Monday, November 19, 2012

Bong Joon-Ho's Memories of Murder

Great detective films, it seems, are a thing of the past. Even when modern crime-solving movies achieve greatness, they do so with old-fashioned settings, back before DNA testing and tracking could make a two-hour murder mystery feel like it was solved in real-time, perhaps even a bit slower. Without technology, good, honest skill was the only hope of solving a case. Memories of Murder, set in a poor South Korean province in 1986, shows the more realistic side of such setbacks: for every genius who could figure out the densest case with old-school research and work, the average cop was even more useless in the face of a serious case.

Like Zodiac, Memories of Murder is based on true events revolving around an unsolved serial killer case. But Bong’s film often plays out as dark farce, a display of police incompetence that cannot be smoothed out by advanced forensics and the help of trained technicians. Clichés abound in humorous ways, as instead of a system fighting against good, honest cops, it keeps a band of thuggish idiots in check. This is the one movie where you actually wish the chief would demand someone’s badge and gun.

But then, the sergeant himself is too stupid to call anyone else out on incompetence. When Park (Song Kang-ho), the arrogant but overwhelmed country detective, and Seo (Kim Sang-kyung), the qualified investigator sent in from Seoul, have a shoving match in a bar in front of him, the man just loudly, drunkenly vomits, takes another drink and acts as if nothing happened. At least until he slaps the both of them and threatens them never to fight again in his presence.

Even at the film’s funniest, it inverts cop clichés. From the moment Park arrives at the scene of the first murder to find the ant-covered body of a raped woman, we see that sometimes the rural cop really is a bumpkin out of his depth. Seo arrives in the Gyeonggi Province not as an inexperienced, bookwormy desk jockey but as the only person with any remote competence in the area. Park can brag all he wants about being able to read someone’s eyes (which even the chief knows is bullshit), but he soon proves that he just wants to move on while Seo does all the proper police work.

He’s got his job cut out for him. Already set back by the limitations of the time period, the police must also contend with poorly collected evidence and crime scenes that no one ever seems to respect; farmers drive tractors through areas without heeding the warning shouts, while children play near corpses and macabre onlookers gather, unconcerned about trampling evidence. Hell, the more they mess up, the likelier it is the killer will go free and give them something else to crowd around in a week.

Bong contrasts Seo’s dedication but limitations to the buffoonish arrogance of his rural colleagues, who refuse to acknowledge a serial killer may be on the loose when a second body turns up and look for scapegoats to close the case as quickly as possible. A retarded man, Kwang-ho, is brought in for questioning and promptly tortured into confessing, despite how obvious it is he couldn’t have committed the crime. Park manufactures evidence or fits the dubious clues collected to something of Kwang-ho’s. It’s a nightmare.

The comedy of the film is at once brad and so casually delivered as to be subtle. Park’s ineptness with a typewriter seems to reflect the bewildering throwback to an analog world, as if even the characters have no idea how to function without Macbooks and smartphones. The local cops force confessions out of anyone they nab, and they sound like exasperated acting coaches when suspects fudge their taped confessions—“You were doing well!” groans one detective when a line gets flubbed. Park et al. strive to get these admissions of guilt off the flimsiest evidence: a footprint obliterated by a tractor driving over it is used against one person, and Park waves away the ruined evidence by saying, “This part was smudged. Don’t worry about it.”

Later, the cops try to establish a possible pattern between the two bodies, and the local detectives fleetingly suggest that both women were pretty. Seo, on the other hand, finally stumbles upon something when he notes that both murders occurred in the rain and that both women were wearing red dresses. From that point, the movie matures into a genuinely suspenseful, adult thriller that ranks among the greatest detective films. Not that it loses its sardonic edge, mind you; later, cops find a man masturbating at a crime scene and beat him for a time, only to discover that the man can no longer get off on porn and finds the gruesome news stories so titillating they help his fantasies.

No one can handle wide, whirling tonal shifts like Bong Joon-ho, and he manages the moves from whodunit to gallows farce and horror by avoiding the pitfalls of the clichés he trudges up to prod and poke. Seo and Park never particularly come to some sort of understanding, nor does one sufficiently impress the other that lessons are learned about the virtues of different perspectives and approaches. The death toll simply mounts to the point that not even two embittered fools can bring themselves to keep fighting. A pivotal scene takes place at the autopsy of another dead woman with the telltale signs of the killer’s handiwork. Then, something new is discovered: as the clinician checks for evidence of rape, he finds nine pieces of peach stuffed into the woman’s vagina. The two detectives, still arguing this late in the film, finally break: Park turns meekly (Song’s childlike face is used to full effect here) to Seo and asks with fear, not confrontation, if he ever saw anything like this in the city. Pausing only long enough to collect a breath, Seo replies, “Never.”

