Sunday, June 15, 2008

Ilayaraja Music

I don't seem to want to listen to music other than Ilayaraja's. It might be keeping me away from a lot of other music, that I could regrettably be missing, but I think his music has special appeal to me because it was the music in the time I was growing up as a child. I remember Gharshana's "Rajadhi Raja" playing on radio as I was rushed up to get ready for school in time to catch the bus. The vocals are another reason. S.P.Balasubrahmanyam, S.Janaki, K.S.Chitra and Jesudas are the voices that defined Telugu film music in that age, and they were always at their best when they sung for Ilayaraja. Listening to his music brings back another time, and the feeling that I'm in India.

I am discovering a lot of Ilayaraja music on Youtube, mostly in Tamil and a lot of which I hadn't heard before, and though I don't understand more than a few words, there is a certain delight in listening. A few ones I've been playing are here:

The first one, Ilayaraja composed for one of Mani Rathnam's early films in 1983. It has been used as the jingle for Idea cellular advertisements recently, R.Balakrishnan the director of the ad is a fan of Ilayaraja music. He also made the recent Hindi film "Cheeni Kum", featuring some rehashed versions of Ilayaraja classics. That is probably testimony to the music's lingering quality. That or that Ilayaraja has a way of forming a die-hard fan club.

With many music directors, many voices and many films today, there is somehow a lesser lingering quality to current Telugu music. It is of course not wise to ask for the monopoly of one single music director or vocalist, as countless people have the desire to sing or make music and some will indeed bring a new wave. But, repetition and a lack of experimentation on the part of music directors and vocalists has led to the creation of music that sounds alright but isn't noteworthy. There is a distinctive feel to Ilayaraja's music, and there is great variety making his music memorable.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Twenty Three years Old

And so my birthday falls at a time when winter is beginning to change into spring, a time for possible sunshine, and potential sickness. I fell sick again this year like I did last time. I went to visit a doctor on the 24th, and I heard people wish her happy birthday. So I saw the doctor on her birthday, and she seeing my birth date on my record, wished me a happy birthday in advance. So in the grand scheme of things, I must have been born on the 25th of March so that in 2008, I would wish a doctor and her me. Or maybe there's more. The film director David Lean, musician Elton John and actress Sarah Jessica Parker were also born today (Happy Birthday, if one of you is reading this). I will just have to wait and see if they'll put me up on that list. That was maybe an act of self-indulgence, but I guess you're allowed that on your birthday. Thanks all of you who wished me well, and made my day less ordinary.

Addendum: Actually, that page is on Wikipedia, which means I could put myself on that list now, but that can wait till I'm eligible.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Jodhaa Akbar

Last Sunday, my room mates and I went to see the hindi film Jodhaa Akbar playing in Indianapolis. The film was entertaining, but leaves much to be desired. There was a sense of a missing style, the film was no different from Doordarshan serials based on history, except for a more sophisticated approach (the dialogue and acting was more restrained and realistic). Period Dramas are such excellent opportunities for film makers to put together beautifully made films, with gorgeous costumes and sets and stylish shots. The cinematography of the film was rather lacking in inspiration, and really made that connection for me with Doordarshan serials. The plot was not very complex, and the lack of a fresh storytelling style, made the film somewhat ordinary. The music didn't seem to fit with the film, especially with the songs. Synthesized sounds and heavy orchestration made them seem anachronistic.

The film brings Satyajit Ray's Shatranj ke Khiladi to mind, another drama set in Mughal times. Ray, being the director he is, made a beautiful film. Especially with cinematography, the shots make beautiful use of light and the sets. I think the strength was also in the film's script, with only a handful of main characters for the audience to concentrate upon, we are left with an intimate understanding of the characters. I can't say that with Jodhaa Akbar, possibly because the lead roles are played by popular stars with whom it is difficult for the audience to leave out their real life personas, but also because the lead roles are portrayed as almost perfect people, in line with Bollywood tradition.

