Out of the Zoo

We sat in the engineering physics classes at around 8 am in our college campus. The skies opened shyly, the rain pattered and the wind blew away all our predetermined worries and confusions. There was no confusion or worry of any sort. It was a neat little class of 40 people with long wooden benches, eccentric teachers and open windows. Obviously there were the cranky teachers who always shut the door far too soon and we were left stranded out in the open to face the romance of the morning Bangalore clouds, mist and trees. It was an advantage of many sorts to have such teachers. Groups of students who sat at the front and occupied the classrooms twenty minutes prior used to have a smirk with their freshly washed faces when there were a few always who would get locked out of the classroom. The texture of soft sweaters, pullovers and the soft chappals in the morning cold was as intoxicating as a glass of aromatic hot coffee. We always walked to the nearby chaiwala (tea-vendor) with smiles on our faces and tethered insults hurled at ourselves, our teachers, our college, the people around us and finally the Indian education system. It always somehow wound up becoming a debate with everyone wanting an improvement of sorts.

I always enjoyed the Mathematics classes that were held during the first four semesters. The whole excitement of solving a Laplace transform was so satisfying that I would always get lost in the depths of these equations or anomalies. I would wonder how mathematicians in the past had taken the time and effort to come to such flawless derivations and laws. It always struck me that the purest of the sciences was most intriguing as there was significant importance given to fundamentals of any specific topic that we dealt in. The foundations matter the most when we want to master a subject that we like. However there were the usual subjects we studied that had nothing but teachers giving us printed notes written by a student and telling us what questions would likely come in the exams or tests. The four years passed by with majority of our subjects being thrust at us like foreign objects instead of them being presented to us in a kind manner. We knew the equations, but we never knew how we arrived there. We knew where to use the numbers or values in the questions, but never knew what those numbers or figures actually meant. We knew the concepts but when asked to open the bonnet of a car, always stood pondering about the machines and searching for a mechanic nearby. We were studying Mechanical engineering and yes we were passing the exams on paper. But in our  minds we wondered if college was just to freak out on our new found freedom or back up and look at life ‘seriously’ as our elders put it. There were a few students who put in the extra effort and threw in valuable time to read up on few of the fat reference books that dismembered our local nervous system with their words. These students had the dedication but at the cost of being unaware of societal adaptability. They lost out on the small conversations on the streets that build one’s inner self to face whatever is thrown at them. The experiential adventures and conversations was something I valued the most through those four years. Even if none of my friends were around me at times or everyone was present, we had our own spaces, our own talks and our own flavours to those talks. Keen to strike up a conversation with anyone I would ask about the latest movies people watched, be it the bakery person, autowala, chai wala or the security guarding the classrooms. This was the essence of life for me. I sought my solace in these small conversations as I knew each time I would grasp something new about a person and his behavior.

And then came placement season. Placements. That word is so disgusting. Are we objects to be placed on a wooden cupboard for display? Hell no! We are much better than that. We are animals that have to be convinced that “Oh man, we need a job. Our college will find us a company and our parents will be happy”. These thoughts never came into our minds in the first place. They were seeded and groomed by a few personalities in college that gave us the whole picture that “Dude! Job nahi to life nahi. Job illa andre life illa, No job, no life”. I can remember the faces that crept out into the fresh air from hours of waiting in the interview halls and brainstorming themselves with random formulae from random books of random subjects . Sad faces. Happy faces. Over-ecstatic faces. Crying faces. Confused faces. Confident faces. Pretending-to-be-confident faces. On a particular day there was this company which had apparently promised to recruit almost the entire college promising a 90% placement success rate like the toothpaste advertisements blurting 98% germ killing. It was a pleasant morning and a big number of formal clothed nervous students entered the college gates with a file in their hands. Crumpled CVs, ID cards , ID card photocopies, Marks cards and the list goes on. Several rounds of written tests and interviews took place with a massive crowd praying for jobs. The whole day passed by and the results were to be announced in the evening at 7 pm. We all gathered at the entrance to the indoor stadium where the sacred results were to be announced. Me and a friend of mine stood apart from the crowd as we were not part of this placement but few of our friends were. It looked like a huge congregation of sheep from different parts of Bangalore waiting for the shepherd to open the gate of the pen in which they would be ‘placed’. As we entered the hall, I instinctively felt the urge to shout out noises like a goat blaring “Meee—eee—eeee–eeeee” all over the place. My friend followed too and soon, surprisingly, everyone else around us did the same! It was an inexplicable moment where each one shared their realities through the simple sound of a fickle animal and breathed some joy into it. After that I do not remember what happened as it all seemed pathetic and insignificant. But for the sound of the goats, it was worth it.

Just as everyone else , even I was bitten by the job bug and wanted to get a job because I had no clue about what to do after my last semester. There would be no more pointless chai talks or classes to attend. No more tip toeing away from class and no more semesters to look forward to as always. I applied for a job which was out of our campus and its written test was held in a god forsaken desolate area called Bellandur. This place was as far as the nerve endings in a dinosaur’s tail. I passed the test and was called for an interview at an even more dystopian area called Whitefield. I remember entering the office with my sleeveless sweater and finding a bunch of people sitting inside the office fiddling on their revolving chairs. I will hate revolving chairs for the rest of my life. I mugged up the same old answers to the same old interview questions.

Which is your favourite subject in mechanical engineering?

My answer nonetheless: Thermodynamics.

The obvious question that followed was:

What are the three laws of thermodynamics?

I blurted out what I had learnt by heart.

In the  “write about yourself” section I had written “humourous” as a value that I had. The interviewers looked at me and asked me to tell a joke. I told the joke and made fun of the job post they were offering. They didn’t look happy. With straight faces and not even a smile my whole joke collapsed into the dungeons of hell. I walked out confused and then after an hour a lady came in and called out names. These people were so excited when their names were called out and I was so glad my name hadn’t been called out. I wanted to just get out of that place. Unfortunately it turns out; the names that weren’t called out had made it to the next round. I was confused and something felt extremely funny.

