Saturday, May 21, 2011
after 'natrang's world of lavani and 'harishchandrachi factory's nostalgia for a time when marathi culture actually meant something, here is another look back at a marathi cultural icon from the early part of the 20th century. 'bal gandharva' was a female impersonator, singer, performer and the film attempt s a bio pic by checking all the boxes- tilak's admiration, the rise to fame, the daughter's death, the ridiculous lengths he went to for the creation of the 'total work of art' including the spraying of every guest with attar, the celebrity fashion craze where women thronged sari shops to wear what he wore in the latest play, his eventual poverty and disgrace that led to his failed attempt at entering the world of cinema, and his downfall by his devotion to the reviled 'other woman'. and in all this the film steers clear of demonizing the man- content merely to blame something approximating a vague 'artistic temperament' for his eccentricities. this oversimplification is pat and unconvincing. examining his egomania and vanity; or the complexity of gender and sexuality shifts as he plays a woman; or the cult of celebrity and its repercussions; and so many more possibilities, are merely a scratch away and the film makers make sure that no such revelation is made for fear of alienating an adoring crowd.
in this case the adoring crowd was made of elderly maharashtrian couples some of whom has seen the man perform in the flesh - including my grandmother- who couldn't stop repeating the same stories of her and her brother going as children to watch the man perform in amravati, eating a dabba packed specially for the performance and the continuous 'once more's and dramatic changes of saris. sticking to the artist biography template got the film flattened and predictable. the only time that a possibility of some frission existed was in the very beginning of the film when the first night of his marriage is turned into a lesbian dream. while 'natrang' played more with the gender shifts and had better music; this film suffers from playing it too safe- although the music sometimes soars.
hadnt expected to enjoy 'crank 2' in its jittery jokey action packed madness. like a comic book on screen.
Tuesday, May 17, 2011
so, we were in phoenix again today and what can i say that i haven't said earlier- except that it seems to me to be the least vile of all the developments in the mill lands- even though it is by far the most ramshackle- or actually - because of that. none of the glisten and sheen of what's directly across the road- the enormous towers rising from their enormous basements. grown over time, finding, searching and negotiating for space in between older buildings that it once was illegal to tear down- the mall has grown inwards and outwards out of the industrial sheds. the older kernel of the transformation still lies at the heart of the development. the 'courtyard- once faced by the most swishy of the discos 'fire and ice' that made the most out of its industrial patina and double height interior. now it is a 'spaghetti kitchen' -white and shiny right near a mcdonalds. other restaurants in older buildings lead from this courtyard to 'skyzone' the first mall-like shopping zone to emerge within the complex. to get here you have to walk under a bridge- it had no chance of being pleasant, this "street". the landscape plan seems like it learnt from back-streets and parking lots- how to make asphalt feel worse than it is.
'skyzone' is mall squeezed into an old office building. aluminium panels slapped onto the lower two floors, an interior of one double height lobby with a 'subway' and a corridor with shops on both sides. this 'mall' has recently been dwarfed many times over by the latest entrant into the space- the gigantic 'palladium' on the other side of the 'courtyard'. This hulk of a building can never really be seen from anywhere but from within its tacky marble floored, piss yellow lighted atrium- its extremities are submerged under terraces and parking lots at multiple levels.
this gargantuan parking lot is tucked away at the back of the complex and is entered through an incredible labyrinth of ramps that rise and fall and then rise again only to twist down again. one of the strange (happy?) accidents of the slow agglomeration of awful buildings in phoenix is that the clear separation of the service from the served; or the old from the new; or the tacky from the swank; or the garbage from the precious is never really clear. they are completely intertwined within one another. the two worlds seem to pass each other constantly pretending that the other does not exist. sudden juxtapositions offer no surprise- not even elicit an ironical smile- like that sequence of three spaces - from the parking lot- down a service stair- onto a raised terrace from where you enter the multiplex burning in the summer sun into the air conditioned atrium from where you descend into a shopping center- only to be thrust out again into the hot 'street' covered by construction material- and thats just for starters.
