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Monday, December 31, 2007

DUS KAHAANIYAAN - an Indian Decalogues?

Seven Visionary Directors. Ten Spectacular Stories. One Cinematic Journey... so goes the tagline of this cinema production. That perhaps is what best qualifies this venture for this is no one single story movie or one thematically united episodic movie. No doubt, it is an impressive attempt in the Indian movie firmament, when run on the mill movies dominate with their old wine in new bottle formats. But, but...

What they did not tell you about DUS is this: the twist in the tale is the tail... and... it has probably one of the best line-up of actors since "LOC - Kargil". Nevertheless, it sadly fails to interest you. No aspersions on the actors or the quality of acting. When you have Shabana Azmi, Naseerudin Shah, Nana Patekar, Anupam Kher, Manoj Bajpai and Sanjay Dutt for acting as well as Mandira Bedi, Neha Dhupia, Dia Mirza etc to sizzle the screen... and several other impressive names and then some more, you expect a buffet of pyrotechnics and thespian thrills; but...!

It doesn't matter how good your players are, if the playing field is bad, you can't put up a good total on the board. DUS, thus, looks like the best batting line-up in the world - the Indian cricket team - that fails to deliver at the crunch. The title is the most impressive part of this Sanjay Gupta - Sanjay Dutt cohort. The 10 short films remind one of perhaps the greatest film-making attempt under a single title - The Decalogues of Krystof Kieslowski, the great Polish director; but there ends the parallel. Rambling, boring, cliched, predictable fare this one is.

Let me give you a sample. You go and judge for yourself. Or the other alternative is this, you can wait for Moserbaer or someone to bring out a 28 buck vcd or 34 buck dvd, buy a copy and see. There's no hurry here. After all, 10 stories in two sitting, if you count the interval after the first 5 tales, is a bit too much. Not every one is used to the film chamber or film association screening of two, three films in the same sitting. Or you can even borrow it from someone else who wants to add it to their collector's chest simply because it is allegedly different from other Indian films (if you discount the fact that Satyajit Ray has done it decades back!) So... let me get to the content of DUS.

We start with MATRIMONY - the first of the short flick. The flick starts very impressively. The camera does interesting things. Stays where it is or cuts and cuts back without ambiguity between Mandira Bedi's lips and her husband's glass of mango juice. He leaves, she smiles, they coo to each other sweet nothings... and then she leaves. Cut. Ms Mandira in the back seat of car, voice over: "I am Pooja Sarin, the bored and lonely wife of a multinational's vice-president". Overlooking the bad use of possessive pronoun, my mind starts thinking. A-ha! If I just replace Ms Bedi with Ms Sherawat (not much of a difference actually!), and accept neither Arbaaz nor Sudanshu Pandey are equals for Emraan Hashmi in the bilabial department, I think there is a Murder or other hot semi-porn flicks of its ilk. Only... I wonder and am piqued, how can they make a semi-porn flick that you can watch uncensored the next time you travel in a Lufthansa flight, in just 12 minutes. My fears get allayed. Soon Pooja Sarin is finished making love to her army-boy lover Adi (that's how! you skip the vital parts and like a bikini just show the bare minimum to excite the viewer!!) and he breaks the bow with a customary twang: the boy is going to the border, not before he has gifted her a nice necklace. Hey... wait a minute. Yeah, you got it figured. It's D-A-H-L, Roald Dahl all over. Yeah yeah yeah. No new year's gift for figuring it out. And do you need me to continue the story?

Well, for unwhetted viewers of populist bollywood movies, these shorts would come as whiffs of fresh breath. Each tale has the O'Henry twists in the tail. But the bottom line is... the pattern gets to you. The tail is too sun-burnt to look healthy. Movie after movie after movie of repetitions about marital discord and flings and betrayals in an urban scenario, as though the bourgeoisie and the emerging nouveau riche urban middle and upper middle class have only a metaphorical middle finger in their minds - whether it is in the back of the Mercedes or the backroom of a CEO's office or in between brunches and lunches! Mr. Sanjay Gupta must give a little more credibility to the urban livers and lovers, even if he shows only Mumbai-ites. Now the last straw... as though he and his other directors and 10+ story writers and 6 or 7 music directors as well as screenplay writers have no faith in the thespians of the movie, they push the children of bollywood's lesser gods in the first half. And what have we. Besides Manoj Bajpai and an older Amrita Singh, all the big names are kept in the back pack. Or the back pack contains inferior stories and had to be beefed up with bigger performers?

Now then! Coming to the object of my post: the movie bears no parallel to any work of art, leave alone The Decalogues by Kieslowski. There is no grace nor seeking Grace here like in the case of the Kieslowskian protagonists. Of course, both the TENs (DUS and Decalogues) have a lot of focus on female protagonists and both the lot try and grapple with human existence, but those of DUS grapple with stupid and unnecessarily glamorised sordidities of urban existence. Their daily lives have cultural myths and urban legends deflating their seeking something elusive, no doubt. Nevertheless, these concerns are absolutely trivial and would not even appeal to the majority of the urban Indians, not remotely in a broader context. Their concerns are several other things.

Only Bollywood can come up with a sold-by-the-soul belief that urban Indians have different concerns from non-urban Indians. Slickness in movie-making need not make one believe that it can happen only with slick decors, suave settings as well as suitings, silky locales and interiors aided by stylish lighting and svelte cars as well as clevage-popping heroines. Slickness is in the planning of frames and editing to aid a strong narrative. Film-making is no different from other forms of story-telling. And the telling is what is important. Not necessaril the how. There are better themes and issues to shoot flicks on. What a waste of meters and kilometers of film rolls, when there are so many struggling artists carrying dreams to emerge as mainstream directors and storytellers.

Having said that... there are three flicks that are the saving grace of this TEN TALES: Pooranmashi, Gubbar and Zahir. And the attempt to give the Jimmy Shergill starrer High on the Highway a touch of Natural Born Killers, though laughable is tenuously laudable.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Rain Rain Go Away...

Sounds silly to title a post thus after an old nursery rhyme, but... it's been one blerry frustrating long week, ever since the Met Dept actually predicted a low-pressure depression in the bay or thereabouts... and for the first day it looked pretty usual - situation normal and Met Dept mis-predicting - before day-before-night when it started getting windy in the middle of the night. After that... it's history! There hasn't been any let down in the downpour. It's pissing every blerry 10 mins. Can't go out, but can't stop panicking since tons of work is pending. On top of that... had to travel to Haddows Road at 10 in the morning on Tuesday to keep an appointment for a show slated for Friday at Oxford Bookstores. And then... after blowing about 250 smses about the show... had to cancel / shelve / postpone the show. And another 250 smses informing the postponement of the show.

Besides that... missing all the early morning Perumal kovil pongals of Margazhi since this rain ain't letting me go around the Mylapore Iyengar temples. Very depressing. The best that could be done was to stay home and savour mum's pongal on 1st day of Margazhi over Malola Kannan's rendition of Andal's Thiruppavai! Well... beggars can't be choosers.

And, unsuccessfully tried writing a post denigrating myself for sacrilegiously letting my mind even recognise that DUS KAHANIYAAN actually means THE DECALOGUES! How on earth can one even compare or dare to compare - even if at just the title level - the Sanjay Gupta-Sanjay Dutt crap with Kieslowski's gift to film world! Anyway... the movie is absolute crap. And for what it's worth, I shall try and post that ridiculous post of mine. Please try not to read it.

But but but... on the brighter side... I bought 3 books, read one and a half and ended doing another comparison (in mind of course) that shall presently take the shape of another post. Book 1 - POORVA by Lakshmi Devanath (and the book I contrasted and compared with - Poile Sengupta's VIKRAM & VETAL); Book 2 - Sri Ramanuja (in tamil). I wonder, if he were born in England, would they have knighted him and made an Anagram out of Sri? Silly PJ! Book 3 - ANDHA YUG - yes, that classic by Dharamvir Bharathi in an english translation by Alok Bhalla.

Also... re-editing and titling THUS SPAKE SHOORPANAKHA. I think I shall have it recast and performed in the near future; but not before I produced Mohan Narayan's new play - THE TRUTH ACCORDING TO DEMAS, GESTAS & OTHERS - that I've been working since January this year. That is a real record for me: actively working on one single production constantly and rigorously without a break for almost 12 months. And to think I haven't done any production in the meanwhile. Well, after about 355 days of research, 17 workshop days, 12 changes in casting and 4 re-edits besides having driven poor Mohan to the wall and wit's end, I guess we are well on the way to a good production. The cast that's been around for 12 months and the ones that got settled around last week are to be credited for their faith in me and the work. I think it is a very proud moment for me personally to have a cast-crew that stays with the process and not jumping from show to show. They really are process-oriented. We need more such in Chennai. Just this morning I was talking to another director and she felt we really need actors who would derive more pleasure from sheer work than doing roles on stage. So... the work is ready to roll out on to rehearsals. But 5 more workshop days remain.

Meanwhile, work has started happening simultaneously on 1) DOWN THE ROAD, intended for whenever in 2008. First reading for a re-cast Shoorpanakha-Shakuni show begins this weekend. And the Carol Ann Duffy show is postponed to January 14th most likely.

In the middle of all this, I still manage to steal a kutchery here and a dance recital there. I was at Pethachi this evening... a good Narmada violin recital. But, gates were worse than a Masquerade play... 20 people in the audience. Makes me wonder what is the point in pricing tix at Rs. 500 and Rs. 300. I really pity the Sabhas, but respect their patronage in keeping the spirit of Margazhi kutcheris alive. May there always be Sabhas and may Margazhi Kutchery Season be bestowed with more crowds!

Until the next post!

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Anil's Last Stand... IMPOSSICANT!

Or is it BCCI's temporary stance?

