Wednesday, 9 March 2016

I've moved.. wordpress.

The 4 of you who actually read this blog can now follow me here -

..or not. Either way, thanks for reading. :)

A year at home

I moved back home February of last year. By home, I mean Madras (still have trouble thinking of it as Chennai). It's been an eventful year and a mixed bag at the same time. Since this is my 100th blog post, I feel like I should write up a brief (I swear I'll keep it short!) summary of what could well prove to be a landmark year in my life.

There were a few reasons why I chose to move back. Getting hit with the travel bug was one. Spending more time with the family was another. A change of career was the last reason. I managed to hit each of those goals in turn. That makes it sound like I went about it in a very focused systematic way. In truth, however, I took my characteristic inertia-driven approach.

I went on one trip literally two days after I moved back - to Kerala with my best friend K. Sadly, she hurt herself and we didn't get to see and do as much as we'd wanted to. Still, it's a trip I'll treasure. It seemed like Project-Travel was off to a good start.

Then all this cricket happened - the world cup, then IPL. Now, I'm not a big sports fan by any means. I didn't keep up with sports at all the entire decade I was away. But there's just something about watching cricket at home. It's infectious. And so much fun. Somewhere in there, there was tennis as well. Now tennis was always a sport I liked. I lost touch with it when I went away, mostly due to lack of access (no TV). So I watched parts of all the grand slams. This sports watching and otherwise mostly lazing period also doubled up as time spent with family. Inertia kicked in and I didn't make any attempt to plan more travel, and only very cursorily looked into career options.

Midway through the year, more travelling just sort of happened out of the blue - K was getting married and I (half-)invited myself to Meghalaya for the court wedding (it was my birthday when I asked if I could come so of course she couldn't say no). What a glorious place it was. This trip was like a scratch to the old itch. A couple more trips just sort of happened - first a quick trip to Japan, then an even shorter trip to Munnar. These were equal parts awesome and frustrating, thanks to not being on my own and free to do my own thing.

And so I started a planning the sort of trip I really wanted to go on - a freewheeling backpacking trip. Since I anyway had to be in the North East for K's wedding wedding, I decided to plan a trip around those dates - a week in Sikkim and another in Meghalaya. It ended up being an incredible experience. Highly recommend both those places for first-time backpackers (which I was) btw.

When I left on that trip, it was raining in Chennai. I came back two and a half weeks later to find that it was still raining. And then a couple of days later all hell broke loose - the floods. We were relatively safe thanks to living near the coast and not inside the city proper, but those were some scary, crazy days. After the first few days spent taking care of ourselves, it was time to look a little outside the immediate family circle and start thinking about others. Since I was basically jobless, it was a no-brainer to volunteer and help out where I could.

A month later, I was offered a full-time position at the NGO I was volunteering with and I accepted it. Seemed like the right thing to do. No regrets so far.

So there it is. My year back home. A work in progress, but so far so okay.

P.S.: I started off saying it was a mixed bag of a year, but haven't really talked about any of the really crappy parts of it. I mean on a personal level, the floods were pretty terrible but they did lead me to something good. There was worse in store for me when I came back from that fateful trip. Things that are still far from resolved, but I'm choosing to ignore for the moment. Denial is sometimes the only way to deal with some things. But no more about this.

Thursday, 25 February 2016

13th Chennai International Film Festival

I attended the Chennai International Film Festival (CIFF) this year. It was the 13th edition of the fest, but 'twas my first tryst with a film festival on this scale. The only other one I've ever attended was the Free State Festival, a couple of years ago; but that was a much smaller affair and not a purely film only deal. So this was all new to me, and pretty excited was I. I even went to the extent of cutting short a trip to be back home in time for the festival, which got postponed by about a month because of the floods in Chennai.

