Thursday, August 30, 2007


The ex-reviewer sent across an interesting article about Joshua Bell's anonymous busking experiment with the Washington Post. Set up at a metro station in Washington D.C during rush hour, the point was to answer one fundamental question: "In a banal setting at an inconvenient time, would beauty transcend?"

Bell is regarded as one of America's, and perhaps amongst the world's, foremost classical violinists. He uses one of the most well-known violins ever made, one that he paid an unbelievable, staggering near 4 million USD for. I came across this incident a couple of months ago while randomly reading about busking. To be honest, I didn't pay it much attention but once you're done with the article, you can't help but see some of the significance of this experiment.

"Each passerby had a quick choice to make, one familiar to commuters in any urban area where the occasional street performer is part of the cityscape: Do you stop and listen? Do you hurry past with a blend of guilt and irritation, aware of your cupidity but annoyed by the unbidden demand on your time and your wallet? Do you throw in a buck, just to be polite? Does your decision change if he's really bad? What if he's really good? Do you have time for beauty? Shouldn't you? What's the moral mathematics of the moment?"

In the article, the music director of the Nashville Symphony Orchestra, Leonard Slatkin, when hypothetically asked about the outcome of such an experiment, said it would be a hit in Europe, that a crowd would gather around. I can't help but wonder what sort of reaction Bell, or indeed anyone creating any manner of beauty, would have gotten in India where street performers aren't exactly in abundant supply. Especially not street performers doing Bach and Schubert — not really a part of the average national cultural experience. Does the experience of beauty transcend nation and culture? I wonder what it would have been like for him in Bombay, perhaps at the super busy Churchgate or Andheri stations at rush hour?

The full article is here and at the very end is a Q&A with the author, which is as interesting as the main article. Though the article contains streaming video, you might, like me, not be able to view it.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Summer in the City

Now that I am spending muggy monsoon nights clacking away at the keyboard, I miss the summer evenings. Winter evenings would be perfect but summer will do. The rains are welcome for the first week when the city cools down. After that, I’m screaming murder at every big car who thinks s/he doesn’t need to give a rat's arse about drenching pedestrians or people on bikes. That's it! Bring back the sweltering, migraine-inducing heat! But the horrendous heat apart, this summer was special because it brought rides through Aarey Milk Colony. So for those of you who don't know what Aarey is, this is what Wikipedia has to say.

As you will observe, that is a miracle in the city of Bombay. But to meander back to the story, I live in Versova and used to work in Powai, the commute to which is a first-class bitch. So I began travelling with the ex-reviewer. It seemed a relatively less painful—less traffic-infested with no useless fighting through public transport—way of getting to work. Scant days later, we'd already quite fallen into a predictable little rhythm of him not waiting to get to work to annoy me.

Aarey is not only the most peaceful way of getting to traffic-forsaken Powai from the Western suburbs, it is by far the most beautiful. Until late March, the trees are a subdued shade of light green. You can see they're slumbering, trying to ignore the persistent cold. But in April and through most of May, the gentle green undergrowth becomes a burgeoning verdure that diminishes the simmering resentment at being on my way into work. Each day brought leisurely breezes and roads covered in the graceful remains of yellow flowers.

You know how people talk about sound being switched off in certain places, when everything becomes mute? Well, it's not quite the same trite, muting experience but the moment you cross the Malad toll gate into Aarey, someone seems to muffle out the sound. The roar of the Western Express highway seems silenced by the waving grass and the astounding greenery, complete with trees with funny ears.

More often that not, the reviewer and I would stop en route for breakfast. In the shade of the picnic spot where almost every child in Bombay has been brought on a school picnic is a little canteen that sells below average samosas and some very weird snacks. I have spent many mornings here, renewing my acquaintance with coffee and pineapple Energee.

There have also been mornings of repast provided so thoughtfully by the reviewer. Halfway up the road to the Powai toll gate is a small left that might be presumed to go nowhere interesting or indeed, nowhere at all. About a hundred feet up this road, at the foot of a large tree is a moss-covered stone bench over a clogged culvert. One mild morning, the reviewer stopped because he wanted to eat. He then pulled out the leftovers of a wine bottle and roast beef sandwiches from his saddle-bag. I tell you, it's a nice, nice way to start the day!

On the precious few days that the reviewer and I managed to get out of the office while it was still early evening, there were evenings of exploratory, rambling drives and bickering peacefully. There is such a pure pleasure in selecting an unknown left or right and finding myself on a winding green-brown road that led down two years at the University of Hyderabad. And by summer's end, the entire forest burst into flame to welcome the monsoon. The yellow flowers were soon replaced by motley shades of red.

Now I don’t know if it’s A’s departure from Bombay and a lack of practice, a camera that wasn’t mine, or indifferent lighting, but of 92 shutter releases, I did not like a single one. I'll leave you with a couple of A's shots instead. They're a more than fair idea of what I saw!


Elephant Bush

Friday, August 17, 2007

From where one stands?

A couple of nights past, over the din of an aimless conversation, the ex-boss asked me,

"Where is E Vestigio going now? As in, it just seems to be meandering... no particular focus, no direction. What are you doing with it?"