The other day - a week or so back - my father and I were on another of our afternoon, post-lunch discussion about one of the three inevitables of our desh: cricket. And he did opine that if anyone must be made captain of Indian test team, it must be Anil Kumble. The logic: well, he's had a long, faithful and earnest career, the only blemishes being those overstays in the middle with his bat when team-thinktanks had delusions that he can bat in the slog overs and a lot of hot air capable of inflating zeppelins into high-altitude places flowed between his misses and the keeper's gloves. The only thing he hasn't had is captaincy. Inwardly I cursed my father: 'why do we need to heap that insult on Indian cricket's only true sportsman and on-field player?' Of course, BCCI must have heard my father's wish and not my un-wish. Anil today is the captain.

Now of course, when every dog has his day and unrequired comebacks or retentions in the team inspite of sustained and consistent non-performances, why not Anil! He has even scored that enviable comedy of a century that put the smiles back on a dressing room full of gloom in England recently. He has batted, bowled, fielded off fours and taken catches. As Kris Srikant recently told in his own inimitable idiotic way on Times Now late-night immediate reaction to Anil Kumble being made captain of Indian Test Team, he's a South Indian and even a qualified engineer (meaning he's got a degree...)!

And our - my father and mine - discussion proved meaningful in the aftermath. But... to what end? Being captain of Karnataka as well as now of India has only been by default. Has he deserved it? I mean, these days, being captain of a team in India is not earning accolades. It means an insult. The clowns who run the richest and most sinful organisation in the world pick someone only because someone else is not ready. Anil Kumble is the clown king till the crown prince gets ready. Anil deserved it much before. Of course, the stoic soldier he is, he will strive his best, without as much as a monosyllabic ayes or nahs.

But, my heart bleeds for him.

Crusade, Spiritual Counseling and being Born Again

Ruminations - 2

Am I I? Or who am I? What is my identity? Is Identity a requisite? Does identity matter? Why then are there so many questions on identity in the first part of any application form? One thing is certain. This is a short paragraph, relatively speaking.
Ruminations - 1

This is India. I mean, we are supposed to be Indians, from the country founded and raised originally on the banks of Sindh River and spread to occupy the sub-continent. May by the use of that word "occupy" is significant. May be not. I am not commenting. All is conjecture. Then again, Sindh, Inde, India, Hind all point to one thing: this is Hindu country. At least, twas! And yet, when I look around, what do I see. Three out of ten neighbours in every neighbourhood is likely to be a non-Hindu. Frequently there is bound to be a Muslim in this list and two out of every seven can be born-again Christians or within 500 meters there is bound to be an Islamic, if not, definitely a Christian worship place, a Fancy Goods Store or a Departmental or Provision store of the local variety run by a Muslim or Christian; to add to it, in certain localities, there may even be a Dhabba and some Tibetian or North-east student community presence indicating Sikh and/or Buddhist ilk. Yet, we are shouting about Hindu and anti-Hindu sentiments; and yet further, Hinduism is termed as a trampling religion that is non-secular. Parties are being accused of being fundamental and Hindu right-wing. The Prime Minister of this country is a Sikh. The person who ramrods the President and Prima Minsiter is a Christian. More unequivocally put, comes from the proximity of Vatican. The erst-while President was a Muslim gentleman. The current incumbent is a champion of underpriveleged; by which is meant the Dah-lits. Aren't they all? And yet this is called Hindu country and being Hindu has come to mean anti-secular... because, secularism aims at vernicht-ing that so-called Hindu identity in order to bring about a certain state of multi-religious, multi-sectarian society so that people are kept divided along religious, casteist, sectarian and yes, sexarian. I refuse to call it sexist, for often, again and unabashedly, in a very partisan and polarised way, that is equated to chauvinism, as though one can't be a female sexist. You see, you can't even say feminist as the antonym of chauvinist, like you can't call Christianity or Islam or Zorastrianism the antonym of Hinduism. Now of course, Sikhism or Buddhism are excluded conveniently because they are really the elite and ignorable minority. The antonym of Hinduism is the priveleged domain of Da-lits these days, like sexism equals chauvinism and feminism is a redemtive word for rallying for a noble cause. For: anything originally allegedly suppressed or underpriveleged or opportunity-denied has come to become elite, positive, inclusive, and hence minority. Very confusing? Imagine my confusion and visualise the lines of chaos running on my visage early in the morning (if you consider 6.30 a.m early enough!) when I pick my customary The Hindu and shake the inevitable supplementary sections and daily appendages of ink on sundry newsprint to shake off the trojans and backdoors that come stuffed like lettuce in a burger. What befalls? A handfull of 70gsm Christian literature falls out! Well, I always thought these sundry lettuce stuffings only take the form of fliers for furnitures and mosquito nettings and Reliance Fresh. But no! Conversion attempts begin at 4 a.m in the morning when they get lettuced into newspapers and fall out of the bread of commode-reading habit around 7 p.m at the latest. And yet this is Hindu country. And yet Da-lits are rallying for more and more minority status. And yet a Sikh is a Prime Minister of this country. You see, this is Congress country. Every party that can threaten their stay at top would be non-secularised, every society that can undermine their peaceful non-co-existence will be campaigned un-democratic or non-socialist friendly. The commies are the exception,being a law unto themselves. As useless and un-country-friendly. The commies don't know what they want. They neither can become majority, nor can reach consensus within themselves, or can successfully divide the bread between the monkeys. And yet, they rule the people who rule the man who rules the country. So who rules the country, what country are we in, what are our guiding principles, what is our religious or secular, democratic or fundamental status? Are we being secularised or vaticanised? Are we being made minority or majority? Is minority the majority or majority the minority? Are we being subverted or converted? Do people who talk of revolution or taking over of India by the military as the only purgative, laxative, whatever-ative realise it is not even working in the proverbial "hatti" called Pakistan, India itself being the Kabab of the sub-continental spread (after all, Pak-stan was a Pak-stance of Jinnah from pre-partition India). Is it better to be isolated from the main-land sub-continent, courtesy waters of Indian Ocean, like Sri Lanka? Is this blog about religion, politics or our country? Do we even have a single identity? Is it even possible to think of a physically undivided India since we are mentally so divided? Would anyone have the sanity to take the double-barrel and blow the heads of the dynastic party that rules this country who is in turn ruled by a 'woman' who is rank-outsider even in her country of origin? Would it really be the panacea for the common good of the people of this country if the figure-heads are wiped out? Or do we need to overhaul the nomenclatures of the political offices? Why are we even made aware of these differences? While we are going over this, hundreds of infants are dying, girls are being raped, boys are being kidnapped, women are being raped on the highways of Delhi, Noida or Gurgaon in the backseats of cars and SUVs. We remain indifferent because the 24 hour newschannels have benumbed our sensibilities to horrors by packaging them for their own TRPs. Gone are the days when newspapers use to carry news. There are only olds, thanks to live newschannels. Good news are no more news. Bollywood and ramps are the only celebrative affairs worth beaming as good news, else all news is blood, gore, or al-gore or bush. Only one thing is certain. This is a very very very long paragraph.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Rahul's Last Stand

While people unaware of the title's significance should not mistake this as Dravid's 'perhaps' final stand in the company of a quick scoring Ganguly in India's second innings at The Oval, others who are aware of the undertone reference to Gen James Custer's Last Stand must realise there is an inversion of application involved here. The historical Custer took a stand against the Indians and wiped them out in an American version of Jallianwallah Bagh. Rahul the Indian (East, though) took his brave stand to wipe out the Whites (represented by English) in the recently concluded Test Series, thus bridging a relative history apparent only to crazies like me! Another metaphorical post-colonial piece of sorts! But, let's to cricket...

A lot of hue and cry - as the cliche goes - went into the making of an Indian second innings declaration at The Oval recently during the 3rd n-Power Pataudi Trophy India-England Test Series. Dravid was severally accused uniformly about an erroneous declaration tactic: it came late; later than it must have been; in the first place, he must have had the English to follow-on; an act of cowardice, etc etc.

Chandu Borde - the naam ka waste Manager cum Coach of sorts - was quick to the cover up at the press conference at the end of day 4, where England went back to the Pavilion and to nightly hibernation at 56 for no loss of wicket, secure in the feeling, at the worst, they can't lose this series. The English perhaps believe in the dictum of saving the battle even if the war is lost. Ah! that English sense of Honour and Pyrrhic victory!! Anyway, Mr. Borde quickly refuted the criticisms and allegations and accusation levelled at Dravid's decision saying the team was only ensuring that absolute no-loss situation first before anything else.

I wondered for a moment! If the same decision had been taken by a Mark Taylor or Mike Atherton or Nasser Hussain or even Ricky Ponting, how the Western media and pundits of the game would have applied plaudits that defy all logic and common sense in the name of sportsmanship and in accordance of bravery in the confines of the laws and the spirit of the game once played by the several Sirs Play a Lots of English and Aussie shores. Bah! Humbug! Nonsense and Crap! If Taylor does it, it is sporting declaration. If Dravid does it, unanimous cudgelling. The shrinking hypocrisy of it. But what else to expect, it is an Englishman's game!

The point is this. Even the fecking Indian press, especially the Indian television news channels that shamelessly have been tirelessly working proudly as foreign channel tie-ups, were bent on blackening Dravid and squeezing every bit of public sentiment and hysteria to defame Dravid, not in the interests of the game they seek to preserve through the several well-intended (or so we must believe) debates and big fights they initiate in special 1 hour slots everytime India takes a bashing. (It is another matter that if India does not get a bashing elsewhere, they will concoct one). Actually, it was a very brilliant tactical work by Rahul Dravid. The backdrop is this: no-one has successfully chased large scores at The Oval; the fifth day is infamous for its spin assistance, according to the pundits as well as the retro-statisticians of the game. And there was the risk that England, after the realisation that if they applied themselves a bit more (and some timely assistance and bursary from the umpires), they can emulate India's first essay big score, thus bat for two full days and save the test. Now, looking at how they played and almost scored 400 runs without losing out wickets much, they could have, had Dravid taken the chance to impose follow-on. What if they had scored 600 playing out a whole lot and Panesar & Anderson came back (with assistance from umpires of course) to bundle India out in the second innings. We have crumbled before. The chances of India crumbling on the 5th day to the swing and life of Anderson and Tremlett as well as spin of Panesar must have come into Rahul Dravid and the other think-tanks' calculation. And thus, it is a very wise decision to let India bat inspite of the temptation of imposing follow-on to attempt an innings win... or a 100+ target chase in the fourth innings. Also, with Zaheer nursing a leg-strain and Sreesanth not being able to find his rhythm, it was the best decision a captain would have taken. So stop taking about it, whiners and whingers of Indian cricket.

