the beautiful and young girl Mada (Paloma Duarte), who decides to join them on their way through Sao Paulo to the Bacuta Valley. This is one helluva pleasure ride both in physical sense as well as psychological sense. Deeply refreshing and really redeeming in its quality, it is really touching as well as infinitely funny. You would want to own a copy of the transcript.
Owning the transcript would not suffice simply because a transcript would never capture the cinematography or the beauty of the locales or the changing scenescapes. The movie courses through a truly poverty-stricken Brazil, but never for a moment does one feel the alarming horror in a very irkingly realistic sense to leave you feeling you have watched a stark exposition of the darker side of life. Picture this scene... God and Toaca are walking through the streets. God naturally does not feel hunger or fatigue. Toaca is a jolly go lucky guy who has no scruples when he want food or pleasure. And suddenly he hears music. Death wail... someone has died. The implication: there would be food for the mourners who come to condole. Unceremoniously he enters the house, turns his nose in the direction of the right information and joins the mourners... The almost surreal nakedness of his frivolous act of absurd seeking for food in a tragic circumstance takes the edge of what would otherwise had been a serious moment in parallel cinema! Instances are many.
And finally God does meet Quinca. Surprise surprise, the latter does not believe in God. A moment of anagnorisis leading to a personal hubris for God who gives vent to a fury unabated that makes God human in our eyes. After all, He is our Creation.
The movie comes from the man who gave us Bye Bye Brazil, back in 1979. What a romp, is all I can say!

Quo Theatre? Chapter Two or Chapter Eleven??

Headlines tonight on the 11 o'clock Crime in the City!
Last Sunday, the Patron Saint of New York Broadway Comedy was brutally murdered by a group of yuppies who claim they are stress busters. What got busted actually was the true spirit of comedy as could be performed by some effortless fine acting. We take a look at this tonight. In the second part, after a couple of para breaks, we also take a look at how this was blown out of proportions as the most selfless act of cleansing the world of dirty aesthetic craft of underplaying Simple Simon's stage oevures! But first... let's listen to the cries of someone who craves audience.
Ladies and Gentlemen... *John Williams orchestra in the BGM, Lasers lightsabering themselves in a criss-cross through the auditorium, a faint glow of neon twin masks of tragi-comedy that represent theatre in the background cyclorama stretch of the wall...or plexiglass...or whatever material your budget allows*... please welcome on stage the child prodigy - Innocente Lost-on-the-Basics Dramatidis, the kid that's roving aimlessly in search of respectable theatre shows and politically sincere theatre reviews. By 'respectable' we don't mean shows where people are clothed for the most part on both sides of the stage; or by politically sincere we don't mean writers who tend to think discovering classics of literature for urban uninitiated audiences or artists who seek artistic expressions do not or cannot bring entertainment or bust stress or stress busts, whatever the case may be!
What we mean is shows that do not conjecture that audience are dumb and want only scripts that have "hahahaha" all over (or for most part), shows that take into consideration that entertainment can comprise of anything that is absorbing for the audience so much so to help them forget what they wanted to leave behind when they visit theatre; shows that has everything put together properly and not necessarily riding on the wave of packaging ability; shows that respects the intellectual honesty of the audience; shows that don't think audience can't recognise the difference in a comedy that results from the way the play demands to be performed as against the raping of acting to push the humour to tortuous levels so much so that acting is forced upon (and wow some of the unsuspecting audience into believing your show is full of stars who can act, even if as fakely as american television operas and sitcoms) and not happened upon; shows that discount those audience who may have foreknowledge of the play being performed.

