Mdeii Life - Anand Krishnamoorthi's blog
Monday, September 27, 2004
Phew! Such a looong time to find free internet!
I shall post a seriously good account of my adventures in Bristol (at-least whatever I have been through thus far) soon.
Until then, sorry for the unreplied emails/comments. Lotsa catching-up to do.
Wednesday, September 15, 2004
Quite a few things
I have wanted to write about so many things but have not found the time, and rather than make you read 20 lengthy posts, here is the Readers Digest version.
On Sunday, I saw two remarkably rare things in a cinema hall. One was a newsreel documentary, and the other was a good Tamil movie. The first one was this absolutely-one-sided-not-even-mentioning-BlueStar-Bofors-Premadasa-among-others-things account of the NehruGandhi dynasty. And the other was Azhagiya Theeye. When one can absolve so many Tamil films of their errors, just because they had their one or two 'moments', Azhagiya Theeye is a movie that really deserves to be excused for its lack of slickness. That is because it is probably the most genuinely told Tamil movie of recent times that I have come across.
The past week has also been rather hectic with me doing a lot of pre-departure visits and meets. I have also lived the quintessentially Chennai experience: Walking along the Marina Beachroad at noon; getting caught in Triplicane during rush-hour; waiting for a bus at the Vadapalani bus terminus one sweltering afternoon; walking along Mount Road on a dusty evening; running from AshokNagar to Mambalam in search of water; 'sightseeing' at Spencers; spending an evening with friends watching a movie at the Satyam Cineplex. I�ll surely miss these things.
I also visited my Tamil cinema 'mentor' Mr Balu Mahendra. Contrary to what the press might want us to believe, he is in very good humour. He also gave me a parting gift, an autographed original 1984 hardbound print of Polanski�s autobiography Roman (The other thing he gave me was a rather personal piece of advice on youknowwhat). Also, this journey I am to undertake has more serious connotations than I ever imagined possible. It appears that I am to represent mainstream Tamil cinema in a foreign filmschool—an overwhelmingly scary thought.
I wanted to write about 21Grams—Inarittu�s lovely movie, in detail ever since I saw it about a week ago. But I guess Mito, who first told me about it, and also an avowed fan of the director, is better placed to do that; am I right? Since watching the movie, I don�t have such a great opinion of Aaytha Ezhutthu.
Yesterday was a day out with the buddies. I watched Shrek 2 with two guys who themselves are in the animation business, Chandru and Bharath. Among all the gasps let out over the texturing skills of the animators, we were also debating the essence of storytelling like all good nerds do. The highlight of the day was of course a little earlier when the chaps bought me a lovely (and a very costly) necktie as a parting gift. Thanks guys!
Chakra warned me ages ago that travelling to Europe on a European airline is very different from the bulky journeys to America my family is more used to packing for. As a result, there are constant wordy quarrels about what is sensible and what is absolutely ridiculous to pack in. There are also those wordless stare-filled times of maximum antagonism when one side thinks the others are plain daft. Personally, I�d like to travel light, while my parents project into my future, their current concerns about me not able to fully capitalise on (and just about push the limits of) the already meagre baggage allowance. My intransigence and lack of the very Indian 'smartness', that has come to light in this small instance seems to bother my folks who find implications for times to come. It is scary and disappointing to find that your son, after years of living under the protection of the extremely 'smart' Indian system has never taken to it. I appreciate my parents for just this: the stoicism they put up in the face of such a let-down; and the trust they place in me that I will somehow make it (despite the 'how' rather lacking in Indian 'smarts').
Sunday, September 12, 2004
Apropos my post on Tamil Film Music
This was my post. BBC Tamil has this multipart article tracing the history of Tamil film music. A good read, and don't miss the radio clips.
Thursday, September 09, 2004
And now for something completely different
I seem to be enjoying send-off parties. And there seem to be quite a few of them. 'A' came all the way from Ahmedabad, and the Cat footed the bill. But it was not just the gin and tonic that caused all the highs. Anybody overhearing a threesome of nerdy chaps from the creative industries, talking merrily about calculus in actionscripting, and the kinky girls from NID in the same breath, is bound to think it is just the liquor. I know YB thought it was just the liquor.
But I know it was not just the liquor. It definitely had something to do with the paneer anguli. I simply don�t believe that the green sauce was made of spicy herbs. I don�t trust the Malabar aloo either; I don�t trust anything remotely Malayali.
And he said "Parsley" with a grin.
The retort of a fellow believer
Shakeel Abedi, has this nice blogpost.
