Monday, January 07, 2008


In-betweening (Tweening, for short), is the process of generating intermediate frames between two images to give the appearance that the first image evolves smoothly into the second image. Inbetweens are the drawings between the keyframes which help to create the illusion of motion. Tweening is a key process in all types of animation, including computer animation. Sophisticated animation software enables one to identify specific objects in an image and define how they should move and change during the tweening process.

Obsessed with ends and extremes, assertions and closures, we lose/forget what is most important in life – what lies in between. Life is always and inexorably lived in detail, it consists of those dull, tiring and long, sometimes exciting and thrilling but other times frustrating and painful, 'in betweens'. Enamoured with landmarks and highpoints, we nullify the in betweens that connect those nodal points, give meaning and direction to them, and fill the gaps and voids, the interstices between the departures and arrivals.

Anil Vasudevan's series of paintings 'In Between' takes up this dilemma of the 'in between' to weave visual narratives that map our lives and times that are apparently fast changing, always moving away, flying between points, destinations, landmarks, stages and full stops.. These images attempt to look at the dizzying change that we are participants to most often as mute witnesses. These radical shifts are not only those happening in time, but also ones that transform the landscapes we inhabit beyond recognition, redesigning the very stuff and pace of the sensations and experiences that make our lives. It is a despairing attempt to reclaim continuities and make sense out of this dizziness that marks the march of time in our times. It thus reclaims history through memory reimaging certain images, between then and now, between before and after, between childhood and youth, between past and present, between nostalgia and reality. The key frames that form the extreme ends of each triptych function as the 'key frames' while the in between work as a link, a path or a poser between the two.

These images excavated both from the past/childhood and the misty present, are poignant with their autobiographical charge. They are also images of a fast developing metro, the desperate attempts of an artist to make sense of his time and place, that is increasingly and dizzyingly whirling away to nowhere


Film Festival, Audience & Media

The 12th International Film Festival of Kerala that concluded yesterday was one of the best in its history. It had some very interesting and stimulating packages like films from the Caribbean and the Balkans, the Anthologies series, Latin American Women filmmakers etc apart from a very exhaustive retrospectives of the Korean master Im Kwon Taek and Pedro Aldomavar, the maverick filmmaker from Spain who is being showcased for the first time in such depth in India. The World Cinema section featured the latest works of contemporary masters like Alexander Sokurov, Lars von Trier, Takeshi Kitano, Miguel Littin, Taviani Brothers, Hou Hsiao Hsien, Zhang Yimou etc

What distinguishes this year's festival was the splendidly mature way in which the audience (more than 7500 delegates) conducted themselves. It is only natural that despite the careful and well spread out scheduling of films, there were solitary instances of overcrowding for some films. It was also an indication of the enthusiasm and passion for good films. While content and participation have always been its strength, one of the major limitations of IFFK has been its inability to take our films to the world by opening avenues for our filmmakers to market, showcase and sell their films abroad. This year, a significant initiative was made in this regard. There was a very fruitful and informative interface between local filmmakers and representatives of the industry and some of the major players in international film festival circuit, global film marketing and selling. This beginning, one hopes would make some headway in exploring an international market and attention for regional cinemas. Something that would certainly synergise our stagnant film economy and aesthetics.

The media coverage of the festival was very exhaustive with most of the newspapers and channels giving it ample space and time. Curiously, the 'smaller' newspapers carried much better analysis and insightful coverage compared to the big – almost monopolistic – players. The latter seemed to take a very laid back attitude to the event – one of the most important international cultural events in the state- and more often indulged in trivia or regurgitation of the synopses of the films being shown. There was neither an effort to look at the event with the seriousness it deserves, nor a passion for cinema evident in its coverage. One glaring instance was the news reports about the signature film made by a promising young filmmaker. While one may have difference of opinion about the film itself, the reports were talking more about the filmmaker and the imagined machinations behind its making. Triggered by the intolerant howls in the auditorium, these reports seemed to fuel it further rather than bring some sort of sanity and initiate intelligent discussions about it. This intolerance towards anything different and new is also indicative of our mindset that is increasingly enslaved by the lyrical-nostalgic on the one, and the global-consumerist on the other. While we are all voracious for anything new and experimental from outside, we don't give a damn about anything like that around us. In the process, anything local and innovative gets booed out.

