Saturday, February 26, 2011

Gang leader of the day

"You can't fix nothing, you never worked a day in your life. The only thing you know how to do is hang out with n-----s like us" 

Some time back, Sudhir Venkatesh, a sociologist student, entered a building in a black neighborhood of Chicago to ask some questions to the gangsters selling crack, for his graduation project. They mistook him for a rival Mexican gangster and kept him captive for a whole night. While being released, J.T, the gang leader, told him the only way to get to know about gangs is to hang out with them. Sudhir Venkatesh accepted it and went on to live the next decade hanging out with the same gang, Black Kings. The project revealed lot of unknown facts about gangster life, its psychology, the impression it leaves on others who has to live with them and most importantly the economics of the operation of a gang.

"Gang leader for a day" is Sudhir's first hand account of his dealings inside Robert Taylor Projects in Chicago, USA, with the gangsters, hustlers, middlemen, squatters, housewives, cops, prostitutes and more. The story got its fame when featured in  Steven D Levitt and Stephen J Dubner's best seller Freakonomics. In Freakonomics, the authors where trying to make connections with several seemingly unconnected facts. And Sudhir's story was featured in the topic, Why do gangsters lives with mothers?

Sudhir Venkatesh shatters many prejudices that outsiders keep about gangsters. That they are uneducated, rich, violent, do not care about community or education and much more. The life Sudhir saw was that of very organized criminals. They are reasonably educated folks, do not like violence as it can affect business, they try to keep a good relation with community and give a helping hand every now and then, albeit keeping them in terror when needed. And all of them are not rich, only few on the top of the ladder are filthy rich, while others are trying to get the top of the pyramid, alive in one piece.
The book makes us sad at the plight of people living in projects, but inspires the way they copes up with the most resigning situations. The corporate business structure followed by the gang is very similar to any major business corporation. The human story is touching. Sudhir's candid confession of the moral dilemma when encountered with crimes is captivating. The writing style is as good as any good book of fiction.

The book also made me remember this Hindi movie that humanizes gangsters, Phas Gaya Re Obama, in a very comic way, but.  

Monday, February 21, 2011

MST3K: Showcasing the worst.

Have you ever had to sit through a movie that goes down way below watchable tag? Something for which awful is an understatement? I am not talking about duds like Drona or Sanctum... what I mean are things that are much, much worse. Movies in which not even one scene, one shot or one dialog makes sense. Worst lot of actors, bad direction and pathetic in every department.  I had watched a Tamil movie some years back with one of my friend, something called Veerasami. It was a one man show, directed, written, acted, edited, composed and God knows what else by veteran Tamil actor T Rajendar, or T R as he is popular. The three hour movie is such an experiance, we were laughing our hearts out, scene by scene. There were only few scenes when we did not laugh and that were the comedy scenes. But after the movie, we felt very light hearted. It seemed a worthy effort.
I relived this experiance recently when I watched an episode of MST3K on youtube. MST3K or Mystery Science Theatre 3000, is a very popular comedy TV series of 90s which made fun of B grade sci fi and horror movies. Many movies from 50's to 90's that would have been fallen to oblivion got a new lease of life through this series. Most of the movies featured are regulars in the worst movie lists. The format is like this: A poor janitor is tricked and send to outer space by two evil scientists, (in later episodes it is an evil woman who does this.) as a plan to dominate the world. In a space ship, he is made to watch the worst movies ever made. The plan is to unleash the worst movie that makes him insane to the mankind and make them zombies. To escape from getting insane, the janitor Joel, (Mike in later episodes) makes some robots which can converse with him. All this story is told in the title song.  In each episode Joel and robots are made to watch one bad movie. After the title song and a funny introduction, the movie is started. Below the screen Joel and robot are visible as silhouettes. While the movie is being played, they makes a funny running commentry on the movie.     

