|ARTS TRIBUNE||Friday, July 6, 2001, Chandigarh, India|
your moorings, says Jatin Das
The camera does not lie
It has already been said several times, but needs repeating: The Chennai drama would simply not have had the same impact had we not seen it with our own eyes. That shattering image of an out-numbered Mr Karunanidhi, shouting and wailing, being carried out like a sack of potatoes by the police, outraged all who were watching.
great gamble pays off
Hail Cricket ! Manly British game !
First of all sports! Be alike first in fame!
From "Cricket: A Heroic Poem" (1744) by James Love
Reading the above lines, one can well imagine how shocked and insulted a vain British officer would feel if an Indian dared to call cricket a "bhaddha aur sadiyal khel." That’s exactly what happens in "Lagaan." To avenge this blasphemy, the officer, Captain Russel, challenges the courageous villager Bhuvan (played by Aamir Khan) to beat the British at their own game and get tax exemption for three years. A defeat would mean tripling of the tax and sealing of the drought-hit villagers’ fate. Bhuvan takes up the gauntlet and builds a fledgling team. Against all odds, the village eleven wins the match and deflates the sahebs’ pride.
Another feel-good fairy tale from Bollywood? At a cursory glance, yes, but look deeper and one finds that "Lagaan" is a complex film in which fiction goes hand in hand with history, now mirroring it, now transforming it.
Cricket began in England as a leisurely game for gentlemen, aiming to epitomise the cultural superiority of the English. It was learnt the hard way by natives in several British colonies. They mastered it, infused passion into it. Today the hub of cricket is not England but the Indian sub-continent, where it is the opium of the masses. The erstwhile masters are now among the also-rans of the game. Writer Ashish Nandy is hardly exaggerating when he writes in his book "The Tao of Cricket", that cricket is "an Indian game accidentally discovered by the British." Through its bizarre tale, "Lagaan" encapsulates cricket’s transformation from an idyllic, elitist sport to a popular substitute for war. The film also emphasises its significance as a legacy of the Raj.
Set in Champaner village in 1893, "Lagaan" celebrates the glorious uncertainties the game is famous for. Incidentally, in 1877, a team of Parsees, which was perhaps the first community in India to take up cricket, recorded an upset win over a team of Europeans. The way the Parsees started out to play the game bears a curious resemblance to the villagers’ crude methods in the film. "The British brought their equipment from home and the Parsees initially played with their cast-off implements," says an encyclopaedia of cricket. "They learnt the game with bats that were no more than bundles of splinters and fragments held together with string." In the film, much of the playing kit — bats, pads, gloves etc, — is the creation of the villagers themselves.
Though "Lagaan" is a period film, its script is written with the intention of appealing to the contemporary viewer, particularly the cricket buff. There are references to sledging, match-fixing, illegal bowling action — all part and parcel of the modern game. In its last session, the three-day match becomes an exciting one-dayer, with the required run rate rising with every delivery.
The game of cricket also works as an allegory for the freedom struggle. The village is a microcosm of the country suffering under the yoke of colonial rule. The cause of freedom (read tax exemption) makes the villagers forget differences of caste, class, religion, etc. and unites them. The improbable victory is achieved through the efforts of the entire village, and not just of the 11 players. The womenfolk rise to the occasion by crafting pads and gloves and organising community kitchen for all three days of the do-or-die match.
The area in which this otherwise path-breaking movie disappoints is its portrayal of the British characters. As in previous Hindi commercial films set in the Raj days, the British are painted in black or white. On one hand, we have the sadistic Russel. Not content to lord it over the "darkies," he wants to humiliate them too. Totally lacking in sportsmanship, he tries to win the match by using unfair means. On the other hand, there is Elizabeth, the good Englishwoman. In spite of her brother’s admonitions, she teaches the villagers all about the game, familiarises herself with their culture and also silently loves Bhuvan. The focus on the match, however, precludes development of a unique love triangle involving Elizabeth, Bhuvan and his beloved, Gauri.
