Saturday, August 29, 2009

The Art of the Market of Indian Art: an interview with Jasmine Shah Varma

Years ago when I was growing up in Vadodara - I used to knock over the sculptures made by my parents' friends and hang upside down to try and figure out what they were trying to say in their paintings. I developed a huge fondness for art as a way to communicate and interact. Through small epicenters like Vadodara and areas of major metropolis' in India, contemporary art continued to grow on the fringes and refine its voice.

But it was the economic boom in India that spun it into the mainstream. The boom has powered the art scene in India for years - growing it at an estimated 30% every year. The Indian Art market is currently valued at roughly Rs 1,500 crores - and it connects a diverse multitude of Indian artists with a global set of fans eager, appreciative and willing to purchase art.

Jasmine Shah VarmaJasmine Shah Varma used to be a journalist who covered visual arts. In 2004 she started working on her first curatorial project 'Still Waters Run Deep', which ran in January 2005. She's been doing this ever since.

Her latest project - CARD-O-LOGY - features sixty artists from various generations and all over India (some of my favorites are in there). Oriented towards first time buyers looking to connect with and own Indian art, the exhibition features original art on postcards (4x6 or 5x7) from the artists. There are a lot of genres (abstract, landscape, figurative, conceptual) and techniques (photography based, water colors, drawings, etchings) to explore here.

While Jasmine was putting the show together (it opens September 4), I invited her to tell us more about how the market of Indian Art and how to go about making smart decisions when purchasing.

(All images below from Jasmine's new exhibit)

Aashna Jhaveri

AspisDrift.com: Hi Jasmine, welcome to the Drift. I’ll give you one tweet (140 characters or less) to tell us what a curator does and why she is indispensable.
Jasmine: A curator is like an editor who edits opinions within a chosen, relevant context. Her function to whet what’s exhibited is indispensable.

Apurba Nandi

AspisDrift.com: Let’s talk about artists. When you decide who to work with, what factors do you keep in mind? (What is your evaluation process like?)

Jasmine: I look for originality, relevance of their concerns, concept strength and the ability to show all this without having to verbalise it. Technical aspects, sound academic background, clarity in thought and process are also important factors. All said and done gut feeling plays a crucial role in deciding who I work with.

Asit Poddar

AspisDrift.com: Is there competition among curators for certain artists? How do you negotiate that?

Jasmine: Which field doesn’t have competition! Curators, artists, gallerists all walk around with secrets under their skin. On a serious note what is important is that there should be a good vibe, comfort and trust between the artist and the curator. In my dealings for 25 shows that I have curated I have seen that when the vision matches and an idea is constructive artists want to work with you. I’d say idea is king and a few pinches of charm work a long way.

Awanti Seth Patwardhan

AspisDrift.com: Outside of artists, who else do you have to know and work with?

Jasmine: Gallerists, other critics. As an independent curator I must make sure that the artists I represent are showcased in an appropriate environment.

Karishma Dsouza

AspisDrift.com: Have you ever told an artist something like: “You know if you stick a cute yellow baby ducky in the right corner, I could get you double price for that”.

Jasmine: Sure and that artist would definitely tell me to stick it myself! Good old constructive criticism and a healthy exchange of ideas may be appreciated. There are artists with a vision and then there are craftsmen who do what you tell them to do.

Kim Kyoungae

AspisDrift.com: Information is king. What is the information that is most valuable for you to know in your job?

Jasmine: What has been done, what is coming up and who is doing what are all important.

Lalitha Lajmi

AspisDrift.com: Ok, let’s say I’m an aspiring artist. I come to you and say: “Jasmine, I am working on a post-modern Manga piece called ‘The judging of Sita’. Would you be interested in selling it?” Would you:
(a) Laugh out loud, say ‘good one’ and go back to reading India Uncut
(b) Look me in the eye and then roll both of yours
(c) Say: ‘Bring it on! I can sell anything!’
(d) Other: _______

Jasmine: Option B is tempting but I’d totally ignore and not spend a moment of eye space on this sort. There is too much bad art corrupting and crowding one’s sight. Save your sight space for quality art.

Malavika Rajnarayan

AspisDrift.com: You handle a lot of work by artists – sometimes expensive pieces. This must be a big responsibility. Have you ever done something silly – like accidentally drop some wine over a Rs 5 lakh painting? Did you have to pay them back?

