Sunday, December 30, 2012

For Cinephilia, Cheers !

 I was one of the insatiables. The ones you'd always find sitting closest to the screen. Why do we sit so close? Maybe it was because we wanted to receive the images first. When they were still new, still fresh. Before they cleared the hurdles of the rows behind us. Before they'd been relayed back from row to row, spectator to spectator; until worn out, secondhand, the size of a postage stamp, it returned to the projectionist's cabin. Maybe, too, the screen was really a screen. It screened us... from the world.
- The Dreamers (2003), Bernardo Bertolucci

Caught this during the second watch. The film made such an indelible impression the first time about three years back ... Cinephilia, Paris student revolts, Eva Green's tits, to name a few. Call it confusion or confluence, there's not another work of art that is going to see such a flawless amalgamation of all those romantic ingredients - eroticism, politics and cinema.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Indhu (1994), Prabhudeva and the 'Gaana' genre

The title, I realize, sounds a bit presumptuous but this is not going to be a comprehensive post on the Gaana music or Prabhudeva. I just set out to register things that struck me while I was checking out the 1994 Prabhudeva starrer 'Indhu'.

It can be safely said that I was drawn towards the movie purely by my nostalgia for its songs, otherwise the movie's plot is so awfully all over the place. Youtube watching of all the song videos would have sufficed !. Deva's album for Indhu has a special fascination for me, I have very vivid memories of listening to them as a 8-9 year old and I knew all those lyrics by-heart back then. We were living in a close-knit neighborhood those days and our neighbor with a tape recorder played the album so many times that i practically sang along those lines with the speakers all the time. I remember that my mom always disapproved me of singing those verses aloud and now I understand why !. References to female body & sexual overtones are an essential feature of all the songs in the album. Almost all the songs in the album (except may be 'Metro channel') can be categorized under the filmy Gaana genre.

'Gaana' as a musical genre was born in urban slums and it even has a certain plausible dalit origin. When 'Gaana' songs made it into the cinema, they were tempered a bit to suit mainstream consumption. Even on that level, Vaali's lyrics for Indhu's album are so much over the board (pointing 'mainstream' again) making misogyny in filmy gaana an understatement. A few examples would be 'Ulla theriyum Nayudu hall', 'back a paatha bens car', 'nellu kutha edam kodutha maatikkuva oralukulla' etc. Films usually had one gaana song, usually shot as an item number but with so many gaana songs in the album, Indhu gains a representative significance. I think tamil cinema is well past its gaana glory .. gone are the days of Deva, the most prominent filmy gaana composer of the 90s.

Going back to Indhu the film, somebody should have been thinking of a good launch vehicle to sell Prabhudeva's excellent dancing abilities and forged together this particular film. By 1994, 'Chikku bukku Rayile (Gentleman)' and 'Lalaakku dol dappi ma (Suriyan)' have made Prabhudeva a familiar face among the tamil audience and hence somebody was encouraged to really invest in a whole movie selling his dance repertoire. 'Indhu' is his first movie in a lead role and he had a decent acting career to show off following this film. If we were to put in some kind of detailed research into all those songs that Prabhudeva danced to, we might be able to theorize the (urban ?!) youth culture of the 90s in Tamilnadu. More than Rajinis, Kamals or any other film stars during his times, I think these will offer a lot of insight in that direction. Just think of the long list we will have - Indhu, Raasaiya, Mr Romeo, Kaathalan etc. I also always thought his dance moves carried a certain trashiness (can't put forward with a better word - i actually mean inelegant), they were quite fast & hence difficult to follow, may be they were choreographed intentionally to be inimitable, at least in the most famous numbers that i could recall he wore baggies or lungi-pattapatti combo when he danced. I would like to associate these with the specific audience his songs (and movies) addressed, thereby pointing again to the youth culture of the 90s.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Deutschland Bleiche Mutter (1980)

Some spoilers ahead !

