Saturday, July 31, 2010

Iran Film Festival

The Iran Film Festival will be held this month at the Iran Culture House. FC2 speaks with curator Supriya Suri on the films, censorship in Iran and why Iranian film has a universal appeal.

Iranian film director, Dariush Mehrjui once said “The closer you go, the deeper you go into your reality, the more universal it will be.” Supriya Suri, Artistic Director at film society, Cine Darbar and curator of the Iran film festival this month tells us, “Ever since the beginning of the Iranian New Wave, Iranian directors have been trying to look deeper into their social problems and have attempted to explore through cinema keeping their own people in mind which therefore catches global interest.”
Iranian cinema has generally been defined “as an antecedent of Italian neo realism with layers that predominately carried a social or a political subtext. Suri says that defining has its limitations and that to her Iranian film “symbolises a material truth that though constraint showed the realities of the world through mise en scene that clearly smelled, felt, and behaved just like Iranians- a realism that could not have been anything but Iranian.”

The festival in August at the Iran Culture House will screen four films. “The festival focuses on directors and films which are less popular among the Indian audiences. At the same time,they are combined with the popular names to have a wider reach among the audience.”

Baran by Majid Majidi was made in 2001 and set in Tehran is about a Kurdish construction worker Latif who is a complete slacker at his work till the arrival of Afghan refugee worker Rahmat. Rahmat turns out to be a woman, Baran in the disguise of a man. This revelation changes both their lives. Asghai Farhadi’s Fireworks Wednesday is about Rouhi whose first day at her job is on the Wednesday before the Persian New year when people traditionally set off fireworks. Rouhi finds herself amidst a domestic dispute between her new boss and his wife. Transit Café by Kambozia Partovi is about an Iranian widow who rebels against the expectations of traditions by re-opening her late husband’s Europe / Asia border café. In The Passengers, directed by Behram Beiyzai ,a young woman’s wedding day becomes a ritual of mourning when her sister and family die in an auto accident. The Wind will Carry Us directed by Abbas Kiarostami is about a city engineer Behzad who comes to a rural village in Iran to keep vigil for a dying relative. The film follows his efforts to fit in with the local community and how he changes his own attitudes as a result. Suri says that they “tried to move away from Iranian New Wave films to understand the aesthetics of contemporary directors like Asghai Farhad and Kambozia Partovi.”

About curating in India, she says, “I feel the job of a film curator/programmer is yet to be understood and to be taken seriously in India, since they can be extremely crucial in shaping the cinema culture of our country. This a primary reason that in Delhi, every second week you will see a film screening but half of them would be empty or contain films that were simply shown for the sake of showing something. It’s not just about matter of loving a film; one needs the right reason, a solid discussion and a coherent team to push ideas beyond the established cannon.”

Does the global sidelining of Iran impact the reception or making of Iranian film, one wonders. Abbas Kiarostami was refused a visa when he had to attend the New York film festival as was Bahman Ghobadi for another festival. Suri thinks that geopolitical acts are condemned in the festival circuit. It has however created an interest in a “voyeuristic, curious or even a journalistic sense.” .

However, Iranian filmmakers work under the permanent shadow of censorship and this means their films have evolved in a constant attempt to sidestep the censors, to use metaphors, to tell childrens' stories. “Under the Islamic rule the restrictions were even more tightly compounded towards formulating a vision of the ‘Islamic state cinema’ that was guided with ethics and moral codes i.e. the freedom, expression and depiction of women onscreen. It’s due to such limitation that directors began shaping ideas on how to tackle problems of the society in a complete new aesthetic framework. Iranian directors have also potrayed children like no other country has. The innocence represented through Jafar Panahi’s White Balloon or through many of Abbas Kiarostami films cannot be outdone by any other director. Iran is a perfect example of how these limitations can give rise to masterpieces.”

(IRAN FILM FESTIVAL will be held at the Iran Culture House on August 5, 6 and 7.

The Sushma Seth interview

You enter to meet the clatter of schoolrooms, children giggling over colourful textbooks, duster pounding, chalk particles flying and you search for the drama room.

