Category Archives: Arts
Moving towards the ideal of compact, transit-oriented, efficient and sustainable cities is not at all about new designs and technologies. If at all, it entails much thinking about retrofitting and re-using existing spaces and structures in interesting and useful ways. In recent times, we’ve been seeing instances of more tolerant attitudes towards squatters-people who occupy vacant spaces usually through organized grassroots mechanisms-in European cities.
In Amsterdam, the city has reached out to former squatters and professionals to set up systems to negotiate leases with owners so unused spaces can be turned into low-rent or even rent-free spaces for artists or as business incubators (read here). I’ve always been fascinated by instances in which formal and legal institutions engage with the informal (and often illegal) to create something in between. Something quasi that is granted, if only temporarily, a legit status in order to serve a need or create an interesting situation, add flavour to our cities. The constant pull and push between formality and informality, I believe, creates a delicious tension. A frisson almost, that creates a sense of surprise and delight.
On my too-short trip to Paris early November, the highlight was the few hours spent at a legalised artists squat at 59, Rivoli. On the recommendation of my friend Valerie’s daughter, we made it a point to put this on our list of sights on my one day of sight-seeing in Paris. The place was a sheer delight. A number of artists were in residence, all different styles (you can apply to go if you are an artist). The atmosphere of freedom and departure from rules was liberating, even as the spaces were well organized and managed. Chaotic and grungy, but far from the filthy grimy places that squats are imagined to be, neither Valerie nor me wanted to leave. You can spend hours watch the artists at work or you can walk through, you can chat with them and ask questions and of course, you can buy their art too!
59 Rivoli has been in existence since 1999 and Paris is now expanding the concept to take over more empty buildings to create such artist spaces. It’s very heartening indeed, for what is urbanity (or indeed life) without a chance to enjoy the alternative?
Adapted from http://rasikperformingarts.com
Coinciding with Republic Day, one of India’s three national holidays and one dedicated to celebrating our democratic Constitution, the talented dancers of Rasik Performing Arts presented its annual show in Epicentre, Gurgaon. For our dancers, Prayas 2016 was a culmination of a year’s learning under the gracious guidance of Guru Jayashree Acharya. I’ve been fortunate to learn from her and be part of this show and earlier ones for the past few years.
The blessed presence of Pandit Birju Mahahrajji at our show filled the atmosphere with a special electric charge. We all felt it and we hope our performances did justice to his great art and all-encompassing love and mentorship. Over 85 young dancers performed under Rasik’s banner during the evening, bringing a variety of items to a packed hall of rasiks and well wishers.
We were also honoured to have guests artists, dancers from Aakriti Foundation trained under Smt Sushmita Ghosh and eminent instrumental musicians Madhu Gopal, Goutam, Sunnu and Shiv Shankar perform at Prayas 2016.
Catch a few glimpses from Prayas 2016 below. We will post videos soon!
Several scholars and social commentators are making the link between the rising tide of overt nationalism and a discomfort over the democratic nature of some educational spaces in India today. Janaki Nair, the feminist and historian from JNU, wrote yesterday in The Hindu that:
“The moral panic that has gripped large sections of the Indian public is… related to the fears about the democratising opportunities offered by campuses today. In this expression of outrage, the newly moralising Right ….. aims to replace critical thinking with worship, forms of hard-won equality with structures of deference, and forms of new community-building with a return to the ideal of the patriarchal “family”.”
She goes on to cite an example that is a bit uncomfortable for me. She sees in the Indian Council of Historical Research’s program to institute fellowships that will foster a Guru-Shishya parampara a patriarchal design. She says that shishyas will be tied in “a relationship of obedience and honour, rather than thinking and debating”. She sees this as a problem.
While I buy her point about the important place of critique and question in the process of learning (refer my earlier post on this issue), I’m not sure her understanding of guru shishya parampara is accurate. I’m no authority on the subject, but I’ve been a shishya, first of Hindustani classical music for many years and in recent years of kathak. In these years, I’ve interacted with many gurus and shishyas, heard many stories of how the gurus learnt and experienced first hand the complexity of this relationship and my comments are limited to the learning of the performing arts.
