Thursday, January 23, 2014

Colomboscope 2014 - arts and history

The literature festivals taking place across various big cities of India make you think whether literature is becoming to art what cricket has become to sports in India where cricket occupies the center stage and other sports disciplines remain either off stage or occupy a quiet corner on it. I like the literature festivals, have visited the one that happens in Bangalore and track the ones in other cities in newspapers. 

However, I do wonder if this partisan approach prevents us from developing a holistic view of a subject – art in this case - keeping us confined to only one of its sections - literature – and not letting us appreciate the whole.

Colomboscope 2014, Colombo’s arts festival, to be held from 30th January to 2nd February 2014, is quite a departure from this selective approach. The festival will celebrate contemporary literature, music, film and dance, bringing together national and international academics, authors, musicians, dancers, filmmakers and actors to reflect upon history, which is the broad theme of the festival which thematically connects all its events and discussions with a setting to complement it – places like Whist Bungalow and its gardens in Modera; the Old Town Hall – Pettah; the Grand Oriental Hotel & St peters Church – Fort and so on.

However, what interests me intellectually is how the festival promises to explore its subject, history. When we talk about history, written and oral narratives spring to our mind. But those are just two ways of recording and narrating history – and there are many more mediums without whose contribution the essence of a period remains inadequately understood. At Colomboscope, art practitioners will discuss how histories are recorded and passed down through the ages, through the performance and visual arts, buildings and monuments, clothing, language and the written word, narratives and media.

But history is not just an impersonal account of others to be appreciated from a distance but also a local, personal and individual narrative. And Colomboscope will explore this aspect of history through citizens’ accounts in sessions such as Memory and Remembrance, History’s Lenses, Social History and the Rise of the Citizen Historian and Whose Narrative is it Anyway? Award winning local and international writers will debate and discuss how they have dealt with, and been witness to eventful periods in modern history, and read from their works.

Colomboscope 2014 is different from the other art festivals I hear and read about in many ways. Not just does it bring all the arts under one roof but also explores their roles within a context – history – discussing it through forms of discourse - events, conversations, screenings etc -  and rendering it palpable through its setting. Quite layered. I don’t know whether it’s the first one of its kind. I honestly don’t think it is, but surely it is a thoughtful way of putting together a festival.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Short stories by Satyajit Ray

I read a bunch of short stories by Satyajit Ray that perfectly meet the requirements of the short story. The stories have a slow start, good buildup and then gradual descent into denouement which may not be unpredictable in a Roald Dahl sort of way (which, frankly, is quite bizarre sometimes) but do give you a nice and pleasant surprise inducing you to reconsider the entire story in the light of the ending, a pleasurable activity.  

The themes are various – ghost, occult, mystery, sci fi – but most stories have something in common: a bachelor goes to an unknown place and something happens to him. Maybe Ray had a liking for carefree bachelorhood or it was simply a convenient plot device to have a bachelor as the protagonist - which helped him avoid crowding up his plots with family members. Ray wrote the stories for children’s literary magazine(s), which explains why the auteur didn’t deal with adult themes in them.

What held me in awe about the stories is Satyajit Ray’s range of imagination and his ability to bring them to life in words. We all know is ability to deal with complex themes about human relationships and social matters. We also know his ability to spin a gripping detective yarn – Feluda. In films like Gupi Bagha, Ray showed his penchant for the surreal. Even so, these stories impress you with their range and Ray’s ability to handle bizarre themes engagingly.  Somewhere above I wrote the endings are not Dhalian - but Dahl would have surely approved of the them.

One man, looking out for ideas to tell stories to his invalid son, meets another man who enthralls him with tales from distant past and future claiming to have known them through time travel –  alas, the first man realizes much later that he had met but a pickpocket! An aspiring writer, writing a book on indigo planters, ends up in an old countryside mansion, where, as he looks into a mirror, he finds an 18th century British planter looking at him. And much more.

I felt the stories were immensely filmable but why Ray never adapt them into movies is a surprise.  
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