Friday, April 25, 2008

WWW = World Wide Waste?

In the dustbin of history, one often stumbles upon all sorts of gems, well almost. In my cache of old stuff in the D: drive, saved in July 2005, I found this scintillating bit of wisdom from Bill Coleman, senior vice president, gleaned from a survey of 10,000 US workers conducted in May and June 2005. “Our results show that workers on average are wasting a little more than twice what their employers expect", i.e., 2.09 hours spent online daily, checking e-mail and surfing Web sites, to be exact. The second biggest time waster, in the opinion of the volunteer respondents, was socializing with co-workers. This was before social networking became the next really, really big thing, mind you. [Social networking timeline:] I wonder what the WWW figure stands at as of now.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Impressionism, mon amour.

The centre ‘Quote of the Week’ panel in the 11 April 2008 issue (Volume 4, Number 2) of The Playgroup News tells us what happened in Ms Christa’s class. I quote from her report verbatim (including the number of dots):

Ms. Christa: What was so important about Monet’s paintings?

Class … pondering ……

Anika: Light, light was important to Monet.

Ms. Christa: That’s right. You are on it today, Anika.

I don’t know if Ms Christa listed for Anika’s class the distinguishing characteristics of “Impressionism”. This 19th-century art movement got its name serendipitously from the word coined by Louis Leroy in the course of his satiric comments in a leading art journal on Claude Monet’s Impression, Sunrise (Impression, soleil levant, 1874). Apart from brushstrokes discernible to the naked eye, open composition, everyday subjects, the inclusion of movement as a crucial element of human perception and experience as well as unusual visual angles, perhaps the most important is the emphasis on light in its changing qualities – often accentuating the effects of the passage of time. “He pretended that he did all his work outside and on the spot, when actually he sketched rapidly in paint, then carefully finished his canvases in his studio. He even used photographs on occasion, furtively, and was furious when he was caught in the act in London while adding details to his series of pictures of the Houses of Parliament,” writes Christopher Benfey (‘Still Waters’) Having no safety net in the shape of aristocratic patronage as did Degas, Manet, and Berthe Morisot, he was a cautious crowd pleaser. That doesn’t in any way degrade his work. It was first class all the way. A beacon light, shall we say?

Now, a Degas-Money-Van Gogh joke (‘Stealing the paintings') with Anika’s permission. Actually she ought not to mind living and growing up as she does in the land of the automobile.

Recently a guy in Paris nearly got away with stealing several paintings from the Louvre. However, after planning the crime, getting in and out past security, he was captured only 2 blocks away when his Econoline ran out of gas. When asked how he could mastermind such a crime and then make such an obvious error, he replied: "I had no Monet to buy Degas to make the Van Gogh."

P.S.: Here’s what I wrote to Avantika in the e-mail sending her the pdf of The Playgroup News:

Hi, Avantika. This is most amusing. Please download it and show it to Ashu and tell him we remember him talking like this as a child when he was about Armaan's age and we took him and Abhi to Jacob's house. (Jacob was an Art Director working with me in Clarion-McCann and had a ceramic studio in the same building where Yash has her office. In fact, I used to see her in the neighbouring studio of Dayaram Chawda one of whose pictures she has hung in her drawing room.)

Monday, April 21, 2008

Rad humanist, who me?

I just came across a reference to MN Roy’s Radical Humanism in a translated-from-German book on Fearless Nadia. And I remembered my father used to read one of his books bound in maroon cloth at 233 Khetwadi Main Road a little after 1947. Around then, he was also reading a biography of Joseph Stalin. His interests were wide ranging from political theory to Sufi mystics and bhakti poets (Kabir, Tukaram, Dnyaneshwar and the rest). I guess that’s where I must have got my eclectic reading taste from. My reading as a child was fairy tales n English. But I also read a lot of social, historical and sword-and-sorcery stories in Marathi, regurgitating some of the latter in my class magazine. Later, I switched my loyalty to pulp fiction in Marathi and in English. I also flirted with the self-improvement genre at one point in my life. Literature absorbed me most of my adult life. Now, my interests are more non-fiction: geopolitics, sociology, history (particularly the subaltern stream), cinema. As I said earlier, I came across this book on Fearless Nadia, originally titled in German “Zorro’s Blonde Sister” according to a blog post I found here: It is written by Dorothee Wenner, a Berlin-based filmmaker, writer and curator for the Berlin International Film Festival, with incredible insight into Indian socio-political, cultural and film history. I don’t agree with the political and feminist subtext she “reads” into the Nadia repertoire, though. I reckon she goes a bit too overboard there, almost to the point of sounding like a hagiographer. Yet she fills in the background of the Nadia story brilliantly with appropriate vignettes of personalities at various points (MN Roy, Mridula Sarabhai the not-quite-feminist Gandhi, for instance). Here’s what Wenner says about Nadia (aka Mary Evan): “For a blonde, blue-eyed, busty white girl to capture the collective imagination of Indians in the pre-Independence era, was no mean feat! Add to that the stunts she did! She was, along with the Wadias, a pioneer in the Stunt Film Genre in India. I pride myself for being a feminist, but Nadia represented a fearlessness with a dash of sparkling wit, that’s unmatched in any actress of any era.” There’s a spiel about JBH Wadia’s desire “to make movies that touted the strength and emancipation of women” on this website.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Leave her to heaven.

