Xanadu

October 28, 2014 at 9:45 am (Dani Clark, Poetry)

So many verses come into my head and fly out before they have endings,

the beginnings of which may sound something like this:

Permit me to manipulate a metaphor like Chrysalis,

even if I am not the first,

and everyone, no exception, changes with time.

Or the one that started with me cataloguing

the sundry bits my son collected and had me

put in my pocket, how they mixed with the lint

and somehow signified the present moment.

Crabapples, bright little darts, I passed a tree heavy with them

and knew they deserved to make a starring appearance in a line.

I don’t remember why, or what they were supposed to mean,

but the color reminded me of nail polish.

One day I swear I will get to describing a female ancestor

in rural Campania a hundred years ago,

sighing or crying under a bright sun or a crescent moon, I can’t decide,

the same effect that Robert Penn Warren used in Circus in the Attic

to make a point about Relative Truth and Ephemerality.

Attic, now that’s got serious psychoanalytic potential

even though, our house had none, no basement either come to think of it.

Wait, is that a symbol of the flatness that pervaded us?

Doe-a-deer and to thine own self be true.

We’re all skipping softly down the Road to Xanadu.

Of late I’ve been reading the ambiguous Mr. Pasolini too.

See what I mean, facile rhymes and ten cent words

I get them all for free, but never move ink to paper smear.

Hold up wait a minute, now what just happened here?

– Dani Clark

 

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The Children Have Gone

October 17, 2014 at 8:50 am (Dominic Alapat, Poetry)

for a ride in the horse-carriage along the sea

we stand in a circle passing

a bottle of toddy

when we play football

I realise I’m so heavy I can barely run

I have zero coordination

with the ball

I fall and fall

shouting things

the wind brings back

with the sky that comes so close swaying

like a child eager to join our game.

 

– Dominic Alapat

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Haider

October 6, 2014 at 8:14 am (Cinema, Kiran David)

It is not at all surprising that Vishal Bhardwaj’s Haider, a take on Shakespeare’s Hamlet, is a disaster. In fact Maqbool and Omkara give us empirical evidence that Bhardwaj who always seems wishy-washy has no clue of Shakespeare. In fact, after watching Maqbool in the Thiruvanthapuram festival, I asked someone if this guy read Shakespeare or Peter Popper’s collection of Shakespeare quotations or worse: some novelization of the play. Bhardwaj is not the only director (? )who has been done in by the Bard, many better directors  have fucked up. Bhardwaj is unfortunately a mediocre director whose films do not have an artist’s point of view or integrity, in fact he can’t even film minor writers like Ruskin Bond. Like most Indian – and a reasonable chunk of world – directors he has no ideology, I don’t mean moral, social or political but artistic. His work appears to be a mishmash of various things he has seen but not understood within their context, additionally colored by a kind of  self-important posturing which may be unconscious in his case. He probably believes the shit he makes is cool. In an interview with Indian Express he sadly displays the mediocrity of his thinking.

The funny thing about most Shakespeare adaptations is that filmmakers seem to follow the story (so called) or plot and make minor or major changes without taking into account what is essentially Shakespearean. Firstly, copying the story of the play or making alterations to it serves no purpose as most of his plays are based on narratives borrowed from sources like the Holinshed Chronicles, Ovid and others.  Hamlet, written for the great actor of his time Richard Burbage between 1599 and 1601, comes from The Legend of Amleth preserved by the 13th-century chronicler Saxo Grammaticus in Gesta Danirun and retold by the 16th-century scholar François De Belleforest. Also predating Shakespeare’s Hamlet – but during the Elizabethan era – there was another play using a similar narrative called Ur Hamlet which is supposedly of Norse lineage. Why Haider can’t be considered an adaptation of any of these other works? What in effect is Shakespearean is intangible; it exists in realms beyond the commonplace stories of his plays.

Another problem cinema has is – despite being a visual medium it has not managed to acquaint us with the imagery (we have seen great cinematic images) that Shakespeare evokes.  Look at the line with which Iago informs Desdemona’s father of his daughter’s elopement with Othello, where  cruelty and conniving is expressed with such  mastery and genius: “I am one, Sir, that comes to tell you, your daughter and the Moor are now making the beast with two backs.”

To evoke this image of the beast with two backs within the context of the narrative, its psychology, its emotion, is beyond cinema. Few artists have had this ability to express ideas and emotions  with such precision and poetry.

Also important to realize is Shakespeare’s ability to manipulate narrative time in relation to real time with great effect. This manipulation is also of key importance in the novel and cinema, and I feel – taken in an abstract sense, cinema, whose syntax allows large latitude in its use of time, seems to exist between the classical play and the traditional novel. (I am deliberately omitting non-narrative works and also omitting narrative or epic poetry purely for my convenience.) Having mentioned the latitude its syntax allows cinema, it depends on each director how he manipulates time and takes the work to a place of significance; Haider‘s director sadly lacks any sense of these possibilities of the idiom he has chosen.