meanwhile the place keeps getting bigger and bigger. construction is still on. i am way beyond horror at this. i am at the point of numb amusement.
the glazed atrium between the parking lot and the 'street'
above the 'street'
along the route
and earlier today, i was at another landmark that has grown over time- babulnath temple at the base of malabar hill. you enter the gate and follow the steep street lined with chawls and come upon the horrific but rather fascinating as a tower from a possible fascist science fiction film that serves as a life-shaft. under the turn of the stairs a sadhu and his assistant peddle their religious paraphernalia. you rise following the gridded latticework of the covered corridors from the lift shaft up the stairs and underneath more bridges to the temple at the top of the hill.
paro's new film 'partners in crime' dwells on love and theft. the love of art and people. the love of collecting, knowing, understanding, dissecting, organising art and then distributing freely to who you love or want to be loved by. piracy as a part of that mix-tape culture that i remember from my teens. recording static filled top 40 songs from voice of america and then making copies for shyam and babu; choosing pieces specifically for that one person who you know it was meant for. i loved most of the characters but felt a little sorry for the one dimensional experts' (though they did do their best to be caricatures themselves). they seemed to lie outside the arc of the film. i really enjoyed the film- i only wish that the love story would have stayed uninterrupted.
unlike 'rip- a remix manifesto' who spoke instead of the love of music itself- its form and evolution. the 'creative process' that steals, shuffles, remixes and makes new. 'girl talk's mad collage like mashups that make khichdi out of everything from britney spears and kanye west to nirvana and the beatles form the spine of the film. the music is great.
the sappy wooden and, quite frankly, awful, douglas sirk film of a William faulkner novel 'the tarnished angels'. lovingly shot in cinemascope black and white and set in new orleans during mardi gras. much is made of the parallels between the grotesque masks and the grotesque emotional games played by the characters with each other. rock hudson plays a journalist besotted by a family of flying racers- the husband and the wife.
'le prophete' is a prison drama set in a french prison that centres around a young arab man as he rises from a lackey to the prison mob to being an all powerful ringleader. an action drama film that works. 'the wedding banquet'- ang lee's sweet romantic comedy about gay men and a pretend marriage.
and then hollywood on tv- the 'toy story' trilogy back to back: to infinity and beyond- i had strange nightmares that didnt allow me to sleep. not all blue skies and brightness - are they? sad lonely toys always running after owners who leave them in dangerous circumstances and then forget about them. 'the generals daughter' - it is so comforting to know that the man you suspect in the first five munites of a supposed murder mystery turns out to be the killer. john travolta hams his way through what are supposed to be the dark mysterious sexual undercurrents within a co-ed military camp. some homosexuality, sado masochism and rape while he romances the very straight madeline stowe. 'the battle of shaker heights' in which shia lebouf is virtual battle mad until he connives with a richer smart friend to take revenge on a bully. darker than usual for an american teen film. another might have been plugged dark teen film was 'the last song'- miley cyrus is ranty dad hating teen (she blames him for the divorce- ah... ) until his untimely sickness and eventual death makes her appreciate him. ugh. and more and more....
Sunday, May 08, 2011
The Pursuit of Pleasure: The Dalmia House
What are we to make of the single family home on the edge of the city? Architects have often loved these buildings to experiment with new notions of form and space. An uneasy alliance it may seem to be- the search for domestic bliss in the building of the family home- and the urge to explore the next frontier in architectural thought. Yet, for years, architects have sought projects like these to place arguments, to reflect in built form and space that zeitgeist that they see themselves ordained to give shape to. This relationship has often been uncomfortable. One is reminded of Mies Van Der Rohe's 'Farnsworth House' and the controversy it led to when its single woman resident could not change clothes in her house for fear of someone been able to see her nakedness; or of Peter Eisenman's 'House 6'- an experiment in architectural syntax that split the marital bed into two right through the centre. A new bed had to be created to bridge the gap.
