Friday, June 23, 2006

FIFA - The Euphoria and the Match

The World Cup Euphoria

The world cup football is one of the most-watched event in human history, where billions of people are hooked on to the same stimulus at the same time, as and when it happens. All over the world people are glued to their TV sets, absorbed by the performance of their heroes and nations. It is a truly global event, where religion, class and race become irrelevant and the whole world becomes one in a celebration of physical prowess and fair play.

As Kofi Annan puts it very bluntly, "The World Cup makes us at the UN green with envy. As the pinnacle of the only truly global game, played in every country by every race and religion, it is one of the few phenomena as universal as the UN. You could say it's more universal. Fifa has 207 members; we have only 191. But there are better reasons for our envy. This is an event in which everybody knows where their team stands, and what it did to get there." And more importantly, "The competition takes place on a level playing field, where every country has a chance to participate on equal terms. Only two commodities matter: talent and teamwork."

Taking the metaphor into neo-liberal terrains, he goes on to pinpoint "the interference of subsidies, barriers or tariffs" as the villains, his concerns about "cross-pollination between peoples and countries" are genuine. Definitely it is a place where all nations rub shoulders and his words about national pride acquire added poignancy in the context of the brilliant display by Ghana, his native country, defeating the otherwise-mighty US yesterday (2-1) to ensure their place in the next round.

Since the first live telecast of a football match between England and Scotland on 9 April 1938, both sports and television have come a long way. At present, the survival and growth of both are intimately linked where they fuel and drive each other. Before television, sport was elitist or exclusivist in the sense that those who did not attend the event or participate in it could not share its excitement. When radio came, it became possible to follow the drama blow by blow, but it was TV that changed the whole event and experience. Now, sports live and die on account of television and it has virtually made sports into an international language, spurring the very dynamic process of 'cross pollination'. Sport has become entertainment, and typical of the medium, the heroes and personalities outrun the game; and with the gradual retreat of public broadcasting all over the world, it is advertisers and sponsors decide the tempo and tenor of the game.

But despite everything, watching sport events live strikes an intimate chord everywhere. It may be because of the fact that, in a sophisticated media world we live in where most formulas for drama or soap opera or light entertainment have been exhausted, it is only sports that "offers an ideal combination of the dramatic and the unexpected" (Steven Barnett). Or, it may be our yearning for some sorts of "goals" being reached and results being achieved and fair play being transparently played out and refereed in front of the whole world .

It also poses the deeply troubling question about the painful imbalance between the exploding popular interest for a particular sport as a global spectacle and its decimation at the local level. Will this all-engrossing euphoria that dissolves differences transport itself to sponsorship and involvement at the Sevens' Football Tournaments in Malabar, or the Puja Cricket Tournament in Tripunithura? Would the sweat and tears of the local heroes be as glorious as those adulated over our TV screens? Or, like in global economy, is it all just a question of economies of scale, efficiency and quality, supply and demand? Sad questions to ask in these euphoric moments.

C S Venkiteswaran

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

shohei imamura

Remembering a Master - Shohei Imamura

"I am interested in the relationship of the lower part of the human body and the lower part of the social structure on which the reality of daily Japanese life obstinately supports itself."

Shohei Imamura, one of the most significant filmmakers of Japan's postwar generation, died in Tokyo last month. He was 79. Born in 1926, Imamura was considered, along with Nagisa Oshima , Seijun Suzuki and Masahiro Shinoda as the founder of the Japanese New Wave. He made films that delved into the underworld of Japanese society, ripping apart its moral and economic masks. Known for his 'entomological detachment', these dark and intricate films unflinchingly focused on "the lower parts" both of society and humans—prostitutes, pimps, pornographers, black marketeers or others on the margins.

Interestingly, Imamura started his career as an assistant to Yasujiro Ozu, one of the most celebrated of Japanese filmmakers, who has inspired filmmakers all over the world for his meditative style and compositions He assisted him in three films, including the classic "Tokyo Story" (1953). If one looks at Imamura's films, this apprenticeship would look bizarre, for his films were more about "pigs, insects and pornography" rather than the graceful and noble characters that populate Ozu's films.

After a few studio assignments ( Stolen Desire, Nishi Ginza Station, Endless Desire (all 1958) and My Second Brother (1959) he stormed the scene with Pigs and Battleships (1961), a searing depiction of moral decay set in a Japanese port town under American forces. Drawing largely from his own experiences as a black marketeer, the film in a way inaugurates his oeuvre. It was followed by The Insect Woman (1963) which follows the life of a sex worker, The Pornographers (1966), about a purveyor of blue movies in Osaka who gradually retreats from all human contact, Vengeance Is Mine, one of the first films to take a serial killer as a hero, and Eijanaika (Why Not?, 1981). His next film The Ballad of Narayama (1983), which won him his first Palme d'Or, at Cannes was a visceral portrayal of a village in which the elderly willingly embrace death to keep the community's population in balance. It was followed by Unagi (The Eel, 1996), a dark comedy about a man who has killed his adulterous wife. His later films were much more contemplative, like Dr. Akagi (1998) and Warm Water Under a Red Bridge (2001). Imamura's last work was a short contribution to a film anthology about September 11 and the worldwide effects of the tragic incident.

It is only natural that Imamura finds a follower and successor in Takashi Miike, one of the most unconventional of contemporary Japanese filmmakers who is notorious for his violent, overtly sadistic yet deeply introspective films. For he still lives by the Imamura motto: "I want to make messy, really human, Japanese, unsettling films."

