Saturday, March 27, 2010

Nostalghia - School Annual day Memoirs

This post is an explicit compilation of those memories which I have been incubating in my brain cells over a long period of time. Since the events and insights, I am bringing about are very much with reference to my school and it's culture, I don't know if everybody were able to identify themselves with this post. The names and events described are not fictitious and are absolutely true. I have tried to be utmostly honest about things and what I felt about them, then and now. I made it a point not to discuss this with people and recall stuff. I stole things only from my own memory and again, this is to provide this post, the much required authenticity. This looong post (the lengthiest I have ever written) is more like a diary for me to tackle my fading memory.

After the winter holidays are over, you enter the school in the first week of January. January is the absolute dream month for any school kid, I believe. It already opens up after the half-yearly vacation, you attend school for around 1 to 2 weeks and you get a mini vacation of atleast 4 days for Pongal, then republic day holiday follows etc. You hardly attend 17-18 days of school in Jan. And, Every year, amidst this happy atmosphere, begins the annual day (or the school day) frenzy and euphoria. School day will usually be held in the third week of Feb in our school and the training sessions for the culturals (drama and dance events) will begin as early in January. Classes used to be half empty as people would be busy with practice & rehearsals and this is the absolute timepass season of any academic year, that you can dream of.
There were these two Aasthana heroes of my school's drama scenario, whom I can never forget - Vij and ArKu. Vij was that "typical" Shakespearean thespian of our stage-play arena. The school had this tradition of staging one of Shakespeare's plays every year and as long as Vij was there, he was the hero. I don't know when he started out at the stage but by the time I started consciously following the plays, he always held the title roles. The play will change every year - King Lear, Macbeth, Hamlet, Othello, The Tempest etc but the role of the protagonist was customarily reserved for him.

Most of Vij's performances were staged when I was in the high school and I was never sophisticated in understanding and admiring the dialogues and performances in English plays. Like the male protagonist, there will again be a regular cast to fill in the roles of Ophelias and Desdemonas. You get to see these faces regularly again and again, year after year. Shakespearean plays, naturally oozing with intriguing romance would be let through a thorough censor-filter and "Love" would be one aspect that will be safely dismantled from the plays (for obvious reasons). But, the conduct of the Shakespeare's plays every year was really awesome that those "lengthy" plays with all those sonnets and soliloquies would be prosi-fied and brought down to 10 to 15 minutes. But, I can't recall if the actual integrity of the play was preserved in the process of shorting them down. English plays though looked rich and stylish never attracted a substantial section of the audience.

One more insight which I developed is, among the Shakespeare's plays, mostly tragedies were enacted and "Celebration of masculine valour" was the focal point in the enaction. Other aspects of Shakespearean theatre like Comedy and Romance were not touched upon, I believe.  The female characters of the plays were literally dummified as you remove the romance flavour out from the plays, keeping in mind the "dignity" and "sanctity" of a high school drama stage. And, plays with female-centric themes were never staged, as far as I remember (Shakespeare's Cleopatra, for example). 

ArKu was someone who did an awesome work with the tamil plays. He played a variety of roles from mythologicals to epics to social themes. I have seen him from close-proximity and I can call him "the actor", I saw in my school. He had a good tamil accent and clear pronunciations and I can recall more than one instance where he used to suggest new and better ways of presenting a dialogue, to the teacher. He had a fierce and majestic dialogue delivery when he played the king Ashoka and also excelled with comical timing when he played Tenalirama in one of the plays. I have acted with him in two or three plays.

I had been on stage as a drama artiste for five continuous years, from Class 5 to 9. I can successfully recollect my tamil teachers Seetha miss and Kalaichelvi miss, who hand-picked me for a tamil drama when I was in Class 5. For me, performing on stage those days always meant loud and bold deliverance of lines with the waver of arms. That's it ... I still remember some of the comments I received during rehearsals like, "He doesn't need a mike at all". But, during my 9th Class, I did the role of Laertes in Shakespeare's Hamlet, and my English teacher Loganathan wanted me to largely underplay that role. Remember, for me "Playing" means delivering lines aloud (I was regularly with tamil drama troops before and tamil plays required a loud deliverance with right intonations and punctuations stuff). I remember, I found it difficult to keep my volume down and actually speak soft. He used to instruct me frequently, "Mike irukkunda ... en ipdi kathare" ... "gentle aa pesu paakkalam" (Which means "You'll have a mike dude, why do you shout like this ? Can you speak gentle ?).

After all, You can't expect "method acting" from a school kid right ??. I still believe the criteria that would be looked upon a sixth class kid to actually appear on-stage would be, stage courageousness, a good memory to deliver the lines by-heart and a not-so-funny voice to identify and sync with the character you play. Memorising the dialogues by-heart was something, I was naturally interested in, those days. I used to take a special interest in memorising the entire script of the play and whenever somebody is absent for the day, I used to double-play his role also, along with mine, during the training sessions. I remember, I used to enact the entire play to my mom at home, playing all the characters.