They then called me for the next interview with the HR and few more people. They spoke to me about a few things and the usual “Do you really want the job? Are you motivated enough?” And of course I gave them the same stereotypical answers of the Good Samaritan wanting to make “ends” meet.

And whoopah! I had a job on my hand and it felt freakishly good. Inside me there was this greedy sense of cooked up self-esteem which wanted me to go ahead and do it. I was blind but happy.

It started with the morning ritual. I woke up , brushed my teeth and looked around for my glasses for an hour. Took a bath. Filled my tiffin box with some cereal. Cleaned my irritating formal shoes. Finally I checked for gas, keys and the switches for about fifteen minutes. Opening the door , I used to walk shyly past my neighbor’s door. They were a humble and kind family who always smiled and shared a few words. I spoke to them for a few days but then the headphones came into the picture. There were no words. There was just the straight walk to the elevator and pressing the button.

I walked out. My shoes were the same again. Battered and dusty.

Fear of Blank Planet blasted away. Porcupine Tree.

‘Sunlight coming through the haze

No gaps in the blinds

To let it inside

The bed is unmade,

Some music still plays’

As I entered the corporate complex, I made my way to the building. At this point the lead in the song would kick in. I knew it would rush me. I would hurry to the elevator doors. In the elevator, I was deprived of the last few minutes of the song. A few friends would say ‘hi’.

The access card beeped at the door and we stood in a line to wait and sign at the book. This was indeed an enjoyable moment for me. Everyone in their dreamy state of mind. Half awake. Knowing not where to sign and what their sign was. We signed and I took a right and headed into the corridor. The Table Tennis table was at the end of the corridor. It was tempting but I was hungry by now. I kept my bag at the desk, unzipped my bag and took out the tiffin box. Then I made my way straight to the Cafe, on the right side of the corridor.

We had a coffee machine here. It had good milk in it. Hot milk. I knew the routine. Open my tiffin box. Two packets of chocolate drink mix and two packets of sugar. The sugar packets are growing smaller and smaller these days.

I pressed the button on the coffee machine and it groaned. It felt like the coffee machine was waking up too. And then the milk sprayed comically with unpredictable intervals of time. The sound it made was so suggestive that it always drew smiles in all of our dreamy minds. I walked around to find a good place to eat while mixing my cereal. I gobbled it all up in hunger and rushed to the Table Tennis room. We played for a good hour till our formal shirts gave in with sweat marks. Then we went back to our desk. Our world of work was reduced to a chair and a computer in front of us. If anyone got their job at the window, it was like a privilege. I kept wondering about humans. Did we as humans turn around to wipe out animals?  Why did we want to deprive ourself of the sun and the trees? To be placed in cubes of stone?

I sat typing away, using my mouse and copying stuff from one place to another. We had no opportunity to create anything. We were all good minds. But what was the purpose? We never knew the purpose. We knew about getting the work done and the money later. The money had no purpose too. It affected me in many ways. My urge to create started dying down and my thirst to know decreased too. I just wrote my whole account from waking up till ending my day at work. I knew how to do it by muscle memory. I no longer felt like an animal. I felt more and more toxically ‘human’. An animal has an urge to eat, to sleep, to find warmth and enjoy the company of other animals too. So I decided to become an animal. I no longer wanted to be a part of the concrete zoo. My zoo was elsewhere.    

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Hatching power

The common man’s whim is a desirable virtue. It can be frowned upon by so many in our societies, having their miniature muscle memories of ‘vaastu’,‘kaala’ and ‘jataka’. In Ondu Motteya Kathe, ‘Janardhan’ shows us a few pages of his life, in one of the most understated, smooth and subtle performances in Kannada cinema. Words are merely anchors which one uses to convey a narrative in a creative voyage. Expression is everything.

We go through our lives through the same dilemma at some time in our lives. We start caring about how we look from the outside, after we get a frustrated for being on the inside for too long. Janardhan (Played by Raj  B. Shetty) faces the this confusion. He is teased by everyone for his balding head.  Motte! Motte! (egg! Egg!) There are students that chant these words to the encore of the whole class. This pushes him into thinking why people never take him seriously.  He is a 28 year old man working as a Kannada professor in a school in Mangalore, Karnataka. The shape of his head is revealing itself day by day and comically his days go into a series of events that invite him to the truth of any living civilization. ‘The armor cannot be judged by how shiny it is. You realize its strength only from the inside.’ There are delightfully comical ‘moha’ments in the film when his Peon, Srinivas (Played by Prakash Thuminad), helps him out in understanding love, lust and fun. In one of his finest performances, Prakash Thuminad reminds us of a man who has been through calm and restless journeys. The orange juice with tragically sinking flies give us a glimpse of the same ritual of serving the guests with something cold and colourful while judging the ‘status’ of the guest family. The comical principal in the college gives us a flavor of how important student problems are settled with just sarcasm and money, which happens in innumerable educational institutions across India. The warm sofa of a random family, with everyone analyzing every nook and corner of our humanity or future, a handsome lecturer sinking Janardhan’s only desires for love are some of the few events that makes Janardhan want to quit functioning as a human being. He tries the usual ‘lunchbox-love letter’ routine to win the love of a simple, pretty economics professor. Every scene has been conveyed with minimal attention to the ‘way it is being presented’ by shifting focus to the evolution of characters and respect for their silences too. We have grown wiser as audiences in the past few decades with fast cuts, odd edits and jump scenes. Raj B Shetty(writer and director of OMK) has finally shown how a simple narrative can be told in the most interesting, delightful and unpretentious of ways.  Human expression is our ancestral and wholesome form of communication.  And we should use it to our advantage. The audience is tired of ‘being told’ or ‘being told to’. What makes these two hours impactful is that we start to see the movie after we walk out of the theatre too. A good movie never stops. It continues at the traffic lights, at our apartments, in our buses and the people we see. As Marshall McLuhan says, ‘The medium is the message’. Once we get a taste of a few minutes of this movie, we become the movie. The scene which touches us the most is the lunch where Srinivas invites Janardhan to celebrate his 4th wedding anniversary with his wife. His wife smiles throughout her graceful silence and reacts intently as Srinivas explains that he need not hear her when she speaks through the phone.  The most beautiful things need not be heard or seen. They have to be felt.

