Thursday, November 04, 2004

Mrs. Dorothy

So many filmmakers today are in search of unique, individual styles to delineate their cinematic expressions. “This is wrong” – some people say, but I wonder about it, many a time. So many filmmakers out there have so much to say, but are in search of a distinctive ‘style’ with which to tell these stories.

Mr. Comingore

What is cinematic style? Let’s see. Maybe enumerating the aspects of filmmaking will enable you to deduce a significant style. Okay, there is cinematography, Editing, Shot aesthetics, Setting/Design, Actors/Acting, Sound design/Music. Maybe filmmakers need to customize each of these in order to suit specific stylistic needs.

Mrs. Dorothy

I used to think that an Auteur would first have to deduce a style and then figure out a story to fit the style. Then, I began to doubt this proposition. What I mean is, it is but obvious that first the story needs to be nailed down. Because to a large extent, content does dictate the style with which it can best be brought to screen. So, in essence story/content comes first. This leads me to wonder if this means that story is more important than style. This, because I have seen really shallow stories shot beautifully with tremendous performances and eloquence with which it translates to screen. But somehow, I am coming to think that the over all package is what is important.

Mr. Comingore

Yes. First, the story should be selected. Then, a deconstruction of the story should be undertaken to identify the method by which the story can best be brought to screen. This is where, previous patterns/filmic styles need to be examined and explored.

Mrs. Dorothy

Of course this is not a compulsory step. There is no need to follow past auteurs’ footsteps. However, a repertoire of past films and cinematic styles will come in handy to detect the very many avenues which allow for individuality OR a ‘break-away’ from conventional norms of treatment. For instance, an action film will be handled differently in the hands of two different directors. The selection of shots, the acting, decisions on pacing etc will be unique to these two directors, making the same film a reflection of their unique identities.
Mr. Comingore

This is where the greatest Auteurs differ from other mediocre filmmakers. Not so much in the matters of content, but in manner in which the content is treated. Asking valuable questions like – Where do I see this happening? Who do I see as my main character? How do I see my shots telling a visual story?

Mrs. Dorothy

But don’t many directors actually see all of this in their heads even prior to writing their stories?

Mr. Comingore

Still, these are questions which are necessary to be asked. The reason they are important is not only to eliminate problems later on, also to keenly examine one’s own vision and the relevance & possibility of translating what we see in our heads on screen.

Mrs. Dorothy

Could these be some of the questions one might put forth to oneself -
Has it been done before? If so, how is the content benefiting in your expert hands? If not, how are you going to carve a convincing balance between this content and your style?

Mr. Comingore

Yes. Exactly - It is at this juncture that it is essential to remember that “style” should always submit to the “content” of the story. This is not to say that there are stipulated styles with which certain types of content should be handled.

Mrs. Dorothy
Oh, I understand what you mean. What you’re saying is – There are no strict rules of making action, romance etc. It’s all up to the auteur.

Mr. Comingore
Yes. It is the toughest thing to treat a familiar content with refreshing uniqueness. Those are the films which are the most successful. Which benefit from deft treatment and distinctive visuals.

Mrs. Dorothy

But I still have a nagging question. Is it wrong for me as a filmmaker to come into the foray with a default set of stylistic elements with which I treat my stories?

Mr. Comingore

No. It is most welcome actually. But there has to be an impeccable balance between content and style. If the content is weak and you are more eager to show off your distinctive style, then the film will ultimately suffer. So, although we cannot but have an inbuilt set of unique stylistic qualities, we must use them with restraint and wisdom and only in measures that serve the story.

Mrs. Dorothy

What do you have to say about filmmakers like Eisenstein, Truffaut and Goddard who began to make films in the first place as a counter reaction to popular American cinematic norms?

Mr. Comingore

Good question. Yes. These people are known for revolutionary styles which created new movements in cinema history. However, never once did their filmic styles serve vain plot lines. They devised plots which worked in consonance with their unique styles. It was a whole package. Do you understand?

Mrs. Dorothy

Yes. For the most part I think. My problem is my need to draw a distinct line between content and style and that simply cannot be done, I think.
They work hand in hand and co-exist harmoniously.

Mr. Comingore

I think you summed it up beautifully. They are but two sides of the same coin. There are innumerable styles to bring to life a common story which has been dealt with innumerable times. So, I think stories benefit in the hands of directors who are ruthless and pragmatic in their use of their unique styles to visually tell a story. Ultimately, we cannot detach ourselves from our styles. They are born with us and WILL direct the way we read, visualize and direct our films.