A group of little girls in salwar kameezes with dupattas wrapped tightly around glide in gracefully and perform the surya namaskar. Krishna Sudama is a play performed by kids from the slums nearby, who take tuitions at the NGO Arpana on Mathura Road. This will be staged at The Shri Ram Centre this month. The girls burst into dance splitting in twos, many pairs of Krishnas and Radhas. The children enact the ancient tale of Krishna and Sudama’s friendship. Director Sushma Seth points out that a girl should be moved in front because she is tiny and yet so talented. With careful co-ordination of schedules, 80 children gather in this hall every other afternoon to become Gods and dancers, leaving other worlds behind.

They have been rehearsing this play for two years and have performed six times already.
“We use techniques of movement, action, reaction, and improvisation. I allow for spontaneity, for the children to develop ideas on their own. We wanted to write a lullaby that Sudama’s wife sings when the children are cold and hungry. I told the kids to come up with some lines so that we can construct something. The next day, a girl came with a few lines and said she wants to sing it to us.
She had written and composed a whole song. It turned out to be the most poignant part of the dance drama.”

One wonders if and how theatre has helped these children. “It is a gradual process. One doesn’t browbeat them. The minute you give them a speaking part, they are given an opportunity and develop a tremendous confidence that they can do it. Theatre is a facility for them because they dream of acting and singing. A lot of these children, when I met them first, they were extremely shy, deadpan. They wouldn’t open their mouths. But, I didn’t rush them to learn their lines. I don’t impose anything on them. I let it evolve. I want them to enjoy. Drama and elocution should be fun. After all the other lessons are so serious.”

Today they are pockets of energy, connecting, making drama, breaking walls.

Seth has reasons for choosing mythological scripts. She directed Shabari with the kids from Arpana before Krishna Sudama. “All the plays I have done here were written by the spiritual guru of Arpana. Also, I think mythology is about universal values. When you teach children, you have to do it subtly. You cannot say ‘Speak the Truth’ or ‘Make friends’, but when you enact it, the learning comes automatically.”

The script recorded by the children plays in the background and the characters lip sync perfectly.
(“We record because it is impractical to give so many children lapel mikes for performances.”)
Everyone knows everyone else’s line and if children are absent, which happens often because of the different schedules, someone is always there to replace the missing actor. Golu, who plays Sudama today, is spot on with his dialogues and theatrical expressions. Ask him if it is his role and he says no and that he is just filling in. “I love everything about drama. I recently started doing this. I am in class IX. Bahut mazaa aata hai.” He was one of the children who wouldn’t speak a word one year ago, but today he is the boss, the leader amongst these children. A bunch of girls echo his sentiment, but when I ask what they want to do after the 10th, they say 11th. “After that, college and then job lag gayee tho kaheen pey government, teacher aisa, accha hoga.”

Seth says, “The only disadvantage with acting is that it is difficult to take it up as a career. I never tell them that they should. I tell them studies are more important, they should get moving, learn a skill, and earn a living. I never tell them to go try in film schools or television school because they come from families where it is critical for every member to earn an income. Nowadays, even
graduates from drama schools don’t get jobs. There is absolutely no money in theatre. There is no theatre going habit, at least for Hindi theatre. A play has to run for at least 100 days continuously in order for the actors to be paid. When I acted on stage, we did weekend shows and could barely break even.”

Many of the students are passionate about making it professionally. A boy, an old student at Arpana, who looked about 20, came up to Seth and touched her feet. He told her he hasn’t found a job yet. She told him to meet her later to talk about the possibility of helping her with her theatre workshops. “He is a brilliant theatre person and has been working in television channels but they just don’t pay apprentices enough. Of course they all aspire but it is just not practical. When I do plays, I cast from their communities, their friends and older children.”

Seth, who has worked in Bollywood, television and theatre, says theatre is what she is most drawn to. Children’s theatre happened by accident. She needed to entertain her children during the summer vacations. Her friends wanted her to teach their children too. Workshops led to productions. She founded the Children’s Creative Theatre in 1971 and conducted workshops and directed plays for the group in Delhi and Mumbai till 1983. “Children’s theatre in India is mostly in the schools. I have been speaking to NCERT. They cannot introduce theatre in the syllabi simply because academic requirements are themselves so expansive, one cannot overburden the child. We, the promoters of the finer arts, are striving to have more space for the arts in schools, but it will take time. Parents want to push academics to the forefront. I want to tell parents and mentors that they should allow children at least an hour everyday to paint or pursue any other art that helps a child to explore his/her creative potential, to feel like she has achieved something even if it means sacrificing study time.”