Jodhaa Akbar is promoted as a love story, the name itself evokes Romeo and Juliet. But, the climax which involves a conflict between Akbar and his brother-in-law, has nothing to do with their love. The final scene, in which Akbar asks Jodhaa to join him on the throne probably was intended to bring back to mind that the film is called Jodhaa Akbar. A stronger script would have highlighted the events in the film as being a test of their love. At the end of the first half before the interval, the only conflict in their love ends, and the second half is devoted mostly to tying loose ends. Maybe there wasn't enough information available about Jodhaa and Akbar's love to warrant making a film. The story of an intercultural marriage between a Muslim king and a Hindu princess I would think would surely have a lot of interesting episodes with culture clashes and ideology conflicts. By the way, I thought this blog by people who are married to people from other cultures, one of them an American woman married to a Telugu man, had some funny posts. From the posts, it is clear that there is plenty to talk about in an inter-cultural marriage. There are a few scenes that depict these conflicts, to give credit to the film, but if it was supposed to be a film about a love story, there had to be more.

Amitabh Bachchan narrates in the beginning of the film yet again. He did even in Ray's film, but Ashutosh Gowariker himself had used that device in Lagaan too. It is difficult to write the script in a manner that communicates the historical setting without resorting to narration, as the story will have to emerge through the scenes. That would also possibly make the film longer. Shatranj is 129 minutes, while Jodhaa is 213 minutes long. At that length, even with the song length subtracted, there was no reason why there couldn't have been more innovation by way of storytelling in Jodhaa. Jodhaa Akbar is possibly a shining film among its counterparts in Bollywood, but as good cinema it falls short.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Away but not Gone.

I haven't posted since August. Last semester was pretty occupied, this semester feels occupied, though I don't seem to be getting much done. I am looking for and applying to jobs, working on my final project and an independent study. Some random observations about recent times, to warm up to posting more.

I was in India in Dec-Jan for a month, and I guess I am still hung over from being there. The trip to India was a good time, meeting family and friends. Thirty days were gone very quickly. While I was there, I seemed to feel "empowered", it felt like I had the energy to change things there. From confusing airport procedures and less than friendly bank service to congested roads and poorly implemented traffic rules, there was an element of a lack of thinking on the part of people thinking about these services and procedures, and everything seemed like it could potentially be made better using good design. Or, maybe it was that inevitable foreign-returned-contempt-for-the-country. I didn't ask for bottled water though, so maybe I was an inch better.

I was at the Student Recreation and Sports Center (SRSC) at Indiana University yesterday, and jogged in the indoor track. I was at the SRSC to exercise for the very first time since I came to IU. While I was jogging, all I kept thinking was about what status message to have on Facebook and Gmail, "Balakrishna is wondering if the heavens are crying, he was at the SRSC exercising for the very first time", and then having somewhat of an obsessive compulsive tendency, I was refining that sentence while jogging additional rounds. "Does exercising sound good in that sentence, or should I say jogged?", "the heavens are crying, or should I say will start crying", "the heavens are crying? but it's been raining here in the last couple days, so should I say it's going to be sunny?". In the end, I didn't have a status message after all. Well, I have this post. I guess it's a human need to express oneself, or maybe I am narcissistic. It felt good after I ran, first, because I was doing something new and second, running seemed to lift my spirits.

Last week, I saw a six hour movie, called "The best of youth", it is among my favorites now. The film tracks a family over the years, their lives intertwined with historic events in Italy. It is a wonderful film that makes you feel good about life, family and friendship. The six hour duration seemed well justified, and the characters are memorable. The concept for the script, to intertwine a family's story with historic events in a place is so good, and possibly could be replicated to make good films based in other places. There haven't been well made period films in Telugu, not at least in the last ten years, and this could be a concept well suited to adapting.

I was just reading entries about me from the yearbook from IIIT, after looking at a friend's orkut profile that had a link to his yearbook entries. It felt nostalgic, and I always feel good reading those because most of them heap praise on me. There are a few of them that write that I am an anxious person, and a few that I needed to be more outgoing. I might have improved from that time on both fronts. Or at the least, I can fake kewlness.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

A year in the USA

Aug 7th was the anniversary of my landing in the United States. It was a year that was quick.

A year of staying away from home. A year of tasting my own broth, cooking Cauliflowers, Tomatoes or Capsicums in a one-method-for-all manner, with obviously mixed results. A year of dollars, quarters, dimes and cents. A year of watching some great movies, courtesy the university library and Netflix. A year of making the transition from studying Computer Science to studying Human Computer Interaction Design. Consequently, a year of design projects and group meetings, a year of romanticizing the idea of being a “Designer” (a wonderful notion that really made my days at times) and sometimes living it. And as with other years, a year of some hopes dashed, and some made.

