Wednesday, June 28, 2006

‘ok computer’ and the new landscapes – a tirade (or a semi-paper)

the western express highway is the space of this new world- of erasures and displacements. a non-place. all the old landmarks are gone. old homes lie half eaten on the hills that used to resist free vehicular movement. soon these fragments will also disappear and be replaced by concrete walls or domesticated nature. the flow of the river must not be quelled.

this is the architecture of the new world-. lubricated, reflective and smooth- and i am the ideal subject. i travel in air conditioned cars and click photos of the devastation from my camera phone. i find my pleasure in disembodied music that moves with me.

with the rains now finally beginning, the landscape takes on a more surreal nature. through the twisting lines of water on the windshield the buildings are distorted in a cold blue haze with the yellow tires of puncture repair men hung above the temple tops.

the only soundtrack imaginable for the new landscape of the western express highway nowadays is radioheads’ ‘ok computer’. here speed and stillness collide in an exquisite vision of the present. it’s a world of unending movements forward, to an unknown destination- a place where we all shall be automatons, following every instruction spoken by the voices that speak of a fitter, happier, more productive future. the thrust is forward to a place where we lose all out identity and history seems nothing but a haze of misinformation and fetish.

one day a few summers back ninad, sonal and me in a urge to document, took a ride down the highway to photograph the new landscape. it was a day in late summer much like it is today. it was impossible to stop anywhere on the road. there was no real shelter anywhere. the sun was beating down and there was no edge to the highway. even today it much like that and actually even more hostile to any stationary human presence. a body lingering purposeless on the edge of the road has no reason to exist.

it’s the machine that is still the metaphor for the city – this time in a new form. it is not the machine where differing parts work in unison to produce energy. instead the machine now produces images of safety and security - the appearance of docile tamed pleasures. every part now is more removed from one another than ever before. the distance is necessary for all parts to believe in an inner peace. the in between / or those who want to survive on the physical joints in between are to disappear. exist somehow – but not where they might cause any distraction from an eternal silence that stands for peace. how can nature be absent from this peace?

after all, it is the myth of nature where we return to our pure savage selves. this is a safe nature though – no wildness - flowers to be plucked and arranged in vases- not fruits that might attract stray animals and other vagrants.

it’s the urge of architecture to be pure. to rid itself of its internal contradictions. even more so after modernism promised an egalitarianism that previously did not exist- as if an aesthetic could set us free of ourselves. there is also phenomenology to this. the phenomenology is one of emptiness- or of a loss of specific historicity or memory. minimalism of reference to anything that might emerge out of locality. instead it is based upon supposedly universal desires for freedom through relentless movement. accessibility and freedom are the excuse for the void.

the emptiness also enables the isolation of a body in space. it allows a surveillance of all under the guise of security. there is a hard white light around us all where we lay claim to our legitimacy in the space of the city. and if we don’t subscribe consider ourselves evicted.

vulgar set theory and arrow diagrams are the tools of planning purity. we group, we connect. in this we also disrupt. slum rehabilitation projects are necessitated instead of slum upgradation, anonymous high rise entities instead of the tangible rough ridden houses of the poor.

‘mind space’ is more than merely a name for an area – it is also an entire way of imagining retreat from the city. into the only space where we think we are safe- inside our minds. call centers glow on the streets here with an inner life late into the night. glass facades that only reflect the barrenness outside, glass windows that no one is permitted to look out of less the simulation is revealed. in this perpetual daylight new desires are manufactured, new lives created. i am born again as a new person in this world. my time, my space and my identity are all reconstructed / reconstituted.

i think that is why i loved ‘john and jane’ and its world of liquid interior corridors and artificial light.
i think it was one of the few places that i have seen this new landscape described. and it was through the relationship of the characters of the drama –glen and his anger and/or irony at losing his identity or naomi and her complete loss of selfhood that we approached it.

on the other hand there a form of resistance to the loss of identity that seems emerging. in the neo-conservatism of tv serials or the moral policing of the city at night. there is the urge to re-fabricate identity through manufacturing history. but this history is a fiction serving more as reactionary rhetoric. it is a simulacra far removed from the history as lived.

