Tuesday, July 31, 2007

The Music Less Listened To

When was the last time you listened to a new band? When was the last time you experimented with your musical tastes? I have always striven to experiment and expand the horizons of what caresses my ears, but even I have been guilty of falling into the rut. Lately, the culprit has been the radio. Every station falls over each other in the effort to play the same mindless stuff, punctured by a portion of the few quality songs that waft around in the ionosphere. I have a huge collection of music, a big part of which was sourced by my ex-lead singer, and I don't even know or know of half of them. I believe that I must now dedicate a week for each band, listen to their music, read up on their history, learn about what makes the band tick, etc, etc. The only problem is that since my ex-lead singer prefers new-age punk rock, none of these new yet-to-be-discovered-by-me bands have a real rich tapestry of history to speak of. But that doesn't mean I can't give it a shot.

Why is it so much more difficult to try out a new band than to read a new author? Firstly, both have to be experienced alone, never with somebody. The magic is lost otherwise, or diluted at the very least. I think it is because we have pre-conceived notions and expectations while we slide that CD into the player, far more than when we peel back the jacket of a book. I think it is because that CD can affect you in the very first second, in the very first chord struck, in the very first cymbal crash. I don't recall a single book that has been able to assail my senses in the very first word. Right from the time I begin to peel back the plastic wrapping on the CD jacket, I always have this pit in my stomach, the hair on my arms is standing (commonly referred to as "goosebumps", I believe) and I'm so nervous with excitement and anticipation that my hands are almost trembling. This experience occurs only with the tangible music product, never with the digital format. Just feeling the inlay, looking at the artwork on the album cover, reading every tiny detail on that inlay, be it lyrics or the name of the producer, everything gives me a high. And then the music starts, after a couple of seconds of silence for dramatic effect as the CD player gets into position to deliver one of the greatest experiences of all time. As the music progresses, you get the feeling that you've made a good purchase, maybe even great, and you get elated, even ecstatic. And you dance. You could be jiving, maybe doing a tango, a little jig perhaps, or just head-banging with an air guitar or a set of air drums. They are all dances, private and personal, shared only between you and the music.

Eventually, time will take its toll and you will start getting used to the music, and years later, it can move into the arena of nostalgia. But those first few moments, when you laid eyes on the music for the very first time, when you felt its form and listened to what it had on its mind, those metaphysical surreal first few moments are what make buying CDs and discovering music a life-long addiction.
For reference, I suggest you experience the movies Almost Famous and High Fidelity as well as read the book of the latter written by Nick Hornby.

Monday, July 30, 2007

Oh, To Stimulate The Intelligence And Not To Simulate It

I've just been going about my normal daily life, minding my own normal daily business. There-in lies the problem. It's too normal, it's too daily. I didn't realise how much of a rut I had gotten myself into till I went to meet the sister-I-never-had yesterday. Last evening was the stuff the dreams of my future life are made of. After getting off to a shaky start, the evening solidified. We sat around in a nice wide open space in the middle of a mall (an absolutely crappy mall, but it had lots of open spaces) and talked. Intellectual stuff, heart-wrenching stuff, counterculture stuff, anti-popular culture stuff, funny stuff, personal stuff, on the mobile phone stuff. We did it all. The only thing missing that would have made the evening perfect was the presence of flowing water nearby. I love looking at flowing water and listening to it - it mesmerises me. That's why I love watching the rain. That's why I love my room at home in Bangalore which has an entire wall made of sliding glass doors leading out to the balcony. So when it rains, I can just sit in my room with its hued walls and soft yellow lighting emanating from the lamps, with a cup of hot coffee (not a hot cup of coffee, as is commonly and wrongly said) and be. Just be. Just being is my single greatest aspiration, it gives me the maximum satisfaction, more than anything else in the world. To just be with the things that make you happy and content. What more could I ask for? Sigh.

