Tuesday, February 28, 2006

in the design cell - one evening

saurabh and namrata

ray . thesis . local history

believe me , if you guys are sick of reading my movie reviews, i am also sick of being compelled to write them- still write them i must. its something in me that just keeps nagging me until i have it out there on the screen in black and white.

this time its ‘ray’ the ray charles biopic with jamie foxx doing such a great job of impersonation that you almost forgive the movie for its naïve psychobabble about rays blindness, his relationship to his mother and the guilt that he carries would for his brothers death. the other dumb move is to invent storylines that inspired some of charles greatest songs, not to mention the narrative of a heroin addiction that he is only rescued from by an admonishing memory of his mother- just how maudlin can the movie get! still, jamie foxx does manage to make the movie watchable- and the music – cant forget the music can we? ‘hit the road jack’ still bites, ‘georgia on my mind’ is beautiful..

today, i had thesis juries. while all of rajeevs students seem to be on an experiential trip, mine seem to be heading in many directions simultaneously. dipti's strange ghost story of the bungalow in borivili east can be a great text, a great movie, a great poem.. but great architecture? process, process, process… i think therein lies the clue. richa took me back to new bombay- all those surveys i had made for the city driving alone in my red maruti car. i love the place. i like its strange 50s modernism coming to terms with a city of today- it tries so hard. shipra and punit needed a firing and got one; but riddhi might be a great foray into an exploration notions of ownership and land- the differences and tensions that emerge from the displacement inherent in development.

note to myself : i am wary of the extremely subjective mode of mapping of situationism. poesis is interesting but, perhaps needed some politics. it needs weight, maybe?

sonal is here and is working on her thesis- something to do with landscape and development. she is walking around borivili finding maps, collecting stories and narratives of different areas. i love the stuff she has got. i have never seen our area as a plan- the roads to be built, the fabrics that exist, and the fabrics imagined. the four hills around our locality- st francis school on one, lic colony on another, the mandapeshwar caves on the third and sonals school mary immaculate on the fourth. the stories that can be written.. it’s a fascinating place- the grotto on top of the hill, the old church, the eksar fishing village, the ic colony roads. a local history longer than the one where bombay begins on an island in the south.

sonal right now sits besides me peering over drawings and making plans for her thesis.

Friday, February 24, 2006


there are many things i liked about crash- with the intertwining storylines about people from different classes and races and the inevitable violence that erupts when they crash into each other... so many stories that meet - sandra bullock and brendan fraser as the district attorney of los angeles and his wife who get car jacked in a busy street; thandie newton as the wife of a rich black man who is humiliated by a racist police officer in the form of matt dillon; don cheadle as a black police officer whose brother has gone missing.

some sequences were absolutely stunning- the car crash rescue for one- where dillon helps thandie newton escape in spite of her protests. and there are angels on the dashboard of stolen cars- and angels that wear impenetrable cloaks and save their fathers from death. who are these angels of los angeles? certainly not the ones in the nicholas cage film.

it was good to a see a film that was trying to talk about these, more alive aspects of racism, rather than the usual mississippi burning sort of historical drama.

it is a frightening vision, this los angeles- a version that i was acutely familiar with as i sat through the film. i remember the extreme self consciousness about my color that i could not forget while i was walking the streets of all the cities i visited in the us. the feeling that i was being sized up based upon the way my body looked- and my own fear as i walked pretending to be fearless down the streets of south central los angeles- alone.. what in the world was i trying to prove? and to whom? it is also amazing to think about the variety of communities that one city in the us can be home to- iraqis, whites, chinese, mexican, cambodian.. and here we have ‘vegetarian only’ buildings being built.

its frightening what kind of insularity the fear of the other breeds and what strange ideas of the other develop.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

babu khan pathan

babu khan pathan was our driver for at least 10 years. i went to his house in borivili east today- in a slum that lies on a hill near national park.

his affection and ours for his family has always been very strong. we have been through difficult times like the 1993 riots together when they had come to live at our place. i still remember how shaken babu was when he finally went back to the home he had run away hurriedly in the middle of the night from and found out that all his investments and possessions were a pile of rubble. he had to start all over again.

this affection has continued even after he left our service and started various small businesses in borivili east including running a few rickshaws. the man has over the past few years hit it big, become a local leader of some type; gained control of a large amount of land around his place; and runs an anti-corruption ngo with branches- as he proudly pointed out- all the way till baroda.

i remember his house from ages ago when our family had gone to his place for id celebrations- the colored chickens running around the yard and the decrepit old house. this time i was there to help with the rehabilitation project that babu wants to put under way for his family and his neighbors under the sra.

the signs of upward mobility were all over the house. the decrepit shed was now a two storied rcc structure and a crystal chandelier hung from the center of the false ceiling.