The history of the single family home as an architectural muse has many such examples. The avant garde experimentalist is rarely concerned with the paraphernalia of everyday life. But, it would be naive to imagine that these experiments take place in spite of the resistances of the future resident of the home. These homes emerge as a pact between the client and the architect to create a new way of living- to be able to explore the boundaries of architecture and domesticity and to construct new relationships with nature and within the home.
In India, the traditional single family home exists now in the realm of nostalgia. With industrialisation and urban migration these keepers of the family hearth were abandoned to ruin in the villages and small towns in which they existed. Young men and later families moved to the city to find fortune in the rapidly developing urban centres. These homes then became the solace for the old who returned here for the last years of their lives, or become pastoral dreamscapes for children to frolic with their cousins on hot summer holidays. Gradually as families grew apart and as new hearths evolved these homes crumbled into ruin- embroiled in long standing family feuds and ownership disputes.
In the early years of independence as a newly urbanised Indian middle class looked to create its own urban homes it did not look anywhere close to these remnants of the past. Looking westwards it longed for the aura of the forward looking progressive movement we collectively call modernism. With it came a longing to belong elsewhere- to be part of an international elite- educated in the west with faith in western enlightenment and rationalism. Form was pure, sculptural. The older hierarchies of space were discarded. Space was value-free. It flowed, turned, twisted- or so it wanted to.
Sometimes, the knick knacks of everyday life- unwilling to evaporate into thin air made their presence felt. On these so-called modernist masterpieces fragments of the past appeared like ornament. A style evolved that married the twin exoticisms- of a remote internationalism and harking back to a past through kitsch imagery.
Later came a turn even more radically inwards, and ideologically influential. A postcolonial backlash against this thrust towards a empty, value-less future. No matter how much we thought we could speedily escape into this utopian future the weight of our history, the messiness of our identities, the reality of our context kept us behind. Escape was not going to be so simple. An 'indian identity' was forged out of the chaotic communities and languages within a demarcated line on a map by uneasily but fairly successfully (for a while) constructing a pan-Indian history and value system. This turn allowed to feel proud of glorious past and rail at the evils of corrupting 'western influences'. The gallop towards modernity had found its nemesis. Regionalism was a search towards relevance by connecting to the genius loci of a site- an engagement with the entropy of 'place' that could hold back the juggernaut of modernity. As one moved forward you were held back into a dialectic relationship between slowness and speed, memory and aspiration, internationalism and the local. The tensions between these poles was often left unresolved. Often compromises were reached- 'Indian' and 'Modern' at the same time- as if there was indeed a contradiction.
A romantic return to the roots was wholeheartedly embraced by a society liberated into the no-place of modernism looking to establish, on its own terms, a pastoral paradise. Farmhouses on the edges of major cities were being built evoking traditional housing forms for a new bourgeoisie. Regionalism's retreat into the appearance of 'Indianness' was thus the language of choice.
With a high emphasis upon the moral correctness of such a return to a past it was assumed that an answer had been found to address the question of identity in Indian architecture. However, the forces of modernity were more agile than that. While playing lip service to 'local traditions' a 'post modern' turn merely relegated 'place' to a set of free floating signifiers ornamenting a building. A sloping roof in concrete signified a farmhouse. The language of regionalism was co-opted for projects that had almost nothing to do with the ideology expounded.
But this is history now. The question of identity no longer plagues the generation that has reaped the benefits of liberalisation. With collapsing boundaries in information and the economy the construct of the nation appears even more now to be an artificial one. The values that it represent seem outmoded and outdated when a sea change of transformation is occurring at every level. A class has emerged not bound by ideological formations of nationhood and identity. This new class is now looking to make in stone and concrete the monuments to its aspirations- an architecture for a confident bourgeoisie no longer embarrassed by the pursuit of pleasure.