It is surprising that in a cricket-crazy and movie-crazy country like ours, a remarkable cricket movie has appeared only now. Earlier attempts like "Awwal Number" and "All-Rounder" are best forgotten. In an unprecedented gamble, the makers of "Lagaan" have spent Rs 25 crore on a cricket movie and made an hour-long match as its climax. And it works !
Great sports movies are usually about heroism, about triumphs achieved under adverse circumstances. Take the Hollywood film "Rocky," in which a small-time boxer defeats a champion. Or "Chariots of Fire," in which a Jewish athlete, driven by the urge to beat a racist system, wins a gold medal at the 1924 Olympics. "Lagaan" deserves to be placed on the same pedestal as these two. Being a commercial movie whose main aim is to please viewers, "Lagaan" ends on a triumphant note. One doubts whether the village team would have won the match, had it been a Shyam Benegal or Govind Nihalani film. But then it would have been a whole different ball game.
Going by the enthusiastic response to
the film, Aamir’s gamble seems to have paid off. The question is:
will "Lagaan’s " success inspire film-makers to produce
quality movies on cricket or any other sport?
to your moorings, says Jatin Das
One of the judges at the recently held Shimla Queen 2000 pageant at Shilon Bag Resorts near Shimla was the noted painter, Jatin Das. While talking to this writer he revealed that he was a great lover of nature and not in favour of fashion shows like the one where he was a judge. Then why was he there? He replied: "Normally I refuse to attend fashion shows, but my designer friends insisted that I came. And when I learnt that Uma Sharma, the renowned dancer, was to be one of the judges I agreed. She too insisted on my being on the panel of judges." Besides, he also wanted to visit Shimla.
Jatin had just returned from Kerala where he had gone to attend an artistes’ camp. Twenty artistes from all over the country had participated. Before that, he was in Sri Lanka for some work.
When asked about his daughter, Nandita Das, a renowned actress, he said she was devoted to social service and had mastered the art of social work. She also acted in films with social messages and with women and children. "I have not given her any training. She is doing what she wants to do. I act more, as her uncle and my kids are independent right from young age," he explained.
"I have come to Shimla a few times before, but not to this place, which has beautiful natural surroundings. I am a great lover of nature and go to different places — to the hills, to the sea. I like to listen to music and also have passion for writing", he revealed. The world of music, poetry and painting is altogether different from the world of glamour," he said.
Talking about his work he said: "I paint in oils. I have made a large, 82-foot mural in Parliament. For the past two years I have been building a museum in Bhuvaneswar and am working in a cyclonic village in Orissa. I have a studio in Delhi and I paint and hold exhibitions of my paintings. I am also building a studio at a place between Dehra Dun and Mussourie."
Jatin belongs to Orissa and his wife is a housewife. He grew up in Mumbai where he studied arts. He has been living in Delhi for the past 30 years. His son is in the final year of National Institute of Design. His opinion about the men entering Beauty pageants? "Honestly speaking, there is money and glamour in this field. So then why will men not get attracted to it" he asked.
Jatin felt the fashion shows were too westernised. Women were wearing only western clothes. He said: "India has a fantastic variety of clothing. Our culture is much more rich and I wonder why they can’t exhibit the Indian dresses. Lots of women don’t speak their own language and follow own culture. It is a borrowed, superficial stream. Can you think of a American, Russian, French or German girl say ‘I don’t know my own language; I only know Hindi’?"
Only when you are deeply rooted in
your culture, can you learn from others’ progress otherwise you are
all on the surface. Everybody wants to stay in five star hotels and
adapt Western clothes and fashions. Young people should imbibe their
own culture first; there is so much in this country itself. It is out
of inferiority complex that one looks outside. You should do things
you are interested in and stick to your own moorings, and then only
would you flourish," he asserted.
A unique glass exhibition was on recently in New Delhi where the work of students from Dudley College International Glass Centre of the United Kingdom was displayed.