there is no better example of this perhaps than the reconstruction of that one building on d n road. the old building disappeared once the finances to keep the ruin alive vanished. a new building was built in its place that pseudo resurrected the old building- in glaringly fake classical detailing. built in completely new materials the new building was not even a pale imitation of the old- merely bore a surface resemblance to a pastiche of what an old building might have been. not a brick of the old building lies on the plot and yet this is a part of the heritage listing for the city. the justification for this being that even this obvious charade of history is better than succumbing to the glass and steel of the present.

i am wondering why is there this ridiculous choice between the two. why are we constantly reacting to appearances, unable to penetrate the layers of image. perhaps there is a power to praxis to in the way that lefebvre imagines it. the power invested in an individual for freedom within the practice of everyday life.

i think what i love about ‘ok computer’ is its ability to capture the spectacular landscape of the present city for all the exhilarating headiness it gives me as i drive along the new roads; and also the sinking sadness of alienation that seems ever present. but all this would be purely theoretical crap if it was not for the absolutely fantastic music with the drone of the guitars, the blips and beeps of the soundscape, the moan of thom yorkes voice and all those fragments of beautiful melodies that lie in the middle of it all.

Saturday, June 24, 2006


when hritiks hair is straightened he is far more bearable than when he is posing for a shampoo ad with waves and locks pouring over his forehead down to his shoulders. and it helps that with straight hair his face is partly covered with a mask.

as if one innocent (jerky head movements throwing hair in different directions, accompanied with an inane smile) was not bad enough; the old hritik (childlike pout with over excited eyebrow movements) is also brought to life as daddy genius imprisoned by evil cyber lord.

naseeruddin shah as that evil not-so-genius wants to make a machine to look into the future and hams it to the hilt.

priyankas bewildered look is amazing for its tenacity through any emotion.

rekha is dadima in kanjivaram silk and gives nasseer some serious competition in the over the top department.

the entire movie looks like it was made in front of a blue screen and the actors are all special effects.

some cg was not awful.

when the yucky cuteness begins to disappear the movie rises above unbearable to mediocre.

Friday, June 23, 2006

urban design meetings

have been in high powered planning meetings for the past two days. or at least they hope to be. the first was the mumbai transformation unit or something like that, which purports to redevelop the city sector by sector. sounds very similar to the bombay first plan and has led to much skepticism among a bunch of us. we seem to have plunged headlong into it though what with the design cell involved in the cess building project and the transit oriented development project for the dn nagar junction (where the two metro lines are to meet). and then there is crit – our friends and brothers involved with the slum study too. so here we are armed with our survey sheets and AutoCAD serving as a platform for rudimentary gis saving the city from ruin – or so we claim.

today we met priya dutt for another possible project- this time it was the juhu market project where we are working with jt. the office is in the ground floor of an old building in bandra with inspirational photos of all the gandhis and all the dutts. groups of men in white safari suits and women from a nearby slum were our company. and us- we were- paul, nikhil, tapan, anuradha and me. her office was further inside the building with a glass table and lounge seating around which we gathered to show her the report and brief her on the project. i don’t know why but i was mildly surprised by her approachability and ease. she seemed intelligent, well spoken, cultured and honest. she did not seem like any version of the politician that we are used to in the media. all the photos below from the congress offices in bandra.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

two movies – two books / alexander, a civil action, absolute friends, never let me go

i agree completely with mukul, i think. if a movie sucks then everything about it sucks. and if you like a movie you tend to forgive lots of it. there was nothing forgivable about ‘alexander’. not the long winded pompous narrative, the fake accented english that everyone spoke, the snake woman angelina jolie who pouted and gazed slyly and/or seductively at the camera, or colin farrells pathetic insipid alexander, or the boring love stories, the hetero and the homo and the overdone set pieces or the battle sequences where everything turns mtv editing and green turns red and red turns yellow. the star cast all walks around like they are trying to be part of something very profound. if it wasn’t so tedious it might have been fun as camp. why did baz luhrmann not finish his version before oliver stones- it would have been so much more fun.