Jasmine: Now where did you get this idea from! Has it ever happened to anyone… I want to know.

Nikita Parikh

AspisDrift.com: Time to help people who want to collect art: I’ll pretend to be Mr. Starter Art Collector. How much money do I need to get started?

Jasmine: As you’d see in my forthcoming exhibition CARD-O-LOGY even as little as Rs 5000 is enough to start buying art. But more than X amount of money I’d say you need to have the inclination to spend time, be patient and eager to see what’s happening on the art scene. Every time you want to purchase a cell phone, or any electronic equipment most people spend lot of time researching which model to buy, what the reviews are, which vendor is offering the best price. Calculate the time and effort you spend on such purchases and spend at least 5 times more time to put your money on art. Art is for keeps, invest time and passion in it.

Nyela Saeed

AspisDrift.com: What should my starter strategy be like? Any tips from you? Is it better to buy mediocre oils than great watercolors? Should you follow artists or the color scheme in your house?

Jasmine: I would not select by medium, colour scheme or genre. People do not take it seriously, but the best way to sharpen your eye is to see a lot of art for a good period of time until you can tell A from B and recognise what it is that you appreciate and are willing to live with. Today medium, technique or process is not as important as the experience a work of art offers.

Santosh Morajkar

AspisDrift.com: Where all can I go to look for art to buy? How do I stay plugged in to cool stuff that might go on the market? Should I follow artists or curators?

Jasmine: Art galleries, select art websites. The way Indian art market functions, if you like specific artists you’d follow them wherever they show. If your are exploring, then you follow a curator’s vision and taste that you can trust. Follow galleries that have an identity, that showcase a steady quality and profile of art. Galleries that offer every kind of art like a bhaji market follow labels and brands which is not the way to appreciate art. But keep checking outside your favoured sphere to broaden your perspective.

Shruti Nelson

AspisDrift.com: How does art get priced?

Jasmine: Art pricing is extremely subjective and not a science, at least at the start of an artist’s career. I have seen emerging, needy artists price their works according to their immediate needs to pay bills. Popularity and demand, most commonly are an indicator of how to price works. The artist with the gallery / the artist representative / the promoter together decides the prices.

Sonatina Mendes

AspisDrift.com: People often call art an investment. Is there really a resale market for most original art that is being sold today?

Jasmine: This is not easy to answer because there is a lot going on under the label of art. So decorative art however lovely it is wouldn’t find secondary sale value. But in my experience a good, solid work of art that has the ability to move you over a period of time, without hype would find buyers any day.

Soumen Das

But art should not be bought like stocks to be sold at a later. Sometime back I read Paul Johnson’s article in Forbes where he said: "Art values are determined by unpredictable trends that are rarely linked to quality. And who's the arbiter of quality anyway? If you love works of art, read up on the subject and visit museums. Then buy because you want to possess certain objects and have them in your home to look at and enjoy. But don't collect in order to make money. You won't. And you'll have a painful, anxious time of it as well."

Vilas Bhad

AspisDrift.com: Final question, its mandatory on the Drift: can you fold a fitted bed sheet properly?
Jasmine: Never tried!

CARD-O-LOGY opens on Friday, September 4 and is on till September 18, 2009 at Hacienda Gallery, Kala Ghoda, Mumbai. But you don't have to be in town to participate - just send Jasmine an email if you are interested in any of the works.

Jasmine's picture taken by Uma Dhanwatey

Meena, thanks for helping me understand the art market and reviewing my questions

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

The Bollywood MJ Tribute Video

Its pointless reviewing a tribute song - they tend to be more about the occasion than the music. But I will say that against all odds I liked this a lot. Also, a chance to see some of India's biggest singers in action in one place. And hey there are some actors in there too.



The song was written by Vishal Dadlani, composed by Vishal and Shekhar, produced by Red Chillies Idiot Box and the video was directed by Samar Khan. It goes live on TV-based music channels on the 29th.

Defect Oberoi will patch up with Sullen Khan on Bas Khatam

I confess that of late I've become a huge fan of Sullen Khan's back slapping boys will be boys bogus quiz fest Bas Khatam. Such is Sullen's lunkhead charm and ability to disarm his high profile guests, that everyone sheds their guard and plays along. The star men guffaw and reveal alpha male secrets, the star women roll their eyes and try to impress Sullen with juicy stuff. Either way, its delightful and frothy TV.

