Feb 27, 2013

Movie Review: Celluloid

This weekend we finally ended our drought of watching movies in the theater. Not that we were not watching new, good movies - there are still good movies from 2012 that we have caught and are waiting to catch on DVD. I'll give you a list of recommendations at the end of this review.

Now to head to Celluloid - it has been making news as THE movie to watch for some months now. As you may know, it is the story of the first ever Malayalam movie and what went behind it. We've all heard  of the "JC Daniel Lifetime Achievement Award" given by the State of Kerala, but did you know that it is given in the name of a man who achieved nothing but financial ruin and neglect in his lifetime? He was given his rightful place in Malayalam movie history due to the efforts of ardent cinematic history lovers only about 70 years after his first and only movie was made.

Celluloid is not just the story of a man who wanted to bring this new artistic form into his state. It is also a window into a socially dark era that was bound by caste and creed differences. It is at the same time so terrifying and so heartening to view those incidents on celluloid (or digital form!) and know that although they still do exist, those demons are much more tamed now - dangerous yet, yes, but not showing all their fangs and riding roughshod over the whole society. One cannot but wonder at the enthusiasm and persistence of a man who will go to literally any end to learn a new art form and create one of his own literally from scratch. It is perhaps well that his story was not known widely, one wonders how many budding filmmakers would have lost heart if they had come to know how this first Malayalam filmmaker (and first leading actor too!) fared in his life. But then I think, true artists cannot but help following their Muse where it leads them!

Director Kamal has walked the narrow path between documentary and feature film pretty well, achieving the fine balance in telling the story that might have degenerated into maudlin drama easily. There are humorous moments, tense moments and exciting moments galore. The cast consisting of Prithviraj, Mamta, Sreenivasan etc., have done an exemplary job. Prithvi as JC Daniel richly deserves the award for Best Actor for the homework he has put in - it must have been refreshing for him to essay this role after playing a taciturn hunk in Aiyaa. Chandni - a fresh face - does justice to her role as the first heroine of Malayalam cinema.

Much more than just the entertainment value that this movie provides, it makes me grateful for the personal freedoms that we enjoy in this time and age. My sentiments were amply echoed in the applause and sighs of the rest of the audience. We had had an inkling of the standard of the audience that had come to watch the movie when my DH observed that the four-time repetition of the Polio vaccine ad did not invoke the customary catcalls.

Do go and watch Celluloid!!

My recommendations for recent Malayalam movies to watch on DVDs:

Ozhimuri: Directed by Madhupal. If Celluloid was not around, this movie would have won the award for best film. I had wanted to watch this movie, but it was shown only in one theater and stayed for only a week. Thank God for DVDs. I cannot watch it enough for its setting, its language, its history and its brilliant psychological analysis and a brilliant cast. Must watch.

Chapters: A "newgen" movie that has an interesting format, and intriguing storyline. Good for one watch.

Jawan of Vellimala: A Mammootty starrer that was thoroughly massacred by critics - but which we found to be okay for one watch at least. We certainly didn't feel like that it was a total disappointment. 

Trivandrum Lodge: We avoided this movie in theatres because our kids did not appreciate being left behind when we went to see 22, Female, Kottayam. But we thoroughly enjoyed the movie on DVD. 

Black Friday: The story of the adventures four different groups of people go through in the space of one day in verdant Alleppey. Good for one watch.

Arike: Has the feel of a novel set in the 80s. Syamaprasad's latest is more food for the mind than the heart, but still manages to touch somewhere. Although the movie moves forward to a foregone conclusion, the path it takes remains obscure and delights in its unique twists and turns.

Feb 20, 2013

Kochi Muziris Biennale!

I had read about the "art explosion" happening in Kochi since first news of the Biennale started appearing in the papers last year, but was not particularly interested in it. That was till the week before last when I came across this post in Chai n' Spice, Sunita Mohan's delightful blog. I was hooked the moment I saw her wonderful pictures and when I read that she had come all the way from Mumbai to take in the art exhibition, I felt a twinge. The twinge grew into an itch when I saw that the biennale would conclude on March 13. Within a day or two, I had made an appointment with one of my dearest friends Tessa who lives in Kochi and we decided to have a "girls only" day out in the lovely environs of Fort Kochi (not because our DHs refused to have any thing to do with art, oh no!)