In a situation where the word "believer" is looked at with both scorn and pity, (scorn & pity from both the haters of orthodoxy and from the practitioners) I can proudly claim that I too am a believer, and a believer who thinks politically correctly; or to be precise, a believer, but not a thug.
Much of what Shakeel writes about Islam, is I feel entirely suitable to describe the activities of the Hindu fundamentalists as well. Referring to the people who I had written about towards the end of the previous post, these guys also happen to be those "unimaginative nationalist zealots". If I have identified a malaise that we have brought upon ourselves, in the last post, the same spirit of argument can be continued here as well. Our zealots, apart from talk about an unverifiable past, stoke passions based on lies. They identify the malaise, (which is actually a good start) but skew its interpretations—they attribute motives that are external; the perpetrators as "others". And rather than realistically treat what they have identified, they perpetuate it by not looking at it right. The rot is almost always within.
These guys are absolute museum pieces—living ironies: they are not only stupid enough to be impulsive and narrow-minded, but also smart enough identifiers and exploiters of the malaise of the people. They are definitely not the curers of the disease. That is certain!
The Hindu scratches the surface
A lack of originality?
Not just that, I sometimes perceive it as a wilful destruction of self-respect, and an uncontrollable urge to be recognised as the bastard of the big shot. The way these people refer to the various "woods".
Somehow this preference to be imitators / bastards seems to run deep; so deep that it is the natural thing to do.
But I don�t think the film industry is the only one that seems to revel in this. A friend of mine, from animation school, is disillusioned with that field as it exists in India. Just like the 'plantation-like' situation in the BPO sector, animation in India it seems, is just full of so many sweatshops that do the colouring, in-betweens etc for animation projects that are conceived and developed elsewhere. The pay is good, the portfolios might be real impressive, but the work is lousy. There seems to be absolutely no room for creativity and innovation.
I really can�t talk too much about the IT industry, but I have a strong feeling that the case is similar. India might be touted as the world�s back-office, with a knowledge-based economy reaping the benefits of the growing services sector. Glorified plantation workers, if you ask me!
The whole reason why we as a nation might be bankrupt of any initiative is not because there aren�t talented people, there are many; but I feel it is because of the systemic internalisation of a situation that not only makes us allow ourselves to be, but also gives us our kicks by being mediocre clerks; always taking instructions, never thinking of innovation.
Yet, Orwell was right but, Freedom is slavery, and slavery is freedom. It is true that not every person can be, or should be an innovator, pioneer or leader. What really hurts me is to see an almost sweeping acceptance of mediocrity. Just to reiterate, we are not just accepting, but revelling in mediocrity; to the extent that even the "leaders" can�t think beyond imitation.
Another problem is that those who advocate a certain brand of nationalism, provoking pride in our allegedly colonised sprits, are also idiots. They keep talking about an unverifiable glorious past, and never about the present, or contemplate a future. And consequently, they too have no ideas of their own.
Monday, September 06, 2004
Remember: It is 'Dungan'
Saturday, September 04, 2004
How to Do It to a Book, or How to Trip on Music, or How to Define Songs in Indian Films
The usually peaceful British Council Library was swarming with people today; especially school kids, who somehow have a penchant for making high pitched shrieks and trampling noises all the time. Today must have been some sort of �invite-our-little-readers-day�. Amidst the bustle, I was surprised to see one section of the magazine rack that had been left non-vandalised. The latest issue of the BFI�s Sight and Sound was sitting there pretty, fresh, and untouched�almost waiting for me to pick it up, spread it out and consume it.
It is very hard to �make out� with a book when there are screaming kids running around. But this issue had the sort of special incentive that could help me enter and engross myself in it, and shut out the rest of the world. A little corner tab on the cover said that it was the biggest issue of S & S ever. And it was about film music�lip-smacking stuff.
Martin Scorsese, Francis Ford Coppola, Zbigniew Preisner, and so many other stalwarts of cinema, (including AR Rehman) had voiced their opinion on film music. Apart from the regular �aesthetic and critical study� wordiness of S & S, this issue also had some nice things to say about my favourites as well. Nino Rota was almost declared king of composers; Stanley Kubrick was often referenced as a director with �sound� sensibilities. I trip on Rota�s music; and like Kubrick, I too use a lot of classical music, �dropping in the needle�, as they say.
Ennio Morricone, Vangelis, Bernard Herrman and other legends were felicitated along with the great filmmakers who had unique aural talent. AR Rehman�s favourite score seems to be Morricone's work in Guiseppe Tornatore�s Nuovo Cinema Paradiso. My favourites would include that, and many others, especially those by Rota and Preisner. The Godfather (I & II), 8 �, Trois Couleurs, among others and a movie like Gangs of New York for its musical irony.
