Monday, March 26, 2007

WCC - The Cup of Blood and Tears

The Abyss of Hype – Cricket and its Martyrs

With World Cup Cricket, sports seems to be turning into the primal spectacle that it was in the beginning. Here also, you either lose your scalp or win it.

First came the debacle of the Indian team. They were defeated by the young Bangladeshis for a convincing margin. Then came the reports about the murder of Bob Woolmer, coach to the Pakistan team. Both these have sent tremours through the cricketing establishment in the sub continent. For, in the sub continent, cricket is not just another game but a religion that vegetates on the fanatic. And this religion is one which in turn is sponsored and fuelled by the media and the advertisement industry.

These two incidents throw sinister light on the financial and moral economy of the game as it is 'played' at present. According to reports, if Indian team fails to make it to the Super Eight stage, it is going to topple the apple cart. It will affect the revenue – advertisements, television rights etc – to a huge extent. Some predict that it could be as high as 70 per cent of the revenues expected from the tournament. According to industry sources, a ten seconds advertisement on television during a match in which India is participating has been sold for as much as Rs.5 lakhs plus. And for the other games it is around Rs 1.50 lakhs. This has been marketed and sold in the belief that india would play as many games, or all the games at least upto the Super Eight league stage. Ironically, we are witness to a strange situation where the very people who created the hype ending up believing in it themselves! Only the media and the corporates seems to have the stupidity to bank on the talents of the tigers our players have been made out to be! The debacle of Team India at the hands of Bangladesh got all the real players into a panic - the sponsors, media buyers, the ICC, the travel trade, ad agencies, TV channels etc. It is estimated that if India fails to qualify for the Super Eight "it would put into jeopardy about Rs 350 crores worth of television money, roughly $300 million of sponsorship money, and ICC's forthcoming global sponsorship deals, bids for which are currently open at $60 - $80 million per sponsor" (Economic Times, 19 th March 2007).

Obviously, it is not an open, gentleman's game of fair chances any more. It has turned out to be a gambler's den where fortunes are made and ruined. In this frenzy, the first casualty is sense of proportion and priority. Our players, who earn more from advertisements than from the game, are made out to be crusaders, out on the war front to win the scalp for India. Only by creating such a mass frenzy and desire to win the cup can the viewership be maintained. And for that, one needs heroes to sustain the frenzy and the hope. Obviously, the match is played not on the pitch but outside the stadium; it is a game played by sycophants, jingoists, and fanatics on the one side and ad agencies, speculators and corporates on the other. Only casualty is the spirit of the game. This is something that became heartwrenchingly evident in the tragic event of the death of Woolmer at the tournament. If it is an indicator of things to come, the dark side seems to have won over this 'gentleman's game'. Ultimately, the game is finding itself in the morass and abyss of the hype that it has begun to believe in.

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Wednesday, March 21, 2007

book review

link to the review of kavitha balakrishnan's book

Monday, March 19, 2007

videogame by vipin viuay

video game of record and memory

Nobody will survive for eternity here
It is a matter of few days ahead and after'

sings the itinerant bard in Vipin Vijay's Videogame. But this video journey is not just about transience of things and life; it is also about survival, adaptation, transfomation and transmogrification of images, objects and memories which are nothing but different states of being. While the film journeys in a dilapidated jalopy, trundling its way out of the labyrinth of Kolkata city and into the open of the rural verdant green spaces, what unfolds is the the drama of the interface between times, technologies, ways of living, and also acts of remembering, recording and memorising. So objects and images from the past and present jostle here in this video game of memory and record.

While the bards sing the above song as if to propitiate the jalopy's soul, women walk along with polyester nets, while dish antennae perch upon old buildings. The digitised petrol pump is juxtaposed with the old obsolete one lying in disuse yet adamantly in place. The jalopy itself is juxtaposed with the rusting remains of older ones, having had their run, now re/usting in desolation. The film footages of the ruins of an old temple shot years ago film and which were not used, and bearing the editing smudges and marks, jostle with their video images, one image graven upon stone, the others upon the tricky surface of the celluloid and pixels. While these images carved upon stone lie desolate in the wilderness, these 'NG' shots have been swept away from the editing table long long ago. Yet, both persist in time and space and so, memory; and become the very stuff of this memory-game.