On an aside, I have become a new fan of this comic strip that appears in the Hindustan Times. It's called "This is Our Life" and it's an Indian strip. Very, very funny and he uses consumer insights quite nicely. Today's was especially funny. Kudos to Rajneesh Kapoor! I can really relate to his strip. Khaled Mohammed can, however, go and wash his mouth with soap for having interviewed Amjad Ali Khan, Amaan and Ayaan Ali Khan the way he did, and then writing it in an even more rude and insulting way. Khaled, I have been noticing your writings for years now, right from your film reviews in The Times of India, and I can tell you that I have formed an opinion that many of my friends and acquaintances share. You are extremely biased. You never judge a film on its quality, but rather on the size of its star name. You treat the true hard-working, low-profile personalities with disdain while you prop up and glorify the popular movie stars who are more glamorous. I am not saying the latter are not hard-working, I am saying that you get pulled in by the name. Shame on you!

Anyway, I'm going to sign off now. And remember (at the cost of sounding preachy), jump-start creativity and stimulate intelligence, don't just simulate it. If you don't know the difference between 'stimulate' and 'simulate', chances are you're doing the latter. Look it up.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Of Being Tamil And All That Jazz

Right then! In a very convoluted stiff-upper-lip sort of way, as is wont of me, coated lightly with a longingly British accent, I'm going to try and attempt a soul-searingly revealing revelation on the experience of being a Tamilian having grown up and lived outside Tamil Nadu.

Almost everything Tamilian is unbelievably beautiful to me. I'm exposed to Tamilian-ness in slight proportions, and anything in moderation is good for you. That's one of the main reasons why relationships are at its greatest beauty at the start.

The Tamil I speak is polished and Brahminical. That's because the only Tamil I speak is to my family, and the only Tamil that they speak is polished and Brahminical. We have been spared the street Tamil that has swallowed Chennai and the rest of Tamil Nadu in recent years. And I still prefer to call Chennai 'Madras', although I am sure that this urge in me is not quite as strong as some of the old-timers in or from Chennai.

I have had a multi-dimensional multi-faceted upbringing, having been exposed to various cultures, cuisines, ideas and lifestyles, mainly because Bangalore is a melting pot of the same, and if you choose to become a sponge, there is no end to what you can soak up. Also, my parents have been extremely open-minded and forward-thinking. If I had grown up in Chennai, it would have been extremely difficult and a real struggle to stop myself from becoming uni-dimensional, simply because the local language and culture there is so omni-present and inescapable. This is not to say that there are no well-rounded individuals coming out of Chennai. This is to say that I would have found it extremely difficult. My tolerance towards North Indians and all things North Indian, which was already thrashing about at an all-time low a couple of years ago, would have probably been non-existent, to say the least.

However, I am more uni-dimensional than others in one regard. My knowledge of Indian vernacular languages is abysmally poor. Both Hindi and Tamil flounder in the face of English, and Kannada, despite my socialization in Karnataka's capital city, does not even warrant a mention. So while I am at home with all things Westernised, I am quite out of my depth with all things Indianised, even though I pretend not to notice it and admit it, to myself or to others. So I don't get a lot of things that are said or sung in Hindi and Tamil movies, more so the latter. Vernacular literature does not even exist in my repertoire of literature. I feel that I have lost out on a big part of an education that ought to have, almost by default, come to me. I grew up fairly angry at this and quite jealous of my cousins on the other side of the border, often admonishing my parents for not having given in to their roots and moved to Chennai, where I felt that I rightfully belonged. Today, I am thankful that my parents had enough sense to move to Bangalore two decades ago. I cannot imagine living in Chennai today. It is a nice city and I love going there, but only on trips. I don't think I could survive there for more than a few months, but I'm sure I'll adjust. But why adjust when you can have the real thing?

Anyway, as the more discerning readers might have discerned by now, I suffer from an identity crisis, not very dissimilar to the second generations in the United States and other far-flung lands of fortune. I am a Bangalorean, yet I am a Tamilian. And I am proud of being both!

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Sivaji: The Boss

Ok! So I finally got down to watching the Superstar's movie last night. You want my review? Read the first word. Would I watch it again? But of course. Anyway, I'm now joining the horde and writing my own impressions of the film.

Any communication has to follow the cardinal rule: a single message. The minute you try to focus on two or more things, it gets lost and confused. Shankar has made the cardinal mistake. He's given equal importance to Rajnikanth and to the issue of corruption and black money. Result: see-sawing movie. When I first came out of the hall, my initial reaction was negative. But on the ride home, as I ruminated on the film, I realised the bigger picture. Hence, I can now subscribe to the many reviews that have touted this as being a great film while simultaneously being a bad film.