Ondu Motteya Kathe has a wonderfully woven mis-en-scene which reminds us of fragrant organic Iranian cinema styles. Simple, minimal dialogue and detailed character sketches. The sound design and music by Midhun Mukundan is excellent. Dinner conversations end up with just the rice and the fingers doing the talking. The sultry wait outside the astrologer’s house is reminiscent with the sounds of cows, winds, plants and mild traffic. The songs glue the narrative strips quite well with their short lengths, simple lyrics and comical recitation. It is humbling to know that such teams are doing excellent productions with whatever resources they have, wherever they are. This should promote the debunking of the idea of cinema being capital-city centric phenomena. Stories are told everywhere and can be told by anyone. As members of the cinematic fraternity, it is our duty to encourage such powerful productions that remind us of how wonderfully simple and happy a movie can make us feel. Raj B Shetty has brought together a magnificently hard working team that has made justice to a delightfully well written script in the most modest of ways. Kudos to the team!

Frosty Seas and Lee

The seagulls flying over the clear blue tidal waves besides Manchester-by-the-sea are reminiscent of the dreamy tranquil nature of this town. The mundane life of Lee, a struggling handyman, is introduced to us as we feel the cold snow piling up on the ground.

Kenneth Lonergan captivates us with his new style of an intimately written narrative. Lee’s life becomes a part of us as the crease lines on his forehead deepen and he is forced into a new tide after his brother passes away. As Lee (played by Casey Affleck) rushes to the hospital, he is unsure of what is to come ahead. Lost and dazed, he thanks the doctor for informing him on time as George is still broken by the news. The long medium shot shows the murmur going on between the doctor, the nurse, Lee and his friend George. This unique camera style adopted by Jody Lee Lipes is that of a discrete observation of the dilemma faced by the different lives we see in front of us. Sometimes these dense silences are filled by the soft chorale voices (Music by Lesley Barber) which brings hope like fire during a cold winter. There is a distance between the us and the characters of this story, metaphorically shown in these long medium shots. We do not need to hear the words spoken by any of them. Watching from a distance, we know there is a feeling of hurt and confusion in the air. Lee’s face is written over with many stories which are yet to unfurl as he goes down the elevator with the doctor to see his dead brother for one last time. Going down an elevator is like going to your own basement. A cellar of memories. As they go down, we are confronted with a scene of his brother Joe, waking up on the hospital bed. Bethany, the soft spoken and compassionate doctor tells him about his heart condition with her head held down in humility. Joe doesn’t have much time. The elevator stops. Lee is reluctant to see him in a body bag but he wants to face the truth in this frenzy of confusion. This entire scene is delicately woven to make us ride down our own memories of our loved ones. Like smelling a cupboard which has been unopened for a long time.

In one of the flashbacks, the quirky, young Patrick (Joe’s son) stares at his mother who is passed out, lying half naked on the bed as they enter home after a fishing trip. Joe tells him to go upstairs, but a prolonged stare from poor Patrick shows that he knows something is wrong with his mother. Now he is all grown up and as he stands next to Lee, his uncle, he bows down in pain after listening to the news, in the middle of his ice hockey game. These dense moments of emotion are always placed at a distance from us on the screen, intriguing us and urging us to delve into the depths. Coupled with this loss, Lee is never able to forgive himself from the one terrible night he despises in his life. The night that he accidentally burns down his house. He is drunk and he blames himself for the carelessness from that very moment. The twilight dissolves into the sky as the fire fighters douse the fire and Lee is standing with his paper bag of groceries, torn and not able to believe he could have caused this. His wife Randi shouts in the distance, shrieking in pain to call out to her daughters who are sadly left behind in the rescue. A slow-motion sequence of silence and the fire fighters carrying two wrapped up black covers to the ambulance is portrayed in the softest subtleties there is to cinema. The true essence of cinema is when the unsaid on the screen makes us speak out to the unsaid within ourselves.

Lee’s relationship with Patrick becomes intimate with new colours each day. He gets to know about Patrick’s girlfriends and stays ignorant of meeting new people as he feels he doesn’t deserve anything good anymore. Patrick breaks down one day as frozen meat falls from the freezer and he is disgusted that his father’s body must be frozen till he is buried as the undertaker is too busy with appointments of other funerals. Lee understands him and calms him down till he falls asleep. Lee becomes an elder brother to Patrick. He is reluctant of the responsibility he must take but he keeps Patrick close to his heart.

Lee is always rebellious of the fact that he is not able to completely stand on his own legs after the traumatic loss of his children. His brother helps him out with a new place and some new furniture. His wife leaves him. And now he is faced with a bigger dilemma of being a guardian to Patrick. His face is constantly filled with guilt and anxiety of how he will be able to provide for Patrick as well. Venting out these feelings in bar fights become a frequent errand for him. In one of the most iconic scenes of the film, he meets Randi (played by Michelle Williams), now his ex-wife, while walking down a road. He watches her pushing a cradle and sees her new baby. ‘Handsome’ he remarks. They are at a loss of words and Randi apologizes for walking out on him. She urges him to come out of the dark and stop being ‘dead’ to everyone. She sobs profusely and says she still loves him for what he his. It feels like one tree is trying to protect another withered tree from falling to the ground. She wants to help him, but it is too late. The tides have changed and the birds have migrated. Fragile as he is, Patrick is shocked to see the new avatar of his mother, during a lunch with her new overtly ‘christian’ husband. She is no longer an alcoholic but her mind is still the same, tense, and anxious. Meanwhile, Lee breaks down completely at George’s house as his wife comforts him. He requests them to look after Patrick and they agree to adopt him. These cuts are interlaced with silences and subtle music. The editing by Jennifer Lame is simple, yet brilliantly evocative of the mood of this narrative.