Yes, there are questions - but until now I haven't paid much attention to them.

And now: remember Defect Oberoi? The guy once fell in some tagdaa love with Bollywood's new age legend Mesmerya Rai. Unfortunately Mesmerya's previous man - Sullen - took that liaison quite hard. Pretty soon Defect's phone was being peppered with threatening phone calls.

At this point Defect did the unthinkable. With Mesmerya away on some vilaayati shooting, Defect issued a call to the press and revealed Sullen's distinctly unstar-like behavior to the presswallas. Clearly Defect had crossed the line. Mesmerya dumped him (ironically by SMS). Sullen declared war on him. Everyone moved on since except Defect's career - which is still under kaala paani by Sullen.

Defect tried hard to make up. He once mimed a public apology on stage during an awards show to Sullen, but to no avail. Recently Defect sent out feelers again - even offering to be on my favorite show Bas Khatam with Sullen.

As soon as I heard this I called Sullen.

"Sullen, is it true!" I asked "Defect will be on your show!"

"Jee ha!" hollered Sullen "He will be there David"

"Um, this is Aspi. Are the dates nakki?"

"Arre, sorry for the mix up yaar. Its still only 2 pm in the morning - can't blame me. Yes, the dates and questions have been planned"

"Can I know what the questions are?" I begged "My readers would love to see them in advance!"

"Sure" yawned Sullen. "Check with my secretary tomorrow"

"Cool" I said.

"You aren't going to ask me when I'll do shaadi?"

"I wasn't planning to ask this time"

"God bless you!" Sullen hung up with a flourish.

The next day I called Sullen's secretary and reminded her of his promise. Sure enough in an hour the producers at Phoney Entertainment had emailed me a list of questions.

I'm sharing these with the millions of fans of Bas Khatam, Sullen and Defect. No need to thank me.

Rs 10,000 question: 40% range
Kitne pratishak people believe that the press does as much harm as good?

Rs.1,00,000 question: 30% range
Kitne pratishak men have taken a pangaa with their girlfriend's ex-boyfriend?

Rs.10,00,000 question: 20% range
Kitne pratishak men have been called a waiter by their ex-girlfriend's ex-boyfriend's brother?

Rs.1,00,00,000 question: 10% range
Kitne pratishak men look at their current girlfriends and think about the hottie that got away?

Rs.10,00,00,000 question: You have to pick a number
Kitne pratishak people in India use SMS to break up?

Boy, should be a terrific show!

F*** my life! - more Sullen Khan on the Drift

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

An Introduction to Murakami - a guest post by Musical

Musical returns to help us get started on one of her favorite authors: Haruki Murakami.

Murakami is a 60 year old Japanese writer who has been praised as one of the world's greatest living novelist. As far as I am concerned, he is someone whose writings read like a feverish, delirious dream!

In Murakami's books, a multitude of realities coexist - real and surreal mingle and the bizarre feels normal.

Several small stories run in parallel, unaware of each other's existence on surface and yet so deeply connected. Murakami's writings are usually marked by very vivid imagery, a generous helping of the surreal and an almost hallucinatory tone to the events. By his own admission, Murakami is fascinated by the unknown, the dark and the subterranean. While creating a surreal atmosphere where mysterious birds show up, cats communicate with the chosen few, lost lovers communicate from across different realities and so on, he keeps it grounded with the sensual descriptions of food, music, noise, crowds, mountains and snow acts like a warm comforting blanket.

In the backdrop of the very bizzare and surreal surroundings, Murakami's stories deal with raw and "real" emotions of love, loss, longing, apathy,not just the above mentioned emotions, but also present his take on the contemporary Japanese society.

Murakami seems to be a hyper-musical (to use an Oliver Sacks term) person. Music, especially Jazz and Classical features prominently in almost all his works (and even titles, think Norwegian Wood, for example.) It is also well known that Murakami once owned a Jazz bar in Tokyo, named Peter Cat, after his pet. Oh, and cats feature prominently in his world too.

His characters range from an average person with a routine day job, a runaway teenager, estranged lovers, mysterious women, a sheep man and so on. Several of his protagonists may even appear to be social misfits, lost in their own world, looking for something that may or may not exist. Sometimes they have no name. Word is that some of these characters may be auto-biographical. While I am not so sure about that, in one of his books, a successful author name Hiraku Makimura, whose career is on the downslide and who is almost estranged from his family, does make a guest appearance.