Seth says working with underprivileged children has been different in some ways. “They are more disciplined, more enthusiastic. It is such a big opportunity for them. I have been doing this for ten years now.”

Talking about her book, Stage Play: The Journey of an Actor to be released later this month, Seth says that it is a book that evolved from the notes she took doing children’s theatre in the 70s. She did workshops at Prithvi and NCPA in Mumbai and NSD in Delhi. She was always conscious about being democratic, casting all the children in good roles and involving them in the decision making process. Theatre is not just for the extroverted ones. “Even the introverted children should be encouraged to
open up because they also can benefit from the creative process. There is a lot that I learnt all those years. When I went to America, (she studied drama at Carnegie Melon University at Pittsburg) , I saw that children’s theatre was given so much importance. I later put all my knowledge to practical use and wanted to compile everything into a book.”

After decades in theatre, the inevitable question is to ask her to look back and comment.
“The grass has risen for sure, but not as vertically as we hoped it would.” Seth says that theatre as a profession is still very difficult and there are a few exceptions like NSD, which is government aided. “We wish there were more corporates but the ones that do sponsor theatre are the alcohol and tobacco companies, and we don’t want such companies to sponsor children’s theatre!”

“Delhi is a spoilt city. All shows are by invitation. Nobody wants to pay. In the past, Maharajas patronized artists. For artists, it is difficult to combine the creative and the practical. Artists need support. I am unable to request anyone for funds, to say that these are underprivileged children, to even mouth these words.”
Krishna Sudama will be staged at The Shri Ram Centre on August 13. The book Stage Play will be launched before the performance

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Bombay pace Delhi paced

Romanticisation ahead so beware. And I've had to explain that this is to me , to me and to my life. 

Anyhow so Bombay to me is a thriller, a page turner, yo are interested in what happens in the next page. It's all fast paced but when you are done, you are somewhat spent and you realise you had such a great time , and you did all these fabulous things,  but you don't remember the details.You are kind of hungover and want to drink lemon juice and go to sleep under razai, over AC.Plot takes centre stage. 

Delhi though , is more like literature , not nobel prize winning or anything but an amazing book on the fringes of great literature. 
There are pauses and spaces where you can see that there are branches and birds and trees. There are experiments in metaphor. 
And there are layers, there is ancient History that underlies many things.It is slow, and at disco like moments in life, you want to hit the speed button.When you are done, you remember the details, the anger, the pain , the joy but the plot does not take centre stage. 

 Ofcourse such a comparision can never be made in a wholesome way, because Literature cannot be defined .
But, this is a thought that came to my head when taking an auto. 

I read a Vikram Seth quote recently. I am not quoting , but paraphrasing. There is no point, over fine tuning , editing sprucing up writing because life is messy and the messiness is lost in writing when you do that, some life is leached out of it. 

Monday, July 26, 2010

dined at almost Italian trattoria , got robbed, filed an FIR.

Most people know me as disaster queen. Such weird things happen to me. Touch wood. But I just have to have to document it here but before I get there I have to say it was just a sweet Sunday. 
Anyhow, I have discovered Flavours in Def Col. It is a lovely restaurant , with an outdoor section facing a park that really reminded me of Rome. 
The food was fairly authentic. C had pizza with goat cheese and grilled vegetables ,which was fabulous although they were a bit kunjoos with the goat cheese. I had Rigatone or whatever tube shaped pasta is called. Competent. 

Tragedy unfolded though when we decided to go to the Red Fort. Bright old me decides to take the metro. I haven't used the damn thing in like two months.I get on at Mandi House and before the inevitable security check, I zip my bag shut feeling so proud of how careful I am. As usual, the train is really crowded. Just before i was about to get off, I notice that my zip is a wee bit open. My heart freezes but I courageously walk out anyway. MY wallet , which is a fat 2 year old stuffed with silver earrings, thousands of business cards, cash , old bank receipts, kajal, store membership cards ,driving license, PAN card, photos, free movie tickets to a cinema in Noida, memories is gone. 

I have to gather myself. Just the previous day, I was admiring my lovely red wallet and marvelling at how long it had survived. Sufi slut dropped sambar on it  I just really love this allet so I was thinking about keeping it till it really falls to shreds. 