Attractive and colourful flower vases, showpieces, wall hangings and perfume bottles, all made of glass, in all shapes and sizes was a feast for the eyes of all visitors to Visual Arts Gallery at the India Habitat Centre in the Capital.
All exhibits in the glass exposition were the manifestation of the endeavours of the students, pursuing courses in glass blowing and decorative skills.
"People generally are not aware of such courses. This exhibition was organised just to inform them that such kinds of courses do exist," Sujata Raina, spokesperson for Narula International, the company that represents Dudley College in India, told UNI.
"People visiting the exposition could see how glass can be explored and moulded. You can make anything out of it, what you need is creativity and, of course, knowledge about the technicalities of glass blowing," she added.
In the season of creativity and aesthetics, Chandigarh once again played host to a multitude of theatrical experiences and experiments. While children of the city learnt and attempt to perform theatre through a crop of workshops organised by several enterprising groups, the grown-ups too learnt a thing or too via specially crafted sessions and festivals in the discipline of theatre. Once such an ambitious endeavour was made by Chandigarh Mafia to introduce and familiarise the residents with their weeklong First Alternative Theatre utsav.
A collaborative venture with Parnab Mukherjee, a young spirited journalist with passion towards this medium, restructured and redefined the essence had interpretations of theatre for many through the festival. About his latest experiment of conducting theatre in alternate spaces, Parnab comments on the contextual connotation of his sort of drama by saying: "In different situations, at different stages, my theatre has been termed as ‘poor’, ‘free’, ‘third’, ‘street’, et. I’d like to submit that performed within the periphery of its situation reference and thematic conceptualisation, my medium assumes various shades of this divergent and volatile performing art called ‘theatre’. It is then that it becomes distinctively separate from the otherwise defined forms such as stage theatre or nukkad or any other that exist in the genre of theatre. In our country, this volcanic activity has sadly suffered ‘popular autocracy’ wherein the likes and dislikes of a spectator are the sole criterion for noticing or dismissing theatre."
The hard-hitting realism that was intentionally projected in the plays performed during the festival bore tremendous morbidity and was at times unpalatable for the darshak. Parnab’s interpretation of Badal Sircar’s Bhoma — a play devoid of characters, story and continuity cringed on the ‘verbose script’s words, sound and body movements, installations, placards, symbols and gestures. The Abstract depiction of any theme cannot and certainly should not lose its sense of prosperiety. Draping and dropping of the country’s national flag (shown in the concluding part of "Bhoma") in a bid to ‘communicate’ through theatrical gimmickry definitely outrages the sentiments of public respect and therefore cannot be justified as a mere act of theatrical visualisation.
In the common parlance of theatre, ‘sab chalta hai!,’ if I may suggest, ignores the responsibility held by a performing artiste on certain occasions. After all to whom, what is being addressed? It would be naive to imagine that ambiguity of thought and action determines the space and ‘alternate’ character or any sort of theatre, anywhere in the world. The festival’s opening play could have been appropriately crafted and executed than the way it was while surely not prescribing itself to a stereotype theatre depiction. Repetition and recurring dialogues of "Bhoma" did succeed up to a point in bringing out the pathos in the play.
The seven plays performed during the alternative theatre festival were motivated primarily from the popular works of some of the most well-known playwrights of their times namely, Bertolt Brecht, Surinder Verma, Franca Rame, Yeno Heltai, Shuntaro Tanikawa, and Leo Tolstoy.