Funny thing how even once I got over the discomforting disquiet of that unexpected incisiveness, these long procrastinated questions were still staring straight at me. Sigh. An answer would just have to be found now.

I started E Vestigio with this in mind:

"A writer -- and, I believe, generally all persons -- must think that whatever happens to him or her is a resource. All things have been given to us for a purpose, and an artist must feel this more intensely. All that happens to us, including our humiliations, our misfortunes, our embarrassments, all is given to us as raw material, as clay, so that we may shape our art."

--Jorge Luis Borges
From "Twenty Conversations with Borges, Including a Selection of Poems: Interviews by Roberto Alifano.

By that maxim, I should have been writing each day of the past year! But entirely unbidden, the weirder the year became, the more closely E Vestigio mirrored the change in me... the longer it took to find the right words to write.

Erratic is a quiet way to describe this past year and yet, it's not that I haven't written. An entire notebook stands testament to the things I saw, read, thought, etc. But somehow, the commute from experience to expression became so much more arduous. Posts languished, like a lover hurriedly and disinterestedly pushed away. Perhaps this'd be one of those blogs that lie huddled... like in an elephant graveyard, decomposing slowly and painfully. Quite honestly, if wasn't for Geets, Nocturne, Parth, and the ex-reviewer, the stench would have risen from these black pages much faster and possibly, a long time ago too.

Now though, events are not quite as erratic and certainly of my choice. You see, I am currently gainfully unemployed. There are no more crazy clients, brainsick bosses, and horrendous hours. Instead, there has been one month of sleeping and eating well. One month of loads of films, of books, of biryani, of random surfing, of exploring a Wikipedia article to it's fullest... of letting life ebb and wash over everything.

And yet, I've hardly managed to get anywhere with posting. I wonder sometimes if I have anything interesting to say - especially to myself.... If there is anything left in my writing... if I have not forgotten how. If the reactions to a "recent" post, both on and off the blog, were anything to go by, I just might have! :-)

There are a number of possibilities, of course. Perhaps like the elder sibling suggests, I may not currently have anything to say. Alternatively, it could just a question of practice... of trying harder. Or even perhaps, I could allow the stillness to meander and follow its own course.

A little while ago, I wrote to someone who's known me since I was 16. I don't know if I could call him a friend but he's seen me go through more than one bit of madness. He's also read some my earliest god-awful attempts at piecing words together and oddly enough, encouraged the effort.

I described the entire situation to him. I explained the ennui, the restlessness, the lack of confidence. I speculated about causes, about possible ways to get my groove back, about stopping altogether. He sent back a one liner in response to my belaboured tome:

Wandering is not always a bad thing.

Suddenly a long forgotten e-mail from a long broken friendship dipped in and out of my mind:

"All that is gold does not glitter,
Not all those who wander are lost;
The old that is strong does not wither,
Deep roots are not reached by the frost."

--J.R.R Tolkein, The Fellowship of the Ring, Book I.

Perhaps there is hope yet.

Friday, August 10, 2007

French Film Evenings

I'm just done attending the The 5th Annual French Film Festival at the Fun Republic multiplex. Conducted from the 3rd to the 9th of August by the French Embassy and the Alliance Française, the ex-reviewer and I were there everyday from the 5th. Only one film was screened everyday with free seating on a first-come-first-served basis.

Surprisingly, there are more takers for French cinema in this city than I would have bargained for. I stood in serpentine lines for over an hour each day, believe it or not, despite getting there at 18:30 for a 20:00 film. Judgemental as it may sound, I think the lines were due in no small measure to the films being free.

I could rant on about it but frankly, I'm not sure it's worth the debate an opinion like that will spark off — especially if one of my recent posts is anything to go by. Most of you know the kind of stragglers I mean, and that's enough said. :-)

I don't think the entire festival was managed well at all. Everyday was an exhausting experience. You first waited forever for passes. Then you went up and waited just to be let into the lobby of the multiplex, and that's just bloody ridiculous! Simply because we didn't pay for the passes doesn't mean they should treat us any less than paying customers. I highly doubt that Fun Republic was screening the films free, don't you agree? Someone, somewhere was paying for the screening. So why should they treat us thus?

But I meander; to the films, then. These are listed in the order in which we saw them.

Les Mauvais Joueurs (The Gamblers)
A fast-paced movie set in a side of Paris you won't see in mainstream romantic films. This is a Paris infested with illegal immigrants and petty crime. Yuen (Teng Fei Xiang), the Chinese rebel without a clue, is an immigrant who does his best to annoy his French "sponsors". Vahé (Pascal Elbé), a thug in love with Yuen's sister, tries to keep Yuen out of trouble with the others. The tension culminates in Yuen losing control and shooting the owner of a sweatshop. The rest of the film plays out neatly, tying up all the possible and sometimes predictable loose ends.

I personally didn't think that the movie was saying anything new or particularly profound about the exploitation in sweat shops, angst-ridden youth, or the seamy underbelly of a large city. It's a story often told in American films, about New York, Chicago, or Boston. But with it's engaging music, quick pace, and decent performances from most of the cast, I enjoyed watching it all the same.