Now it was gone. I felt so sad and tried telling myself all sorts of LET GO , it is only material anyway lines but it didn't help. I called my dad and he asked me to go to the police station not because the Brilliant Delhi Police will find him but because the proof of loss will be one piece in the long Red Tape I have to sumbit to get a  new license/pan card. 

I vowed to do it later but I just needed a break from the crowds and since Red Fort was shut by this time, we made our way to Lodhi Gardens. I am continuously impressed by how SOME public parks are so well maintained in Delhi. It was great to see real wild life in abundance . Squirrels chasing each each other, parakeets at close quarters, parakeet pigeon wars for the perfect perch on that gorgeous mounument's window, the lush green and the picnic-ing families and making out couples. 

I had to of course finally confront my fear of the police station. We decided then to go to the Paharganj police station. My mind filled up with stories of custodial violence, and of an interview I did some years back with a dalit man ,Deliraj, who was randomly accussed of murder and beaten mercilessly and left with life long injuries. You know , how police stations are, they are stagnant , pregnant with ineffeciency, lethargy, the smell of urine, and Torture. 

I am instructed to write , with a pen , the details of my complaint.When I did so, I was escorted by the constable to meet the inspector. The constable asked me if the white boy with me was my companion(saathi), where I lived, what I was doing at Paharganj etc. 

When I reached the inspectors' office, he asked me to wait and I waited in all for about an hour. 

We were waiting in the waiting room which also doubled up as the office of fat , ununiformed constable,Parveen Chand, who in the whole duration of my stay there ( and I realise this in retrospect after C told me) didn't take his eyes off me. He kept asking me personal questions about where I live. I kept telling him that I live in South Delhi, not wanting to give details, obviously. 
In between, I got into a long conversation with him about the 'atankhwadis'' photos pasted on the bulletin board, Abu Salem etc. I asked him so many questions that he asked me if I was a journalist. 

He asked me again(in retrospect flirtatiously) where I live. I said that I live in South Delhi. He said "ok , ok , but here in Paharganj , where do you live? Which hotel?''

I was kind of exasperated now because none of this has anything to do with my FIR. I told him for the last time that I came to Paharganj to shop. 

During this whole process, the inspector walked in and out with very minor questions on my CLEARLY filled out application form, each time, promising that I will get my report copy in ten minutes. 

So this man , the fat constable, tells me that he will give me stories and that I should take his number. You never know when such a thing can be useful, so I agreed. This man, Parveen Chand,then told me a long elaborate story. " I found a coke bottle , sealed with flies in it." Confused look from me. " See , there was a seal , and there were two mosquitoes in it." Confused look. 

"Haan so , I had gone to the Videocon building and I told them about it, " Confused look. " You know, the Aaj Tak office is there?"

So , that was his idea of a news scoop. But it was all getting really surreal for me now, coated with the commonwealth of dust from the Paharganj market, the silent Hindi less C next to me. (Yey Russian hain?)

"Give me your number , he said., Parveen Chand." I lied about not having enough balance to give  a missed call. He insisted about 5 times that I give him my number anyway. I was so exhausted by this point that I had to will to fight. I said ok and read out number carefully like it was dictation at school . ( I don't remember my number, I have it saved as 'Me'. 

At this point, C , starts screaming at me asking me why I gave him my number in front of Parveen Chand. 

The Inspector finally walked in and asked me to write my address. I promptly wrote down my entire address, complete with landmarks , like for an invitation to tea. Half an hour passes and then the inspector walks in again to say that the computer isn't working so he cannot give me a FIR copy. 

I instead write down my whole complaint with pen on paper and get him to stamp it. 

Ultimately, the scariest thing, which C put in my head is this. The police know everything about me.  

Images from Getty Images

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Aunty Chronicles

I take an auto as usual to work and am stopped by Aunty on way who wants a ride to Kalkaji. I tell her that I am not going there but she insists on coming with me to Nehru place. She is voluptuous , polyester kurta wearer who smiles a lot and instantly befriends autoboy.

Anyway, she asks me what I do. I tell her I work for a magazine and in TWO minutes she has asked me where I am from , who all are part of my family, who I live with in Delhi, whether I speak punjabi etc. 