Remember, when we parade the wares we get all type of buyers. Today may seem that those who know are negligible that we can live commercially off the unsuspecting nincompoops who fill the halls with their deodorant armpits and spaghetti strappers. But before long those with foreknowledge may grow in numbers and then it's time to ante-up! The meek shall inherit the earth says the world's largest perused literature!
Now, as promised earlier, albeit after one extra para: On to the politically sincere! Well... actually let's skip this bit. These are the opinion-shapers who like to par-tay and build an illusion that life exists only to support those who give you a good unhh unhh unhh and a complementary fresca at press cons! For whom anything as complex as Art Buchwald is heavy-weight material and anything that does not deal with romance or love or flirt or gender-war is useless in a society that is increasingly leaning towards moral depravity. Singing any song for supper, it is! No... no! Singing in support of those in vogue for supper, it is! *Sheepish grin* "Sorry... occupational hazard. Actually, I don't have an opinion... any opinion... because I have grown numb to taking stance and making strong choices in a proactive way!" Awrite, we sabe!
After few long paragraphs, KK still doesn't make sense. What the hell is he writing? Ah yes. We were supposed to ask Whither Theatre. Ok. Whither Theatre?
Some kids from Visual Communication took me on the can for a docu project they were doing this evening. The topic was "Youth in Theatre". The main question: More and more youth are coming to theatre now-a-days. Is it good or bad? Would you say this is a positive trend? What is your take on this?
Cool topic, eh! Trend it definitely is. Positive? Having watched theatre evolve through the 80s, 90s of the 20th c. and groups come and go through the period till about 6 months back when the latest company - ASAP Productions - came into existence, I feel like a quotidian. Let's take a look at the theatre companies - are dealing only with English Theatre here, Tamil is very healthy in its hate-hate politics (the best part about English Theatre in Chennai is that there are no amateur, commercial, mainstream, parallel, art divisions. Only English Theatre. Thank God for small mercies!) - in existence. The Madras Players, MTC Productions, Boardwalkers, Masquerade, Magic Lantern, Thespian En, Evam, Theatre Nisha, Stagefright Productions, ASAP Productions, JustUs Repertory, Sunshine Productions, Landing Stage Youth Theatre Group and some on and off clanish circles and associations... and a couple of them are brewing at the moment. Will take a while before they get known, but not too far. There were groups such as Theatre Arlequin, Asvameda, Stagecraft, etc, etc... which came and went. Some long, some brief. There were several groups that did one-off productions, hastily put together motley bunch of part-time partying lots who used theatre to have a nocturnal romp at the after-production cast-parties and dope and drink and mope around, but they don't deserve mention here. We are dealing with THEAAAATRRRRRRRRRE! So where does diversity of theatre groups leave us? Where does such a volume of youngsters who hang about rehearsals and do anything from front of house to backstage duties these days leave us?
Very precariously. Too many people are coming to do theatre or watch theatre these days. And how does theatre stand to profit from this? Oh, what profit shofit... make hay while sun shines. I hear you. Only, don't hatchet the count before he chickens, as my friend Freddy says! Yes, theatre is turning out into the proverbial golden goose. Crowds are coming, more people are showing interest as though if there were a financial possibility, they would make theatre their career. Why not? More people, more actors. More actors, more audience. More audience, more productions. More productions, more nights of performances. More performances, better business and financial associates/sponsors. Better Finance, better attention to other aspects of theatre... Hold the phone! Who said so? Better Finance, better PR and Packaging and higher greed. That does not underline the possibility of better quality of performance.
You see, sometimes money can be pure evil (I don't abide by the dictum "it's not money, but the love for it..." Without Love for anything, where is the question of something existing for its own sake?). The very presence of it. Whether one needs it or not. Love is an essential need. Materials are not. For some, things are there just to hoard. Money is one such thing. People like to hoard. We live in the Age of Avarice. We are lost in material transformation. We are losing aesthetic balance in life. We have lost the opportunity to ascend to a higher mental quality of life. And art is part of it.
Entertainment is one thing. Demeaning entertainment is another thing. Last weekend I saw a show. Everybody in theatre is aware what show we are talking about. There were no other shows. And this is a show I had done thrice in the past. Some people call it my 5 year penance. I produced it in 1994. 1999. 2004. I know the show so well like the length of my spine (let me break some cliches). And these people know I do. Why, one of the cast was part of my show. Now am not a megalomanic or self-important sonofabitch to say someone should consideration for my presence at a show. But the implication is this. When we parade something before a larger public, we should remember that there are those with knowledge, there are those in the cheapseats of mind. This show was played to an audience that wants a voyeuristic hardon giggling at someone throwing morsels of humour written by someone else, giving it a slant that it is theirs. I was horrified when someone I knew so well and who is intelligent and sharp came up to me and said beautifully written script, no? Did these guys write it? I was aghast. What intellectual misappropriation else can you do? Than giving an ambiguous opinion that we are the creators of art? We are merely performers of other's work. That would be the day when someone in Chennai can write a-la Herr Simon of the New York Broadway. And the acting was horrible to say the least. Overacting on the lines of Desperative Housewives by the female segundo, faked underplay of ballistic tendencies in the mould of the soap-opera heroines of The Bold and the Beautiful by the femme fatale of the play, thespian spills of the sort exhibited by Late Shivaji Ganesan in the horrible quadrupled chin days of the mid-80s tamil films of his by the male lead and a little better exhibition of hyperactivity than the Safari-suited Hindi film actors of the late 70s-early 80s period by the fourth and final member of the cast. Why pray does one not recognise the difference between one's physique clothed and shoulder-bare? Looking good clothed doesn't mean looking good bare. One must recognise one's physical as well as mental assets and liabilites. If one has narrow shoulders, one should avoid exhibiting them. If one has the guts to go all way to make contact bi-labials to bi-labials, one might as well french properly. Sucking the sides of oneself desperately inside while just making literal lip-service of resuscitation is no better an act than turning away from audience to fake a kiss. And putting on inflections or pushing the speed of delivery is not equivalent to pulling off humour.
Humour lies in timing and not bawling. Going on top of the speed-gun and showing haste is not the right way to projecting the hypersensitivity and hyperactivity of the character. Sorry, Leo! The list is long. This was one play that sucked every millimeter of its way. I don't even have sympathy for the audience that burst into 1000-walas of laughters every time they heard a laugh-cue. There is a fundamental difference between laughing at lines and laughing at humour through good acting. On Sunday night, it was the former. And those who did the laughing do not know this. Or perhaps do not realise this. Anyway, goes to show, if you throw peanuts you get only monkeys. If you throw packaging you get only phonies on the other side of over-hang lights.
I respect the right of people to survive or even get rich. But not at the cost of bringing down levels of excellence in the name of "This is what the audience want". It is we who should decide this is what the audience should have. Simple: Everyone knows what they don't want, but until they are exposed to, no one knows what they exactly want. So, while dishing out entertainment, let us also create discerning audience for the future. Else we may run out of gas on the home stretch, missing out the podium. Art is all about bringing a certain aesthetic enhancement to the experience. For that to happen, there has to be a conscious process by the provider. For which a certain dedication to the craft is required. Which requires processing the product for its intrinsic value and not for its external values. Hope it strikes home in a positive way.
*Dramatidis walks down the stairs, tears for fears*