The relationship between the guru and shishya has some prescribed rules. Broadly, the shishya is expected to train rigorously and usually has limited freedom until this period of training is completed. This period may vary. Modern gurus permit their shishyas to perform in public much earlier than what was the norm a generation ago. Once the shishya is past her training period, she is not only free to make her own adaptations and improvisations to her art but is in fact expected to do so, while taking the traditions of her guru and gharana forward. A good guru will appreciate out of the box thinking, though the tolerance to deviating from the gharana’s essential style may vary. In the classical arts, learning is a lifelong process. In the traditional form of the gurukul, theoretical training involved both reading and debates among students and with the guru. The education was not designed to be a one-way dictatorial process and Prof Nair seems to imagine, though the status of the guru was (and is) undoubtedly exalted, with respected to her many years of rigorous sadhna and the exalted knowledge derived from this.
There are many positives to this model in my view – a long period of sustained interaction, an expectation of commitment, peer-to-peer learning and the setting of high standards. I do not believe the guru shishya parampara is in conflict with freedom of expression or dissent; yes, it is a system in which charting your own path comes after years spent learning the basics and that is the nature of the kind of knowledge the system was designed to impart.
In today’s far more transactional education system, with its short-term targets and restricted rather than expansive curriculum, the guru shishya parampara often finds itself out of sync. That I do perceive. I also feel that our dislike of religion-based politics must not blind us to the positive aspects of our traditions. And so, instead of writing it off, we must reflect on how to weave in some of its positives into our discourse on pedagogy and education.
I watched Masaan six days ago and my brain is still processing it. That’s the way the narrative is fed to the viewer, slowly and subtly in even measures; loaded with detail and yet very clean and sharp. I haven’t seen a film with so much clarity in a long time.
Masaan is a film about hope, not despair. It’s about the ability that humans have to rise above the depths of grief and anguish. It spoke to me because it underscored that the plunge into the abyss is but part of the experience of life. And death, that too is just what it is. Nothing more, nothing less.
In particular, I liked that the women in Masaan are stolid and yet ordinary. In Devi’s (played by Richa Chadha) silence- one that has been interpreted widely as strength- I saw simply a profound grief. At losing her love, at being deeply misunderstood and wrongly accused. In Shaalu’s recognition of Deepak’s sincerity (played by Shweta Tripathi and Vicky Kaushal respectively) and her courage in wanting to overcome what certainly are overwhelmingly large taboos of caste, I see a rare independence and ability to take risk. These are strong women emerging from the deeply conservative landscape of a small city; they forge an independent path without an iota of self-consciousness. How can they not make a profound impact?
Deepak’s story is the stuff of inspiration. Despite numerous obstacles and a debilitating experience of personal loss, he perseveres to make himself and his family proud by being the first to rise beyond his low-caste occupation and get a white collar job. What makes Masaan special though, is that its the small details that come back to you later. In all the light-hearted banter of Deepak’s friends circle and in the midst of the masculinity exhibited by the small town male- roadside flirtations, catcalls and comments, social media stalking- there is also the space for a heart-rending outpouring of his grief. I appreciated that nuance shown in the relationships between young men even more perhaps because of the stereotypical portrayal of youth in Hindi cinema.
And then there is the river. The Ganga. As a vessel of sorrow, as a rejuvenator, a forger of destinies and above all, a harbinger of hope. The quality of cinematography in Masaan played no small role in highlighting the poetic parallels between the river and the ebb and flow of life.
Ah June! To be grounded while I could have been traveling the world…that isn’t a good feeling. But then, there’s nothing bad about it either. As much as travel is about moving around and seeing things in the flesh, it is also about making journeys of imagination, reliving past moments and recreating them for your own pleasure.
Last year in June, we were in Europe on an idyllic vacation. The city lover in me was taking my family through some of the most spectacular sites of urbanisation in the world- Amsterdam and Berlin. Traveling in these two cities has offered me some of the most poignant moments of my life. At 16, I remember visiting the House of Anne Frank in Amsterdam and being moved to tears by what I felt inside.
