Saturday, January 5, 2013


Every year in November, Kolkata hosts its International Film Festival. It is a strange event. The following are a series of half-truths about it, none of which are original.

The delegate card (which lets the holder watch all films at all venues) is a repository of gloating rights. It is available to more than 500 people. But the ones holding it are insiders of the secret cult of the cinema conscious. The trials of obtaining a delegate card are many and consequently not everyone who applies can have one. One must first prove lasting loyalty to the Festival by standing in queues which stretch from Nandan to the Academy. Once obtained, a delegate card must be worn around the neck at all times even if you are on the metro from Garia, on your way to the festival. It gives the holder the sought-after purpose in life – he is no idle lover who frequents Nandan to pass his time, he is a toothless intellectual who was once assistant director to Ritwik Ghatak and is now propped on his neo-realist walking stick; he is the genius student who has red eyes, lives in distinguished poverty and cannot put his smoke down; he is the soap star who is looking for someone to recognize him so he can turn his face away in a blaze of fame; he is a director in the making; he is Jean Luc Godard himself. He belongs to the brotherhood of the ‘Cinema Bojhey’, as opposed to the ‘Festival Dekhte Eshechhe’.

Right before a film is screened, every delegate card holder poses a life threat to another. And if the film is Kiarostami’s Like Someone in Love, there is a chance that a few people who had the bright idea of ‘keeping seats’ for friends who are to arrive later, will suffer a sad and public death. While standing in line before films, one must speak loudly about
(a) the representational quirks in Latin American films,
(b) the stupidity of the selection committee that resulted in a certain film of a certain director being screened instead of another film that the complaint has already watched but would have like the people to see
(c) how a very famous director is showing signs of going crazy in all his new work. (This is actually spoken affectionately only for those directors to whom you are personally attached and whose work you know only you understand)
(d) the people who have queued up to purchase tickets for the films being screened at Rabindra Sadan and that their ignorance of cinema is a blessing in disguise as it exempts them from the ordeal of these seven days,
(e) in which direction you are going to run upon entering the hall and that every one of your companions are to follow you if they wish to get a seat.

But all of this is if you fall under the motherly title of ‘a student of cinema’. The true old timers of the festival never speak. They stand silent with enough boredom on their faces to convince you at first glance that this is a ritual they have been practicing since the day Satyajit Ray shot a scene with kashphool and a train. They are pyramids of patience and clutch at their jholas with a faraway glance, they are silent in their rebuke of young queue jumpers, and their laptops at home are downloading a film which they will watch at night after having sat through all five films at the festival. You cannot fool them with your loud knowledge of Antonioni’s filmography. Beware of the sad smirk that escapes their laconic freeze if you are heard talking about the French New Wave as if it happened yesterday.

During a film, there are two associations of people who make their presences audibly felt. The first are the ones who enjoy living on the edge and therefore do not turn their phones off, resulting in the IPL music suddenly blaring during a poignant close up of Juliette Binoche’s eyes. The second are those who have appointed themselves to ensure that the members of the first association die a social death when a phone rings. The second cult is a stronger and more united front and its members, tired of bearing the burden of the moral conscience of the entire ‘serious’ cinegoing fraternity, fall asleep during films. It is said that their hostility towards ringing phones is primarily due to the fact that their sleep is disturbed by the sudden polyphonic intrusion and not because of their love for films, but it is also said that Truffaut disapproved of Panther Panchali.

After a film, you can stand up, push everyone, and leave immediately to join your friend who has been standing in front of Nandan III for the next film, or you can sit down and watch the end credits roll till the very end. Once outside, you must first drink tea, remark lightly on the needlessness of the nude scenes in the film, and then suffer ignominy if you decide to ask fellow tea drinkers the fatal question of ‘Did you like the film?’ Upon recovery, you must go back to talking about the abovementioned (a), (b) and (c) and consult the delegate-card-holder’s second privilege: the festival schedule, for the next film that you are going to watch. On the way to the next screening, wave to that friend who is also a ‘delegate’ but who has not budged from his seat on the sunny grass. Tell him about the old man who started snoring on your shoulder and woke up with a gasp on hearing a gunshot fired by Takeshi Kitano. Be sure to emphasize on ‘old man’, so he does not know that it was you.

Of course, the reason that this is Kolkata’s very own, deeply personal festival is not the films or even the city's many people who love cinema, it is for the couple who came to the crowded screening of Haneke’s Amour , fought for their seats, and while munching on peanuts loudly complained that the film was ‘very slow’.