So last Sunday, instead of sleeping in, there I was on the  6 a.m. Shatabdi train to Kochi. My art viewing started when I was on the train itself, catching a vignette of the dappled waters of the Anchuthengu lake through a lovely frame of coconut trees and distant hills and colored by the lovely rising sun. Within four hours I had met my friend and her cousin and we were crossing the Venduruthy bridge into Kochi. As we trundled along the narrow roads and gasped each time another bus passed in the opposite direction almost skinning our bus, people were thronging the several churches on the way to their Sunday devotions. By the time the bus reached its final destination, the Fort Kochi bus stand, we were the only three passengers left. A few questions led us to the ticket booth for the biennale.

For those who intend to go there, the official biennale site is useless when it comes to what to do and where to go. So here's the lowdown. Tickets are available at the Aspinwall venue in Fort Kochi as well at the Durbar Hall venue in Ernakulam. These are the main venues and here is a list the others - except Pepper House and Moidu Heritage building

The Aspinwall House has the largest number and variety of exhibits. We took almost 4 hours to just have a cursory look at most of the exhibits there. Word of warning: wear your most comfy pair of shoes - there is a lot of walking and step-climbing involved. We got our tickets and the mandatory map of the northern tip of Fort Kochi where all the venues except Durbar Hall are located.

For a Sunday morning, we were early and there were only a few other art enthusiasts. The very first exhibit was Done and Dusted: a video installation that was described thus: (sorry for not capturing the English version here)

The inside was too bizarre to describe. There were two huge suspended inverted copper cauldrons into which the faces of two elderly men were projected. One simply kept rolling his eyes from time to time and the other sneezed and yawned alternately. In the intervals between eye-rolling and  the rest, a table with sundry objects laid on it between the two men vibrated so hard that we were sure the things would fall off. We were at first a little scared and then startled into laughing aloud. I hope the artist was not anywhere near us, he would have been flabbergasted to see his interpretation of the "discrepancies in archeology" and his depiction of the "confusion engendered by the questioning of our origins" being subjected to irreverent laughter. It was a good thing that the artist's interpretation of each exhibit  was given alongside most of the works, because we couldn't make head or tail out of most. For example, take this huge intallation that covered a whole wall:

I loved the technique - you can see what I mean by looking  at this closeup:

The  "pixels" are pictures of shop signs and these were used to create the pictures in mosaic fashion. The bottom of the painting looks like a classic painting. My interpretation of the piece was "the job was so tedious so i stuck them all up higgledy-piggledy after the first few rows". This sent my friends into a paroxysm of laughter that caused an earnest young man with an official tag to ask me very seriously if I had got the meaning of the work. I sincerely hope it was not the artist!

But then there were some that took our breath away by sheer beauty and simplicity like this gossamer web - who cared what its meaning was????

I was overjoyed to see Vivek Vilasini's famous "Last Supper - Gaza" in the repertoire!

Now that's MY idea of high art! 

An installation of "post card paintings" that had absolutely lovely prose on them was another favorite of mine. I wish I could have each of those postcards to read over and over.

And this would be a splendid idea to try in a garden:

The insides of the shells were painted in different hues, punctured and scored to make patterns - I could have spent a whole morning under them, looking at each shell and watching the sky through them...

Obviously I cannot show you all the things that I loved at the biennale - you have to see it for yourself. I will post more pictures in subsequent posts. You can see more pics of street art and the exhibits at Pepper House over at Chai n' Spice.   

Let me leave you with some more pointers if you intend to visit the biennale:

1. Carry plenty of water. There are water dispensers at the Aspinwall House, but nowhere else.
2. Try to have food at mainland Ernakulam - the Fort Kochi eateries fell into two categories: grossly overpriced and simply gross.
3. Photography is allowed everywhere, videography is not.
4. Try and watch Gitanjali Rao's "Printed Rainbow" a Cannes prize winning short film in its entirety. Don't miss it.
5. Don't be confined by the artist's interpretation of each piece - make up your own interpretations, don't be scared! Don't take the installations too seriously. After all one of the purposes of art - if it has any purpose at all - is to entertain!
6. Catch the government ferry to and from Ernakulam and Fort Kochi - lovely! Cost - Rs. 2.50 per person each way!!
7. Keep your eyes open when you go about - lovely paintings jump out everywhere - not just the main venues - see what I mean?