I came back from said trip the morning of the first day of the festival - Jan 6th - and could only go to the festival in time for the inaugural ceremony at Woodlands. First impression was "Film fest? More like sausage fest!" But this not being something new to me (my interests have always taken me to places heavily skewed towards the other sex), I shrugged it off and went about getting my delegate registration done. Turned out that the registration closes at 5pm and it was already 6, so they were turning people away. Here, my being the odd female in the line came in handy, and a nice guy from the registration team fast-tracked my application and got me an ID card. I think he, like the few others who came up and talked to me over the week, assumed I was "in the industry or a media person" and didn't want to get into trouble (could also be simply the being a female thing but sadly that's very rarely bought me any favours so I doubt it was that - more on this topic another time perhaps).

Registration finally done, I walked in to Woodlands where the inaugural ceremony was set to happen. I didn't care much for that ceremony, but I was very keen on watching the opening film Victoria. So it was quite disappointing to find the place completely packed with standing room only. I went and found a spot to stand in the corner and waited. And waited. True to form, the celebrities who were to do the inaugurating were late - fashionably so, perhaps, but in truth I found it annoyingly so. After standing around for a bit, I got fed up and went outside to find a seat. Found one, but then the mosquitoes found me. So back in I went. As I was standing inside again, I saw some guy carry a chair inside for someone. Probably an unexpected special guest. But this was enough of a precedent for me to decide to follow suit and bring in my own chair. I was comfortably ensconced on my plastic throne and the movie was just starting, when a couple of guys who were also standing decided to follow my example. This was all well and good, except they were blocking my view a bit and blocking the door completely. This last resulted in us all having to get up and shift every time someone wanted to go outside (man, people have really tiny bladders if they can't hold it in for the space of an hour and a half!). Still, in spite of all these annoyances, the movie completely drew me in. Loved it and was very glad to have caught it. I stayed back at the end to catch the credits (always do this especially when the music catches my attention) and was very pleasantly surprised to find that the music was by Nils Frahm - one of my favourite discoveries of 2014. Thus ended the first day of my film festival experience.

From day 2 onward, everyday was a mad rush from one venue to the next, one movie to the next, trying to cram as much movie watching as I could into every single day. The absolute maximum number of films one could possibly watch in a day was 4, given the show timings. I averaged about 3 overall, which isn't bad at all, but I could've done better if it weren't for a couple of goof ups on the part of the organizers. I'm making it sound like I did a lot of indiscriminate I-watched-this-too type viewings, but I assure you I chose my 25 movies after careful deliberation (shout-out here to the Twitter people, especially Venkatesh, whose recommendations, sometimes to others, I used a guide) and a lot of agonizing over what to watch and what to leave. I only ended up walking out of two movies out of all of those - a Sanskrit movie that was staged like a TV serial and another movie that wasn't as bad, but simply boring and not worth my time - and either liked or loved most of the rest. If I tried to write long pieces about each movie it would take even longer for me to publish this post, so I'm going to just copy/paste what I wrote to submit to the Film Buff contest thing (which I didn't win despite getting mentioned in their notable contributions list quite a lot..grr) at the end of this post.

Aside from the movie watching, the week was filled with more walking than I thought was in me. Walked from Woodlands to the Russian Cultural Centre and back, a distance of about 2.5km, quite a few times. Was quite proud of covering that distance in about 20-25 mins. Much quicker than taking the bus would have been given the waiting times and traffic. Still I did wish the venues weren't spread out quite so much. I couldn't make it to one of the venues - RKV Film and Television Institute - even once since that was completely out of the way and not easily accessible by bus even from the other venues. I tried Inox once, but doubt I'll ever go there again, even outside of the festival. Typical multiplex with the most annoying security blocks, overly loud sound system and oh, so cold - both the temperature and the general ambiance. Also, was really annoyed by more than half the people in line for Phoenix at Inox getting turned away due to there being no room, after having waited in line for a good half an hour or more. Is it too much to ask for them to let us know beforehand that there was only room for the first 100 or whatever? By the time they finally told us, it was already too late to change plans and go to a different movie (see previous note about spread-out-edness of the venues). On a more positive note, Casino was my favourite out of all the venues I did go to. Loved the old-school single screen (nice curved screen too) set up. The temperature and sound were just right too. Also helped that every movie I saw there was good and the crowd, being much smaller in number, was less disruptive as well.