The drama training sessions will impart the necessary stage aesthetics like, Don't show-off your back as you perform on the stage, approximate positions of the mikes (there used to be three mikes and you need to walk into the mike and speak, for you to be heard), you shouldn't walk on stage like you are in explicit pursuit of the mike, Coping up with the wardrobe malfunctions (like the breakage of cardboard swords etc). You get to learn a lot many nuances of the art during those sessions, I remember.

The annual day function will start with speeches and prize distributions followed by culturals. They used to be held in the evening and we used to spend the morning in preparation of the props with cardboad and golden-paper stuff. One important thing, I liked with the stage performances is the "Arithaaram" (in tamil), which would be applied on your face before you are made up for the role. There used to be a single sponge which the make-up man will use to apply this stuff (Arithaaram) on the faces of so many people. The sponge used to stink bad but getting yourself made up for that role is always a special feeling (you literally are a different entity & character, now). I had a special liking for this, I remember.

Tamil plays were always the center of audience's applause and appreciation (because they are the ones which will be actually understood by everybody out there) and hence they would invariably be pushed back to the final stages of the school day culturals, to keep the crowd in. So, I always had an opportunity to witness everything going on, from the backstage. Goof-ups, teacher providing the dialogue-leads if somebody forgets his lines, scoldings between the scenes, the busy-ness of the props-setting-people between the scenes, musicians playing the BGM tunes for the drama etc - I've had a first hand experience.

Apart from the dramas, the culturals would feature a good number of dance performances - again there were regular entries - Though I remember a lot of names, I skip them here so as to preserve their identities. Songs for the dance events were chosen with utmost care, such that they don't feature any controversial terms (you got it right ??). If there's one, they used to switch to a hindi version of the song, if available or even chop-off that particular line from the song. Apart from that, we used to have a few hindi songs for dance events. For example, when "Mehndi Laga Ke Rakhna" from DDLJ (which literally translated to "Put your henna on and keep the wedding palanquin decorated beautiful girl, your beloved will come to take you away ...") was staged, nobody had a problem, because the song was in hindi and nobody can decipher the sense, the song made.

Some of the famous dance numbers which I can recall are ARR's Vandemataram, Alisha's Made in India, Cheranenna Chozhanenna, Nooraandu kaalam vaazhga, Margazhi thingalallava, Poo pookum osai, Pulveli pulveli etc. The dance performances were mostly by girls and there were boy-girl mixed dance sequences with atleast five feet distance between each of them. During the Annual day seasons, some songs would be universally popular that they will find an entry into the school day culturals of almost all the schools during that year. Made in India, Vandemataram by ARR are classic examples of this particular aspect. I was never interested in dances during my school days, though I believed and still believe that, dancing was always tougher than playing a character in plays.

Kids' rhymes dance sequences would be awesomely cute and equally funny. When there are 10 to 15 kids (the number will always be so high so that the flaws wouldn't be apparently visible), there would be atleast 2 to 4 kids dumbstruck at the stage amused by the people in front and they will forget all the dance sequences and stand-still the whole time on the stage. Some will even start weeping. Yeah, there are instances even the kids will perform flawless - such training and rehearsals they would have gone into.

And, the best part about performing on stage is, you get some fans ... Right ?. I remember one of the conversations I had with a fifth grader (FG) after my performance in a stage play. I should be in Class 8, I believe and this was during the lunch break or something. I pretty much remember the matter and the following is somewhat fictitious.

FG: Anna ...
Me: Ennappa ...
(Someone calling you "Anna" itself is great, when you already have to call so many people "Anna", in school)
FG: Nethikku ungala paathen ...(I saw you yesterday)
Me: Apdiya pa thambi? kandupidichittiya ? (Oh dude !! glad that you identified me)
FG: Aamanna .. Sirippa irundhuchu ... (Yes Bro ... The play was comic)

You can't forget your first fan ... right ??. And, it always feels great to be a senior. 

It was undoubtedly a social status kinda thing to be performing on stages in school, I believe. Layers of Condescension were apparently present. You act in a play or dance to a number on a school day culturals, you achieve some kinda Prima-donna-ish image in the class or school. Everybody likes attention and everybody seek attention - and you get attention when you are performing on stage. Attention seeking is one of those human instincts that will prominently feature somewhere in our Emotional Intelligence pyramid.There are a lot of sociological and psychological aspects to be looked upon here. Thinking over this aspect, will present a lot of insights about how one's personality and social outlook has been shaped and sculpted during the formative years at school.

If somebody has really come this far, reading all the above, I appreciate your patience and indulgence into this. Hope you liked this.

Angadi Theru - Review

Spoilers ahead !!!