People are pushed into cruel circumstances and however cruel these circumstances can get, going back to your family, and taking care of your loved ones will push away the tides to a different shore, however ferocious they get. At times these tides come back to the same shore and that is when we understand who we are and how insignificant we want to become. Lee is introduced as a handyman, a man who repairs things at people’s houses. The irony is that he is unable to repair his own house, his own mind full of soft memories of his daughters, his wife, and his brother. He is unwilling to let go of Patrick as he is his only family. As the seagulls fly across the frosty seas of the fishing village, the boat floats by with Patrick and Lee trying to catch some fresh fish. The handyman is finally able to repair his own sense of belonging to the world.

 

Engaging Fading Minds

(An approach to serious games based on Mihai Nadin’s ‘Play’s the thing’ http://www.nadin.ws/archives/1732 )

Old age is inevitable. Time flies and we all age. It all lies in making the years count and holding it close to our heart for us to come to terms with our life. “Play’s the thing” by Mihai Nadin brings up the possibility of living the later segment of our lives in a manner that holistically informs us of the value of our experience in society. Nowadays the trend has shifted towards societies dismissing old aged people and boasting about their nation as a “young” nation when in fact the seeds of inspiration are these very beings who have navigated their years into an experiential wisdom.

Our brain can do a lot of wonderful things and as the generation evolves the cognitive possibilities evolve significantly. The reward system in our mind is eccentric as well as responsive at times. We feel happy at things that may seem normal or “out of the blue” to someone else. Games were invented with the whole idea of teasing these rewards systems and making our minds work. The busy subway or train is filled with people solving crossword puzzles or Su-do-ku and this keeps them involved with the social zoo in different ways. By engineering the brain to create and recreate situations we make the “juices” in our minds flow. But do we lead our brains into mindless action at times? It becomes a matter of perspective. Young children and adults cannot afford to be lost into a virtual world of gaming for most part of their lives, simply because it is virtual. The right application of the gaming concept would apply to temporal entertainment which shouldn’t be binged upon. It is invigorating to be involved into the narrative of a game and to solve problems in it. Hence we can cleverly tap into the use of games in the engagement of the mind through motoric, sensational and emotional activity. Serious games can be defined as a form of mental exercise leading to an improvement in physiological, physical, emotional and cognitive performance, and ultimately the total well-being of an ailing or aging living being. It will be primarily applied to the aging population as we all know that anticipatory capabilities decrease with age. However, as we have seen in all kinds of sports like tennis, football or even carom, the anticipation is the key element to success leading to a rewarding experience. As this response or the “ability to receive a pass from a footballer” dies down with age, our brain naturally feels sad that it is not able to keep up with the social intuitive connect between the various players within the game. The aesthetics of the serious game being made for the older beings varies with the normal everyday game in the very aspect that there is a huge change in intuitive, adaptive and physical capabilities. The reward system also differs in the fact that the reward now becomes being able to understand what the brain was supposed to be doing and subconsciously coming to terms with our physical being. It is almost like a reversal of the whole process of conception. When we were born we learnt seeing things, smelling things, feeling things with our fingers and tasting a variety of flavours triggering brain responses. As we progressed with our lives, we developed new memories, thought processes and unique behavioral patterns based on numerous situations or experiences. As we start getting into the later years, we start to get more interested into the existence of our cognitive ability and so our brain starts to question itself and the information exchange reverses partially. Senescence happens when the anticipation degrades considerably with age.  We need to provide the brain with some sensational, motoric or physiological activities for it to understand who it really is.

The visual aesthetics of a video game in the commercial market revolve around richness, depth and details of the virtual environment. However, the aesthetics that play the most important role in serious games for aging are primarily cognitive and physical in nature. With aging, the lens in our eye hardens and leads to disorders such as presbyopia, cataract or glaucoma. So the percentage of old aged people having a totally perfect eyesight is considerably less. The only way to reward the brain is to be as simplistic as possible in the visual medium. Hearing also depletes, but not to an extent that you grow deaf. Sound cues in music are emotionally glued to our minds. With experience, the engrossment increases and there’s a sonic taste that we prefer. The rewarding department of our brain disposes away more genres of music or sound as this taste develops. Catering to this taste is the key.

Primary games that engage the age group between 60-70 are mostly tangible games like pool, poker, playing cards, carom, chess or other indoor games. This is because there is no rigorous physical effort involved. It involves strategy, continuous thought and the affordability of larger reward experiences in shorter time periods. As the phrase goes: “No one is getting any younger”, Time is a factor to be put into consideration! Serious games need to be engaging and concise like a thriller book by James Hadley Chase.

As Mihai Nadin rightly puts it, “many resources are bring used in fighting aging and its effects… but few for attenuating the consequences of the basic aging process”. This brings us into the aspect of room for improvement in anticipation and adaptability. As clearly shown by Ryuto Kawashima in the game- BRAIN AGE, he engaged a large portion of the aging population of the world through simple mathematics, memorizing and counting syllables. It is almost like a study to initiate brain activity and keep the exercise alive. A routine based event adds to the rewards and people are motivated to delay the effects of aging.

Mihai Nadin worked closely with students, medical researchers and neural experts and came up with the “Seneludens” project. The objective was to engage the old people through gaming so as to increase their anticipatory characteristics in both physical and mental aspects. With the help of the AnticipationScope individual movement characteristics could be measured and recorded. This will lead to further development and research into serious games.

Serious games need to be simple approaches to induce the primary functions in the human body and/or mind. An ideal serious game would make the mise-en-scène engaging through the use of primary shapes, fundamental concepts and a specific taste of music in the background.

 

Snake or Ladder?

The molecule made it possible to study the most miniature aspects of an element in this world. When we studied the molecule, science assured us that it was further made up of these tiny creatures called atoms. Electrons danced around this central powerhouse called the nucleus. It was just like an iteration of this entire universe. For simplicity we can compare it to The Solar System. The earth along with the planets, resembling electrons, dancing around the huge ball of fire the sun, resembling a nucleus.

