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May 28, 2006

Margaret Jenkins @ YBCA

Here are some pictures from yesterday's final performance of Slipping Glimpse from the Margaret Jenkins Dance Company. This was a collaboration with the Kolkata based Tanushree Shankar Dance Company. Following an initial meet at Kochi last year where:

Many hours were spent trying to communicate concepts as well as steps. We were privileged to learn from Padma and the Indian dancers about their respective forms. We talked about making work, the nature of audience, the definitions and varieties of modern dance and the space that both our arts embrace. Western dance, more often than not, takes over space, moves through and around it: The more we have, the more pleasure abounds. The classical Indian forms look for center within and on the stage. Little space is needed to give voice to that art.

We spent most of our days creating the 13-minute work for our performances. Our goal was to explore how to share our vocabularies with an eye to the evening-length work premiering at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts in May. The Indian dancers will travel to the United States to be part of this larger dance.

Subsequent choreography involved the exchange of video materials and DVDs across India and the USA between the troupes prior to the dancers once again uniting for the actual performances. Talk about globalization in action :-) Demand was unexpectedly high with nearly all the performances getting sold out. The images are from the 10 minute prologue of the show:

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- May 28, 2006 10:12 AM // Bangla , Bay Area , Dance

May 23, 2006

Drumming At The Edge Of Magic

I don't know about you but I find the driveby sonic rumble of car subwoofers extremely annoying, yet there are plenty of people who spend fortunes decking out their cars and Suburbans just to share their bottom thumping joy with you. What happens to these bassheads as they get older? I have visions of the ashrams of tomorrow full of folks sitting in serene, untroubled contemplation, mostly because they can't hear a damned thing anymore!

Anyway, warfare of this kind has been going on for as long as humans have existed. Mickey Hart's (drummer for the Grateful Dead) book, Drumming At The Edge of Magic, is a serious attempt to trace the role of percussion in world mythology. I particularly enjoyed the following reference to the Mahabharata:

Drums provided the music of war, and the favored war drum was the kettledrum, whose terrible low booming could be heard for miles ... There are kettledrums froma ancient India, from the time of the ancient holy text, the Mahabharata, that measure five feet in diameter and weigh approximately four hundred and fifty pounds. You needed an elephant to lug them around. "There arose a tumultuous uproar caused by the blare of the trumpet and the thundering of drums, the blowing of conch shells," says the Mahabharata. "The very sky was rent by the beating of drums."

I'll keep that in mind the next time a Suburban booming the latest narcorrido ditty goes by. That's the modern day equivalent, I suppose.

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- May 23, 2006 11:26 PM // Books , Music

May 19, 2006

Tasteful Dishonor

Sorry, couldn't resist! Here's an article from Mid-Day regarding future plot points in an Indian TV serial. Apparently,

Sonal, the creative head for the show, confirmed that there would be a rape scene in the serial soon.

Well, it must be sweeps week over there then! But it's the "actress'" comments on this matter that has to be read to be believed:

Snigdha, too, confirmed the development. "Yes, we will be shooting a rape sequence."

It's a sequence, you see. Like a mathematical progression or a Japanese haiku.

"But I am not aware of Mihir's position on this. I will think about it, when I have to do it."

Position, eh? Are they trying to decide between the "yawning position", the "twining position", "the splitting of a bamboo" or just plain missionary?

"As an actress, I am required to be ready to deliver what's asked of me. However, I will make sure that it's done aesthetically, and is in good taste."

How does one film such a scene tastefully? Perhaps, the rapist will gently remove her clothing and fold them neatly before he proceeds? Just imagine:

The bed is a 16th century piece with chunky wooden bedposts carved by artisans from Jodhpur. The bed sheets are 300 thread count premium egyptian cotton and the walls are painted a soothing pashmina blue to evoke a sense of peace and harmony. Peacocks wander in the courtyard. Debussy or Beethoven's Midnight Sonata tinkles in the background.

It will be the classiest violation ever filmed.


Note:: Co-written with Amar Parikh.

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- May 19, 2006 7:41 PM // TV

May 18, 2006

More Gore

Continuing our Gore kick, here's the trailer from Al Gore's upcoming film, An Inconvenient Truth, his warning to us on global warming. Calcutta makes a cameo appearance in the trailer - 60 million stand to be affected in the surrounding region if the sea level rises as a consequence.