Mrs. Dorothy

And that’s a great thing, I think. It makes me relieved in a way. What I get out of all this is that thinking about style is not as important as challenging ourselves to visualize.

Mr. Comingore

What do you mean? Visualize the story?

Mrs. Dorothy

Yes. I think that a story deserves tremendous visualization which is untainted by norms of style or technique. Images are important to conceptualize the story in our heads. And then these very images metamorphose into a flowing thread which will then benefit from our unique styles by which we visually tell the story.

Mr. Comingore

Point taken.

Saturday, August 07, 2004

The Omnipotent Midriff

Midriff = The middle outer portion of the front of the human body, extending roughly from just below the breast to the waistline.
(courtesy: dictionary.com)

A year ago, when I walked into a Body Piercing Store in downtown Philadelphia to fulfill a whim of having my nostril pierced (it's not a desi thing), I encountered a group of Indian girls who had just had their belly buttons duly pierced and bejewelled.They were decked in jeans and short cholis (a longer sibling of a conventional sari blouse strategically revealing the midriff) with the stones on their belly-hooks glittering in the neon storelights. Back then, I surmised that these ornaments were worn to enhance the appeal of the progressively open midriff. Now however, after coming back home and hours of channel surfing later, I know my assumption to be inaccurate. On the contrary, it is the midriff that signifies and incarnates the art of belly peircing. Just like it is the midriff that ratifies the essence of the on-screen Indian woman.

Now what is in the midriff, that it has wielded power over Indian audiences so rampantly? For one, it is a valuable signifier. The shape, color and volume of the exposed midriff is evidence enough to predict the kind of audiences who will be baited for the highly specific media/ midriff-product. Before I illustrate this with an example, it is necessary to understand that the 'midriff' is not to be indignified by associating it with the identity of the actress whose property it happens to be. Midriffs have a strong individual identity, and are capable of single-handedly marketing themselves and the films which showcase them.

For instance, if the midriff is fair and slender, curves softly traced from an hour-glass, and sporting an unassuming oval belly button several inches above the yoke of an embroidered skirt, then in all probability the actress has been imported from the northern states.The film in that case, can be presumed to revolve around an urban/sub urban protagonist dreaming of romancing the midriff amidst the swiss mountains...

Now if a browner chubbier midriff catches your eye with a dark sphrical belly button with the surface area lightly glazed by some glitter then in all probablity, it is a B-center musical. In such a case the midriff may be seen playing hide and seek amidst sensual embraces in mango orchards. In most cases the bearer of the midriff is the heroine who is courted by the village robinhood, who in turn has rescued her from the hands of the lustful Pannaiyar or his henchmen. It is important at this juncture to distinguish such midriffs as belonging to southern belles in most cases, although 'Kollywood' has seen some over-weight exceptions from the north.

The fleshiest of them all, has neither curves nor glitter. It jiggles and gyrates violently, depressing itself at places gouged by the hero's swarthy hands. The upper folds of the midriff flex rythmically to meet the lower ones, at times masking the belly button completely. The belly button here is a single horizontal line permanently cursed never to resemble its vertical or spherical counterparts. It is however never dispropotionate to the entire body which in most cases appears even heavier than the accopmanying actor's. These bearers are most often alloted 5 to 10 minutes of screen time with a few dialogues, the majority of which will be complemented with feminine screeches or melodious sobs at key plot junctures.

The above is one roadmap to understanding commerical Tamil cinema. It is important to learn the art of extrapolating the plot from flashes of screen midriff. This because television channels are overwhelmed with these teasers and if and when a certain midriff-riddle appears too hard to crack down, then that is the one movie that might be worth watching on big screen. Ofcourse, ocasionally there will be one or two movies without any type of midriff exposition, in which case there are only two inferences which can be made. One: It is some art-house nonsense. Two: The lady protagonist is some anachronistic, middle-aged prude harboring false virtuousness. Pssst: She's not that sexy anyway!

All this research, and I still had one question unanswered. The midriifs had a strong on-screen presence, but their off-screen identities were almost insignificant (atleast for now). Not many women revealed midriffs on the streets, and that i deduced was something the male population was losing out on. You see, if onscreen midriffs signified so many plot layers with a mere shake or jiggle, then it is only to be conjured what off-screen midriffs will do to tell of women's identities,class and ethnic affiliations. What is the lag, I wonder...of luscious midriffs in tight closeups on-screen on the one hand, and tighly shrouded sari-clad midriffs touting the streets behind their real-life male protagonists off-screen?...

Friday, August 06, 2004

Tied to a Tiger's tail...