It was an absolutely wise Last Stand the Indian took against the Whites and ensured an Indian victory.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

The Anatomy of Murder and the Killing Fields

Hola... here goes the unedited version of my Citizen Report to The Grossly Commercial Company's recent international premiere of Timeri Murari's two plays at the Metro Plus The Hindu Theatre Festival 2007:
These are days when anything indigenous is exciting. I do not know whether it is a little low-esteem thing on the part of Indians. We go gaga when someone goes celeb internationally from India. Be it Paes, Sania, Narain Karthikeyan... be it embracing a newly discovered Sunita Williams... Glad to say, I don't get excited about it, because I think we Indians are no different from others if we put our attitude on our sleeve and work. But on the night of 7th August 2007, at the Metro Plus Hindu Theatre Festival, I WAS really excited for once. The reason... above all the brand building exercise of tall and hackeneyed names of luminary theatre personalities adorning the stage and groups that have become more the "got to be there" to add to the tradition and box-office assurance, there was something genuine to celebrate.

The Fest had its First. A Chennai playwright premiered at a Chennai Theatre Festival... aptly so in the Chennai Chapter. I think, the Chennai Chapter is a good idea. For those people grousing about Chennai Chapter in a condescending way, I guess over the last three years, the quality dished out from visitors has left often times a lot to be desired and it is to the credit of Chennai groups, they have acquitted much better. And last night The Grossly Commercial Theatre Company's international premiere of our own Timeri Murari's double bill on the anatomy of murder and killing and assassins' minds was something Chennai ought to be proud of.

The first play on the attempt to assassinate Salman Rushdie by two naive villagers desperate to make the big bucks was a very poignant and telling statement on the lure of the filthy lucre. It is many things at many layers. These two bumpkins are no different at one level from the agrarian exodus to the cities to get better living. At another level it is a study of a contaminated human mind that is very Faustian in the hands of the lady who is their Mephisto, luring them to sell their souls to a cause they don't even comprehend or believe in . But in the end it is a very BoBo-GoGo Becketian predicament, having waited for their own Godot, as they realise the futility of it all. The idea was beautiful. Mr. Murari had chosen his concept well. The only problem about the script was... like so many of Indian scripts, in the execution the shadow falls. The amount of platitudes and cliched expressions creeping in in those moments when the playwright starts getting into the psychological and philosophical territories detracted from the theatrical illusion we were getting mesmerised into. The moments of theorising were agonising to say the least. Could have probably avoided. But knowing it is a first performance script and not yet published, there still is time to rework to make it a finer piece of theatre to have emerged from Chennai yet.

The second play... well, was nothing to write home about in terms of scripting. But the narrative flow was neater and the dialogues were very Fugardian. It really reminded me of the two convicts in The Island by Athol Fugard. Except these are an old assassin and a young and proud killer. Ishwar was simply fantastic, to put it mildly. "The Killing Time" was and will remain an example of what the power of theatre is! If you put two right actors who are capable of bringing out a good chemistry and pit their pride and acting talents against each other... it is a director's coup and it is to the credit of director Deesh Mariwala that this play worked from page to stage. His minimal style of theatre making complemented an evening that would have been spoilt with sets and sound for distraction. Again, as regards the script, though it was taut in its narrative structure and inventive in its cyclical style, I must say I left the hall wondering like several others whom I heard discussing, was it the acting that won the day for the playwright? In any case, last night Chennai Theatre was the winner and richer for that experience. If this is the sign of things to come, forget the Ghosts of Christmas Past and let's look forward to the other two plays in the Chennai Chapter that has already shown a remarkable departure from the pitiful spate of comedies where wannabes hang about to be seen. Here is a Chapter that is Theatre with a T, despite its many teething shortcomings, that I hope gets sorted as it grows!

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Notes from Nowhere - this and that blogettes

Nimitz and the Left-paranoia - A Crocodile and the Monkey fable

USS Nimitz had arrived and finally all the crowing about had come to nothing. They docked 2 nautical miles away from Chennai coast. The Marxist Left was not right, as they most times are. Everyone is missing the point. Everyone is making a beeline for shouting about India's security, as though these are uncompromising guardians of Indian security. Put them all on the border to face the infiltrators, then we'll know. It's easy to do armchair speculation and talking as though they are the guardians of the fortress that India is. Even as the resident-sailors of USS Nimitz are busy helping clean up slums and NGO premises for underprivileged, a lot of unnecessary noise is being made to politicise their presence. Well, I don't for a moment think the sailors going out to slums is a diversionary tactic while something ominous is brewing inside the Ships with people sitting on computers and studying the South and South-East Asian region.

Ultimately everyone is missing the point about the docking of USS Nimitz on Indian shores. They are not recce-ing India, by any chance. What are they going to gain doing that when they're willing to sign Nuke deal. It's probable that the signing itself is a trade-off for bigger things, of which Nimitz-docking is probably but an aperitif. Not even Pakistan then; or on a long range - Iran or Iraq. Everyone's pretty clear now on Iranian uraniaum enrichment situation. My guess is China. Or is there another significance? Are we missing the point: Bush is conveniently meeting Putin back home in Maine, while Kremlin had been vehemently trying to make the US not deploy Nuclear Shields and Scanners in Central and Eastern Europe. Is this a diversionary tactic that US is good at playing? Remember, the whole idea behind US going to war - every, every time - is that the incumbent President is battling problems internal and busy trying to last the term as well as to shift citizens' focus on something international. And the Democrats are all over the ruling Republicans currently too! So, Putin must watch out says the bird inside me.

The Belfast Confetti

Well, at the end we won actually handsomely, for once. And what a needed win that was! The Future Cup would not have silenced the cynical and the stoical of the choicest critics of Indian Cricket; but it sure has come at the right time. Beating South Africa two games in a row in a climate which one would expect the South Africans to exploit better means a lot to Indian Cricket at these beleaguring times of transition. Especially to travel without a coach.

In Bangladesh there was at least a make-shift Manager-cum-Coach. One must say, having started his playing career as a middle-order nuts and bolts all-rounder, Ravi Shastri had been a makeshift opener at one point, before settling down in that role and take the cake away from poor Kris Srikanth in the 1985 B&H World Championship Cup. Ravi Shastri is a master at this art of pulling the rug from rightful owners and he did that in 1985 while actually the opening partnerships India had then were courtesy Chika. Similarly in that infamous Pakistan tour at the end of which we squared (no mean achievement under circumstances) an away series, Chika was stripped of captaincy and axed from the team along with a debutant Razdan who had a 5-wkt haul, while Shastri survived. Almost a decade later, Shastri by being the right person at the right moment, cornered the glory in Bangladesh. And he knew. He left back to join his ESPN commitments. So it came to pass the Indian team travelled to Ireland without a proper Head Coach. Of course Robin Singh and Venkatesh Prasad did an admirable job. Chandu Borde sat around like Bheesma Pithamaha. Zak and Yuvi performed. Sachin enjoyed his cricket and Ganguly stayed to survive another tour. But, but...

The heart of the matter is, we did it. My earlier writing about a foreign coach and Chetan Sharma's perennial crowing on The Fourth Umpire in DD-National came to be vindicated. We did it without a foreign coach. That is the best part. See, Swaraj is always better. The Future Cup is ours. But is the future secure?

At least for the English tour, I think so. Except for the continual bomb scares. If it was so heartening to see the coronation of Yuvraj from the Crown Prince that he is to Mr. Atlas of Indian Cricket after two back to back winning finishes, it was even more poignantly sweet to see Sachin acknowledge the fact by announcing to share his Man of the Series award with Yuvi. Actually the second ODI we won would not have happened if Yuvraj had not given that solid performance with both the ball first and the bat later (or is it vice-versa?). Agreed, Sachin's 93 was important. But after India lost both openers and were tottering at 134 for 2 and then Dravid and Dhoni departing, we would have died. So, Yuvraj's contribution was bigger. But for some strange reasons Sachin got the award. And finally, it is sooooo nice to see all and everyone in Indian Cricket embracing Dinesh Kaarthick whole-heartedly. Finally, a Tamil Nadu player seems to have won one and all without any reservations. Of course, Ajay Jadeja doesn't count in the picture by any distant imagination. Kaarthick's Belfast Confetti in the company of Yuvraj to take India to a finish is something am going to keep fresh in my memory for a while!

Nishabd - an RVG Factory Shower

This is one movie that's definitely not off the Ram Gopal Varma conveyor belt. He has worked at it. I sat to watch the movie with a lot of reservations: would it have been better to have a younger Emraan Hashmi instead of AB, having heard of the storyline? But thankfully it didn't turn out another Murder or The Train. Very refreshing. Except, I must say RGV is turning out to be the Kitschlowski of Indian Cinema.

There are some scene compositions in Nishabd that reminded of the Kieslowskian treatment. Still scenes with the sheer weight of silence. The filter treatments. The glaze and the sheen of the environment put to aesthetic use. Revathi's unspoken declamation when another melodramatist director would have given her reams and reams of dialogues right out of Balaji Telefilms script. And much more. But somehow, at the end of the movie, it all sounded silly and corny. It is a kitsch movie at the end of the day. Awww... Jiah Khan is sure a winsome wench, but somehow I fell for AB's daughter (played by Shraddha Arya) in the movie. It's tough and difficult being a daughter of such a father who has a Lolita-complex. Ultimately it is an unabashed Indian version of Lolita, except, a lot of pains have been taken to romanticise a sexual subject which is so passe. And that makes... RGV definitely our Kitschlowski!