For, as many filmmakers have stressed in their opinions that while film music, in its traditional role tries to underline the visuals, it finds more relevance when it acts as a counterpoint to the images. Another interesting point I took from the write-ups was the assertion of the notion that in the Hollywood movie, the music remains subservient to the visuals, while the music video makes the visuals subservient to the music. This is dealt with in terms of which of the two forms the storytelling, editing and rhythmic core, and which moulds itself around the other to complete the audiovisual piece. What actually interested me in this observation, even though it is not an entirely new one to me, is that, never is the Indian film referenced when talking about this. I would, and would not credit the Indian film for certain contributions to the art and theory of film music�for various reasons.
But before I go into them, here is a brief taxonomy of Tamil film music. I could identify three distinct types of songs (not exactly an innovative effort): 1. The Synchronous Song, i.e. a song that is there because it is actually sung by the characters on screen as part of the story; 2. The Background Song, i.e. a song that sets the mood to a scene, essentially a drawn out, worded and sung piece of musical �score�; and 3. The Surreal Symbolic Song, i.e. the song that exists only in the realm of imagination, a fantasy orchestration. These days, almost all film songs conform to type 3.
Before I discuss the �why� of songs in films, I need to say a little more about the �what��the structure of songs. The grammar of the Tamil film song is almost formulaically strict. It comprises of an opening stanza, followed by an orchestral piece, followed by the second stanza, a repetition of the orchestral piece, a third stanza based on the second (just the words are changed), the third orchestral piece, and finally the closing stanza based on the opening. I am not too knowledgeable in classical music theory, so I really cannot comment any more about it, but I can say that such a structure makes the song lengthy enough for it to be devoted separate screen time�an abstraction that is unique to the Tamil film narrative. (For more about what an �abstraction� is, go here)
This also increases the length of the average Tamil movie, pushes up budgets, redefines the film-music / soundtrack industry (from how it is known elsewhere in the world), makes music direction a different profession, and most importantly, gives a whole new insight into the old music-vs.-visual-and-which-dominates-which-debate. While S & S praises Baz Luhrmann for his work in Moulin Rouge as unique for having created the right balance between music and visuals, I felt like shouting all the time that this is exactly what every director does in Madras. But I have to add that while Baz Luhrmann does it as a deliberate and thought-out artistic device; our chaps do it out of reflex�unthinkingly.
Now to go on to the why of songs in movies. There have always been film �musicals� all over the world, where music and songs are essential storytelling devices; and so it is /was in our case, but there is this whole different type of song in our film (type 3) that could, if anyone wanted to, be defined as a post-modern, post-sturucturalist, experimental-surreal narrative device. (Even bullshit can be nerdified as post-digestive, post-intestinal, expelled-untreated matter!) While surrealism was defined as a consciously pursued and identified film movement, we have reflexively and unconsciously been practicing actually very-theorisable nerdy stuff ourselves.
One can also talk about how the origins of our film culture lent its proto-filmic and stage aesthetics to our mainstream cinema. One can also talk a lot about the simple economic sustenance of this system by the total absence of a non-film, pop-music industry. But mostly it exists out of habit, convention, superstition, and the very Indian tendency of reticence to change�while it works, why shake it?
Many others consider this unique aesthetic of Tamil / Indian films to be its strongpoint, and an almost sacred virtue that gives the Indian film its identity. For a while, Indian �musical� films were a fad on the international film circuit / circus, simply because some romantic souls actually went and sold our films as uniquely constructed narratives. While Bunuel can be understood, can�t Sanjay Leela Bansali? But the point is, Bansali is not Bunuel, and Devdas is as much a habitual happening as conditioned morning defecation. The point being, there is no real reason for songs to exist in our narratives. They simply are there by convention. They don�t seem to help tell the story better; they don�t seem to add value to the narration, they don�t pace the telling, heck they even destroy pace. But they are there because one cannot imagine a film without songs; and more importantly because of the things they do accomplish. They pioneered the aesthetic of the music video, they contribute as much to the anti-diegesis as TV commercials (a whole new discussion of whether such a thing exists), the sell tapes, they offer eye-candy, and they employ a lot of people.
So there is actually nothing wrong with having songs in films, they really help do a lot of things, but the problems lies in defining Tamil / Indian film aesthetics only on this line. There can be Indian films that can remain uniquely Indian and yet, not have songs. We actually need not fear the loss of all relevance by losing the one thing unique to us. For me personally, songs cramp my style of storytelling and therefore don�t figure in my design of things. I am also a partial iconoclast who wants to not conform sometimes. Why should I do it just because it has always been done, especially when I don�t find it relevant, more so, when I find it to be intrusive?
