Thursday, February 28, 2008


while watching kamlabai i could not but help superimpose her with padmatai. the same quick wit, sharp tongue, dedication to their art, and irritable, affectionate diva-like personality. kamlabai was the first woman who acted in a film made in india- an aging stage actress who lives alone in a pune apartment. sometimes her children and grandchildren visit her. but mostly her company are the caretakers and cleaners whom she reprimands cantankerously and, at the risk of sounding corny, her memories. the film was beautifully made and very moving. through her stories the history of marathi theater and film seemed rich and varied. i wonder sometimes whether it still exists as a vital force or has it been completely submerged under the jingoistic marathi manoos notion of culture- shivaji and dombivili fast.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

pune farmhouse . lavasa

since i had not gone to delhi for the latest wedding in the family, i had to take the trip to pune last weekend for the pre-reception jaunt at the farmhouse on the outskirts of the city. as farmhouses go it follows the pattern book of what is expected thankfully without the ostentation. a ‘rustic’ plaster, stone facing, landscape made of a patchwork of differing ideas regarding the land – a water body, a lawn, gravel, flower beds and naturally a small kitchen garden. as the alcohol inspired conversation between the men soared below i walked to the terrace above the circular room and watched the sunset in the muscular hills surrounding. it had been a long time since i saw the sunset- leave alone watching it in solitude. in the dark i made phone calls to loved ones abroad.

the party continued downstairs as the women huddled together discussing clothes and the men alcohol until they were all sufficiently high to let the gender boundary dissolve. by that time the guests / hosts arrived to a smattering of applause. shalini- the new entrant to the family is a nice sikh delhi girl, and here she was surrounded by a gaggle of marathi men and women joking about daughter in laws and mother in laws. the obligatory spoken word skit by the pune aunts went right over her and her sister’s head. poor girl. welcome to the family.

the nest morning as we were waiting for lunch, sonal, nikhil, anuprita and me decided to drive to lavasa – the huge billboards of which we see advertising oxford university and the largest hill station in the country on the expressway to lure rich (very rich) prospective buyers. it is an amby valley sort of development 32 kilometers from pune- around an hours drive. the drive there is gorgeous on a beautifully maintained road that climbs golden brown hills in sharp turns. the valleys between these hills are lush green where the streams of water flow while the flanks are covered with the skeletons of dry trees. as you approach lavasa you pass small agricultural settlements with rural schools whose children keep running across the street. a dam controls the water that is let out into the valley where the villages are. expecting a large reservoir behind it we were surprised by the fairly dry bed when we looked at the other side. climbing further we were led to the gate of lavasa where a security guard stopped us. when asked he said that no one was allowed in, but if we went a little further down a parallel road we could take a look at the valley from above. so we did. while two huge neo traditional looking buildings were being built the whole valley was lush green leading down to a full lake below. roads were being cut into the valley at every level to provide access to the luxury villas that might be built there.

it was a truly disturbing experience. as rural resources seem to be privatized and sold as luxury to a certain class, how can this violence not have its repercussions on the many who survive upon access to them?

photos later

we homes chaps

while attending the school reunion of the film maker we get to hear the stories of the inmates of a missionary school in kalimpong. is there no other was but the nostalgic to approach the idea of your own home. but the school was not really a home- or was it? as it cleansed them of their ethnicity and immersed them in the values of christianity much was lost and decried- but a sense of belonging was also instilled for many who otherwise had nowhere else to turn to.

Saturday, February 23, 2008


it must be a sign of the emergence of hollywood’s more politically correct, sensitive side- that in this disaster film about a sinking ship with screaming women and gratuitous explosions they kept one of the odd characters alive till the end- as against the young, beautiful, white men and women who always seem so well put together in times of crisis. the specimen chosen to keep alive was an aging gay architect – probably because one such type had designed the director's mansion. the ones that they killed along the way included a lower class mexican waiter, a polish illegal immigrant, an alocoholic moustached new yorker and surprise, surprise – kurt russell as a father who sacrifices his life for his daughter’s love. aww..

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Santacruz public space

a community group in santacruz won the urban age award for their work in upgrading the area through collective action. this included garbage sorting, toilet facilities and a playground upgradation. we met above the toilet where their office is and took a walk around the playground where they hope to put the windfall of money to some good use. in the middle of the playground is a stage with green rooms waiting for a restoration project. when we arrived it was being used by the young men of the area as a cricket pitch. so much more alive and nicer than the terrible barbed wire that surrounded the reliance sponsored children’s park and nana naani park nearby. the generation gap manifests itself as a contest in claiming space.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

love's topography

yesterday was a long day in college as it was the first day of the ouncil inspection. a philosophical clash was on the cards along with some maudlin sentiment- a lot of it. am exhausted in the morning and this is not a good sign for the rest of the day.

meanwhile, look here for a map of love.