Deutschland Bleiche Mutter (DBM) as a film has to be placed firmly in context. The viewer has to be aware of a little bit of history - the Nazi Germany, post-war trauma and the Vergangenheitsbewaeltigung - for instance. The film was made in 1980 - the German unification was still a decade away and the east-west division was fully in place. DBM is directed by a female director, Helma Sanders-Brahms and that adds a different dimension to the film's perspective concerning agony of the war and motherhood.

The film is not objective at all and thus is very slow paced. The first half of the film extends as a road film with Lene (Eva Mettes) walking through the forests & seasons with her new born infant. While on a casual stroll, my actual connect with the film came when Lene gets raped by the allied soldiers and when she remarks "the victors' right, little girl". From that point on my entire perception of the film had a whole new notion that, Lene (as the mother) is the metaphor for Deutschland herself. While I am not sure if it was intended, the film made much more sense on an abstract level after that point. Lene's paralysis on one side of the face, Lene losing all her teeth to avoid the spread of the paralysis, Lene covering one side of the face with a dark veil, her troubled relationship with her husband, her unexplained anger on her daughter - all suggested the disarmament, the east-west division and the mental trauma that the war brought to the society.

Eva Mettes' stupendous performance stands-out and she obviously carries the film almost single-handedly. Her face conveys an infectious gloominess right from frame one preparing us for that epic tragedy - the climax.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Collector sir ...

Thalapathy (1991), Mani Ratnam

   "motham aruvathu naalu case ... Devaraj melayum ... Surya melayum"

Thus began the most impactful scene of Mani Ratnam's Thalapathy (1991). The scene was the first meeting between the new district collector Arjun (Aravindswamy) and the mafia kingpins Surya (Rajinikanth) and Devaraj (Mammooty). It is a clash, a conflict, a contest, all of friction and tension - spectacularly shot, directed and enacted - it was just impeccable. 

The scene assumes a temporary harmony when Surya starts explaining his point of view in a composed tone. 

"Collector sir, neenga eppovavadhu ezhaiya irundhirukeengala ... ?"

And then hostility starts to build up in subsequential exchanges and the conversation reaches a clear break-down when Arjun declares in all his capacity ...

"Unga katthalukku indha oor jananga bayapaduvanga, naan bayappada matten"

Surya's "thodra paakkalam" outburst not only gives an idea of the inflammability of the whole exchange but also suggests like the tip of the iceberg, the whole rivalry that might ensue. As predictable in tamil cinema conflicts, the individual has to rise above and counter the system (police, government, administration, feudal setups). This scene is a definitive illustration of this recurring individual-larger-than-system theme in tamil cinema. 

The scene was like a stunningly written prose, well constructed point by point, arguments built-up step by step, camera probing from face to face capturing the clash of the egos in all details, reaching the crescendo with that masterclass from Ilayaraja.
"niruthanum ellathayum niruthanum ... MUDIYATHU"
It was a collaboration of the geniuses of their crafts - Mani Ratnam, Santosh Sivan, Ilayaraja, Rajinikanth, Mammooty, Nagesh and Aravindswamy. The result was simply magnificient and thus Aravindswamy became one of the lasting impressions of the image of an IAS collector as far as tamil cinema is concerned. There are others too !!

Iraniyan (1999), Vincent Selva

 Surya Vamsam (1997), Vikraman

Thevar Magan (1992), Bharathan

 Indira (1996), Suhasini Maniratnam

Monday, September 3, 2012

Street Art - Berlin

Berlin is a city of scars, being so much the center of politics, conflict, war and destruction for the most part of last century. Everything in Berlin, the monuments, memorials, statues, architecture tell a sorry story with which Berliners (and Germans) are still trying to come to terms with. Berlin's streets in contrast are so much vibrant, colorful and full of life (for a Karlsruher the effect was much more pronounced). Trying to consume all images and people I encountered, I was having an eye on the street art graffiti in Berlin. To actually tour around the city with a camera, shooting the best of the creative street-art scene would take about a week I suppose. Nevertheless I just present what I had in my camera here. 

