Sunday, February 09, 2014

here! gaze upon the bruises on my skin, she said

This friday there was a Cinema City discussion at the Mumbai International Film Festival. While Madhu and I did our usual introductions to the project and they way it affected our disciplines; Pushpa showed the Phantom Lady 2 project; and Mukul, Sonal, Shikha and i did readings from the two books; Nicole and Mukul spoke for the first time on a CC panel- and they were both super. In Nicole’s presentation the city became the bruised and battered body of Ranu from Shyamal’s ‘I am the very beautiful’ which is flirting with the gaze of all of us who watch it, all of us who try to hold it down by trying to understand it. it says i am but i am also not and will never be what you want me to be- but i will still give you what you want. the city as a bar dancer, shapeshifting chimera- seductive inspire of or rather because of the eroticism of her imperfection. 

Mukul on the others hand drew a history of the phallic, delayering the iconography of the city through the way in which the images have been determined by the technology that produced it- and how those have been recirculated in different ways forming the collective memory of the city. 

Thursday, February 06, 2014

Lawrence and the Tiger

At the Clark House initiative when Lawrence spoke of the emergence and evolution of the social contract; and suggested ways in which we can resist- by active dissent, by withdrawal, by evolving a new relationship with nature, and spoke of the shifting terrain of the sunderbans where conceptions of property and nature have evolved ways of speaking to one another, I was reminded of the MCGM stakeholders meeting that we had organized a few weeks back for the residents of koliwadas, gaothans and adivasipadas at the ward office in Dadar.

As every community sent its representatives to voice its concerns to the MCGM while it is formulating the new Development Plan, there seemed to be distinct differences in the way that the arguments were put forth. The goathans seemed to be the most able to deal with the language of bureaucracy and planning- able to argue through legislations and documents. They even felt equal enough to the representatives of the MCGM to level base allegations against them. The koliwadas were more militant and aggressive- asserting rights to the sea, to livelihood that had been taken away from them- an anger towards the usurpers of the rights that they see as their and a demand to be seen as the ‘original’  inhabitants of the islands. The gentlest and the shortest presentation was made by the adivasipadas- who are denied existence in the plan almost entirely as those concepts of identity/property lie outside the realm of the plan almost entirely. Almost overwhelmed by the articulate and vociferous voices of the other two communities they felt that they were going to be subsumed under the clamor. They asked only to be recognized, be given water, electricity and some basic services- but the moment that I remember the most was when one of them stood up to speak first of the sun that they need to see in the morning- and ask that tall buildings not be built to the east of where they live- and most memorably when he decided to speak for the trees and the snakes of the forest as they did not have any representation in the room. He asked that their rights to ‘be’ in the city be also protected- and be prioritized as important when evolving the development plan. He told a story of how leopards and snakes are protesting against their habitat being eaten away by human beings by attacking them; and how he understood the way they feel because as an adivasi he empathized with their plight. He saw himself as half-animal and seemed to feel even more wild in the presence of the din of that conversation.

I also remembered the island of Majuli and the relationship with the ever shifting landscape of the tribal villages who lived on stilts and moved to higher and lower ground whenever the land changed shape; and the satras whose diagram hovered like a ghost over the land and reasserted itself after every monsoon- in exactly the same way.

And I thought of withdrawal from the clamor of conversation that speaks whatever the audience want to hear; of silence in the place of the simplifications and rationalizations that are spoken to allow one access to a world of international discourse on architecture/ on cities/ on artistic practice; of kaushik and disenchantment with the world of the art market; of distancing as a form of denial of the corruption of the world; of love and truth as priorities over fame and power; and of the 'social contract' of artistic practice when the figure of the artist as romantic recluse is also a commodity for our consumption. 

Tuesday, February 04, 2014

a city/film festival

sheharnama  - a city/film festival curated by surabhi and mukul held in our neck of the woods this time- thankfully. and some incredible films. 

‘night hawks’ for me was one of the highlights where on the edges of darkness, in the gold light of street lights, or the swerving headlights of cars, or the blue flickering light of night shelters, we watch the stories of those who wake while we sleep- distributing blankets to the homeless, waiting in like for tatkal tickets, or clearing the highways of accidents. 

another one- ‘this bit of that india’ sns sastry’s films division subversion- Purportedly a film to look at india as a destination for further studies for foreigners but actually a wild fever dream of ambition, sex, love, science, spirituality.. in other words about india as a destination for further studies for foreigners. this was part of the fd package mukul had curated in which the other films were plain propaganda designed to convince us to not shit on the road (stinking story), not support the railway strike (the voice of the people)- that actually was so shrill and sharp it ends up parodying itself (probably on purpose) and to always be on time (dilly dallying)- which left us with the immortal insult - ‘dilly dallying shilly shallying nincompoop’. more fd - ‘the burning sun’ in which the smug MHB architect spouts banalities and reveals his own prejudices as the poor suffer in the sun without a roof or water. the propaganda piece that turns on itself- revealing a heart where you expected none.

more highlights - ‘cemetery state’ in an abandoned cemetery in kinshasa where entrepreneurs make business out of selling graves in the overgrown landscape. who is buried where is never quite clear. during the day they wait lazing on the gravestones for someone to to buried. meanwhile death rituals are expressions of anger and resentment of the young against the old as the parents are blamed for the sons death…. 
and then there was ‘wasted’ which opened the festival: spinning from the detritus of words that a friend has left behind as his legacy in his dust covered notebooks, to the garbage and filth on manikarnika ghat, to the recycling yards in jaipur for paper and metal in mayapuri, delhi to the excess of ideas controlled and recycled in tifr- a strange creature this film- perhaps not strange enough. burdened by its linearity and narrativity, the film is easy to use arty. still well worth the time if only for some of the incredible images- the plastic bag on the ghats caught in the wind, the recycling yards of mayapuri..

mira nair’s classic ‘india cabaret’ in the world of bar dancers in 1980s bombay. rekha is the star.. she lives in abandon as a bar dancer..and gets invited to yamrajs room when she dies. the city is the seedy side of town where migrant women dance for disinterested men. power is theirs in spite of the city- they have claimed it. and roam free in the evenings on the beach. meanwhile the sati savitri wife of the fat gujarati businessman patron slaves at home and cooks and cleans for her family. 

the ‘labour section’ had three films that i loved - ‘i sing the body electric’ - as student film where the making of steel rods is a dance of fire; ‘presence’ when stories of labour on the bangalore development projects are subsumed by ghost stories and the cit his haunted by disappearances and reappearances; and of course amudhan’s ‘shit’ whose precise argument is unsentimental and more effective therefore. 

another film whose analytical cleanliness i was taken in by was ‘kya hua is sheher ko’ deepa dhanraj’s close reading through interviews with the actors in a spate of religious violence in Hyderabad in the 1980s. even handed the film makes no villains or heroes- no community is a victim or the perpetrator. the violence of partition and the sikh riots of 1984 mark the inter-race family of safina oberoi. the film ‘my mother india’ sees the story through the eyes of patricia oberoi- australian married to a sikh trying to find a home in this strange country. speaking of which another fd film that we saw the next day ‘our indira’ makes her mother, daughter, sister, lover in ‘triumph of the will’ montages of parades and speeches. 

i am not quite sure about why ‘please vote for me’ was part of a city film festival- but regardless the corruption of democracy is seen in an election held for class monitor at a chinese school in wuhan between 3 8 years old. one is the power broker, the other has the gift o the gab and the girl is the victim. very entertaining- but i forgot about it when it was over. anti-democracy propaganda should be this entertaining.