Saturday, November 25, 2006

Pablo and Lenin

Il Postino - have been meaning to watch this movie for a while now. Baba wants me to watch it every time I come down to India. But have stubbornly resisted watching any "intel" movie - I don't know why I always feel lazy about starting a new movie, esp if I know I am supposed to love it and appreciate it! For that matter, I feel lazy about starting new books as well. Mostly you can see me curled up on the garden chair reading either a yellowing Enid Blyton or a fading Fantastic Mr Fox! But ofcourse, once I take the plunge I love it (in the past 2 months I've just taken the plunge for Shantaram and White Cargo and devoured about 2 dozens Famous Fives, Five- Find Outers and Three Investigators in the interim!)

So I got convinced at last and watched Il Postino (The Postman).

1952, in a small island in the Mediterranean Sea, Pablo Neruda is sent on exile to this little island, where he meets Mario Ruoppolo. Mario is an unemployed (and adorably vulnerable looking) son of a fisherman who is hired as Neruda's personal mailman - as Neruda gets too many letters from his (men and) women fans. Too many for the only other postman to handle! Neruda introduces Mario to his world of poetry and Mario uses this skill to win over Beatrice, an amazing-looking woman. But Mario learns more than the love of poetry from Neruda.

The movie is immensely powerful without being sentimental and beautiful without being pseudo intel. From poetry to politics, the movie has it all. I was blown away.

Why the Lenin in my title? Well, somewhere it reminded me of my other "favorite" Good Bye Lenin. No, I don't mean the political parallels. But something about the handling of emotions and politics is really real in both the movies. And there is so much of fun and laughter in spite of the seriousness of the topic. In Il Postini, it's the contrast between the sometimes brooding Neruda and the naive and curious Mario which makes you smile. In Good bye it's the occurances in Post Fall of the Wall Berlin - like the BIG coca cola banner and ofocurse Lenin's statue being hoisted away - which make it impossible for the son to maintain the illusion of pre wall days for his ailing mother.
Maybe I'll watch it back to back someday and I'll be able to tell you better what I mean by "these two movies are similar". I felt the same way about The Girl in the Cafe and Lost in Translation - oh ok I've said that before...

Friday, November 24, 2006

Book Review and Tales of Stage Fright

Coincidently, have been coming across a lot of emotions about theatre in the books I have been reading nowadays. So I thought I’ll share it here. The first one I am reading is this autobiography called “White Cargo” by Felicity Kendall. For the uninitiated, Felicity is one of Britain’s most successful actors and although I know of her only as a player in Shakespeare wallah (the theatre group and the subsequent movie), she has worked with a whole range of contemporary playwrights and in TV serials as well.

I was introduced to stories of Shakespeare wallah really early in life – much before I made a backdoor entry into Players (that’s a different story all together and I would refrain from launching onto some personal memorabilia and bore you all to death). My father, who went to an anglicized school in the hills, got his theater “calling” at age 17 and decided that he has to join Shakespeare wallah – the only theater group that did English theatre at a commercial level those days (1950-60). He wasn’t allowed to but his unattained dream destination haunts him even today and we get to hear about it periodically.

Shakespeare wallah was a play group that did Shakespeare plays (obviously) all over India and Britain since the 1940s. The main chaps were Geoffrey Kendal, his wife Laura, a changing group of actors of various ages and nationality (one of them being Shashi Kapoor who later married Geoffrey’s elder daughter Jennifer). Geoffrey’s younger daughter Felicity started writing White Cargo at her father’s bedside as he lay paralysed after a stroke and is a really beautiful book on theater, travels, India through the eyes of a non-firangi firang (a not so foreign foreigner) and, ofcourse, a father-daughter relationship. Even if your passions in life don’t exactly coincide with the travel, theater, travel-writing and relationships (mine do), it’s worth a read. If I had to write a book, (and if I was a Felicity not Sudo phish and people wanted to publish that book) it would be on a similar topic.

Some of my favorite parts are Felicity’s narration of some theatre-related memories.

Felicity at age 6 about to play the role of the changeling boy in A Midsummer Night’s Dream.
“I don’t remember rehearsing but I do remember.. going over and over the line that I should exit on. I was to march up and down several times, guarding the sleeping Titania, until Oberon came on, then I was to go “Ohhh” and run off. I can still recall the feeling of the wooden stage beneath my bare feet, the warmth of the lights that blinded me at first and made the audience shadowy figures in a dark pit beyond the footlights. Secure in my bright new world, I marched up and down, guarding my queen for all it was worth. The lights dimmed and I heard a voice. “BooHughaaowf”. It was not my cue so I marched on. Suddenly there was Oberon looming over me. He leaned over and hissed ‘BOOGER OFF’. I had been so absorbed in my part that I had missed my exit line.”