Berlin's counterculture scene dates back atleast to the mid and late 1960s student protests. Graffitis are a form of counterculture, non-conformity with the existent social ethos, an act of cultural defiance and more importantly a recognized art form. By the way, Yuppicide is the word of the trip and that's Berlin for me.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Samsara (2011)

A poem need not be an explanation, it should be able to paint a much wider and deeper canvas than what is being presented as words. A good poem inspires imagination, evokes soul search, kindles an intellectual discourse - all much larger than the poem itself. Samsara is one such poem on 70mm film and to say that it was stunning to experience Samsara on the big-screen is just an understatement.

Samsara's idea of aesthetics mostly relies on the "Stop motion" and "Motion capture" techniques, so to state - finding an order in all randomness, finding the beauty in all chaos. It transcends the audience into a particular psychological state whereby you are forced to concentrate on the patterns and the topography than the individual discrete units that make up the pattern.

Samsara with all its calmness and soul-embracing music is an expression of contempt in all rigour. It sounded like a harsh critique on the perils of the human civilization, for me. The footage covers arms industry, the adult toy industry, electronics recycling, plastic rag picking, automobile wrecking, car manufacture, African tribals, the skyscrapers, the Buddhist monks in Asia etc, portraying a real comprehensive worldview. Wherever (the fewer times) the human faces look into the camera, they do so with so much rigidity or discernible anger or compassion or self-pity, it looked like they are making a profound political statement.

Several juxtapositions resonated hard in me - the entire sequence about the meat (animal flesh) industry is followed by prostitutes with number tags exhibiting their bodies, the operations in the dairy industry (machines milking the cows sequence) is followed by a lot of piglets feeding on a pig all raised for slaughtering, the symmetrical/shiny bullets is followed by an army general with so many medals and a disfigured face. 

It will all sound like a philosophical rant but Samsara underlines the human greed, lack of compassion, the human idea of conquest, religious & ethnic chauvinism, exploitation of human labor, war, hunger, death and so on. The footage interspersed with the actual nature - skies, deserts, waterfalls, volcanoes - shows us all the kind of harmony that is expected of the human beings as a part of this wonderful system. May be somebody else who saw the same movie in the same hall would have looked at the brighter side of things - beauty, harmony, symmetry, patterns, love, music, peace - with Samsara. And hence is Samsara's greatness, vastness, prodigiousness and rhythmicness.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Good Bye Lenin! (2003) - Iconography

"Good Bye Lenin! (2003)" is one of the most studied German films (along with "Das Leben der Anderen (2006)") of the last decade. Identified as an important work for its "Ostalgie" theme, it has a distinct grief perpetuating through out. Its narrative is strewn with details about life in the erstwhile GDR, which I have tried to present here with screenshots. It uses a lot of real footage concerning the fall of the Berlin wall followed by the unification. On a casual first viewing, the following images (the "trabant" as the GDR icon and the "Coca-Cola" for the political transition in the region, for example) struck me. It is a very sad film, hiding all its regretfulness with an ironic comic face.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Madhubana Kadai (2012)

Madhubana Kadai (MK) transcends the conventional tamil cinema narrative, as in it doesn't have a form - it holds no premise, no beginning, no building-up of a plot, no interval cut and no climax. The characters emerge from nowhere and then they are lost in some time, of course apart from a few who occupy the entire script. The script works more like, the dirty wine shop with its alcohol supplies, is the central character and the people who visit it are peripherals at the most. In the hindsight, it looks like it could have worked only this way. 

MK had a lot of Bala-esque scope for instilling emotions and drama, but it decided not to. It takes no moral stance and it's no propaganda engine, the most it did is to disperse several satirical elements which can be labelled "political" statements. The film is set in Erode-Perundurai locales and shows in heart and blood, a single day in the life of a TASMAC wine shop. The wine shop is visited by people from all walks of life and occupations and is the center of a lot of political discussions, social skirmishes, drinking as social status elements etc. 