On a lighter note, here's Will Ferrell's George Bush impersonation from Saturday Night Live. And yes, it's on global warming too:

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- May 18, 2006 9:20 PM // Politics

May 14, 2006

Al Gore On SNL

From the man who introduces himself as "I'm Al Gore - I used to be the next president of the United States" - well, he did the opening monologue for yesterday's episode of Saturday Night Live and it's a barnburner, but sadly poignant at the same time:

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- May 14, 2006 3:31 PM // Politics

May 11, 2006

Lost In Transcription

Make no mistake, Being Cyrus is an effective little indie thriller and has a chance to find accepting urban audiences everywhere, desi or otherwise. But not with the English subtitles on the DVD release. The film itself is mostly in English but I usually have the titles on by default when watching stuff from India. I was fishing around for my remote when I realized something wasn't quite right with the onscreen words.

Right at the beginning of the film, our anti-hero, Cyrus (played by Saif Ali Khan), presents himself to an aged Parsi couple, Dinshaw (Naseeruddin Shah) and Katy Sethna (Dimple Kapadia). "I've come regarding your poetry school," he says. Except, the Sethnas actually run a pottery school. Otherwise, the subsequent scenes of Cyrus massaging mud doesn't make sense - unless the director was trying pass an oblique comment on the virtues of verse.

I was willing to let one typo slide. But just after that, Cyrus claims some of Dinshaw's works are on display at the "grooving museum" in New York as opposed to, oh, the Guggenheim. That's when I realized either the subtitlist had either partaken of some strong herb or his ability to transcribe English was sadly deficient or he was hard of hearing or he had performed his duties inside the engine room of a steam locomotive. Perhaps all of the above. Whatever it was, his (or her) transmissions from Spaceship Ganja definitely added an extra dimension to our viewing experience.

For example, did you know that Mars was a "marshal planet" and that your half baked aspirations could turn into "half day desperations?" Katy could be played like a "vilon" and, given Dimple Kapadia's continuing oomph, I want to know what a "vilon" is and how does one play it. Apparently, it was also possible to "live like a popper" and you could do so in a place called "Punch Gun" which, presumably, is not far from Panchgani, the initial setting of the film. This must be a magical place because in order to bite the hand that feeds them, you had to "buy 100 feet." Hope they use deodorant over there.

As the film progressed, the transcriptions grew more poetic, wistful even. "He has a very bad sprain" became "he has a very bad spring." A police officer complained death was "starring at him all the time." Must be tough to play second fiddle to the Grim Reaper. In his presence, "handcuffs" morphed into "hand coughs" and "you have a way with words, inspector" soared to "you have ways to hit the words, inspector." Indeed.

The language grew more heated towards the end and our intrepid subtitlist spared no efforts in hiding our blushes. "Sweet old bugger" was censored to "sweet old baba." Frustrated teens might argue they are one and the same but still! Apparently, you also cannot make an "amlate" without breaking eggs. And, once you've made a mess thus, do you clean with "meticulous care?" No, our man felt you have to clean with "medicare." Strong comment on the lamentable state of US healthcare perhaps but a little out of place in a thriller from Mumbai. Finally, being a bit of a showman, our man saved the best for last. Towards the end of the film, a character emoted with great sadness, "no matter what happens during a chess game, the king and the porn always go back to the box."

Intent as our transcriptor was in deciphering the mysteries of the universe, he had an omission I found quite perplexing. In some parts of the film, the dialogue shifts to non-English. Those had no subtitles.

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- May 11, 2006 7:04 PM // Film , Select

May 5, 2006

How Kaavya Got Punk'd

Forget the actual story, the media and blogosphere frenzy behind the rise and fall of Kaavya Viswanathan is no less compelling. First, there were the breathless reports in the papers, both Indian and non-Indian alike, about the scale of the deal, the film rights, the background of the author and, most importantly, her age. Seema Sirohi sums up the underlying feelings best:

Let's be honest. Many of us were a trifle jealous when Kaavya, barely 17 summers old, was handed a fortune by Little, Brown to churn out a novel based on the reading of just one chapter. After all, how can someone command a sum of $ 500,000 when in the school of life, they haven't even begun? She wasn't out of college, barely even in college when in the wiser judgement of the publishing hounds, she was declared the next it, the sensational new writer who was going to ride fearlessly into the annals of "chick-lit."

Then came the exposes, courtesy her own classmates via the Harvard Daily Crimson. Mark Morford notes the schadenfreude:

But over at Harvard, savage competitiveness isn't just a requirement, it's a mantra, a way of life at the expense of intellectual joy and raw curiosity and drunken sex on the dormitory steps at 3 a.m. (or, you know, so I'm told). Everyone there actively seeks and fully expects wild success, but when a friend or colleague gets it, they are viciously resented and loathed. Such is the nature of the beast.

