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Saturday, April 28, 2007

Enga Area : Subversion, subterfuge and substitution in Democratic Art

Domaru...Dapsaa...Dhommai....Kumaaru....Kokki Kumaaru !!

Hey Padicha Naaye Kitta Varathey
Enga Area Ulla Varaathey !!
Pudupettai, Kasimodu, Ennoru, Vyasarpaadi Enga Area
Anna Nagar, KK Nagar, T Nagar, Boat Club-u Unga Area

Padicha Naaye Kitta Varathey
Enga Area Ulla Varaathey !!


Vaada Poda Vella tholu
Naanga Ellam Karuppu
Beachukkilla Adip-p-potta parappu
Padikkira Ponnallam unnathaan Paakum
Enga Area ponnu maatum Ennath-thaan paakum

Thabaal Potti Trouser oola potta pasanga
Thanni Vandi Laari kitta sanda podum Ponnunga
Dhinam Dhinam Kudichittu Malaierum Perisu
Thenavetta Karavaetti Kattivarum Ravusu

Kadalila Veyilia Uppeduppom Naanga

Thayir Saadham Saapida Uppu Kekkiringa
Kaalarai pakkathile vaazharom Naanga
Paada katti pinam pona mookka pothureenga

A/C Potta Bathroomil Enna Varum Ponga
Thandavaalam Kitta Othunguvom Naanga
Nethu Vecha Meenkozhambu Kaathula Pesum
Malli Poovum Inga Pootha Meen Vaasam Veesum !!


Oru Naal povar
Oru Naal varuvar

Enga Area Ulla Varaadhe
Ulla Pugundhu kadalile odarom naanga
Thoppaikku kadalile odureenga
Kaasu panam saerthu vachu
Kanja thaanam yaenga?
Puttu kittal panaththaal enna pannuveenga?
Enga Area ulla varaadhe


I saw a video of this song recently on one of the music channels. And I thought.... subversion in art has plummetted to new depths and nadirs of application.
Subversion in art is such a beautiful tool.
The trend in democratic media such as Bolly- and Kollywood is disturbing to say the least. In the case of Bollywood the amount of skin that is left unexposed is only as itsy bitsy as the area that the water particles poured as a poor excuse for rain has left undrenched. That is to say, nothing much. Probably some of Bollywood movies are just nano-millimeters away from being termed soft-porn. Well, when item dancers and sex symbols of current times don't mind doing tease acts live on New Year and Special Party stages, you can't expect the reel to be left behind. And that is nothing to me. I don't care. But Tamil cinema, I am disturbed, has lost all subtlety.

I still am one of those firm believers that Tamil Cinema has on and off managed to interest people in a more redeeming way. But the glorification of violence and perpetration of communal hatred and clan-nification of movies is not good as a trend. Instead of those times when we would watch prototypes and stereotypes being boo-ed from a section of society or community, now we have movies that you can actually classify as regional and hence in most cases caste centric.
Critics of repute who follow and study movies and sociological, folk-lore as well as demographic and culture-study trends may say am an illiterate. But as an audience who pays to watch movies, I am entitled to my sentiments. I know it sounds ridiculous to show two flowers kissing or a bee sucking out of a flower to use as innuendos instead of braving a censor-scissoring. But that was done out of necessity in those days. So we have lost the need to define necessity and made most luxuries necessities in real life. And the reel life is but a mirror of real, say most assertive directors who want to pass the buck of blame back when pointed finger at for showing something too blatantly.
