Sunday, February 24, 2013

When Life itself Becomes Meditation

Once upon a time, I stood before a Shiva idol in a village temple and prayed this: “Grant me Buddhi (intelligence) and Deha Shakti (physical health). I did not know any other prayers.

Shiva, during the days used to be a vertical granite stone. Inside the sanctum sanctorum, there used to be a sugar cane thicket. My mother had told me, during day time Shiva and Parvati played on a swing tied between two sugar cane stems. By evening the priest changed him into a smiling Shiva with Sandal paste.

It took many years for me to know that Shiva was also Kama Dahanan or Smara Ripu (Killer of Kamadeva/Desire). Kama was a god whose weapon was a bow made out of sugar cane from which he shot the arrows of jasmine flowers. A cupid.

My mother had given me that six worded prayer: Grant me Buddhi and Deha Shakti. Even today I get up with the same prayer in my lips. Then I used to pray to Shiva. Today I do not pray to Shiva. I pray to something inside me that constitute what is outside.

Then I grew up. I went to the same temple to see young girls. A few years after that, I refused to go to any temple. I stopped believing in the existence of God. But I believed in those people who told me or taught me that there was no God. For me they were temporary Gods.

When my mother went into famous temples to pray, I stood outside or loitered around to collect some curios to give some girls. But I never gave any religious curios to any girls because I was afraid of being rejected.

Years later, while crossing forty I wanted to think about God again. Not because I was alone, but because I was in the middle too many people who had absolutely forgotten the existence of something that existed beyond their comprehension.

I had escaped to religion once, when I faced with death, but not on the first time. When I faced with death for the first time, at the age of fourteen, and while looking at the death pangs of my father, I smiled at death and disparaged god. Then at the age of thirty when I realized that we had lost our first child in pregnancy, I escaped to religion. That was just an escape; without any conviction. Then the successive miscarriages became a medical situation.

With friends I travelled to many shrines, visited oracles and Tantric practitioners. I did not find God anywhere. But realized one thing: there is something that is beyond me. And the major impediment in realizing that was the ‘I’ in me. I looked for that I. That was everywhere. I happened to read from Paulo Coelho’s autobiography an episode where he went to beg for alms from strangers. I saw mendicants and I understood them.

But I don’t believe in Gurus and I don’t trust organized religions and places of worship. Seers say that it is good to have an Upasanamoorthy or ishta devata (a preferred idol of/for worship). Some sages talk about meditation and mantras. Everything is about focusing in the inward journey. If you could do without man/woman gods, if you could do without text books, if you could do without sitting still and if could do anything with absolute concentration and awareness, it is meditation. Standing right in the middle of a mall you could meditate.

When I speak of God, God Awareness, God Will, Decimation of I and so on, it is not just about waking up from a fancy dream and preaching. I am not an enlightened personality. I cannot go into Samadhi. But I have experienced the glimpses of it. I have experienced it in streets, I have experienced it in children, in migrant labourers waiting in nowhere places for a bus or truck and I have experienced it in metro travellers. I have experienced it in road rage and arrogance of wealth and power.

Questions arise from genuine enquiry as well as from sarcasm. Genuine enquiry leads to surrendering and letting it pass (upeksha) and God realization. Sarcasm exposes the enquirer’s weaknesses to surrender the ‘I’. It is like a pedestrian discussion of music before a galaxy of renowned musicians.

I remember a Zen story. A scholar comes to a Zen master. He comes with several questions. Master utters nothing. Instead he pours tea into a cup. It overflows. Still the master does not stop. The scholar tells him that it is already full and there is no point in pouring more. Master gives him a kind smile and tells: You are full with knowledge and questions. Unless you empty yourself out, you will not learn anything from me.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Social Imaginations of Parottas Through Tattukadas

(photo by Abul Kalam Azad)

Once, in my To My Children Series I wrote about the handwriting of revolution. There I observed, ‘revolution has only one hand writing; that of letters written by unknown hands, using coconut stem as brush and cheap red ink on newsprint paper. These posters appear all of a sudden on public walls. They announce that the revolution is round the corner, so wake up and join. The arrival of flex boards and digital printing has changed the handwriting of revolution also. Now, revolution has readymade templates and innumerable font choices from a Microsoft word format. But the food and taste of revolution has not yet changed, especially in the context of Kerala. A photography series by Abul Kalam Azad reiterates my belief. Revolutionaries in Kerala still eat from Tattukadas, makeshift eateries that become active by evening and do brisk business late into the night.

(Tattukada by Abul Kalam Azad)

How do you say that all those people who eat from these Tattukadas are revolutionaries? To find an answer one should enquire about those people who eat from these makeshift and cheap food joints. For the sake of understanding let me categorize them in a pyramidic structure. Starting from the base: Manual laborers who go back to their camps after a day’s hard works, 2. Students living in hostel or paying guest accommodations, 3. People who happen to come to the place at odd times by bus or train and have not enough money to eat from a decent hotel, 4. Political activists who choose to work at night, 5. People who wait to catch a late night bus or train, 6. Those attendants of ill people who are admitted in hospitals, 7. Those people come after seeing a first or second show of films, 8. Policemen who are on night duty, 9. Outstation office employees living in lodges, 10. People who do not have a place to stay, 11. People who live in hotels but do not have enough to spare on costly food, 12. People coming out of bars and liquor shops, 13. Sex workers, 14. Local thugs, 15. Young people who just want to enjoy a different taste. 16. Journalists, 17. Editors, 18. Members of Legislative Assembly, 19. Professionals like Doctors, Engineers, IT Executives and so on, 20. Those people who come to collect food for the people mentioned in 16, 17, 18, 19 and 20 points. Artists, film makers, film workers, poets and writers could be included in any of those early categories.

(Making of Tattudosa- by Abul Kalam Azad)

These Tattukadas provide you with cheap and taste food. The early incarnations of Tattukada were simple in format. They used to serve dosas, masala dosas, idlis, chutney and sambar. They sold only these items because they could sell them in the cheapest of prices as most of the patrons were from working class. They did some value additions as time progressed; they added a few varieties of vadas and omelets. Dosas got the name Tattudosas because they were small in size therefore affordable in price. A really hungry one could eat four to six dosas according to their pocket. Then came the greatest revolution in the Tattukadas. Poultry farms were set up in different parts of Kerala and chicken corners were started. Tattukadas started selling chicken in various forms. Beef as a staple non vegetarian food of Keralites, gave enough competition to chicken. And to supplement it Parotta came into the picture. Before I go into the story of parottas, let me tell you how these Tattukadas are revolutionary in nature. Except the ones who come to eat from these joints rest of the patrons are always disgruntled people. They are made to eat from there because of certain social imbalances though it catered to a different sort of economy and financial stability to those poor families who run these shops. A person with a sense of social imbalance and his victimhood, naturally thinks about revolutionary ideas at least when he digs his fingers into these tattudosas and parottas.