I can't say I read each and every Kaavya-gate related desi blog entries injected into the Internet at the peak of the whole affair, but those I did come across gave her no quarter. This illustrated entry from Grumpy Old Indian Man is pretty representative. Consequently, it seems to me, Mark could just as well have been talking about the desi blogosphere. Once the ball started rolling, the luminaries jumped in, digging deeper into the book:

The similarities in passages with Rushdie's Haroun and the Sea of Stories (HATSOS) were brought out on the weblog Sepiamutiny.com where it was pointed out how the passage in Rushdie's book where his hero...
The similarities with Meg Cabot's 2000 novel The Princess Diaries were reported on the comments section of the online journal DesiJournal

Meanwhile, Shobak felt the South Asian American press were MIA:

The South Asian-American press, normally salivating over the success of Salman Rushdie, Jhumpa Lahiri, Fareed Zakaria, etc. seems to be running as far away as it can from this story. This journalist crew seems to only care about "model minority" and "India Shining" stories, but nothing involving awkward, messy, flawed real life.

Now that the furor is dying down, some voices are finally trying to put the whole thing in perspective and even offer some sympathy. Seema Sirohi again:

Perhaps, having a book to her name before a bachelor's degree was seen as just another "opportunity" by the young woman. After all, on the list of achievements it certainly would be the sexiest tag. In the hyper-competitive environs of Harvard, where most professors are stars, where big names jut out from corridors like headlines on a bad day, authorship of a novel at the tender age of 17 would give her traction. It would get her noticed and who knows may even please her parents! So she did what many have done before her and many surely will do after her -- lift from what's already on the shelf. The hard labour of writing, rewriting and editing out didn't fit the schedule of a young woman in a hurry. She had loads to do. Like take classes, get A's and have fun. She probably didn't even think of the moral and ethical questions involved in copying, often verbatim, passages from her "favourite" author, Megan McCafferty's books (and now as it seems, possibly from Salman Rushdie, Meg Cabot, and Sophie Kinsella as well). As Salman Rushdie points out, pushed by the needs of a publishing machine, the rush evidently was too much.

And Sandip Roy thanks Kaavya for performing a community service:

I know this must come as small consolation to you these days, as dreams of book deals, film projects and maybe even Ivy League futures seem to wither on the vine. But as one Indian-American to another, I say thank you. I have to confess to a sneaking sense of relief when Opal Mehta's life came crashing down around you. It's not schadenfreude. It's just this relief that finally we can fail, that we can screw up spectacularly and live to tell the tale.

Only we Indian-Americans know it's hard out there for an overachieving Indian-American. It was bad enough that we were the anointed model minority. (Did you know our median income is higher than that of any other ethnic group in the United States? That we have 200,000 millionaires and 41,000 doctors?) Now we are expected to excel at everything we do. We are the first-class first minority. "Doesn't anyone's kid ever come second in anything anymore?" wondered a friend bemusedly listening to a group of Indian mothers at a potluck.
I mean, we don't just win spelling bees. We do a clean sweep. Last year, all four finalists were our people. Our Bollywood actress Aishwariya Rai can't just be beautiful, she has to be the MOST beautiful woman in the whole world. That's why it was such a relief to see a stoner South Asian in that film "Harold and Kumar." Except Kumar wasn't just a pothead; when push came to shove he was also a medical whiz.

The only trouble here is that Kumar isn't an Indian-American invention, the script having been written by two Jewish Americans. No matter, perhaps this is something Ms. Viswanathan can rectify, now that she's seen the seamier side of success.

Update: Grumpy Old Indian Man writes in response to his entry:

While its fair enough to note the Schaudenfreude currently raining down on the Sundaram-Vishwanathans --- I must point out that the illustrated entry from my blog that you cite as an example (and thank you very much for the link :) of no quarter given -- does have the disgraced wunderkind surrounded by a whirling confusion of influences and pressures in its fourth panel. School ... truth .... fame ... money ... orientation ... expectant parents. That's a quarter Given ... perhaps even fitty cents.

Great blog you have going on! ... Keep up the good work.

I should also note this post is in no way trying to defend the actual plagiarism. I'm more interested in the pattern of the desi reactions out there. To quote Morrissey, "we all hate it when our friends become successful" and I wonder whether this sentiment cannot be extended to the desi community, particularly the expatriate version.

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- May 5, 2006 7:58 PM // Books