Friday, 27 July 2007

Dating across Cultures

mThe following post is fictitious and resemblance to any person, living or deceased, is purely coincidental:

They came back to her place after a friendly-flirty second dinner date at the Bayside Cafe. She poured some red into two disposable glasses and offered it to him. He sipped it and gazed into her dilated pupils. She returned the gaze. She moved next to him. He felt she wasn't another person. He experienced her zone.

"So, do we kiss now?" she offered, her hand on his.
"Um, is it ok in your culture?" he returned, his free hand moving to her shoulder.
She wished he hadn't asked. But she didn't bother replying. He soon forgot. But he had wanted her to answer.

Monday, 23 July 2007

People without Borders

I have been resisting commenting on the Haneef case. Why? Because I'm a temporary resident of Australia, and my life as I know it will be over if I am deported. No, I'm not joking. What if my accent is considered too foreign, my written words too academic and my political views too left-of-centre? I won't even get any brownie points for creating conventional, meaningful blogs.

Anyhow, this op-ed piece in The Age says nearly everything I could have possiby had the flair and freedom to pen down myself:

Wednesday, 18 July 2007


Why Interiors?
Because I feel
This year
Like the inner turmoil of this Woody Allen film.
Its viscerality
On my skin.
The pain that was in my back, my neck, my shoulders
For the last two years
I now feel
Is the balm for my mind.
My insularity
Has turned inside out.
I feel life teasing me with its love and the loss of it
Its seductions and rejections.
The force of it
Has created me anew
Even as I battle the desire keep in touch with my past.
To remember
The lag in my feelings
And the apologetic inadequacies it brought forth.
There is still
A dull ache
As the interior catches up with the sculpted exterior.
But I feel alive
This year
Because I feel.

Faith Trilogy (Dir. Ingmar Bergman)

I like the idea that when we are young, we see things (particularly pertaining to faith and religion) quite clearly, but as we grow into adulthood, the same view becomes as if looking through a glass darkly. Perhaps I like it because it resembles the contours of my relationship with faith. Did the same occur with Mehta, keeping in mind that she grew up in India and did a masters thesis on Hindu philosophy? She has mentioned in her interviews that Hinduism is about transformation and humaneness, yet this is not how it is manifested in the contemporary Hindu religious institutions that have resisted her films like no other element in India. Could this possibly have shaken her faith? Perhaps her relationship with religion (not spirituality) is like Bergman’s ambiguous treatment of the subject in the trilogy – God is light, love and a foreign language; but he/it is also incest, death and silence. In the midst of this doubt over faith, Mehta seems to choose individual choice and social justice over repression disguised as tradition. Besides the thematic links between the two trilogies, there are also certain similarities in the overall visual style and the incorporation of particular elements. According to Mehta, Bergman has influenced her to the extent that he has a deceptively simple style of telling a powerful story. This is certainly apparent in Water which has minimal dialogue and uncluttered yet moving scenes. One could argue the same is true for Earth where the personal, like the little girl’s breaking of plates in the opening scene and the later pulling apart of her doll are used to signal the magnitude of the larger story, that is, the portioning of the subcontinent. At the same time, the play of light and shadows, or outdoor and indoor light in Fire evokes the same sort of juxtaposition between liberation and repression as it does in Through a Glass Darkly and Winter Light. Like in The Silence, the train/journeying figures as a metaphor for both creation and destruction, hope and despair, rebirth and death in Mehta’s films.

