Sunday, December 31, 2006

House of Flying Daggers

Watched Zhang Yimou’s House of Flying Daggers yesterday. All by myself, which is fast becoming my favourite way to watch movies. Just me in my head.

I loved Yimou’s Hero, which was a phenomenally visual experience. Flying Daggers tops that for meticulously choreographed fights, if not colour. Belongs to the Wuxia genre, Wikipedia tells me, with its trademark martial arts heroes.

859 AD. Feng Tian county, China. The House of Flying Daggers is a secret rebel society that robs the rich to give to the poor. Government lawkeepers, Captains Jin and Leo, have assassinated the leader of the Daggers and have now been ordered to kill the new leader within ten days. There is a new dancer in the Peony Palace, the local brothel. The Captains have information that the blind girl Mei is the daughter of the old leader, here to have her revenge. After first trying conventional methods of arrest and interrogation, they decide to approach it differently. Jin goes undercover as a lone warrior and rescues Mei and aids her escape, hoping that she will lead them to the headquarters of the Flying Daggers. Some things go to plan and some don’t.

That then is the bare bones plot. But it is how Zhang Yimou clothes it that is so remarkable. Early on, Captain Leo challenges Mei to a round of the Echo game and the scene is set lushly in tones of peach and turquoise. She stands surrounded by drums, and as he flings beans that ricochet off them, she must imitate the patterns. The sound is designed as well as everything else in the movie.

Later as the General’s men hunt down Mei and Jin, there is one prolonged, beautifully-choreographed battle in a bamboo forest, where the shoot is used in the most versatile of ways. Soldiers swing from the very tops of swaying trees, attacking the two and finally trapping them in a rather stunning-looking cage.

The plot twists and turns, and the tragic climax takes place with a blazing red-orange autumnal forest as backdrop. As the pitch rises, black clouds gather and pelt down snow, leaching the colour out of the scene, leaving behind snowwhite frames. Inevitably, the virgin snow is soon sullied. Blood is spilled in an orgy of machismo and the tale breathes its last.

On the whole, I liked Hero more. There was greater control there, I think; it was tauter and altogether more deliberate. In Flying Daggers, emotions descended too easily to melodrama and for all its beauty, it was less noble.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Camping out in Nirmal

Back from three glorious days in Nirmal, Adilabad. All birding trips are fun but this one was a right treat.

BSAP members were invited down there by Waheed saab, DFO, Nirmal division, a man I’ve written about once. Wonderful man. For this trip, we were supposed to stay at the Rest House in Nirmal with all urban comforts, and make short jaunts around for purposes of birding. But Waheed saab looked around at our expectant faces and came up with a plan: ‘Would you like to stay out in the forests for a night?’ Is the Verditer flycatcher beautiful?

So we went. Aaha, oho, what to tell you of the beauteous things that awaited… I will not start on birds here, but there was a lakeside, a tent, a fire and a thin sliver of yellow moon.

We don’t often realise it, looking up from well lit, polluted cities, but the sky is a glorious glittering, jewelled affair. To lie out on the rocks with binoculars pressed down on your spectacles, linking the stars to form impossible constellations leaves your mind rather forcibly widened.

We went walking through the forests at night. Dark it was as we scuffled over roots and leaves, avoiding forest trenches by thin beams of torchlight. The forest officers shone their powerful searchlights into the woods but there was not a neelgai or sambhar or even owl to be seen but it was enough to be able to walk in black silent forests. The pitch black was practically a new colour to us citified folk.

We came back by midnight to a fabulous meal arranged by the forest staffers: rice, yummy dal, tangy tamatar-aloo curry and chicken. We’d forgotten it was Christmas Eve but Rajeev Mathew hadn’t. He brought out this delicious plum cake that we devoured and compounded with bananas and enormous meetha paans.

During the small hours, the mist came off the lake like a beast and our tent was sodden. Morning brought the sun and a stork-billed kingfisher. Yes, life is good.

Friday, December 22, 2006

Baithe muskaye

For someone whose work is communication, I find myself devoid of words fairly often. Happy most times to let experiences wash over me, letting stay what wants to stay, letting go those that leave no residue. And unwilling, even unable to talk about them in either case.

Title is from Kabir:
Akath kahani prem ki, kuch kahi na jaaye
Goonga keri sarkara, baithe muskaye

Monday, December 04, 2006

Samaroha – Day 4

The last post on the music festival, I promise, and the last on classical music for a while, but I just have to get this much out.

The morning session on this last day was pushed to the evening and the programme was packed. Started with Devki Pandit, whose list of gurus reads like the who’s who: Jitendra Abhisheki features there as well as Kishori Amonkar. She sang one of my favourite ragas, Madhuvanti. Nice voice she has, great shruti and it rings out clearly. But also a bit boring.

Pt Prabhakar Karekar was next. We rubbed our hands in anticipation. This man has one of THE most mesmerising voices I’ve heard and he’s got taseer like you wouldn’t believe. We settled ourselves, ready for a high treat.

He began on Bhoopali and dismay! he was struggling. He was greyer than we remembered, and Shweta turned to me, pale, “He can’t have grown that old, can he?” It wasn’t that, just a congested chest and tiredness. It was like watching your favourite player play with an injury – you feel for them at every wince and you’re torn between having them retire and take care of that pain, and carrying on. However, it got better, and genius burst through more frequently. The great ones it seems do play hurt.