Architecture can be the vehicle for many kinds of pleasure. There are pleasures that are immediate, momentary, sudden, long lasting. There are visual, aural, sensual pleasures. Bernard Tschumi once made a provocation claiming 'to really appreciate architecture you must commit a murder'- the presumption being that to really begin to experience a space it was important to explore its boundary- to go to the edge of what can be allowed. All preconceived notions of right and wrong were to be challenged and reconfigured. As against the tranquillity of the familiar- it was to discover anew what we might have forgotten- a primal sense of 'being' in the world- a place where we rediscover our bodies and its relationships with the earth and the sky, with water and wind. Pleasure lay in that liminal space between the known and the unknown- within the boundary that exists between our bodies and the world outside.
This is the boundary inhabited by our senses- feeding our memories and our aspirations- giving our minds fodder for fantasy out of the material of the world outside- in strange juxtapositions that make sur-real- or in distortions than make hyper-real, pieces of the world outside.
The architecture of the home becomes a machine to process these fantasies.
The Dalmia house seems to emerge out of these desires- an urge to make unexpected the expected- to make the familiar new. This is storytelling, new experiences at every turn, from diagram of the house itself to the tiny detail.
The house sits spanning like a colossus at the base of a hill overlooking a river. The building consists of two parts, each on a small hillocks with a seasonal stream in between. This valley of sorts is turned into one of the primary organising features splitting the building into one public half and the other with the more private spaces. Each of the two parts of the house are loosely organised upon two walls that form the datum for the building. Upon these stone walls that you experience from both within and outside the building are clustered a series of rooms in a collage of materials and colours. There are no obvious precedents to the language. It is collision of forms loosely held together by an organisation diagram that collects the pieces together.
This connecting element is a bridge that hangs high over the swimming pool and an amphitheatre within the valley between the two halves of the house. This bridge begins with a swirl outside the main entrance of the house and then swoops through and across both parts of the building until it hangs vertiginously over the landscape before swirling inwards like a giant snake and leaving you out into the thick underbrush below. This bridge breaks any conventional order within the home. The living spaces are separated from the more private rooms by a long walk. It is imagined that this bridge will serve as a space for accidental encounters and stories- a place from where you could observe the pool and the activities there, the fields that disappear into the distance and the faraway hills. Here domestic efficiency is definitely at the service of the greater imperative of creating narrative.
On the bridge lies the pleasure of panoramas- the thrill of standing at the edge of a precipice and watching the world below. It is the thrill of commanding and controlling through vision- of possessing through the gaze. It is no wonder that options are being explored to 'colour the mountains' in the distance- to plant flowering trees on the slopes to 'enhance the view'. The landscape around is thus embraced. The view a backdrop to the theatre of everyday life. Even the soundscape of this space is permeated with the sound of classical music that wafts through a piped in music system through the house. Morning concerts are to happen in the amphitheatre that sits near the swimming pool.
There are many more pleasures packed into the home. At every turn something new to titilllate and excite. In the public half of the building the darkened grotto like interiors of the living space and the library at the lower level are contrasted by the glazed pavilion of the guest room hanging over the land. In the private half of the home, at the upper level- which ends up being the main living and dining space for the family- you enter the home through a bright red box which forms the lobby of the home. A terrace at this level connects an enormous dining space and a living room. The movement here is decidedly towards whimsy as strange new forms dominate the space. A bright red love-seat fruit hangs in the terrace as a caterpillar-like wooden seat clinging to the wall looks on. Within the dining room a swirl in heavy metal mimics foliage above a gigantic brass table which is so large it requires a saloon door in the middle to allow the servers from the kitchen access to the other side.
Below this level are the two main bedrooms of the house. Here the strange delights of the house take a distinctly intimate turn. The scale of the rooms is smaller and the spaces are distinctly separated into different zones marked by pieces of furniture - each with story of its own. A wooden table is made of discarded pieces of wood from the rest of the house enclosed inside clear acrylic while another table forms a long seat from where you can watch the landscape outside.
A window facing the bed main opens out onto an existing tree. The panorama of the world seen from the upper floors suddenly collapses into an personal relationship with this tree as it grows along with the family in the years to come.