Subtlety is in underplaying to a greater effect. Openness is required only when subtlety is to be lost upon a viewer. But in a pervasively reactionary society where you run across an autorickshaw driver who is so clearly karmic enough to assert that what Rajani Kanth does in Baatcha or Kamal Haasan did in Indian or Arjun in Gentleman... is only good for entertainment, you do accept the fatal Tamil dictum "Aettu Suraikkai Kootukku Udhavaadhu" (You can't cook a pictorial representation of any gourd!). But again, if that is so, nothing is going to be achieved by showing things openly to impress upon dullard or sophisticates (on either end of the spectrum), why waste? Art is all about aesthetics.
Also, some movies tend to delight in deliberately taunting the feelings of certain sections of people when it is not really warranted. Are directors and producers becoming bigots instead of underlining the social ills in a bid to bring about social alleviation, unlike their forbears of direction and production of yesteryears? Are they trying to actually buoy the vote banks of some pretenders and contenders to the MLA and MP thrones of future who base their politics on communal grounds? And why this unnecessary vilification and conscious glorification of caste and class while the actual attempt must be to try and make films that show ways to erase these boundaries. Instead, in the name of realism and voicing of the victim's viewpoint and that unique Indian word Yadhaartha or Yadhaartham or common-place normal realistic, why offput people's sensibilities. If we keep talking and showing the hunter and the hunted swapping places, the cycle would only continue.
One such example is the song reproduced above. The song, the video as well as the movie - in the name of realism and naturalism - has an effect of overkill. Instead, what not could have been achieved through Subversion. But probably we are witnessing examples of our times where there are no niceties and the city itself has been mofussilised. Abuse of environment, Blaring horns of Share Vans, Share Autos, Yellow-number plated tourist and BPO-dedicated vans and cars that carry a verbiage that says "If such and such a vehicle is found for rash driving, call...", which has no use whatsoever! I think Chennai deserves a huge land-slide or earthquake to clean up the city such as what Hiroshima and other such places underwent. It means that you and I may have to die in the process. But the land-lubbing and -grabbing would stop. The consumerist blow-jobbing of Mammon would stop. The crowds would decrease. Pollution would abate. Rebuilding would engender a new and hopefully responsible community consciousness. This division of Us and Them, Mine and Yours, Areas and Domains, Castes and Classes would vanish. But... am not just a dreamer, rather an idealist. A few of the breed left who believes in drawing lines of contentment. An anamoly... a sore-spot in the map of materialist nouveau riche i-kill-you-before-you-kill-me-first generation. Hmmmph!

