The Rajasthan Diaries: Jaisalmer

Jaisalmer is a rather small city. Smaller than Jodhpur, at least. As you wander through the city, you get tastes of its vibrant history trickling down right from the Mughal period, through the British Raj and to the present day. It was founded by Rawal Jaisal in 1156, who named the city after himself and established a mud fort.

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One of the most noticeable features of this city is the magisterial Jaisalmer Fort. The Jaisalmer Fort is a gigantic structure, modeled on yellow sandstone, which gives a birds eye view of the entire city. AND it’s probably the world’s sole living fort. That’s right. People reside within the walls of the fort, running businesses, hotels, restaurants and shops. Amidst these, sits the King’s palace and the adjacent Queen’s palace. I was told that just opposite the palace building was a palace dedicated to the royal’s children. This wing has high walls and some intricate ornamentations were discernible. Yet it sits in ruins.

The palace gives you the facilities of a guided audio tour, which I happily availed of. The places open to the public included the king’s stately quarters which included tiles from Holland and the the queen’s wing (or the Zenana) among others. The sculptures shown were extremely interesting, including one depicting Rama with a beard. The female ones showed the women depicted in typically feminine activities such as dancing and gazing into a mirror.

The palace doesn’t seem to be as well looked after and conserved as Meherangarh Fort. The stench of bat poop ran amok.

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Walking through the fort, we were acquainted with large troupes of foreigners (mostly Europeans). The shops mostly sold curios aimed specifically at the demographic of tourists (wrap around skirts with ethnic print, hippie looking pants with elephant print running all over them, colourful and vibrant looking scarves and shawls). The Jain temples situated here are extremely old (I forget precisely how old).

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Rich and colourful shops, clothes and houses are aligned next to each other within the fort.

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Surrounding the fort is a labyrinthine pattern of lanes. The lanes are narrow, leaving just enough room for a bike to squeeze through. Different colors adorn some of the walls. The exterior of the houses are designed with the ornamentations and intricate They are tenanted with businesses, shops, houses and hotels. The mimetic prowess of the designers of these hotel;s is quite good. The exteriors of the hotels are all designed to give you the feeling you’re residing in those palatial Rajasthani havelis (though the interiors tell another story altogether). They have tried to bring in the same ornate architectural aesthetics and intricacies seen in the havelis and the forts. As you make your way up to the fort, a steady stream of rickshaw and taxi drivers accost you for work during off season.

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One such haveli was owned by the Bafnas. Built in the 19th Century by Patwa Gumanlal Bafna, this haveli has 2 wings, one which is open to the public and the other which is resided in by the descendants of the Bafnas.

The haveli has approximately 5 floors, the topmost being a terrace with some nice views of the city and the fort. Unfurnished, unadorned and uninhabited, the haveli was a peaceful place to set foot in. Only one room had been adorned in a bright red. It had mirrors on all of its walls, which had worn out and could no longer be used as reflective surfaces. In the darker corners of the haveli lurked bats. There was a stench of bat poop that followed us as we meandered through the rooms and staircases.

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The Rajasthan Diaries: Jodhpur

Lanes and by-lanes, branching out like tributaries, cover the length and breadth of Jodhpur. This ancient city is peppered with buildings that are adorned with rich blue hues and red sandstone. Some of the roads are lined with bright bougainvillaea ranging from red to pink to white. A walk through Tripoliya on my first evening here as well as my last evening of the trip, was an emphatically noisy one. Located next to the Clock Tower, this busy street acquainted me with a cacophony of sounds and sights. Stray cattle were strutting their stuff. There were abundances in animal poop, that made walking particularly difficult. A battery of people, rickshaws and other vehicles populated the streets. The lanes are occupied with numerous shops selling clothes, saris and electronics. Women clothed in a wide palette of colours adorned the streets; buying, selling and carrying about business as usual.