The paranoia that seeps into this film captures the best of these murky whodunits: every man walking around the country roads might be the rapist-murderer, and the song a female officer realizes gets played on the radio becomes one of those frightening leitmotifs like the theme of Jaws or the whistled Grieg in Fritz Lang’s M. The media circus that descends on the province only exacerbates the restlessness and anger of the detectives as they fail to find anyone, and the already troublesome beatings and coercions become truly horrific. If Zodiac was about perseverance in the face of overwhelming limitations, Memories of Murder is the enraged scream of those who don’t have the luxury of quitting when the case goes cold.

Bong’s gift with tonal ranges tends to produce some dissonant shots, and Memories has its share of eye-catching oddities. The opening shots show Park examining the first body in a storm drain as a clueless brat crouches on the ground above the corpse annoying the detective by repeating every word and gesture. The look on Park’s face suggests he wants to do nothing more than show the kid the body and scar the little bastard for life. As the detectives search for a suspect one day, the Korean president rides through town in a motorcade as a riot breaks out in the province. But the detectives merely shove through the mobs and fire to collar their man, then drag him casually through the chaos to enact their own brutality. A woman heads out in the rain, pausing to change out of her red dress before doing so, and her walk is relaxed but swift. She begins whistling the tune played on the radio, stopping with a fright when she hears it echoed by another. The tension mounts and mounts until the woman flees in a panic, her shaking flashlight the only light as she runs to the scene’s jolting conclusion. A slow-motion sequence earlier in the film highlights the absurdity of the detectives’ framing of Kwang-ho and the media frenzy that descends upon the town: Kwang-ho forgets himself and shouts of his innocence to his devastated father, leading the cops to chase him down in a field and shut him up as reporters close in like a locust swarm. Bong even finds a hint of mourning in the proceedings, turning the thick boots we saw one detective use for evil when he viciously kicked Kwang-ho used as a haunting visual cue for the same man’s foot amputation over a case of tetanus.

The actors also get their moments to shine. Song is a delight as Park, capturing the well-intentioned but buffoonish actions that manifest as distrust and brutality. With leads on the rapist-murderer nonexistent, Park heads to a bathhouse, Song’s hilariously narrowed eyes looking suspiciously at every swinging dick in the place as if waiting for a penis to get up to no good. And when he finally displays skill at sussing out the crime-scene masturbator when the man hides in a quarry among workers, Park’s victory swig of water undercuts his first true display of competence. Kim is much more collected, not really playing the role of straight man but taking in the madness of provincial police work with icy disgust.

For all the leaps in mood, Memories of Murder follows a clear tonal progression, moving from mordant comedy to suspense to, finally, a sense of loss and regret. Seo thinks he let the killer get away, and he’s so distraught that he even messes with a subsequent crime scene to cover up a corpse for decency’s sake, leaving to find and beat the suspect he never had any proof committed the crimes. The last scene of the film mirrors the first, Park returning years later to that storm drain with a combination of wistful remembrance of a past career and a haunted inability to shake what he saw. He talks to a young person, who reveals the final, cruel twist of fate that suggests Park once more just missed his chance to get the man responsible for the rapes and murders, but Bong substitutes a fatalistic regret for the muted frustration that closes Zodiac. Bong is one of the great genre filmmakers of modern times, and this is his finest, most complex work.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Rasoolan Bai (1902 - 1974)

Rasoolan Bai was a leading vocal musician of the Hindustani classical Music tradition. Born in a poor family in Mirzapur, Uttar Pradesh, it is said that she nonetheless inherited the musical legacy of her mother Adalat Bai. Belonging to the Benaras gharana, she specialized in the romantic Purab Ang of the Thumri musical genre. She learnt from Shambhy Khan, Ashia Khan and Maju Khan.
Saba Dewan’s fascinating film, The Other Song, derives naits name from a similar instance of doubling, of a repressed erotic self. Told by a respected Banarasi musician called Shivkumar Shastri that Rasoolan Bai had once recorded a different version of her famous Bhairavi thumri “Lagat karejwa mein chot (My heart is wounded)”, Dewan set out in search of the lesser-known variation. As she asks musician after musician (and later, tawaif after tawaif) if they’ve ever heard the version that goes, “Lagat jobanwa mein chot (My breasts are wounded)”, without success, we begin to see glimpses of a hidden world, a world whose frank sexuality and often joyful bawdiness were pushed deep below the surface, often by its own practitioners. Song after song turns out to have had its lyrics altered to suit ‘respectable’ tastes – from soibe (sleep) to jaibe (go), choli (blouse) to odhni (veil). Rasoolan Bai gave up the mujra – the expressive, sometimes suggestive kathak-based dance that accompanied the tawaif ’s music – in 1948. At the same time that she moved out of her kotha and into a gali ka makaan in Banaras, the woman whose aching songs were perhaps India’s most famous renditions of the thumri stopped performing in her own city. The timing is remarkable. As India and Pakistan entered independent nationhood, the thumri was taken out of the kotha. A musical genre whose very form — intimate, expressive, always sung in a first-person female voice — had emerged from the courtesan’s salon, had, in order to survive in the bright light of modernity, to move into the concert hall, the radio station, the cinema. And in order to be heard in this new world, the tawaif herself had to become a ganewali or – in even more Sanskritised form – a gayika. Rasoolan Bai rose above the 'tawaif' or courtesan tradition women musicians were considered only capable of. The film "The Other Song by Saba Dewan", featured her and her famous song, 'Lagat karejwa ma chot', a 1935 Gramophone recording. She was also known for her chaiti, dadra, hori and kajri. She sang on All India Radio and Doordarshan till 1972. Her last public singing was held in Kashmir. She was awarded the Sangeet Natak Akademi Award, India's highest musical award, in Hindustani Music (Vocal) in 1957. Despite an illustrious musical career, she died in penury, running a small tea shop next to, ironically, the All India Radio