At 38, I had a similarly intense moment as I turned a corner inside the Judisches Museum in Berlin to be surprised by the spectacular work of art, Shalekhet or Fallen Leaves by Menashe Kadishman. I remember gasping in surprise as I saw before me a sea of faces cut out from sheet metal. Sad faces, agonised faces, screaming faces, horrified faces, faces of despair, blank faces, tortured faces…thousands of them right there before us stretching out to what seemed like infinity.
To put things in context, a visit to the Judisches Museum designed by architect Daniel Liebskind was on my to-do list. But I’d heard extreme reactions to the building and I didn’t know what to expect. This is a structure of blacks, whites and greys. It is stark and has used sheer walls of concrete to express a deep anguish over the fate that befell the Jews at the hands of Hitler and the Nazis. But what I liked most about the building were the unusual voids- triangular spaces, spaces out of proportion, spaces with giant cut outs, spaces of deep darkness and sharp pins of light, spaces that held me spellbound.
The Shalekhet occupied one such space, very very tall and extremely narrow, as if life and happiness was being squeezed out of it. I stood there spellbound. And then, the children started to walk out onto the fallen faces strewn on the floor. I remember making a sound of protest, reaching out to stop them. But they were following an older child and I soon realised this is what the artist intended. For us to hear the clanking of the metal as people walked over the faces of all those who suffered and died, to feel that tortured sound of being in chains, of being walked over, destroyed.
For some reason, the Fallen Leaves made me think of the innocent children all over the world who are victims of violence, not just war and terror, but also beaten inside their homes or emotionally abandoned.
We’re letting them down, I thought. A year later, I’m still stung by that thought.
Adults in our family (Rahul, me and the mums) are generally in the habit of making trips to the cinema hall without our children. Frankly, except for animation films made for kids (and even they have so much dialogue that is lost on the little one, and so much violence), it’s hard to find films that we think children should watch. Piku, after a long time, was a weekend trip with the kids in tow (watch trailer). Aadyaa was highly excited about being allowed to watch a movie with us and highly intrigued with what little she had heard about Piku. “Is he really obsessed with his potty?” she kept asking me the entire Saturday morning after I’d broken the news of our little outing.
In the cinema hall, I saw families helping their elderly up the stairs into the multiplex and several children milling around. The sense of excitement (and star worship) was not quite the same as I see for the typical Khan-type Bollywood multi-starrer, but there was a curiosity in the air and a level of comfort that was palpable.
What I loved about Piku (in that order)
The stunning ordinariness of the characters: The experience was a bit like watching a movie with a very large extended family. Everyone identified with someone or the other. In Piku (ably played by Deepika Padukone), some saw their own struggles with aging parents reflected. In Bhaskor Banerjee (Amitabh par excellence), people identified an eccentric uncle, an endearing patriarch, a dearly missed grandfather. Piku dusts cobwebs, Rana (Irrfan) yells unbecomingly at his mother and sister, Piku’s house has a normal and reassuring level of unkemptness but is spruced up to entertain guests for lunch, etc etc.
Functional dysfunctionality and the wonderfulness of family: But more than that, the film needs to be applauded for bringing home the wonderful way Indian families (and perhaps families in general) accept and live with the eccentricities of their own. I wasn’t entirely convinced about Baradwaj Rangan’s description of Piku as “An irresistible amble with a dysfunctional family” because I cannot think of a single family that is “functional” really! Perhaps it is our identification with this functional dysfunctionality that endears the film to us so! To me, Piku’s biggest achievement is that families, from the youngest to the oldest, could watch together a wholesome, funny entertainer without the usual crassness that we have to swallow as necessary in run-of-the-mill Bollywood fare.
A new way for mainstream cinema to look at women: Piku’s team was evidently quite confident of the wholesomeness of their script, for writer Juhi Chaturvedi has boldly taken the opportunity to speak a very different language about how women can be in Indian society. As one of my favorite feminist bloggers puts it, Piku is among a new set of movies “that acknowledge women as people” (Read IHM’s review titled Piku in Patriarchy) and do not make women fit into the ideas that society has of them, rather letting them break out and be what they will.
Nivedita Mishra’s HT review points out that it’s easy for a priviliged upper class Delhi girl to be ‘independent’. Even so, I think Piku’s character and her manner of negotiating her relationships goes beyond privilege and speaks to her ability to remain headstrong and stubborn in a world that is still largely patriarchal, even for the privileged upper class woman.