Makimura's character (who once was a big promise and now churns below par novels), then, serves to feature some of the criticism Murakami has received in Japan. Another recurring feature of his novels is the larger than life female characters. Thse characters are almost always a little mysterious and elusive, often signifying the other world, the alternate reality, the longing.

More often than not, these characters haunt you long after you are done reading the book.

Murakami has literally written a dozen novels. My first Murakami novel was Hard-boiled Wonderland and End of the World.

It is a book with two parallel stories from two different world, which eventually connect. The first set features among other things, a clever form of data processing called "shuffling" which makes use of the different parts of the human subconsciousness to process and store data.

The second set is about a strange place called "The End of the World", where the citizens have to let go of their shadows (a symbol for "self" or consciousness). Strange enough? That's Murakami's way of talking about the concepts of "self and identity", "conscious and the sub-conscious"!

The Wind Up Bird Chronicle and Kafka on the Shore also feature on top of my list, which features almost all Murakami books. The recurrent themes in almost all his novels are love, loss, loneliness, grief, sexuality and the unknown.

His Norwegian Wood, a book about young lovers, attained a cult status among young Japanese readers. While it is as close to the "real world" as any Murakami book can get, the elements of longing, melancholy and loneliness bring a very typical Murakamisque' surreal and nostalgic flavor.

Murakami is as masterful a short story writer as he is a novelist.

His collections Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman, The Elephant Vanishes and After the Quake are quite a treat to read. He has also famously extended some of his stories into full-length novels. For example, "The Wind-up Bird Chronicle" is based on two stories "The wind-up bird" and "Tuesday's Women" and also has drawn characters and influences from some of his other stories, while "Norwegian Wood" was born from the story "Firefly".

Murakami has also made a distinct place for himself as a non-fiction writer, where he only talks about "the real". His very commendable piece on the Tokyo subway attacks, Underground features interviews with survivors and their families and also with the Aum Shinrikyo cult members. In this book, he attempts to give a name and a face to each person whose life was affected by this tragedy, and view the incident from their perspective. He questions the preparedness of authorities in dealing with attacks of this scale and the indifference of on-lookers and the media. Through his interviews with the cult members, he also tries to understand what prompted them to head in this direction. He proposes that these are the people who were seeking an alternate reality by virtue of being misfit in the society, even though majority of these people were well educated, "elite" people to begin with.

It is often said that Murakami divides people, as in, people either love him or hate him! What I know for certain is that some of my Japanese friends (the ones who are older than me) think that he's more of an "average" writer, rather than someone who writes "classics". For them, the "classics" place is reserved for Mishima, Kawabata, Ōe and Abe. In this interview Murakami talks about this in detail. I gather that it might have to do something with him being someone who has often questioned the Japanese society.

For example, in "The wind-up bird chronicle", there is a chapter on the battle of Nomonhan, something Murakami feels very strongly about. He is critical of the Japanese position about it and their inability to own up some of the past mistakes. He has also been critical of the official machinery and the avergae person's apathy and response to the Tokyo subway tragedy in "Underground". It might also be cultural clash, as some feel he is very Westernized, what with frequent references to Western music and culture in his books. As for the non Japanese readers, some often wonder how much is lost in translation. Here is a comparison of the same passage, translated by two of his favorite translators. In this lecture (YouTube video), Murakami does hint that he would love if people read the originals.

As for what's coming up next, his new book 1Q84, comprising of two fat volumes just got released in Japanese. There is lot of speculation on what the title means. My favorite explanation is what I found here: 1Q84 is the protein identifier number for acetylcholinesterase enzyme, the same enzyme that is targeted by sarin, the neurotoxic gas which was used in Tokyo gas attacks!

It might be a while before the English translation comes out, but I am totally looking forward to it!

Murakami's works on Amazon

Thursday, August 13, 2009

The underrated gems of A. R. Rahman - a guest post by Woot

Guest blogger Woot is torn up about A. R. Rahman. Here is why.

Being a hardcore Rahmaniac, it hurts when there are existent gems in his work that are underrated and don't get as much play as his big hits. So I'm going to focus on a list of underrated compositions by Rahman. Hopefully you'll either discover these for the first time or remember them enough to revisit them.

I've dug deep so if you know most of these songs you should pat yourself on the back.