This morning I awoke with sweat drenching my teeshirt. As I unsealed my slumburous eyes, it was the innocent face of my maid, Revati that I registered. She had been sweeping the floor and had hence switched off the fan, which was the result of the overwhelming sultriness in the room. As I turned around to let the sweat evaporate and cool my burning back, I noticed that she was sending me guilty, hesitant glances, fearful of having subtly offended me. I felt a pinprick of some inexplicable discomfort; so I swung lazily from the bed and ambled along to the restroom...

When I reached the kitchen to get my filter-coffeed dose of caffeine, I noticed that on the table alongside 'The Hindu', a steaming cup of coffee concocted to the perfect brown sat in frothy anticipation. I mumbled a 'thankyou' under my breath and noticed that the samaritan of this client-care had already finished work and left, closing the door softly behind her. I caught myself basking in the attention for a few moments; but instead of the pleasure bringing the familiar warmth, I felt that pinprick again. As I went through another vacation day rocking in the living room chair and aimlessly channel surfing, I delibrately maneuvered my mind from meandering to the square-cut mangoes chilling in the refrigerator, the odor of naptheline amidst neatly arranged towels in the almirah shelf and my suitcases duly unpacked and put away. If this were a hotel I would be demanding this hospitality in return for finanical reimbursement.But here at my own home, this service which costed pittance was all but asphyxiating me...

Sometimes i wonder how i survived time abroad even doing dishes and pressing clothes myself. I reminisced the times I served coffee for a little pocket money, and I still cannot feel an aota of empathy for what my maid must be feeling in her line of work. Ofcourse the social strataification there accomodated a certain dignity that is conspicious in its absence here in India. Dignity of labor, that's what they called it. Not even in a million years will I be able to coherently explain to Revati the concept of actually being able to work for 'pocket-money' or that many maids who clean houses actually, conceivably climb the social ladders to equal their employers.The divide here, not only swallows up such naive possibilities, also ingrains the permanence of the discrimination, be it caste or class. Yesterday Revati gloated to my mom that I had thanked her for the sliced mangoes, even though at that moment she had stared at me like I was insane. I understood that the syntax of the labor heirarchy in our culture forbids such liberties. I am not going to advocate the abrogation of the entire maid system, no way. It still provides for many homes and educates many a child, not to forget the provision of familial contingencies in cases of alchoholic patriarchs.

PS: Hence forth you will be previleged to witness two of my alteregoes debating about the issue. One is a rebel and the other is a conformist.Both of these pretend to be rationalists and prove their point..

But, something irks me, what is it, I wonder? I begin to envisage a circumstance which I hope will take me closer to my quest. Graphic and masochistic, I imagine my mom twenty shades darker, twenty pounds lighter, collar bones protruding like skin-razors working for Revati: the upper-middle class suburban householder in my little dream. Bile rises from my insides,and I pump the television volume all the way up to counter the visceral reaction. The shrill voice of the diva fortunately disrupts my reverie, and I float down to normalcy. The rationalist in me wants to investigate the cause and significance of what I had just felt. Was it because I didn't ever want to see my mom in such a place? in such adverse circumstances? Yes..most definitely. Simple. I wanted a better life for her...Did her being my mom have something to do with it? Yes...and No. If No then why?
Tangentially I remember the previous morning, when I handed Revati's daughter a bar of foreign chocolate, I had causally asked her what she wanted to be, when she 'grew up'? "A nurse", she had replied. A pause later she clarified her statement adding that she neither wanted to be a doctor (as it simply wasn't practical) nor a maid servant(as it simply wasn't life!).

Right. So what is it that irks me, again? Yes, yes..something about the Maid system..My brain whiizzes through possible explanations emanating from Caste theories classism associated with individual castes, Marx,Dubois,Pareto,Gandhi,ML King,Weber...(sigh)..Well, maybe caste had something to do with it. Afterall, 95% of the maids working in inner-city Madras belonged to backward castes. Wait a minute..I knew of several brahmin maids who worked in agraharams down south in those idyllic villages.(You see, the rationalist in me wants a synthesis. She dissects the thesis and its antithesis)Yeah, so? Okay, so maybe caste matters, but there are significant exceptions. Okay wait a minute...