Jugal Mody, in his excellent post on The Ladies Finger, also points this out, especially referring to the friends-with-benefits relationship that Piku has in the film and the strength of the film’s other female characters. Particularly, he picks out the film’s ability to highlight how feminist men like Bhaskor (Piku’s hypochondriac dad), though supportive of women in their lives, constantly feel the need to control them. The film, he writes, points out “the irony of men who want to be feminist allies to the women in their life. In the long family banter scenes, they keep interrupting the women who are talking about what they want only to tell them about independence.”
Within this theme, I come to what I loved particularly about Piku. In a setting when Piku is forced to travel with a man she doesn’t particularly like (Rana Chowdhry, played by Irrfan), a man who has an uncanny way of getting under her skin and really understanding her, one would expect a romance to kindle in the style of Mills & Boon (which is absolutely full of these strong silent characters who are drawn to each other after a series of misunderstandings). But no, the knight in shining armor (I was really wondering, when the Tullu pump was being repaired in the minutes before Rana leaves Kolkata!) does not gallop in on a white steed and carry away the Princess to ‘happily ever after’; instead, they exchange friendly knocks with badminton rackets in the closing scenes, which shows their growing friendship but nothing more.
What I didn’t quite get about Piku (in no particular order)
Everything about the film was subtle, so subtle that somewhere on their journey to Kolkata, I found my attention slipping. Aadyaa was restless besides me: “When will they reach Mumma? how many hours in real, how many hours in the movie?” The events on this journey seemed to me haphazard, but I’m sure that chaos was also part of the charm. I certainly have no suggestions for how this could be improved!
I thought the film could have highlighted a bit more Piku’s pleasure in re-connecting with the city of her childhood, Kolkata. It could have been an opportunity to show another side of Piku, the contrast to her severity and wilfulness might have rendered her even more lovable. Even her sudden change of heart about retaining (and not selling) their ancestral home came through, to me, as abrupt (close after her conversation with Rana about this, it came across as if he was overtly influencing her, which is at odds with Piku’s character). If this was an important part of the subtext, the connection with their home and their old life, it merited a bit more attention perhaps.
Kudos for telling new stories, and not rehashing the formula
I’m saying nothing new here and I admit I’m biased, having known Juhi for a long time. But truly, Piku is a brave story, a real story. Kudos to Juhi for writing it and to Shoojit for putting it together so beautifully.
Piku could be my story or yours; and it’s impossible not to love it. After Vicky Donor’s bold humorous take on a taboo subject, Juhi’s fresh take on the ordinary madness of life’s relationships in Piku deserves all our praise. I can imagine the catharsis she experienced in writing this, the long hours that went into the detailing it and the uncanny instinct that helped focus on that one thing that Indians love to obsess about- Potty!
I know, as the daughter of a gastroenterologist. I grew up hearing stories from my dad on the strong links between the bowels and the emotions, especially in Indian culture. On how the cures he offered were less about medication than about listening to his patients and counseling them. On how bowel movements were a reflection of relationships, of a person’s status in their family, of their self-esteem, a whole bunch of stuff that was way beyond anatomy and digestive processes. So Juhi, spot on! My father is smiling at you from wherever he is, and that’s my way of saying you simply aced it with Piku.
Walking back from our Kathak morning at Raahgiri, we ran into a really peppy zumba session. Now, salsa beats never fail to do their thing and I found my feet tapping along of their own volition. Aadyaa was absolutely mesmerized by the energy in the air. With an exchange of glances that signified permission, she darted into the crowd and began to follow the instructor on the stage.
She joined a sea of kids, both boys and girls, ranging from age 5 to people in their late teens. Most of these super enthusiastic youngsters were from economically underprivileged households. You could see that from their clothes and many of them had the typical light brown streaks of malnourishment in their hair. But their energy and enthusiasm surpassed anything I had seen before. They watched keenly and absorbed the instructor’s every move, even his expression and the nuances of his dancing. The workout, as I mentioned before, was based on Latino forms of dance, which are not familiar to most Indians. But these kids had it down pat. Many of them, it appeared, had been at Raahgiri before and memorized the basic steps already. One girl (in the pink sweatshirt) and a young man (in a red tee) stood out in their attitude and total involvement. They, and not the ones up on stage, were the talented artists at Raahgiri this morning!
