Abbas Kiarostami did something spectacular in his film Shirin. He turned the audience to themselves and made Hugo Munsterberg feel proud! The film is about a hundred odd women watching a film on Shirin-Farhaad. Throughout the film we, who are watching Abbas Kiarostami’s film Shirin, watch close up shots of those hundred odd women watching the film on Shirin-Farhaad, while listening to the film that they are watching! Through their reaction we see the film that they are seeing!
The hundred odd women are well behaved women who are watching movie devotionaly, without letting their focus divert! It also looks like some multiplex hall and the film is an engaging classic love story. Now imagine capturing the audience reaction in a small town single screen theater in India while they are watching a masala Bombay cinema!
Multiplexes are quite sophisticated. If you get a sense of heart rate using a monitor over there, in single screen theater it is like holding the hand of the audience, being in direct touch, and listening to the pulse!
It is here in single screen theaters of India that cinema became interactive cinema of its own kind. Unlike the theorized interactive cinema where the filmmaker makes the film interactive by inviting the audience for participation here the audience take charge and make it interactive, whether the film being played on the screen invites interaction or not.
One of the earliest film theoretician Edgar Morin described at length the mechanisms of the mind involved in the experience of the spectator, which he believed, is one of ‘participation’. The spectator participates in the film by means of ‘identification’ with the protagonists or even with the objects and by means of ‘projection’ of his own feelings into the protagonists and objects on the screen.
In one of my blog posts earlier, titled Opium Of The Masses, I had argued on similar lines as to how cinema enables people to live an idea-self, which is quite distant in real from their real self, during the hours in the dark. Well, the participation, which Morin speaks of, can happen through ‘identification’ and ‘projection’ provided the characters in the film are identifiable with. Provided the cinema is identifiable with.
When it isn’t so, more than often, it is not booed by the audience. That can be done only during live performances so that the performer can rework on performance while performing itself and make the performance acceptable. But cinema is not a medium which gives a chance for this. So the audience starts to rework the film for themselves by giving directions to the characters as to how to behave what to do how to do. And obviously the characters don’t! But the audience is left with the satisfaction that, “Had it been the way I thought then the film would be a super hit.”
The dialogues of the characters receive witty spontaneous impulsive answers from the audience where the audience outsmarts the dialogue writer. Quite often these replies to the characters in screen, speaking in Hindi/Hindustani, are in local tongue. The silent audience gets to listen to a sentence in Hindi/Hindustani and a response to that in say Kannada, Tulu etc which make it an unmatched experience! This interacting with the characters gives a sense of being Supreme Being powerful and it gives a kind of satisfaction of having the last word.
In these non-interactive interaction with cinema the audience usually mock at the film. Recently while watchingDhoom-3 the unbelievable stunts of the characters made a few guys sitting in front of me, stand up and with their hands up and then bow down! A disrespectful disrespect, not through words but by the entire body to mock and register the protest and also have that thrill of having the final word!
In the court of cinema hall all objections can be voiced! The audience is quite open about their objections and raise objections voice objections as a matter of right! When people came to the cinema hall to watch Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s first film they knew nothing of the Director. They came for Nana Patekar who by then had made a place for himself in the hearts of the audience for his dialogues! But they come to watch Bhansali’s filmKhamoshi and ooppss their dear Nana Patekar is deaf and dumb!!! The audience started screaming, “Naana kuch bolo warna hamaara paisa waapis karo,” (Naana deliver a dialogue or two else return our money) While watching Prakash Jha’s Aarakshan how many upper caste people not approving of reservation passes castist remarks!
When going to a single screen theater in a small town one should be prepared to listen to extremely castist, racist and sexist remarks! That gives a glimpse into the mindset of the people of this country! Whether the film is good or bad whether it is a film with characters with which/ whom you can identify or not the female characters of the film just can’t escape sexist comments. From direct reference to their body parts the audience also invite the female characters to their home their bed! The girls among the audience seldom raise their voice even when the hero of their dreams is also on screen! Maximum some will scream during the entry, thanks to the darkness in the hall which gives some kind of anonymity which gives a kind of courage to cheer for their beloved hero!
We are not just sexists, castists and racists. We are also nationalists! When that kid in Karan Johar’s Kabhi Kushi Kabhi Gham adjusts his voice and sings the national anthem, the cinema hall came to silence as every audience stood up and paid respects to the national anthem. When Sunny Deol in Gadar said, “Hinduatan zindabad tha zindabad hai aur zindabad rahega” oh man one should have seen the audience raising their hands punching it in the air to say, “Zindaabaad, zindaabad.” The audience is always participative. And it is in this participation that it reveals unknowingly the pulse of the nation.
Cinema in India is not just an art. It is not just a business. It is something beyond art and business. It is obviously, now I realize, more than what I argued once: Opium of the masses! Its only when we shift our gaze from the screen to the audience that we realize it. There is no point being judgmental about the audience behavior in the hours of darkness in a cinema hall. It calls for some non-judgmental analysis from serious sociologists and academicians.