Monday, February 18, 2008

desperado square

parallel stories on and off screen intertwine in a sweet little film about showing ‘sangam’ in a village outside tel aviv. other entertaining titbits include watching israeli actors grooving to ‘teri man ki ganga aur meri man ki jamuna kaaa..’

sunday – the passing away of a parent

at byculla in what used to be an old hospital near the zoo at lubaina’s house, we arrived to provide comfort in a difficult situation. outside friends and family waited below the falling leaves of a magnificent rain tree. hopefully an embrace says more than any words we can say.

saturday – dharavi and a party

more germans in college. this time it was planners from different cities doing a grand tour of mumbai – and dharavi has to be one of the stops- and now the school is on the slum tour. showed them some work and then took them to dharavi where we climbed to the top of the building that sparc built whose open corridors and central courtyard are small but so important in helping with the making of a life for the slum dweller. on the terrace the germans photographed giggling children and the corridors served as a space for a women’s meeting behind a curtain.

indru and me abandoned the rest of the group and i guided him through a journey through the labyrinth of the slum. we walked past more playing children, workshops making, baking, assembling, disassembling all the way to kumbharwada with the kilns burning a thick smoke forming a veil through which we walked. amazing – really- no art gallery extravaganza can come close.

a small party was organised at mukul’s in the evening. george, surabhi, kuntal, nandita, meha, sanaa, mukul, sonal, ranjit, prasad, rupali and paro.

friday – a maz ing and soi day2

for all the hype regarding it- and not only the bombay times kind- the art spectacle at jehangir was disappointing to say the least. all right- so one space was white and the other black. the black one being the labyrinth where rooms were made for art work that ranged from the bad to the mediocre, while the white room where capsules were found in between narrow corridors where projections and site installed sculpture were placed. in all of them was the silliest form of social commentary or random act of creating ‘beauty’ whatever they conceived of it as. none of the art had anything to do with the space itself. and even those that did were so godforesakingly childish- it was embarrassing -the room with the fake grave and the photograph of christ dying for example.

soi day 2 was better than day 1. foregoing the bombast of the first day, they had opted for classical pieces by beethoven and mozart which were very ordinary- but later the orchestra got into its groove with a schubert trio, mussogrsky’s ‘pictures at an orchestra’ where images are made into music- and a lovely outtake from madame butterfly sung by two girls in full japanese costume.

Friday, February 15, 2008


while waiting for indru's flight from kolkata, first landmark for come tarot cards, then some horrid pizza at red box (where the wannabe stars come out for valentines day); and then lokhandwala market for some earrings (where they accessorize). indru is here for the next few days. i wish i could spend more time with him than i am going to with the coa inspection around the corner.

Thursday, February 14, 2008


items from the past few days.

must begin with the khoj presentation on tuesday. nice enough- but does public art mean working with the 'locals' and the 'children'. what happens to the aesthetic question?

and then chandaverker from bangalore with his art as 'sites of exactitude'. wonderfully articulate and reasonable- but safe work. sometimes, i wished that his theoretical precision was explored in the space of utopian imagination rather than negotiated and compromised by the 'client' - corporate and very rich.

and today on the internet, i found this - technology developed only to keep young people away from certain areas. nana nani and joggers parks in mumbai will stand in line to buy it.

Monday, February 11, 2008

kharghar sunday

at kharghar yesterday we we were called to raj and rashmi’s place for lunch. i took the opportunity to drive through the streets that i had earlier in 1999 while doing surveys for the as yet unreleased new bombay book. kharghar at that time was a desolate empty node with roads under construction at the base of the green hills. waterfalls came down from the hills and through the unbuilt plots. yesterday all that pastoral beauty was gone and instead the same badly built small houses and apartment buildings that you see all over new bombay. the hills have been quarried and the green swathes of land left for the green belts by the original master plan seem to be in the process of disappearing. but informal shopping seems to be everywhere. i wish they existed when i was driving alone in my red maruti through the empty landscape.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

soi: day 1

bombastic though the selection may have been, with loud short pieces from what mukul told me was the late romantic period, i was still taken in by the physicality of the music. to think that the making of music was always a tangible phenomenon to be experienced with the sound. with the act of recording music has been auralised.(if that is a word) removing the visual, spatial and the physical from the experience. live, music has a completely different impact. layers are revealed through space that no sound system can replace. and what of the dance of the musicians, in sync with their instruments – the harp players hands floating patterns across the curtain of strings, or the sudden thrust of the violin players’ bows as they pluck a string. i am not even referring to the conductor and his performance at the center- hopping about, swirling his baton.

it was a strauss evening, with marches, and waltzes. there were also some pieces by bizet (carmen) and ravel. i am learning more as i listen more. for instance, at least i was able to now say what i do not like. ravel i did.

dinner afterwards was exquisite and expensive at vongwong- a new chinese restaurant in express towers. madhu and mukul had a watermelon and ginger mojito, while i had a martini and a long island iced tea.