Ishq Ada Hai (Ada… A Way of Life)



This CD was released among several other soundtracks in a banner year for Rahmaniacs. It was mostly overshadowed because Rahman delivered blockbuster scores on the other parallel releases. However one song on Ada (not that the others are not awesome!) that was hardly ever noticed was Ishq Ada Hai by Parul Mishra. This is the female version of the song which was on heavy rotation on B4U. Her beautiful alaaps and clear pure voice gave me the shivers, yet she sounds a lot like Shreya Ghoshal. I hope to hear more from this singer.

In Lamhon Ke Daaman Mein (Jodha Akbar)




Everytime people say Jashn-e-Bahaara is their favorite song of this album, I find myself vehemently disagreeing. Javed Ali has granted his mellifluous voice to that song and these silky vocals top it among the romance tracks.

Yet I like the tadaap, beauty and pain in In Lamhon Ke Daaman Mein. Rahman - the genius that he is - creates furor and intensity with percussion and vocal chants that nicely contrast with Sonu Nigaam’s melting voice and Madhushree just blows me away as well despite a small vocal part. I fall in love with this song every time I hear it.

Especially when Sonu slows down and starts singing these favorite lines of mine:

“Mere khaabon ke is gulistan mein,
Tumse he tho bahaar hi chahiye
Phoolon mein rang the lekin,
In mein khushboo tumhi se aayi hain”
All I can say is wah wah!

Ae Hairathe (Guru)



Another song that never got much attention was Ae Hairathe. I was quite surprised to see Tere Bina make it really big but then it was sung by Rahman himself and was picturized prominently on Abhiwarya. But Ae Hairathe carries on from where Tere Bina is off as it has the same basic tune but is more folksy. Sung by Hariharan and Alka Yagnik, it is star in its own right on this album. I love the accordion interludes and the tabla, another wah wah!

Shauq Hai (Guru)



Shauq Hai is an unreleased single from Guru picturized on Vidya Balan and Madhavan, and it spouted tears in my eyes after seeing the particular scene where they kiss and Madhavan proposes (extremely romantic). Anyways Sowmya Rao sings this song beautifully. Rahman cleverly keeps the piano as the other prominent instrument with some vocal humming, keeping the focus on the melody.

Dhuan Duan and Do Kadam (Meenaxi )



Yeh Rishta and Chillamma Chilakamma hit the big time on this soundtrack. But two songs that were beautiful compositions that never caught the imagination of the audience in the same way were Dhuan Dhuan and Do Kadam. Dhuan Dhuan is a peppy number song by Asha Bhonsle in her typical smoldering style with some casual yodeling thrown in. The percussion is excellent on this song.

Do Kadam sung by Sonu Nigaam remains one of his best songs in my opinion. The lyrics, the music, the aura created by this music are sooo beautiful. He gives it his all in this track. Don't miss this great review of this particular song.

Meherbaan Meherbaan (Tehzeeb)




Sadly this movie didn’t get really noticed. I actually kind of liked it. A track on this CD that I really liked - Meherbaan Meherbaan sung by Asha Bhonsle - got lost with the movie. Asha's usual pep and gusto are on play here on this song which has nice electronic beats and accompanying vocals by Sukhwinder Singh.

Warriors of Peace (Warriors of Heaven on Earth)



This was a Chinese movie for which Rahman was invited to compose. The song Warriors in Peace was done in Hindi by Sadhna Sargam, Jolin Tsai in Mandarain and in English by Sunitha Sarathy (another of my favorite singers). With beautiful lyrics, a full blown orchestra and even an Indian veena-like instrument. Its like a battle song with the basic melody lilting like lullaby (bad description but give it a listen and tell me what you think).

Hope you like these songs!

Monday, August 10, 2009

Mridula Koshy is a sleepy, sleepless optimist (and author of the much buzzed book 'If it is Sweet')

You really have to work hard to stay in the game when reading Mridula Koshy's collection of short stories If it is Sweet (Westland Limited, 2009).

Writing in tightly wound, layered prose, Mridula often starts her story like a photograph that is blurred or out of focus. Often events happen or characters make themselves known without a clear context or identity. Yet no matter how eagerly fascinated you are, you have to be patient and wait for the photograph to reveal its secrets. Several times I had to go back and reread portions to reframe the story. All through the collection, you sense you are in the presence of a noteworthy talent.