(Parottas - photograph by Abul Kalam Azad)

Parotta had a religious identity and Tattukadas in a great way transcended it. Parotta was a food item mostly made, sold and eaten by Muslim communities in Northern Kerala. Tattukadas made it popular amongst the non-Muslim communities. There are certain sociological reasons for adopting parotta as the ‘coolest’ food item at least by the youngsters in Kerala. The story starts somewhere in mid 1980s. Kerala’s film heroes were basically chocolate heroes. They loved and fought. Their fights were a comical relief (when seen in retrospect) in the main narrative of the film than really convincing fight of today’s films. A few macho actors were there in the mainstream Kerala films but they too were subsumed by the majoritarian aesthetics of their times (Satyan, Madhu, Sudheer). Jayan’s arrival as an angry young man was pivotal. An ex-Merchant Navy officer, Jayan ruled Malayalm film industry for almost ten years changing the physical topography of the viewers’ imagination about their own bodies. Most of the Malayalis were mal-nourished with no muscled bodies to boast off. The upper class/caste male symbols were Pot Belly, Bullet mark and hair on the body (Ref.Vengayil Kunjiraman Nayanar). But the general feel about macho male was romantic, dreamy and slightly effeminate who became ‘male’ only when his love interest was attacked by the brutal forces (interestingly as exemplified the people with upper class/caste marks).

(Chocolate hero of yester years in Malayalam film industry- Prem Nazir)

Jayan came as a working class hero (Sarapanjaram and Angadi), who could speak English. He had an exercised body with toned muscles. One shot from Sarapanjaram shows him massaging a horse. The camera zooms in and gives a tight shot of his wing and pectoral muscles moving. The camera, interestingly shows the gaze of the upper class/caste woman who desires him. The gaze ends up in their sexual union. Jayan changed the mindset of the cinema going youth. They started doing exercises. Gyms started springing up all over. But with no staple diet in place, the youth were on a look out for appropriate supplementary food. The sudden eruption of poultry farms and chicken centers in Kerala should be seen in this context. To go with beef and chicken, Parotta was the right kind of food item. Parotta, a flattened layered and tawa fried bread made out of maida flour became a rage. It started in small restaurants and travelled into the menu of Tattukadas. So for the Tattukadas, it was a necessary reinvention of their own business pattern and they were forced to sell chicken, beef, fish and parotta in a subsidized price than the price of the small restaurants and hotels. Simultaneously omelet centers also sprang up in Kerala.

(the angry young man of 1970s early 80s of Malayalm film - Jayan)

(Making of Parottas- by Abul Kalam Azad)

Today Parotta is on a spot. Parotta is made out of maida which is the finest residue of wheat flour, which has no nutritional value. I quote from Wikipedia: Maida is a finely milled and refined and bleached (using chemical bleach) wheat flour, closely resembling cake flour, and used extensively in making Indian fast food, bakery products such as pastries and bread, varieties of sweets and sometimes in making traditional Indian breads such as Parath and naan. It is made from the endosperm (starchy white part) of the grain, while the fibrous bran is removed in the mill. Originally yellowish in colour, maida is popular in a white colour, bleached with benzoyl peroxide, which is banned in China and the European Union including the UK.

Sociologists, health experts and nutritionists say that the rising diabetics rate in Kerala is caused by the over use of maida flour. However, parotta still rules the menus of both restaurants and tattukadas. The post Jayan generation of Malayalis faced an identity crisis regarding their physical appearance when the Mohanlal-Mammotty rose into prominence by late 1980s. While Mammootty represented the macho male body by playing die hard Police officers’ roles (Yavanika, Oru CBI Dairykurippu, Aavanaazhy), tough hunters and jail birds (Mrugaya, Yathra, Nirakkoottu) and popular mythical characters like Chanthu (Oru Vadakkan Veeragatha), Mohan Lal played the young man who was almost an underdog, a trickster, unjustifiably accused, a broken heart, a singer, a dancer and a fun loving person. Mohan Lal came to the scene with a plump body, a total anti-thesis to Jayan, but showed tremendous flexibility in acting and dancing. Tailor made roles of a loser made him dear to the youngsters of 1980s and 1990s. Rajavinte Makan of late 1980s made him a superstar. But the plump body remained. Mohan Lal never tried to enhance his body by excessive body building regime. Instead the myth was spread that he was an accomplished Kalari practitioner (traditional martial arts from Kerala). Kalari does not give emphasis to the shape of the body, instead it gives emphasis to flexibility. Mohan Lal had that. Besides, his body showed another social aspiration of climbing the social ladders; from lower economic position to a higher one and also from the lower caste/class position to a higher one. Mohan Lal had pot belly, a scar (the emphasis on his skin scar on the back in Panchagni by Hariharan) and bodily hair.

(Mohan Lal)

Let us look at the iconography of Mohan Lal as a cultural figure. His name is Mohan Lal, which is absolutely a Gujarati sounding name. This name itself was desirous amongst the Sunils, Sureshs, Kumars and so on that constituted the cinema going public. Mammootty is a derivative of Muhammad Kutty (which is a pet name as well as Islamic therefore undesirable). No young woman or man would like to have a name like Mammootty had there been no Mammootty as a super star. Imagine a Dr.Mammootty, a marathon runner Mammootty, a Nobel Prize winning writer Mammootty- it just does not gel. In a dominant Hindu society, Mohan Lal and his fair complexion was quite attractive irrespective of caste and class. Mohan Lal has puffed up cheeks, an adorable moustache which almost saying ‘I am sorry’ (later in his macho roles he turns it upwards), a pot belly and a languorous walking style which is often seen amongst the fat people. Once Mohan Lal’s iconographic features became equal to his cinematic success and histrionic abilities, generations of young people wanted to have similar physical features; pot belly, puffed up cheek and languorous walk.

(Thattukada- Abul Kalam Azad)

Parotta played a great role in converting the former Jayans to contemporary Mohan Lals. People started eating parotta and beef not as supplement but as mediums to put on weight. If you see the actors who followed Mohan Lal and became successful like Suresh Gopi, Jayaram, Dileep, Kalabhavan Mani, Kunchakko Boban, Siddique and innumerable television serial actors and mimicry artists, one could see how putting on weight ‘like’ Mohan Lal became a craze in Kerala. Parotta was the way to achieve the Mohan Lal-ness. Tattukadas played a major role in providing the youngsters with their desired food item. Today wherever Malayalis have gone, irrespective of the star category, one could see Malabar Parotta has become an unavoidable item in the food menu. Though a new generation of actors after Prithiviraj, has made efforts to bring a toned body back, the Mohan Lal influence still persists in Kerala society. Tattukadas play a major role in it. In this sense Tattukadas are the places where people create their identities in a revolutionary way; at times this revolution could be against the ills of state or against the ‘ills’ of a healthy regime. Abul Kalam Azad’s photographs have captured the essence of these Tattukadas in his series of photographs without exactly portraying the patrons who throng there by evening to mid night. These photographs capture what constitutes a social desire but in its lowliest forms of culinary experimentations. 