But the seriousness and involvement shown by the viewers in the festival and the keen interest it has generated amongst cineastes from all over ought to take it to new heights and possibilities. If at all that happens, it would be despite the media.


Quality vs Quantity?

The International Film Festival of Kerala is an event that all cineastes look forward to every year. This year iffk 2007 features some very stimulating packages, homages and tributes, apart from some of the most important contemporary films from all over the world.

According to sources, about 6000 delegate passes have been issued, which indicates its increasing popularity and local interest in the event. The rise in the proportion of female delegates and the youth have been the most positive features of this festival which was earlier limited only to the 'initiated'. But this 'democratisation' of participation in the festival has not been without its problems. One major problem has been the quality of viewing, which has a lot to do with the culture of film viewing. The experience of the last two years should certainly disturb anyone who really value films and filmmakers. Instances of constant walkouts and walkins, phone rings, conversations over mobile phones etc have been a regular phenomenon in our festival. This not only disturbs those who would like to watch the film peacefully, but also shows thorough disrespect to the film or filmmaker in question. So, increasing participation is definitely something that has to be accompanied by greater responsibility, respect and discipline. Obviously, it cannot be enforced from above, but has to be part of a healthy and positive film viewing habit. Certainly not everyone likes all kinds of films; what is 'great' for one may be 'trash' to another. But it is all about respect for oneself and others, and also respect for efforts behind the work being screened. It is also the question of taking enough pains to understand the other, the different, the faraway. The question of quality of viewership is something the film viewing community participating in IFFK has to seriously address.

This quantitative increase in participation also follows a certain pattern. It gives one a feeling that it is the 'festival' that attracts delegates rather than the 'films' themselves. For, if the audience were actually drawn to the festival by the films, then the various monthly screenings at the film societies and campuses should have attracted more people. Most of these screenings are finding it difficult to get people to see them. But the rush for the festival is increasing year by year.

The change in the nature of viewers and pattern of viewership is also reflected in the interactive sessions, whether it be the Open Forum, Seminars or Meet the Directors. In recent years, such sessions have turned into dull affairs, where nothing serious or interesting transpires. So, one is left to wonder whether this rush is yet another variety of consumerism, a la the famous Kerala Model, which is all about consumption and distribution and much less about creation and production. It is impossible to turn one's face away from the question whether these festivals have really synergized our film industry – both mainstream and independent. Or, is this kind of scopophilic exposure to global products adding further to our inferiority complex about the 'little' films that we make under severe constraints, limited budgets and for small markets?

If organizationally, our festival urgently needs to address the question of the quality of viewership, technically, we have to address the quality of screening, which has been very poor compared to global and even national standards. Both are questions relating to respect –respect that we owe to the films and to our fellow viewers.

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Malayalam Cinema 2007

– More Despair than Hope ?

Year 2007 presented nothing unpredictable or exciting. It was the usual fare with a mixed bag of very few successes and a whole lot of failures, financial as well as aesthetic. Despite the unending wail about the 'crisis' looming large over it, in terms of numbers, it did better this year with 64 releases compared to 59 last year.

The pick of 2007 would be Nalu Pennungal by Adoor Gopalakrishnan, which takes a intense but dispassionate look at the lives of women in Kerala during the mid decades of last century. It bears the mark of a very mature filmmaker for its control over the medium, and in its charming ability to narrate with bare essentials. Shyamprasad's Ore Kadal was refreshing in terms of its theme – a 'normal' housewife breaking out of the prisons of her sexual mores, and finally walking out of the family to seek refuge in her lover. It is also notable for casting a senior actor like Mammooty in a role that suits him. Another promising film of the year was Avira Rebecca's Thakarachenda. It takes a frontal look at the contemporary phenomenon of displacement and homelessness – one of the many social tragedies that unfold before us and that our cinema is studiously blind to. PT Kunhimuhamed's Paradesi takes up a globally contemporary and politically relevant theme of the question of citizenship and nationality from our very midst but gets mired in its insistence to tell the whole story through dialogues.