There are things to be analyzed by filmmakers too (barring those who are committed to the artistic aspect of cinema which I respect)
Decades ago in a small town in Karnataka Girish Karnad’s film Kaadu (Forest) was being played. An arthouse cinema. People had come from nearby villages on one evening to watch the film. They buy the tickets and seat themselves in the hall. The lights go off and a beam of light hits the screen! Unlike always the screen is still more or less dark. They can hear nothing! Obviously saar. Arthouse cinema! Its all dark (for heaven’s sake the film is titled Kaadu to mean Forest) and the sound is only of the crickets and the owls! The audience couldn’t understand what was happening. They assumed it was some prank being played by the projectionist. Some of them turned to the projectionist behind them and started throwing their voice to him, “Sound sound” to indicate that they cant hear and also instructing him to increase the volume levels! There is no improvement. They try concentrating on the visuals. Dimly lit screen with no dialogue (the characters speak through their eyes and actions in arthouse cinema boss). Slowly torch lights lit up in the hall and the torch light is thrown on the screen! The audience had come from nearby villages and had carried torches with them for it will be dark by the time the film gets over. They throw torch light on the screen, like throwing the torch light on their way back when they can’t see the path ahead, to see what is in the screen!
Now tell to what extent the audience participates in the film. When the paths shown in the film is dark the audience uses the torch in their hand to throw light on the dark paths in the screen! If one is to throw light on the way audience look at cinema and how they respond to cinema during the hours in the dark then there is a clue as to what cinema means to them, apart from giving a glimpse into their socio-psychology. It is certainly beyond art. It is beyond business. It is not just an opium of the masses. It becomes visible only during the hours in the dark.
[The title for this post is taken from T.G. Vaidyanathan’s book of the same title]
I had just returned home having finished my course in the Film Institute, with preoccupations of what is art, what is cinema, what is aesthetics and whole lot of jazz. Within a week of my return my parents had to go out of town. My mom was reluctant for she was not sure if her son can manage all alone. I said, “I can manage everything,” including cooking into everything. And yeah how many times I had heard about Mani Kaul being a good cook! So a wanna-be Mani better be good at cooking or at least know cooking, I thought!
My parents left leaving the responsibility of the house on me. My responsibility was also on myself which included cooking for myself. And thus began my experiments with cooking.
Chopping of vegetables, grating coconut, ensuring tears doesn’t roll down to the chopped onions- everything started appearing like an art. The whole cooking process I started viewing in three act structure on one day and the next day I started seeing it as three stages of production. Chopping of vegetables invoked theories of montage, metric editing being the aim! All of these interdisciplinary thoughts made cooking fun but not easy. Recreational ways don’t make creation a cake’s walk!
Every day is new in cooking. No matter what you learnt the previous day the experience counts but still it is a fresh start with fresh raw material. Every meal is a new project with new challenges and every time the canvas is blank! That is when I realized: Cooking is an art. In fact art of a high order because it feeds life. Manto in his essay, ‘Why I Write’ writes, “When I am starving- without food and water- I am unable to hold the pen. Though my brain and my mind do function even when I am going hungry I am in no position to hold the pen. If my hands tremble failing to lift the pen at least the voice should be able to take wings from my lips. It is a tragedy that without food and water all of man’s activities are paralyzed.” So yeah all art stands on its leg because there is art of cooking, I came to believe. So cooking is the highest art.
This realization made me extremely humble and come to believe that the greatest art is not cinema or poetry but cooking! I was humbled. I started respecting every person who had cooked for me, more than ever!
But the greatest realization during the experiments came slowly while being a part of the experiment. It was this: the true art in cooking is that one pinch of salt that we add. Yes that is true art! Highest of all arts!
Adding salt, a pinch of salt, cannot be mathematics. It can’t be based on your previous experiences or the accumulated knowledge on cooking. It is pure intuition and if the calculation of your intuition goes wrong then boss there goes your food phussss!! If it is less then it is without taste and if it is more then it is complete waste! One pinch of salt can make or ruin your food.
That is when my mind started thinking of the artistic qualities of salt and the similarities between salt and art. The first thing I remembered was Gandhi’s salt satyagraha. Dude, it was with handful of salt that Gandhi shook an entire empire! When you see how authority and power holders shiver because of some books some films some writers it becomes evident as to how art can shake figures of authority. Just like Gandhi shook an empire with a handful of salt. Gandhi’s salt satyagraha was a nonviolent protest. What is art after all but action without violence.
The choice of salt, by Gandhi for protest, was symbolic. It was because salt is used by nearly everyone in India. An item of daily use can unify and mobilize people from all classes of citizens than an abstract demand for greater political rights, he believed. The result was amazing! Why is it that the state/ authority always fears artists? Because the state/ authority believes that artists mix with every class of people in the society and hence are dangerous.