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Umaid Bhawan Palace is a recent construct, built in the mid-20th Century. It’s in the care of Maharaja Gaj Singh.  A small section houses a museum that’s open to the public, a sizeable section is devoted to a hotel in the complex and another chunk acts as the residence of the royals. The furniture and interiors were originally designed by a firm in London and the ship carrying the furniture was sunk by the Germans during the Second World War. The interiors were then designed by the Polish designer Stefan Norblin. The Oriental Room, gilded and ornate, is just one room out of the palace designed by him, that’s open to the public. The museum houses architectural plans, furniture designs, a detailed history of the palace and the royals who constructed it.There were all sorts of artefacts, from the king’s throne to an entire room reserved for a large collection of clocks, hygrometers, barometers and whatnot. On the way down from the palace is a huge building society, owned by the royal family.
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Mandore is a small area approximately 9 km away from Jodhpur. The Mandore Gardens consist of temples dedicated to the kings and a museum (which unfortunately was closed, when I visited it)

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Yet out of all the places visited, Mehrangarh Fort is the most exquisite. A vast structure, standing tall over the city, it’s rich architectural nuances bespeaks of a rich culture, heritage and history. It was built by Rao Jodha in 1459. He’s credited as the founder of the city of Jodhpur. Apparently someone had cursed the land on which the fort was built. Advice from a priest was sought, who contended that a human sacrifice is imperative for countering the effects of the curse. A man named Raja Ram Meghwal stepped up to the challenge and was buried alive in the fort. And apparently the descendents of this man enjoy a special relationship with the royals of Jodhpur. Or so they say. My first visit was marred by dark clouds, so I was unable to get those good hard shadows for my photography (Dang it!) After 24 hours and a hailstorm, the skies cleared up. On my second visit there, I took one of those audio guides offered by the museum, which give you a pretty comprehensive account of the items and rooms on display.We were taken to all sorts of rooms: The Phool Mahal, the Takhat Vilas which was Maharaja Takhat Singh’s sleeping quarters, the Zenana Mahal among others. All were ornately decorated and intricately adorned with gold and jewelled stones and featured elaborate paintings and borders. The  Zenana Mahal, or the women’s quarters were particularly intriguing. It’s interesting to note that the Zenana Mahal and the separate king’s quarters exists in the forts in Jaisalmer and Bikaner as well.

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What the Oscars 2015 Got Right

Though the Oscars 2015 were lambasted for being the ‘whitest’ this year, if it’s one thing they got right, it was to give Wes Anderson’s deliciously opulent ‘The Grand Budapest Hotel’ four awards (woop woop!). I was rooting for it to take the Best Picture award, which went to Birdman (no surprises there).

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For those of you who’ve seen it or who would like to, ‘The Grand Budapest Hotel’ serves up equal doses of comedy and gravitas. What makes it so relevant in today’s world is the fact that it’s dealing with the Holocaust. According to this article in The Atlantic, Anderson includes three characters who are representative of the victims of the war: the bisexual Monsieur Gustave, Zero who represents the ethnic minorities and Deputy Kovacs, who’s Jewish.The film does not play out a particular episode based during the time of the Second World War, but it has pretty obvious references to the Nazis, fascism, victimization and death, all hallmarks of that time period. I do understand why people haven’t been too receptive to a comedic treatment of a horrific set of events. But the film clearly isn’t a retelling of the events that transpired during the War nor has Anderson, in any way, justified the antagonists’ behavior or the fascism shown.

The comedy is nuanced, often dark at times, and has the underpinnings of a deeply tragic history. That’s precisely it’s victory right there. As pointed out by Chris Barsanti, “Like all great absurdist comedies, The Grand Budapest Hotel is ultimately a tragedy where the laughs signal doom as much as joy.”

So what makes the Grand Budapest Hotel grand? Why did this film pick up the technical awards that night, and rightfully so?

With Wes Anderson’s delicate mise en scenes, it’s hard to go wrong. His carefully crafted frames, a playfulness with colours, linearity and composition and a wonderfully endearing cast of characters may have something to do with it as well. Every frame has been judiciously arranged like a multi-layered cake culminating in a rather sweet taste. I have not seen a film make use of stop-motion animation and miniatures the way ‘Budapest’ has. The choice of colours, the use of lighting and aspect ratios help set the tone for each of the three eras shown in the film. The music features Russian overtones that add an additional layer of whimsicality.

Another thing the Oscars got right: the Best Foreign Language Film for ‘Ida’.