The 'commercial-mainstream' was not able to wriggle itself out of its obsession with super stars, despite thumping failures. It seems to be vegetating in a world of make-belief and tired formulae. It is disappointing to see even young filmmakers falling into the same trap. Only someone like Laljose sometimes dares to break this hoodoo. His Arabikatha was a very interesting film that takes a hilarious look at the 'actually existing' communism in Kerala. But in the process, it resorts to the simplistic and the nostalgic, positing all the virtues and ideals in the past and in the rural. Maybe it is this deep suspicion about the urban and the contemporary, and its black and white approach to the problems it throws up, that ultimately led to its success. This year's box office hits like Chocolate, Mayavi, Hello, Chota Mumbai and Vinodayatra etc had nothing new either in their format or theme. They trade with tried out formulae and depended on PR to do the rest. For the last few years, television channels have been working overtime to promote films. Though, films and filmfare still constitute the bulk of their content, it is sad that none of the TV channels in Kerala has made any significant foray into the field of cinema; they still wait for the films to be made to market and use it.

The inability to explore such symbiotic and mutually energizing links is yet another symptom of the disease that afflicts our industry. Even the fact that the superstarrers have been failing consistently has not been an eye-opener to it. There are a lot of lessons to learn from film industries like Tamil and Hindi, which have succeeded in boosting the local industry by looking out and finding new pastures. They were ready to break away from myopic conventions and to look the global in its eye. We still keep our heads plunged in the sand of nostalgia and surface only for consumption – that of course, of the global and the trendy. It was sad to see even young filmmakers like Amal Neerad getting caught up in this, and unable to transform a language that is contemporary to our visual experience but at the same time making connections to our lives and times. Only films that tried to traverse a different terrain were Bharathan (Anil Das) Thaniye (Babu Thiruvalla) and Ekantham ( Madhu Kaithapram). While Bharathan is an attempt at science fiction (a non existent genre in Malayalam), the other two films deal with the burning topic of the aged in Kerala, their loneliness and despair in a society like ours. Unfortunately, they do not confront the challenges of visual language and address the expectations and tastes out there that are shaped and determined by the immediacies of television and the spectacles of digital technologies. We are definitely in need of some fresh air.

The last year saw the departure of some veterans like P Bhaskaran and Kozhikodan, notable lyricist Bharanikavu Sivakumar, and actors like Ravi Menon and Vijayan. Bhaskaran-mash was a multifaceted personality who made signal contributions in various fields. Films like Neelakuyil, Rarichan Enna Pouran, Iruttinte Atmavu, Kallichellamma, and Anveshichu Kandethiyilla etched a vibrant period in the history of Kerala and will be rediscovered in the years to come. Kozhikodan in an assiduous career spanning decades shaped the taste of a generation of viewers with his perceptive and enduring writings.

One hopes Malayalam cinema would succeed to live up to their dreams


Mass Media and Public Broadcasting

– From Citizen to Consumer?

In recent times, one of the radical shifts in mass media programming has been to make the hitherto passive consumers (listeners, viewers, readers) into content providers. In press and television, there is the huge influx of citizen journalism. Most of the sensational images and inputs about events (whether it be riots, assassinations or natural disasters) in recent times were generated by the 'general public' who were at the site. Conventional 'news' and 'analysis' followed these images, more often feebly attempting to give sense and coherence to the event unfolding live before the viewers. In television entertainment, there is a wave of reality shows, where the hitherto viewers have taken over the idiot box to become participants and performers. Instead of watching others perform, everybody is watching themselves on TV now. In radio, it is the 'phone in' programmes that the jockeys are specializing in, where they chat with the listeners and create a community feeling. Today everybody is a media producer. The mobile phone at hand could make anyone into a journalist or filmmaker. In the cyber realm, the Web 2.0 revolution is all about this, where anybody can reach out to everyone; create communities and fraternities that cut across barriers of class, religion, nation and race.

So, in the business of mass communication the monopoly of the 'centres' over technology, content and transmission has become a thing of the past. Earlier, the messages flowed from a centralized institution (newspapers, TV/Radio stations) to the margins (consumers, people). This one-to-many process has now become an instantaneous and affordable many-to-many process today.