The tamil society (big cities should be exceptions) with all its self-righteous moral-policing is still devoid of genuine social hang-outs. That is where the relevance of so many cinema halls and TASMAC outlets emerge. Cinema theaters and toddy shops are the only centers of catharsis (in the sense of emotional outlets) for the working class (Women are limited to only cinema and neighborhood gossips I suppose). Hence these are centers of social equality, that even the all-pervasive casteistic hierarchy has to stay away from them. The film quite correctly references this as "Samarasam Ulaavum idame". MK is the confluence of cinema and liquor in that sense.

For me, the last three minutes of the film made a huge impact out of nowhere. It featured the social angst of a dalit sewage drain cleaner in quite some details. I mean, I don't remember the last time a main-stream tamil feature film spoke about this issue. The scene was quite inconsequential from the script's POV but it did make a profound political statement. That is why this film is special, it didn't attempt to have an agenda but then made a spontaneous go at issues like this. A second viewing would certainly help I suppose.

MK makes a mockery of the drinking culture in a typical tamil society. TASMAC is one of the largest money spinners and is a source of humongous revenue for the state. When the state handles the alcohol industry, it becomes just another object of political & monetary greed and the film rightly presents the case of "duplicate liquor" and gross mismanagement of the infrastructure of the industry. Drinking is thus not a source of bacchanalian pleasure here as it should be.

PS: The film is inspired by this Nanjil Nadan essay (as in the credits), which offers a brilliant read.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Tut mir leid, Ich bin auch tourist ...

Not knowing the language and still being a part of the social setup, is a bizarre feeling. To be shut out of random conversations in local trains, not being able to help somebody who actually trusted you and asked directions to a place, not to be in a position to explain what you want while you shop at the super market, and above all - disability to imbibe the popular culture viz. magazines, news papers, cinema, theater, music etc - It's so awkward. The complexity of the language under question only bolsters my pessimism that I will never be able to keep a conversation in German in the near future. Sometimes I have this imagination that I am a hapless new-born totally unaware of what is going on around me, except for the fact that kids hear and lip-read so fast and master a language really quick. The perils of swallowing a language so late in life is the inability to "get" it in German (for example) without taking the English route -- (i.e) German word - translate into English - write into the memory, and vice-versa. The word-picking rate gets drastically down this way. 

There is a general tendency in us - In a conversation, when somebody discusses things with words that we don't know, it tends to turn us off and we start to perceive the conversation as "boring". Starting to learn a language comes with this warning - each and every word that a native speaker utters is going to be new and to actually fight that ineptitude and somehow boost the learning curve takes some confidence and eagerness. Recently I had this plan to inculcate that eagerness by feeding my imagination about German culture, history and sociology (Ostalgie and Vergangenheitsbewältigung, to name a few). To actually develop a sense of taste towards a language that is not your mother-tongue is not an easy thing. English with its all-pervasive nature and India with its colonial fixations got it into us even before we realized. To artificially drill German into one's self thus is a Herculean task. Being away from the mother-land for so long generally sickens the intensity of the nostalgia for my "own" language, "own" music, "own" cinema and "own" everything. Inability with German is just another conflict within the self.

PS: The title of the post means - "I am sorry, I am a tourist" (in German).

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Vazhakku Enn 18/9

Not a review - Some random thoughts.

 Vazhakku En 18/9 (VE) ends with an epic climax - Jothi splashing caustic acid on a police inspector's face in the court premises. The scene symbolizes, in addition to many other connotations, the well-channelized angst of a commoner towards the system (law & order and the judiciary). This is quite characteristic of the late 70s and 80s Indian middle cinema of say - Mrinal Sen, Govind Nihalani or Shyam Benegal, wherein the common man questioning the system had frequently been the central theme. One such instance stand out for me - almost forty years back, Shyam Benegal's Ankur (1974) ended with a scene that is marked as the beginning of Indian parallel cinema. It had a young boy pelting a stone at a glass window and running away as the sound of the shattered glass resonates in air. It was remarked as the first stone of resistance against the casteistic and feudalistic setup of the neo-socialist India (of the 60s). VE definitely makes a more harsh statement - with acid.