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 Directed by Pawel Pawelikowski, ‘Ida’ is quiet, meditative and evocative. Delicately composed and exquisitely nuanced, this film shows tremendous technique and skill. And I cannot talk highly enough of the cinematography. The film on the whole becomes an emotional experience for the viewer, simply through an austere style. I am in awe of Lukasz Zal’s and Ryszard Lenczewski’s cinematography for this film. Words really can’t seem to express how impactful the images of this film really are. So I’m going to keep this post short and link you to this: http://nofilmschool.com/2015/02/composition-costuming-color-clever-ways-ida-expresses-turmoil

The reason I mentioned these 2 particular films is to demonstrate how they moved me. And quite frankly, they’re the best films of 2014. Both films play with notions of time, history, memory, identity whilst displaying two very different and striking aesthetic styles and narratives. Where ‘The Grand Budapest Hotel’ is a palette of colours, ‘Ida’ is a monochrome portrait. Both exhibit a musicality in the use of sound, music and editing, in different ways. And both deal with the effects of the Holocaust. Where ‘The Grand Budapest Hotel’ is a tragicomedy with a mad-cap chase amid hijinks and whimsical characters, ‘Ida’ is a solemn and serious contemplation on identity, war and religion. And where ‘Budapest’ ends on a slightly happier note, ‘Ida’ hits home with a stronger and darker point.

On Fetishizing Cats and Dogs

The proliferation of images in the digital public space as well as non-digital public and private spaces, shape and mold our notions of reality and materiality. Within the digital space there’s Facebook, Instagram, YouTube and a myriad other networks linking disparate cultures, yoking dissimilar traditions and facilitating instant communication.

 And currently, animals are taking over the Internet. Apart from a gargantuan amount of videos showing animal behavior in action, Instagram in particular has seen some action too:

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Dougie the Shih Tzu

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Snoopy Babe the Cat

Darcy the Flying Hedgehog

Darcy the Flying Hedgehog

Dailypuppy features cute and huggable puppies

Dailydougie is a digital archive of Dougie the Shih Tzu’s life.

Dogs of Instagram displays Instagram accounts featuring various types of dogs

Cats of Instagram parades primarily cats

Darcy the Flying hedgehog, features a hedgehog (who obviously doesn’t fly)

Don’t get me wrong. They are cute enough to cuddle with, squeeze and gobble up.

Cats, dogs, hedgehogs or any animal capable of being domesticated are featured prominently on their owners’ accounts with pictures, videos and anecdotes to follow. Their owners go as far as to create separate accounts in the name of their pets featuring bytes in the voices of their respective pets, in a bid to up the cute quotient. A single account like ‘Cats of Instagram’ or ‘Dogs of Instagram’ serves as an online directory for these kinds of accounts.   It’s interesting to note how these practices seem Occidental in origin. Though these trends seem to be gaining worldwide momentum, I don’t find as many Instagram accounts from Indians posting frequently about their pets.

These images can be seen as studies in the visual representations of animals in the digital public space. Anyone possessing a smartphone has the capability of framing his/her domestic pet, creating a vast directory of knowledge regarding the pet’s behavior and presenting it to the world before them. More often than not, these animals are extremely good looking, caught in an amusing pose, or are engaging in pretty mundane things.

To be honest, I was quite a fan of this phenomenon. I can understand as to how the pictures get hits upto a million even, cause quite a palaver and enter routine discussions both on and off social media. After observing my own behavior and of those around me towards these images, I’ve realized we categorically fetishize and commodify animals online in unhealthy ways. Browsing through the aforementioned Instagram accounts and many more is akin to looking at a magazine full of models, a practice that highlights how we as spectators impose our gaze on them and keep them framed and constrained within our gazes.

Garry Marvin writes, “Watching’ is a more attentive viewing than looking and it also indicates that time is being given to the process; one does not watch in a moment. The OED refers to “the continued act of watching,” to “observing with continuous attention” and “to keep a person or thing in sight.” Watching is an event in which the viewer is alert to the animal.” John Berger’s essay entitled “Why Look at Animals” delineates the politics between humans and animals and tackles how we look at animals. Berger describes the process of looking as one-sided, as a subject-object relationship where “…animals are always the observed. The fact that they can observe us has lost all significance. They are the objects of our ever extending knowledge.”