Left Unsaid

Latin America these days seems to be the happening place. It has become a bee-hive of political changes that is making the neighboring Big Brother across the Andes morphing into Rockies undergo several uncertain moments and daily dosage of panic attacks. And I love it. The political triangle of Chile, Bolivia and Venezuela under the respective leadership of Michelle Bachelot (the new and first Woman President elect of Chile), Evo Morales (the son of the soil) and of course Capt. Chavez (the unflinching and intrepid thorn in U.S. flesh) with outside boosting from the eternal Fidel Castro from nearby Cuba, is really up on to one of my favourite (fantasy) pastimes, in real time!!! They are making a calculated assault to the U.S aspiration in the arena of the latter's geo-political strategms.
It is interesting also to see a powershift all over the world. We talked about this in a different perspective in our earlier post titled The Sicilian Option. Are we finally really seeing the world come a circle and lean progressively towards the Left? Except in the U.S., where the Right is getting increasingly threatening to even take over the private lives of Academia (as to what they speak about the Bush administration in their private circles), political tendencies in the aspiring and developing world - outside Asia - looks to be veering towards the Left. This not necessarily shows an economic left tendency of socialism though! The tendency also shows in the election of indigenous heads as heads of state.
Elsewhere, the examples are Dr. Ms. Ellen Johnson Sirleaf in strife-torn Liberia and the emerging Ms. Segolene Royal in France, who seems to be gaining popularity with every dawning day. And also, what of the increasing unrest in British political circles? Is this a re-assertion or a cyclic expression of disgruntled people swinging between the only alternatives available? If so, how does one explain the change that has happened in Canada. 2+ decades of Liberal rule is just looking poised to be turned over with the latest election result. Curious and intriguing. And just the other day, Vlad 'the Iron' Putin has smartly worked around the oil and gas supply problem. But I suddenly realise: oh my God! Russia still has Europe by its balls!!! Left is after all the smarter half of our body, right?

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Of Infinite Justice and Small Things...