Social commentaries are that breed of cinema which mirror the contemporary society and will invariably evoke a spectrum of emotions with the audience. You get a glimpse of various unseen facets of the very same society in which you live ... The social and economic strata, the struggle for the daily bread, the society's hard-heartedness towards its own subjects etc. This Vasantha Balan film is a powerful entry into this genre, which very successfully arouses this feeling of how-privileged-one-section-of-the-society-is, which I wish to establish as one of the measures to assess the films of this genre.

On a retrospective note, recently we had "Naan Kadavul" which screened us the horrendous lives of temple-side beggars and the Agoris. "Vaalmiki" was one decent attempt that tried to portray the lives of pick-pocket thieves. "Polladhavan" featured absolute detailing with respect to the underworld of the bike pickers. Madhur Bhandarkar's Bollywood attempts, though they always gave a glamourised account, are worthy of a mention here. I just remembered a relatively unknown tamil film, Prathap Pothen's "Meendum Oru Kathal Kathai" which was well ahead of its times in its honest picturisation of a mental asylum. "Angadi Theru" just stands tall as a social black-commentary with no commercial concessions. The film picturises the lives of the sales-guys & gals in one of the many all-in-one shopping kiosks at T.Nagar's Ranganathan street. The film neither glamourises their lives nor is exploitative in its experiment. 

The film's main plot - sales-guys & gals in a Saravana stores-like shopping complex, the places they live and dine, the relationships they share amongst each other, their supervisor, the proprietor of the store etc.The lives of these sales personnel are shrewdly oriented towards only one goal - work and work only, for fifteen hours a day. In the process, they are forced to lose their self-esteem and are ill-treated like bond-slaves. The supervisors even barge-in on their personal spaces and try to chop-off their love interests. The film employs various other sub-plots depicting the street-side platform businesses. In short, it brings up the T.Nagar's commercial street live and  buzzing.

The movie's technical brilliance is something which you will never be able to appreciate at the first viewing. The film has such an engaging screenplay, that you aren't allowed to digress away from the story. You can't notice any flaws with the cinematography, editing or the Music as you will be very busy following the details depicted on the screen and a triggered-screenplay. The scenes are impact oriented and consequential - You are simply occupied with the emotions that engulf you with every scene that is exhibited. Jeyamohan's dialogues are spiky and they deserve a special appreciation.

 The film's protagonist Mahesh wields a blank face through-out and is not so efficient in communicating both vehemence and excitement  - gets the pass-mark as a fresher. If there has to be a find-of-the-movie, it is undoubtedly the heroine Anjali. Anjali just delivers such a matured performance in only her third movie. We saw her as Anandhi in "Katradhu Tamil" and was acclaimed the "Best Debutant of the year" in Vijay Awards that year. She is just apt as a salesgirl here and her face sharply relays the emotions what-so-ever. She looked very much subtle in her performance and scores way ahead of the glam-chics we have these days. Way to go Anjali !!!

The support cast including - the "Kana Kaanum Kalangal" guy & the bunch of sales people, A.Venkatesh as the supervisor, the platform salespeople - everybody just deliver their roles to perfection. The character of the sales supervisor Karungaali, played by A.Venkatesh needs a special mention here. He just reminded me of the role played by Thandavan in "Naan Kadavul". This character is a personification of cunningness, wickedness, villainy and rascality etc. You hate him so much big-time and thus he succeeds in his role. Casting has been awesomely good and Vasanthabalan's confidence with the first-timers pays off well. This is becoming more of a good sign with our cinema these days - The casting is mostly fresh and if the story demands a touch-of-nativity, the directors never bother to pick people from the society rather than from the industry. 

Many scenes in the movie just sweep you off with an overwhelming shock value. I feel that they are not intended as cheap exploitative gimmicks to jolt your conscience and emotional setup but are genuine in portraying the sick lives of a strata in this society. You just sit there paralysed by the impact, a few scenes create in you. And, I always had this compassionate empathy towards the salespeople in garment stores ... They just go on and on showing you stuff, till you decide that you are gonna buy something. So, whenever I spend a reasonable time browsing through garments in a store, I always have this habit of picking up something, atleast to satisfy the zeal, the salesperson exhibited to me. And, here on, this empathy is gonna be on a rise.

This is Vasanthabalan's third venture after Album and Veyyil. Album was very silent and never created an impact at the box office. Veyyil, deeply autobiographical and intensely personal gave him the much needed success and went on to the Cannes Film festival (though it premiered in the non-competitive section). I always have a great deal of respect for "Personal filmmakers". Veyyil was a dark personal tragedy and we can see the remains of "Veyyil" in "Angadi Theru" too. The flashback sequence shown here is very interesting and genuine, as he deals with relationships. 

Film-making, in terms of Andrei Tarkovsky is, "Juxtaposing a person with an environment that is boundless, collating him with a countless number of people passing by close to him and far away, relating a person to the whole world, that is the meaning of cinema".

This piece is brilliant ... Go watch it !!!