These pictures of cats and dogs, or any other animal, are their cages into which we peer inquisitively. They preoccupy us. They fascinate us. They amuse us. They entertain us. We actively consume these images on a daily basis, thereby reducing animals to mere spectacles. We identify them as our Other and relentlessly exoticize them in the public digital space, an act we implement with men and women as well. Akin to looking at those images of men and women which shape societal and cultural notions of beauty, physical attractiveness, masculinities and femininities, we use animals in the same way: we put out, look at and hold discourses on those images of animals that we think are “cute”, “adorable” and “beautiful”. These images end up becoming standards with which we can discriminate between the “cute” and “not cute”, the “adorable” and the “ugly”.

But is exoticizing animals really the answer? And does dressing your dog or cat up in human clothes really help? Isn’t it sad that we already doll up both men and women in ways that put out certain notions of “beauty” and “perfection” and then animals have to follow suit?

Now I’m not saying that watching/looking at/petting/cuddling with/living with a pet is wrong. I’m not saying pampering an animal with love, affection and attention is wrong. It’s also not wrong to look at these pictures so they can brighten up your day and cheer you up. And I’m not saying that uploading pictures of your pet on social media is wrong. What I am questioning is whether all of this is really necessary. A discussion with a friend made me realize that this particular subject is really part of a much larger conversation. Our societies and cultures are built on the stanchions of differentiation, segregation, discrimination, and classification, and if our notions of right-wrong, good-bad and fair-unfair are all subjective, is segregation on the basis of looks really necessary?

I know it’s quite natural to classify something on the grounds of appearance and attractiveness. But, and this is just my subjective opinion here, there’s something wrong in plastering and parading images of animals, objectifying them and choosing to portray them in certain ways. We do it to ourselves. But why animals? Which brings me to another issue, but a more ambiguous one: Is photography in general a voyeuristic act that exoticizes its subject?

Feel free to comment and discuss, please! 🙂

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Why I Love Harry Potter

harry-potter-and-the-prisoner-of-azkaban  About 3 months ago, I decided on a whim, to re-read one of my favourite books from the Harry Potter series, Harry Potter and  the Prisoner of Azkaban. I had first read the book when I was 9 years old and subsequently have been rereading it whenever I  get spurts of free time or when I find I don’t have anything to read at that moment. This most recent spate of reading the book was preceded by a rather long spate (a few years) of not reading it.

 

I was surprised by the fact that I was just as enchanted by the book and the series as I was 12 years ago. I caught myself smiling on the train ride to college as I ambled through the Weasley twins giving Harry the Marauders Map. I cleverly hid the book during a particularly dull college lecture so I could finish off ‘Professor Trelawney’s Prediction’. During the time I allotted to studying college texts, I ferociously devoured the remaining chapters. Suffice it to say, I was hooked.

 

So what is it that makes it so real? Why am I unable to react to any other book series the way I reacted to Harry Potter? And why is it that I enjoy rereading the series so much? Well, the way I see it, the narrative strikes a gentle balance between:

a) supplying the reader with large bouts of knowledge about the wizarding world and gradually revealing Harry’s personal history

b) making it relatable and fun for the reader to read, by introducing characters both relatable and complex and delineating various incidents and happenings.

Firstly, the Harry Potter series is an example of knowledge production. Rowling uses myths, legends and folklore from around the world, to engineer an entire world with its own myths, legends and folklore. She has constructed a world which parallels with the “real” world, a non-magical space in which us readers reside. However, this magical Other space shares a lot of detail with its non-magical counterpart: politics of race, class, gender, government issues and what not. It’s the Otherness, newness and the dissimilarities of the magical wizarding world, with its intricate detail, that make it the most interesting. “Although the wizarding world seems to be the shadowside of the Muggle, mimicking its concerns, bureaucratic structure and weaknesses, it is actually represented as more concrete than the culture whose discourse, traditions and customs it mirrors”, writes Katie Behr.