Saturday, February 09, 2008

morning fog city views - new commercial buildings on link road

maya deren . 'kali salwar' . kalaghoda art festival

the avant garde makes its own mythical heroes. they generally are extremely reclusive or extraordinarly fiery. i don’t know of any really easygoing avant gardist. we drove all the way to town to watch a film’s adulation over surrealist american maya deren. her personal history, personalisty was grist for a talking heads biopic. not that it was abad film in any way- its just that i did not need to see the making of myth before i actually saw the work. it changed the way i watched the films, expecting biographical details and psychological insights of her, rather than letting the film phenomenon letting me make associations for myself. ‘meshes of the afternoon’ i had seen earlier in pune, ‘on land’ seemed familiar with its chess game and the sea in reverse from madonna’s ‘cherish’ video’, ‘a study in choreography for camera’ followed a dancer through a forest into an apartment and a museum, ritual in transfigured time’ had something to do with time and death. incredibly memorable images with deren’s perosna and body in sharp focus. we left before the last two films but had seen clips from them in documentary. ‘meditations on violence’ with a tai chi dancer leaping from a room to the roof; and ‘the very eye of night’ where bodies make constellations in a starry night. will have to see them both –on youtube.

‘kali salwar’ the feature mukul shot a good 9 years back seems to have finally made it to the theater. the film was based on a series of manto stories with crumbling mill land and inner city locations and the characters of that city- the writer, the roadside vagrant, the madman, the prostitute, the migrant. funny and also somewhat moving, i liked the film- but i am biased here.

the kalaghoda art festival seems to have turned into a mela for ngo produced ethnic paraphernalia. awful art that makes the most banal ‘statements’ about the city jostle for space amidst other objects that throng the pavement attempting to ‘make a difference’. the themes being of course – sustainability, nationhood and cleanliness.

as a street party it is much too cleansed; as an exploration of art in public space – too silly. still fun to see the city transformed in this way. time pass.

Friday, February 08, 2008


in all her tragic glory, meena kumari makes the perfect filmi courtesan. i think all portrayals since of kothas and tawaifs cant help but refer directly and indirectly to this film. i am thinking of madhuri dixit soaking her hair in water as she whispers lovingly to shah rukh in the overblown devdas. speaking of bhansali, he does try so hard, poor man, to be able to create the same intoxicating splendor of unreal sets within which the stories take place- but never seems to have the ease of this film; languid in pace, languid in pose, lovingly shot, beautifully acted – and i mean raj kumar too. the story might have one too many ridiculous coincidences- but in the world of labyrinthine fluorescent interiors and screens where the mujras happen, or even in the odd luminous forests where the lovers meet, anything is possible. like in hindi films. and then there is the music- lata mangeshkar at her prime- her voice like crystal in the halls of pleasure (‘inhi logon ne’, ‘chalte chalte’, ‘teere nazar’- the blood on the dance floor song or my favourite ‘thare rahiyo’)- and like a distant bird in the forest (‘mausam hain aashiyaana’, ‘chalo dildar chalo’- rafi the lone male voice is overwhelmed). and if meena kumari cant really dance it does not matter because her melancholia is the film.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

encounter: nikhil chopra

the persona chosen to portray came from his own history- one an oddly still king of a princely state in colonial times – sir raja and the other a homage of sorts to his own grandfather and his paintings of kashmir – the homeland. during the performance as the space outside is being inscribed with his body- the body transforms to acknowledge the space. at what point does living a life become performative? when it is being recorded as such? or rather when one is watching oneself as if an a mirror in other people’s reactions- yet not acknowledging them. to confront others in new situations you don on odd clothing and perform unusual antics with your body. the camera that documents this act further exstranges you from the audience. is that a positive or a negative addition to the performance? it does after all completely transform it. the act of recording does violate the purely transient nature of the work. interesting conversation with the students later. nice work.

Monday, February 04, 2008

satyricon . mephisto

i had nightmares all night after satyricon- fellini’s brutal farce in an ancient rome with decadent passions and grotesque mask like faces in a frame of a narrative that follows a young man through a variety of incredible places as he pines over a lover who left him for another man. the places include a tower of babel turned inside out, a still and peaceful mansion, a feast of indescribable gruesomeness, a boat with a slave prison underneath and much more- each of them incredibly detailed and frightening. fascinating though the film was to watch, all night i was haunted by its images but somehow set in a strange contemporary landscape shrouded in darkness. glass buildings set in lawns. in one of them is a ‘thing in itself’- a white box with a small orifice that is sucking everything in. everyone holds on tight to the what is around while they watch parts of their bodies torn away from them get sucked into the black hole. i can still see the girl in the white shirt watching her legs being pulled in.

mephisto was just as dark, but less gruesome.. an actor is caught between the fame he craves and his own conscience as he climbs his way to the top by becoming the blue eyed boy of the brutal nazi regime. klaus maria brandauer is amazing as the actor, and the film is able to raise very complicated questions regarding the collusion of art and politics, power and culture. great film.

Sunday, February 03, 2008

surprise visit

a surprise visit on a sunday evening from allyson khan who used to live on the ground floor of our building with her husband feroze, her mother in law and kids- kiran and karen. they left for chennai, then mexico and now australia where kiran is now the drummer of an upcoming alternative australia band ‘ a sound mind’, while allyson and karen are right now at princeton. i now know a rock star. here is a link to their web site. and here is kiran.