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

The Games People Play: A Glance at the Indian Contemporary Art Scene and its Operational Methods

(Kiran Nadar, the founder director of Kiran Nadar Museum, New Delhi with a Ravinder Reddy Head)

An artist friend of mine asks me, after reading my review on Pablo Helguera’s book on the Contemporary art style (dealing mainly with the ways in which the contemporary artists and other art players operate in the International art scene with reference to the American contemporary art scene) three questions: 1. Do we have a ‘king’ in the game? 2. Are the AW (an abbreviation that Helguera creates for Art World) games actively played in Indian art scene too? 3. Without public and private museums how do art collectors enhance the value of a work of art in Indian context? I thought instead of answering these questions in private it would be useful for many of my young readers who always say that they do not understand how the art world behaves, if answered them through a blog.

First of all we need to understand the premise of Pablo Helguera’s book. Helguera likens the AW as a game of chess and he chalks out roles for each player in this game. I quote from my review, “According to him, the King is a Museum Director, Queen is an art collector, Curators are the rooks, Dealers are the Knights, Critics are the Bishops and the Artists are the pawns. Like in a game of chess, the pawns are placed in front and are given freedom to move slowly, step by step. Their aim is to reach the King but there are many hurdles to cross. But unlike in Chessm, the pawns often try to please the rooks and the knights only to get the attention of the King. But all the pawns are not allowed to reach the King. In the process, many are stopped, discarded and eliminated from the game. However, once a rook reaches the final row and meets the King, he/she achieves a kind of power, which is very difficult to cut down by external forces.”  (for further reading please refer to my review October 2008)

 (book Cover of Pablo Helguera)

Now let us take the Indian scenario as an attempt to answer my friend’s questions. In India, for a long time since Independence we did not have any museums. Almost a decade after gaining Independence (1947), India’s first public museum for modern art was established in Delhi (NGMA 1954). It got its branches in Mumbai and Bangalore only in the recent years. As a part of the Nation Building project envisioned by India’s first Prime Minister, Pt.Jawaharlal Nehru, there was a spate of activities in the cultural front and in 1954 itself Central Fine Arts Academy (Lalit Kala Akademy, New Delhi) was also established. Besides, these there had been little efforts towards building contemporary museums in our country. Between 1960s and 1980s we see provincial efforts to establish contemporary art museums as autonomous bodies in Chennai (Cholamandal), Bhopal (Bharat Bhavan) and Chandigarh. But they were not established as museums in the strictest sense. The history of Indian contemporary art museums could be summarised like this. Shantiniketan was another centre of arts which has been considered as a living museum but ‘living’ without the premises of a contemporary art museum with its economic implications.

Today we have three actual private museums and two museums in the making. Delhi has two private museums to boast off: one, Devi Art Foundation and two, Kiran Nadar Museum. In Mumbai, Bhau Daji Lad Museum has a quasi contemporary museum operational format. Rajashree Pathy’s Coimbatore Museum is said to be in the making and in Kolkata KMoMA (Kolkata Museum of Modern Art) is also taking shape in papers. To do the reality check, we have only two museums that have economic activities and regeneration of financial and cultural discourses as a part of their annual plan. Devi Art Foundation, established by modern art collector Lekha Poddar and her son and contemporary art collector, Anupam Poddar was the first one to create a ‘King’ situation in the Indian contemporary art scene. Before that as a part of the general art market and gallery scene it was Amit Judge of Bodhi who brought in a ‘royal’ situation. As Helguera suggests, each pawn tries to reach the King by activities mediated through rooks, knights and bishops but all of them do not reach the king. In Indian context too during the first decade of the new millennium, artists worked very hard to reach Amit Judge through various channels. His presence and the presence of his gallery Bodhi, made many other traditional and established galleries to re-think their operational strategies. When a sense of celebration and royal splendour made possible by Judge became palpable, it became an unavoidable necessity for other galleries to follow the suit mainly because of the fear of falling out of grace with the artists who were actually the ‘producers’ of commodities. Even though Amit Judge has left the art scene without explaining why, he made a few more kings in the scene by showing how international relationships could be made through actual collaborations with other agencies and possible strategic permutations and combinations. Today in Indian art scene we have a few kings (in the absence of too many museums we have to see Galleries as temporary museums); these kings are the directors of established private galleries and even certain organizations. In that sense we have the kings/queens in the following galleries and agencies: Nature Morte, Project 88, Talwar Gallery, Mirchandani+Stienruecke Gallery, Maskara Gallery, Chemould Gallery, Volte Gallery, Chatterjee and Lal and Gallery SKE at the first level, Sakshi Gallery, Guild Gallery, Espace Gallery, Vadehra Gallery at the second level, Khoj, Sarai and Pro-Helvetia as agencies. Depending on the flow of the wind other galleries in India could get any artists to work with especially with the economic recession in place.

(Anupam Poddar and Lekha Poddar of Devi Art Foundation)

But the real King was Anupam Poddar. All the artists could not reach him despite having worked through the rooks and knights and bishops. A few reached him and they became big in the company of the king. Those artists who have been talking against homogenization of aesthetics and insisting on the need for diversified approaches to art stopped critiquing the homogenization of collections as there were not too many strong patrons like Anupam Poddar in the scene. Poddar’s collection, after Amit Judge’s taste, almost ruled the aesthetic direction of Indian contemporary art scene for almost a decade till he decided to call it a day and thought of de-accessioning his collection. Then came the current reigning King/Queen of the scene: Kiran Nadar. She is the Founder Director and supreme authority of her own Kiran Nadar Museum. Today, many of the works of art are done and exhibited thinking that Ms.Kiran Nadar would grace the gallery and artist with a benevolent eye. Though it is not much talked about, most of the art scene operators know for sure that many large scale works are done and promoted thinking that Ms.Kiran Nadar would acquire it for her collection. In my view, unlike Anupam Poddar, Kiran Nadar is more a futurist as she and her team have taken a pro-active step in co-opting radical art forms and embracing several interventionist art forms. Anupam Poddar’s Devi Art Foundation was an exclusivist and elite organization till he changed his mind in order to open up it for a larger audience through Sarai that has been mindlessly inviting every other artist to do ‘projects’ in order to establish its own legacy. In my view, and also historically speaking, Devi Art Foundation has ‘grown down’ from its historical role as the first major private contemporary art museum to another Khoj that was ten years back in its days of inception. Today, perhaps, Pooja Sood, the Director of Khoj is another reigning queen in the field of ‘fund based’ art activities. I do not forward it as a critique; but it is the fact and it is the history.