Ruminations on a Review: The cultural politics involving Flame of the Forest

I had not intended to indulge in the cultural politics of the FLAME for obvious reasons. But now that it had been - quite deliberately, if I may hazard to say - touched upon, we must analyse the consequences or the spinoffs of the same in the light of the recent review of the play in The Hindu. And decide for ourselves is it welcome? The work is welcome; but if there was a culturally subversive politics hiding in there, should we take the scythe and harvest the Count Vlads of Sabha Culture - meaning the "rashikas" - away from our theatre? Truly, this write-up belongs to the dedicated sections of Friday Supplement where the arohanams and adavus are discussed. But no!
Look at this little example from the review: "Flame of the Forest... has introduced the Tamil theatre tradition in English. The tradition harks back to the Natya Shastra of Bharatha ...where dnace and music were integral features." And read the last para: "As a new genre in English theatre, it could very well widen the circle of audience in Tamil Nadu and elsewhere." First, English theatre has its own musical form. An extension: Chennai has its fair share of musical and dance theatre in English, even if it is random. Second, it is not the introduction of Tamil theatre tradition in English. Has been done before. Third, is this the writer's first time watching English theatre in Chennai? Fourth, there really is no English theatre in Tamil Nadu elsewhere but Chennai. Fifth, I dread at such a possibility of widened circles. Questions arise in my mind...
The questions that arise are:
- Should an audience have a foreknowledge of the history behind the work on attending a play?
- Should one know the basics of theatre or the functional grammar of a performance one is watching?
- Or is it just enough if they remember the watching etiquettes?
- How valid is an artist in thrusting his/her choices, preferences, foibles and whims and fancies on his/her audience deliberately? Does it not amount to evangelism?
- What must a review do?
Having asked these questions, my mind surfaces with the first salvo. The review in question - or if they want, for argument's sake, to keep their conscience clear - the writing on THEATRE column is the most singularly patronising piece of embracing a dangerous cultural politics I have come across in theatre in recent times. It shows the writer well-read, learned in the arts (probably) that she's talking about. It also shows the writer as a nostalgist for all practical purposes. This is a very dangerous sign of things to come. It is in this light my questions above have been raised. Let's see them one by one.
In my previous post on the play, I had consiously avoided discussing the story in its context as it has no more relevance to us than Mr. Bean watching a horror movie, which only tries to entertain us. Assuming I would not have known the history of Tamilnadu and had gone to watch the play, I feel it still is irrelevant. Why should I know who Mahendra Pallava was, who Sivagami was? There is no rule of the thumb I should read the original. It is not Bible. Even if it is, why should one read it? It is the same argument put forward by entertainment critics at loggerheads with literary critics and historians. In order to watch Electra why should I need to know Agamemnon was killed, in advance? Or should I necessarily Wiki myself on the Google how Hamlet Sr. was killed to watch Hamlet? Is a pre-knowledge essential? And if so, to watch extent? To what end? Is it to show, "listen folks and juntaa who are here to watch this play, I know the work better than you do, so am qualified to write about it, if not discuss it to clanking bangles and wine-glasses at a private party"? Or to put the seen performance in the true light saying "I know the background, so I know what am writing about and hence I can truly properly explain to an uninformed audience"? So, to pay tribute in an unabashedly nostalgic way is limpetty and harking back to something from the past, which is to say, something is lacking today.
What was yesterday cannot be today, but in the fashion cycle it may come round the Ferris Wheel of culture tomorrow. But to say that someone is bringing something from somewhere to elsewhere it is not present is to not question whether it is valid for the elsewhere or not! Why is it important? Without that can English theatre not exist? This nostalgisation of theatre is a new derivation in Chennai. At least among the critical aficianados. I do not want to discuss when it started. Then we may have to go into a lot more muck than we are now. And if all linens are proven dirty as charged, there won't be any left but the naked truth. Though that may lie in the middle, it definitely won't be the middle path. We may all have to take up cudgels and start slam-dunking each other goriously (I would have said gorily, but can't resist the hidden sham-glory!)

Artists have sought to consioucly eradicate theatre of its elitism in the English theatre circles, bringing the levels even. At a time when what is needed is to awaken interest among the theatre-goers in a non-political but genuinely experimental way so that audience get involved in the factual possibility of creations, we are starting to either resort to the creation of dumb, mindless farces and comedies like fast-food (and hence the creation of a 'Fast-food Theatre') or create culturally grammatical classical theatre with a lot of nostalgia for the dance and music and costume, which we need only on dance stages or music sabhas. The former can be excused, but not the latter in the opinion of, I am sure, the more politically conscious left-inclined theatre artists.
We must facilitate the watching of theatre for simple minds, which is the audience that would readily pay without any other agendas but to see theatre than being seen. If we need to create better working environment in terms of finances to facilitate better productions, without having to resort to mileage-sucking corporates and private organisations, we need to learn to generate finances through gates and that is possible only by simplifying theatre without forsaking the aesthetics. After all, art is all about bringing aesthetic quality to our lives. And we have to start dealing with real issues (which actually FLAME does, but is conveniently forgotten by theatre watchers) than superfluous and incidental paraphernalia. If the demands on audience grows, forcing them to equip themselves with preknowledge or challenge them in unrequired ways, we would only get audiences who are educated. And the ratio of educated money to illiterate money is very thin, as we know. Also, it polarises those who would like to come to English theatre, seemingly from an un-english theatre background. Make no mistake, even if the theatre work doesn't underscore this fact, the write-ups do. After all, the write-ups reach the household whereas the audience go to the theatre and you know which has more reach and hold!
It is not long before there's going to be a street-fight. You may laugh now, probably. You never know, in this country. Did we ever envision a Reservation Politics? One day the class and racial prejudice problem that has emasculated itself as casteist politics in our society is going to extend itself to the theatre. In fact, this is what has polarised Tamil theatre for decades. Even the Sabhas aren't doing well and that is no secret. And highlighting such politics hidden in the play by talking about the so-called (for lack of better phrase) Kalakshetra elements, we are only treading into unwanted territories. Let's talk about dance and music without involving certain signifiers.
Also, by cross-pollinating theatre thus, we are eliminating the simple joy of watching and forcing a certain section of audience out of theatre, and bringing those undesired, so-called cultured rasikas that cannot discuss or bother about anything "real" life into halls. A lot of these people have no concern for reality and live in a comfortable world of travelling by four wheels, drink Malt Whiskey and discuss Kalki or Christie in oh-so-fashionable ways. They can only skim the surface of society because the stench of the sub-surface is anathema to their very upbringing and ancestry. And this review is so feel-good that it glorifies the periphery aspects of the theatre work, whereas there are many more redeeming and noteworthy features to FLAME. The writing is so form-centric.
Theatre is not all about putting things nicely. Theatre is not a place for interior decoration. Theatre is a place, at the bottom, to discuss issues, however much a work may not do it openly. In fact, the beauty of theatre lies in sub-textualising the issues and the duty of criticism is to bring it to the surface. FLAME is from a writer who translated Kanya Dhaan and we know what the latter work is all about. There must have been non-apolitical reasons for any writer to create or translate a work. The writer of FLAME must surely have had such strong reasons for translating Tendulkar's work, and that is something the review in question just about barely touches upon. Such writer belongs to such audience, perhaps.
This is the truth, note this: a lot of them don't even know a menu button from call-end button. And they all carry fashionable Nokias and Motorolas in their handbags and speak sabha vocabulary of Tamil in a very accented English tone. These are the audiences the artists of late-80s thru the 90s had consiously tried to distance from theatre unless they came to accept artists of any plumage with an open mind, the only criterion being the strength of the production. Would they be seen in a show by any or every company, irrespective of the branding or who's who of the show?
Furthermore, the current patronising review, by referring to TKS brothers, only tries to revoke the dormant T-rex eggs of elitist culture. But then, the TKS plays from my hear-know from my parents and grandparents did seem to have popular elements as well!
Personally my anguish is not against the play in question. Every artist has the right to creation. Every performance artist has the right to bring on stage what they like. And as long as it is for creative purposes, it is welcome. It adds to embellish and punctuate the growing annals of culture, tradition and history. For we are very clear, without tradition and history, culture cannot be enriching or rewarding. But when this starts getting eulogised by critics who are supposed to be at the vanguard of writing and giving the truth and nothing but the whole truth about the work as is where is, it is unwelcome and subversive and counter-productive.

Take this statement: "Gowri extends her grandpa's story with a convincing sequel...." How much more subjective and personalised can a writing get? Is this what a reviewer must do? How much ever one masks the writing in the name of THEATRE or something that doesn't quite say REVIEW, it is an after-performance piece and hence an opinion, a view-point, etc etc.
When one writes in a personal space for discussive readership it is a different matter. One is entitled to one's opinion and so is a reader; and we can start exchange of opinions, views, get argumentative, debate, conflict, contradict etc etc, which at least leads to exchange of ideas. But when it goes up on a public space which people pay to read, you are corrupting possible minds that just read and lap it up. These could be the young children of these "rashikas". Probably the formers' minds are still naive and uninfluenced. Let them choose their entertainment form. Don't give opportunity to these rashika-parents to evangelise their children's choices. Or at least stop playing your part in shaping their choices. What else are we artists there for? You do your job, we will do ours.

Except for the penultimate para which just states something very unconvincingly something superfluously unseemly about the play, read the writing and let me know if there is anything boldly unpatronising about this!