Similarly, technology is entwined within itself and within the huge realm of art. The answer to which of these realms gets to be the electron or the nucleus is something that we as humans are striving to decipher. The film “Artistry/Technology” by Tomas Auksas and Pablo Ganguli, picks out excerpts from a few of the world’s best pioneers in the driven motivation for the arts, its depiction, curation and creation. With Virtual Reality and Augmented reality being thought about extensively in the world, according to Marc Quinn (an artist), everyone is becoming like a synapse and these synapses are joining together to form this huge brain where we are leaving the physical world and living in an imagination which is beginning to seem as real as it gets. This has raised a concern among various artists, filmmakers, musicians, architects, innovators and designers. Some believe in safeguarding the sanctity of the traditional styles of creative processes and some having a progressive outlook to the modern day’s anthem that “change is essential”. Jonas Akerlund, an artist who makes music videos and short films, does not encourage the infiltration of technology in his world of creating art. We reconsider walking the direct bridge between our work of art and our mind instead of taking a means of transport like technology to get where we want. MIA, a successful hip hop artist and activist, wants to see the day where there are children born without mobile phones, ipads or computers in their proximity. I agree with her completely. We are born in an age where the accessibility to technology is not a by-product of hardwork or dedication but a mere luxury to the younger generations. Although it has its own perks of being a vast virtual easily accessible library of knowledge, it is depriving people of the physical worlds around them. The latest trending game- “Pokemon GO” was made with an intention for people to go out and experience the world.  The result was a total catastrophe owing to the fact that the game did not inculcate within itself, a simple sense of creative freedom or a desire to blend observation with knowing the surrounding. Large groups of people are found at various parts of the world looking at their bland phone screens rather than breathing or interacting harmoniously with the picturesque and complex environment. “Someone who does not own a smartphone or a computer. That’s art for me.” MIA looks at us with a cool face of subtle satisfaction as she says these words and she goes on to urge people to go “off the grid” and enjoy the concept of privacy. Francesco Vezzoli, an artist and filmmaker, says that it is impossible to create a true work of fine art having the involvement of technology as it may lose its “value” or authenticity.

The moving image is the best example of the incorporation of technology with the arts. When I first watched Steven Spielberg’s ’Duel’ I loved the title sequence where the movie begins with a casual common man riding into the highway. Suspense and terror can be created by versatile cinematography and wise use of interesting camera angles. This was Spielberg’s venture when he was just 19. The whole screenplay he had created were a series of numerous sketches that depicted where he wanted the car and the truck to be. He knew exactly what he was doing and he visualized it seriously by drawing it on paper. This is a perfect example of how the artistic vision of a director coupled with a camera, the technology of making that vision a living possibility, could reproduce such a powerful Hollywood movie. Francis Ford Coppola propagates the fact that as technology changed with the addition of colour, sound and live recording capabilities, the ways of story telling in cinema also evolved.

As knowledge is everywhere, we do our best to grab it and make meaning out of it during the time we have on this lucid realm called earth. The eminent actress, Susan Sarandon, supports the fact that Internet has made it possible for us to replenish our knowledge and create a thirst to know more. We can create and express openly through multiple audio and visual mediums.

With the evolution of technology, the creative processes and the artists also change. David Hockney, an English painter and draughtsman, calls the paint brush or the pencil as the first technology that was ever made. Misconceptions arise with the word “technology” as we are led into thinking about huge automated systems, LED lights and robotic voices reminiscent of “Terminator“, the cyborg movie. We fail to realize at times that these complex machines were made using nuts, bolts, screws and metal. In other words, technology arose from simpler technology and they deserve our unbiased attention. Hockney goes on to say that he loved the drawing feature in the iPhone and spent most of his time making digital art and is eager to purchase the iPad for a bigger digital canvas. Modern day progressive artists are adapting themselves to these, sometimes, abruptly changing platforms and learning from it with rooted respect.

Scott Belsky, an American entrepreneur, describes the whole change as a form of “recycling” creative ideas and methods. We learn from the past, and a few bits leave a good after-taste which, in some intuitive manner, adds flavor to our creative outcomes. Technology becomes the means of “defining time periods” according to Daniel Arsham, a contemporary American artist. Music has been one of the most entertaining and palpable means of expression. Scooter Braun, another entrepreneur in the music industry, states an honest conclusion that the music industry owes its existence to birth of technology. Nikola Tesla, in 1892, created the first design for a radio and through this technology, millions around the world were able to experience culture without having to travel the world. Through the simple language of music.

Space and time have always lived parallel lives describing new entities such as gravity. We have created our own spaces and designed little homes on this earth to live as a self-sustained civilization. These homes have well defined structures and spatial design. We call it architecture in the syntax of human species. The space we live in has a language of its own and “architecture is like frozen music” as Frank Lloyd Wright puts it. An unsaid voice always prevails in the empty hall we sit in or the long corridor we walk in. William Close, an artist and a visionary, tapped into these empty spaces and wanted them to be a part of his “architectural” orchestral installation. The result was the creation of a revolutionary installation and an instrument called the “Earth Harp”. The notes created by this elaborate instrument ensures the surreal possibility of conversation with the earth.

We are living in a world where there are millions of possibilities in the art and science collaboration. Well defined egos from any of these fields will never ensure unrestrained innovation and thought. The whole exercise must be to study the degree of moderation of these egos and to learn from artists and scientists through complementary strokes of magic to head into a new world where art creates technology and technology returns the favor.