The self reflexive voice-over ponders upon the inert recording equipment called camera and the nature of the images, about how they turn from their physical frontality into metaphors and ruminates upon the technologies of recording and also memorising.

It is a constant and compulsive slippage, from one image to another, from image to memory, from image to sound and music, from image to metaphors, from the image of reality to the reality of image, from real objects to video and film and digital images etc This incessant slippage is a journey that parodies our contemporary life-experience of visual mediation and inundation

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Sunday, March 18, 2007

Nishabd - Silencing the Sensual

c s venkiteswaran

If Nishabd is an adaptation of Lolita, Ramgopal Varma's film version is 'marriage' compared to 'love' that is Nabokov's novel. It is a very visually appealing film that does not dare to take the plunge into the sensual.

The film begins with the 60 year old photographer played by Amitabh Bachan standing at the edge of an abyss, obviously contemplating suicide. He doesn't take the plunge but lives on to tell the 'story' of his doomed love. True to the proper traditions of Indian cinema in this film also, such love is something that is available only verbally and cerebrally rather than sensually or physically. For, the love of a 60-year old man with an 18 year old is doomed from the beginning within its narrative world. It is fated for damnation and its consummation is eternally postponed, with the girl ultimately gifted back to her young lover of appropriate age. (Even while one appropriate family is made thus, his is shattered by her). The most vulnerable and weakest part of the film is the portrayal (or lack of it) of the sensuality involved in their relationship. Except for the first voyeuristic forays into her body-sights, followed by a trip to the estate, super market and an improptu dance in front of the family, all of which are decent and 'proper', the film is denuded of any indication at the physical and the sensual.

Following the 'decent' traditions of Indian cinema, the film displaces all the explosive potentials and the lures of the flesh turning it into the guilt-ridden confessional mode of a monologue of a brooding protagonist. All the physical sensuality is systematically displaced onto the verdant greenery of the landscape and the dizzying camera work that weaves itself around and caresses structures, objects and characters. What could have been a devastating comment upon the total self-denial that family demands from individuals turns out to be an apologetic glimpse into the abyss: obviously, he is only a shell of what he wants to be and his wife is someone who has sacrificed her dancing career to the demands of the family. So, what could have been a heart-wrenching paen to love and pleasure-seeking, turns out into a public purgatory of guilt.

It is this 'self-restraint' and the economy of guilt within which the film works, that makes Nishabd yet another marriage, one that caresses possibilities but consummates none.

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P Bhaskaran. Filmmaker, Poet, Lyricist, Actor

Remembering P Bhaskaran

C S Venkiteswaran

The departure of Bhaskaran Mash marks the end of an era in Malayalam cinema. In the early days of Malayalam cinema, it was filmmakers like Bhaskaran who gave a fresh life and flesh to it through their charming films. Films like Neelakuyil (1954) Rarichan Enna Pouran (1956) Adyakirananagal (1964) Iruttinte Atmavu (1967) and Kallichellamma (1969) etc brought the land and life of the emerging nation of Kerala into the secular space of the celluloid medium. For instance, a film like Neelakuyil is rare in Indian cinema for making a stark portrayal of the deep ambivalence inherent in the modernist project – here you have the emblematic figure of progress, rationalism and modernity, a school teacher (played by Sathyan, in his first major appearance) in a villainous role. This harbinger of enlightenment of the times, in the film, impregnates a dalit woman and then betrays her leaving her to a miserable death. This figure and the milieu in Neelakuyil poignantly presents the deep conflicts that animated Kerala's modernization project - one which was torn between a modernity that was not adequately socialized, and a sociality that was not adequately modernized. Films like Rarichan enna Pouran take this question further, frontalising the adolescent figure of Rarichan to tell the disturbing story of the new citizen in a nation-in-the-making.

It is this deep and critical sensitivity that marks filmmakers like P Bhaskaran apart from the sloganeers and polemicists of the period. Through his works, he brought to the surface the angst of his society and more importantly, also the joys of romance and the lyricism of hope . His lyrics illuminate a whole inscape of yearning, hope, love and despair of that generation.