I had the idea that at the end of the year I would write about the changes that I underwent in the year, and have been thinking about what might have changed in the way I see or do things. Here they are.

One. I have an opinion about everything, or at least I can form one quickly enough. And more importantly, I am more prone to say it now than I was a year back. I was at the contemporary art museum in Denver, trying to tell myself I was more than a philistine. The woman at the counter asked me friendly, “So what did you think about the exhibit?”. “I didn’t make much of it myself, the brochure helped though”, I said rather haughtily, to my own surprise and embarrassment.

I guess it takes longer than a year to shed off your philistine-ness. I’ve been trying hard though, having been at two art fairs, two times to the Denver Art Museum and once to the contemporary art museum (which had only that one exhibit) all in this summer. And considering that I finished the book I was reading on my flight to the USA, J.M.Coetzee’s Youth, on my flight to Denver (that’s over a period of nine months), I have to be more focused if I am indeed to progress beyond philistine-ness (Is that a proper word? To my credit, I finished Arundhati Roy’s The God of small things within a month this Summer, and consequently I have taken a fascination for made-up words, which she makes use of to great effect). Interestingly, Youth is about a young South African who thinks about being a poet, but doesn't make the effort to write. There might be a lesson to take there.

Two. I can talk a little more about myself in conversations. Looking at all the “I”s here, I guess that’s a little more than obvious.

Three. I am less shy to ask for help. “They’ll think I am being nice since I want help”, I would say to myself usually. Now I deliberate a little lesser, I just call or ask.

Four. I might have a better sense of humor. Thinking back, if it were now, my response would have been a little different to the stupid joke one of my classmates at the IIIT played on me. He drew a woman’s breast and asked me what it was. I said “a W with two dots in it”, appalled. I guess I would take it as a joke now, and smile. Probably.

Five. I have no qualms about eating food while walking on the road, or drinking Coca Cola in the classroom. A year ago, I had the now strange seeming idea that either was inappropriate.

And Six. I might have an accent. I guess making fun of people who can’t speak their mother tongue properly after a stint abroad, has some side effects.

But when you meet me, if I come across as having exaggerated these changes, attribute it to my effort to make my writing interesting, or to having put on an act to have you say the rather nice “You haven’t changed”.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Denver Diary

It's been a month and ten days since I set foot in Denver. It's definitely been an interesting experience. I must say life when you're working full time, is very different.

The company I work for has five employees, including myself. We're all Indian, and that has meant that I've had very few conversations with Americans. My little rendezvous (I just learnt the word has its plural spelled the same way, but pronounced differently, interesting.) with people behind the counters at shops, has left me, undeservedly so for Denverites, with mixed feelings about their friendliness. Sometimes they were rude, sometimes they were very friendly. Undeservedly, because I guess people behind the counters can't be real people: at Starbucks they'll always be warm because I hear they can lose their jobs if they aren't (but I wouldn't discount that it's difficult being so).

On my street for over a mile, there're many automobile related shops: car parts, car washes and the like, but no supermarkets, which is wonderful considering that I can't drive, and don't have a car. There's a grocery shop opposite my apartment run by a family from Pakistan , where I get some things, but not all (another reduced opportunity to talk with an American, but the family is friendly and helpful).

It's a little strange to be living in the United States, and interacting only with Indians for the most part. Not that that's bad, but I think part of the interesting thing about being in another country is to interact and make friends with the people there. So my interactions, being in the workplace, concern javascript, html and the like. Some other interactions happen on the way to work and back home also with people from the office. The company is only a ten minute walk away, so these conversations are short, but thankfully about other things, and I must admit I do look forward to these conversations.

I had a roommate, for the first 30 days or so before he left to India, and during that time, I would have some conversation with him. He always took about two minutes to respond to what I said, so my patience meant that the conversation was mostly short. But these conversations were a respite, allowing me to vent any apprehensions and fears about my new workplace as he seemed to listen, and then there were Telugu movies and cooking for the day (we took turns) to talk about. Now I am all by myself in a two bedroom apartment, and need to move to another place in the middle of next month, when the lease expires.