Friday, April 27, 2007

Ji, Behanji !

This post is subtitled: Theatre? You mean Sathyam... Abirami, Inox...?!!
It's disgusting as well as distressing how degeneration happens in theatre. We all know that this city virtually has no serious pursuit of theatre but only as just another channel for live entertainment.
What's wrong with theatre as a form of entertainment?
Nothing wrong; but then if it stops there then what's its uniqueness! Theatre must make people take notice, care and become better human beings. Even assuming you set out to do comedies, there has to be something more to it than just becoming a log-in place for imbeciles with no inclination to use up their brains but money to spend. We are breeding a culture here in Chennai that is so far removed from a Chennai so steeped in knowledgeable people appreciating intelligent art. This city and especially its live event spaces are becoming space for mere exchange of visiting cards and business or social networking. Isn't that what all these Am-way and other MLM meetings are supposed to do? So... has theatre become a place for consumerism? What happened to the days of society and community driven theatre activities? The other day I saw the KB movie Server Sundaram and saw the play within the movie and wondered why don't we produce such stuff anymore... even in Tamil.
So... theatre as practised outside the region of urban, elite, exclusive, vonly english-ispeaking Chennai-ites will never be understood by 'this my city of mass destructors of culture.' This was once again recently vindicated to me.
I had recently done a play. And day next, I got this call from a reporter writing for byline and language-improvement from the features section of one of the feeder-line english dailies.
"Ah... this pley you put up last night..."
"Yes!" - I.
"Ah, could you teh me a li'l about the pley...?" - a little hesistancy hanging at the butte end of the dusty mesa.
"Well, you did come, right?" - a brash I, who by this point had started casting aspersions.
"Yes yes. But you know, this in and out of roles, characters, airport drama, epics, myths... it was a bit unclear."
"Oh...oh! If you can explain tersely..." I even stopped to wonder at my oxymoron. How can anyone explain tersely? "...what precise info you want, I can tell you," sez an increasintly irritated I.
"Could you tell something about the story?" There was an ecstatic silence of relief from the other end of the instrument.
"!?!*!" - surmise I internally and convince myself that only their photographer had perhaps come. That is a common sight these days, if you know what I mean.
Anyway, I told the story, plot, subtext and all for what it's worth, not given to openly discouraging aspiring writers. I anyway don't care for reviews because 'in Chennai there are no reviews!' I was just curious to see what doctoring is done to my proverbial dice and if at least the depth of language is there to re-word my bytes.
It's an alarming trend to notice that anything even such as "Shoor-Shakuni" play is considered heavy-weight in Chennai. How would these people react to "Long Day's Journey Into Night" by O'Neill or "Street Car" by Tennessee Williams or "Sakharam" by Tendulkar? Just reminds me of Jennie Malone's lines for Chapter Two: "I'm going to read all the classics starting with Agamemnon. Ok, Catch-22, we're going to try it one more time" to which Faye Medwick answers: "You see, to tackle heavy-weight material is not what you should be doing right now!" CATCH-22! Heavy-weight!! What about Bernard Malamud and Updike then?
One lady apparently actually called my cast member and asked "Why don't you people just do comedies?" What the...! The question arises. How relevant is the term theatre except in the context of the title of this post? One thing is very clear; I now understand why up North they don't recognise Chennai as a theatre center. Do we deserve anything more?
We are ourselves to be blamed. We sell our theatre. To the sponsors. The fact appears that it's high time we erased the word sponsor. Who goes after sponsorship? Someone who does not want to risk their own money. Someone who does not believe in their own work seriously or believe in the efficacy and the quality of ther work to drive audience at least in the long run. It's not wisdom or being smart... to not putting one's money in the frontline. It's just treating one's work as pure commerce or pursuing hobbies and passion with someone else's money and time. Manipulation, exploitation, euphemistic begging.
Now, don't get offended saying just because one seeks sponsorship there's no self-belief. On the contrary, one might say 'only because there is quality the work sells or the sponsors support or both!" But no! The people who put up money into a show in Chennai (I can't talk of other cities) do it for various other reasons which make up a huge list in itself.
Theatre in Chennai - at least English theatre - is purely a hip or fashionable hobby or passion to pursue. It does nothing to stimulate the intellect or challenge the minds. In fact, most audience are already challenged and special enough that if the cost of laughing gas were to be cheaper our comedies would not attract crowd. Honestly, this craving for light theatre entertainment is scaring me. You need not agree with me. YOU... NEED... NOT... AGREE... WITH... ME!!! I do not personally care two ways, continuing to do plays I think raise voices, if not of dissent, at the least of difference. There are people - besides me - who are attempting different and even financially risky shows, and if one can't write proper and informed REVIEWS, one must at the very minimum just use up the invite and remain silent... Instead of filling precious ad-space with their by-line earning junk. Either the newspaper must profit or the theatre doers. But when the mistake lies with our theatre groups who are bent upon building branding how can we blame two-bit hacks with PG-Diplomas!
There is such a thing called community consciousness. But what can one say when majority of the four-wheelers are yellow-number plates with surrogates behind steering-wheels who don't have concepts of ownership. The trouble is Chennai has no more pride and accountability to its environment. How can one expect its theatre to be community conscious. We can have mindless flautulence on stage in the name of laughter. Even Ji, Behanji on SAB TV is funny. But it does have some excuse for social responsibility with Behanji's frequent sallies to the Police Stations and Judiciaries!!!
In fact, I am frightfully optimistic that Ji Behanji is already on its way to emulate its predecessor Priya Tendulkar shows and other such of the past on DD. That's another sad lament of mine. Why don't Chennai channels come up with decent sit-coms. There's a huge lacunae in that area and a great need for it! But that's for another day and another blog.

Something Funny at the cemetery....