Her handbag is swollen.For some reason, my mistrusting soul starts getting really scared. On top of that she slightly opens swollen handbag and pulls out a white piece of paper. She asks me for my phone number so that we can bathcheet karo later. I tell her that 
I don't have a phone. She asks me why. I come up with some weird explanation. Then she says " Why don't you give me your address?"
My mistrusting heart flips but I manage the courage to say that I live near X block market with a huge conversation sealing smile. 

She pinches my cheeks and the rest of the journey continued peacefully with me wondering when Aunty will get off.

When she finally did, I felt really silly. I just lost the opportunity to get lots of invitations to rajma chawal dinners. What was I thinking she could be? A serial killer! 

Anyway colleague, Sufi slut at work said that aunty probably wanted me to befriend her daughter. On top of that Ms.Sufi said I look hot except my kajalless , ill looking , sleepy face. So far. So good. 

Tuesday, July 13, 2010


Atleast for three weeks , I've been wanting to write about how raw I feel. And this doesn't really mean I am unhappy because actually for once my life seems in place and in a balanced way . It's just a feeling of fragility I have arrived at , the complete surrender and understanding of the fact that this too shall pass. And what next?

And I've tried my best to be centered , to access an inner silence if I feel weak or want to snap. I've understood that the strongest link is me and everything else will pass.

You know what the beautiful thing about this is? It is that I live in the moment , like really really , in an Oshoesque way. I am constantly in this haze of gratitude and touch wood because a day spent in the Hauz Khas monument smoking cigarettes when things are the way they are is a precious thing. Or spending a whole Sunday with friends at home.

Do I scare you? Do I sound self help? Listen, I am not but I just don't feel articulate enough to express this combination of distance and love that I feel.

Friday, July 02, 2010

P.Sainath and farmer suicides.

There is an issue of Vogue lying on the floor. They took a long time to put it together , a year and a lot of international co-ordination to get Abhi and Ash to pose pretty in Istanbul. Let Vogue be your inspiration, the editorial says. Monsoon chic and all that.

My mind works in constant irony. But I will resist it now . You say you know hunger statistics already ask what can we do sitting here in an airconditioned room anyway.

I went for a talk by P.Sainath yesterday. He taught us in college and by now we know he repeats some of his jokes, his favourite statistics and he even presents them in a way that will have you shocked. At Wardha, a fellow journalist told Sainath that he believed the farmers in Maharashtra committed suicide because they were alcoholics.
Sainath said if alcoholism was a legitimate reason for suicide , then there will be no journalists left on the planet.

In the budget, there is evidence that the government wrote off Rs. 500,000 crores of corporate tax. Revenue forgone , the section was titled. Five hundred thousand crores. And a farmer commits suicide every thirty minutes , sorry thirty two because of debt.

A TV journalist shoved mike up nostril of Sainath's friend and asked " What is the dream of the Indian farmer? "

The friend answered promptly that the Indian farmer's dream was to be an European cow.
The subsidies that the European cow gets exceed the earnings of an Indian farmer, obviously.

The man shocks, but that is why I go there to hear him because it is so easy to get absorbed in your own life. I still remember this one line that he said in his speech at our graduation ceremony .He said that we must report on the ''important processes of our time'' which we overlook for cricket, business and bollywood. CEOs , bottomlines, travel, theatre stories later, I am still not there but I want to be.

As Sainath said , if he has been in journalism for thirty years, it means he has to be an optimist.

Some Ivy League type who announced that he is an academic asked Sainath if modernising was possible without injustice because somebody has to get screwed. He gave Historical examples.
Sainath simply said that the problem is that we , the rich have decided that it is clear, who gets screwed each and every time.

Thursday, July 01, 2010

Delhi Delhi

It is raining. Finally . I have been wandering in and out of Delhi since Feb. But this is the end of my first real month in this city. I was dreading  it initially. My closest friends in Delhi were away. But (touch wood touch wood touch wood) it has been so great. Rediscovering all my old friends,  new ones. Overdoing 4s and forgive me , Select City walk , eating bamboo shoot and spinach soup at home, Cafe turtle. C comes tomorrow. Hope Delhi does the same for C. 

And the promise of more friends moving here although they are scared they will hate it. Why does Delhi have such a bad reputation? 
So far. So good. Touch wood.  :P