(Pooja Sood, Director of Khoj)

Coming to the third part of my friend’s question (Do collectors find the real value of their collections and enhance it even in the absence of Museums): Yes, is the answer. Any modern artist who fetches a few Crores in any auction is definitely an artist who has grown without the support of any museums. If we look at the history of our modern artist, we come to know that they all were passionately making art and they were blessed with aesthetically egalitarian and culturally polished patrons. Patronage is a glittering word from the past that unfortunately we have lost today. But of course, when artists do their works and in due course of time as they find their patrons in the form of galleries, buyers and collectors, there will be a simultaneous building up of critical literature and history around it. Once these things work together and create a conducive atmosphere for the production of art as well as the procurement of it, the value of a work of art would get enhance. Artists and collectors need to show patience. Art’s worth is determined by time and its ability to endure. Critical and historical literature is a must to build the value of a work of art. Most of the visionary collectors keep log of their collections besides creating an archive of literature around it. Collecting is a serious activity and a serious collector would naturally become a patron. So there is still hope in the scene, with or without museums. But we need more museums both in the private and public sectors because there is a sort of mutuality between various zones of cultural discourse that makes the art scene flourish by overcoming all negative thoughts and economic depressions.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Chance Encounters

I think about those people
Who had gone through me,
Whom I see everyday
And also about those people
Who are yet to happen in my life.

Some faces abandoned by people
Still hang on the walls of my mind
With a smile that was shared
At the last moment of parting
Like the meaningless pictures
Framed and hung by old memories.

Quite unexpectedly some people
Walk in to the spaces your existence,
They call out your name from
The crowding metro platforms
Some people come out from amongst
The mannequins displayed in a shopping mall
And renew the friendship with plastic handshakes.

One person coming along a lonely path
Avoids your eyes and looks straight into the horizon
As if he has never seen you in this life
While you stand like an elongated shadow.

I am not worried about the one
Who is yet to come;
From sleep to sleep
As if I were a lost mountaineer
She would lead me
By holding my cold hands.

There will not be any platoon
Marching out of a tunnel
Just to meet me and scream out
The last salute for an alleged betrayal.

Monday, February 18, 2013


Each day is a surrendering
To the forces both great and humble
Often it is to a force that stays beyond
And always within, to which I am a part
At times to the paper vendor who changes
The familiar with the unfamiliar brands
To the milk man who refuses to open his booth
To the maid servant who develops fancy illnesses
To the waste collector who disappears
Like a cloud from a summer sky.

I don’t threaten people with words
I don’t shake the seats of familial bonds
I don’t hurt people with absence of presence
I don’t think about things that don’t think about me
I just think about those who has stabbed me
Both from front and from behind
And wonder about that particular moment
Before they strike and about their feelings.

Stab as much as you can
You will spill only ink from my heart. 

Sunday, February 17, 2013

What the Birds Said

(Parrot Fortune Teller by Abul Azad)

I have been expecting a day
When human beings would start
Speaking to flowers, clouds
Rains, trees and death,
Presently I realize that
Nature has been talking to us
All these while but all of us
Keep our ears closed with
Various tools of distraction.

It was her one drop of tear
That woke up my soul
From its lethargic slumber
It was a mere touch of her toe
That shook me out of all illusion
To a world of astonishment
It was her yogic trance that
She had gone into while talking to me
That taught me the lessons of silence.

During the days when all mirrors
Reflect our own images in thousand forms
Of illusion and passion
Like the touch of a stone that shatters
All illusions into a million smithereens
We all would wake up and see
The billion shapes of our existence
Getting reflected in a dew drop
Or in the cry of a simple bird
And flow into the river of time.

The girl who speaks to a bird
With multi-colored feathers
The old man who could make
A bird to pick out
The present, past and future
Of those sorrowful and helpless people
From rotting pictures of muted gods
Tell us the same truth.
Whether we believe it or not
Poems and the purity of soul
Are sung by birds only
A truth that had been, that is and that would be.

I was aiming at a bird in a distance
With the arrow of my arrogance and desire
Before I could launch it
She flew unto me and said:
Take me, I am yours.
She touched my rough fingers
With her soothing feathers.
It was only then I realized
That it was not in conquest but in surrender
The future of me, the people and of the country

It is not before an army that you surrender
Not before the war cries of soldiers
Not before the blindness of ego
Not in front of the fake gods-
Say the forests, hills, rains, rivers
And their concentrated silence to me.

Our strength to surrender resides
In the knowledge and awareness
That we ourselves had exiled from
Our perturbed memories.
Let us walk back in search of those powers
When we realize that progress
Lies in any direction in a round earth
Let us retreat from the streets.
Through the trajectories of birds
Let us fly towards a universe of
The known and the unknown
And the one that is waiting to be known.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

An Ordinary Man

In every morning
Ordinary people
Get up with absolute
And with extraordinary beliefs,
Engage themselves in their
Daily routines.
But the extraordinary ones
Without realizing their qualities
In complete ordinariness
Involve in their daily lives.

He gets up like an ordinary man
The moment he wakes up
He remembers a few familiar faces
Children, wife and God, in that order.
He proves that children and wife
Are there in the vicinity
When he sees them sleeping
Like different letters
Within a long sentence like him.

But he could not prove that
God exists till date.
However like a virahi, the separated one
He tries to imagine the face of God
In his mind.
Then without reaching anywhere
In the effort, he would get up from the bed
And would go to the bathroom.

One of his old days will pass through
The drains that lie like the veins of a city
With exploding voices and winds.
Then he would look at the mirror-
Seeing his own reflection
He would ask whether God’s face
Looks like that or not.
Then he would convince himself
That God has a woman’s face.

Thus his day would start
On a walking path, in some wild flowers
Through the songs of some birds
And with the rising of sun.

When he harks for his own footsteps
He would hear the conversations of ants
The prayers of snails as they go to a pilgrimage
The flirting of flies with flowers
And the fights of beetles around the plants.

In this universe,
Besides the noises of cars, buses
Military vehicles and flights
That threaten a silent sky
He would realize that
There are other voices too to hark upon.

As days pass by
One day some extraordinary people
Happen to see him talking to ants
And asking the snails whether
They have seen the face of God.
They ask all the people around
To isolate him as he has gone mad.

If he wanted he could have
Fought with them and reasoned
Saying that he was talking to the ants
About love, life and death
And also he could have proved
That the snails had told him
About God who looked and raced
Like a horse but devoid of a shell.
He could have said it in the name
Of a shell-less God and his kids.
But thinking that all of them were
Extraordinary people
He walked off into the noon.