Since her book made me sad, happy, melancholy, tickled, surprised, pensive and impressed, I decided to take advantage of Mridula's hugely personable nature and ask her a bunch of questions that reflected my experience with her book.

AspisDrift.com: You know your writing is so dense and coiled. Perfect for Twitter! How about I give you one tweet (140 characters or less) to tell us what ‘If it is sweet’ is all about

Mridula: Here are two,

Self-doubt and introspection, a nuanced inner life, the stuff of our humanity is not the purview of any one class.

or

Sometimes all we share is the same day, the same city, and the question we ask– if it is sweet? This, by the way, is enough to sustain the hope that we are one species.

AspisDrift.com: You are one of the most grounded authors of major talent I know - not that I know many. But don’t you possess any authorly quirks or weirdness?

Mridula: I blush. My quirks and weirdness though are very little authorly. After all said quirks predate recent ‘authorly’ events.

Quirk number 1: I don’t sleep. Vampire-like, except for the bloodshed. And so un-authorly. I have never written a word in all my insomniac hours. This is a barrier I must cross. There await novels on the other side. At least, I tell myself this with great relish as I wander the night, living-room furniture making acquaintance with my knees. Why the relish? I like muttering to myself, I coulda been a contenda. It makes me fall over laughing. I doubt life gets better than this.

Quirk number 2: I am sleepy all day.

Quirk number 3: My memory is shot. I can barely sustain a thought.

Quirk number 4: I hear things. Sometimes whole symphonies. I’m waiting to see if this will progress to seeing things, maybe whole symphony orchestras. I worry the living room will be too small to house so grand a vision. How will the violinists saw at their violins in such a narrow space?

Quirk number 5: I am pretty sure things are getting better all the time. This applies to my life and yours, and my bruised knees and shot memory, and the general state of everything, and that includes climate change, or at least the capacity of ordinary people to see through gyps like carbon exchange--rather than straight forward lowered consumption.

The only thing I am pessimistic about is the prospect of ever updating my blog. Yes, I have one, with about four entries, a pretense of having something additional to say.

AspisDrift.com: Someone once told me that getting a book published is like having a baby. You’ve done both – what do you think?

Mridula: Well, yes I’ve written a book. Yes, I have three kids. Are they similar efforts? Oh, I don’t know. The book and the kids, both keep me up at night.

But I love my three. And love is not how I would describe the emotions surrounding my book. Writing is a compulsion, possibly a sick, maybe an egotistical, and definitely an environmentally unfriendly one. I could describe my kids as my three great novels. But confining myself to describing them in terms of writing would rob from the richness of all the other ways of describing what they are to me. And as for turning it around and describing my book as my baby—I would never, not with a gun to my head. It would be a lie to compare the intellectual effort that goes into writing the one with the effort of raising the other.

It’s a case of a bird can fly but a fly can’t bird. Old joke, all three of my kids repeated ad nauseam around the time they were six and discovered the pleasures of punning.

AspisDrift.com: Let’s talk a bit about your writing: did you write a lot growing up?

Mridula: No, never. Okay, once when I was fifteen. Actually for like a whole year when I was fifteen. It’s such a deluded age to be. I hope my kids will all jump straight from fourteen to sixteen.

That way I won’t have to buy a saxophone for the one I know for sure is going to decide he is saxophonist on his fifteenth birthday.

AspisDrift.com: You have a very distinctive style: I really liked the way you establish the characters in your book while initially obfuscating all kinds of details about them. I want to know more about how and why you do it.

Mridula: Possibly because my characters are shy like I am. They hide a lot. Possibly because I like surprises and I assume the reader will too. Definitely because people are elusive, never staying still, ever-changing, and hard to figure out. I want my characters to behave like people.

This style of mine extends to my sentences I think, as well as to the drawing of my characters. As a reader I like re-reading a sentence. Not just the masterfully written ones, the savouring of which is an act of homage. But also the fractured ones the re-reading of which allows me to revisit the place in the sentence where I can fall right through language. There are so many places one can visit that cannot be held in words.

AspisDrift.com: A lot of writers go back through their old stuff and either chuckle if it’s never been published or shake their head if it has. What do you do?

Mridula: I stand by my work the way I stand by my decision to date that boy, and sleep with him, for years even, before moving on. That is to say, I have enormous affection for my book, knowing all its flaws as intimately as if it were an old lover. And as with an old lover I no longer desire in my bed, so too with my book.