As I took the evening Shatabdi back to Thiruvananthapuram, I was treated to yet more displays of the works of the Greatest Artist of All. Isn't it wonderful that we Malayalis can have our fill of nature's beauty by just taking a 3 hour-train ride! Wow!

Feb 13, 2013

Is this what parenting is all about?

Hmm.. it feels weird to be typing without the help of my left forefinger. I'm having to hit the backspace button a lot. For the past two days I've been nursing a grievous knife injury to the tip of that finger and I've adopted a "bless-the-world" gesture holding that hand away from all accidental contact with anything. I may also call it my "beacon of hope" gesture because of the huge white bandage that provides extra cushioning...

But where were we, aah, the question of what parenting is all about... this question was brought about by a recent event.

Last weekend, our Anikkuttan's school was celebrating its annual day. The hero was appearing in two solo performances (reciting the names of months and a song) and a group dance. I was in charge of making him practice the solo pieces at home. The song was "Ambalappuzhe" from Adwaitham and it was heard at Karthi ad nauseam till now we all are ready to flee if any one starts singing that song again.

So the big day dawned and DH, Kunjunni and I were seated in the second row eagerly awaiting the first stage performance of the youngest member of our family. When "Nidhin Rajesh - Cinematic Song" was announced, I was all a-flutter as though I were to be on the stage. Kunjunni, who fortunately doesn't know the meaning of the word "stage fright" confessed that his heart was going pit-a-pat at the thought of his young brother performing. DH was the only one who looked stoic among us. Soon the curtain went up. There the little guy was, all smart in a kasavu mundu  and blue khadi jubba . There was a pregnant pause and this was heard, "Good afternoon everybody! I am Nidhin Rajesh. I am going to tell you the names of..."

We were all aghast. He finished his speech. His teacher came on stage and whispered in his ear and went back. We waited in nervous anticipation - "Good afternoon everybody, I am Nidhin Rajesh..." 
"Oh no, not again!" went his brother! As his little speech wound to an end again, he looked back at his teacher who gestured to him to sing. But he shook his head and refused. He was NOT going to sing. As we tittered nervously the curtain went down on the poor guy. Little did we know that the drama had only started...

Parents had been forbidden from entering the makeup room for the duration of the program, so we knew something was amiss when Ani was brought to us by a teacher. He wanted to see us and go home. He didn't want to stay for the dance program or any of the rest of the programs. I went and soothed him at first and sent him back along with the teacher. Five minutes later, he was back on his own. This time his father went along to encourage him and persuade him to get dressed for the next program. Ten minutes later, DH calls me admitting defeat and thinks it might be better for all of us to leave.

Okay, Momma to the rescue again: the recalcitrant performer had resisted all of his father's persuasion including threats and was seated on a desk. I decided to play good cop and went along these lines,

"Hey, we are all waiting to see you dance. It's ok if you didn't sing. Your speech was very good. Let's go and change!"

"No, I wanna go home!"

"I hear the costume is very nice (heard nothing of the sort). Shall we go and take a look?"

"No, I wanna go HOME!"

"Your friends will all feel sad if they can't dance with you. Even your teacher will feel sad!"

"I wanna go home"

At that moment I tried a different track. I huffed and puffed and said: "Ok, we are going out to have PIZZA after the program. You won't even get a SLICE!"

The little guy shrugged his shoulders and slid off the desk saying, ''Oh, okaaaay. I will go and dance"

As soon as I had picked up my lower jaw from the floor, dusted it off and put it back, I followed him to the make up room (where all the mothers were already there) and helped him into a Punjabi style costume which he absolutely loved. Thereafter, he was thoroughly happy with me fussing over his costume and turban, picked up his dance props and went along with his mates for the program. Once he was on stage, there was no hesitancy, no mistake, he only held his face a little sideways because he felt a little shy. He even managed a tiny wave to us in the middle of the dance and we three beamed with pride and laughter. Oh the sheer relief!!!!

Which brings me back to my original question: Is this what parenting is all about? Learning which button to push at the right time?????

Feb 6, 2013

Another birthday and how I tamed a wee beastie

Yet another year goes by and I said goodbye to the previous year with some yuuuuuummy black forest cake...

And ushered in the new year the very next day with some nectar-like palpayasam from Sree Padmanabha Swamy Temple - aah, the advantage of having an official birthday and a star birthday!!! And this year, both fell on consecutive days too!