But has this shift really helped in democratizing our public and media sphere, creating new and vibrant platforms for the margins to speak up, to find their voice, and to make themselves visible? With this shift, have the public broadcasting systems become redundant? If we take the case of Doordarshan in the post-liberalisation era, the lessons are bleak. Instead of developing its strengths – accountability, reach, responsibility to inform and educate, state ownership etc – it instead tried to compete with the commercial television channels to become yet another one like that. The first casualty was content. For instance, earlier Doordarshan used to give a permanent slot to award-winning films from regional languages. This gave the 'regional' filmmakers an opportunity to make their works available to the nation as a whole. In its eagerness to be market-friendly and 'viable', Doordarshan promptly did away with all such programmes. As a result, it now looks like a poor man's version of the private channels. It is neither good commercial channel nor a public broadcaster.

Is this pattern going to be repeated in the case of radio also? With the entry of the private FM radios, what is going to happen to Akashvani? Will it turn into yet another Mango, Mirchi or Club, or retain its identity and responsibility as a public broadcasting service? The pattern that is emerging is one of segmentation. The public is being segmented into niche-groups to be addressed by different channels. The private FMs are targeting the high net worth urban population, and the state-owned radio will be gradually pushed to the rural and small town populations, where they have a very wide and dedicated listenership now. If the AIR also tries to compete with the new private channels, they would also be wooing the consumer-class. Then who is going to address and give voice to the 'citizens' and civil society, the villages and the peasants, the dalits and adivasis? Will it become the sole responsibility of the Community Radios? Though community radio movement is an 'answer from below', there is also a dangerous kind of compartmentalization at work here. Community Radio is an instance of the margins speaking to the margins from the margins. It is far more important for the margins to speak from the centres and in the mainstream public spheres. So, the segmentation of the audience (read market) is also a segmentation of the public sphere itself. And the crucial question is whether it is going to bring in a new multi-tiered caste system in media.

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From Tribal Drum to Chatter Box?

A new wave of media is lapping the shores of Kerala. If the last such wave was television, now it is FM Radio. Around 15 new FM Radio channels are about to go on air in Kerala in the coming months from centres like Kannur, Kozhikode, Trichur, Kochi and Trivandrum. And the players include Malayala Manorama, Mathrubhumi, Asianet, Surya, Radio Mirchi and Big FM. This radio wave is sure to create some ripples in the media industry scene in Kerala, and will hopefully trigger some changes in approach and content.

The Radio which was till now the monopoly of the State or the monotony of Akashvani, will assume a new form and voice under the new conditions. Though such FM radios have become common in the other metros of India, it is still new to the Malayalee listeners, who are used only to AIR. The Akashvani itself will have to rouse itself from its age old slumber and wake up to the new reality of commercial broadcasting. A sense of threat is already audible in the programme packaging and presentation modes. But what is at stake is much more.

There are different questions that confront media houses and market. What is going to be the programme content of all these new radio channels? In the metros, where there is a huge floating and traveling population, it caters to the urban youth and yuppies apart from housewives and students. But in Kerala, the traditional listenership for radio is much more diverse. It is not the car-riding population that tune into this medium, but housewives, the aged, students, rural population etc. Akashvani, as a public broadcasting system, has also been keen to package its programmes to address all these segments. So, how is this massive arrival of private commercial radio stations going to affect a public broadcasting system like Akashvani? And will these radio stations competing with each other give voice to the diversity of our culture, and to the hitherto marginalized sections of society? Or, like television in Malayalam, will it be more of the same everywhere, multiplied ad infinitum?

If our FM radios are going to follow the pattern of their counterparts in the metros, the focus will naturally be on entertainment alone, and that too, meant for the urban population, especially the youth and the yuppies. In which case, it could easily end up as a chatter box, adding to the noise that already dominates our media. Such a choice is the easiest and the obvious one to take, as all these channels are in urban centres, and their commercial viability will necessarily depend on commercial branding and sponsorship of their programmes. Such Ad-driven programming, that is averse to being idea-driven, will naturally address the high net worth population in the urban areas, who constitute the bulk of the consumers of the products of the sponsors. This will leave out a huge population of listeners, both in the urban and semiurban centres, who also want to be informed and educated even while being entertained. If our FM Radios take this easy route, the medium, this tribal drum, as Marshall McLuhan describes it, will end up as yet another chatter box.

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