Thud

I just found out from google that it was the birthday of the man who invented the stethoscope. Mr Rene Laennec. It took me a while to get the pronunciation right. (still haven’t got it). The whole idea of this man who decided one day that we needed to measure our heartbeat and made it a real possibility sent a fascinating tingle to my brain. Who knows? I assume a possible scenario in the following paragraph to feel liberated by  fiction.
One day this nice french physician woke up, brushed his teeth, looked in the mirror and his face looked different.’Cold Cold COOLD’. He ran back to his room and slid his feet into his slippers and walked back into the bathroom realizing his face wasn’t the only significance in his life. His feet had become wet in the cold wet floor of the bathroom and his mind just ignored his peculiar face which looked back at him in the mirror. It was an endless conundrum indeed. He decided his feet were important. Splashing water to his wrinkly face he opened his sleepy eyes while rubbing them. His eyes turned red and again he looked at himself in the mirror. This time the image of his face looked menacingly attractive with the scattered drops of water marking paint brush lines of transparency and lucid strokes of abstraction on the mirror. Puzzled and joyful he walked back to his table and made himself a cup of coffee. He realized the coffee pot needed to be cleaned. It hadn’t been washed for a long time. He pushed open the window and a strong draft of cold morning wind rushed in, uninvited, into his bedroom. He sipped the bitter concoction and adored the streets while watching the milkman ride his bicycle and avoiding the cranky dogs in the morning. Walking to the gramophone he placed a dusty record of ‘Nocturne Op. 9- Frederic Chopin’, given to him by a friend, and waited as the needle scratched the disc and light piano notations entered his ears. Feeling charmed he opened the door to collect the milk. He noticed a small half burnt envelope lying down on the floor. Picking it up he turned it over and he read the line ‘Rene, I hope you find what you need’. He opened the envelope but there was nothing in there. This shocked him. He was disturbed. His morning felt weaker now. Immediately he ran down to the basement of his apartment to check if someone had left in a hurry. He ran towards the gate but there was noone there. The watchman had gone for his daily morning newspaper and tea routine. He was angry and sad. Running back to his door which was two floors above, he entered the room and suddenly felt his brain slow down. He was exhausted and tired. He could see blackness creeping into his eyes and slowly sucking him out of his conscience. He fell flat to the floor with his ear to the ground and all he could hear was his heartbeat which thudded like war drums during a ship battle. In the background Chopin’s melody lingered and his piano matched an inexplicable rhythm of quartets with the thud of his heartbeats. Rene was lost in this magnificent aura of melody and never wanted to come out of it. He closed his eyes as his heartbeat slowed down. ZAP! He woke up with tubes on his arms sleeping on an inclined bed and three nurses gossiping lightly beside his bed. “You just suffered from a mild cardiac arrest Mr Laennec. The doctor will be here in just a while.” Rene looked around in helpless despair. Why did her words seem so dull? Why did the sound of footsteps shuffling seem so bland? There was something missing. He remembered the dusty lines running over a black gleaming disc. Frederic Chopin. Nocturne Op.9! Yes That was it. He requested it to be played in his room and the nurse brought in a gramophone and played it for him. His face dropped and he tore his hair. There was something missing again! He realized!! The thuds. The thuds from his very heart. He wanted relive those few seconds of losing consciousness in a war orchestra. He wanted to relive it. He realized his face was peculiar for a reason that day. He had to find a way to listen to his heart.
And so that was how the stethoscope was made by Mr Rene Laennec.

The Boston Diaries

The advent of the ‘neo-noir mobster’ genre in cinema has seen a lot of evolution in it’s editing, soundtrack, dialogue and narrative. “Black Mass” manages to delve deep into the depths of the notorious James JosephWhiteyBulger, Jr. who was convicted of 19 murders and served as an FBI informant from 1975, using it to his ravenous advantage. Johnny Depp portrays ‘Whitey’ with a lucid style demonstrating the whole exercise of underplaying a character. Behind those glassy eyes and a balding head, there is a monster that is hungry for more with his fetish for blood and money. His wife, Lindsey Cyr (played by Dakota Fanning), is as sensitive as a flower bud, delicate and unhindered by it purity. They care for their son in a loving manner and Whitey looks after him like a tough lad teaching him not to waste “freshly squeezed” orange juice in the morning. Dakota Fanning manages to capture such powerful emotions in the shortest of screen times to depict her anxiety about the father-son relationship and the direction in which the family is headed. Johnny Depp puts on his veil of playing the family man succeeding to hide his true colours and his day jobs from his mother and Lindsey. The breeding venom in his bent mind is betrayed by his persona of coolness and calmness. John Connoly(played by Joel Edgerton) , his South paw buddie and a childhood friend , is hell bent on his hopes at progressing higher in the FBI. It is shocking to see the fact that a person who is going to serve for the country and help beat the crime rate is himself getting his hands stuck in the dough of a huge criminal fraternity. The money and bling blinds him. He wants to impress his boss by using his ‘contact’ ,Whitey, as an informant to capture the mafia in North Boston. The city of Boston is shown as a cheeky mobster itself with its yellow streetlights, sultry mornings, and empty backyards behind cheeky bars and stylish cars that zoom on the streets. Eventually it’s the underdog bellies that don’t have anything to lose.

The opening shot in the movie shows Kevin’s face resembling the shapeless rabid face of a pitbull that seethes with anger. The interrogation scene starts with the suitable narrative that guides us into the whole scenario of the racketeering scandals, the murders, drug trafficking, smuggling weaponry and lobbying money from loan sharks. Kevin(played by Jesse Plemons) resembles the fresh face of honey suckling youth sailing into the riptides of greed. He gets driven into the criminal world by sucking up to Whitey and his team.  Jack Connoly slowly treads into this dungeon of dangerous men increasing the city’s crime rate and aiding Whitey in his ordeals under the FBI’s ‘protective’ umbrella. His wife Marianne Connoly (played by Julianne Nicholson),significantly resembles Vito Corleone’s wife in “The Godfather”(1972), played by Diane Keaton. Marianne sums up her whole soul and concern for a societal dignity during a brief scene where Jack invites Whitey and his gang over, for a barbecue and a few beers. While he is in the kitchen for a steak refill he notices the anxiety on her face and questions it. She retorts to say that she did not envision gangsters coming home to pollute the whole social fabric and sanctity of the house. She is spellbound by his loss of faith in himself and his family.