Please by all means use music, dance, etc etc in theatre. This is the quintessence of theatre. It is such a fantastic multimedia confluence to tell stories in ever so interesting fashions. But do not make it elite and take it out of the reach of people who have been coming to it all these years. It would not be right to say, were one to say, we are 'attracting' audience to theatre through the opulence and richness on stage. And please don't quote Bharatha and his Natya Shastra and sully his name. That's like saying "Tom Jones" or "Tristram Shandy" was the first work of meta-fiction!!! First let us sustain the existing (whatever) masses, then talk of bringing new classes in.
Honestly, the day I visited, all I could see were blonde and brunette heads ethnically dressed... or side-parted and clean-shaven, and if not abroad educated, at least proudly possessing one person of the family in Wisconsin or Strathclyde or wherever types, who had their phones on and were half the time caught with their 'palms itching to make love to each other in the name of clapping' between scenes. And they did not even know whether their act of wanting to clap is right or not. See their hypocrisy? Their upbringing tells them it is untimely to clap and disturb the actor. But their instincts tell them that the scene either deserved to be clapped genuinely or their upbringing has taught them that one needs to clap to show their polite approval of what they saw... and hence thus be recognised as being present in the audience. A lot of insecurity is the sub-text of this dubious and sneaky act. Whereas a genuine watcher would have expressed his/her enjoyment uninhibitedly. These are the people who go to watch Yehudi Menuin when he comes to Music Academy and clap at all the odd-ball moments.

Take it from me, we are going to witness the Second Coming of the Discerning Elitists to Chennai's English Theatre: the moneyed class that do not mind throwing 500 bucks to get a pit seat proudly in Museum Theatre. You remember what pit meant in a Shakespearean context? These are only refined aficianados of the pit. I think we are unfortunately sinking in the quagmire of Fast-food theatre while the hand that reaches out is Nostalgic-Heritage Theatre. The makers are not at fault. They are being encouraged by those who are smart enough to realise business-opportunities. Somebody is driving the market subtly. Wake up artists!

Saturday, June 30, 2007

Love and War in the Time of Call-Era

Non-Disclaimer: This is an opinion post and not a review. However, it is not devoid of review-elements!

I saw the play Flame of the Forest produced by JustUs Repertory in association with The Madras Players, written and directed by Gowri Ramnarayan and acted, in most parts, by people whose features I could not delineate and would have failed to recognise had I not known their faces from previous exposure to the cultural legions of Chennai. So much for mood lighting. In fact I left with the feeling that the play would as well have worked better - given a certain decent tautness of the script that surfaced on and off to remind you that a play can transcend the production if well written - with just a few parcans for general lighting.

Now to the author: my first exposure to Gowri Ramnarayan was in 1997 when I 'also' figured in a local production of Vijay Tendulkar's KANYA DHAN, translated into English by her (which incidentally was performed by a travelling Mumbai group on the same day as the FLAME in a near-by venue). And my recent closer acquaintance to Gowri Ramnarayan started in 2005 through her Dark Horse and an acting stint in her second oeuvre Rural Phantasy. My admiration for her as a translator and writer is high. The essence of translated and/or adapted work of art is that it must not mess with the quintessence of the original. She seems to be a master craftsman at that.

I have not read nor can I claim to read Kanya Dhan because I can not Marathi; but, having read both Kanayazhiyin Kanavu (which became Rural Phantasy) and Sivagaamiyin Sabatham - Sivagaami's Vow - (which has now inspired the Flame of the Forest), as well as my share of acquaintance with one Prof. Neelakanta Sastri's works, I can earnestly acknowledge her honesty and dignity as a translator and history-oriented writer. Now here is the truth: among her four stage works that I know of, only one is original. FLAME. Even her Dark Horse is largely made up of Arun Kolatkar's original writings, around which and the poet's personality and life itself the play revolves. So I would like to see a totally original conception and creation from Gowri Ramnarayan before I would involve myself in the analytical vocation of a literary critic that I was trained 8 years for through my Ph.D period. Nevertheless, I would still do it gingerly because I am not qualified to critique a work that involves areas of music and dance I don't know the grammar of!

About the productions: Gowri's conceptual vision as an artistic director is coupled with the dramaturg in her. As a result what one gets - if one gets to meet her and hear from her about her show before the show hits the public eye, that is - is a very rich visceral image stretching grandiosely over two hours of performance time in our mind's eye, where she makes you visualise the resplendent colours of the scheme, not to mention the entire texture and the hardness or softness of the light. I still remember her explaining the last tableaux of Dark Horse, with the golden halo behind the Arunachaleswara posture that Drithiman goes into! But somehow for some reason I have often found T.S.Eliot true: "Between the idea/And the reality/Between the motion/And the act/Falls the Shadow... Between the conception/And the creation/Between the emotion/And the response/Falls the Shadow."
In a sense this is very true of most artistic directors (those I would call artistic since there are a lot of hacks who masquerade as either artists or directors in Chennai) because of the kind of circuit we work in. It has not to do with the paucity of talents or raw materials or designers who can envision the director's mind. It simply has to do with our inability to push the boundaries of creativity in a compromise to hit the stage as scheduled so that our fear of 'the longer you soak, the soggier it gets' gets allayed. I do not see the point. A finer thing would be to not set a production target date. Work on the paper and at rehearsals till you reach the stage where it can be shared with the first public, meaning your designers, then set a target date and start run throughs or tweak throughs. Of course, for that you need patient artists or at least actors, who understand the creative process and plod on. For the rest, there are bedroom farces and leave-your-brain-in-the-freezers 90 minute entertainers where you can keep your cellular phones on!

Coming back... I have personally listened to Gowri explaining the visuals in Dark Horse and with the then given resources I could not even produce 10% of her colourful vision on stage when I helped technical assist one of the runs in Chennai. Then, Rural Phantasy too... I remember her elucidations of what she had envisioned. I hope she got what she wanted. I really can't comment on it since I was an accessory fixture to the sets and lights on stage during the performance. Hope I didn't disturb her vision, standing out as an odd-piece of jigzaw that refused to paste itself properly. And now FLAME: I have heard from her once about the production plan. It sounded great. Probably as a result of that descriptive session, the show disappointed me.

FLAME is a play I would like to draw parallels with Via Dolorosa by David Hare, Sticks and Bones (to a limited extent) by David Rabe as well as his best screenplay film Casualties of War (starring MJ Fox and Sean Penn), Andorra of Max Frisch, Friedrich D├╝rrenmatt's Romulus the Great and some others. The reason. It talks about war and the senselessness of the same in a society bereft of any values. The play much reminded me of Duerrenmatt's Romulus the Great and its final scene where Romulus, the last Roman Emperor (according to the play) and Odoaker, the invading Teuton meet after the plot has managed to create a greater anticipation for the better part of the 2 and half hour story. When they finally meet, we realise how both actually hate war. Astounding work Romulus is. Similarly FLAME in the scene where Pulikesin and Mahendra Varman meet. Of course there is only one side here lighting the candle, while the vile jackal under the skin of cow that Pulikesin is, he promptly and expectantly backstabs the Pallava king. Mahendra Varman is an artist trapped in a Kshatriya body (much like Arjuna in Mahabharat) and he pays the price for not behaving the Warrior he was. It is a humane work, FLAME is, much needed in these times of (misguided) Love and War in the Time of Call-Era.
However, much as I liked the play, I doubt how many would have appreciated it as a read. For its part, the script is not without its little faults; the pace for example. As a work of writing, the action decides a certain tempo for the plot to develop, in the case of any playscript. Since it is not always possible to create a frenetic tempo just to engage the nails to the teeth at the print level, the director has to find a way to balance this slowness when the work goes on performance, especially in a climate where grey means boredom and miscomprehension of slowness for lack of tempo. Perhaps this is then one area where the production failed. Especially given the fact that the playwright and the director are one and the same. Often the sag in tempo was glaring. It could be due to several factors. Nevertheless, in a work that is polemical, the production must close the gap between the page and the stage. Agreed that it was the opening night; still... one expects the work to open in good shape. The opening night word could make or mar a production and that has happened in the past everywhere. The fade-ins and -outs and cross-fades added to the woes. A simple rule of thumb of lighting for theatre is that before or even as the actor reaches the space of action, the light must find him/her. The light almost always came after the actor started speaking, leading one to conjecture the technicians perhaps did not get to attend or have the comfort of enough run throughs. This further abetted the problem of concentration. It made listening to the dialogues difficult. I mean, there was a lot of discourse and subtext in the story.

The point further is: the play is a treatise play. And the problem is: most Chennai audience have no aesthetics for such plays. You provide them comedies, they appreciate. So you could imagine my chagrin when I was more concerned about the cellphone ringtones I kept hearing because the performance failed to grip the audience who had turned up 1) because they have heard or read Kalki's work, 2) to hear and watch some good Carnatic music and Bharatnatyam Dance (that have become the draw in Gowri's shows) or perhaps because 3) Priyadarshini GOvind was dancing (similar to T M Krishna singing in RP earlier). One of the three or all. In any case, so you reap as you sow! And how do you expect an audience that is used to Sabha dramas or Kutchery listening and Dance watching to suddenly behave in a way one would expect an ideal theatre-goer to behave. It is high time we used mobile jammers in the auditorium. In the end, I felt cheated and deprived of what could have been an exhilarating experience given the potential for production. Now, I cannot even claim to do a proper review of the show because it was a very harrassed watch. FLAME is a nice literary work like RP as well as Dark Horse. We are perhaps not yet ready to be treated to theatre productions of these plays. But, brave then is Gowri who keeps walking Via the metaphorical Dolorosa everytime she creates her Iyal-Isai-Nataka creations.

Having said this about the production, I still do not hate everything about the production (psst! psst!), except that it is the misfortune of earnest theatre practitioners of Chennai to be caught or stuck with an audience that is in an eternal cycle of elitist and socialite warp. No one wants to watch a play with total attention. No artist can expect to spellbind all the audience all the time, but audience must realise that they have an equal responsibility to put an effort to make the show happen. Even where it may not bother the actors on stage, it does to your friendly neighbour. One of these days the "sssshssss!" are gonna turn "quiet or quit". Then the friend in the next seat may turn the fiend that pokes your ribsides! On the other hand, if we really do push the stakes on the audience by transferring the weight to them by giving intense scripts with emotionally draining and challenging and risky performances, we really can salvage some genuine audience. For the rest, the word is QUIT. Or go watch farces. But are we ready to lose those few hundred or thousand bucks in the bargain? I guess so! Not that anyone's salary or income in Chennai comes solely out of theatre as of now.

By the way, I visited the performance on the premier night, on 29th June 2007, the Friday.