‘a civil action’ was a civilized (read - ordinary) courtroom drama where john travolta tries to do a erin brokovich. pollutants are in the water near a small town from a local leather factory and a lot of kids are dead. john fights the case for the grieving mothers. naturally its not only about the case but also about how the case transforms the man. in this case money grabbing ambulance chaser becomes environmentalist do-gooder a la jerry maguire. so then. yawn.

i am a fan of the john le carre hero- the englishman who gives everything up for love and the idea of the nation. in ‘absolute friends’ a vagabond double agent of the cold war era who is beginning to reconstruct his life gets pulled into a complex trap of international terrorism and counter terrorism rhetoric when his old friend- the only man he trusts, reappears at this doorstep. soon he is trapped, as in so many of his books, in between the personal and the idea of a cause as the book viciously dismantles the charades of the ‘war against terror’ where faith and love are sacrificed for money and power. and as usual fantastically written. total thriller.

the new kazoo ishiguro ‘never let me go’ is a strange chilling book. the trick is that he first makes us empathize with a girl who seems to be innocuously reminiscing about her time in an english public school and about her two close friends. its all very harmless and beautiful until soon we realize that there is something odd going on under the surface. the students of the school are being bred and trained for a very specific purpose. they are to be donors when they grow up. they are being farmed as clones to donate body parts for humans. its science fiction at its most human as we see the entire story through the inside of this strange upside down world- where the normal is the outside- and is completely scary.

Monday, June 19, 2006

navi mumbai photos

housing at sanpada. new towers shooting over old buildings that stayed empty too long

cbd from above. most are still empty

seawoods - gross over the top outsides and tiny interiors

cbd belapur

was at cbd belapur after a really long time today. spent some time in a potential office space on the top floors of the triangular great eastern building. i have always had a bit of a soft corner for new bombay or navi mumbai. i grew very fond of its old fashioned planning norms and its naïve belief in the banality of the plan as a tool of greater common good while working on the documentation for the new bombay monograph.

correa did have the right idea when the city was planned, but it has had its share of bad luck- or lack of faith. when it first opened no one wanted to move there from the island city, least of the government who conceived it. instead nariman point was built for all the offices needing space right in south bombay- coutesy a corrupt governemtn and even more corrupt builder lobby. then as the cbd was about to take off again and all the monstrous buildings of the early 90s were being built there was bandra kurla complex and then the mill lands that started opening up. the cbd stayed dead. no one in their right mind would want to travel to a place that was so difficult to get to- this was before the railway lines.

new bombay became a college town catering to the ridiculous demand for engineering colleges in the city. that was when i had carried out the survey- all by myself armed with badly printed plans of the city and a pen- me in my red maruti car. i loved those trips. down every lane and unpaved path looking at what existed and what did not. there was a ghostliness to the city. as if the people had been disappeared. the cbd was perhaps the most scary. huge stalinesque railway stations, empty parking lots with lone stray dogs ambling along in the baking heat of late summer on asphalt. no one lived there. no one worked. the trees had not grown yet and the dust lifted off with every gust of the wind. the city was waiting for someone. even today these buildings are far from full. while the rest of the city seems to have suddenly experienced a sudden surge of development (courtesy reliance and other companies) the cbd is still almost completely empty. no wonder. the office space we saw today was so tackily made. terrible flooring, badly maintained interiors, impossible to use spaces. and the building stands ominously in a landscape of hollow towers.

i also went to seawoods – hafeez contractors swanky apartment complex in nerul for non resident indians. cidco built this monstrosity and hoped to sell it off at exorbitant prices. naturally no one wanted to buy it because of the awful planning and the infinitesimal interior spaces. from the outside though the complex is all gross nouveau riche faux italianate with landscaped gardens with fountains and this attracted (naturally) reliance who has bought over a lot of it for its employees at the knowledge park close by.

the drive back on palm beach drive is beautiful- all the way from seawoods to the massive hulk of vashi railway station. the cleanliness of the planned is now stained and rotting. the only parts truly alive are the crowded and the messy - the markets of vashi.