The world is never weary of Marilyn Monroe. The first time I saw her was in Niagara, the 1953 noir flick. She was the faithless wife planning to murder her husband, the hapless Joseph Cotton. Jean Peters, the better half of a fellow honeymooning couple unwittingly stumbled on her secret lover and got caught in the web. Marilyn was rivetting. Andy Warhol used the publicity shot from the same film as the basis for his famous Marilyn Diptych, Acrylic and silk screen ink on canvas,1962. The Tate Gallery caption to it reads inter alia: “Warhol found in Monroe a fusion of two of his consistent themes: death and the cult of celebrity. By repeating the image, he evokes her ubiquitous presence in the media. The contrast of vivid colour with black and white, and the effect of fading in the right panel are suggestive of the star’s mortality.” Very prophetic, what? (A diptych , by the way, is a painting in two panels. There’s another possibility as well. Maybe, Warhol’s multiple-image, multiple-colour-combo metaphor is a pointer that, even in adulation, Marilyn is no more a person but merely a mass-consumption commodity. I wonder what Warhol, as “an expert in subverting notions of celebrity” (as the Publisher’s Weekly once famously tagged him) had he access to it, would have made of the telltale still from the verboten 16 mm Marilyn Monroe film shot in the 1950s and now consigned forever to a vault by a reverent MM devotee. Would he had blown it up and once again worked his assembly line, multiple exposure magic on it? Interestingly enough, Warhol shot in his Factory with a second-hand 16 mm Bolex camera films such as Chelsea Girls, Empire and Blow Job that have since become underground classics. "They're experimental films; I call them that because I don't know what I'm doing. I'm interested in audience reaction to my films: my films now will be experiments, in a certain way, on testing their reactions," is how Warhol described his work in 'Nothing to Lose', his interview by G Berg in the May1967 issue of Cahiers du Cinema in English. Sam Ishii-Gonzal├Ęs, a teacher of aesthetics and film history at New York University and the Film/Media Studies Program at Hunter College, puts a different interpretation on the most famous Warholism: "In the future everybody will be world famous for fifteen minutes." “…for Warhol, this "everyone" are the refuse of American society, and this refuse includes himself,” he argues. So, it is not just “a prophetic statement about the media celebrity accorded to serial killers, Monika Lewinsky, Amy Fisher, etc.” Did Warhol’s "everyone" include his already dead Marilyn(s), his close-to-dying Liz, his Brigitte Bardot (“BB” to her French fans) wrapped in the French tricolour and his Mao (“the ultimate star”) based on the portrait photograph in the Little Red Book?

Saturday, April 12, 2008

My life as an ‘art’ movie buff. (Snigger, snigger.)

The trouble with being in advertising – and that too in an ad agency that was a successor to the one where Satyajit Rai had once worked as an art director – is that you’re bound sometime or other to deceive yourself into imagining that you’re a movie aficionado par excellence. In my case, I happened to get into my profession at a time when the Indian art movie movement was just about beginning. NFDC was up and running. (I remember seeing Bhuvan Shome, the Mrinal Sen-NFDC movie made in 1969, at Dreamland, a hop, skip and a jump away from 233 Khetwadi Main Road. An NFDC Film List is here: ) Film societies were sprouting all over. On top of it, I had also deluded myself into believing that ad writing was an art. Ergo, I was an artist. When I first joined Clarion in 1965, I used to wear a shirt with a tie. By the time I became a senior writer in a couple of years, I had switched to jeans and khadi kurtas. I also took to visiting art galleries, craft shops like Contemporary Arts & Crafts (I used to buy fairly inexpensive artifacts from this shop at the time located on the first floor of a musty old building with wooden flooring opposite the University on Mahatma Gandhi Road) and watching experimental plays at Tejpal like Mohan Rakesh’s Adhe Adhure. As luck would have it, I became friendly with an art director from the Clarion-McCann Calcutta office, Shyam Guha, who used to visit us from time to time on work junkets. A good raconteur, he used to regale me with his stories of Rai qua art director. I had in the meanwhile become friendly with Saeed Mirza, a fellow copywriter who later became an art movie maker. You can imagine how facilely I must have slipped into reading about and discussing genre, film noire and all that jazz including movie and play scripts published by Calder & Boyars, mostly left-of-trad stuff. Having been weaned on a diet of the standard Hindustani film and Hollywood fare – cowboy flicks, comedies, musicals, crime, cartoons – thus far, I began to abhor songs and dances and straight forward story-telling. I began to view film as art, not meant for mass entertainment but for meaningful “communication”. All this had an inevitable fall-out in my view of advertising too. I started to view it as “communication” and an adjunct to education. I started scouring for books on communication models and spouting these half-baked “received ideas” (to borrow the Gustave Flaubert phrase for “fashionable banalities”) to anyone who would be willing to listen. It amazes and amuses me now to think how many people were actually willing to listen to this new-fangled rocket science about advertising creativity. My romance with art movies and ad creativity qua rocket science ended fairly late in life. Thank my lucky stars for making the scales fall from my eyes.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Ms (not Miss) Marple revisited.