The whole charade of her husband losing himself into corruption and assisting mobsters pains her in devastation. Her body seethes in pain as seen from her brilliant performance. From that moment on, she avoids any sort of social exchange with Whitey as she is afraid and cares too much about her well-being. She feigns to be ill when Whitey is home for dinner. Loathing her attitude, Whitey walks up to her room confronts her like a lion eyeing a tender deer before ravaging it. He feels her forehead wickedly with his palms and grabs her by the neck. Surprised by her normal body temperature he hints at a life threat that would make him perform another “burial”. I was visually stunned by her acting as it makes you want to gasp with acute pain and anguish.

The principal photography resembles that of the 80s Americas with the hued frames and sepia tinge to the daylight scenes. Colour grading is an upcoming science that affects the whole mood of the movies and ‘Black Mass’ delivers a dark, fearsome vibe through its frames. Masanobu Takayanagi is the master behind the camera which delivers strong long shots, character based focus pans and capturing the enchanting night lights of Boston. The iconic meeting point of Jack Connoly and Whitey is a location to remember with the cityscape in the distance and gleaming highways.

The screenplay ultimately steals the show with lines intricately crafted by Jez Butterworth and Mark Mallouk. It revolutionizes the whole method of penning a noir story based on real events. We are introduced to characters through a calm paced narrative. This allows us to fill our minds with the space necessary to evaluate the scenarios that dawn the different years from 1975 to 1985. If we do not understand or capture any of the characters and their behaviour in our minds we are at loss. But the writers pitch in the extra effort of feeding us tasteful dialogues that keep our minds clear of any confusion or contradiction. It is totally evident from the scenes in the film that the writing must be as simplistic and fluid as possible for us to capture maximum information in a given time span. A minimum of ten characters stay in our mind after we walk out of the theatres. They haunt us with their personalities and actions. An actor may deliver a line with the given vigour and passion but finally it’s the content of the lines that matter. The dialogue and space between characters must define their personality and nature. The ruthlessness of Whitey sends chills through our spines. Meanwhile,Fred Wyshak (played by Corey Stoll) becomes the new federal advocate in Connoly’s office. He is the white unicorn in disguise ready to make his hands dirty by facing the mobsters and the liars upfront. Connoly continues his act in the FBI unaware of the flames that slowly engulf him and burn him down. Eventually it leads to the fall of Whitey and subsequently his entire gang.

This movie has been truly crafted according to the modern “Godfather” model. Scott Cooper, the director, has this one to his name along with the Jeff Bridges starrer, “Crazy Heart”. He has developed a new form of narrative which places us as a third person or witness within the movie. Space is given to the audience to judge on its own and to place suspicions. This movie is fresh in its technique and screenplay backed by top notched performances. The smell of the street of Boston lingers as we walk out of the movie on to the streets, questioning the judicial system and where the world is headed.

Traumasha

The phrase “trying too hard” became evidently clear to me when I watched “Tamasha”(2015) directed by Imtiaz Ali. The instance when someone asks you to forcefully believe in an experience which calculates to a much ‘thought over’ emotion it ends up in a sheer disappointment. Cinema is a medium which takes us into a parallel dimension of experience through a carefully driven narrative and a simple inculcation of experiential indigenous values that all of us go through in our lives. Films have shown us that a simple love story between two characters can be portrayed in several ways. The one that always crosses the mark and manages to touch our hearts are the films that show a clear divide between the narrative and the character detailing. Tamasha fails in having a successful narrative style though it tries to create its own ‘unorthodox’ niche for itself. The whole purpose of a narrative is to guide us through a script like how a baby is guided to sleep in its cradle. As the movie opens, it mixes up our thoughts with a child’s innocent imaginations about a storyteller’s story that he has heard with a violent rush of characters and images while simultaneously a play is being staged somewhere. The fact that the movie wants the audience to experience its own ‘tamasha’ is rendered futile with the imposition of what is apparently normal, mediocre or true love. You can either let the audience be a character of the movie or let the character be independent, aloof of what is going on. But you can never let the movie be the audience to a character. It becomes a rigorous exercise in our minds that eventually results into a big letdown. The background score by AR Rahman and the unconventional camera work is what saves the movie a little merciful grace. He mesmerizes us with a beautiful tone of melody, bass tones and notes that bring gravity to some of the scenes. This is the positive point in terms of experimental sound scores and adaptive screenplay. When we hear Sukhwinder’s Singh’s voice in the song ‘Chali Kahani’ it is like honey to our ears as it quenches the thirst of Bollywood in us. Similarly ‘Heer toh badi sad hai’ and the raw voice of Arijit Singh in ‘Wat Wat Wat’ are the good moments in this movie. The conversation that Ved(Played by Ranbir Kapoor) has with the rickshaw wallah, a wannabe singer, after his break up is a light moment which fills an empty void in us asking for the missing personal element in the whole movie.

Deepika’s portrayal of the loving, caring and rooted ‘Tara’ is truly notable in the scene where she asks Ranbir Kapoor whether he really is himself or is he different when he proposes to her at a crowded dinner party. Her gesture of asking him to talk in private outside for two minutes is a beautiful aspect in the script and the concern about where he is headed is notable for the love she has for him. These are the solid trump cards for the screenplay which unfortunately are short lived. It becomes a predicative game of repetition and forceful script change as the so called ‘normal’ Ranbir tries to colour himself again with his inner child. Meanwhile, Ranbir’s take on Dev Anand and Robert DeNiro are light takeaways from the film which entertain us to a certain extent. However, as the movie progresses, the details missing in his character are evidently shown up like how a hollow coffin of a script shows it’s skeleton of bones. A man lives his life with certain experiences, emotions and a societal upbringing. The whole social aspect is missing in the movie which is why the rickshaw wallah scene makes us feel happy for a while and then withers away into bubbles of forcefully written characters. We start to think whether movies are only stories of characters which are strictly defined. It is definitely not. Equal dignity needs to be given to the mis-en-scene or the whole volume of each scene in a movie. The surroundings need to speak to us in a discreet yet understandable manner. The consequence of a story or a movie which does not give space for thought and contemplation within ourselves leads to a suffocative experience wanting us to surpass scenes hoping the next shot will be a lighter breeze. When the mind is lost in this kind of hope there is no space for appreciation and when there is no eagerness for appreciation, there cannot be a fulfilling experience. There are ways of developing new styles of film making and there are also ways of just creating good films with solid scripts. If you are stuck in between these two it becomes a lost cause where you do not satisfy yourself at the end of the day. Striking the right balance between the two should be the key aspect that film makers of this generation must work upon.