Here's a breakdown of all the films I managed to watch, categorized by how much I enjoyed them:

Loved  - Victoria, Taxi, The Forbidden Room, Embrace of the Serpent, Kirumi, Masaan, Pisasu, The Marriage of Maria Braun

Liked - RAMS, The Fencer, Radio Petti, Court, Short Skin, Virgin Mountain, Dora or the Sexual Neuroses of Our Parents, Anwar ka Ajab Kissa, Chronic

Meh - Phoenix, Mountains May Depart, Zero Point, Story of my father bike, Maya

Just no - Priyamanasam

Need to watch again (because I was too tired or only walked in partway through, etc.) - Aferim!, Lili Marleen

I was curious to see how the award ceremony would play out. Was wondering if it would be just another pointless popularity contest or if worthy films and filmmakers would actually be recognized. Must say the cynic in me was both very pleasantly surprised and proven right. The jury awards went to Kirumi and Radio Petti - both very deserving. Was also very happy to see the actor who played the old protagonist in Radio Petti getting a special jury award (I actually squealed and got out of my chair to clap as hard as I could!) - his character was hands down the most adorable of all the ones I saw all through the fest. The other awards of the evening, the best actor and actress awards were much more predictable and disappointing, respectively. Arvind Swamy winning the award was almost a given, and I think he was pretty damn good in a slightly above average movie, so no major issues there. But Nayantara winning the best actress award for Maya made me roll my eyes so hard. That movie simply didn't work for me at all - an interesting on paper but completely ruined on screen deal - and her part in it was so blah that I couldn't believe it. Then I heard all the cheering and whistling and remembered that the core audience here were young males who for whatever reason go crazy for her. Still, if they'd stopped with that I wouldn't have been so disappointed. But then they had to go and give her another award - a youth icon award! This made me positively groan out loud. I really don't get the hype around her at all. She's an okay actress but I haven't seen yet what's so amazing about her. I can name half a dozen other women who're her contemporaries who're way way better. Oh well. Still, at least the jury awards were on point, and that's to be appreciated.

Overall, this was a great experience and I can't wait for the next edition!

As promised, here are some of the mini reviews I wrote for that film buff contest. I wanted to share all of them, but after trying a few times, a few different ways to get in touch with the organizers of the fest and get them to give me a copy of all my entries, I gave up. These are the ones that got mentioned in their notable entries facebook posts, which thankfully are still up on their page. I really wish there was a way to get all of them though, because I wrote some pretty nice pieces, if I do say so myself.

Note to self: Next time, save a copy of every entry, or better still, just post them directly on your own blog since that contest is a sham anyway (/sour grapes).

Victoria (Germany, 2015)

A slow burning conversational piece that seamlessly switches gears into a high octane thriller. Much like the titular Victoria herself after that cocaine hit - the girl who was just coasting along turns into the one driving events. The single shot cinematography adds to the experience by making the viewer part of the gang, in a fly-on-the-wall sort of way. Special props for the music by Nils Framn and to the director for making good use of it - the scene in the night club comes to mind. A+

The Fencer (Finland, 2015)

While this movie follows the basic template of a sports film - the coach with baggage of his own, the team of unlikely children he trains, underdogs in a tough competition, etc. - what really made this film was the performances. The children especially were wonderful. This was my first time watching such a movie on a big screen and the experience of spontaneous applause from the audience at crucial moments really brought home the magic of the big screen. A genre film done right.