Boys and girls, I’m hooked. Addicted to a mystery series on the idiot box, I mean to say. For the wrong (or, maybe, just the right} reasons. The show I’m referring to is Midsomer Murders on Hallmark. Aka ‘Midsomer Murders’ on ITV after the Midsomer County where it is supposed to be happening under the tolerant, near somnolent gaze of Detective Chief Inspector Barnaby and Sergeant Troy (until he’s kicked upwards). When I’m watching it, though, I find myself not much bothered about the plot. What I’m looking for is Miss Marple’s – what’s the word I want? – bucolic (?), idyllic (?), tranquil-on-the-surface (?) St. Mary Mead with its well-trimmed hedges, perfectly manicured gardens, long walks in the woods, village fetes, cricket on the green, croquet on the lawn and tea at the Vicarage. It’s its old England feel and atmosphere I’m totally fascinated by: the civilized (sanitized?) murder mystery Agatha Christie introduced me to with its strangely comforting cocoon. For me, Midsomer Murders literally metamorphoses Miss Marple, c 1927, into Ms Marple, c 2007, with the microcosm of the village, its gossip and wily machinations intact. "There is a great deal of wickedness in village life.", remember? It all lives up to the Miss Marple myth in my mind and that’s why I keep watching it every chance I get, never mind the storyline and the characterization. What amuses me is the way American viewers weaned on a diet of violent crime thrillers react to the underplayed British whodunit. To them, the chief protagonist is wooden and the others are emotionless. One of the viewers shrewdly dubs it “a fairly cynical ripoff (sic!) of Miss Marple”, though.

Monday, April 07, 2008

Rock-a-bye baby.

At the foot of my bed is a steel cupboard. As I lie in bed reading, I sometimes lower the book and look up. My eyes fall on the very special baby rocker stored on top of it. This rocker was specially made when I was born in 1936 in my uncle’s house opposite the Roxy Cinema close to the Royal Opera House. At that time, my father was a Presidency Magistrate presiding at the Girgaum Police Court one the top floor of which the Mankars resided at that time before they moved to 233 Khetwadi Main Road. The rocker is a rectangular cage open at the top with columns on three sides and two poles at the centre of each of the shorter sides. There is a detachable strip on top resting on two knobs at the end of the poles. The aforesaid poles extend downwards and are fitted with two crescents at the floor-level end that allow it to rock without losing its balance or stability. The wood is of an excellent quality and the craftsmanship is so intricate and exquisite that the final effect is what you would call a work of art. You put a baby bed in the cage, cover it, add pillows and bolsters to make the baby safe and secure, slip a mosquito net over the top strip. Quite ingenious, what? Apart from me, several other babies have been rocked to sleep in this rocker. My three nieces: Rekha (now in New Zealand), Shubhada (still in Mumbai), Dnyanada (now a medical practitioner in Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada), our sons Ashu and Abhi as well as Ashu’s younger daughter Avantika (now in the US of A one and all) are the ones that readily come to mind. It’s possible that the rocker may have rocked many more infants in its seventy and odd years on Planet Earth. (In fact, Ujwal says she can think of at least two more occasions when the rocker went to homes of strangers.) Of the seven known babies it rocked, five now happen to live abroad. This may be no more than a coincidence, of course. I remember the name-giving (christening) ceremony of Ashu. The father’s and the mother’s respective sisters “give” out, i.e., announce, the names chosen by either side. (In Ashu’s case, the two names were Ashutosh, a name of Lord Shiva, and Ashish = "benediction".) Before that, the baby is lifted by one of the aunts and passed to her counterpart from under the bottom of the rocker – a somewhat dicey and risky procedure as far as the poor infant is concerned. I remember seeing this curious rigmarole on six occasions, five of them at 233 Khetwadi Main Road.