Kaiyotes in Bloom

The bass guitar releases a mellow tone, the keyboard dreams a few notes, the drums creep in with a tease and a magical voice jazzes up the mood. Hiatus Kaiyote is one of the very few bands nurturing a new form of jazz, funk and soul music known as the neo-soul genre. Their latest album “Choose your weapon” is a prolonged accumulation of sensitive, progressive and bop tracks which cleanse our minds with its wisdom and true rhythm. I first heard of the band on Youtube when one of my close friends made me listen to “Mobius Streak” from the Tawk Tomahawk album. I got hooked on to it owing to its intense energy and groove. Beginning with a flamenco strumming and ending up into an wholesome hummable song, this song gives a shiver of extreme satisfaction. The drummer, Perrin Moss, plays an intricate mix of time signatures while the bassist, Paul Bender, feeds the remaining life to the instrumentation. Nai Palm’s jazzy and lucid voice gives a spiritually sensuous flavour to the composition rendering it a complete experience. Simon Mavin , who plays the synthesizer, touches our ears with simplistic sounds that caress the soul. It demystifies the destination of the song creating a passive curiosity among us.

I watched a video of their performance at the Village Underground and was overwhelmed by the response they get from the whole familia of listeners. All you get to see is a humble group of Australian musicians bringing on the jam like never before. “Malika” begins with a flurry of snare beats and high hat clashes sinking into a beautiful array of jazz chords and vocals. The life they bring to the songs on stage is as appealing as listening to their songs in solitude on a rainy afternoon. Electronic music, these days, is all about high speed dub step remixes flourishing into a dull chorus, apparently called, the ‘bass drop’. Hiatus Kaiyote teaches us how electronic sounds can deeply affect music when used cordially with live instruments like the guitar and jazz drums. A fresh and unhindered voice is all that’s needed in today’s world of music. Unlike the mundane auto tuned songs with heavily processed vocals, Hiatus manages to capture realism with instinctive play on tune and poetry. With guttural sounds and a gleeful play of words, Nai Palm never fails to entertain with her brilliance. Paul Bender plays the bass aptly to portray his skill on jazz scales and discordant melody. It is him who envelopes the song with a constant tapping or slapping of chromatic and jazz notes. A series of coherent tunes exist with Paul exchanging smiles with Nai palm, Simon and Perrin as they perform “Nakamarra” on the stage.

“By fire” and “Borderline with my atoms” are the most intriguing songs from the “Choose Your weapon” album. These songs made me want to study jazz and rhythm with more depth. Mystery and hypnotic melodies govern songs like ”Prince Minikid” and “Breathing Underwater”. Drums are a backbone to music and the softer the drum beats the more effective the conveyance of the song. There can be no domination or suppression in any collaborative music. This is made very much clear in a band like Hiatus Kaiyote. Perrin Moss excels in his pursuit of puzzled encounters with beats and polyrhythms. It lingers on a larger scale in the silence that follows after the song completes its spell.  Be it the cymbal crashes, hi-hat shots, snare or bass drum kicks, the simplistic ease of the beat renders space to each and every other aspect of tunes. “By Fire” begins with an emerging chorus and a synthesized set of sounds and beats. The suspense that the first few seconds of the song creates unleashes an usual expectation. Nai Palm sings the next few lines on a totally different scale and wittingly captures the whole gravity of where the song is headed. It is a memorable journey of unexpected expectations where you can celebrate an ethereal thought or emotion. This is what makes the song go on repeat for the coming years. A peculiar keyboard tone from Simon adds so much to the song that you keep craving for that sound to fill up any silence that you face in the coming day. “Laputa” is an impressive blend of ambient sound with crafty lyrics giving it a rap-like feel. “Shaolin Monk Motherfunk” is another joyous number which keeps you gripped with its reggae jumps and beats.  The whole ordeal makes you want to shake your head to the groove with a fresh set of notes and tempos.

There is a unique way of phrasing involved in every song making it a constant exercise to anticipate the next line. The words and the rhythm get around each other like siblings, trying to bring in fun and teasing elements.

“Stone a flare cold, undercoat bare , apple over-head swift courage, shoot it down, down”  are the lines for the chorus in “The Lung”, another unique track from the Choose Your Weapon album. Each phrasing comes with its own distinct set of timing and execution made perfect by Nai Palm which makes it a trademark and a milestone in the new wave.

“Molasses” from their new album explores new sounds with bell chime elements along with an odd time signature which creates a fresh breeze of sound to the ears. You can sing along with the beautiful lines and feel the beat resonate. It is a song which stays along with the others. Nai Palm likes to experiment with her voice and diction like a fairy. “Atari” relishes the flavours of a tribal song sung in the forest with its dancing rhythms. “It is a song dedicated to vintage game consoles” says Nai Palm in an interview. Maintaining flows in their songs with silences and piano blending with a rushed set of rhythms they create a polyrhythmic anthem for listeners.   “Lace Skull” convolutes a beautiful guitar pattern with a set of humming piano notes. We feel the urge to jam with the right set of minds that focus the unfamiliar from the familiar and progressively improvise. It is a perfect ‘hiatus’ to the music scene which has needed a revival of live elements and electronic retro sounds since a long time. Raw textures and innovative experimentation have made this album a treat to the ears. We can call it the music from the “Beat” generation of our time. Give it a listen and go fly into the world of Hiatus Kaiyote.