Ok, I was so laid up and couldn't resist writing, this one came almost impulsively. It definitely runs the risk of not letting the visitors read my previous post which is definitely more relaxed piece. But, when am on a roll, who can stop me from blogging. And before tonight, don't be surprised if there are 3 more blogs! Read on, mate!
Arudathi Roy is not just the God of Small Things who aspires to alter the scales of the Algebra of Infinite Justice, she also is a bandwagoner! And she is no loner in this area.
Writers, especially novelists these days, have become much more media-savvy than others. Perhaps they need to be more so. People in show-biz or entertainment industry or music industry all are more visible as personalities with faces. Writers unfortunately are personalities with not too many photographs in the press. Of course, things are changing now. But pray tell me, how many of you remember the face of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle or Raja Rao? Raja who? I understand. And all I need to do is say Rushdie or Rowling and the faces come flashing on view. With the changing face of the publishing industry and its need to survive, public relations and advertisement gimmicks have improved. Things are at a stage where writers are given advance and news written large about it now-a-days. The Visual and Video Media is playing a large part in reckoning the fortunes of a writer and the publishing industry. Good, good. But it has its flip-side. Like what I am talking about Ms. Roy.
She has successfully managed to keep herself in news. Two books and a celebrity. Because her first book was the recipient of Booker? Not exactly. Booker has its role, though. There is a long list of writers who win awards or become best sellers and a couple of acceptance speeches carefully worded and delivered, some magazine or newspaper's feuilleton pages commission them to be columnists. Every country has its example. And that perhaps is how Ms. Roy is more popular than her one book wonder. When you are a savvy writer who knows you can't come up with classy works everytime, you bide your time, keep visibility by churning out weekly columns on eclectic subjects ranging from Dr. Sirleaf's ascendancy to become the first African woman head of state to the squareroots of algebra and Sanjeev Kapoor's cooking to Rang De Basanti, publish it timely as a collection of essays by a popular publisher who has the muscle to publicise... lo and behold! Another Bestseller. The aura does it all. Am not saying Ms. Roy's Algebra book spawns from Sanjeev to Sirleaf. I haven't even read it. But the pattern is familiar. From Umberto Eco to your columnist writer next door. They just sing anything for their supper. What difference it makes whether you sing covers or originals as long as you sing well!
So, Sahitya Akademi recognises her book. She de-recognises them. If she accepts the award it is a news... sustainable for a month. Now it is an event. Ms. Roy refrains from acceptance. Ms. Roy protests. What protests? The protest is going to get shit, because it is getting tiresome. Too many writers are playing Errant Knights to Protest Lady-in-Distress. It is disgusting. Ms. Roy doesn't seem to have any specific personal politics that is meaningful. Isn't it sick sometimes when people who are already public figures get into these activist trips? It doesn't make sense. Beyond a point it just comes through as pure gimmick. Is this what they call insecurity? Identity crisis?? What is the need? And the Akademi is not going to give it to someone. So, her name will be on the proud annals of .html pages of the Akademi Website with something apolegetic in parenthesis, as a sour reminder that they have been rebuffed. Akademi must not pander. Come to talk of it, The God of Small Things was not even great. The Brits have no sense of recognition. Someone uses their vocabulary breadth and syntax expanse very well and amusingly, without discomfiting them, they give them Bookers and Whitbreads! 'The world', I tell you, like the Bard said in Richard II (I think!), is one huge "Caterpillar of the Commonwealth."
And people like Arundathi Roy, Orhan Pamuk, Salman Rushdie realise this. The Publishing industry realises this, the governments that issue orders against them and those that protect them both realise this. I do totally agree their politics is serious. They are committed to their beliefs and hence protest. But there has to be something called temperance. But again, probably without these buildups, the prospect of future Nobel for Literature does probably not exist. Nobel is a noble prize that recognises people who strive for peace through various fields, one of which is Peace itself. And its history seems to be getting more and more strife-torn, buffetted with figures that Fight for Peace (what an oxymoron!), its pages riddled with attention seekers as well as quieter ones who let their work talk. Now don't tell me the Rushdies of the world are genuine voices with genuine problems with a genuine right to voice anything. This Blue Ribbon is the biggest shit invented to cover up any and every crap talk. There needs some line to be drawn regarding Democratic Freedom of Speech. It's not about what we talk, but how we talk. Remember Tagore, Gandhi, Martin Luther Jr, Bishop Tutu, Nelson Mandela. And how they expressed their protest.
I think Ms. Roys and Pamuks of this world are witty but not responsible in their talk and actions. Being fire-brand and rebel is passe! Let them remember it. To hide their rebellion behind ideological discourse is not justification enough to claim the crown of attention. It is 'sad' attitude. Ineptitude not to let their writing work talk. To bring in the branding got through one field to strengthen the cause of another is glamorising the other. Which is demeaning. Hope the so-called protestants with rebel genes in their blood realise that your work speaks than your speech works. Gone are the days of rhetoric. With the prevalence of television channels and rhetoric writers dime a dozen, enough and more secretaries can be hired to pen rhetorical or soul-stirring, mob-swaying speeches. And the joke of it all is that there is a mob out there who just come to listen to a good speech, in the absence of a good movie to go to. It doesn't necessarily mean they're going to support you or vote for you.
(Sorry about the harshness, folks. But it comes from the heart. Because it hurts to see someone rebuff someone who tries to recognise you for your goodness. I may not be a fan of Sahitya Akademi. But I guess, if someone recognises you, you must have the basic courtesy to accept it with a large-heartedness than use it as a platform to fart your protest in public... and the anger was directed at someone else! Ms. Roy sucks!)