C S Venkiteswaran

Sunday, June 11, 2006

Life and Times of Marriage Videos

When television came, it brought to us images and visions of the remote and the faraway. It very quickly invaded our drawing rooms, erasing boundaries and barriers – personal, familial and social. It was as if the silver screen had exploded into bits and these little shiny bits have fallen into each home (the way Kamal Swaroop, the filmmaker described the phenomenon). In those days Doordarshan was the only channel and it beamed 'national' images and narratives which we, the locals, watched and consumed with great awe. The rural population for the first time witnessed 'first hand' the urban ways of life and the luxuries 'they' splurged in. This opening up of the horizons of vision had great sociological impact, radically changing the rural-urban dynamics in India. This process was enriched and accentuated by the coming of satellite television and the opening up of the sky which gave 'local' content and expression much more visibility and freedom.

But there is one area which pundits often ignore or miss. And it is an area in which the local was being reproduced and re-presented visually for a long time – the local marriage videos. They were the extensions of the old 'photo studios' and the VHS rental shops, and they recorded and later edited marriages and other local functions. Suddenly we turned into heroes and heroines (though for a single day, that of marriage). Every home had its VHS cassettes of marriages in the family along with the photo albums. The marriage functions were re-organised and sometimes re-staged for the benefit of the videographers, who were becoming a star attraction as well as status markers. His (it was invariably a he, for one never saw a woman videographer covering a marriage) position became more prominent than that of the priest or the parents. And it was he who graced the occasion with his luminous presence and 'blessed' the couples with light and 'longer life' in posterity virtually. Often, the videographers of both the parties (that of the bride and the groom) vied with each other to 'capture' the event and to occupy the vantage positions, something that also showed which 'party' had more social and economic status.

In response to the changed scenario, the nature and conduct of marriages themselves began to change. Video became part of the ritual and the events were re-designed to suit its dictates, and the 'elders' and the priests faded into insignificance before it. The 'simple' marriages were the first casualty, for it fell out of favour with the videographers, who needed 'events' and 'episodes' (like that of the Tamil Brahmins etc) as footage for editing later. With no elaborate rituals to show, they took the couple – who most often were in such proximity for the first time in their lives – to scenic locations and made them to pose and act before the camera (the irrepressible director in each videographer letting himself out). Video coverage of marriage was not just a personal affair or record but also a social statement. In the word of Shuddhabrata Sengupta, " Wedding as an event allows for the greatest degree of social consolidation to take place within the briefest time. In each of its aspects, a wedding in a family sends out a series of messages to the world. The kinship network gathers, ritual hierarchies are asserted, economic power is displayed and prestige is at stake. Who marries whom signifies immediately a wealth of details about the social status of the two parties. How much is spent on the wedding, who is invited and who left out, what kind of decorations, who wears what, and how much jewellery is displayed, what kind of catering arrangement, the fidelity to the entirety of the marriage rituals, the items of dowry and the scale and number of gifts – all of this in a very abbreviated time, tells us everything there is to know about a family's place in the world. Hence the investment in keeping as detailed a record as possible of the event itself" (, The Video-walla's Images of Life)

It would be interesting to see how marriage videos in Kerala evolved through time. Recently a 'marriage-videographer' when I asked him about his profession told me: "I cover marriages" Before a derisive smirk began to spread on my face, he added, "but I am not like those ordinary guys. In my marriage-videos, the event of marriage is only a culminating moment. The rest of the video is about the childhood and youth, family, school, college, friends and extracurricular activities of the couple. It 'covers' their lives until the marriage". It sounded very interesting and innovative. It is sad that marriage videos are seen only by the 'interested' parties and are not archived. Obsessed with the printed word, we care a damn about these rich social records.

It is high time that we had a 'Festival of Marriage Videos'

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Mandal II Strikes Back

Images of a Managed Strike .

The 'strike' of the 'meritorious' professional students, spearheaded by the medicos, stole the limelight of the media during the last few weeks. They were protesting against the 'unjust' system of reservations and vehemently arguing for the 'recognition of merit'. Termed M II (Mandal two), it was full of events and spectacles, and the belligerence of the strikers. It may also be the first major 'event-managed' strike in Indian history. According to reports the strike was managed by event management companies who carefully orchestrated the movements and actions, the media hype and the coverage. The message was loud and clear unlike the M I which was more of mindless passion, fervent appeals and crude gestures. The tragedy of history this time repeated itself as a farce. This time the orchestration was evident, with everything planned and executed systematically. The message was 'we' can't wait and 'we' don't bother about historical wrongs or social justice. We want what we want here and now. If 'we' are in high places, it is because we deserve it; and conversely, if 'they' are down and under no one else is to blame.

But not in so many words, but very much in their body language and some of their 'agitation' methods. For instance, the press carried front page reports and photographs of the 'meritorious' whizkids cleaning floors. Some others polished shoes by the roadside, while others sold vegetables and fruits on the streets. What do these actions and images convey? If 'we' the meritorious are not given our due, we will have to 'fall' back on such manual (read menial) jobs, which 'they' are born and meant to do.

So, the message was, 'Can't you, the public, see how odd and out of the world these jobs appear when 'we' do it'? So much for their attitude towards labour and manual work, which flaunted disgustingly 'brahminical' attitudes. Ironically, it is this very mindset that assumes higher callings as private property or natural right, that led to a situation calling for reservations. So, these actions of the so-called meritorious once again empahsised the need for what they were fighting against. For, they themselves were the living (and agitating) examples of the evil they purport to fight.

The increased seats, it seems, will only take this 'struggle' and such attitudes to the inside of the campuses.

C S Venkiteswaran