Friday, July 30, 2010

Painting : George Grosz's 'Eclipse Of The Sun'

Born in Berlin, George Grosz (1893-1959) was a leading member of the Dada Movement, who later painted many caustic works criticizing the rise of Nazism. Like many artists who fled Europe, Grosz immigrated to the United States and was teaching at the Art Students League in New York. Grosz returned to Germany in May 1959 to live out his days, but died from a fall down a flight of stairs within weeks of his return.

George Grosz’s large masterpiece Eclipse of the Sun of 1926 became available only in 1968, after it was acquired by the Heckscher Museum of Art. The painting is a scathing indictment of the military-industrial complex and of materialism, featuring an industrialist, a general, and four headless members of the bureaucratic bourgeoisie, all under a sun that is obscured by a dollar sign. The donkey atop the table and the dead skeleton strewn on the floor are the tell-tale signs of modern nation-states across the world. Eclipse of the Sun is one of the most important oil paintings of the 20th Century.

Monday, July 19, 2010

The Life & Death Of A Model

As life unfolded its quirks, she got used to living on a precipice. She was in and out of relationships. She fell apart from the guys whom she loved. For they ended up giving her more grief than solace. Finally she fell apart from herself. From becoming Miss Mauritius in the early 1990s to the voluptuous Kama-Sutra condom ad during the same decade, she had seen it all. Love and relationships, cocaine and champagne, trust and betrayals. She was settling down in Mumbai - an urban phantasmagoria of maddening frenzy. A city which did and undid her. Bollywood did not beckon her. She continued to struggle past her prime to establish herself. Sometime back she had started an event management company with one of her boyfriends. It did not work out. Then she embarked one on her own. And kept dabbling with fashion choreography. Only about a couple of months ago, she met another guy - much younger by age. She began to send him anonymous bouquet of flowers, while they were texting amorous sms-es. Love and passion got exchanged via BlackBerry and FaceBook. Once, he had even promised her total loyalty, to assuage her from her spiralling bouts of insecutiry. She began to nurture the obsession of matrimony in her mind. Probably as a panacea to all the ills of a failing life. As a therapy to her fractured soul.

He was just in for a fling. Being a serial-dater, he revelled in lavish parties and in the company of the bold and the beautiful. Simultaneously involved with others as well. When she confronted him head-on, he confessed her that he was not ready for any real commitment. What she might have apprehended all along would have been spelt lucidly by him in black and white. A dreaded nightmare came true, shattering all the castles in her mindscape. A bloodied altercation followed that night. He left her flat and drove his car back home, safely. After many hours of trauma and turbulence, she scribbled in her diary, 'Why are you not able to understand me..Will I've to be reborn for you to understand me..You've become dear to me in such a small time..Why can't you even give me a small place in your life..', appending his name in between those broken lines with a final sentence, 'You killed me..', before sedating herself more. Not to take any chances, she opened her gas stove on. She then took a rope and hung herself. When the door was broke open after more than twelve hours, they could immediately find only four of her six pet cats. They other two were found much later - hiding, shivering and scared. Their fond eyes carried away with them, the multiple truths and manifold tales in the life of the dusky exquisite damsel Viveka Babajee, into the eternal highway, which she had always longed for.

Modelling is no easy job. It is a tough career to opt for. The competetion is cut-throat. Slips are too many. And the speed to catch up is dizzying. The fashion industry is a complex labyrinth. Young people with chiselled bodies get caught in the whirlpool of desire to make it real big and earn a good lot of money. And not just the brawn. Even their brains are sharper. They are as clever as any fellow competitor in any other domain of modern existence and its varied markets. Many models in the post-liberalisation scenario are deft in playing the dubious game with mind-blowing ruthlessness and astonishing aplomb. They do not yell as seriously hilarious as Cuba Gooding, Jr. and Tom Cruise did in that memorable Jerry Maguire, but simply hiss into your ears with a spine-chilling sternness : show me the money! Strange but true, the archaic notions of feminism are being forcibly redefined. The fashion industry and modelling world do not simply stereotype women into the dominant narratives as stipulated and fantasised by the Western Anglo-Saxonic White male gaze. They do not dumbly prejudice the younger generation of girls, guys and LGBT to ape the unrealistic physical beauty standards resulting in a skewed relationship with their body images. On the contrary, it has opened up a plethora of multicultural spaces for the Black, the Brown, the Yellow and the Rainbow coloured to create their own stratagems of empowerment. Encompassing all the genders and the transgendered. In fact, this is the only post-modern domain where gender-bender is at its exuberant zenith!