Sunday, June 03, 2007

Doubts re-surface...

Hello... anyone out there? Hey-loooooo.... anyone who can clarify this Dalit identity issue about which one of my recent posts talk???

In the meanwhile, there have been two occurences that further muddle my search.

1) I saw a footage in one of the 24-hour News Channel showing a mass conversion of 2000 Dalits to Buddhism in Mumbai
2) In today's The Hindu, there is a news item about how the Dalits are planning to protest by forcing their way into the Draupadi Amman Temple near Salem, to which they have been denied entry by the caste Hindus for the past years.
My researches on the web haven't yielded the result I seek. Could someone out there clarify my confusion. Who is a Dalit? Or what constitutes a Dalit Identity?
Thanks and much obliged.

This summer thus far...

It has been a very interesting summer, away from the heat outside, from the hurly burly of rehearsal-driven theatrical existence... full of reading, writing, introspection, watching movies, analysing books, movies, energising and stimulating discussions with friends who read the type of works I read! And... of Gandhi.

I discovered one Mr. Gandhi, also known as Mahathmaji and the Father of the Nation! How? Why?

How come, and now suddenly? would be a more appropriate question. I'll tell you how.

In recent times, my re-introduction to Gandhi came in the form of my working with Gowri Ramnarayan during the Rural Phantasy production, about which I had written elsewhere in about two posts, within this blogspace.

Re-introduction, because, at some point or other, all of us go through Gandhi either through English or History text syllabus. But then, how many of us really take Gandhi at that point of our lives except as someone who can get us 2 or 5 or 10 marks to some question we answer in some examination. Of course, forget the fact that we are on day to day finger (our) to face (his) terms with him through currency coins and notes!

I have been for a while now (if 5 months count as for a while!) working on this new and as yet unpublished playscript by Chennai playwright Mohan Narayanan. Among several other things the play deals with Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi. Appropriately, this is the 150 year of India's First War of Independence (about which a lot of furore has been raised in the media), 100th year since Gandhi's acquaintance with Thoreau's Civil Disobediance (that great tract that changed the course of American struggle against the British, like ours), which was to forever change him from his UK-educated lawyership to the Ahimsavad that he later became, and the 60th year of our Independence.

As part of the on-going work, I have been doing quite a bit of research. First, I saw Attenborough's film Gandhi, with an open, first-time eye. It is quite a difficult task to see something again as if it were the first time. But this film this time was really different. I saw it three times again and again, not because I wanted to understand as part of the research. But the sheer magnetism of the script drew me again and again. I do not remember remembering through the watch that I was here to research, look for something, rewind, etc etc. And then, I listened to a lot of those Bhajans and songs of MS that Gandhi was supposed to have paid audience. Well, what can be said of MS. She is... MS! Of course, this doesn't deter me from my daily quota of MLV and MDR. Somehow, those are my favourites. Probably because of the very different type of voices they have (in spirit and tape, if not in real-time anymore). And... am currently reading R.K.Narayan's Waiting for Mahatma. It certainly is a different experience among all the other RKNs.

I have read a dozen RKNs or probably more. I always get carried away by the simple charm of those Malgudi descriptions and the realistic characters. Waiting for Mahatma is more. I have a few pages left and am going to face a huge void after am done with it. Alongside, there are other books I try and read on a few pages a day basis so that monotony doesn't set in or one book doesn't affect me totally. Some may argue that it may take away the totality of reading experience. It somehow doesn't and hasn't till now. Each book is a living thing of its own and brings a different encounter experience of its own as much as each person we meet. Anyway, the first two parts of the book have been very moving in their earthiness. Although the book is dominated by Sriram the protagonist, the on and off presence of Bharathi is so 'hitting'. She really brings about the Gandhian in one. The work begins with Gandhi's arrival in Malgudi and by the end of the first part, as he leaves we begin to wonder how will the book sustain, there are several more pages to go. Like Caesar's absence in Julius Caesar beyond almost the mid-way point of the book, so is Gandhi's. His phantom lingers. Let me tell you when I finish. It is a good read.

In the while, I do not know whether it is by pattern or accident or design, whatever material I seem to touch, it seems to involve Gandhi. Could anyone explain this phenomenon? I started doing a bit of reading upon the Boston Tea Party, for a little presentation coming up on the eve of July 4, lo and behold! I end up reading about the Salt March. Actually, there is a lot of similarity and difference between the Dandi March and the Boston Tea Party that's quite interesting to note. This is not the first time it has happened to me, this phenomenon. Still...

I can sense some little changes coming over me (no no... I don't and won't own a charka!) in the process. May be it is for good. I leave it to time to throw light.

Monday, May 28, 2007

Community Theatre: or why I like to keep off big-budget mainstream theatre!

Ever since the arrest of Mr. Chandramohan, an artist from MSU Baroda on May 9th, there have been hue and cries, and waves of protests, bandhs, signature campaigns across India from across the artists' community.

In Chennai too, on May 14th, a few artists gathered at Lalit Kala Akademi (on Greams Road) around 4 p.m to raise slogans and protest as well as to do a signature campaign. Only visual artists as well as some regional theatre artists, besides the omni-present press photographers, were present.

The english theatre community of Chennai was busy as usual with its whatever existence, preparing for a busy forthcoming season full of comedies. Need I say we are as far from reality as Pluto from Sun. And briefly a glimpse of the vandalising scene from my last year's production of Gautam Raja's WOOD appeared in front of my eyes. I felt proud. How truly inspiringly visionary can art be! How insightful was Gautam's play, even if it was called cliche!! But, at that moment, I also felt a little twang and a tinge of irritation in me. I felt, for once, so disenchanted, disenfranchised and alienated from most of the manufacturers of english theatre in Chennai, of whom I have been a part the last 15 years!!!

It set me thinking.What does the word community mean to people involved in theatre? Is there a community theatre in Chennai? What is or must a community theatre like or do?

Asking a question such as this is to ask what a nation is or must do. At the foundation of a society is the community. It is the bringing together of individuals from various walks and professions of life. A profession, in turn, need not necessarily be always with monetary objective. A priest at a place of worship is an example. A priest is a service personnel who does not expect monetary or material reimbursement. When the fabric or web of society in a particular place is represented by a cross-section of professional congregation, we call it a society. And the best representation of each particular profession come together to make the founding fathers of a town, village, etc. Thus is a community formed. or so we are informed through history.

This community essentially needs entertainment. At times, beyond entertainment, the entertainers also become the moral voice of the people, reminding them when they go off the righteous track. Thus, theatre becomes the voice of the community. And this has been seen time and again throughout Indian, European as well as even American theatre communities.

Now if we take Chennai as our immediate and monumental example, we neither have community nor such a theatre. If you think I am being sweeping in my statement, remember, I am talking Chennai's english theatre. For there is no righteousness left nor moral guardians amid the fast exploding bourgeoisie BPOs of Chennai (since there is no morality there consequently need be neither guardians, in a city were DOKs and F&Gs and Dollar Shops have become symbols of culture).

As a result, all we have left of theatre here is entertainment. Rather, those who practise theatre mostly believe only in entertaining theatre. This belief that we are the decision-makers of what the public want is wrong. We must not drive the market in the wrong direction for our own personal ends. IT IS NOT REALLY A DOG-EAT-DOG-Survival world out there. Well, at least, dogs are not greedy. Anyway, we must, as practitioners and responsible decision-makers observe what needs to be done to keep the society on the right track.

Needless to say, we cannot change the society, as Brecht believed, by portraying the wrongs on stage. But theatre needs to voice out opinions. This is what happens in every part of the world where theatre is said to be alive. This is what WOOD is all about. This is what Theatre Nisha's recent show of SATHE was about. And this is what even Dummies' VISHWAROOPAM is all about. Holding more than a mirror to the society as it were!

Theatre as a voice of community may be marginal compared to the so-called mainstream theatre that receives more attention, attract bigger sponsorships and subsequently has the muscle to pull more audiences. But again as some C.S Neville (or is it C.A?) said in his treatise "Democracy and the Individual", it is actually all about the Might of the Right over the Right of the Might. Quantity or majority need not always be right. This is where the need for smaller theatre companies or what are called community theatres become important. This is also where works such as an Anna Weiss, Oleanna, Final Solutions, Sathe, Thus Spake Shoorpanakha, The Zoo Story, etc matter. They are not irrelevant to the consumptive public because they are art or they speak in a language different from what the entertainment-seeking juntaa understand.

The argument that these plays simply do not or cannot speak to numbers or satisfy sponsors' need for footfalls make them untenable or ill-required is stupid and corrosive in the long run for the existence of theatre itself. While mass entertainment 'speaks' offhand and shows an escapist illusion that their audience can consume alongside their Coke and Popcorn, in the same breath, without having to carry the hangover, these plays 'address' issues that are apparently irrelevant to a materialist consumerist society. These works are born out of a deeper need.

Artists who produce these works do so out of a deeply felt need to voice out rather than for money or fame or passion to perform in front of people. There is no exhibitionist narcissism of the number-theory booting mainstream commercial theatre here. This is perhaps why they are small. They believe that somehow the rot that is setting in the mindset of a McSociety can still be stemmed. If entire Chennai had only Spencers and Reliance Freshes or Cineplexes and Multiplexes, the city would get boring. The smaller neighborhood shops have their own charm and reason for existence.

What must be applauded of these theatrical oevures is their ability time and again to come up to the public viewing for less than the price of a cinema ticket at multiplexes and Mayajaals. Since their recipient audiences are equally smaller in draw, they are produced in smaller, comparatively lesser appealing theatre houses, knowing fully well they would not in Eight out of Ten cases break the red barrier vis-a-vis finance. However, they continue to break fresh grounds. And we would see in the future, that these minimalist but well-planned theatres would grow in numbers, especially among the youth. Of course, some youth subvert even that. There are weeds in every field of crop. But...