Teething pains... seething salivas

Um... ah.. ouch...
Woke up in the wee hours - 3.50 to be precise - of yesterday a.m. (not today the 18th) with a pulsing pain in the 2nd upper molar that has been troubling the past month. Shtinging so bloody paining it sent shivers through my body as though my body temperature dropped. 'Sleep with a dog and rise with a bag full of fleas' from Kane came to my mind as I jumped out of my bed, desperately fumbled and found the floor light of my room (as my mind alarmed me that I should not switch the ceiling light on with people sleeping around me) and rifled through my medicine draw, found a flagyl and a zinc (to balance), stuffed water and went back to bed. Not for the next 20 mins the world was paradise to me and the notion of God as the obviator of small and big things held nary a thing. Acute pain. Have you been through? Blood coursing through at Launch blast-off speed and pain pulsing through veins and thumps and throbs of thrummings of your every nerve and fibre feverishly headbanging across the bone-depths. Then... I slipped into oblivion as the numbing took over. Passed out to date Nithra Devi
A certain pathological grief took over my dreams as Doctors crouched overhead of me with faces full of showercaps and mouth-masks and white half-sleeves and latex gloves holding various gleaming aluminum plated metal weapons of surgical science held sway... through the close-up of this frame I sensed the distant flicker of a lone phosporescent bulb in the peripheral vision of a blurred long-shot aided by the little hole left between the convergent heads of the savlon army for dentists...
6.25 a.m. Woke up to the familiar smell of coffee and Paul Krugmann op-ed and Rohit Brijnath take-over of Nirmal Shekar's rococo excess on Australian Open. Wished the previous wee-hour happenings were a surreal dream. Nope. God was with me. Painful padre that he is, the unforgiving usherer guarding the front of house of the operating theatre with an innocent smile of "Why fear when am here?" or "Bear the Cross with a Smile son" Son of Man grin, this ubiquitous presence with various nom-de-plumes from God to Hindu Names to Communist Manifesto to Agnostic Scientific Rationale to Plain Logic for non-believers, brought about a sense of urgency about the pain.
Reminded of the fact by someone passing in my house that the two tablets I took musta bin preceded by some food intake, I turned around to find out who it was and turned around to see my paper was gone - into those hands that belonged to that voice. It was a ruse to distract me to part with my deviation from pain. Thanks Botha, broer, brother. And the general flurry of domestic chores until 9.05 pretended to distract from the acute pain that had by now taken alarming possibilities of rekindling memories of another day when I - like millions of you (wishful thinking) reading this - was subject to the existence of the scalenes and isoceles and right-angles and other trigonometric variants of lines. Yes, the pain was flubbing itself into various angles and shapes with theses and theorems forming in my head. The cause thetas and sign thetas of the adjacents and opposites were having apposite effects on my tanned gums. And the first given moment - 9.25 a.m., rushed to my near-by dentist who had proved my savior the past ten days. Clap... lap... dissolve...
Overlap of rushing bikes and whizzing black and brown and sun-film coated windows of cars, an odd bicycle tucked in... Pan through wide-lens zoom... clap to...
Couple of lefts and rights, I was parking my bike next to an overflowing Onyx bin hiding a smooth and sober white tile of Jesus in the centre, another of Om sign in the middle and yet another of Sai Baba with a mosque behind him... all next to each other at 3 inch from floor level on a sloped cement and concrete platform prefacing the dentist's clinic.  Rush...
Empty little 7 by 5 reception area with a table full of client ref sheets from previous day and 5 chairs gazed down by a shut-off television. The receptionist comes, looks etherially disinterested at my pain...
R: Name, sir?
I: Shecon uppa tee... pai... khan shphe...
R: Been here before, sir?
I: shaliva... shpit... whey shink...?