By making the wizarding world a location of social, political, historical and economic significance, Rowling ensures that the vastness and complexity of the narrative swells up. With the series being largely Eurocentric in its details, she foregrounds the wizarding world of England in her narrative. Readers are made aware of snippets of information regarding the international wizarding community, a way of showing the sheer scale of this world. And it is through the third person omniscient narration, focusing mostly on Harry, that provides a vital gateway to this world.

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Hogwarts

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The Ministry of Magic

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Diagon Alley

More importantly, the narrative shows the convoluted and tenuous natures of knowledge systems, power, control, authority, bureaucracy, stereotypes, prejudices, morality, ethics, history, gender, race and class. Rowling also creates hierarchies between the Muggleborns and the Purebloods, also incorporating the marginalized and less privileged members of the community, the house-elves. The books are good examples of how the presence or absence of knowledge, specifically within the walls of her books, affects characters and their reactions. Taking the Prisoner of Azkaban as an example, the moment where Sirius Black is revealed is innocent and Peter Pettigrew a perpetrator dramatically changes the situation. The public perceptions of both these characters as well as public history (Sirius as a traitor to the Potters; Pettigrew as a hero who died tragically) undergo a change as their personal histories come to light.

Secondly, Rowling manages to create characters, both endearing and sinister, both good and evil, both knowable and unknowable. Though the battle against Voldemort stands for the larger battle between good and evil, characters themselves aren’t always written in black or white. Though Snape’s past and his history with Lily did appear a tad predictable, Snape’s character is a small example of how a character can be both knowable and unknowable. With Rita Skeeter, Rowling shows the sensationalist nature of journalism. Hermione continues to remain my favourite character after all these years. Alyssa Rosenberg names Hermione Granger as “the greatest and most progressive popular romantic heroine of a generation”. Her intellect, her wit, her sense of morality and ethics, these are things that make her an inspiration, a feminine character that’s remained unmatched in the books I’ve read. She is a great example of ‘girl power’, of a woman being fiercely independent, intelligent, and assertive. Ever since I started reading the books, I’ve always wanted to be like her.

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Emma Watson as Hermione Granger

A lot of things wouldn’t have been easy or possible for me without the Harry Potter books. Harry Potter kept me company during those lonely childhood years. It made the experience of school endurable in moments when I felt the loneliest. When the stiff and restraining world of school and academics would take its toll, Harry Potter would be the perfect antidote, providing me an escape when I needed one. It coincidentally, nurtured my creativity as well. Since Harry Potter merchandise and memorabilia was too expensive, only sold in USA and Europe and therefore completely unattainable, I’d make my own artifacts from the series. I made a replica of the Marauder’s Map when I was 12, a near-exact facsimile of the original shown in the Azkaban movie.

The version of the Marauder's Map made by me when I was 12

The version of the Marauder’s Map made by me when I was 12

But more importantly, it’s primarily Rowling’s narrative and wild imagination that helped me develop an interest in writing and taught me how to put pen to paper. The series helmed and nurtured my love for English Literature, a subject I’m proud to say that I’ve earned a BA degree in.

Rosenberg brings up another point regarding the Potter films. “…Hermione has never been as vibrant on screen as she was on the page. Emma Watson’s fine, but she’s not my Hermione. Watson’s too pretty, too fashionable, not quite as awkward as the Hermione who lives in my mind. The tweaks to her characterization are a perfect example of the basic problem with the movies: they nail down the details of the books in a way that subverts the inventive experience of reading, even as they revisit the basic events and characters of the books. The movies take the characters out of my hands, so sweaty with tension during my midnight read of Deathly Hallows that they stained the hard cover. They condense Rowling’s stories, trim details. And even more importantly, they’re almost too exact, creating a definitive visual version of people and events that on the page we were free to interpret for ourselves.”

Discovering how Spellotape is the magical equivalent of Cellotape, and how the Knight Bus and the Floo Network are the wizarding world’s ways of public transportation, how Hippogriffs, dragons, Thresthrals are some of the fauna populating the wizarding world, couldn’t be more thrilling for me. The act of reading is what makes the wizarding world real, tangible and believable. With the act of watching it on-screen, the beauty of individual interpretation vanishes, thereby making the films less believable. The journey from word to image, though not easy, strives hard to recreate but loses the flavor and the punch of J. K. Rowling’s writing. Though both mediums foreground Harry’s adventures in particular, the films edit out the minutiae and the tiniest of elements of this fictional world, elements that add to its believability.