My Classification:
AUTHOR: CARL MULLER
TITLE : A funny thing happened on the way to the cemetery
GENRE : Short Stories
Publisher: Penguin Books
Price : Rs. 150/- (First Edition, 1995)
Penguin Website Classification:
• Published by Penguin Books India
Imprint: Penguin
• Special Price: Rs 225.00
• Cover Price: Rs 225.00
• ISBN: 0140382631
• Edition: Paperback
• Extent: 200pp
• Classification: Fiction
• Rights: World
Journalism is a delightful art and an ingenious profession... in the hands of an intelligent writer (not half-baked info providing reporters who sleep through a performance of Twelfth Night and report it the next day as As You Like It!). And a journalist worth his salt, desperate for proper work and writes his way through rather than having the proverbial nose for sensational news is a rare breed who deserves more Bookers and Pulitzers, Nobels and Sahitya Akademis than those iconic fiction writers who live by the virtue of a one-and-half chartbusting quasi-literary works. For, such writers as these quick-witted journalists are blessed with more than the gift of a glib-gab.
One such writer I found out in my biblio-copic dusty shelf just recently is the Sri Lankan writer Carl Muller, the author of what to me is a super-documentary semi-fictional biography of that brilliant eponymous city, titled, COLOMBO - A Novel.
I had read COLOMBO about five years back and in its feverish wake had gone and purchased his collection of short writings entitled 'a funny thing happened on the way to the cemetery: Scenes from a Sri Lankan Life'. I had also promptly forgotten its existence in my exclusive six-foot five-shelved exclusive non-refridgerated Godrej for Penguins. I must at this point confess that I have this addiction for hoarding books whether I have the time to make love to them with my fingers or not. Time Present I may not. Though, I believe in a Future filled with my tired body occupying the traditional Easy-chair on the proverbial verandah, while on one side a cup of the home-made coffee gets cold oblivious to my presence and on the other a pile of eager books yellow next to me, awaiting its karmic turn for this Reading Ram to give salvation to those Patient Ahalyas who queue up vertically! Come to think of it, the metaphor is contradictory. Unlike Ram of the Yana,I am not confined to one book. More his father's ilk, moi!
Digressions apart, Carl Muller is a hilarious writer with more eyes than a dragonfly for details and a sense of humour that the British writers of his plumage would be proud of. I shall just quote a couple of Kohi-Noors of his humungous prowess for humour and leave you to be convinced that this writer truly belongs to any choosy reader's shelf. The following is from the essay God Equals Claud, recalling his experiences working for Gulf News:
"It was the general pattern. Many Arabs, even today feel that a European should be General Manager or hold top post. Thus, they feel that they have given their business 'a touch of class'. Abu did just this. In the lower echelons were the Asians. The editorial department was the preserve of the whites...
At the top were the pukka sahibs who even had their own pubs in Dubai and Sharjah and did a 'Rupert Brooke' wherever they went. They clung grimly to the concept that they had been lords and masters of the Gulf not long ago and should be treated thus ad nauseum. It would not be wrong to sum up these European operations thus: 'Get that mountain moving. We shall take it to Mohammed!'
Safaris to the Middle East were deployed along old familiar lines: a quick weekend to Teheran to soak the then Shah for a few millions; drop in on the King of Saudi Arabia and give him some expensive advice; and those Bedouin in the UAE distribute money and watch to everyone - should be an interesting day or two... these Arabs have money and it's a bit of shame, what if we don't take as much of it away from them as possible! "
Later in the same article he writes about his Chief Sub-Ed Malcolm he of the title Claud. I quote:
"Malcolm Claud had no idea that Abu sub-consciously considered himself by far the superior being. Claud made the cardinal mistake of thinking that no newspaper in Dubai could run without his expertise He was, after all, the 'great white father' of the Gulf News. He had already let slip the interesting fact that Jim Headgear was no editor at all. 'The closest he's been to a newspaper is to put on a dressing gown over his jammies and go to the landing to collect the Mirror,' he said. And then he would say with some complacence, 'Don't any of you forget it. I'm the hot-shot here and what I say goes.'
We decided otherwise. The 23rd was fast approaching and Claud had made no indication that there would be a Gulf News. Abu was getting worried. Claud had his own escape route planned.'I cannot produce a newspaper with a bunch of incompetent Sri Lankans,' he said. He was obviously missing his crew of wangers who had wrecked the newspaper in the first place. Having to kow-tow with Asians went much against his grain. There was some talk about rearranging his face but this was frowned on.
Eventually matters came to a head. With the finesse of a very block-headed bull in the main outlet of a China shop, Claud marched upon Abu with the breathless news that the paper should be recalled to life on, say, 23 December. Abu hit the roof. He had, he said, lost a lot of sympathy for ginger moustaches. Also, he was mathematically competent enough to know that he would have to sit and watch his staff lounging around and making innumberable trips to the coffee dispenser while he was bereft of earnings."
What is alluring about this book is its disarming honesty and the self-effacing personality the writer as a survivor-victim who laughs at the face of trials and tribulations. There is a definitive Ahabian quality to his existential status in the Bedouin land. And this pervades the other essays as well. Rather than the promised couple let me leave you with one more, lest you confine the book as a one-article humour anamoly. He can get down-right poetical with his business of irritation. Like this one about his descent into Delhi:
"We landed with a thud. Coasting the tarmac was like riding the noon stage into Dakota. Even the seat-belt juddered the diaphragm. I was not heavy laden. Just a beat-up suitcase, briefcase and camera. I walked into a sea of humanity that, at five-thirty in the morning, was positively unnerving."
Oh! While you are at it, if by now convinced that he may probably not worth a whole 200 bucks, but definitely worth a trip to Oxford or Crossword Bookstore where they sit and let you read the whole book, then also check the other essays titled Ups and Downs, Guide Me, I'm a Tourist as well as A Crack at The Mirror.