Shriya was poor, to say the least. She looks mind-blowing and I can't recall a Bollywood heroine in the recent past who has been made to look quite as good. However, she has a wimpy whimpering character, and although Anuradha Sengupta has said that Rajnikanth was stuck in the 80s, I believe it's the potrayal of our Tamil heroines that's stuck in the 80s. An innocent girl who's forever scared and on the verge of tears. Very irritating. And as a result of this whiny character, Rajni himself appeared quite sad when it came to wooing the girl. Some poor comedy and wooing scenes that put Sivaji completely out of character. I mean, you can only really shine when there is something that reflects.

Suman was insipid as a villain. A lot of people have raved about his controlled performance, but seriously, there is more to being a villain than looking and walking dangerously with dangerous back-ground music and eyeing your minions threateningly. Confrontation scenes between Rajni and Suman were of poor quality, with Suman shifting while trying to appear angry and vengeful. Some of those scenes smacked of serials straight out of Tamizh television channels. Again, Rajni struggles to shine. For a serious lesson in villainy, look at these two stalwarts: Raghuvaran as Mark Anthony in Baasha, and Ramya Krishnan as Neelambari in Padayappa. They were absolutely brilliant, and as a result, Rajni was able to shine in all his splendour.

Rajni seems to have been under-played, with "Amma-Thambi" Mama Vivek even stealing a couple of punch-line moments. Then suddenly, it's classic Rajni in bursts, with some sweet lines and fight scenes. That fight scene in the music shop Royal Musicals was straight out of a Chinese movie (See House of Flying Daggers) and I thought it was brilliantly executed. And I don't know why people were complaining about Rajni's entry. I thought it was one of the greatest entries that Rajni has had in a very long time. My mouth was watering with anticipation with that entry. I thought I was going to be in for a superb film, quite unlike any other Rajni film. I think I was expecting a Rajni-ised version of Mani Ratnam's Thalapati, with class and typical Rajni style. I was let-down mostly.

However, the real class of the film comes through only when you look at it relatively. Compare it to films emanating from Boringwood (Mumbai) and Horriblewood (Los Angeles). Have you ever seen such grandeur in sets? Utter beauty. Have you witnessed such brilliance in computer animation technology that a dark Rajni is made to look white? And include the songs and the coin and fight scenes as well. Fantastic. I was blown away by the scale of the entire project and by how well the fantasy element was executed, even though I detest fantasy.

All in all, I've seen better. But hey, bring on the re-runs, I say. Cool!

Monday, July 09, 2007

Wimble-donna

I was watching a bit of last night's Wimbledon men's finals between Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal. I haven't seen a tennis match in a while, more so Wimbledon, and now I know why. The quality of the game was really poor (and I don't mean the transmission) and the very concept of serve-and-volley was non-existent. I believe the golden age of Wimbledon has most definitively drawn to a close. The curtains came down in the year 2001, when the last true champion (and my personal favourite) won Wimbledon - Goran Ivanisevic. The golden era started in 1974 with the ascension to the throne by Jimmy Connors. Take a look at this illustrious list.

Jimmy Connors - 1974, 1982
Arthur Ashe - 1975
Bjorn Borg - 1976, 1977, 1978, 1979, 1980
John McEnroe - 1981, 1983, 1984
Boris Becker - 1985, 1986, 1989
Pat Cash - 1987
Stefan Edberg - 1988, 1990
Michael Stich - 1991
Andre Agassi - 1992
Pete Sampras - 1993, 1994, 1995, 1997, 1998, 1999, 2000
Richard Krajicek - 1996
Goran Ivanisevic - 2001

They are all fantastic serve-and-volley artists, and an absolute joy to watch. If you look at the finalists, you will see some runner-up names that are equally illustrious. This meant that there were some mind-blowing finals for over a quarter of a century. Having grown up with tennis of this calibre and this sort being beamed into my living room, this fall from grace of Wimbledon is hard to take. The superstars, the showmen of tennis have all gone. In their place, we have replacements.