There was a phase in Kannada films where many films had this one scene of the female protagonist adding salt to tea when some guy would come to “see” her for marriage purposes. The first time I saw something like that I had enjoyed it. But repletion of it in every other film made is loose its taste! But now thinking of it they look like an act of resistance and protest. For many Indian women who enjoyed no liberty or power in public or in house the only place where she could be in control and exercise power was in kitchen. That is where she could show her power and it is through that space that she could rebel, resist and protest. Though in a very stupid way the films captured this! Art is also an exercise of power and a rebel, a resistance and a protest that poses a challenge to the world which has come to subsume all kinds of rebel and thus mend them into worldly ways!
The Danish author Karen Blixen who wrote under the pen name Isak Dinesen uttered something beautiful: “The cure for anything is salt water- tears, sweat or sea.” How true!! Especially melancholia. When melancholic either cry your gut out or indulge in labour to sweat completely or just go to the sea and listen to the waves! Trust me it has healing powers, like art does. But then the cure is a poetic cure. Plus art, like these salt water, is catharsis, labor, nature/ beauty/ aesthesis!
Life requires salt and also art, I realized in the process of my experiments with cooking. They add taste and without them life is tasteless. But something else is equally important. Love. Kahlil Gibran says that bread baked without love fills only half a man’s hunger. Similarly no art can happen without the involvement of heart. It would become mechanical reproduction! Love is essential. Well isn’t that why Gulzar sahib referred to love as salt in the song, “Namak Ishq Ka,” meaning life has become tasteful ever since I have added the salt of love to the cuisine of life!
“Money-Pal” – that is how a senior friend has been referring to the small town in coastal Karnataka- Manipal- which is home to Manipal University, Syndicate Bank. Home to many including me too.
The breaking of the name Manipal into Money- Pal is not a recent invention. Not even originally of my friend. It has been in prevalence from several years. As a pun it is interesting. As a pun it is a stroke of genius. It also suits the place to a great extent. It says something about the place, like every name of place does. If the place was to be named today even then it would be named Manipal, as derived from Money + Pal, it appears.
While thinking of this suddenly the question comes up as to how did the town get this name- Manipal after all, which makes way and suits the pun too!
Historian Dr. P. Gururaj Bhatt argued that Manipal may have been in the olden days occupied by a tribe of hill people called ‘maaNis’. There is no evidence to prove this though.
Many, even I for a long time, believed that Manipal derives its name from maNNa paLLa. In Tulu paLLa means a pond and here it refers to vast pond below Manipal Junior College. maNNa means made out of maNNu (Kannada) to mean soil/ mud. So the breaking of Manipal into maNNa paLLa means ‘mud pond’ or a pond noted for ‘clay soil.’ This claim may have some basis as the pond in Manipal has been the source of clay supply for tile industries in the vicinity.
But the mixing of a Kannada (maNNu/a) and a Tulu word (paLLa) for a name seems a bit strange and makes room for suspicion to believe if the root of Manipal is “maNNa paLLa.”
Dr. R.K. Manipal whose Doctoral thesis was on the place names and their emergence says Manipal is formed from ‘maaNey’ and paLLa’ perhaps an evolution from maaNey + paLLa which may mean an elevated hill and a natural pond or tank.
According to Narkala Marappa Shetty an expert in Tulu names, the word ‘maaNye’ itself comes from ‘ma’ meaning big and ‘ane’ meaning hill in Tulu . The ‘maaney’ here suggests elevated topography. This trend in seen in the rest of the Tulu speaking region areas like Manki, Mani, Manai, Manipura, Maninji, Manibottu etc all which apparently have features that justify the ‘maanye’ part of their names.
This assertion about Manipal roots however seem to be the most probable. If the place names around Tulu Nadu are examined most of them are formed to describe the geological features. This would probably be a reference to the unique relation of the people with nature. The lack of hero worship resulted in these names with geographical names rather than with names derived from kings, rulers and local heroes, opines Dr. R.K. Manipal.
From maaNey paLLa to Manipal to the pun Money-Pal, we have traveled a long distance, a long distance from nature. Even if we consider maNNa paLLa , etched in the popular psyche, as the origin even then we have come far. Far from maNNu i.e. soil.
This was sometime in April 2013. I was on my way to the class and as I was crossing the studio I crossed paths with Shabnam Sukhdev, an alumni of the Institute, who had just joined the Institute as the Outreach Officer. I learnt of it only later. But because she was regularly seen on campus I greeted her and she greeted me in return.
After the exchange of polite hellos she asked me which department I am from. When I replied, “Screenwriting,” she asked me if I was on a “contract or permanent.” She had mistaken me for faculty, I guess. I clarified: “No no. I am still a student.” After apologizing for having mistaken me for an employee she asked, “So, have you mastered the basics?” I did not understand what “basics” was being referred to by her. From Aristotle and Lajos Egri to Ken Dancyger and Jeff Rush– whose method was she referring to I tried to understand. But not thinking much I asked her directly, “What is the basic for screenwriting?”
In her own sweet way she said, “Discipline,” and smiled before adding, “For writers that is the basic and most important thing: the discipline to sit concentrate and focus.” “Isnt it?” she threw the ball in my court. I couldn’t agree more with her.