Friday, October 26, 2012


Ours is a strange city where middle aged men catch half a play at Rabindrasadan before catching the bus home from work. Following are a few observations of the quirks indigenous to the theatre culture of Kolkata.

1. Curtains in theatre halls in our city are like heirlooms in old households. They are thick and heavy and impeccably grand in design even though the layer of grime accumulating on the golden thread braided on the red velvet has permanently changed its colour to light brown. Curtains are Kolkata’s lasting colonial vestige. Like flaccid bystanders, they need not change with the pace at which the world enclosed by them evolves. They are retractable fourth walls at which an audience shifts its eyes and concentration after the second bell rings. They are the essential divide in realist theatre, the essential commodity to be done away with if the audience is to be robbed of an illusion. They are the keepers of the anticipations of the entire population in a theatre. In places the fabric has faded to translucence, offering the actor the feeble hope that he might be able to judge his audience through it before the play begins. The power it wields is tangible, silencing an entire audience as it rises. The older the playhouse, the stronger the smell of dust on its curtains.

2. Armrests are spaces of immense tension. But unlike disgust over ringing phones, battles between those who hog armrests in theatres and those made to keep their arms to themselves are fought silently.

3. Curtain calls are to a play what acknowledgements are to a book. They are varied in duration ranging from fifteen minutes (in case of first shows) where the director introduces each member of the cast and talks about his play at length to a hurried parting and closing of the curtains during which the cast and the director fit in a hasty humble namashkar. Sometimes the curtain never falls back down and the actors break positions to mingle among the audience who are unsure as to whether to treat this as part of the performance. At other times the curtain call too is a choreographed and rehearsed presentation, involving elaborate sequences of bowing or characters portrayed as adversaries in the play reuniting. Most actors look visibly excited during this coda to the performance but a few are noticeable in their impassiveness and tendency to get over with a curtain call as quickly as possible. As some members of the audience stand up, a few others urge them (with characteristic Bengali attention to collective appreciation of the arts) to sit still and wait till the show (which is technically over) is ‘over’. The call also serves as an opportunity to click the ensemble cast with phone cameras which had to be kept away till then. Most importantly, however, the curtain call is the time set apart for the Kolkata audience to smile at the actors on the stage as if they were very old friends.

4. An actor’s wig or a part of his costume coming apart on stage is an event of great anxiety for the audience. While the performer is intent on seamlessly acting out his part as if nothing has happened, the audience has already decided that it is the flailing wig that is going to occupy their complete attention. When he at last reinstates or gets rid of the errant accessory, the audience heaves a collective sigh of relief, having been freed of the great discomfort of watching the actor’s distress at the unraveling of the machinery involved in creating his character.

5. The other day audiences of the play ‘Bishorjon’ witnessed a rat making its way across the Academy of Fine Arts stage as the Purohit lay in a crumpled heap over Jaisingha’s dead body. The rat travelled deftly through the network of ramparts holding up Suman Mukhopadhyay’s slanted wooden set, entering through the right wing and leaving through the left, having utilized the performance space like a seasoned stage veteran.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Other Pamuks

I have decided to write a line or two about Orhan Pamuk because the way he is clamping upon my soul is disconcerting. I love Pamuk because I have a deep emotional association with his writing. I feel he writes only and only to reach out to me, as if to assert that it is me and no one else in the universe that he is writing for. Pamuk is my property. I own him, I own all interpretations of his work and look away when anybody tries to discuss Pamuk. Because they have no idea what Pamuk is. They might have read his novels but only I have lived them. Only I have understood what it is to feel that your thoughts are someone else's too, that he has written them down for the express purpose of saving you.

I feel incredibly relieved thinking of this. Thinking that Pamuk is my own and that those surrounding me have accepted it. Thinking that once the whole world recognises that Pamuk is my personal saviour, they will also grasp the fact that he and I are part of the same mental faculty, having profoundly symbiotic existences. That my disillusionment is valid because he felt the same disillusionment thirty years ago. That my city can burn down because the yalis lining the Bosphorous did too. And most importantly, that I can lie to my father because so did Pamuk when he was my age.

The other day I was revelling in a particular similarity between me and my author when suddenly a voice inside me said, 'Pffft.' It was snide and mocked my fanaticism. And because the voice was mine I decided that maybe I was being illogical. And that just maybe, the right to worshipping Pamuk was not just mine. I decided to start discussing him. I will discuss him more. For all I know, the voice could have been his.

Okay it was not. Stop laughing immediately.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Saturday, March 17, 2012

What Happens in the House

I have come to the conclusion that for someone as lazy as I, a picture blog is the way to go.

Monday, February 6, 2012

End of Winter

Blankets in the sun.