he has three sons and one daughter. firoz- the eldest is a lawyer who is not embarrassed about piggybacking his career on his fathers considerable personality; waheeda the second is a beautiful smart professional working for standard chartered bank in fort- and disproves any categorization that society might make of the oppressed muslim woman- her family supports her and admires her gumption; amjad is a salesman for whirlpool; and moin the youngest is a good looking wastrel working as an instructor in a gym.

all of them probably earn more money than i do right now- still i am treated as a ‘chote nawab’ when i go there. it is incredibly embarrassing- being treated as this generous upper class dude who deigns to treat them well. amit and mayuri were treated to so many stories of “all the things rohan baba, sonal baby, saahab and memsaahab had done for them”. i was cringing away. this deep seated sense of a class difference is so difficult to outgrow.

maybe they were just patronizing me. i hope they were.

fun with dick and jane

i must have no sense of humor at all. i fail to understand how and why i am supposed to laugh hysterically when jim carrey and tea leoni lose all their possessions after jims company folds leaving them destitute. or when they embarrass themselves in their attempts to get jobs, or even when they become thieves to save their home. i don’t get it, and i don’t think i ever will. a snob i might be, but this kind of juvenile mtv bakra humor never does anything for me but leaves me with a bad taste in my mouth.

give me jane austen instead.

Sunday, February 19, 2006

pride and prejudice. cotton 56 polyester 84

watching jane austen adaptations is always quite a trip. no matter how mediocre the production her biting sarcasm and wit are always a pleasure. saw ‘pride and prejudice’ yesterday at the new cinemax red lounge at andheri- free massage chairs in the lobby and plush red reclining seats in the hall with waiters handing you sandwiches and coke – if you so desire. we were quite the upper class- amit, mayuri and me.

keira knightly is a star. i liked the feisty and naughty ring she brought elizabeth as she bit darcys head off in their many spats. the new movie version was full of this electricity and bite that was missing form the tv series that i had seen on dd when i was young. The camera wandered round dismal rooms and ornate interiors; or panned gorgeous English landscapes; the class war – the real story of the book to me was for a change the center of the film.. jane austen was suddenly very sexy- all stuffiness gone.

in the evening mukul joined our cultural day out to watch sunils new play at prithvi ''COTTON 56,POLYESTER 84''; written by ramu. a story of the changing landscape of the city told through the eyes of two mill workers struggling to keep their identity and honor in a city that’s intent on forgetting it. the first half crackled with music from my childhood and a history lesson that i did appreciate. i could have done without the ‘vaastav’ storyline that seemed necessary for narrative purposes that to me seemed superfluous.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

ahmedabad and sion fort - photos

the big men in a room at millowners.. bhalla, neelkanth, raje, sohoni and doshi

a crack in the floor where my shoe went through and crashed outside the conference room. at millowners, ahmedabad.

the toilet for the faculty area at cept. green bamboo hut.

the fire station is there! a small red dot that can actually be seen from sion fort. after the meeting at the asi when we flooded the office in a room at the base of the fort we walked up to spectacular views of the city. kanheri and vasai were being discussed and we were all there. crit and krvia.

another view from the hill with the awful bmc designed arch for the garden.

ahmedabad . car music- jazz

in ahmedabad, paul and me spent valentines day in a room on the ground floor of the fabulous millowners building in a workshop /conference that purportedly was aimed at re-imagining the entire architectural education system. how much difference was actually made by the conference and how much difference all the ‘inputs’ made by us will make is highly suspect; but there were some very violent outbursts and quick put-downs; and in a room so full of marathi men the biting cant be missed. paul and me tried to navigate our way gently in between bursting egos craving attention, performing for the minutes of the meeting; and the power players fighting a turf war under the guise of a noble motive. in the final reckoning nothing much has changed, a five year course stays with possible specializations (why? – don’t ask)

i don’t like ahmedabad much. i find it dusty and depressing. the architecture that everyone seems to appreciate so much for being so wonderful to me seems extremely insular. closed muscular boxed that contribute nothing to the city- not even a façade. monasteries in a city of markets. the disjunction most apparent when the market spills like water from out of these dumb boxes trying to be everyday ld that wants life to be extraordinarily banal. even the highly appreciated building of cept ahmedabad had the most ridiculous temporary bamboo toilet outside on the lawn. as if people who appreciate light and shadow on exposed brick walls don’t need to pee.

the evenings at cept there was a woman from switzerland who presented us with the work of the vitra company sponsoring famous architects to design buildings for them in the zoo of a campus; and her work on luis barragans stylish, colorful, dandyish work in mexico. i had complaints about it completely apolitical aesthetic. pointless but pretty – so i thought- or should that be pretty but pointless? the vitra work was nice though. chairs, chairs, chairs..