Sunday, June 18, 2006

au revoir les enfants

its impossible to call au revoir les enfants a bad film. the story is of the friendship between two boys in a french school , one jew and the other genteel, during the german occupation of france. naturally the end is not exactly happy, but the tragedy is so far removed from the film that it does not really make an impact. much like other holocaust films that do so well instead of dwelling in the difficult to watch we are treated with the sweet harmless story of two sweet boys and their times in a catholic boarding school. its all very good looking in that arty way. soft focus stone walled interiors, moist eyed children and the stomp of german boots on floors. a vague sentimental sadness is pleasant to watch- you might even sob a little when the kids get separated; and then you can walk out thinking you saw something profound too. win win.

my red eye

woke up yesterday with a bad red eye. dont know how it happened. everyone in college warned me about getting my pressure checked. i used that as an excuse to run out on the 50th anniversary celebration of the management where we were being indoctrinated by a group of marathi speaking right wing hindu speakers. a story told by one of the audience spoke of how muslim students have begun getting the first prize in the annual ramayana story telling competitions after being spoken to about the virtues of reciting the gayatri mantra.

Friday, June 16, 2006

the skies these days...

.... are spectacular

shyam and roopali and arnav

shyam is one of my closest friends and oldest friends. i have known him since we were in school exchanging hardy boys books and writing 'shivaji bond' (don't ask) scripts and playing book cricket (don't even think about asking). we got even closer i think when he went to elphinstone and i went to kc, and i hung out only at elphi because he had the more interesting friends. then he went to solapur to do an engineering course while i went to lsr for my architecture. when i came back from the us he left for there and has settled down there with rupali his beautiful and talented wife and a sweet kid called arnav. he has shifted professions -he is now into finance, owns a house and two cars(probably three), and lives in a suburb of washington dc. he came down to bombay a few days back and i went to his house today to meet him. he seems exactly the same, just a little more cylindrical.

the merchant of four seasons

in fassbinders ‘merchant of four seasons’ a posture becomes an emotion- much like in bharatnatyam. .the story seemed to be told in a series of short elaborate movements and expressions by actors in a deliberately artificial sets. or rather artificialised sets. the characters are almost figurines and statues sculpted like the characters in a drama from ancient greece. the pose struck is itself beauty, seduction, remorse, longing. the story followed a fruit vendor who loves his job in spite of his bourgeois family’s disapproval find himself to be a reluctant capitalist due to an accident that makes him incapable of walking the streets and carrying loads. this anxiety leads him to drink himself to death. great film.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

photo post - assorted

cherub at uncles corner

ramp of cr2 at nariman points

amit and mayuri at samiras office

mukul in 'love is the devil'


photo post - malad kandivili from madhus house

such spectacular views from madhus house at night on sunday. the moonlight on the gathering clouds over the hills of the national park, the sea of lights in the slums below, the narrow streets that appeared like illuminated veins and the throbbing artery of the western express highway. in between the half lit houses fragments of pathways where we saw people walk by.

Monday, June 12, 2006

land and freedom

i am rather irritated about this urge of the politically zealous to define morality- to set up hard edged rights and wrongs of behavior for everyday lives. yesterday in a conversation at zouk any ambiguity was challenged, any insecurity was invalidated. the terms of appropriate behavior were all too rigidly drawn- or attempted to be drawn. a rule book was begun. this in a supposedly liberal space which represents a freedom of sorts was inexplicable.

today in ‘land and freedom’ ken loachs story from the spanish revolution this urge to make cardboard cutouts of the lives of people was even more apparent. a history lesson of betrayal and lost innocence told through the wide-eyed belief of a british member of the communist party who travels to spain to fight with the revolutionaries who were finally betrayed by stalinism. unfortunately as in so many of works of rhetoric disguised as art it suffered from the vulgar triteness and simplifications i have come to expect- the limpid love story in the trenches and the flashback of a grandchild to the revolution through the letters and photographs sent by her grandfather.

merely the fact that the movie was trying to say something serious and the fact that the director had his heart in the right place does not make it a great film. after all, aren’t there aesthetic (“pleasure, pain, desire” – kausik) issues at stake in a work of art? or have we forgotten? or is it snobbish to expect a film to rise above soap opera storylines in uniform with a marching band playing revolutionary songs in the foreground.