I have always wondered why this very socially insightful filmmaker of the first decades of his career spanning from the mid-50's to the early 70's suddenly turn to films like Arakkallan Mukkalkallan (71) Srimad Bhagavad Gita (76) Jagadguru Sankaracharyar (77) and Guruvayur Mahatmyam (80) etc in the next phase of his career? Once I posed this question to Bhaskaran mash himself. He gave that typical half smile of his and asked me back:"would you pose such a question to a lecturer, a clerk, a banker or an engineer? I did them because that was my job, that was part of the profession I was in". But retrospectively, one feels that apart from professional exigencies, there were other reasons too. In the euphoria of modernism in literature and the new wave in cinema, and the turmoil of politics (the Emergency and the Naxalite movement, irrevocably redefining the interface between the state and liberatory politics ), filmmakers and writers like Bhaskaran mash were relegated to the past. There was no place for them in those celebrations of the 'aesthetics of the moment'. It must have been this amnesia of celebration that drove Mash to take refuge in films and endeavours like that.

What is often forgotten in the obituaries is the fact that apart from being a great filmmaker, lyricist and poet, he was also the founding chairman of the first television channel in private sector Asianet Television!

But a true artist that he was, his works will be remembered and treasured by the future generations, for they were true to their times and dreams .

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speed track

Speed – Amibitions of Self-denial

Speed (with an apolegetic tag, Track), the debut film by Jayasurya is a film set in a sports school with a mellowed down Dileep as the hero. Though the 'story' is a very conventional one, Ranjan Abraham the editor and Ousepachan who scored the background music, have rendered it a very breezy pace that keeps it from floundering and flagging as it proceeds. It is also a film where Dileep, after several misadventures, plays a role that vibes with his persona.

Any narrative about sports is in one way about ambition and achievement and the film throws up several interesting questions about malayalee mindset. For us, personal achievement and ambition, one that is centred around an individual person's self is a sin. It is as if an individual is not allowed to pursue an end or an objective solely for the pleasure or benefit of oneself or for the sheer thrill of achievement alone. Invariably, such persons are portrayed as 'self-centred' and as a 'natural' fallout, as a villain within the narrative.

The pursuit of the hero has to be necessarily be something beyond, and more than a personal pursuit. In order to be 'heroic', it should be an excess that has to be displaced into a larger significance. The relentlessness of that pursuit has to be given a motive that lies beyond him or her, it has to be necessarily for the others, the family, community, nation etc. In this film, Dileep is a reluctant hero, his life is one that has already been sacrificed for others – financial problems forces him to relinquish a career of 'his own' in sports and to take up farming, in order to let his talented younger brother to pursue his dreams. The pursuit and ambition of this brother is suddenly shattered by an accident, for which the hero himself is instrumental; it is his hurry or speed that inadvertently caused it. (If on reads deeper meanings into it, was it a subconscious act to pave the way to pursue his own dreams?)

With this 'accident' the hero has to come out of his self-denial to pursue success. Apparently, it is not for his personal glory, but to gain enough money to cure his brother. If earlier, the impediments to his ambition were familial and personal, even after he takes it upon himself, the impediments come again from within, this time from within the college, from his friends, class mates etc. Significantly, it is not his competitors from outside who threaten his ambitious pursuits and achievement of personal glory, but his own team mates. So, his amibitionxs and his efforts to achieve is played out as a constant struggle with one's own side rather than the world out there. So, the conquering of the outside world is nothing but the conquering of the enemies within. It becomes a sort of taming of the self, a struggle within one's fold.

Thus the assertion of the self ultimately turns out to be self-denial. Deeply running within such narratives is the sense of guilt about ambition and success, hence the obsessive need to justify it through extra-personal means. It is only by denying or finding larger rationale for my ambition that I can justify it to the outside world, and more tragically, to myself. Naturally, it is not the cheering of the crowd at the stadium or his college mates or his love that ultimately drives him to success but the clapping of his disabled brother. Any shade of the presence of one's self would be a disgrace.

This compulsive de-privileging of personal ambition and the need to constantly displace it onto something else, provides interesting insights into the tenuous relationship of the malayalee with any kind of succes and achievement.

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