my classic moment of the trip. a teacher of mine from lsr, mumbai is walking around with me around millowners. he is right now doing his phd at some local university- so he claims. he asks me, ‘who designed this building,?’ i choked. he was serious. with as straight a face i could make i said ‘le corbusier’.

car music
jazz is such urban music. while driving it seems the perfect soundtrack to the city. the syncopated rhythm’s, the plaintive trumpets, the sexy saxophone and all the patterns of movement- sliding, shifting, shuddering – the throb and the pulse. whenever i am listening to it i can imagine a cinematic city- animated in vibrant saturated colour or as a collage of one dimensional black figures on white superimposed one over the other. hard edges to extreme fuzziness. there is no in between. wynton marsalis’ black codes’ works for me so much more than his ‘blood on the fields’. the rural landscape i think needs a different sound. for now the city movement makes me tap my foot at try to keep up with the mad polyrhythm and the crazy improvisations. herbie hancock- maiden voyage/ abdullah ibrahim – african river / wayne shorter – speak no evil / wynton marsalis – black codes from the underground / modern jazz quartet – blues on bach. miles davis after this set.

Sunday, February 12, 2006

if you want talk. dont walk

on a phone booth in the village of shahpur. what in the world does this mean?

kanheri . sakshi . car music

i went to kanheri after at least four years today. it used to be a monsoon ritual among us. a weekday taken off and a long walk up the moss covered black hills; and the light rain on our bodies. for me an image of johns body climbing the gentle steps caved into the rock walking away from me into the clouds is the one that represents all of the excursions. today, saurabh, paul, aditya, tushar, prajna and me met at nine and this time the water had run dry, that complicated water harvesting system was more difficult to trace. there might be a design cell project possibility. if it comes through, it will be great.

last night at sakshi nalini opened her new sow of paintings – alice in wonderland series. there were so many people i knew, from the artist community, the academicians and my family. venkatesh uncle, prabha aunty; astad; abhay and shilpa; rahul back from goa; goerge, surabhi and sanaa; jitish and reena; madhu with her great new haircut; aparna and sudhir; mukul; kausik and mahua.. the usual suspects and more. we ran away from the fancy dinner planned at the maratha sheraton in lalbaug and ended up at ‘golden orchid’ – madhu. mukul and me eating spare ribs and pot rice.

car music: the pazz and jop poll has made me go back to mia, kanye west, the new white stripes album and my morning jackets ‘z’.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

aerial view - fire station . continuous journey . zagreb animation

excitement as i saw the first real scar i am leaving on the surface of the earth - a red alucobond clad legacy.. from google earth- such amazement.

and at miff where filmmakers meet in the slight shadows that are found in the periphery of the hot raised court; where the crowd always seems so very interesting, today i 'continuous journey' by ali kazimi- this canadian indian film maker. It told the story of
'Komagata Maru' - a ship with citizens of the british empire of indian origin seeking to enter canada who were denied access. it was a terrific story of racism and empire told thorugh animating the meager footage that kazimi had discovered of the incident- essentially three or four photographs, one film and many letters read as voiceovers. i was quite moved by the story in spite of the displaced sentimentality for the lost ideal of 'secular' india of the film makers youth.

see the story of the ship

otherwise there was some zabreb animation which was well drawn, mostly charming - most of the time- until they became serious and turned out to be very shallow. the one with the inflatables was the best.

Monday, February 06, 2006

shahpur. miff

the trip to shahpur on saturday turned out to be longer than usual. this time with the work nearing the first steps on site, we were lining out and conceptualizing the two buildings; showing the local jack of all trades and fixers the extent of work to be done. rainwater harvesting, rcc costs, load bearing possibilities were all part of long winded circuitous discussions in the burning hot sun and in sunmica and corniced interiors of shops with ganpati bappa smiling benignly amidst glimmering golden leaf decorated curtains. mayuri noticed a scar on my neck from the electric shock that i had got the friday morning from a dangerously dangling wire in the exhibition area, before i lost it with the third year. they were being so completely anemic about the design project.

anyway as a result of the neck stun i was exhausted most of saturday and on sunday at miff- mumbai international film festival at p. l. deshpande hall at prabhadevi. atrocious building with faux grecian columns separating curtain walls with three halls- two rather nice and one that smells of urine, has an air conditioner working overtime and stainless steel and leather chairs used for wedding functions.

the movies that i managed to catch were at best extremely ordinary in form and fairly interesting in content. nothing earth shattering. there was ‘operation babylift’ about babies the australians adopted in the last few days of the vietnam war with a woman going back to saigon to find her birth mother- sentimental but sometimes moving. the four seasons mosaic- canadian film about the ‘wonderful’ cross cultural landscape rearranged vivaldi with a chinese pipa, indian sarangi, a western classical violin and inuit throat singers. music is always watchable.