Saturday, June 10, 2006

'bye sonal' photos- bombay central station

young talent concert at ncpa

sonal left for delhi yesterday and mukul and me dropped her to bombay central station before going for a western classical music concert at the ncpa in the evening. the experimental theater is a simple black box with rexene and steel seats set in tiers. our seats were in the catwalk like balcony from where we could overlook the wooden stage and the audience of catholic chiffon dressed women and parsi queens and women (and charles correa with his wife) . one particularly decrepit woman caught my attention while she sat alone near a statue of a greek goddess in the lobby.

this was the first time that i heard western classical music being played live. since i don’t really know the nuances of the compositions it mostly sounded very pretty to me- and any thing that sounded like a misstep i assumed was an eccentricity of the composition. the flautist started, the pianist from nagaland next and the soprano from chennai ended each segment. she was the diva of the lot. she sang ‘summertime’ towards the end and it was the only one of the songs i knew. besides the mozart ‘queen of the night aria’ with its strange high pitched trills and coos.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

pune for a day.

lalitha and me took a day trip to pune today to attend a meeting on the new admission procedures to enter architecture school. as far back as i can remember the procedures have changed every year. the quotas for the various categories, the various organizations involved, the various bodies that claim to be in charge- it all keeps getting more and more convoluted and twisted. at todays meeting resolutions were read out, more complicated questions were posed- and we still don’t know exactly whom this benefits- definitely not the students who are confused and bewildered as they always were.

i don’t even know what the tests that we hold every day in the school to evaluate their visual skills test. the first question is particularly offensive. it asks the kids to reproduce an ‘abstract’ drawing of curls and cuboids and paint neatly in between the lines with four ‘matching’ colours. its an exercise that seems to be more about testing a regimented unimaginative rigor than any kind of genuine talent. the stupider you are, the better the score. but that what we need from students in this system – automatons who will follow orders efficiently without questioning a thing.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

'all that heaven allows'

set in the 1950’s a middle class american housewife- a widow with two grown children falls in love with the wrong kind of man. he is younger than he is, terrific looking and belongs to the wrong social class- he is the son of a gardener. when the two of them decide to get married her world of clubhouses and cocktail parties revolts against the intrusion of the strange man and her children resent the new intruder. she is forced to choose in between true love and the value system of the only society she knows. this society has her pigeonholed as a well behaved, well to do, lonely widow who should behave as is appropriate for such ‘unfortunate’ women. the status quo must not be rocked.

its unfortunate that melodrama has been seen as a disreputable form of storytelling. i think often it is so effective like it does in very good hindi cinema or in ghatak. the characters by becoming almost becoming representations become sometimes even more human in the highly stylized staging of the story. and does the story become a parable? in this case about love and identity, beautifully told.

i remembered ‘far from heaven’ which overtly paid tribute to this film in telling a story of repressed love – gay, inter-racial and in between people of different classes. i think i had liked that film as much as i liked this one. here the subtext of sexual repression was even amusing at times as when rock hudson who plays the gardener wishes that jane wyman was a man (“just in this way”). i need to watch more douglas sirk films.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

amores perros

kausik, rupali, mukul and me were discussing a film list for the coming years film club. films about the city is certainly quite a cliché as a category and it becomes really hard to avoid the already overanalyzed greatest hits of the genre- metropolis , bladerunner, playtime. its really hard to think beyond these when they stare at you in the face whenever the two words city and film come together. i tried suggesting love films as a possible replacement category but it was shot down – i guess for not being ‘serious’ enough. so i gave in.
but in amores perros set in mexico city with three intercut storylines with the jittery camerawork that seems unavoidable when representing the energy of urbanity perhaps a middle ground was found.
a transforming city is learning the new configurations of a new economy – the new class structure and the spaces of the homeless, of bourgeois homes and those of the homeless; and in it the pleasures and the traumas of love - of dogs and of people. a car accident binds the stories together- a random act that transforms the lives involved irrevocably- a story of savage brutality, violent brother on brother fights, sexual deception and love of people lost and longed for.