Wednesday, 11 July 2007

Tokyo Story (Dir. Yashujiro Ozu)

There is a serenity about the film that is also present in Mehta’s Water. Mehta has commented that she was influenced by Ozu’s restraint, and often cut out dialogue at the last minute while shooting Water. Also, just as the relatively still camera and the aesthetically-pleasing visuals of Ozu’s film stand in stark contrast to the collapse of the joint family and the mental turmoil of the aged parents and the war widow in post-war Japan, the starkness of the widows’ lives in Mehta’s film stands out against the sheer magnificence of the Ganges and its ghats. When I watched the elderly couple in Tokyo Story, banished to the modern resort of Atami Springs by their hassled city children, I was reminded of a scene in Water. The Japanese pair sit in close proximity and comment on the calmness of the sea (this image also appears on the DVD cover), while Kalyani and Narayan stealthily meet by the river bank. There is a cross-cultural and cross-generational similarity here that is particularly poignant. It is difficult to predict to what extent Mehta was influenced by this scene, but the evocation of enduring love through the image of flowing water is not lost on us. Another similarity is the image of the train at the end in both films. While Chuia, the seven-year old widow in Mehta’s film is bound for a more certain future as she has been handed over by her self-appointed guardian, Shakuntala to Narayan, a Gandhian, the destiny of Noriko, the widow in Ozu’s film who is closer to her in-laws than their blood relatives appears uncertain. As Noriko gazes at the antique timepiece given to her by her father-in-law as a souvenir of her recently deceased mother-in-law’s memory, I hear Gandhi chant on the railway platform in Benares – “Truth is God”. Perhaps both widows are not forgotten.

Festival of Ideas

It was cloudy and pouring buckets over the three days of the Adelaide Festival of Ideas 2007. Reminded me of the current political climate in Australia. Not to mention the social and environmental components of the ambience. Clouded is the word. The sessions were well-planned. The speakers inspiring. The vision(s) encouraging. Yet as I stepped outside Elder Hall and gazed at the rather grey horizon, I realised there was an inside of ideas and an outside of apparent idealessness. While 'we', the privileged, the knowledgeable, the cosmopolitan agreed on the need for action to combat racism, conservatism and all manner of regressive -isms, there was no 'them' to challenge us in the elitist egalitarianism of our idea-filled confines. Gandhi was put up against Marx; India was proposed as a threat to China; Reconciliation was preferred over Intervention. But was there a debate? I opened my copy of the Festival booklet on the bus and felt hopelessly out of place. This surely cannot be the the way to the future.


An Indian girl in a French beret
an anomaly
Artistically stereotypical
alienating yet amenable
Says she is a citizen of the world
sounds deluded
Her new friend tries it on
he's intrigued
There's questions aplenty on the street
Do you know any French words
I am no femme fatale
Read my mis-en-scene

Tuesday, 3 July 2007

Exposing Stereotypes

My head was hurting from the spirits of the night before and my body felt trapped in the closed-windowed confines of Knapman House, an old but functional building donated to the Royal Society for the Blind in the heart of Adelaide city. Needless to say, I was the only “young person” amongst the fifteen or so volunteers gathered to undergo a full Saturday of training to work with visually-impaired clients. Can I add I was also the only Indian, or should I be accustomed to that qualification by now, and only relegate it to the status of a footnote in my mind? After all, I was the only Indian in my Bachelor of Media graduating class, the only Indian working at the local supermarket and also possibly the only Indian queuing for one of the screenings at the Adelaide Film Festival. Although the ethnic composition of the population has changed dramatically since my arrival in Adelaide in 2003, one is still more likely to find people of South Asian descent congregating in the comforting vicinity of medical/engineering schools, Indian restaurants and Bhangra clubs. Aware of these stereotypes and exhausted with four years of attempting to dispel them, I made no conversational endeavours during the lunch break at the training session. Until a woman who appeared to be in her late 50s or early 60s approached me and began chatting about her work as a former school counselor. I was fascinated by her transition to volunteering and she seemed curious about my interest in social work “at such a prime age”. Citing the busy work and study routine during my undergraduate days as the reason for my inability to do something of this nature before, I then commenced talking about my current project, what I carefully refer to as a “PhD in Film” as soon as I step outside my University gates. A surprisingly sophisticated discussion of contemporary Hollywood, Australian and international film ensued. And yes, she had seen Water, even enjoyed it. Perhaps I had my own stereotypes to dispel.