Here, as in the rest of the house furniture and details mimic strange anthropometric and animal like forms. Textures collide in free abandonment. Brass and concrete panels, acrylic and wood shavings. This is a sensual and intellectual game where the familiar is made uncanny through a game of hide and seek. There is no subscription to the austerity of an 'honesty to materials'. Instead there is an indulgence with the affect of a surface, and in the capricious turn of shape and form.
In the Dalmia House, there is no doubt that this is an architecture that sees no embarrassment in its indulgence with excess. The home has left its role as humble hearth far behind. It is not even the carrier of the collective memory of a particular identity. It is not content merely to remain a backdrop to life. It makes its presence definitively felt. It provides the stage to 'perform' life. Everyday life is displaced from the ordinary into the extraordinary. We are to held in thrall by the narrative of our own lives. We are performers in the epic drama that is to become our life. From the sur-real to the hyper-real this architecture is not about conventional notions of 'comfort'. It is an architecture to challenge us to rise to its unconventional enchantments. In that sense it owes a lot to early modernist movements that had similar ambitions for its inhabitants.
How do we appreciate the architecture of a home? Purely sensual pleasures can thrill and excite - but can they last a lifetime- for that is the bracket in which we experience homes.
Homes eventually grow with the families that inhabit it. As the architecture gradually gets away from the hands of the architect the mundane material of everyday life begins to collect in its corners. This home like so many others is going to be the stage for moments and memories enhanced by the architecture that enables them- the view of the valley, accidental encounters on the bridge or swaying in the veranda over morning coffee. In that sense every house is haunted. Ghosts and spirits lie telling stories at every corner of the building. Its fate is now theirs.
dum maro dum . wild grass . the assasination of jesse james by the coward... rio . shor in the city . i am . charlie chan and the curse of the dragon queen . gone in 60 seconds . thor .
'dum maro dum' is all cool boredom. goa is made drug capital in an oversaturated piss yellow tint. deepika padukone sizzles for a short while in a short skirt- but most of the time the twists in the tale are predictable and abhishek's expression vacillated intermittently between a smirk and sneer. alain resnais' 'wild grass' was gorgeously shot but tried to make profound the story of an encounter between a woman pilot who lost her purse and the aging eccentric who found it. lightweight arty. i fell for the epic conceits of 'the assassination of jesse james by the coward robert ford'. unashamedly long and slow. the landscape of frontier homes and desolate landscapes beautiful. the train robbery in the night was exquisite. now new hollywood- 'rio' in 3d- besides the great renderings of the barrios in rio in that wild chase sequence- nothing unusual. run of the mill american animation. 'thor' did more with kenneth branagh tapping the inherent silliness of a god walking the earth. the actor looks like a god and natalie portman is duly impressed. then the two alt-indie (somehwhat) films released last week- 'i am' and 'shor in the city'. while 'i am' travels to kolkata for the surrogate pregnancy story, kashmir for the kashmiri pundit story and bangalore for the child abuse story it has to return to mumbai for corrupt cops and rahul bose kissing arjun in a car. which other city has the best corrupt policemen? i wish he hadn't fallen for the cliche in the end. but otherwise warm. more clichés in 'shor in the city' where the only 'normal' people in mumbai are the desi american returning trying to make it in maximum city; and the telugu boy wanting to be a cricketer. around them are stereotypes of gangsters, corrupt policemen (again), poititians and goondas (with or without a good heart). nothing surprises or moves- except for that one shot of the ghatkopar slums. breathtaking. tv movies: 'surrogates' with bruce willis in a sci-fi future where we live out lives through a mirror image of us. great premise devolved into hollywood action drama with a twist so predictable it made me wince. 'gone in 60 seconds': angelina jolie plays very pointless sidekick to nicholas cage as he steals 50 cars in a few days. you cant believe that anyone could take this seriously. i hope not- and finally, 'charlie chan and the curse of the dragon queen'-a relief to see a 80s murder mystery that new it was silly.