VE vividly reminds us of the ground reality about the "existence" of two Indias - of the have's and the have-not's, the privileged and the underprivileged, the rich and the poor. The political and social institutions of the country have always been the center of conflict between the classes. VE features two love stories, both of them confluence at some point in the judicial system.

My last point would be on the so called disintegration of the "existent" ethical/moral fabric. It is very easy to point fingers or to moral-police, being critical of the technology or the next school going generation but that would be a terrible shortsightedness. To be brutally honest, for somebody who completed schooling just seven years back, I was shell-shocked to see that school going boys use mobile phones and film their girl classmates. I tend to think that there has been this disconnect between education and character building, somewhere in our schooling system. While our system will keep churning out engineers and mathematicians, the sociological aspects of our education badly needs some repair.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

The Love metric

"Aambalaikkum Pombalaikkum" track from the tamil movie "Kazhugu (2011)" offers a metric to appreciate the state of affairs of romantic relationships in a society - the number of suicides (resulting from "love failures"). The more the number of suicides, the better it seems.

Shocking it may be, the lyrics actually read ...

காதலெல்லாமே ஒரு கண்ணாமூச்சி
இதில் ஆணும் பெண்ணுமே தெனம் காணா போச்சு
காதலிலே தற்கொலைகள் கொறஞ்சே போச்சு 

Our cinema always relished opportunities to idealize/idolize human emotional exchanges like boy-girl romance (Vikraman films for example), marriages, friendships (Thalapathy, Karnan for bromance), brotherhood, fatherhood, motherhood, thaai-maman (Kizhakku Cheemayile quite obviously) etc. This usually rendered a lot of scope in beefing up the melodrama and the hero delivering monologues romanticizing whatever that came on the way. They did demonstrate a definitive framework/blueprint on how any relationship should look like. While it can be argued that they are reflective of the collective ethic of the society, I have a feeling that our cinema always went overboard. 

Limiting our discussion to only the boy-girl relationships, it would be interesting to observe how our cinema is going to evolve portraying them from here on. We agree or not, there is already a certain degree of "westernization" or we may call it "pseudo westernization" in place, in our societies (well may be, the metropolitan cities only or the IT sector only). This might gradually change the way we perceive relationships and at some point our society (as a whole) will come to terms with the existing notions of "true love" and "successful marriage". In a land where Lord Ram, Devdas and Ambigapathy are the folklore, there is a certain fixation with the current values system espousing ideas like "divine love" and the whole "kallanaalum kanavan" discourse (for marriages). These simply result from the fact that we tend to give more importance to the status of the relationship  than to the happiness of the individuals who are a part of it. NO, I am not judging which one is better - Just read it as an observation.

As the society evolves, our movies will evolve or the other way around is also possible. Two recent movies will settle the discussion i suppose. First - "Vinnaithaandi Varuvaaya (2010)" idealised the relationship, it pretty much romanticized the obsession. Second - "Leelai (2012)" set in Chennai IT circles, the protagonist is quite a girl-chaser and dabbles with many a relationships before settling into one. 

A very confused post I would say, I was lost analyzing the relevance and political correctness of stuff I mentioned. I think if somebody gets a bigger picture of what I have been trying thus far, that should make my day.

Friday, May 25, 2012

European Union - An Outsider's view

The following write-up summarizes my impressions about the European union, on attending the Jean Monnet circle seminar series (ongoing) held at Karlsruhe Institute of Technology, Germany. Envisaged as a non-academic article, I don't guarantee factual and political correctness of the ideas expressed here.

It is always a daunting task to achieve any degree of "integration" in a geographically vast region encompassing various forms of diversity viz. language, culture, religion etc. The idea of European Union is very much a work in progress and it presents an excellent study-ground to observe possibilities of integration in a culturally pluralistic environment. 