When his vehicle passes through a tunnel
He burns a book and becomes light unto others
When he recognizes that the burning book
Has the face of God and his own
His station appears before him
And the doors open.
He leaves his vehicle with a smile,
An ordinary smile of an ordinary man.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Whose Chair it is, After All: Thinking About a New Approach to Art

Almost eighteen years back, when I was a struggling writer in Delhi, going to all the newspapers offices with articles and reviews written painstakingly, and asking the page editors whether they wanted my articles, thereby making friends and sympathizers in the publishing industry, I met a few people who taught me the lessons of having faith in one’s own writing. Going around with manuscripts of articles was not a pleasurable thing. People used to rebuke the style, the attitude and the general anarchy that had reflected in my person. Some of them shut their doors at my face and some of them invited me to write further. Both were learning experiences. The greatest lesson that I learned as a writer in those days from my optimistic journeys to the newspaper offices was this: as a writer or art critic you don’t have a chair to lose. A writer’s chair is in the minds of his/her readers. Readers are an abstract lot till when they come to say a hello or they hunt for your autograph or a photograph with you. Otherwise a writer lives in the minds of his/her readers. When you write well and make sense, your imaginary chair remains there for you. When you make false judgments and hypocritical observations they pull the chair and you land upon your bottoms.

In those days of my relentless commuting between newspaper offices and Lalit Kala Akademy library I chanced upon an artist on whose works I had written a very harsh piece. She said she would throw me out of the scene. For the first time in my life I realized that my writings had arrived. Again, after a few months I faced another artist who threatened me of throwing me behind bars. I smiled at the artist and walked off. In 2009, an artist supported by a lot of galleries in India came out against me. They together brought out a veto against me. It said that I would not be allowed to curate any shows unless and until I got permission from the concerned galleries. I gave them a polite answer saying that so long as artists showed their willingness to work with me none could deny my right to work in this art field because we lived in a democratic country. Time and again I have faced this threat of being removed from the scene or pushed behind the bars. But I am not worried. If I am alive I have all the freedom, both in my materialistic and spiritual ways, to work in this scene and make meanings that would suit to my learning, knowledge, awareness and purpose.

I continue to do so today. I appreciate controversies regarding my career and show the willingness to face the consequences. Physical decimation of my existence is the only possible way to remove me from the scene, if someone really desires to do so. I am not worried about chairs. I am not concerned about materialistic possessions. Since 2005 in my never ending travels across the length and breadth of this country as an art critic and writer, I have never carried a notebook, a pen or a laptop. Only recently I started carrying a laptop with me in my journeys. My simple idea was this: wherever I went I met friends stationed in those places and they all had computers and laptops. If I wanted to write I could ask anyone to allow me to work in their work stations. Otherwise I would just go out in the street, find out an internet café and do my work there. I have done it in India as well as in abroad. Even today, I have a strong conviction that I could go to anywhere in the world and ask without feeling any ego problem for a place to stay and a place to work without paying anything to anybody. I have been taken care of by the larger forces out there.

I do not claim anything in this world. I do not claim name or glory. I do not aspire for fame or fortune. What I claim is my rightful position to do my work wherever I am. I have realized the futility of having ego and fighting foolish wars over retaining it. I find the major problem that our art scene facing today is all about ego. Everyone wants to score over the other. Everyone wants to prove the best and everyone wants to outdo the other. It is high time that we think differently. Whatever today we talk about globalization and the collapsing of boundaries, the global flow of economy and the need to look beyond the nation state and its limited aspirations and so on, however we feel that we are a part of the globalized world and it is time for us to live up to the changed times, fundamentally we are the people who have not changed internally and would remain in that limbo for many years to come. The changes that we claim to have happened to us are all cosmetic in nature and hegemonic in purpose. When we talk about global art our whole aspiration is about making something that is seen and projected as global art. We have been limited in our thinking process by the falsities that we have accepted as truth.

As an art critic and writer (I am afraid of using the qualification ‘curator’ because today I chance upon several of them at every nook and corner of the art scene), my intention today is to understand the process of art making and the contexts that facilitate such processes. You may think that there is nothing new in this. The recent art activities in India have proved beyond doubt that we neither understand the art making process nor do we recognize the contexts that facilitate such processes. We are in a crisis. My whole aim is to understand the nature of this crisis. And our art today very clearly shows that it is unable to grapple with this crisis. When you are not able to grapple with a crisis what one does is either yield to its forces or neglect it altogether. Our art is happening through these two processes today. Most of our artists yield to the pressures of the present crisis or they neglect it and fall into certain dogmas. We need a total rethinking about our art practice in order to facilitate any kind of movement in the art scene. For that one has to study very carefully about the historical dynamics that has formed the notion of India and Indian-ness because we are not cleared all our existing problems or ironed out all our varieties in order to be a part of the hegemonic global practices. To achieve this sense of balance and clarity one has to eschew all egos and work towards the realization of the self that helps one to evolve as a better human being therefore a better artist.

Though I have not developed upon the nature of the crisis that I have mentioned in the previous paragraph, it is very important to understand that our egos are the biggest hurdle in understanding this crisis. Each artist operating in Indian art scene today should overcome their egos and egocentric thinking. It is not just about killing the ‘I’ in I and feeling that we have done away with it and feel good about it. It is about going into the fundamentals of principles that constitute the very nature of a human being and then elevate oneself from those basic natures to the most sublime position. By doing that one could create the best art works. Today we are carried away by the formalisms of the so called global art. But these formalisms are just cosmetic experiments that are incapable of addressing the fundamental ideas. That does not mean that one should abandon new media practices and delve only into painting and sculpting. That becomes another dogma. We have thousands of artists today working on various issues in various mediums. Most of them do not understand what exactly they are doing with their art or dealing in them. Someone talk about Euclidian theory without understanding anything more than the primary definitions. They take it as a formal exercise. Some people talk about displacement and dislocation without studying the various reasons and roots of such problems. Feminist artists do not understand the principles of feminism. Sculptors do not sculpt, painters do not paint, cutting edge artists do not handle computer or do not understand software. Everything is outsourced. Outsourcing is the mode of hegemonic globalization practices and outsourcing is the biggest crisis of the world. Art too has imbibed it in its making. So first of all we have to do away with all kinds of outsourcing. Only when assistance is needed one could seek it. In the name of conceptualism one cannot get things done by other skilled people.

The crisis is that artists have not become philosophers and theoreticians. I am not talking about a scenario where artists are ‘informed’ about theories and philosophies and become mere translators and orators of such theories and philosophies. I am talking about a scenario in which artists becoming as good as philosophers and seers who could show a different way of looking at life or even interpreting life. It needs a lot of studies and involvement. It needs sagacious engagements with the knowledge systems and proper internalization of information and then elevation of the self to the level of sublime. The work of art becomes a subliminal aspect of life not only of the artist and the viewers but as an art object itself only when artists do their art with sheer understanding and alertness. For that one should become a philosopher artist. It is the need of the time in order to progress towards a future that would help the human beings to evolve as better beings than just becoming the followers of imported theories and practices.