Fortunately I never had the same experience - mostly cos once on stage I was always on it (usually half dead and beaten black and blue by either Adil or Suryanarayan). But I still get an occasional nightmare (I swear I do) that I’m on stage, remember none of the lines, Adil is glaring at me and baba is pulling at his beard with a reproachful look on his face. Once during the performance of Ionesco's “The Lesson”, Adil forgot his lines. Not that you could blame him since he had to speak some highly politically charged mumbo jumbo nonstop for 45 minutes while I just had to wail out “I’ve got a toothache” in different shades of emotions periodically.

So he forgot his lines and started glaring at me...There was a really awkward and long silence. I was not sure whether he was so into his character of a bullying professor that he was just overdoing the glaring or I had missed some emotion of toothache. We continued to stare at each other for what seemed like 10 minutes and suddenly I felt this strong urge to break into nervous giggles, which would have been disastrous since it was the peak of the violent melodrama. All I could do was to fall on the floor and make my giggles sound like muffled tooth-achy wails till Adil recovered.

Another more senti part that I love in the book, : Felicity age 9, about to debut in the role of Lady Macduff’s son “The dressing room was silent now. I sat quietly, a cold feeling moving slowly around the pit of my stomach. The play seemed to last forever. Actors came and went, were killed or conquered, quick changes happened with costumes flying here and there; and no one seemed to pay me any attention as they passed by in different stages of blood, sweat and concentration”…. “Still ringing in my ears were my father’s words: ‘Don’t forget , breathe deeply before you go on stage. Don’t dither, stand with your feet firmly and grip the stage. Keep your head high, your eye up and don’t creep around. Enter with power. Don’t fidget, remember your stock in trade is your voice and your body, be strong with both – don’t use a gesture if a word will do. And don’t chatter in the wings, it takes away your power.’”

The words I used to hear were a little different: “Why the fuck are you squeaking? Don’t tell me that’s the best you can do? Can you drop all your irritating pretensions of being a good girl who can’t raise her voice”. But then they still do echo in my nightmares!

“It was very dark in the wings, very different from the mornings when I had happily rehearsed in the sunlit stage. This was somehow serious and I did not like it. This pool of light seemed a strange and terrifying place, somewhere I would be swallowed up. I suddenly felt as if I were stranded on the top of a big dipper – my head hurt, my legs turned to stone. I tried to breathe, but it only got worse. Escape was the only solution. I had to go, I had to go now, before it was too late”.
I swear this Felicity woman has stolen my lines and my emotions. Ever so often during Gum and Goo, I felt like sneaking out from the backdoor or pretending to faint right before my monologue.

Oh.. talking about monologues, just saw this brilliant play by Nandikar from Kolkata. But then that's for a different post.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Morning magic

A sure proof that I've become old is my waking time. However hard I try I can't sleep beyond 7 am so I've started making most of my oddity by going for a jog. And every time I run in the back gardens I realize how lucky I am to be living on campus and how unfortunate ppl who live in high rises and industrial places are.

The back garden is quite large in this college campus - not too well kept but has the usual tennis courts, cricket pitch, volley ball courts, basket ball area and a field. Winter has pretty much set in in Delhi (at least in the mornings) and the sun is usually hidden soemwhere in the horizon when I start my run. I am often the only one around, with the usual collection of stray dogs (biscuit, brownie and the boo who doesn't like me), and dangerously low-flying eagles. Five rounds completed, the sun starts rising and thanks to the delhi fog is usually blood red or deep orange in color in the beginning. The field gets scattered with thousands of magpies, at least a dozen aggressive peacocks and sometimes a monkey or two! It's almost like running in a cageless zoo!

It's a different thrill to jog next to the Charles but I know I'll miss back-gorunds when I leave Delhi!

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

On being an Orkutter

Why do people not lie on Orkut? I try so hard to hide my id on this blog but somehow when I am on orkut I become Ms Satyavadi (Ms. Always speaks the truth). What is the psychology behind that, I wonder! And that too inspite of so many scary incidents where photos are being morphed and people's lives are being tracked just thru orkut. Why are we orkutters so stubbornly trusting?

On that short thoughtful note. TATA. Will write again when I have lengthier ( and profounder) thoughts.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Re-living India

Got hooked on to Shantaram by Roberts. I've been warned that it is highly captivating for the first 400 pages and then gets dull.. I am ready to risk that! I am usually a stubborn (Jethmalani kind!) of person and love to disagree when everyone agrees and dislike what all others love. For example Jhumpa Rani's Interpreter or Marquez' Cholera. So I was (happily) convinced that I won't like this international bestseller. But this guy is unarguably good!