The festival-cum-workshop had other participants too besides the artistes of Chandigarh Mafia who exhibited talent and potential of the discipline through their convincing performances. Indraprastha College’s long-standing tradition of 75 years of powerful drama was brought to the forefront by Nandini Arora’s maiden attempt at a one-woman performance while doing a ‘theatre montage’ titled "Do Ekant Aur Do". Presented in the front lawns of Alliance Francaise Le Corbusier de Chandigarh, Sector 36, in this production Parnab brought out the concept of ‘portable theatre.’ "My theatre is light, sound and prop free," admits the enterprising 27-year-old director for whom more significant is the eventual information that a spectator takes back home after viewing a play. Parnab’s soliloquies, "Headpieces Filled With Straw" and "I, Nathuram Godse" were particularly well performed and appreciated by many. In his attempt to salvage proscenium theatre and at the same time bring forth newer ideas and notions of doing relevant theatre for the general public, Parnab developed a ‘consciousness’ that became the aim of his theatrical pursuits. With his inspirations placed in a maze of theatrical renderings including environmental theatre, Parnab Mukherjee might be the messiah for many amateur and aspiring theatre enthusiasts, all over the globe. In his own words: "We pursue consciousness via direct communication among humans — a la communion. In this communion, the communication being direct, without the mediation of intellectual equipment, it is not surprising that the villagers generally respond more spontaneously and at a deeper level than do their sophisticated counterparts in cities."
It has already been said several times, but needs repeating: The Chennai drama would simply not have had the same impact had we not seen it with our own eyes. That shattering image of an out-numbered Mr Karunanidhi, shouting and wailing, being carried out like a sack of potatoes by the police, outraged all who were watching. As Kamal Hassan put it, and he did so with all the respect he also has for Mr Karunanidhi, ironically, one of the finest film script-writers in the country: "It is as if I was watching my own father being assaulted." And people all over India who have a tradition of respect for elderly people, felt the same. Nothing that the police could offer afterwards with the belated screening of their own video, could erase that horrific picture of an old man, once Chief Minister of one of the most important states of India with a legendary culture of its own, being roughed up by the police.
And if Sun TV got there first and beat Jayalalitha’s TV to it, all kudos to them. It was a television scoop of the same professional dimensions and daring as the Tehelka tape of Bangaru Laxman caught red-handed with his hand literally in the till. Which proves all over again that intrepid reporters are still around and willing to risk their necks. And that television and the internet might have fixed corrupt and bullying politicians once and for all. The power of the visual image, with its immediacy and actuality, is truly awesome and in the right hands, can ensure not only exposure, but even justice.
Chennai put Agra a little in the shade for a day or two, but the press electronics media continues solidly with their work and tried out different ideas. If "Aaj Tak" got an exclusive with Imran Khan in Pakistan and Rajdeep Sardesai kept on slogging away with the common man and the price of tomatoes on the streets of Pakistan, Pankaj Pachauri of "Sawal Aapka" on Star News linked up the Delhi studio with people in Pakistan and had question-and-answer sessions with dialogue from across the border and India, and, in the studio politicians like Karan Singh and Home Minister Swami and their counterparts from Pakistan. This will go right on to the summit. There is also competition going on between the Indian and Pakistani media over VVIP interviews, which is all to the good, except one must have a healthy suspicion of too much anticipatory optimism.
Anyone who thinks that Doordarshan has the monopoly of ruining sports telecasts and flouting the wishes of sports lovers will have to think again. Star Sports is fast catching up. Throughout the first week of Wimbledon, its advertisements cut into the first few points of a game (once up to 30-love) and cut off completely the game score and expert comments analysing the previous game in between, as if it was enough to permit one to see the last shot of the game and hang the analysis. Then, with complete insensitivity, it pushed up the volume of its ads to such impossible decibels that one had to alternately cut down the volume once the commentary re-started. One expects the worst from Doordarshan, but that a Murdoch channel can behave so unprofessionally and crudely is unforgivable. Lastly, Nirupama Vaidyanathan understands the game but not the art of commentary. It is unfortunate, but women commentators tend to be incessant chatterboxes and feel they have to keep on talking non-stop. As if their jobs depended on it. If it was Andrea who suffered from verbal diarrhoea in previous years, it was Nirupama this year who went on and on talking her head off during rallies and not allowing one to concentrate. What she should learn is the art of silence when something absorbing is going on and analyse it between rallies so that the viewer is left undisturbed. Dragging in bio-datas and past history when she has nothing else to say makes it even worse. She should listen to tapes of Vijay Amritraj to learn how it is done, with expertise and elegance but without treating the viewer as if he does not exist or knows nothing about the game.