Life is not always beautiful. In the developing Afro-Asian world, the social moorings still play a crucial role in shaping the destiny of individuals. They classify successes and failures in an insidious and topsy-turvy manner, wrecking havoc in the lives of many a sensitive beings. One should be shamelessly thick-skinned and psycho-pathologically tough to survive the prodding and the beating. Being complicit with all the murky games of existence is no easy task. To piece together the splintered self and yet to prance around with a smug smile takes a heavy toll. Body and soul. Some might be able to make it. And some might flounder and fall down on the wayside. It is not because of one's inherent strength or weakness that they happen. The question of Chance versus Necessity haunt and baffle humanity from the times of Plato's dear bete noire Democritus to Jacques Monod. It is easy to pontificate as to why Viveka Babajee should not have committed suicide. There may be dime a dozen reasons and logic as to how she ought to have continued to live like the rest of us. Probably she should have got married to a wacko and lived a dead life. Is it so Herculean to learn a few basic tricks and professionally manage the matrimonial show? I do not intend to be judgemental about her suicide. It's her life. And she has exercised her sacrosanct right to die. It is unfair and tragic. But it is her deliberate choice. So be it.  

Not all suicides are as honourable and heroic as the seppuku or hara-kiri of a Japanese Samurai. In most of the cases, it is the consequence of unbearable pain and anguish, loneliness and misery. To take the ultimate step of annihilating one's own victimised self by physical extermination is excruciating. The theoretical underpinnings of karma and reincarnation, which are common amongst most of the ancient religions, do not endorse the idea of suicide. But the tormented self, who opts for such an extreme step of suicide, might probably be longing to transmigrate into a better soul and body in the forthcoming rebirth. But I wonder if at all any longing would exist at that stage of despondency. Who knows. On this planet Earth, millions of species are born and dead during every second of the maha kaala chakra. Human species is just one of it. Nevertheless, each life of every species is precious and sacred. The mystical experience called death should happen as natural and as celebratory as life. That can be our only prayer. The least that life can expect from any responsible being is that one should not get caught in a vicious trap of one's own making in the name of some so-called love, upstart materialism and half-baked spirituality. Finally ending up vainly in such a futile exit. The suicide of Viveka Babajee disturbs us more than the hundreds of other deaths that we read everyday in the media. Naturally so. Because she is part of our aspirational middle class, with the same value systems, dilemmas and hypocrisies. She is one of us. We share similar dreams and delusions, fantasies and nightmares, successes and failures. More than that, it makes us feel indirectly guilty as well. For we have devoured the erotic images of Viveka Babajee like rodents in lurch. Objectified her body and consumed it hardcore. Her suicide has exposed certain disconcerting fault-lines in our sanctimonious double standards regarding love, sex and marriage. But we would surreptitiously camouflage it in order to go around with our saccharine deceptions. And we shall label it as successful living.  Andy Warhol, the towering figure of the pop-art movement had prognosed in the late 1960s that, in the future, eveyone will be world-famous for fifteen minutes! Sadly in the case of Viveka Babajee, it has become posthumous.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Priceless (French) : A Beautiful Journey In Romance

~ Stills of the French Actress Audrey Tautou ~

It has been a long time since I had a lazy weekend. Without travelling. Without reading. Without any binges or consequent hang-overs. It is indeed fabulous to sleep on and on. To escape the tyranny of the clock has been one of the cherished longings of my life. And I could indulge in such luxuries only once in a while. It certainly helps. To reinvigorate and rescue some sanity from the maddening life. I slumbered this Sunday away and woke up in the middle of a beautiful dream which am not able to recollect. It must have been beautiful for I woke up with a smile inside the quilt. It was dark and the sound of the rains falling from the skies embraced me with a warm welcome, held my hands and took me to the real from the ethereal. Both being unusually tantalising. Like Charles Baudelaire, I was tempted to ask the wind and the wave, ask the star, the bird, or the clock, ask everything that flies, everything that moans, everything that flows, everything that sings, everything that speaks, ask them, what time it is! And the wind, the wave, the star, the bird and the clock will all reply: “It is Time to get drunk! If you are not to be the martyred slaves of Time, be perpetually drunk! With wine, with poetry, or with virtue, as you please.” When I saw the time with a vengeance, it was half-past One in the afternoon. A Cheshire Cat smile adorned my mischievous face, for I felt like having vanquished the wicked tickling time!