The European Union (EU) had its seeds in the European Coal and Steel Community of the 1950s and was initially charted out to ensure trade co-operation between France and Germany. More importantly, its agenda was to effect peace amongst the European states after two shattering wars within a span of 30 years. As long as the idea of the union was business/commerce centric (such as the free market for goods and free movement of workers etc), it is an arguably successful model. But, when the union gave rise to other institutions such as the European court of justice, European commission etc, it very much touches the political, cultural and social lives of every citizen in the EU and hence might question the very existence of individual sovereign states in Europe.

Leaving aside the widely criticized "democratic deficit" in the institutions of the European union, the sheer power dynamics amongst the member states of the union should be discussed. It's an open secret that Germany (amongst other members) with its rock-solid economy enjoys an absolute political clout in the union. Germany's political stature in the union is inevitable but this accumulation of power with a single state will gradually lead to a situation where Germany (or for that matter, any other country or a clique of countries) dictates terms influencing common lives in the region. That will only pave way to a new form of imperialism - annihilating economic, cultural, social and linguistic interests of other states in the union. This is exactly the way British colonization worked - start with trade (East India Company in India, for example) and then increase spheres of influence. We can't rule out the possibility that the whole of Europe might be speaking German (or French or whatever) thousand years from now.

Another possibility might be the case where individual states of the continent can be forcefully affiliated to the union citing economic (or other) benefits. This might lead to a situation resembling the erstwhile Soviet Union, where states were either annexed or held by force, eventually leading towards disintegration.

As of today, the idea of a "unified Europe" can safely be considered to be in it's infancy, looking at the loyalties (or nationalism) of citizens towards their own countries than a harmonious "European Nationalism". This is quite explainable - Europe has been a war-torn region for a very good part of the twentieth century and hence overtones of cultural nationalism are expectedly dominant. A sudden shift in the loyalty towards a totally new political entity will not happen. But, if at all that happens it would be killing all indigenous cultures, languages, religions and other forms of social expression, paving way to a unified continent ("monarchia universalis") with nil diversity. On that day, there won't be German automobiles, no french fashion, no swiss watches and no italian art but the kind of political & economic authority that the EU will have on the rest of the world will be phenomenal.

To be optimistic for a change, India presents an amazing living example of a culturally pluralist state held together as a successful democracy for more than sixty years now. India as a single entity was a very fancy idea which was somehow successfully achieved integrating more than 500 princely states - diverse on all possible parameters. Many intellectuals predicted doom, Selig Harrison for example wrote in his 1960 book India: The Most Dangerous Decade, “the risk of India being split up into a number of totalitarian small nationalities”. But India survived (with many a hiccups though). Of course, the ground realities are different but the point is, it is not impossible.

Read more at:"

Might be continued ...

Thursday, May 24, 2012

BaluMahendra-esque -- Thread 1

A 7000 word essay.
A Picture is worth ... know ?

 Azhiyatha Kolangal (1979) - Shobha and Prathap Pothen

Moodupani (1980) - Shobha and Prathap Pothen

Rettai Vaal Kuruvi (1987) - Archana and Mohan

Vanna Vanna Pookkal (1992) - Vinothini and Prashanth

Marupadiyum (1993) - Revathi and Nizhalgal Ravi

Raman Abdullah (1997) - Easwari Rao and Vignesh

Julie Ganapathy (2003) - Ramya Krishnan and Jayaram

Saturday, April 14, 2012

On Chennai Super Kings

A short take on the brand Chennai Super Kings (CSK), not much on their cricket.

Right from my university days, I have observed a clear polarity when it comes to the fan-loyalty for the Indian Premier league (IPL) - CSK fans (mostly tamil-speakers) and non-CSK fans who mostly aligned themselves to cheer for Mumbai (as though the remaining teams don't matter much). CSK has established itself into such a humongous brand that people who don't admire CSK have to find a real big cricketing monster to counter it. And, invariably they shield themselves with the stupendous career of the country's greatest cricket icon - Sachin Tendulkar. Sachin is probably India's greatest ever brand, may be after Gandhi, but CSK fans would want Sachin to get a golden duck if Sachin is marking his stance against a CSK bowler.