AspisDrift.com: What’s your fuel of choice when working?
- Tea
- Kaapi
- Beer
- Other

Mridula: Kaapi. Chood kaapi. Kattan kaapi. Stumptown if someone wants to bring me a present from the US.

AspisDrift.com: I read somewhere about all the different jobs you’ve done – what’s the definitive list of jobs in your varied career?
Mridula: tinker tailor soldier spy
painter mother now a fly
Union forever or die -
trying that is.

AspisDrift.com: If I was a millionaire I would option your story ‘Romancing the Koodawala’. Would you part with it for me? Would the parting be accompanied by any conditions?

Mridula: You can have any story of mine. No conditions. I don’t place conditions on how any of my stories are read.

AspisDrift.com: What kind of a movie do you think we could make with it?
- A um, ‘full on’ entertainer starring Shahrukh Khan
- A tale of middle class quirkana produced by Anurag Kashyap
- A pensive examination of the power struggle in relationships directed by Nandita Das
- A searing expose of the kooda industry conceived by Madhur Bhandarkar

Mridula: Hey! How’d you know I’d say yes?

All of the above, especially Shahrukh Khan; with Nandita only if we are confident that she will confine herself to directing; she is too distractingly beautiful to ever play anyone but herself in a film.

AspisDrift.com: In ‘Companion’ you describe a relationship between an aging woman and a very articulate monkey. I enjoyed the story for what it was – but really what larger metaphor did I miss in all of it?

Mridula: “A life of love between human and monkey is not easy.”

AspisDrift.com: Final question which is mandatory on the Drift: can you fold a fitted bed sheet properly?

Mridula: Yes. I was 32 and 708 days old and mother a few times over, and in possession of too many fitted sheets still being pissed on nightly, and had yet to fold one properly –i.e. down the middle, tuck the two corners of one half into the two corners of the other, turning the ‘c’ of elastic into a smiley face, allowing a softened rectangle sans corners to emerge, and keep folding as with the tamer un-fitted sheet till you have the desired dimensions for your linen closet—when my father-in-law’s mother’s sister, Aunt Rita, she of mid-western thoroughness in housekeeping, decided some edification was in order. And now I have edified you.

In a bonus round I now offer you this bit of edification learned at Martha Stewart’s knees.

Fold your fitted sheet, matching flat sheet and all but one of the pillowcases that is of a set with the sheets, and slide the lot, stacked together, into the left over pillow case. It you have the least bit of Martha Stewart in you, the pillow case will be exactly one-half filled. You fold down the other half to make a tidy package. In a pinch you can just scrunch in your fitted, flat and pillow cases into the pillow case doubling as a container and twist tie the top off and throw the whole thing into the closet. All set if the kid pees in the middle of the night. No fumbling in the dark. Daylight will not reveal the horror of a bed clothed in uncoordinated sheets. I mean if you’re going to take the trouble to buy sheet sets…

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Friday, August 07, 2009

The philosophy of Fast and Furious

Summer is a time when film studios try their best to cash in on the holiday spirit that pervades the US by lining up their biggest releases. The release schedule gets crowded. The studios counter by releasing movies that can hit audiences hard and pick up a lot of cash quickly. Say hello to the Popcorn Action Blockbuster.

But every now and then a movie transcends its action genre and proves to be much more than a set of brainless thrills. Fast and Furious (Vin Diesel, Paul Walker) - the fourth installment in the 'car-zen plus some hot chicks on the side' franchise started off the blocks early this season. Reportedly made for $85 m (a bargain by Summer Tent pole standards), it pulled in almost $350 m worldwide.

I watched it on DVD expecting a mindless action flick. Imagine my surprise when I discovered that FF is not all brawn. In fact, its a veritable collection of VDT (Very Deep Thoughts). Littered all over the movie are codes to live life by.

As a public service, I've collected the key Fast and Furious philosophies below.

ON JOB SATISFACTION

Dom: The cops are getting hungrier...
Letty: Then I guess we are doing our job

ON  FORESIGHT AND PLANNING

Letty: Ride or Die, remember? ...We'll figure it out. We always do!

ON  RACE RELATIONS

Agent Stasiak: I could hit a fortune cookie out of the window and hit 50 David Parks right now
FBI Agent #1: Its (a) Korean (name), not Chinese
Agent Stasiak: Whatever!