In Youth lies idealism, vision and energy. In youth does one discard the fear of the unknown. Whether out of curiosity, impulse, impetuosity or visionary zealotry, youth is what takes risk. These theatres are all about taking risks, not only financial, but also in several other ways. Hopefully, the Chennai youth would get out of the current malaise and veer towards a theatre that shows its disenchantment with bedroom farces and conservative trends; that fights against non-dynamic, safer form of theatre that does not provoke the audience into uneasy thoughts.

There does seem to be a mushrooming of newer groups. This is either due to a feeling of rejection by existing companies or disenchantment with lack of real opportunities, or even because of a certain need to be 'one's own'. Whatever the reason, the basis is that the founders often have their own ideas. Where there is idea, there is hope. Hence one expects and hopes that there is a certain hidden belief in the hearts of these young and idealistic theatre wannabes that theatre has an innate power to change, if not transform. After hope comes prayer.

We who believe in smaller and community efforts just have to pray these newer groups do not fall prey to the need to fill houses. Once one falls into the clutches of the need to have audiences to fill their seats, one ends up doing exactly what those who pay, patronise or sponsor want. Already a few such have been lost, am afraid, for good!

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Shit-agone at Mirpur

Requiem to the series that happened

Now that the plaudits have spoken and the pundits have been puzzled as to how on God's own strip of land (that was more caked and parched and scarred than a hapless yeoman skinned by a heartless zamindar in those feudal movies of yore) did India managed to score 610 in under two days and skittle Deshis out twice for a little above half that score, it is time to take a per-chance. Because: what has happened to India is a happened circumstance, a happenstance. Zak's eight wicket haul is sheer happenstance, the record-making top-four batsmen scoring hundreds is sheer happenstance. What were not circumstantial were Tendulkar's 37th Ton and Kumble's 5 wkt test haul as was VVS's ignominy.

Tendulkar at one point did a Sunny Gavaskar. Took a catch without breaking a sweat, looked around impishly, pocketed the ball. Only, he was not standing in the slips as Sunny used to. It showed how relaxed Sachin was. He was enjoying his game after such a loooong time. Not because he had scored a ton in both tests, but he has proved his point: I can continue to **** around with Indian cricket as long as I like, I have the credentials and the claims for I have toiled too long for it. At no point did Sachin look dominating throughout this series. He did not need to. But scratch the surface, he was dominating. What is dominating but being in control of the proceedings? Is it necessary that it must be lethal or vociferous like Lara or Ponting or Gilchrist or Symonds do? Not for a higher mortal such as Sachin. His record of 37 may become 42... or 45... and he may retire as did people before him. His record may be surpassed by Ponting and in turn and in turn... But that is only the law of nature. The point of the post is this: The 7th best team in the world beat the 11th best team in the world. And in the middle of all this, Antonio Salieri's "Mediorcity all over the world, I bow to you" rung clear. Only one man managed to mock and rise above all these - Mashrafe Bin Mortaza. Sad, he had to be on the losing side. One man got lucky for once, justifying all his hardships and as many comebacks as Jimmy Amarnath has done - Zaheer "Zak" Khan.

Let us quickly go backwards to the Chittagong test. See what happened. How frustrating it is to be Zaheer? I do not for a moment claim that he is the fittest cricketer or super fielder. If may I say so from observed newspaper and internet sports site reports, there is no second slouch than Zaheer behind Saurav Ganguly this side of Inzamam (and I still admire all these 3 men). But let's not take the talent and class away. And Dravid all but undid it in the First Test against B-desh at Chittagong.

Dravid may be a dependable bat, but a very non-aggressive and unimaginative captain as well as a post-match speaker. Sometimes he just lets things drift more than necessary. Does he wait for creative spark to alight on him on these occasions? What Ponting or Smith would have done in the situation India found itself while bowling at 149 - 8? (or for that matter at 11-4 that nearly was 11 - 6 but for two greased catches by Dravid and Karthik in the Bangladeshi first innings of the second test). How I missed the presence of Wasim Akram the Captain or Waqar Younis the tail-wiper! Total aggro was the need of the hour.

The first test had already seen bad batting displays, inspite of centuries, by both Sachin and Saurav (the same was also said in the media and we saw it too, during Sachin's second test century. But for Dhoni's pyrotechnics and Mortaza & Ashraful's heroics, the overall batting in the second test was insipid to say the least!); tactless scoring by Indian later order to reduce a healthy 295 - 3 at the end of Day 1 to 387 - 8 by noon of Day 4! But what beats this is the bowling... or perhaps the fielding display.

149 - 8 was Bangladesh. Mashrafe Mortaza - a decent bat with lot of determination, pride, gumption and self-esteem - pushes the score to 170 in the company of Shahadat Hossain, who's not even a decent agrarian cricketer in the first place.

If India did not go on to win a match at a canter and by an innings, the blame for that must squarely be shared between an inept captain and a not-more-than-average Mumbai spinner. I really do not understand why Ramesh Powar must be in the team. Forget the wickets he took in the Bangladeshi second innings. I could have taken wickets on that pitch with more cracks than a discarded piss-pot! He's got one talent. To hold the ball in mid-air, defying gravity. Other than that, nothing else. In comparison, I just loved the way Shakid Al Hasan bowled in both the tests. Here's a man who's gonna grow in stature as he plays more, but more of him elsewhere. Ramesh Powar!

Ramesh Powar: highly inept as a spin bowler (from a land with a huge tradition of spinners behind him) and no better or worse (thankfully) than any other currently playing spinner for India, he's not agile nor is there any remorse in him when he misses a four or greases a catch or is whacked around the ground. I wonder how he's turned those so many Ranji matches for Mumbai. That speaks for the standard of Ranji games. Powar, at the end of First Test at Chittagong against B-desh, has come to symbolise the spineless, gutless, thoughtless, unimaginative and mechanised display Indian cricket has come to represent. Else how do you explain the ineptness of letting Mortaza and Shahadat score that 70+ partnershi to take their team beyond follow-on and past 200 after having been reduced themselves to 149 - 8?

It was disgusting to see Powar not being able to hold on to a regulation dive. Perhaps not as bad as when Dinesh Karthik came witlessly in the way of Dravid in 3rd Slip at 11-4 (2nd Test). But then, Karthik had done his work as a batsman. Poor Zaheer!!! How much harder must he try? How many comebacks has he to make to prove himself? Letting a 9th wicket partnership that is not worth more than a double figure under normal circumstances, to beyond 50 runs is something for which the entire Indian team must be shoot. Even after seeing Mortaza play short balls without though or plan, so predeterminedly, Dravid the Wall did nothing. The Wall's immovability for once was more a liability than an asset.

In a matter of minutes B-desh raced from 170 - 8 to 200 and beyond. Within the space of 10 balls the Indians bowled it had happened. After a mindless R.P.Singh over in which two fours were conceded, that was to become a pointer for things to come, Zak was brought on. His first ball was a regulation dive catch from Mashrafe to Powar. Dropped. Then followed a Shahadat blinder to the slips. Nobody to blame. A typical flailing shot that fetched a reprieve and a four. And still the captain does nothing for the next THREE overs. And then it had to be Sachin "Man Friday" Tendulkar to show how to take breakthrough wickets. And why would Sachin not laugh? Not that it changed history or the fate of the series that was a foregone conclusion before India left its borders to Bangladesh.

The win would not probably have enhanced India's claim to the top of test cricketing world, but it definitely would have made a difference to the Second Test, had things not happened the way they happened after Habibul Bashar made the mistake of reading the pitch wrong. Especially after the weathermen had predicted two out of five days of rain! It was a lucky thing in the end that Habibul Bashar was not in form both with the bat as well as with his cap.

Woe begone. Ravi Shastri was as lucky as an interim coach as he was during that watershed series when Kris Srikant was captain, referred to in an earlier post on Wright, Greg and Whatmore. Let's see how we fare in England. Welcome Dav!

Day-lights of Indeea

Foreword:The following post is a loud-thinking to myself. I am not sure if I am politically correct because I don't in this issue really understand what exactly a Dalit-identity is. Several people claim several things and the existing corpus of Dalit-literature, created by self-proclaimed Dalit writers themselves, does little to clarify too! So, rather than taking an angry stance, if any comments, please try and clarify than taking cudgels and arms against the post. - Author

News: Dalits among Muslims and Christians must also be considered for Reservation.

Post: I have a serious doubt. Are the Dalits of India (pronounced by my foreign connections as Day-lights of Indeea!) a religious lot or a community (which I interpret as caste-based) or a class (economy based)?

If they claim to distance themselves - like the Dravidians of Tamil Nadu do - from Hinduism by such expressive means as "Name conversion ceremony from Hindu (and hence Aryan) to a Dravidian or Neutral Non-Hindu Language-based Name" (Eg: Srinivasan or Seshadri or Vinayakamurthi becoming Thamaraikannan, Ezhilazhagan etc etc), then Dalit movement by itself becomes a religious affliction. For, any scattered bunch of people who happen to be brought together or who happen to come together upon commonly identified and accepted code of so-called guiding principles or tenets or ideals of belief to conduct a certain way of life is a religion. It has been the case of Hinduism, Buddhism, Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Taoism, Santeria, etc etc... irrespective whether it is pagan or heathen or genteel school of belief. Then, there can be no Hindu Dalits or Christian Dalits or Islamic Dalits and hence the news above is just another politicisation for someone's ballotry gains.

If they are a community or a caste, then they automatically become Hindus, since according to anti-Hindu believers, caste system is a Hindu evil, which nevertheless they aim to for their vote-banks. According to those who harbour the grudge theory that caste is a Manu-invention (originally based on the type of labour one did) and is discriminatory, caste is a Hindu subventive theory. Then, those who call themselves Dalits and still seek to identify with a certain section of Hindu sentiment, belief, whatchumight call it (the boundaries being very thin!), are not dissimilar to the so-called Christians by religion (right to conversion of belief) but constitutionally Hindus by community or caste (this is one time they never derecognise the Constitution); which idea is the most dubious notion of existence one can have. I have always wanted to ask this question to someone to seek an appropriate answer: how can one be a Christian Nadar or Muslim Mudaliar. Nadar and Mudaliar are Hindu casteist denomination which have only managed to vanish from the Road signposts! You can't technically belong to two places - neither physically nor in terms of identity. We know those terms Asian American or Afro-American are only classifications brought about for convenience. Those terms do not fetch anyone any special status.