The episode that I watched featured this movie called Hobgoblins, touted as one of the worst movies ever made in history. The creatures are puppet like aliens ("palm sized big foot" in Mike's words!) who can cause anyone's wildest fantasies come true, but the hitch is that the fantasies turns disastrous killing the person. The creatures hiding in a film vault of an abandoned studio, is released by the new security guard. They follows him and get to his friends, who incidentally are the most weird people on earth. Lots of things happens, which makes the plight of audience no less bad. But the running commentry of Mike and Bots keeps you glued..!

There is a scene where an army returned guy gives the security guard a lesson on combat with garden shovels! The fight goes on and on and Mike quips, " Wow, I think I can watch this thing forever."

Check these scenes out for a sample of what's ahead if you feel like watching it:

Friday, February 18, 2011

Alone in a small world..

Few years back a pilot saw a man struggling in ice in Greenland and saved his life by picking him up. He was arrested immediately after landing. The person was Hamidur Rahman, a Bangladeshi engineer, who was trying to walk 200 kilometers, to Canada, in subzero temperature, with just a stove and wet matches to keep himself warm. 

The documentary play, "A Small, Small World", tells the tragic tale of Hamidur Rahman collected and edited from interviews, videos, letters and snippets of talks from people associated from various phases of his life. The format of the play is very interesting and unique. Two actors enact different scenes from the life of Hamid, like chameleons going under the skins of characters from around the world. A  miniature set is kept at a corner of the stage and via a cam the images are projected life size on the white screen. The actors introduce themselves with their names and as Suthradhar in Sanskrit plays, narrates the story through the eyes of different people. They even interact with the audience. A personal feel is given when audience are made to sit close to the stage, instead of the distant galleries. 

The play is enacted by two wonderful actors, a German and an Indian. Konradin Kunze and Abhishek Majumdar. (Alka, your good friend :). And I should say he is amazing! Nothing short of amazing! Loved him in that interrogation scene where he sits on chair as Hamid and Kunze slowly zooms the camera towards his face and slowly into the eyes, and then the screen is filled with fear and angst from the mind of the illegal immigrant. No words!) 

The google earth scenes where also very effective. Abhishek stands near the screen and Kunze, projects the map of the country where Hamid is next heading to with the help of Camera and a small globe, just the size of a tennis ball. The zooming effect of Google Earth is replicated on screen. But the master stroke comes in climax when all of a sudden a real clip from Hamid's life, one that we saw just a few moments back is played and the effect on viewer's mind is just catastrophic. 

Hamid moves from Bangladesh to Malaysia, to Germany, to Denmark, Greenland and just fails to reach Canada, all in search of a place to live. The play uncovers the struggle of a common man on a time of globe trotting, for his basic right of a place to live his life. Hamid consumes antidepressants and succumbs to death, but the unanswered questions he left on our face is just haunting....       

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Art of/and Understanding

"Modern art is just some colour thrown on a canvas."
"The book is a classic one. I could not follow it."
"These movies are not made for public, who can understand these?"

Pablo Neruda

Certain comments I have encountered in many places!

My doubt is that, is an art form bad or good just because it is some thing that is difficult for you to comprehend? Or is it necessary for a work of art to be simplistic that every one can identify with that, the moment they encounters it?

My opinion is that every work of art needs a certain level of understanding, an effort from the viewers side to appreciate it. For some it may be minimal, like a screwball comedy movie, or a hip hop song. But for some, you need some preperation, some back ground knowledge of the times it was made or on many times, a second effort to appreciate it fully, like a novel of Kafka, or a piece of classical music. Many people are very allergic to give an exercise to their brain and when they comes up on something for which a minimal cerebral effort is required they lap it up.

I was reading Neruda some times back. I am not much into poetry, but this one was fascinating, though a bit tough to visualize the imagery used. Then I happened to read his biography and was amazed to know that the laymen of his country Chile, took these anti capitalist anthems to heart because the images in the poetry was taken from their day to day life and Pablo Neruda worked among them. So it is not a universal law that such art form, intellectual, if I can say so, has a very less patronship. With strategical marketing the appreciation level of public can be raised.

