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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!