This has not yet happened in India in our times. We lost out to a great resistance to globalization in terms of art mainly because during the boom years as our art scene converted itself into a demand-supply machinery anybody who could put paint on the canvas taken for an artist. Anybody who did primary things about software and art was handpicked by agencies and promoted as artists of the future. The result is that today we have millions of artists but majority of them does not have any understanding about art or grander principles. To rise up to the changed times and find the real identity of our own people and ourselves it is pertinent to become more egalitarian and philosophic in our approach to art. Art cannot be done by anybody only because Joseph Beuys had said so. Art could be done by everyone when everyone is a philosophically inclined spiritual being while fulfilling the materialistic needs of their lives. Kabir, the famous saint poet lives even in the tongues of the illiterate people today because his art was capable enough to capture the imagination of the people who could understand the need for their personal sublimation. A tiller or a vegetable vendor is many times better than an artist today because their daily lives have taught them the grander truth of life than the falsities understood by most of the contemporary artists. When an artist says that he or she is doing a project in fact it does not come from the spirit of the person. It comes out of external demands created by the society or by oneself. When life cannot be a project art too cannot be done as a project. An artist who pursues certain aspects of life should be able to continue with it for a prolonged period of time so that he or she gets at least a minimum understanding of things. Collecting data and presenting good arguments do not make good artists. A polemicist is not always a saint and a saint need not be a polemicist at all.

To go back to my initial point about chairs, I would say artists today should become aware and they should live in alertness and recognize the ultimate fact that no chair is permanent in this life, and nobody could give you a chair. The chairs could be the same but the people who sit on it keep changing. This does not give any importance neither to the chair nor to the person. If at all any value to be attributed to the chair, which is an inanimate object, it should be done by the person who sits on it and similarly a person should raise oneself to the position that the chair offers. As a physical object chair is an impermanent object and as an organic subject a human being is also impermanent. But his or her self, expressed through his or her art is a permanent thing and the permanency comes out of the deep awareness and alertness. So it is time for us to think about a different kind of practice in art. None is going to give you any value permanently or no chair is going to be therefore an artist because an artist is a person who creates his chair in the minds of the people with the works of art. In that case the general public of this country has not created too many chairs for too many artists because they have failed in creating art that touches the minds of the people. It is time for all the artists in this country to rethink about their practices. There is no globalization in art until you become the central point of the globe. Otherwise you become the imitators of an imaginary globe that has been created by the hegemonic people for perpetuating their ideas and gain their benefits.

(Image courtesy: LITTCHATT)

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

I am the God that You Seek

For the hopeless, abandoned

Rejected and refused

I built a home called earth

And made them kings and queens

Rejoiced they in their new status

Happily drank from the sources of joy

Celebrating the bliss of life, fame and name

They acted according to nature pure and rare

Then came the War Lords from another planet

To capture the land that I founded anew

Without fight I left it then and there

With my creations to decide on their own

They rebuked me in streets and temples

Vandalized my idols erected by the happy people

They brought in machines and clones

Who acted upon orders of greed and avarice

They cleaned up the temples and scriptures

And set up false idols as wares of worship

It took them eons to become me

Still they don’t understand the essence in me

I don’t belong to temples and

I don’t reside in scriptures

I don’t obey the rules made by mortals

I don’t fight a war waged by fools

I create worlds at my will and

Abandon them and burn them to be free

Chains don’t bind me and jails don’t hold

Rains and floods don’t deter my path

Snakes and ghosts don’t smite me

I live in you and you in me

As I am the eternal one, limitless and immutable

My name is God and I don’t burn in Fire or ire.

Come to me as all paths come unto me

Even if you decide not to come

There is no escape.

I am not an angry God but a benevolent one

You took ages to become me

But still have not realized me

It would take another cycle of birth

A chain of lowly incarnations for you

For realizing the abundance of me

And the core of my existence

You sell yourself in bits and pieces

While a whole world has gained me

As a whole that they cherish and in they flourish

Oh, the blind and the foolish

Burn yourself in knowledge

Burn your ego and home

Come out, I am here

Standing in the middle of the street

Naked and pure, singing the songs of joy

I will open your eyes and impart

You the knowledge of your existence

With my limitless manifestations

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

D.Vinayachandran: Touched by Poetry, Claimed by Death

(D.Vinayachandran- 1946-2013)

D.Vinayachandran, the poet, writer, pedagogue and wanderer is no more. Yesterday (11th February 2013), after spending three days in a hospital in Trivandrum, he breathed his last. He was sixty seven year old and is survived by his poetry and the memories of his friends. D.Vinayachandran was my professor for a year in University College, Trivandrum, where I had to study Malayalam as the second language. It was quite exciting to see a poet-professor whom you had been admiring for a long time since your childhood, standing in front of you and delivering lectures. He recited epics the way he used to recite his own poems. And I remember he never finished a portion from Mahabharata that we had to study as he went on explaining literature in a different mode that traversed into experiences of poets and writers of all times. But we were not a dejected lot. Vinayachandran taught us what was not in the text book. So was V.P.Sivakumar, another writer-professor, who lived a life of irreverence that got reflected in his writings.

(D.Vinayachandran- a Sketch by Shibu Natesan- 2006)

First time I saw D.Vinayachandran when he came to Kumaran Asan Memorial for Asan Prize Festivals sometime in early 1980s. Shibu Natesan was with me then and we both were high school boys. While Shibu stood firmly on his stance that he would not participate in any painting competition because he believed painting was not for competing with anybody or anything, I went to participate in painting and drawing competitions along with poetry and short story writing because I wanted to become an all rounder. We heard poets reciting their poems. Their voices of rebellion were taken to the far off shores by the winds blowing from the Arabian Sea. M.P.Appan was the only senior poet. We thought he was a chiranjeevi who defied death. Every year he came, recited his poems in a classical style and went back. Thirunalloor Karunakaran was an iron man. Ayyappa Panicker was the descendent of Nambiar. Kadammanitta was people’s poet. Vinayachandran had the beats of a bygone tribal culture.

When Vinayachandran recited his poems, tapping with his fist on the podium, throwing his thin hands up in the air like the wings of an albatross, we felt the rhythm of forests had come to meet the music of sea waves. His large eyes gleamed, black curly hairs fell on his temples and his dark complexion shined against the setting sun. We expected him to recite the same poems every year because we liked the way he recited it. Poets were like entertainers. We wanted each poet to recite their ‘super hit’ poems. Perhaps, the poetry reciting culture became a wildfire in Kerala in 1980s and 90s. Perhaps, only in Kerala one could hear poems even from a marriage pandal. Poetry had taken people by storm. Vinayachandran was a whirlwind.

Vinayachandran had a good dressing sense. He wore denims and cotton clothes. Often he walked with a bag full of books. He had a very affectionate smile. I never thought I would ever become his student. Once I became his student we became friends. I used to spend time with him and V.P.Sivakumar. And I got chance to travel with Vinayachandran to recite poems in villages. I have written about the experience elsewhere. He was unmarried. Perhaps he loved books and poems. He loved friendship and wandering. Family life never attracted him. 