Abstract art
Another of my doubt is whether art should mimic life? Like is it necessary for a picture or a verse to show reality as it is, or even it should give a meaning? Like an instrumental music is not natural and if vocals are not added to it, it never emulates a meaning. But it is an art form. Like wise is it necessary that a pattern on a canvas to give a meaning to spectator? Or can I just appreciate it for the mix of colurs or the intricate design it shows. Or even a collection of words that does not make any sense, but feels good to hear... ?

If my knowledge is correct, abstract art borders on these concepts. I think it was Burgess who said that if he is writing about a Bengal tiger, what is wrong if it has five legs or talks, after all it is a figment of his imagination...

Friday, February 11, 2011

Jim Morrison: Beyond The Doors Of Perception

The history of rock music is interspersed with anarchy, craziness, poetry, restlessness, violence, histrionics, excesses, radical politics, discontentment, drugs, sex and alcohol... and the name of Jim Morrison is on the top. James Douglas Morrison, or Jim Morrison as he is known to his fans throughout the world, or Lizard King as he was known to himself, is one of the most contraversial rockers and the main reason for the psychedelic rock band, The Doors to be one of the best in its genre. In his 27 years of existance, in which his musical career accounted less than a decade, he had been a poet, vocalist, rock star, movie buff, selfish, arrogant, bully, maniac, drug addict, alcoholic and the most influential and iconic singer of his time. In his final days he was living in oblivion, in a foreign land, whereabouts not even known by fellow band members and died a mysterious death as shocking as his entire life....

In this biography Jim Morrison: Life, Death, Legend, Stephen Davis tries to uncover the mystery surrounding this strange and much mistook persona, with a little success, but in the end falls short because of may be the deficiency of authentic material. Any one close to Morrison was dead or hated him. And the poet himself never exposed himself fully to anyone (if you does not count the obscenity charge against him after a concert in Miami). He always kept several pockets of secret friends totally separated from each others. So in the end Davis ends up throwing more mystery to the already dark story with many loose threads hanging.

Jim Morrison was the son of an admiral, who maintained accute strictness in his family. Jim grew up to be an acadamically bright bully and prankster, who hated authority. His practical jokes bordered on extremes. He became addicted to movies and books in a very young age. A sighting of an Indian family injured in an accident left a deep impression in young Jim's psyche. He claimed that one of them had entered into his mind then. By the end of adolescence, Jim had started reading Neitzche, Rimbaud, Blake, Huxley and contemporary beat writers. He was much hooked on to movies and ended up pursuing a graduation in movie- making against the wish of his family. Although his graduation movie was disliked by majority, those who liked it really loved it. A despaired Jim took on to poetry, drugs and alcohol- excessively. His friend Ray Manzarek decided to form a rock band with him after he heard Jim singing one of his poetry on a beach. Jim decided the name to of the band to be The Doors, after Huxley's book The Doors Of Perception. Initially they struggled a lot but with the addition of John Densmore and Robby Kreiger, the band started evolving. Jim's poems where the soul of the band.

On stage, the psychological books that he used to read gave Jim a lot of chance to experiment with the audience psyche, an art that he perfected over time. His drunken antics, swearing and Greek god looks got him a huge fanbase. After performing in several bars, finally they got a chance to work with Elektra records, with whom they cut all their records. The name Elektra gave Jim a chance to flex his Oedipus Rex complex on stage. This time around he met Pamela Courson, with whom he maintained a relation through out his life, though he had countless on- off relationships with many women.   

He was much loved and equally hated for his stage persona. His drunken antics and stubbornness, no care attitude and disheveled life style constantly embarrassed those who loved him. By a few years he became distanced from his band members. When they decided to sell a song to a motor company to use in an ad, he severed all personal ties with them. A song on Vietnam war, The Unknown Soldier, made the Nixon administration to consider The Doors as one of the adversaries. The author believed this ended in much negative publicity to the band, especially with the Miami incident when Jim allegedly exposed himself on public, even though there was not a single photographic or videographic evidences to indict him.