‘the housewives flower’ was being shown in the ‘hybrid forms’ section and followed a smart group of vacuum cleaner salesmen as they did their rounds in the town of stuttgart. they were savvy, smooth and pretty ruthess in going for the ‘kill’. reminded me so much of john when he was working for eureka forbes in the early days of his career. the life of a salesman is something else. the charm, the ease with people… man- he was so impressive; and good looking.. today js sits happily in a tackily done fancy office in poonam chambers overlooking the lawns of the nehru science center- the same view from bahaars glassy new minimalistic space.

anyway, why am i describing the films? they did not seem to be the point of the festival anyway.. the margaret maid ‘film poems’ in the morning or even the nid animations were so ordinary that they don’t ever bear scrutiny. it was more of a meeting place for film makers from all parts of the country to sit in the baking plaza and exchange war stories and bitch about the terribleness of most of the selections. the one that took the cake for me was ‘the tunnel’ where a woman who had filed a case against a large construction organization in australia actually filmed herself as an erin brokovich type in awfully done ‘recreations’ adapted from the very worst of the sensationalistic american tv shows. whats with the australians anyway? white men who want to be yellow and hate them in turn.

Friday, February 03, 2006

lsr reunion. stevie wonder

ashish from my lsr batch was instrumental in getting a net conversation going in between all of us from the class at lsr. it is amazing just how far and wide the class has spread. the usa is of course the most sought after destination, but there are also people in new zealand and canada. very few of these people are even remotely connected with architecture today. i wonder then why we focus so much on teaching building making skills in class.

car music: 39 albums by stevie wonder arranged chronologically. it is amazing how an off-key child prodigy with a thing for ray charles grew up into such a genius. it is an long way from the shrill early work to the absolutely stunning set of seventies classic albums- from music of my mind to songs in the key of life, to innervisions, to hotter than july, i don’t think there was a single misstep in the entire seventies catalogue (except perhaps that double album – journey into the secret life of plants). his voice can do anything – it ranges from the soulful to the sharp, the beats are sure fire, the politics up front and the singing – oh.. the singing.. just got into the eighties set with ‘the woman in red’ still not too bad though i could do without the schmaltz of some of the ballads.. ‘i just called to say i love you’ is still a classic though. for now i am skipping the live albums and the obligatory christmas collection- i cant relate to the emotion at all- shall maybe get back to them later.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

rang de basanti

all the necessary steps to take to construct a sense of identity..

at the south african consulate yesterday, an old rented building with a grossly italianate interior is to be given a ‘treatment’ of south african motifs- the colors of the huts of the ndebele are suggested as decorations. beaded curtains perhaps?

in wynton marsalis three part jazz composition ‘blood on the fields’ black identity is linked to the pride of a black prince and a soulful black woman as they suffer the indignities of slavery.

in mayurs’ project in amritsar he wants to evoke a sense of sikh identity through the colour of mustard fields in front of the golden temple, 5 minutes from jalianwala baug. ‘rang de basanti’..

in the film the blood of martyrs spilt on these fields inspires a blasé group of young indians to mimic an act of murder and self sacrifice. we follow a british woman as she attempts to recreate her grandfathers version of the bhagat singh story in a film. the young men she finds are not at all like the idealists she imagined to cast the film. instead they are cynical, lost men who seem to give no significance to the concept of a greater common good. in the first half of the film the narrative is split in between the fictionalized historical narrative and the more flippant everyday life of the kids. gradually as the film proceeds, as each young man begins to identify with a character from the past a social ‘consciousness’ begins to emerge in each. in the second half, in their urge to mimic the act of their mythified heroes and fight the oppressor and they kill a corrupt politician and sacrifice themselves for the cause.

simplistic and naïve it is for sure, and more than a little jingoistic- but in creating a polemic is it inevitable to remove any sense of logic or character development. isn’t the distorted depiction of a history (the british girls sepia tinted vision as much as rakeysh sharmas film itself) necessary to create something larger and perhaps more powerful than a drama- an idea? in this case, the attempt seemed obvious, as much as the director wanted us to relate to the characters in the first half he also wanted them to become icons that we aspire to be (as they aspire to be bhagat singh and his group)
this was his own version of the sepia tinted historical dream. a call to arms it what it aspires to be – a myth. i just think it could have been more convincing if the transformation of the happy go lucky boys to killers was more convincing in itself.

otherwise the acting is superb across the cast. while the men seem to hog all the lime light- for me, at least, the film worked because we were asked to inhabit the gaze of the women.. the complete alien- sue- the british filmmaker who watches the transformation of the characters through her lens, and soha ali khan- whose plays intelligent and sensitive sonia, friend to all and also the impetus behind the revenge killing. i believe in aamir khan again; all of the others are fantastic. a r rehmans music though needs to be canned. he slams the most awful strings and drums, shrill tunes which have no relationship to the words all over the most sensitive scenes. annoying as hell.