Among my favorite Shakespeare films are those by  Welles who made Othello, Macbeth and Chimes of Midnight, which combines the Falstaff plays. Welles, despite being plagued by production and financial nightmares, manages to locate something Shakespearean in his mise en scene and succeeds to a reasonable extent. My other favourite Shakespeare film is by Derek Jarman who made a remarkable Tempest (and another film using Shakespeare’s sonnets). Jarman expresses something unique in a place where his sensibility intersects with Shakespeare’s.  (Jarman has also done a great version of Christopher Marlow’s Edward II).

Laurence Olivier’s Shakespeare films, which I like, are interesting in their attempt at capturing the theatrical essence, performance and experience of the works.

I will end with Kurosawa, who does something remarkable in his versions of Macbeth (Throne of Blood) and King Lear (Ran). He seems to have dismantled the plays and refashioned them in a way that expresses  the intangible Shakespearean essence as he perceives  it within a Japanese context. He has made an interesting Hamlet too (The Bad Sleep Well), a minor work that he seems to approach in an oblique manner, making it definitely a film at least worth watching.  Sadly I cannot comment on Grigori Kozintsev’s work: he made both King Lear and Hamlet  which I loved when I first saw them but it’s been almost 40 years since  and I, myself , am different now, more than a trifle jaded.

Coming back to Haider, which one should not waste time on, and neither should one waste time on Shahid Kapoor or Shradha Kapoor who play the Kashmiri Hamlet and Ophelia, both of whom can be  referred to as strictly inconsequential bores. Coming to Tabu, who plays Gertrude: the problem with her, as always, is that while she may be sincere, and bits and pieces of her performance work, she lacks the intelligence to construct a complete character and seems only to act both physically and psychologically towards the camera, a problem that comes from a conventional Bollywood and popular regional film sensibility. (An industry which includes the critical establishment that hilariously believes Priyanka Chopra’s turn in Mary Kom, Kangana Ranaut’s performance in Queen and Vidya Balan in Kahani who waddles with a coy expression as great performances). One feels sad for KK Menon, a guy who showed much promise and talent: he now seems to deliver his roles in a somewhat functional way and ends up being tediously adequate, only saved from utter mediocrity by his history that hasn’t abandoned him (yet). I suppose the abominable environment he works in is steadily corrupting his craft.  As for Irrfan Khan, a middling though highly overrated actor, who seems to be in some quaint auto-pilot mode, partially because of Bharadwaj’s lack of talent when dealing with eccentric /quirky – here he appears like a cross between some Greek Orthodox priest who has made changes in his costume, Mr. Chips, a person with a damaged leg and someone with cataract.

However as this film’s version of Laertes, Aamir Bashir, while a bit older than the actors playing Hamlet and Ophelia,  is superb in a small role, one of the sadly under-used but capable actors. He is the only one who seems to be reacting to the situation and characters around him which must have been tough as neither  Bhardwaj nor the other actors give him anything.  I was wondering if he had to create the scenes in his mind and respond to them. This film’s real tragedy is not the story of Hamlet/Haider, nor the story of Kashmir which Bharadwaj claims but the story of an actor Amir Bashir, who may never get his due.  Bashir has also directed Harud, a film set in Kashmir which is better than this mess and better than anything Bhardwaj has done. It has flaws, even serious ones, but it does manage to evoke a state under siege and a central character’s inertia/ennui effectively, also deeply felt.

What good Bhardwaj who is a nice guy shouldn’t do is claim (out of absolute ignorance) something his work is not remotely close to delivering due to his inept constructions. I think he should spend some time reading Shakespeare before he possibly terrorizes us with a King Lear.

A good section for him to read is from this very same Hamlet, the scene where the prince briefs the players how to play the scene. It may help Bharadwaj hone his craft and learn some life lessons.

As for the rest of us, we should spend time marvelling at the words “this sun” Shakespeare uses to devastating effect in the opening of Richard III.

A very strange thing happened while I was watching the film: in the scene where Shahid and Tabu were walking outdoors and babbling inanities, a little boy of about three walked down the aisle with a wind-up toy, went up to the screen, touched the black encasing, turned back, wound the toy and instead of putting it on the ground, walked back the way he came, making that moment more cinematic than anything in the film and in the process entirely capturing my attention.

– Kiran David

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They Were

October 5, 2014 at 11:13 am (Dominic Alapat, Poetry)

 

stuck to the world

I mean to shops

banks

homes

they had gone beyond

feeling aghast

and were hanging

in the haze

that had collected

in their minds now asleep

they knew

this was a kind of death

they did not really know

and the knowing

was what they were

after

perpetually hanging

we can be interchanged

they said

were are anything

in the long run

down anywhere

they said

and listened to the silence.

– Dominic Alapat

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Catacombs

October 1, 2014 at 8:25 am (Dani Clark, Poetry)

 

I brushed my finger inside a black burial hole

on the tufa and wanted someone in the earth

 

with me, to speak about the end of early

Christianity, the advent of temporal power,

 

the Good Shepherd, the spirit doves and why

dulcis seemed such an easy lapidary word.

 

The rock was soft when they dug the graves.

It hardened later when the marauders came

 

with purpose of archeology, cataloguing and

exposing bones and brittle death, not theirs.

 

The long shafts of light are few, but they are,

enough to illumine ways, those gaping holes

 

with no martyred bodies to scream at, wonder

where, like she did, the first, the Magdalene.

 

– Dani Clark

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