It's my theory that people need to talk about things that make them happy, not just do them, to be happy. So my experience watching a movie, walking a street in a new city or eating at a good restaurant, are seldom complete until I tell people about them, and have them tell me back what a wonderful time I was having! I don't know if that's true for most people. It might be something worth investigating and might hold the answer to what motivates people to write blogs, share photos, set status messages and the like. So my theory leaves me looking for places to start conversations, and that's how I've been spending most of my time in the evenings: chatting online and ocassionally on the phone. Once or twice a week I get a movie from Netflix, having taken the one-DVD-at-a-time subscription. And last week when I received a damaged DVD, for lack of anything else to do, I fell prey to Youtube. For almost a week, I've been watching bits and pieces of David Letterman's and Ellen Degeneres' chat shows all evening. It's left me feeling a little shallow at the end of the week, and I should be changing course. Not that they're not entertaining, but I guess I was taking in too much at a time.

So that's how I live. At the workplace from 9.30-6.30, and then at home spending time as mentioned. I must say it can be very lonely if not for the chats online and on the phone. Weekends add colour to the week, as I get to do something else, thus get something to talk about, and then get to have to find somebody to tell it to. Thanks for reading and being that somebody.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Inspired by Paris je t'aime

I went to see the film Paris je t'aime (Paris, I love you) yesterday. It has about 20 short stories about love, set in different locations in Paris. I loved the film, as it has like 20 different directors for each of the short films, and a host of brilliant actors. I particularly liked the ones by Wes Craven, Gurindher Chadha, The Coen brothers, Alexander Payne, Tom Tykwer and Gus Van Sant.

Inspired by Paris je t'aime, I set out to write a script for a story set in Hyderabad. A husband and wife on their way to buy a necklace.


Raju and Sunitha are driving to a jewellery shop on their motorbike. They halt at the traffic light near Sarathi studios. Sunitha has her arms clasped on Raju's chest, and her head over his shoulder.

Sunitha: How much do I have to buy the necklace ?
Raju: They don't sell necklaces for Queen Victoria there, I am sure I'll have enough for you.
Sunitha: Alright then, I'll have the best one.
Raju: Yeah you should get something enough to keep you quiet for five years.
Sunitha: I never asked you for one, you said it was a gift for our first anniversary.
Raju: Yeah, like that is indeed some reason to set me off by a lakh.
Sunitha: Is it then because you love me so much.

Sunitha is laughing. Raju is smiling.

Sunitha: A lakh is something, I thought you would buy me something to the order of 10, 000.
Raju: Okay then, we'll make it 10, 000.

The traffic moves. Raju and Sunitha drive through to get to Ameerpet, the traffic moves at snail's pace. They move past the footwear store Bata.

Sunitha: Can I get new footwear too ?
Raju: Anything for madam. It will be closed by the time we get back, we'll go another day.
Sunitha: Okay.

They move on again only to come to a halt after a short distance.

Sunitha: There is a lot of traffic today.
Raju: Yeah, maybe all husbands are buying things for their wives.
Raju: You should learn driving. I also don't use the car often, it's always at home.
Sunitha: Yeah good idea, you should get me a credit card too, in that case.
Raju: I take back my idea. Anyways, isn't my driving you around, oh so romantic ?
Sunitha: It just seems hectic to me, with all the traffic.
Raju: I should have listened when my aunts cautioned me about marrying an intelligent woman.

The traffic moves on and they reach the building where the jewellery shop is located. They enter the jewellery shop, and the owner of the shop, on seeing them approaches to welcome them. They exchange hellos. Sunitha is looking around to see where necklaces are located. The owner and Raju smile at each other.

Sunitha: They're there, I'll go look.

Raju follows Sunitha, as the owner moves ahead of them to get ready to show them the necklaces. The owner opens up boxes and puts them before Sunitha for her to look. Sunitha looks at them, and immediately picks one up.

Sunitha: Look Raju, this one's similiar to the one Shobhana was wearing in what film was that, ..., and I said I loved it, remember ?

Raju is smiling.

Sunitha: How much is this ?
Owner: 95,000 madam.
Sunitha: Can I take this Raju, it's anyway 5,000 short of the budget you had in mind.
Raju: Yeah, take it.

Sunitha closes the box to hand it over to the owner, when on the box she glances at an engraving.

Sunitha: For Sunitha ?

Raju is smiling. Sunitha smiles back, overwhelmed.

Raju: Thank god, you didn't pick any of the other ones, I paid all that money to have this one made for you.