Sunday, June 04, 2006

mohammedali road. 7 islands and a metro. radhas wedding. velocity

i know, i know.. a long time since the last post.. but i have to blame that on my performance anxiety as often people i know even marginally claim to be reading my blog. all of a sudden the audience has become much larger and this frightens me. for a while i was wondering what that meant for the content. but i have now convinced myself that if this was about entertainment of the world, i would have never started writing. instead, i guess, it will continue to be what it was.. random thoughts on whatever i have been doing over the past few days including unnecessary diversions into my personal life and pompous pontifications on stuff i might have recently experienced.

the past few days have seen a lot of activity and it bores me to cover it all completely- but yet i must for my sake if not for anyone else. i think i will begin with the lunch that kausik, mukul and me had at a corner restaurant below the flyover at mohammedali road. after the flyover has been built it seems like the noise factor seems to have doubled. the movement of people, cars, handcarts, bicycles below had also gone completely chaotic the last time i was there but now seems to have settled into a pattern of sorts. the snaking twisting underside of the flyover is like a reptile that’s finding its way to eat up the cst.

madhus film ‘7 islands and metro’ premiered that day at yashwantrao chavan center in nariman point. i don’t think i have seen a crowd that large for any screening of a documentary in bombay. a who’s who list of filmmakers, artists, ngo workers and organizers, students was milling around schmoozing in the lobby before and after the film. i had seen the film before in a longer version and without the music and had loved it then in spite of the theatrics. this time i liked it much more but really had some reservations about the end sequence ‘faith’. the documentary bits of the film where she looks at the new forms of labour emerging in the city and the claims to legitimacy in a city famed for its ‘cosmopolitanness’ were fantastic. how in the world did she find all those characters. i guess the city is full of them. ironic, cynical, tough minded, hard working, intelligent and very sophisticated. each of them were iconic ‘bombay people’. they were mythologized, deified and made heroic by the film. never once did i feel that the film was exploitative in any way or a ‘freak show’ as madhu said it might be seen as. mukuls work, as usual, was fabulous throughout, especially in the window washers sequence. i have thinking whether the fiction and documentary intercutting was necessary after someone asked me whether it was necessary for the film. i don’t know whether the larger than life myth of the city could be represented by any other means. so, it perhaps did not work in some places, but all is forgiven when there is so much kida attempted.

the post screening party was a rocking affair at ‘starters and more’. after a slow start and a few drinks, i think i did my bar boy number on too many songs, danced with almost everyone there regardless of marital status, gender or age. my favorite song was definitely ‘aa aa aashiqui mein teri’ from 36 china tow. himesh rocks- he just should not sing.

on saturday i had to go for radha, my cousins wedding at matunga and as is expected in all family functions was cornered into meeting a girl i was to be married to. and as is to be expected she was an attractive tall fair marathi phatakda. i smiled politely and extricated myself out of there as soon as i could without seeming to be too rude.

spent some time with amit at the office yesterday and after a long time had a nice talk. it will be strange when he leaves.

two nights in a row i shook my booty. last night at velocity with madhu and mukul. all the strange underage, weird people around. a disco is one of the best places to people watch.

and yes, the rain has started.

the infamous mithi river on thursday when i drove to dads college

thakur complex

Friday, June 02, 2006

rain. college. 'im going home'

its raining again. college opened again. and the roads were flooded again. another extended meeting in college where we had an animated discussion about the usefulness of biometrics for villages. they get their fingerprints read to access information on how to get their fingerprints read? i came home to watch ‘i’m going home’ in which an aging actor comes to terms with growing old after losing almost his entire family in one sudden accident. with manuel de olivera the director being over 90 years old i dont think i have seen a feature film more unabashedly personal than this one. gentle, spare and extremely moving.