I rely on one more reverie to lead me further to the answer. .........Sunny afternoon. I am 10 years old. I lie on my mum's lap on our porch swing and the breeze follows us as we sway. Mum caresses my hair and asks,"So what do you want to become when you 'grow up'? and I reply: "I want to be a maid servant".
.....This time, I snap out of it faster even before i can register my mom's reaction in the dream. Okay..I get it. no one in their sane minds aspires to be a maid servant. It is the inevitable consequence of poverty, perpetuated by illiteracy, familial problems and maybe even caste affiliations. I attempt to think laterally, and land into the arena of occupational hazards. That probably was what it was. Occupational Hazards.. Like what? We all clean, we all cook. We all wash, we all ...okay. We all wash, cook and clean in our own homes, not the abysses of a layman's lavatory. (Before I begin to torture myself imagining my dad in a sewage disposal septic tank, I am checkmated.) So what does this deduction mean? It means that in some unconscious, sublimnal collective norm, these jobs are considered 'menial'..you mean, meanial like what the shudras were originally condemned to, in accordance with the Majestic Caste theory? Why, yes. Okay menial. But even Kamalhassan has to clean the contours of his comode after he has relieved himself. Yes..nuthead...but does he ever come over and clean yours?!?

Well, maybe it was pentup anger...at what? At the fact that there was no dignity to maid-servanting inspite of it being sexist and menial and racist..wait one moment - racist? Well, may be it was a bit out there, but I still have aunts and their friends and their friends who forbid maids to enter their little kitchennetes. (I am not referring to those'three days'..this is pretty much all of the miserable 30 days..) And do they get invited for any thing in the house? What crap...my aunt would give the maid all of the remaining food from the night before because they had to adhere to cooking fresh everyday..Hmm...my point exactly..Are you saying we should adopt them? Is that what you're saying you bitch? hah?

I realize I have strung myself onto a tiger's tail and after turning several circles, if I am still one thing, it is how I originally started - irked. After my Multiple personalities lie dormant, the rationalist asks in a tiny voice...what the fuck is your point anyways? hmmmm....

Sunday, August 01, 2004

Madrasa sutthi parka poren....


Mundru kash-tamana varu-danga-lukku piragu naan indha varam chennai thirum-bugiren. Yen-adhu uch-chaga-thukku yellai-ye-illai...Aayiram aasai ninaivugal manasai- kichi-kichi- muttu -giradhu!
Blogg-ill app-appo yen yennan-gallai ungal-udan pagun-thu-kollven...

In the mean while:-

# What are the cool "kaapi-kadais in town"..?
# What are the decent tamil movies now showing?
# Is the mango season stil on?
# How is the veyyil?
# ..................................................... :)

Mendum Sandikkum varai..ungal-iddum-irundhu-vannakkam-kuuri- vidai-peruvadhu
Mito, Mito, Mito, Mito, Mito, Mito...

Wednesday, July 28, 2004



The above is a link for a 2 minute spot for the latest offering from Honda Accord. This is probably the most incredible commercial to have been telecast in recent times. The commerical features various working parts from the chassis of the Honda which domino into each other to an epiphany of poetic motion. It is called the cog, obviously becuase it is the first part that sets off the domino... There were no graphics used in the commerical and the motion was controlled and timed to accuracy. It is executed most beautifully, with a single take, seamless even if there was a motion-by pass cut in between.

There are rumors floating around the net which claim that it took more than 606 takes to get it through, and there are others who argue that this is obviously exaggerated, and the correct estimation may have been an approximation of 50. The ad debuted in the Brazilian Grand Prix in early April and has been whirwinding around the world ever since. The conception of this automotive ballet is enchanting, and the silence will shatter your ear drums as the parts waltz in precision towards each other in a wild, creative orgasm.

Monday, July 26, 2004

"Truckers of Namakkal"

A recent research team that travelled into the depths of the AIDS (fast becoming) epidemic in India, traced the transmittence of the virus to the acclaimed Truckers of Namakkal. Now we all already eschewed the bitter statistics released by the World AIDS convention which declared that India now had the highest percentages of the virus. However, the case about the Truckers of Namakkal takes us into aspects of this vituperative culture which are indicative of the origins of these perilous behaviors; which in turn reinforce even more perinicious states of mind...