His public performances also were never predictable, some times he created magic on stage, but other times he was pathetic. He became disinterested by the end and wanted to pursue his real ambitions, poetry and movies. But due to his rockstar image he was never considered a poet by his contemporaries although posthumously his poetry was taught in several universities. He moved to Paris in his final days, with his love Pamela and was one day found dead in his apartment, probably due to a drug overdose.

His grave is one of the most visited site in Paris. Even after death Jim Morrison never became obsolete. His anti establishment, chaotic verses and dare devil life style continues to inspire millions, for good or for bad.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Sanctum: THE disaster movie

Caution: If you are planning to watch Sanctum after seeing the poster claiming it to be from the Director of Avatar and Titanic, James Cameron, you are for a disappointment. Because Sanctum never rises above a B grade flick. Except in an initial ariel view of a gigantic cave in Papua New Guinea, in which our main actors descends for exploring, only to find out it is a really bad idea, it never makes you feel "Wow". The characterisation is nil, dialogue cheesy, situations pretty cliched, acting wooden, suspence predictable.

But on the brighter side, Sanctum is never pretentious, it never tries to be anything it is not and fails in the attempt. And one part of the story, the love- hate relationship between father and son is pretty good. Actually that is the only part in the plot that stands out. Other characters are the most boring people I have ever seen on screen.  Another strong point is visuals. Pictuization is quite eye capturing. Background score jarrs, especially in the suspence scenes. The story gives out a message that, whatever happens in your life, you have to go on. Which is quite inspiring at times initially, over done later on. The one thing I cannot make out is how Cameron is connected with this half baked mess! May be he rented them the set and equipment of his initial hit movie "Abyss". Unable to pay rent, the crew may have agreed to share the profit, if any (which I doubt! There were 15 people in an evening show on a sunday!). 

Sanctum delivers what it promises. It is a disater movie and quiet a disaster it turned out to be.    

Friday, February 4, 2011

Travel with salmons...

How to travel with a Salmon is a collection of essays, or parodies as the author calls them, by acclaimed writer Umberto Eco, written in a period of two decades. The essays are satiric, humorous, irreverent and takes on the issues of living in the post modern world of consumerism, vanity and excesses. Most of the essays are written as a parody of Do yourself books- How to travel with a  salmon, How to eat ice cream, How to write introduction for books, How to write introduction for art catalogues...

There is an essay that parodies science fiction novels and hilariously uncovers the ugly face of red tape and bureaucracy. The essay How to travel with a Salmon, is about the authors unsuccessful attempts to preserve a costly salmon bought on his way to a city for some days stay. To add to the spoiling of fish, author had to pay an exorbitant bill for all the bottles of alcohol that he displaces from the minibar, to store the fish. How to buy gadgets is a piece on those shopping catalogues, which tries to sell things that are never useful or even practical. How to take intelligent vacations, makes fun of people who tries to show off their class by reading heavy books.

So instead of wasting your valuable time reading my blog post, treat yourselves by checking out this wonderful and funny book.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Flashes of insane thoughts...?

The lizard on the ceiling boasted to the man beneath: "Weight of this ceiling is safe on my shoulders..!"
The angry man shouted back: "Get off my ceiling, you filthy reptile."
Precisely the moment lizard got off, ceiling fell! 
I am not sure whether the man got a chance to curse his foolishness for making a pillar-less ceiling, there by giving a chance to the reptile for shouldering its weight. 

I know why the flap of my ears are open outwards. If it was inwards, I would have turned insane hearing the shouting of my brain.

Marriage and funerals- two rituals that I find very boring. Sometimes I wonder if I can sit through at least mine.. !

Recently I saw myself,
on a mirror on the wall. 
Realized that I am watching myself, 
after many years, 
may be a decade. 
And I cannot recognize him, 
this stranger, 
on this mirror on the wall...

People say they are afraid of uncertainties...!
Then why are they afraid of Death,
Which is the only certain thing in life...

The title of Tarantino movie Pulp Fiction should be Pulp F#ction..
Yeah, it was a bad joke,
I mean, It was a f*$#@in bad f$#@ed up joke, you muffin...