DH has bought me a huge gift that fills me both with the tingles of anticipation and tremors of anxiety.  Here's a sneak peek. Can you guess what it is?

 Can't guess? Anyone who called me on my birthday knows by now. So let me show it to you...

Yup, it's a gently-used almost-two-year-old scooter.  This is the beastie that I have been learning to tame since last September.

The last time I tried to master this skill was when I was 27 and just married. DH and DSIL decided one fine morning that I needed to learn how to drive a scooter. DSIL's trusty Kinetic Honda was pressed into service. My masters selected an excellent beginner's course for me - if they had chosen the moon's most asteroid-pitted patch they could not have done better. As I straddled the scooter for the first time, I gazed out upon a bouldery incline with all sizes of stones from the minuscule to the gigantic. My first challenge was to drive the scooter up a slight incline and get to the next level where an even steeper incline awaited me. My DSIL helpfully pointed out the throttle to me and stepped aside while DH (brave soul that he is) beckoned me encouragingly from my target point. As I gingerly gave some power, the scooter barely made it over a fist-sized stone immediately before me. So my instructors told me to open the throttle as much as I could in order to go up the incline. In doing so they also made a tiny novice-instructor mistake – kind of like Arjuna did. So a la Abhimanyu, I went up the incline majestically in full throttle, crossed my intended path and slammed into the stone wall opposite and gently toppled to one side – yup, they had just omitted to tell me when to brake...

Damage - a  little paint off the scooter, a bit of paint off my knees and a hideously swollen ring finger. The wall looked ok to me. 

Fast forward 10 years and last September, DH leaned heavily on me to learn to drive a scooter once again in the totally altruistic cause of making me independent transport-wise. This time he generously offered to pay for lessons so that whatever spills I took and vehicles and walls I damaged would be the school's responsibility. DSIL did offer to send me her Kinetic by train, but I politely declined.  My gallant steed on the first day of class was a battered Pleasure which was missing its headlights and several other things. My instructor helpfully walked behind me holding on to the handle behind while I hopped and bumped with both feet on the ground. The second day my teacher left me to my own devices and I went for several rounds of walking with the scooter around the yard. On the third day I put up my left foot on the floor board, but it had this tendency to jump off at the slightest wobble. By the fifth day I astonished myself by being able to put both feet on the floor board and managing to stay on course even though I wobbled horribly and was in imminent danger of driving into the boundary wall or the house on several occasions. However, the Pleasure was done for. Over the next several weeks, his throttle was so shot that either I had to push the scooter up and down the yard or it was stuck at full throttle when one had to just use the brake to drive the scooter. Those were the dangerous days when my fellow-students and I held our lives in our hands while trying to tame the Pleasure.

Fed up by the temperamental throttle and inexplicable swoons, our instructor finally got us a new vehicle - a TVS XL HD. Trying it  out, I realized for the first time that one didn't have to strain one's arms and shoulders trying to turn a scooter and that the wind in one's face is quite enjoyable. But I was destined for the next torture - The 8!!! By this time, I had had a gap of a month from my earlier study period and although I could zip around the yard without incident, for two weeks I could do nothing but again go into my crawling mode as I went round and round among the iron bar markers making no progress. Several of my fellow students were in the same predicament as I was and we sat together wondering whether we'd ever be able to accomplish at least one 8 to save our lives. Reports also came in of several students failing at the DMV's test at 8s. I was almost ready to give up when one fine day I astonished myself and my compatriots by completing one 8 without putting down my foot even once! I was so surprised and elated that I let out a whoop that resounded through the whole neighborhood! After that I've got to the point where I can take several 8s continuously.

So now here I am, looking forward to my test date with a scooter of my own, waiting to take it out for a practice run as soon as we get a chance to take it to the local temple and have a pooja done. Yep, I've got a pretty cool helmet too. If you come over next weekend, you can see me trying out my new scooter skills at the Maruppancode ground, early in the morning! 

And it all goes to show - any old dog can learn new tricks!!!

This post is dedicated to any one who thinks that they are too long in the tooth to learn something new. It might take a bit more practice and a little more time, but you can do it!!!!

Spring/Summer Projects

Gosh, isn't it baking hot in God's Own Country these days! In accordance with the government's guidelines, we seldom venture o...