Recently, a three movie Harry Potter spin-off was announced based on Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. I don’t take to franchise films too well. Though the Potter films were hollow and weak, it was Prisoner of Azkaban in particular that was finely honed. Like any other franchise film, the idea of a three-film Potter spin-off seems extraneous and inconsequential, appearing as an attempt to make more money from the franchise. No matter how much I love the series, unless the spin-off films are exceptionally executed, I don’t think I’m going to watch them in theatres (I’m probably in the minority with this).

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Harry Potter has changed me in so many ways and has taught me loads. This books series, along with Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events (which also deserves a post all to itself), nourished me when I was growing up. It takes enormous talent to write a series like this, and J. K. Rowling has always been and will continue to be one of my inspirations. The fact that it will always seem real to me is why I love it. Harry Potter has made my childhood and I would love nothing more than to introduce it to another person and have it make their childhood as well.

 

 

 

 

 

Mutemath and Imogen Heap: More than Music

It’s not very often that I get to see bands perform shows that bleed with energy, are sonically supreme and give you a healthy dose of an all-sensory experience. Mutemath does just that. I started listening to this four-piece New Orleans outfit when I was 13, after discovering their video for their first single ‘Typical’. I was hooked.

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Mutemath headlining at Harley Rock Riders, Richardson and Cruddas, Mumbai. 16th November 2014. So much AWESOMENESS \m/

In December 2013, I got to see them perform live at Blue Frog, Mumbai. Mutemath and team set the tone for the evening as they swung from one song to the other, effusing large bouts of energy into their performance and constantly having an interaction with the crowd. Their percussion heavy and edgy alternative rock sound was punctuated by high-octane hijinks: dramatic lighting and visuals, head stands, the appearance of a homemade Atari instrument, maddening drum solos and finally, lead singer Paul Meany mattress surfing through the crowd. I stood next to the console, all the way at the back of the venue, watching the band play whilst simultaneously watching the one of their crew members handle lights and sound like a wizard.

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Mutemath lead singer Paul Meany being awesome here

However, the appropriate way to experience Mutemath would be to watch them as you stand closer to the stage. So, on November 16th 2014, I did just that. I got to see them live for a second time, a performance that was just as thrilling as the first. Their set list had been tweaked and reordered to feature some new material but still culminated in a performance that was nothing short of ethereal.

Their flair for theatricality does not in any way take away from their musical prowess. Their self-titled debut album exhibits a typically alternative rock sound. The sophomore album, probably their weakest, continues in the same vein. However with Odd Soul, their most recent full length and a clear winner in their discography, there’s a shift from alternative rock to a decidedly bluesy soundscape. What I’d like to see in their studio material and in performances are their instrumental material. ‘Reset’ is engaging and extremely multi-textured; ‘Obsolete’, one of my absolute favorites, with its swinging bassline, drumming and piano riff leaves an indelible mark and ‘Sun Ray’ dabbles in a bit of lounge.

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Paul Meany kicking off ‘Typical’ by standing on top of the keyboard

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From right to left: drummer Darren King, bassist Roy Mitchell-Cardenas, either Paul Meany or guitarist Todd Gummerman (I can’t be too sure here)

The more I think of Mutemath, the more I think of the changing landscape of musical performances. In November 2011, I got the opportunity to see Imogen Heap perform at Blue Frog. My experience at her gig can be read here: http://theeclectist.blogspot.in/2011/12/heaps-of-talent.html. An artist known for her prominent use of technology, Heap’s performance involves live looping, colourful songs and great technique. Her wonderfully whimsical personality was one of the best things about the performance, as she kept up a continuous dialogue with the audience, often explaining what instrument she’d use next and how. Though I quite like her studio material, I find her live performances much more thrilling.

Bands like Mutemath and artists like Imogen Heap are fine studies in stagecraft. They play upon the notions of theatricality and unpredictability to create fascinating soundscapes and sensory experiences in performance spaces. Taking these two as examples it is easy to see the music scene at present as well as in the near future, possessing two distinctive features: technology and multi-tasking.