Karekar was all for rising after the one piece but was persuaded to sing one very sweet-sounding Marathi natyageet, after which he wrapped up determinedly.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Samaroha – Day 3

My first proper exposure to Dhrupad. I’ve heard so much about how the khayal nearly pushed this ancient style of gaayiki into extinction, and how fascinating a genuine recital can be. The Gundecha brothers from Bhopal are among a fistful of singers who still maintain the purity of the form and are leading a revival.

They started yesterday with Shuddh Kalyan, and for the first half hour or so, reminded me persistently of elephants. Prolonged notes, often near infrasonic rumbles, sustained vibrations. The raga was being picked out strand by strand, with such long pure notes as to make it seem like you had to move far back to see the pattern. Dhrupad’s priority, I felt, lay with sound, not necessarily melody. That came too, but the point was austere, primeval sound, set in a sophisticated classical pattern of three speeds.

They followed that up with a Shiva stuthi in Raga Adhana – dramatic, rousing: Shiva, Shiva, Shiva, Shankara, Aadi deva, Yogi, Mahadeva…

Then, at Pandit Jasraj’s request, Kabir in Raga Charukeshi with Jheeni jheeni keeni chadariya. I was extremely moved, but as I struggled to translate all that sensation into some form of communication, Durga Jasraj came up and quoted Javed Akhtar: “Hamare yahan badon ki taareef karna bhi badtameezi maani jaati hai.” Which said enough.

If the audience sat solemn through these two hours as individual islands of feeling, it all became communal with the violinist brothers Kumaresh-Ganesh, who were remarkably polished and very enjoyable.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Samaroha – Day 2

Ghate ka sauda

Am thoroughly upset with people at concerts these days who greet every successful nuance and turn with thunderous applause. I wish they wouldn’t. Yes, it’s appreciation but wouldn’t a well-placed ‘wah’ or a murmured ‘kya baat hai’ do? No, they break into claps, and people next to them wake up and then it goes around the gathering in ripples. It breaks the flow for the artiste, and if some people have been transported by the music, they’re brought to very rudely.

This happened rather often with the Ulhas Bapat performance last night. But then he had more than the audience to contend with: he had as accompanist on tabla, Vijay Ghate. Bapat started off with in Raga Charukeshi, a very lovely alaap that augured well. Once Vijay Ghate joined him however, Charukeshi was pushed into the background, a mere foil for his prowess. Completely oblivious to Bapat’s plans for the recital, his intention to examine phrase after phrase, and weave them into a many-hued tapestry, Ghate jumped in and thundered away at his drums with short gimmicky flourishes. The audience obligingly clapped every time, and the santoor man’s smile became increasingly fixed.

Why cannot accompanists stay within their roles? Can they not see the bigger picture? If you’re asked to play a humble cog, you play that goddamn cog. Even if you think you can be the entire wheel, or the chariot. Because that’s what is needed of you this minute, your cogness. Anything less, or anything more is useless.

The Jasrangi jugalbandi

This jugalbandi is an experiment of Pt Jasraj’s, and as the maestro outlined his vision for what would unfold, Arjun whispered to me, 'This is either going to go very well or flop miserably.' It went well, oh, it went well.

The Jasrangi jugalbandi has two singers, one male and female. Based on the system of moorchanas, the two singers sing different ragas in different scales at once. The pancham of the male voice becomes the shadj for the female voice. I have a very tenuous grasp on the technicalities, but it sounded heavenly.

Clearly the ragas must be chosen with care: the first piece had Abhyankar singing Purya Dhanashri and Ashwini Bhide Deshpande coming back with Haveli Basant. Two distinct ragas in conjunction. Sometimes, while they bantered in swaras, it seemed as if this was a cultured argument, each person with their clearly delineated point of view, understanding the other, but preferring nevertheless to hold their own perspective. It celebrated the divide of the sexes as well as possibilities of union.

Ras bar’sat tore ghar

The Jasrangi exercise has been done before but singers on those occasions had been disciples of Pt Jasraj, all from the Mewati gharana. This, we were told, was the first time two different gharanas attempted to come together thus.

The second piece had Abhyankar on Kalavati and Ashwini on Abhogi. They chose to sing a composition popular with Bhide Deshpande’s gharana, Jaipur Atrauli, and succeeded beyond hope. Superb, simply superb.

Ashwini Bhide was a little nervy – the screeching mike didn’t help, and nor perhaps the fact that she was on Mewati turf, so to speak – but she carried it off fabulously. As for Abhyankar, he approached god-like dimensions yesterday, channelling the essence of Kalavati from the very first note.

Gundecha brothers today, followed by Carnatic violinists Ganesh-Kumaresh.

Friday, December 01, 2006

Play on...

Music bonanza in Hyderabad. Sadly TM Krishna clashed with Pandit Jasraj yesterday. Wanted to do both, but TM Krishna was going well and we stayed put instead of dashing across town, wasting precious minutes stuck in traffic.

Pt Jasraj’s annual music festival, the Pt Motiram Maniram Samaroh, began yesterday. Big names expected: there is Ulhas Bapat for tonight as well as a jugalbandi between Sanjeev Abhyankar and Ashwini Bhide Deshpande. Ulhas Bapat by himself is exciting enough, but Abhyankar and Bhide Deshpande, and them singing together is like chocolate brownie followed by death-by-chocolate.

Unfortunately the fly in the wax is... well… the wax. I’ve gone and gotten one ear almost completely blocked. Abnormal wax buildup, that’s what. It was bad enough to begin with but a little ear twisting would settle the wax away from the eardrum. Then I tried a few drops of Dewax yesterday and now everything is muffled. I’m having fun pretending to be a very old village-type gaffer with beedi and all, theatrically raising one hand behind the ear and going, “aaaa?” but what’s to be done about the concert tonight?