The idiot box has resurrected itself with some intelligence after the arrival of two interesting channels : NDTV Lumiere and UTV World Movies. Thanks to the marketing brilliance of Prannoy Roy and Ronnie Screwvala, we get to see some amazing movies from the world cinema. It is a real leap from those good old Doordarshan days when we used to watch the regional Indian movies on Sunday afternoons after the news for the hearing impaired and some world movies on late Friday nights after a long wait. With the advent of the DVDs, this niche market is becoming more sophisticated with the demand and supply chain veering towards a reasonable equilibrium. These days, you can acquire a Fritz Lang or a Jacques Tati, a Wim Wenders or a Fatih Akin with so much ease. This was unimaginable until a few years ago. Hope it should not take much time to get a Pier Paolo Pasolini or a Sergei Parajnov from a Landmark shop, rather than depending upon torrentz downloads and the subsequent sub-titling labour involved in the process. During the last few months, both the Tamil and Hindi film industry have started churning out muck after muck. The latest ones being Mani Ratnam's Raavan and Punit Malhotra's I Hate Luv Stories. With the kind of reviews both had got, I chose to stay indoors and enjoy the rains instead of getting into a masochistic exercise of watching some trash. Surprisingly, during such times, the rain god blesses you doubly well. That is how I got to watch the French movie Priceless on NDTV Lumiere this Sunday.

Jean works as a bartender in a hotel and pretends to be a rich man. He woos Irene, whose sole aim is to enjoy all the riches of life and make it big. She loves to be solicited by the rich and the lonely lot, by trading her seductive company. After a romantic rendezvous with Jean, Irene discovers the real net worth of Jean and dumps him. The forlorn Jean pursues Irene with a few encounters which end up becoming comic rather than striking any warm note in the heart of Irene. Jean becomes a gigolo and gets picked up by a wealthy widow. The wealthy old lady pampers Jean to satisfy her whims and fancies arising out of her need to care and to be taken care of. Jean starts leading his dream-come-true lifestyle, which is otherwise unaffordable. Meanwhile, Irene becomes an escort of a rich patron whose is again lonely and lost in the material world. Both the weird pairs come to stay at the same luxurious hotel. This paves way for Jean to meet Irene on the sly. Irene teaches Jean the art of digging more money and favours from his client. The trick works for a while but gets discovered by the smarter old lady who is a past master in the game. The old lady ends up by merely warning Jean not to act coy henceforth, as she finds herself entangled in her emotions towards Jean. Gradually, Irene and Jean start missing each other amidst their swanky and opulent lives which they have started indulging themselves. During the middle of a night, when their respective clients are fast asleep, both Irene and Jean escape to the sea shore in the vicinity, have champagne and start feeling an overwhelming intimacy towards each other. They wake up at the dawn and without expressing a word to each other, return to the hotel. I leave the rest of the story to be relished by watching the movie only.

What enchanted me the most in the movie is the way the characters are portrayed. The opulence of the rich is not portrayed as villainous and ugly. And the longing for the riches by the under-privileged is not run down over with any moral sermoninising. Both have their own charms and their own truths. Every character is handled with an empathy and a genuineness worthy of itself. Though the movie ends in a happy note with the triumph of true love over money, it has been nuanced with all the richness of the wealthy. A very interesting facet of the movie is that though both the lovers might be sleeping with their respective clients as a professional hazard, they don't moralise about it at all and their love for each other grows more and more passionate. The director has accomplished this with such ease and finesee that one may not find it incongruous in anyway! That is no ordinary feat by the brilliant director Pierre Salvadori. And the real discovery for me is Audrey Tautou. She is a wonder of a human being, encapsulating all the myriad expressions moulded into a single beautiful face. The most memorable character in this movie Priceless is Irene, which has been performed remarkably well by Audrey Tautou. Am yet to watch any of her other famous movies like Amelie, The Da Vinci Code or Coco Avant Chanel, to name a few. Hope to watch them soon.

Simple but endearing romantic movies like this are a delight to watch. Especially when it rains!

Movie Rating : 8 out of 10