(points index finger in the general direction of faucet, smirks with her back to me, vanishes)
I: (notice the othai jadai plait with a shock of snaky 3 hair strand trailing to that butt-ressed part dressed with 3 layers of clothing and several inches above around where the medula oblangata must have been, a single saamandhi poo incongruously reminding of my yellow teeth wincing in pain) Shee... (by now have forgotten the existence of the alphabet t)
I rush to the nearest sink and gargle and spit...
R comes: "No, you can't wash there"
I: Then
(now reasonably relieved to speak) why the hell (total erichchal) can't you put a sign.
R: You must ask me...
(incredulous) Excuse me...!
R: Where to wash!
I: Where is your doctor? 
(on the defensive) He's gone out
(check the watch) is 9.40 a.m. You open at 9!
(still defensive) Yes...he came and went saying will be back in 20 mins.
(sit there pitifully ignored like Garfield at the influx of Odie)
10.05 a.m. Mr. Pain has become blood-relative. Am still sitting, legs unable to kiss the floor, doing raps in the air, ably assisted by his two commanding assistants the shin doctors. By now the whole body is practising gavottes and jigs like the jellicles in Webber's CATs... the innards of my mouth making revolutions such as being triggered by the Chavezes and Morales' and Bachelots in Latin America against Big Botha USA. And somewhere the practice turns into pirouettes of twin-globules exhibited by orange and metallic blue and tangerine pow-pow weaving cheer-leading bimbos with several pairs of globules flashed everytime they swivel around a full circle. Life is turning into a garage session of head-banging teeth-gritting... couldn't finish my thought. Get up, storm out... jump on to my bike (sung to Marley tune)... dissolve
streets on fire... (no springsteen here) libero city cruises with no lx... across the potholes of sastri nagar streets to m.g. road. Another Dentist... more protocols (god, they ask you to fill form while you want them to pull out tooth in emergency!). And when I refuse by putting up an extravagant broadway act of abby and emma and pulitzer winning pain-o-drama in mime, they rush me to the guillotine with more cushy objects sorrounding you. Annnnd... the syringe goes following the tong, past the underside of the tongue. There it is... the needle through the gums... It's over... Ouch... prick... ing of the needle only now. A warm feeling of Pink Floyd spreads me with medicinal acid. Can't even french any now. Won't even feel the snaking tongue if any gets in now. And am comfortably numb.
"Am giving you L.A. Get a couple more today. It's acute... (thanks doc, for ack.!)"
bunga bunga bunga goes my thoughts, unnh...unnh...unnh goes my speech abilities like some bimbo answering someone while being banged on the cold floor by some muscle-rippling bay-watcher inside the wooden cabin up above the sands of glamourised beaches on TV serials.
"And you need to house-arrest your speech for 3 more days (wow, i still  can sms!!!). Am putting you on anti-inflammatory (yo, thanks dento-dude-ist, I am gonna blog through and catch up with all my MDRs and Bismilla Shehnai and DVDs.), once you're comfortable, get back, we shall x-ray. May required a surgery. Bones unsettled (he means teeth) in their ranks and files and rows." By now, I thank the dent... start singing Hosannas to my Good King Wenceslas...
Pay up!
Well, it's twenty four hours... the pain in the teeth is on a continuum (on and off between bouts of metrogels and other gyls)... on a roll... And all I get is a darting blog post to boot.
still ill
rsvp asap

Monday, January 09, 2006!

Well, people of my blog roll and frequent flyers to this country, am going into a heavy workload phase for another week, I guess. So hang in there, I will continue to visit your blogs. I may or not post comments, that doesn't mean am inactive. Lack of time. Sigh! So many posts to make. My take on Putin-Gorby issue on Goodbye-ing to Lenin, my tribute to Gilliam, my walk behind the trail of legendary Piper of Hamelin upon my visit there, my introspection on the F-1 season ahead... and many more. Hopefully I shall return renewed in vigour after my work. Until later...