CSK, in my opinion has very carefully cultivated an image - as a pack of disciplined and professional athletes. When almost every other team had attractive actresses for the TV presenters to turn to, CSK's dugout had no eye-candy. I have seen CSK fans identifying their team as a "chauvinistic" bunch stating the above, but I think the point is CSK has it's cricket right and that there was no need for other crowd-pullers. Not tinkering much with the player composition every season is a very good culture that nurtures team loyalty. Sometimes I am terribly confused if I am watching Kolkata or Pune playing if Dada is up at the toss.

There was one striking feature in CSK's promo videos that are broadcast on FM Radios, Television or available at large on Youtube (like this, this, this) - Chennai's nativity. They have a very catchy and truly Chennai-esque theme like - "Whistle podu", "Six podu", "Raise your handsu" etc. A fair look at the promo videos would suggest how brand CSK connects with its fans - the videos are so full of life,  they are so full of Chennai. They are packed with so much of ethnographic details unique to life at Chennai - temples gopurams, cinema wall posters, beach, pookadai, teakadai, isthiri-petti, gully cricket, kolam, traffic, cut-out culture, dappanguthu, central station, autowallahs, street kids etc. The focus in these videos is not too much on the players who represent CSK but on the fan who cheers up for CSK. Also it features women of all ages portrayed as fans of cricket in general and CSK fanatics specifically. Showing a portrait of a 65 year old grandma with fingers on her lips whistle adichufying is something special - All these quickly establish the fact that CSK's brand of cricket touches all lives in Chennai - no bars on age, gender, social class etc. The visual culture presented doesn't feature any kind of "eliticism" and it all looks like a perfect amalgam of cricket and life in general at Chennai.

And then there is Dhoni whose aura as a leader is unsurmountable in the limits of IPL. It looks easy but the way Rajinikanth's film persona was blended into Dhoni's cricket persona ("podhuvaga en manasu thangam" score, for example) is something remarkable. This should be something unique to Chennai that might not work elsewhere in the world with any sports team or film star. 

Ofcourse, for a brand to sustain, the team has to perform and CSK delivers. It sometimes looks like many of us CSK fans take their performance on the field for granted.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

John Keats, Thangamani and High School English

I was struck by a very intense nostalgia on listening to the beautiful song "Innisai paadi varum" (Thulladha Manamum Thullum, 1999) this morning. Gonna try reproducing what I wandered through.

I had this poem "Ode on a Grecian Urn" (John Keats, 1819) as a part of the curriculum in our High school English paper and Mr Thangamani was my English teacher back then. I somehow exactly remember how he taught us this particular poem, picking up verses from one of the then popular tamil movie songs "Innisai paadi varum". It was the earliest instance of "Comparative Literature" I ever went through.

Heard melodies are sweet, but those unheard
    Are sweeter -- Keats

கண்ணில் காட்சி தோன்றிவிட்டால்
கற்பனை தீர்ந்துவிடும்
கண்ணில் தோன்றா காட்சியில் தான்
கற்பனை வளர்ந்துவிடும் -- வைரமுத்து

(Roughly translated as)
If reality meets the eyes, then imagination will come to an end. As long as the reality remains elusive, the imagination is alive. 

Thus Mr Thangamani explained the poem to us quoting Vairamuthu and this explanation has somehow stood the test of my memory so far. I just realize that, for me "Ode on a Grecian urn" was how Thangamani taught it to us comparing it with a popular movie song, more than anything else. I mean, I think that's the legacy a teacher can leave in his students, in the limits of a classroom. 