Taxi  (Iran, 2015)

Sharp, funny, poignant..I could go on listing adjectives but none would do this film any justice. I will say though that watching it made me happy. So so so happy. Smiled my way through the whole movie and couldn't stop smiling even after it ended. In conclusion, here's another adjective - Inspiring!

RAMS (Iceland, 2015)

A heartwarming tale of two estranged brothers from cilly Iceland. Lots of little flourishes of simple humour in this one. Especially loved the scene where he scoops his brother up using a bulldozer and dumps him off at the hospital unceremoniously. Kudos to the director for making me so invested in these characters that I had my heart in my mouth during the final act. I wanted those sheep to survive almost as much as those brothers did. And I hope they did!


These two, I saved to my email because I had trouble connecting to their website:

Maya (India, 2015)

This film had a lot of interesting elements but they just didn't add up to make a cohesive whole. As a horror film it really did not work for me at all and I'm not even a particularly brave person. Way too much reliance on slow-mo shots and loud music and not enough meat. The characters weren't fleshed out well and I simply couldn't bring myself to care for their fates. Overall a big thumbs down from me for this one.

Pisasu (India, 2014)

On the surface this may seem like a horror movie, but it has so many layers and possible readings. Is it an epic love story? A metaphor for marriage? All of the above,  and more perhaps. And then there's that song and the choreography in it. Not choreography in the conventional sense because the dancer wasn't in front of the camera, rather the camera itself was the one dancing! Very interesting film that richly rewards repeat viewings.


I simply have to write something about the other two movies that I really loved, so...

The Forbidden Room (Canada, 2015)

This movie made me go from "what the fuck" to "I still have no idea, but I love this!" pretty quickly. It was like being stuck in a Michel Gondry dream or something. Very fascinating, very cool. The credits told me that Venetian Snares did the music - such a perfect fit. Also, the director is also from Winnipeg, like V Snares. Must be something in the air there. Produces the most twistedly creative people. More please!

Embrace of the Serpent (Colombia, 2015)

Gorgeous b&w film shot in a part of the world I am desperately longing to visit - that was enough to sell me on it. But my, what a captivating and haunting movie this was. Loved the structure of it, loved the performances, loved everything. Such a special movie experience this was. So glad I could watch it on the big screen. 

Friday, 12 February 2016

Jil Jung Juk - amusing, even if a bit too self-conscious

Saw a movie first day for the first time ever (that I remember) today. That wasn't the only unusual thing about it. I normally avoid heavily hyped things because I find the hype to be a big turn off. Especially hype that precedes the actual release of whatever is being hyped. Not sure why I made an exception this time - the soundtrack got my attention early, maybe that's why?

Either way, I'm not regretting my choice and wishing my money back in my wallet. That might sound like very lukewarm praise, especially considering the hype machine is going into overdrive even post release for this movie. But the movie suffered from a case of trying too hard and falling short for the most part. More style than substance. Very much a product of its time - said time being one filled with easily shareable memes. This is going to make me sound like a hipster, but I was on the internet before it was overrun with these kids and their social media, and remember when memes were more in-jokes among a relatively small user base in an internet forum. For me at least, the appeal of these was in the fact that they were a way to bond with a select group of people with similar interests. But those days are gone, and I'm rambling on.

Back to the movie itself, there were some good laughs to be had and some of the music choices were quite delightful. My favourite part of the movie was when a carnatic piece was used as the soundtrack for a shoot-out sequence - "cue cool music" Indian style; QT would be proud. The jokes that got the most laughs out of me (and most of the audience in the show I watched) were the perverted ones (duh) - the porn references especially. Loved those. The dude who played Juk (where have I seen him before?) also had some funny moments that I enjoyed though his character was a bit over-milked at places.