A group of us trouped off to Raahgiri on a Sunday morning. It happened to be 8th March, International Women’s Day. To back up a bit, Raahgiri started in Gurgaon as a movement to reclaim streets and has now spread to Connaught Place and Dwarka in Delhi as well as to Chandigarh and Bhopal. The idea is to cordon off a section of the city every Sunday for people to walk, cycle, run, dance, work out and generally have a ball without worrying about being run over by a car! We’ve been several times last year to do one or many of these things, but this particular Sunday was special. This time, we were there to support and encourage a group of talented young girls who learn kathak from my guru Jayashree Acharya.
Kathak at Raahgiri? Well, this is the kind of place where a hundred people are happy to bump and grind to a salsa or zumba workshop (yea, I’m following this post up with another one on the most hilarious zumba class ever!) a couple of dozen are taking a kick boxing demo elsewhere while a group of dedicated women slog on their mats in a power yoga session.
So there we stood, with the girls all decked up in colorful lehengas, jewelry and make up at 8:30 am…with a tepid scattered bunch of people for an audience loitering in front of the stage; half of them parent and relations of the performers! ‘This won’t do, will it? We got to show them what we got!,’ I thought.
On Guruji’s advise, I took charge of the microphone to introduce Kathak, it’s history, what it means and the significance of engaging with a serious dance form- a short introduction to engage and prepare the audience. Then, the girls came on stage and worked their magic. The mood began to shift. The people lined up on the other side of the road, not wanting to join in at first, now slowly drifted to our side of the road. Phone cameras came on, little children came and stared, cyclists stopped to watch, runners slowed down as they went by.
Kathak at Raahgiri was a runaway success, a great kickstart to the morning and hopefully, an inspiration for many more to showcase their talents on public platforms and spread the message that Kathak (or other forms of classical art) is not high culture, it’s also our public culture that we can share and enjoy. As for me, I’m thankful and proud to be part of a group of dedicated and spirited dancers who inspire and energize me everyday!
The streets of Haridwar and Rishikesh, though a tad cleaner than they are in reality, came alive in Dum Laga ke Haisha, a recently released Hindi film I watched a couple of nights ago. I’d heard good things, but it was better than I expected.
In a nutshell, it is a love story in which the man (Ayushmann Khurana ) slowly falls in love with his overweight wife (Bhumi Pednekar), who he was initially repulsed by. But what brought the film alive was the pulsating reality of small town life. The frustration of ill-educated misdirected young men who are consigned to a life of boredom working in petty family businesses. Of girls, who despite being educated and self-confident, are expected to fit the stereotype of the well brought up, docile girl in order to work the marriage market. Of lower middle class families, struggling to eke out an existence, steeped deep into identities of class and caste that shape their lives and interactions. Of young people in conservative small town India, whose perform their little dramas of life in front of the extended parivaar (family), gali (street) and mohalla (neighbourhood). Others have written about its unique treatment of the theme of sexual love.
The film brought forth two very direct messages. One, respect is an essential starting point in a relationship, even if love is a tough ultimate target. Two, breaking the rules is important; you get things only if you ask for them.
While Prem, the male protagonist, is a pathetic character, full of complexes and self-loathing, Sandhya, the newly married overweight and B.Ed pass bride is a fascinating character. She is shown as willing to mold herself to her new family but unwilling to suffer consistent blows to her pride. She stands up to her husband’s aunt and walks out of her marital home when her husband ill-mouths her. Further, she refuses to let her parents walk all over her, bringing in legal help and starting divorce proceedings immediately. Sandhya is not the caricature of the modern over-aggressive educated women. Instead, she is a woman who is unwilling to allow what she perceives as a mismatched marriage to continue to harm herself (as well as Prem). Of course, her deeply ingrained insecurities about her weight and her belief that once divorced, she would live the life of a spinster while Prem would find a second (beautiful) bride drove in the message the film intended to convey. That it is inner beauty we should be seeking, within ourselves and in others around; baaki sab maya hai (the rest is an illusion)!