It must be the play of providence. Last I met him with Shibu Natesan in Mumbai. It was in 2008. The artists were on their way to Mexico. Vinayachandran was accompanying Shibu to Mexico. I spoke to him briefly amidst the dinner of Joss, an upmarket restaurant in Mumbai. Artists were not feeling the pinch of recession. They were in a perpetual party and in a never ending dream. Vinayanchandran was obviously not fitting in. But he tried his best to fit in. He drank and sang. He recited folkloric poems and certain tribal intonations, which we were supposed to repeat at his request. But we were shy. We thought it was not suitable to a ‘sophisticated’ art party. But I knew he was living and rest of the people were acting. Vinayachandran went to Mexico and came back. Today he has gone to a different world and to a new life.

As if it was decided by some invisible force, I came to know about Vinayachandran’s demise through a phone call from none other than Shibu Natesan. Vinayachandran had something to do with us. May be he has something to do with everyone in Kerala as he had touched them with his poetry. May his soul rest in peace. 

Monday, February 11, 2013

ABCD: The Politics and Plot of a Prabhudeva Movie

(Ace Dancer Prabhudeva in ABCD poster)

On the other day when I went to the park with my son to play cricket I saw group of boys practicing dance. They looked at me curiously as they found in me a grown up man who was destined to bowl and field and never to bat. I looked at them with equal curiosity as I found them quite interesting. In their malnourished bodies I could see the reservoirs of energy; they danced their way away with all sincerity and devotion. They whirled, made hand stands, head stands, rotations, somersaults, cartwheels, breaks and jerks, and moon walking on the uneven grass land of the park. The first thing that came to my mind was to give them a five hundred rupees note and ask them to go and watch ‘ABCD’ (Any Body Can Dance), directed and choreographed by Remo Desouza with Prabhudeva in the lead role. But I restrained. Soon there was a strange wave of empathy between those lower middle class boys and myself; they were picking up the balls struck by my son for his fours and sixes and throwing back to me. After some time they came to me and asked whether I was from the Press. I gave them an affirmative answer. They claimed that they had seen me photographing their dance in some function. I did not deny as I did not want their enthusiasm to die out. I asked them why they were practicing so vigorously. They said they had a program coming on the Valentine’s Day. I wished them all best and went back to bowling to the impatient batsman standing at the other end of the ground in form of my son.

Looking at those boys I realized that anybody could dance. You don’t need polished floors, huge mirrors and Boss stereo sound systems to shake your legs. If you have a will there is a dance floor out there. These boys were making their companions’ faces as mirrors to reflect the agility of their moves. They were teaching each other: each one teach one. In ABCD, Prabhudeva, who acts as the dance master Vishnu says, ‘Anything that dances is alive. A living thing is bound to dance.’ For him dance is the ultimate meditation to redeem oneself. Dance is a way to life; dance is a way to transcend class, caste and religion. Dance is the road to freedom. Dance is a challenge and dance is an opportunity. Yes, Dance has always been a way of expressing one’s inner feelings. Before dance became a high class affair though aerobics and salsas and waltz and tarantullas, dance was a medium to express one’s way of life, rebellion. Like music, dance too redeemed people from their bleakest of moments. Dance was always an expression of the black people who had experienced slavery. They danced to freedom as they sang to redemption. Mohammad Ali, the boxer is claimed to have said that he was the originator of rap music as he ranted against his opponents when he challenged them both within and without the ring. And he danced while he boxed. Dance was a way to revolution.

(A still from ABCD)

Black People say the white men cannot dance. For the anti-colonial and anti-Imperialist people dancing was a way of expressing rebellion in the street. In 1980s break dance became a fad amongst the black youth in the United States. Michael Jackson gave it much needed sophistication in his moon walking techniques. Charlie Chaplin had perfected the art of dancing as a celebration of life in his movies. If you carefully watch the famous song and dance sequence in Modern Times one could see how Chaplin had introduced the primary movements of moon walking in that particular scene. Michael Jackson took off from there to give it an ethereal feeling. When it happened along with his feminine shrieking the moves became a rage. Martial arts and street dancing were two things that defined the other man’s rebellion all over the world along with respective music during the post-Lennon period. While Bruce Lee ruled the martial arts world (interestingly, most of the black people learnt martial arts during that period and the trend continues even today), Michael Jackson ruled the music world. From Michael Jackson when the music and dance comes to the generation of Tupac Shakur and Biggie and then to rappers like Snoop Dog and Ice Cube, dance has also reached the streets. Then it became a world fever.

ABCD is a formula picture but with a difference. The difference lies in where when the film states that dance is not only a way of life but also a way to reconcile with many things that could be detrimental to the growth of life if not taken in the right spirit and unified with the spirit of dance. Jehangir Khan (Kay Kay Menon) and Vishnu grew up in streets dancing. Khan sets up JDC (Jehangir Dance Company). He is power hungry but Vishnu, the chief instructor of the school is stands for ethics. When Khan gets JDC team selected for the national dance competition, which is a televised program and event, Vishnu feels dejected. Khan replaces Vishnu with a white dancer. Vishnu is heartbroken and he wants to leave for his native, Chennai. But his friend Gopi, a local dance master (played effectively by the massive dance choreographer, Ganesh Acharya), insists that Vishnu should stay back and follow his dreams, which is dancing. Vishnu gets the local Tapori boys and girls for his class. Their internal rivalries are cleared and a new bonding is created by the presence of their Guru, Vishnu and his dance. They are all set for the competition. The usual corporate games happen. Families involve and dissuade the kids from dancing. Drug addicts are saved through dance. Love and passion for dance are tested. Death underlines love and it intensifies the feelings. Finally Vishnu’s company reaches the final. To the dismay of Vishnu and his students, they see Khan’s plotting succeeds in weaning away a key dancer from their troupe. Now with no new steps and ten minutes in hand, Vishnu asks the students to dance that dance anybody could dance. They do it and they become the winners. The story is that.

(Prabhudeva, Saroj Khan, Remo D'Souza and Ganesh Acharya in ABCD credit song)

The film ABCD works in two modes: the middle class’ present day aspirations to make it big in any field and the nostalgia of the film industry itself. Today thanks to so many television channels and reality programs, a lot of Indian middle and lower middle class people get a chance to showcase their talents. From super dancers to singers to brats get a chance to express their talents through these programs. One needs rigorous practice and devotion to become a star; these programs underline. The middle class passion to become great or the lower middle class’ desire to reach the upper layer finds fruition in these devoted acts. It has changed India in a big way, one should say. It would be interesting to see the plot of Bunty our Bubbli in this context. Bunty wants to make it big through inventions and Bubbly wants to make it big in fashion industry. Both of them fail so they become con-people. But times have changed. Today, if you have real ability and determination to work hard you can reach there, at least for one season. ABCD is all about that; the small town kids’ aspiration to make it big. But the film has a better philosophy to offer. If you have a dream to chase and devotion to put yourself completely into it, you can make it. But you need to follow the truth as embodied in a person or an ideal.