Although technically you can belong to two spaces, to use it for profit means is sheer exploitation or manipulation or taking advantage of a system. This cannot be considered being contributive to the country's common good. And, in 9 out of 10 cases this is what is happening in India today: EXPLOITATION OF THE SYSTEM and MANIPULATION OF THE CONSTITUTIONAL GUIDING PRINCIPLES IN THE NAME OF INTERPRETATION.

Once upon a bluemoon, our national leaders and politicians sought to erase casteism. Today's politicians are self-styled national leaders and decision as well as law-makers (and -breakers), who in turn are anyway nothing but a bunch of goondahs and criminals seeking to further casteism and further divide the society to kingdom come and thrive on discrimination. We have eschewed the policy of "We are all God's children and are part of an Ekta-Nation" in order to embrace and engender an Ekta Kapoorish nation that believes in revenge and betrayals, bent on building a revanchist country compartmentalised by communal differences. And the train of Bharat continues to rush through a Kafka-esque tunnel towards some blood-thirsty landscape, God help it!

I am terribly convinced that today if we draw a guideline map of India, we can easily start dividing it with white plot-boundary marker stones that can very smoothly fall into areas of community concentration. Anyway, back to issue at hand. If these Dalits are a community then why divide them into Hindus, Muslims and Christianity? If they are entitled to their own beliefs as well as literature, not to mention songs of ode as well as lullabies, then they are entitled to their own existence. As a self-respecting individual, any person who has consciously decided to shirk the binding cord to one -ism and break the so-called oppressive shackles of a way of life or path of belief so thrust upon one must seek to identiy one's own uniqueness. It must be clear cut. Not borrow the best of both to convenience.
I just am not able to fathom this duality. Do we call it a corporatising of community in today's adaptive world of best practise theories!!! For soon when the day comes that all Day-lights of Indeea realise the need for a separate sun and moon and stars to behold and their own Cauverys and Gangeses, they would want to convene en messe under their own blue skies unsullied by other blue skies, unaided by a Dyer or a James Custer. Then there would be a Dalit Nadu or Dalit Pradesh or Dalitchal or Dalitistan or Dalitland, depending on how they congregate where. Would we probably also have Dalit-Deras? What use is having divided conferences and branch offices? Else the Dalit National Identity would suffer, as so many other identities have. (As such we have a IOK and POK and an independent J&K. We are already marching towards Chinese claims to Indian Occupied Arunachal Pradesh and vice-versa) Then you cannot seek a separatist country status as did the Khalistanis of the 80s, the Baloch of Pakistan, the Nagas of Nagaland etc, etc. Then I cannot seek a visa to go to these lands, so near and yet foreign countries within the sub-continent.

India is the next EU in the making. We soon shall have an Indian Union - a continental sub-continent with 50 country states and neighbouring Bangla as well as Nepal, Kashmir etc seeking I.U.Status. Especially Kashmir! And there would soon rise an Orhan Pamuk of the Kashmir. And etc, etc... And this year we are celebrating 60 years of Indian independence!
The point is: why do we need a centralised governing body in the name of a county that is so pseudo-secular. Secular in spirit but not in body? What is this Indian-ness that I must cling to? And why the once in four years tamasha called elections? Call back the Pommies. We were more united under them before 1947 and had a better sense of oneness.
Cry, my beloved country!

Monday, May 14, 2007

On Acting - II

Mime, Movement, Music & (E)motion

I am not the first.
I will not be the last.
But it is sure... there is a lot of consonance between the spoken word and the expressed emotion. It is motion captured in eternity. Perhaps that explains why it is an emotion. But the eternal question is: did the sound derive from the action or vice-versa, whichever the language. My conjecture is, they are independent, but interdependent and symbiotic.

It is true that without sound, movement can exist. For, sound followed silence and still does. Through the movement is the noise born, as an object - organ or not - cuts through the wind space of time. Still, sound can be found in silence. Do not we say that silence after a while gets deafening? But, but...

The talk here is more about rhythmic sound also called music, rather than noise. How does it belong to the realm of speech?

We breathe. Therefore we are. Is breath not the same to speech as punctuation to syntax? Whereas the collusion of two alphabets categorised as a vowel and a consonant give birth to smoother breathing of a word, two apparently perfect bed-mates such as hard consonants produce a louder (in quality) sound. I consciously use the word collusion. Is it not experiential that the unhindered sound of a vowel and the laboured production of a consonant are opposing parties? And yet when they combine they implicitly produce rhythmic sounds? Also, the consonancy arises because of the consonants. They are the Zeroes to the Ones that are Vowels (again, that oxymoron 'One...are'!). Without this marriage, the life of language cannot go on.

Anyway, music is, after all, a certain rhythm pattern of sound. Instrumental rhythm is made understandable to lesser mortals requiring (or in obstinate and polemical cases, even 'demanding') codification and structural logic through notations and textualised grammar. It takes a higher level of implicit honesty in a mind to understand the inherent grammar of music that is experienced than analysed. Blessed are such emotinally sensitised souls. These are the true jazz musicians, who understand those hundreds of rigid grammatical rules inside the science of sound production and yet do not make a beeline for it consciously. In fact, it is ridiculous to even describe grammar as rigid since the concept of grammar was invented in the first place to help bring about an organised approach to achieve the ultimate quest of the soul - perfection, fluidity and grace. It is the same with words. So, then, the duty of an actor becomes it to sensitize oneself towards this task. To become a jazz master of the spoken word. To seek to express effortlessly and gracefully that the speech brings joy to the ears of the listener. In some case, the master of technique is there. The elocution powers of some actors far surpass a great orator that speech just remains a thing to marvel at and not empathise with.

What use is a speech that just touches the aesthetics and has not social effect? The same as a torrent of emotional confabulation that is not well enunciated. The attempt of the actor must be to bring about the poetry and rhythm of the word and the psychological connection to the context. It is then that the body that expressed those spoken words, the mind that motorised it and the meaning that the recipient audience received combine to make a holistic experience. Consequently, the word receives a communicative value in the context of the speaker-listener relationship. This is the true purpose of the spoken word.

Now, having said that, the whole trick (not a parlour trick, mind you!) is in giving the silence before the spoken moment its due space. The recipient audience as well as the uttering voice 'must' experience this space of silence before the utterance.


Because........... in this space does the body go through what the to-be-spoken word feels like; what the yet-to-be-voiced sound does to its (the body's) existence. That is why reaction becomes a key factor in exchange of dialogues in life as in stage. Else, acting whether in life or on stage would be one long spiel of improvisation. There is a lot of freshness in that because it keeps each person guessing. But it gets boring after a while like the characters in Horovitz's Line. They don't quite become Vladimirs and Estragons even after 25 years!

I am not an advocate of 'Naturalism' or the 'as is what is or where is' school of theatre and acting. I do, nevertheless, contradictorily, believe in the passage of an actor to a character. You may ask how! There be some who believe acting is a craft and solely a craft. NO... NO... NO! You can't mechanise your body to search for a certain moment of truthful movement. Without sensitising the muscles how can one 'feel' the movement.
Assuming the brain can be trained to 'detect' the movement twitches the muscles can perform, how would it connect to the spoken word on stage? If it cannot, how does communication between actor and spectator occur, what use is a text but an excuse for these two figures to meet from either side of the fence that is the fourth wall? Therefore...

An actor, I believe is an instrument of the state. (I use the word instrument consciously, in the full knowledge that it belongs to the area of technology and not of sense) A State of Mind. An actor in front of an audience or a group of audiences has the job of conveying the emotions of the character s/he is playing truthful to the body's experience. The body that s/he inhabits. Although the body is devoid of pain, and emotions are the visiting cards of psychological impressions (that are in turn results of the mind's recognition of grammatised and codified structures created by us, the civilised animals), these truthfully belong to the region called brain functions. That is why an actor is the instrument of a state of mind at a given time in a specific mental space represented or presented on stage through sets, backdrops or sceneries... or sometimes just furns or objects... or blocks of wood that homogenise and neutralise the naturalistic creation of a bedroom or garden.

You may think, as a result, if you followed the rationale behind my argument, that Stanislavskian 'method mumble' and Meyerhold's 'physics of speech' are no different. Lecoq and Strasberg are merely the obverse sides of a classical coin of acting; that all these talk about realism and naturalism, representationalism and presentationalism, impressionism and expressionism are just corollaries and theories of the same belief. Yes. There is only one Truth. It is not out there... but in here. The truth lies in the tooth. And the tooth is out there... in the way of our breath, which the body experiences.

This perhaps, then, is why the art of acting originated in mime (or acts without sounds), movement, rhythm and in course of time, orchestrated rhythm, appended through percussion and wind instruments. My credo is, an actor must learn to breathe and breathe properly with the sole focus being to fill the body... in a yogic sort of way. When one breathes deep and in total concentration, oblivious to external impressions, one's body goes through an experience that is truly exhilarating, revealing and releasing. That is when we de-mechanise and defamiliarise ourselves to the sensory experiences that have come to clutter out modern and day-to-day lives. That is when the sounds really connect to meanings civilisations have attached to them. That is when a sound becomes a word, a verbal symbol of a pictoral object such as rose or lemon or violence or Kafka or sky.

In the last 300 odd years since the Industrial revolution, we have de-centralised the sounds and individualised the noises to the noise of a scooter or the noise of a baby in need of diapers or the noise of the commode flush or the noise of amplified and mic-ed voice et al. But we have not thought about the capability of the brain to store and retrieve when required all these noises. We go about our hurly burly daily existence forgetful of the complexity we have webbed us in. An actor suffers as a result of this, because an actor has ceased to realise the specialness of oneself and has gone about becoming another zombie on the move in the traffic of daily life. Time we helped break an actor's un-trance.

Let's start breathing genuinely.