La Petite Jersusalem (Little Jerusalem)
Set in a Jewish community in a suburb of Paris, La Petite Jerusalem tells the tale of three (stereo?)types of orthodox Jewish women in a single household. There's Laura (Fanny Valette), a student of philosophy, grappling with her Jewish identity and love for a Muslim Algerian colleague. Mathilde (Elsa Zylberstein), her sister, is the frum wife, following the Torah to the letter only to find her marriage in a mess because of her interpretation of it. And finally, their mother (Sonia Tahar), is the over-anxious Jewish mother, carrying on about possession and the evil eye on her daughter. Finally though, the film is about the personal journeys of both the sisters towards peace, reconciliation, and acceptance.

La Petite Jerusalem won the SACD Screen writing Award at the Cannes Film Festival and I cannot understand why! The dialogues are nothing great but that could also be because they got lost in translation somewhere. Additionally, another annoying aspect of the screenplay is that the discussions in Laura's philosophy classroom lack depth and meaning. Personally, I don't think Valette is particularly convincing as the young Jewish girl, tortured and torn by her beliefs and her upbringing. Mathilde is more real in her relationships with her mother, sister, and husband. Also, I quite liked the the effective use of grey tones for the grubby neighbourhood the family lives in and the somber mood of the film. The music is also decently effective, if unsurprising, in its discordant piano and the stark acoustic sounds.

You'll find an interesting interview with director Karin Albou and the interviewer's take here.

Le Petit Lieutenant (The Young Lieutenant)
Definitely one of the films I enjoyed most. Le Petit Lieutenant follows the lives of the members of a crime unit in Paris. A rookie police lieutenant, Antoine Derouère (Jalil Lespert), moves to Paris for a more exciting career than he would have had in his native Le Havre. Here he is part of Commandant Caroline Vaudieu's team (Nathalie Baye). Vandieu is a recovering alcoholic who takes an initially ambiguous but finally motherly interest in Antoine. Things go horribly wrong during the investigations of a murder when Antoine’s enthusiasm leads to tragedy.

Each of the characters is superbly acted and even as the film reaches a predictable denouement, you cannot help but feel very impressed with the way it was handled. As more than one review will point out, Le Petit Lieutenant revolves around the personalities of the people in Vandieu's team and their equations with each other instead of the intricacies of the investigation. This, I think, is what makes this a really good film and sets it apart from the usual murder investigation film.

Amongst the most striking things about this film was the complete lack of music. The film ends with Baye on the beach in Nice, looking directly at the camera, the surf crashing behind her. The waves continue to break over the rolling credits and are the only memorable sound in a film otherwise filled only with ambient sound.

Changement d'Adresse (Change of Address)
My very favourite in the festival, this beautiful film follows David (Emmanuel Mouret - also the director) a wonderfully charming, sweetly inept French horn player who is accosted by Anne (Frédérique Bel) while reading an ad for a roommate. David soon finds himself living with Anne. They become good friends, seeing each other through various romantic problems and occasionally sharing more than a living space.

David's love interest is his student, Julia, played by Fanny Valette, while Anne is in love with a man whose name she does not know but who is a customer at her copy shop. David does everything he can to attract Julia's attention and affection, even taking her away on a romantic getaway to the seaside. The surreal and farcical sequence of rapidly changing emotions and events that follow unfolds like a mime - only with dialogues.

The acting from most of the cast is superb and the film reaches a funny but sad climax. I particularly liked Mouret and Bel in their hilarious, innocent, and offbeat way of handling everything a seemingly bizarre life throws at them. Dany Brilliant is quite good in his role as David's smooth-talking and confident nemesis. However, there is something about Valette that I cannot quite connect with. I am, however, willing to admit that she's really good as the reserved and cold young woman because she left me cold altogether.

Bled Number One (Back Home)
Honestly, I am not quite sure if I understood this film. The story is told of Kamel (Rabah Ameur-Zaïmeche - also the director), Louisa (Meryem Serbah), and Algeria. Kamel's been deported from France and Louisa's walked out on a husband who won't let her sing. The film portrays the effects of their alienation from and oppression in Algerian society

However, a number of the finer nuances, elucidated here, escaped me altogether. I also got the sense that Kamel and Louisa seem to find a manner of friendship, of solace, in each other. This equation remains unexplored in many ways. Perhaps Ameur-Zaïmeche intended for them to be and remain alienated and uprooted but I think the film just might have worked better for an exploration of their equation.

The music is particularly discordant and jarring because suddenly in the middle of events, the scene cuts to a solitary guitar player perched on a hillside with a basic electric sound set up. Out of nowhere he launches into, as the ex-reviewer pointed out, a musical rendition of William Blake’s The Little Vagabond. Kamel merely flits in and out of the scene. Just as suddenly, the film ends with the same man playing a solo. Indeed, I don’t think I understood the film and I am not sure I liked it.


I missed Le Couperet (The Axe) and Je ne suis pas là pour être aimé (Not Here To Be Loved). They both seem quite interesting, especially Not Here To Be Loved. You can find a review for each here and here.