His description of places I've visited and the people and culture I've grown up surrounded with is so astoundlingly appropriate that I almost feel jealous that a "non Indian" could understand us so well. Just finished reading his fantastic narration of a train ride, general class, without reservation. The same crowd which almost gouges out each others eyes while trying to board the train, suddenly starts loving each other, sharing food and stories like best friends once they become co-passengers. But this is not hypocrisy. It's just a way a billion Indians have figured out to survive in such huge numbers. They fight when that's the need but then they love each other when the need to kill is gone!

I experienced that on my train journey from Anand to Ahemedabad last month. And just now on the metro ride nack from Mandi house. The man in front of me kicked and scratched to get on first and grab a seat before me and then offered to hold my bag in the most affectionate manner!

Well getting back to the subject after two days, I just finised reading much beyond the 400 pages and the book is as captivating. It's a bit of an addiction and I need to finish if off asap so that I can get some work done! But, like I do with all books I love, I am trying to save up the pages, relishing it in small doeses...What will I read once this gets over? Had a strong urge to see what the Lin/Shantaram/george looks like. So Mr Lin in two very different avatars for you. As you can tell I am obsessed!

At the risk of sounding like a Shantaram comemrcial, I have to say that the book has something to offer to everyone. There is a healthy dose of everyday philosphy (A you will like that), remarkable power of observation and amazing prowess in recording it, lots of India, lots of traveling, drama, tension, cruelty, love.. The only part I find a bit weak is the love story. Maybe you will disagree, but the love philosophy seemed a bit exaggerated and fake. The rest of it is such real and rich narration that I almost started crying when Radha (his slum neighbor dies) or when Tariq (his pupli) goes to sleep sunggled next to him! Yah I am becoming a softy!

I know critics would say he romaticizes poverty and misery. But will it be fair to say that to a person who has himself endured and loved that poverty?

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Memory Punch

Went back to Players after 3 years yesterday. I knew I wd get a bit sentimental but didnt expect the memories to hit me like a punch on the face! The stairs with teh winter sun, the stage with its wooden panels, the "wings", the narrow path behind the audi leading to the canteen and the pavement across the back door where we would sit for hours, with our ciggies attempting bizarre forms of creativity. It felt strange to not see any familiar faces. I tried desperately to find similarities in the members now - the now Siddharth looked like our then Amit, the boy with teh curly hair looked like Deba... but then I pinched myself out of my retarded nostalgia. Baba made it almost al right by giving me a big hug and introducing me to the junta - who looked at me with obvious disinterest (Gawd another of those oldies)!

Then I saw the board with the names of th old and the new and realized I left the stage and that room 8 years ago...It sure didn't seem that long back...

Going Beyond the Holocaust

Went to hear a talk on Imperialism and Genocide by Amiya Kumar Bagchi. Baba had coerced me into writing a report on it so I was paying extra attention and taking down notes. I usually have an attention span of a 5 year old but it expands immensely when I have a pen in hand so I thought I'll share some words of wisdom from Prof Bagchi...

Bagchi's talk was a great attack on the neo-imperialist, Euro-centric version of history we have become so used to reading and believing. When we think of genocide what usually comes to our mind are pictures of the Holocaust and not about equally heinous massacres in Vietnam and in Palestine, and the trail of "genocides" Britain left behind in its days of imperialism and the US leaves behind now. These, according to Bagchi, are not “accidental” ommissions from the history we are taught. Genocide is just one aspect of this “history of denials”. The history which denies that famines which killed millions in India and Ireland were just another aspect of the “civilizing mission” of Imperialist powers. The history which denies that the genocide we are witnessing today has roots in the rise of imperial capitalism. The history which conveniently glosses over the role of European and North American imeprialism in current forms of genocide.

Genocide is not a new phenomenon but while earlier it was used to conquer land, in the more recent history, imperialist powers have devised new methods and motives. The methods may be as explicit as armed warfare or as strategic as slowly starving people into submitting whether through famines (as seen in India and Ireland during Bristish colonialism) or by imposing economic sanctions (the contemporary variant we see now ala Bush).

I would have liked to say that the audience listened to all this in rapt attention and understood everything - but then that wd be too optimistic! A surdy boy got up and asked him "why he had chosen to ignore what Russia had done", another chap was "disappointed' that he hadn't touched upon current topics (tho that was the beauty of the talk it was apparently about history but was actually so contemporary) and the last chap said something that no one understood "something about genocides being justified if we have to eliminate the other and form a nationalist group??" Ahh well, at least it made a lot of people think about new forms of genocide - even if not fully understand what AKB's contention was...

Friday, November 03, 2006

Moshi Moshi

Just returned from the land of raw fish, men who bow incessantly - a land where 700 BC shrines and toilets which have automatic deo sprays coexist quite happily! Took a short trip to Kyoto, Japan for a conference and totally fell in love with that place and its people. Technically this is a travel blog so you can alos find me here.

web hit counters
Office Deals