The above Keats' verse used to be a very famous ERC (Explain-with-Reference-to-the-Context) question that appeared in the exam papers frequently and I remember, I quite enjoyed explaining it. Even after graduation from a rigorous university curriculum, I can still say that - English Paper I in Tamilnadu's Matriculation board was the most "demanding" exam, I ever wrote in my life. In just about two and a half hours, we used to answer four essay type questions (each in about three pages), ERCs, short answers and a whole lot of grammar. I mean, it used to be a race with time to complete the paper, answering all the questions. We used to come out with aching hands, totally enervated.

Diverging ... 

Only for the sake of it, I reminded myself of the way we were forced to learn English in our High school. I think, language papers need to be taught in such a way that students look at the linguistic nuances and write what they "experienced", rather than reproducing things that are dished out on a paper or student guides. We were "trained" or "coached" to recite and write things by-heart than being "taught" to appreciate the aesthetics (of say a poem). I see it as one of the many fundamental flaws in our educational system. I definitely had a few teachers who were different and encouraged self-written answers even if it wasn't completely flawless and Mr Thangamani was definitely one of them.

In the hindsight, I could understand that there was a really clear dichotomy in the way science teachers and language teachers (Tamil and English) were treated by the school management back then. Because science and maths scores are going to land us into the professional courses at universities, there was/is a stigma that a high school's reputation is proportional to the science & maths scores it's students secure at the final exams. So, the teachers who taught language papers were treated with relatively less importance and respect by the school management and this attitude quite naturally crept into the students. That is probably the reason, why many of my friends didn't have a really good relationship with our language teachers.

I realize that this piece has wandered a lot (and enough) without any specific agenda, through my formative years at high school.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Lisbeth Salander - a few gender perspectives

Lisbeth Salander (played by Rooney Mara in "The Girl with the Dragon tattoo (2011)") is easily one of the most powerful and hence impressionable female protagonists I have ever witnessed on-screen. She displays a disrespectful attitude towards almost every man and woman she encounters. She doesn't really care about morals or conventions - thus outwardly anarchic in every activity she does. She doesn't crave for love and is utterly unfriendly. Her gothic physical appearance with rings, tattoos and extravagant eyelashes would mark her as a countercultural symbol (of the 60s/70s punk culture).

Lisbeth's sexuality (she does appear nude in many a sequences) is characterised with a specific macho-ness and hence is devoid of the "tickling" sensuality presented usually with eye-candy ladyleads on-screen. This aspect of Lisbeth's characterisation should be a feminist film theorist's delight - as Lisbeth, in my opinion, counters the "gaze", quite successfully.

The gruesome and detailed presentation of sexual assault on Lisbeth, in a way, prepares the viewer to take the "righteous" side, that of Lisbeth's, late in the movie. The stylised vengeance with which she bounces back was reminding of Uma Thurman of the "Kill Bill" series, but the uniqueness of Lisbeth's cult is there to stay. Her vicious stares and actual physical assaults on many a men present her as the agent of destruction but as viewers, we approve her action as we have been made aware of what she has endured.

In light of the blatant sexism with which a woman's intelligence is portrayed in general in movies (the hollywood "blonde stereotype" cinema, for example), this movie presents a refreshing take. As Lisbeth hacks into Blomkvist's computer and Blomkvist brags about his "encryption", Lisbeth spurts out a condescending "Please" - You get the dynamics there.

The film also presents a really interesting sexual politics with the woman-on-top lovemaking sequences. While her "controlling" of the activity is more demonstrative of the idea, her disinterest in romance would remove any last traces of the "usual" femininity associated with a woman.

Motorcycles and computers are a kind of modern phallic symbols - the former representing physical valour and the later, intellectual superiority. Lisbeth, not just simply masters them but approaches gadgets with a ridicule in her body language - it just looks as if she is too fast for them. Her intellectual dominance on Blomkvist (played by Daniel Craig) in solving the actual case presents another perspective. Daniel Craig has been playing James Bond 007, who is quite an alpha-male, both physically and intellectually. Though Craig's performance in this movie was not reminding of Bond, it was somehow interesting to have a female character which counters Mr.Bond himself.