The aspect of nostalgia is very important in ABCD. In India, most of the actors where dancing to the traditional steps composed by traditional masters. There used to be a period when most of the choreography was done by masters who belonged to the Uday Shankar school. The sets were grand and steps were classical. Then came the era of Bhagwan Dada, who made languorous body movement into graceful dance movement. Inspired by south Indian dance masters there occurred a time during Jitendra’s younger days that brought him the name Jumping Jack. Then it was the time of Mithun Chakravorty and Rishi Kapoor, both danced to Disco and Rock and Roll respectively. Kamal Haasan worked between the desi, margi and contemporary styles but still was not up to the new age dance till late 1980s. It was Javed Jaffrey who brought the real break dance in the Indian screen but his was an arrival well before in time so he could not click. But his moves were picked up by many. Most of the mainstream heroes started dancing to Jaffrey style. Chiranjeevi was one dancing actor who popularized the break dance movements. All these prepared the ground for Prabhudeva’s arrival.

(The Prabhudeva Speak- Dance means Discipline, A means Attitude- from ABCD)

Prabbudeva was assisting his choreographer father Sundaram master and in late 1980s he was getting ready to break free from his father’s style. He got chances to work with actors like Rajnikant (Annamalai- song Annamalai Annamali) and it was his movie Kadalan (Super hit Muqabala- in Hindi) that heralded the arrival of Prabhudeva as a dancing wonder. He changed the grammar of Indian choreography because his moves were difficult and innovative. The trend of choreographing according to the physical traits of the actor/actress was toppled considerably by Prabhudeva’s dancing movements that needed tremendous training and a real passion for dance. Dance took Prabhudeva, a shy, bearded, humble, lean, thin, dark, tall and above all non-English/Hindi speaking actor/dancer to the national scene. Most of the actors and choreographer had to redefine their grammars with the arrival of Prabhudeva. Saroj Khan was the peerless queen of choreography in 1980s and 1990s, designing dances for the actresses like Sridevi and Madhuri Dixit. With Prabhudeva’s arrival, heroes in mainstream Bollywood also had to dance differently. If you look at the career graph of Govinda, Akshay Kumar, Shah Rukh Khan, Amir Khan and Salman Khan, one could see the first three actors worked well on their dance and the latter two preferred choreographers according to their body style. The generation that followed with Hritik Roshan in the lead are well versed dancers thanks to the number of dance schools came up in the industry with Shiamak Dawar in the lead as the dance master. One could say that it was clearly a Prabhudeva effect on the Indian film industry.

The nostalgia aspect of ABCD happens through the evocation of this collective memory. Prabhudeva after a gap of a decade re-emerged as a director of hit films like Rowdy Rathore. While he abstained himself from acting for sometime or reduced his presence into cameo appearances or occasional public presence as a judge to a few reality dance programs, people wanted more and more from this dancing sensation as he spoke very little or his eloquence of silence was broken by broken English or broken Hindi. To have Prabhudeva in a full length role not as a Hero who fights but as someone who dances or teaches dance, must have been a collective desire of the Indian audience and Remo Desouza has not gone wrong while casting Prabhudeva in the lead role for ABCD. Prabhudeva who is in his mid 30s now is still young, with the same body as he had when he debuted and has a casual dressing sense, which is cool and rebellious for the young audience, but has a class of his own that he has gained over a period of time in his film career as a choreographer, actor and director. It shows that the very casting of Prabhudeva, with his black underdog’s body, conveys the message that Any Body Can Dance. If Prabhudeva could make it then anybody could, the film says and it is believable. Perhaps, we conveniently forget the fact that Prabhudeva is a classically trained dancer and had a long apprenticeship under his choreographer father. Or perhaps, it is the time that we relish the presence of all those sons of artists who had never a chance to become celebrities in their life time. I would cite Veeru Devgun (Fight master and father of Ajay Devgun), Shetty Ganja (fighter and father of Rohit Shetty), and Sundaram master (choreographer and father of Prabhudeva). We should not forget R.K.Shekhar who was an accomplished arranger of music and sired A.R.Rahman.

 (A thrilling dance scene from ABCD)

The film starts with the falling out of Jehangir and Vishnu. Vishnu finds his protégés as he watches the police chasing a few local youths who are dancers and trouble shooters. He sees them again at the Ganapati Visarjan festival in one of the streets of Mumbai. There are two rival groups and they end up in fighting. The whole efforts to bring them into the dance floor by Vishnu vaguely remind one of the Billie Jean video of Michel Jackson. The two rival groups come together to dance and prove their worth and Vishnu is the peace maker through the art of dance. He is more spiritual in his approach. He admonishes his students when they get into a bar dance competition. According to Vishnu arrogance out of any art form shows the lack of understanding of the performer therefore he is ill equipped to do the performance. He even decides to leave the city dejected. Now the students want him back. So they get him back through another dance.

There are two strong sub texts working along the movie, which I would cite as two problems that the understanding of the movie would eventually raise. First of all, the larger backdrop of the movie is Hindu; when we read the Ganesh festival, it shows an aggressive Hindu nature. Though the Christian film director tries to pitch in an element of Christianity through the large sculpture of a pious angel at the terrace of the chawl where Gopi lives and setting most of the shots opening with the looming presence of this angel, one cannot avoid seeing the larger Hindu element in it. And to underline this, the last song where Vishnu asks his team to perform the way that anybody would perform in a given situation, the theme automatically becomes a Ganesh festival. The students recreate the ambience of Ganesh festival in their winning dance sequence. This is a problematic when we read Vishnu as the protagonist’s name. While most of the black movies that treated black identity as the issue that demanded transcendence through dance, here the medium of transcendence while remaining the lower middle class, it is expected to seek the deliverance of it through Hinduism. It is a task that the film director should have taken into account and handled in a different way by introducing an absolutely new context of liberation, of the class through dance. May be, a bit more considerate reading would make us feel that as it is India we cannot avoid the meta narrative of Hinduism when we discuss class or an aspiration for classlessness.

(De Dancing for his life- Dharmesh Yelande, the new comer in his haunting performance)

The other sub-text that creates another problematic is this; the traitors are all shown or suspected as people belonging to the Muslim community. Bollywood has always created the Muslim as the other even before the identity of the global terrorist has been fixed as Muslim by certain interest groups. But in ABCD, Vishnu is betrayed by Jehangir Khan (it is not a Fernandes or Tyrewallah or Jain or Dawar or Kapoor). Then again the first spanner is thrown at the spoke of the well oiled dancing engine of Vishnu’s school is by Qureshi (a person who runs a poultry farm and mutton business) and he happened to be the Muslim Dancer ‘D’s father. But the young generation Muslim D stands upto the challenge and he shows his allegiance to Vishnu and his dancing mates by leaving his own home. But when the question of betrayal comes it is D who is under the shadow of suspicion. Even when JDC buys out Vishnu’s dancers the first finger is pointed at D. Is it because he is a Muslim? The question remains. The film ABCD despite these pitfalls and formulaic approach has a lot of positive energies to offer. It also works towards the eradication of tobacco and drug abuse. I wish the film was in 2D than 3D.