The identity of the performer is no longer stable. He/She is certainly not confined to being just a ‘vocalist’, ‘guitarist’, and ‘drummer’ among others. Looking at Mutemath and Imogen Heap in particular demonstrates how a performer’s identity is fluid and flexible. The introduction of technology in musical production and live performances has changed the dynamics and politics of music. With live looping, a performer uses his/her instruments and/or vocals to play a particular sound, record it and loop it in order to create a steady rhythm. Repeating this process several times with different instruments and sounds, creates multiple layers of sounds all culminating into an expansive soundscape, which is possible thanks to technology. In both cases, there is a battery of instruments on stage. With Mutemath, they take turns switching between them as when as when their musical material requires them to. There’s the presence of loopers, guitar pedals and all sorts of other equipment. Assembling at the drum kit and using it to its fullest is another distinctive feature.

With Imogen Heap, she starts off looping various instruments, darting back and forth across the stage as she does so, and is joined by her other band members, who provide drums, flute, table and whatnot. Her use of hand gloves to create music can be read about (http://theglovesproject.com/about-the-project/) and seen (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6btFObRRD9k)Though these kinds of performances seem like one-sided events, they really aren’t. These gigs aren’t the type which require the spectator to keep shut. In fact, though the spectator is still required to well… spectate, feedback is immensely important. The audience participation is paramount these gigs: screaming fans, mosh pits, loud woops and cheers, lyrics being sung out loud (both correctly and incorrectly), crowd surfing and things. This ultimately adds on to the overall experience of attending gigs like these.

What makes these two performances phenomenal experiences for the spectator is the act of observing. Observing just how they create their soundscapes in front of you, observing how skillfully they manage to put on a show and observing how their technique leaves you dancing within seconds. Though there are bands all over the world that put on just as much of a show as these two, it’s not often that you get to see them perform in Mumbai. These two artists in particular are extremely satisfying as instrumentalists, as composers and as performers.

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Casually bumped into Mutemath that day. *fangirl moment*

On ‘Gone Girl’ and Film Adaptations

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SPOILER ALERT: Do not read this if you have not seen Gone Girl or read the book as yet.

Reading the book beforehand always irrevocably changes the way you watch, comment and perceive its cinematic adaptation. You look at what would happen next, as well as the way in which it would be shown. Watching the David Fincher- directed Gone Girl was pleasant. Reading the best seller upon which it was based, written by Gilian Flynn however, was exquisite.

When I look at the film in isolation, it is quite finely rendered, a thoroughly faithful sketch of its literary counterpart. Fincher’s direction and Flynn’s screenplay manage to prolong and perpetuate the mystery and the suspense, and render a sleek cold thriller in the process. Jeff Cronenweth’s cinematography features lowly lit frames from a 6K Red Dragon, creating the dark, stark atmosphere. Trent Reznor’s and Atticus Ross’ darkly ambient, electronically-driven score is particularly eerie and is one of the best things about the film. Rosamund Pike, clearly one of the underrated actresses out there, seems to slip easily into the role of icy, calculating, sociopathic and exacting Amy. I’m not particularly fond of Ben Affleck, however he seemed a good enough fit as Nick Dunne. As a whole, it’s an extremely thrilling watch, helmed by an ace like Fincher.

Comparisons, however, are inevitable. Therefore, Gone Girl the Film is clearly a diluted, distilled version of Gone Girl the Book.

Gone Girl the Book is a fine study on gender roles and norms, the emotional turbulence faced in a marriage and its repercussions on its characters. And frankly one of the best books I’ve read in a while. This exquisitely sculpted novel reads like a careful construct, which is fierce and multi textured. As a writer Flynn is extremely cautious in dealing out her cards. That’s why I think it was ambitious of Fincher to adapt this intricately crafted novel. Any major changes to the plot would be catcalled and jeered at, any actor perceived as being miscast would invite criticism and any lapses in the narrative would not be digested well by audiences.