How did we reach this far? How did this domino into such a humungous issue? Researchers say that population and poverty may be some of the key causes. Yes, ofcourse they are causes..but only of transmitting/spreading the disease through blood transfusions and lack of hygiene which are inevitably triggered by poverty and pollution. Three prime suspects were cordoned by the research as being vital for the propogation of the disease. Prostitution, Homophobia and sheer heedlessness to the perils of unprotected, rampant sex overtures. In this regard it was found that the truckers were the principle carriers of the diesease, spreading the viruses magnanimously to their spouses and subsequently the children born out of such conjugal associations. State govermnets are now being urged to finance literacy programs (of AIDS awareness & safe sex practices) for truckers who travel from one end of the country to the other, spending more than 90% of their time on the road. Over the years, this has been inferred to lead to a certain detached state of loneliness, negligence of celibacy and consequently adultery and a deadly habit of frequenting sex workers in every port of their arrival. A study published in 1999 showed that 87% of the drivers had frequent and indiscriminate change of sexual partners, and only 11% of them used condoms although their AIDS knowledge was fairly good.What a disgrace to find out that Namakkal in rural Tamil nadu has the highest incidence of these cases, where 39% of the children are now already infected with the virus! According to AVERT.org, by September 2003 Tamil Nadu had reported 24,667 cases of AIDS, the highest number reported by any state.
Intimate small group discussions conducted with the women in this area revealed that most of them knew that their husbands frequented brothels and committed adultery. Of course, even if there wasn't a wave of feminist paranoa, these women seemed utterly devastated at the prospect of being secondary carriers and were even ready to coach their husbands on safe sex. As appaling as it sounded, some of the women admitted to being abused physically by their husbands for advocating the use of the condom even within their own private bed chambers. Obviously the men percieved the condom to be a threat to their (highly questionable) masculinities! Another point that demands a mention is that most of the wives were married before reaching legal status and stated that it was because they had learnt that 'marriage' was what concretized their identities as women. It is imperative therefore, at this juncture to critically assess these mentalities and the roots that nourish these attitudes. It is superflous to begin the issue of women's rights and those of liberation, but atleast a concern for their offspring and an intense desire for self-preservation should be lit ablaze among these peoples.
Although regarded as a taboo in public rhetorical spaces, another issue that must be brought to the forefront is that of Homophobia. There are an equal number of male prostitues, including young boys and adolescents who serve the homosexual population of India. As homosexuality is regarded as a negation of the very notion of Indian masculinity, no man will dare come out of the closet to reveal their nasty little identities to their wives or children. Homophobia is propogated by this kind of celebrated ignorance and the pathetic notion that being homosexual must mean a perverted and deranged psyche, that in all probablity resulted from rape or childhood abuse. Research also indicated that this caused closet-homosexuals to frequent prostitutes in order to quench their needs outside of their families. In all probablity it will still be another decade or so, by the time homosexuality will be an elephant in our living rooms, to obvious to ignore or feign oblivion.
It is evident after the afore mentioned arguments that AIDS is but a physical manifestation of the festering evils ridden in our society. What then are the prophylactory inferences that need to be made inorder to root out the evils that insigate the spread of the disease? If this has to be dealt with from inside-out, where and who should we point the fingers at? Do we as individuals hold a tiny bit of the answer that could perhaps be the panacea to eradicate this deadly serpent? Only time will tell...

Friday, July 23, 2004

The Migraine Trip - Pain spirals

Every month just about when the humidity reaches its very peak, I retreat into my migraine shell, for a minimum of 2 days. Initially these aches came with impeccable regularity, but now, it comes and goes as it pleases. The funny thing is that it has gradually become an almost spiritual experience. I was initially advised to anticipate these headaches and pop the magic drug and the waves of pain would ebb and finally fade away. However, the onset is as gentle and elusive as a gazelle's gait and it's crescendo is as fast as a tumbling avalanche...

Anyway, the experience of it has metamorphosed into a tolerence test gradually transporting the mind into a different realm. Well, a little personal research into the pain threw light on the subtle fact that this pain infact has several concentric layers of descending pain waves. What this means is, the pain actually seems to have a core of no-pain. But to travel to this center is a himalayan task, one that requires practice and patience. I have realized that the minute I pop in one of those analgesics my power to descend into this core disappears completely and I am just numbed to the pricks of the migraine. The good news is pain killers do work. The bad news is, you get used to them, and demand a more powerful numbing agent the next time around.

Well, after a year of drugging myself with painkillers, I simply grew out of faith that they could provide any kind of a long-time cure. So, I decided to fight it out, rather than numb myself to the venomous pangs of each attack. Ofcourse, sometimes it is excruciating, with even a ray of light aggravating the pain. But most surprisingly, I began to notice that the pain infact was a beautifully constructed "spiral". These concentric rings of pain spirals ultimately lead to its own cure; in other words a tranquil area of painlessness....This is almost like possessing a continuum...one end of which is enormous pain and the other end is that of peace and freedom from pain..not only the feeling of pain, but of pain itself.

I have made several attempts to climb the magic spiral and to my greatest delight, have succeded once or twice, but dont take too long to slide down the spiral into the quicksand of pain. Some trip...!