ON  DENIAL

O'Conner: I lied to everybody
Mia: Maybe you lied to yourself. Maybe you are not the good guy pretending to be the bad guy. Maybe you are the bad guy pretending to be the good guy. You ever think about that?
O'Conner: Every day

ON  PAYLOAD

Dom: So what are we hauling?
Campos: For the money Braga's paying you don't need to know
Dom: You just said you wanted real drivers. A real driver knows exactly what's in his car!

ON  WHAT MEN WANT

Gisele: Are you one of those boys who prefers cars to women?
Dom: I'm one of those boys who appreciates a fine body regardless of the make

ON  WHAT MEN ALSO WANT

Gisele: So now that I know your taste in cars, tell me, what about your women?
Dom: It all starts with the eyes...20% angel 80% devil

ON HOW TO BREAK UP CORRECTLY

Gisele: (Your taste in women) That's not anything like me
Dom: It ain't!

ON  MINDFUL MEDITATION

O'Conner: Everyone is looking for you
Dom: I'm right here

ON  FAMILY

Mia: How do you say goodbye to your only brother?
Dom: You don't!

Now watch what happens. Even with the (highly misguided) expanded Oscar nomination roster, Fast and Furious will get passed by for Deepest Action Movie. Wait, what? There is no such category you say?

There ought to be one!

More Fast and Furious on the Drift: Cars and Masculinity 101

Sunday, August 02, 2009

Love Aaj Kal: Can a movie coast on hipness?

A funny thing happens when you make a movie that breaks from mainstream Bollywood convention (and I realize Bollywood convention has been a moving target for a few years now). The frame of reference by which you are judged changes.

Love Aaj KalSo let's say I were to watch a Shahrukh or Salman movie with a lot of needless dhol-dhamaaka, matki-tapaa and rona-dhona in it. I understand the structure of the potboiler and enjoy its moments of fleeting ingenuity. I don't mind the ill-logic of it or miss the absence of a plot.

But try making a more grounded movie - such as the bold but confounding Love Aaj Kal - and my frame of reference changes. Dramatically. And as it turns out, I just about liked the movie without enjoying it much. I'll explain why - but before I do that something worth noting is that writer-director Imtiaz Ali has probably remapped the rules for rom-coms in Bollywood. We'll all see more mature behavior from our 40-something stars in the future and tell ourselves 'well, we saw that in Love Aaj Kal before'.

So why did the movie not work for me? Primarily because its not nuanced. If you have a simple plot - boy meets girl, both figure out they love each other, life gets in the way - you need something to guide the audiences' understanding of why things are happening.

Nothing is more confounding than to watch people act in certain ways and not understand why. What, for example, propels Saif Khan's Jai - a more charming version of the lothario played by Akshay Kumar in Kambakkht Ishq? Why is he that way? Why does it take him so long to come to grips with the notion of love? And what precisely  pivots his mind and helps him act on his affections? (No, it can't possibly be playing a video game too many times or simply because Men are from Mars).

Saif gets a lot of screen time, but as far his character goes - its under written. As is well documented by now, in a nifty bit of casting Saif also plays Veer - a puffed chest, cocky, virile, sardar who isn't afraid to wear his heart on his sleeve. He does enough of a marvelous job tuning his body language that he's convincing. Its not a blow-out performance - but its enough to show you a star who takes his craft of acting seriously.

Love Aaj KalDeepika gets much less screen time than Saif - her character is even more loosely defined. Where does her carefully guarded confidence come from? Is she really so absorbed in her work that she doesn't need the support system of any friends or family to overcome her worst moments? And why in heaven's name does she fall for Saif?

In a deliberately frenzied montage that opens the movie, Imtiaz Ali dispenses with the reasons for falling in love. He seems desperate to sidestep the boy-girl-meet-cute pleasantries. Skipping small talk is fine by me - but the deeper conversation has to follow. Over the course of its run, the movie has to explain itself. And you can avoid the ghisa pita scenes from rom-coms past, you can do so in other ways without compromising your characters (see Oye Lucky for some great examples on how to explain characters without expository writing)

There are countless scenes that could have been better served to create a more meaningful exchange. Instead Imtiaz fritters them on the cast engaging in Bollywood-ish cute antics.

Sure, there is nothing like scrunchy noses, doe-eyed exchanges and hipster comedy to capture the imagination of audiences - but is your movie a commentary on modern day love then or something else?