The thrills weren't as thrilling as they wanted to be (though the music and the camera tried their very best), but since I didn't go in expecting a thriller, I wasn't disappointed by that. What I found frustrating was the rushed nature of the whole thing. Maybe this was done on purpose to make repeat viewings necessary. Maybe it's another sign of the the ADD filled times we live in. Maybe I'm just slow. I did wish there were subtitles at a lot of places (why, oh why, must the bass on soundtrack be so loud and drown out the voice and make me miss huge chunks of the dialog?), and my Tamil reading skills are admittedly a bit rusty so the Tamil-only captions that went whizzing by made me go aargh. If I watch this again, it's most probably not going to be in a theater. I must have the power to pause and rewind!

I said if just now, but I probably should have said when. So yeah, the whackiness was a bit overdone and the movie wasn't all it could have been, but it was still entertaining and not stereotypical. And that's a win. When the vast majority of Tamil movies that are churned out still stick to stupid boring formulas, it's refreshing to see something, anything, new. Even if it isn't really all that new in the larger scheme of things. It's better to have tried and not (completely) succeeded than to have never tried at all, right? If it's true for love, surely it's true for movies, which are a product of love. Or should be. This one clearly was, and for that, it gets a pass.  

Thursday, 21 January 2016

Live Music Saves the Day (yet again)

On Monday last I made my way to Alliance Française de Madras after a rather trying day. The reason I braved the awfully crowded Chennai city buses during peak hour traffic time was a concert, as is usually the case with me. I'd seen a listing on AFM's events page for a very intriguing concert - Indo-Creole Project - sometime ago and had made a note of it on my calendar.

At that point, I was still on my sabbatical and thought I'd easily be able to make it. Things changed, however, and from completely jobless and vetti, I went to super busy a little too quickly. Still, I was determined to not miss this show, and boy, was I glad I made that choice!

I walked in a little later than the 7pm start time cursing the slow service at the worst fast food place ever (ChicKing on Nungambakkam High Road) that was to blame. I say walked in, but it was more like dashed in - climbed the four flights of stairs to the Edouard Michelin Auditorium two steps at a time - more or less completely out of breath only to find the show hadn't started yet after all. For about 10 minutes I was glad that they always seem to keep this auditorium at about 15 degrees for whatever reason. After that, I was glad that I remembered to bring my shawl with me. Wrapped up in said shawl, I waited for the concert to begin.

The father-son duo of René and Marc Lacaille took the stage first. While I don't have too much experience with Creole music, I have some rather strong ties to music from the Caribbean having spent some time during my formative years in the West Indies. My earliest memories of music are listening to my mom's mixtapes filled with Calypso music. So I was thrilled when they played some of those tunes. Their set was quite fun and upbeat like the music. They did explain that the happy music was often juxtaposed with melancholic lyrics, but my French isn't good enough to follow singing, so I only got the happy part of it.

Next up were Debashish and Subashish Battacharya (not related unless I'm mistaken) who took the place by storm with some jaw-droppingly good Indian music (Hindustani, I believe). This was my first time listening to the Indian slide guitar played live and I was instantly a fan. But, it was Subashish's percussion that really blew me away. The way he played both the tabla and the other percussion instrument he had on his lap (the Dhol?) was unbelievable! Rather than take my word for it, here, see for yourselves:

After this spell-binding set, the Lacailles joined the Battacharyas on stage for the final joint set. It was wonderful to hear and see how these two at-first-glance completely disparate forms of music and musicians came together cohesively. It was to repress the smiles, both inward and outward. Nothing as delightful as being at a show where the musicians themselves are having such an obviously grand time playing together!

By the time the concert ended all my annoyances of the day were long forgotten! Huge thank you to the musicians and to AFM for hosting this great event. I'm already a regular at all events you guys host, but now I'll make doubly sure to not miss any such shows in the future. :)

Oh, and here's the full playlist for anyone who's interested. Apologies for the poor quality video. On the bright side, the audio is pretty decent. So listen without watching and you'll get a sense of what it was like to be there.

P.S.: If anyone knows what the tune in that last video I linked above is, please let me know. It sounds awfully familiar, but I can't quite place it. Some folk tune perhaps?