Flynn’s screenplay is crammed with as much of her 467-page novel as it can take, with the final cut clocking in at 149 minutes. In being a pretty spot-on reproduction of the book, the characters are only partially fleshed out and are mere shadows of their counterparts in the book. The charm of the book lies in its first person narrations from both Amy’s and Nick’s perspectives, which, given the medium of film, would not have been easy to show. Though they handled the whole Amy’s absence-as-presence quite well, Amy’s change of voice from warm to frigid did not hit me particularly hard. While she’s on the run and camped out in the motel, all mentions of the doubt, anxiety and agony she went through are thrown out the window. I wonder whether this was due to the medium of film that’s governed by time constraints or whether it was a deliberate decision on the part of Fincher and Flynn. More importantly, the tenuous relationship between Nick and Amy is missing its convoluted and layered textures, seen as mere glimpses in the film.

It’s true that the icy nature of both the Book and the Film leave you disturbed and haunted. The notion of blurring the binaries of good/bad and right/wrong within this marriage resonates clearly in both. To try to establish it as antifeminist, feminist and misogynistic is to reduce and deride quite an engaging piece of fiction. Amy actively and ruthlessly asserts her agency, exercises her ability to create an entire body of knowledge in the form of her diary and can willfully orchestrate her own disappearance. Yet, all this comes through a little more clearly in the book than in the film. Now this may seem like run-of-the-mill criticism, which any moviegoer, having read the book beforehand, would voice whilst seeing the adaptation. A lot of the flaws pointed out above, may have more to do with the medium specificity of film. Which brings me to my next argument.

Films and books are two different mediums governed by their own semantics and grammar. Film adaptations bear the burdens of proving to successful and faithful renditions of their literary exoskeletons, churning out chunky profits as well as being designed as genuinely good films to watch. And best-selling books waiting to be made into films have that disadvantage of having adaptations be a bit too faithful.

Owen Gleiberman’s review of Gone Girl the Film opens with observations on how movie adaptations are now “surface facsimiles” which stay completely faithful to the books and as a result audiences seem content with this phenomenon. He raises a good point. Should an adaptation digress from its novel, twisting and contorting its source material, in order to be a sincere attempt at making meaningful cinema? Or should it remain loyal to its literary counterpart, imagining and replicating every last detail instead of reimagining and retelling it?

Gleiberman gives the example of the Harry Potter films. When I first saw Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone on-screen, it was an initiation, a gateway of sorts into the realm of Hogwarts et al, which sparked a craze in me to read the books. Several times. Whether the films were good or bad in terms of the way they were rendered, did not affect me at all. Now as an adult, I feel the films are weak, with the sole exception of Alfonso Cuaron’s Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. And what made the film memorable were its slight deviations, which were a nice change from the previous two films. Having read John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars, the film disappointed me. The film came across as a direct and flimsy book-to-film photocopy. For the sole reason that they could’ve taken more liberties while still staying true to the spirit of the novel. Given the book’s massive fan base and the thousands of girls lining up to watch the film, the film studios might as well give them what they want, right? In a world where commercial cinema seems at the mercy of these studios, at least in Hollywood, can a filmmaker adapt a complex best-selling book, still managing to retain its complexity in the process, twisting the source material till it yields a film that is not subordinate to the book, and not a “surface facsimile”? Why not make a film that’s absolutely on par with the book, instead of hearing audiences say, “The book was better”?

Lo and behold: Christopher Nolan’s The Prestige. Nolan’s adaptation elevated itself from being a mere shadow of the book written by Christopher Priest, to a full-bodied entity, a sturdy piece of cinematic prose. In fact, the film is so well-engineered, that I’d rather watch it multiple times, than read Priest’s novel once again. The book itself is fairly complex but with the film’s use of clever editing, a shrewd script and multiple narrative strands, several layers of intricacy are added. Unlike most average adaptations I’ve seen, this one plays to the strengths of the medium of film.

I know that perennially comparing a film to its corresponding book is unfair. But, the issue at hand is not to force a competition between the two mediums. The point is to work out how an adaptation can be a great film in itself, instead of a mere replica of the book. I’m one of those people who’ll appreciate a very faithful adaptation, as long as it’s a good and competent film to watch, not because it’s an adaptation.

 Now, coming back to the original point, would Gone Girl the Film have panned out any better if Flynn had written it for the screen differently or if Fincher had executed it different? Or would it have failed in delivering an effective watch, had it deviated from Gone Girl the Book?