So what started off as a discussion of my �quickie� with a book in a library has turned out to be another rant. I, being an aspiring sound-designer, can afford to go on such a lengthy trip. Yet, as those conditioned to lengthy Tamil films with tangential-musical-narrative-elements, some of us should find this absolutely understandable.
Thursday, September 02, 2004
All things Aerish
Quite casually, I have been exposed to many things Irish these past few weeks: From Irish literature to Irish cinema�all of them significantly, in English.
If one wanted, he or she could find a lot of similarities between the Irish and Indian colonial situation. Just look at me, I write very comfortably in a tongue bequeathed to me by my colonised ancestors. And I don�t consider English to be a foreign language at all. It is part of the way I think, the way I learn and study, and the way I do things. It definitely comprises a significant part of my daily communication. I think, much like the Irish, for me, my linguistic preference is quite beyond political debate. A debate made irrelevantly remote by generations of usage? Of course, I differ notably in one way: I still speak Tamil, read and write as well. But of course, this linguistic colonial inheritance is but one of the many things that helps me relate to Irish works.
I have made it a habit to start almost every post now-a-days with such a preamble. Now getting to the point, James Joyce�s A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man is the latest of my Irish influences. After the disaster that was the reading of Finnegan�s Wake, I have now taken the saner route to the complete enjoyment of Joyce. Apart from a glorious reminder of my own �imagined past�, the book gave me pointers for the future as well.
On the eve of my own departure to study art in England, I can take something out of Stephen Dedalus� philosophy towards the end of the book. It seems that for me too, �the shortest way to Tara (is) via Holyhead�.
This expression is explained so by Seamus Deane:
Tara � Holyhead: that is, the shortest way to Tara, the ancient site of the High Kings of Ireland, was via Holyhead, the port in Wales for the steam packets from Dublin. This would seem to mean either that exile is the quickest way to gain recognition (as a king) in your own country; or that leaving Ireland is the only way to get to know it truly; or that leaving Ireland is the only way left to restore to it some of the glory formerly associated with Tara.
In other news entirely non-Irish, I now have a G-mail ID and the Firefox browser.
Wednesday, September 01, 2004
The Olympic Conundrum
While anybody talks about Asia, they keep talking about the emerging powers of India and China.
Today I saw another film by an extraordinary Chinese filmmaker Zhang Yimou. For me, like most others around me, the image of Chinese movies was restricted to Cantonese martial-arts flicks from Hong Kong; or perhaps more recently, Crouching Tiger�. The first time I saw a Zhang Yimou film, I was absolutely blown away. This was a few years ago and I had the privilege of being in Prasad Lab�s (perfectly calibrated) theatre for an exclusive screening (with only two other viewers), of a pristine print of Not One Less. As an aside, I have to mention that the cans the prints came in were easily stacked and transportable hexagonal affairs, stencilled very officiously in red, and with an ingenious clasp; compare that to the way most of our films� prints are treated.
OK, getting back to the movie, as I said, I was taken aback by the sheer simplicity of the storytelling; what impressed me all the more was that whatever was shown�a quaint story set in a village, seemed to be almost the same as what one could see in any Tamil rural setting. The Chinese situation seemed to be in no way different from what we have here. Yes, there is universality to any poignant tale, but I could see more than just a sweeping commonality, or a coincidental custom or two. I could see a unity of situations�economic, cultural and political, that not many other places could share. And there was this Chinese film that could showcase it.
The other movie I watched today was The Road Home�another �rural� movie. It is a beautiful film with a charming old-world feel, told with measured sentimentality. It had some wonderful performances, especially from the charming Zhang Ziyi, some lovely camera-work and unhurried editing. The only other movie that compares in style would be that Telugu hit of not so long ago�Sippikkul Mutthu (Tamil title). �Telugu hit�, in no way conjures up images of a nicely told tale, just like �Chinese movies� used to be for me. But as a good friend in the Tamil film industry tells me, our filmmakers have stopped �living life�. That is why they are unable to �film life�. They seem to live a plastic existence�with borrowed ideas, stolen art, imitative techniques and artificial emotions permeating their own being. No one can make a good movie without living a real life.
This real life is all the more poignantly caught and relived by the audience if it is close to their own life. That is what I saw in the Chinese movies. I cannot talk about the manufacturing industry, or labour reform, or economic growth, or Olympic success, as I am not a complete student of economics or even remotely connected to sports. I can only talk about the Chinese movie.
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