Friday, October 22, 2010

Antonio Lucio Vivaldi’s Four Seasons

Antonio Lucio Vivaldi’s Four Seasons is widely regarded not only as a musical masterwork of a renowned baroque composer, but also as one of the great masterworks in all of Western art. The Four Seasons is a series of four concertos (Spring, Summer, Autumn and Winter, each containing three movements) which are the first part of the larger 12 concerto work entitled "Il cimento dell’armonia e dell’inventione" (The Contest of Harmony and Invention) - Vivaldi’s 8th Opus. The works were first published in Amsterdam in 1725, but were written a few years earlier, most likely when Vivaldi spent several years as Maestro for Prince Phillip, governor of Mantua.

In addition to being hailed as a musical genius and a virtuoso violinist of the highest caliber, Il Prete Rosso, or “The Red Priest” (as he was known because of his red hair and the fact that he was an ordained priest) is credited with numerous breakthroughs in baroque music. For example, today, it would be hard for anyone to imagine the violin not being used for solo work. However, before Vivaldi came along with his boundless creativity and mastery of his instrument, the violin was seen as strictly an ensemble instrument. He single handedly brought the violin from the background to the front and center.

Another of Vivaldi’s many contributions to Western music is the concept of pictorialism, which he presciently demonstrates for us in Four Seasons. For each of the three movements of Spring, Summer, Autumn and Winter, Vivaldi attaches short sonnets for added vividry.

After springtime is so gloriously heralded-in in the very first movement, we hear the shepherd’s dog bark throughout the next movement (“Spring 2”). Rustic bagpipes fill the air at the beginning of Spring 3. In the first movement of Summer (or “Summer 1”), the call of the Cuckoo is simulated. In Summer 2, insects furiously swarm the troubled little shepherd before he witnesses the sad scene of the crops being destroyed by a summer storm. The hunters’ bugles ring out as they pursue and overcome their prey in Autumn 3. Interestingly, being that music notation doesn’t allow for certain techniques used by Vivaldi to imitate man and nature; the original sheet music has several instances of hand-written notes from him in order to coach the reader.

Besides offering a most exquisite example of pictorialism, Seasons also highlights many of the gifts which made the Red Priest one of the greats. The phenomenal mastery over his instrument becomes clear when listening to the hair-raising runs heard in pieces such the first movement of Spring and the first and third movements of Winter. His ability to lift the heart of the listener through his sheer love of music is apparent throughout Seasons, but is particularly pronounced in the first and third movements of Spring and Autumn respectively.

The sonnets below are more exegeses than translations, as literal translations of the originals to English would produce something resembling gibberish. The exegeses used here are original to this article, as many of those currently available were found to be lacking in many respects. In some cases they were too precise in translation, to the point of detraction while, in other cases, not precise enough for authenticity.

The audio files accompanying the sonnets are from an “out of print” album produced in 1976 by a 12 piece French ensemble led by Nikolaus Haroncourt. The group, obvious Vivaldi fanatics, went to great lengths by acquiring actual instruments of the time and carefully researching specific performance techniques used during the period when Vivaldi was alive. Another laudable aspect of this version is that the harpsichord - an instrument Vivaldi played - doesn't get buried by the recording process, as is so often (and so frustratingly) the case with productions of seasons. The converted sound files used for this article are for example purposes only and do not do the work appropriate justice. If you can find any available CDs of the Haroncourt version of Seasons, buy one. The production is exceedingly authentic, with a natural sound and subtle beauty that must fill the room via an appropriate sound system to be fully appreciated.

Those new to the works of the Venetian master will find Seasons is an excellent primer. Be advised, however, that Vivaldi is highly addictive. For those familiar with Vivaldi yet have not become familiar with these sonnets (there are, surprisingly, many), listening to their associated movements while contemplating them adds a new and elightening aspect to the music and the composer.

As far as the Vivaldi aficionado is concerned, well, Seasons is always a good listen. Regardless of how many times it is enjoyed, like a good cigar or glass of fine wine, it can never disappoint.


Sunday, May 30, 2010

Shyam Benegal's Kalyug(1981)

KALYUG is one of the ’’best films’’ made by Shyam Benegal and taking into consideration Shyam Benegal’s oeuvre, Kalyug must be something special to deserve that tag.KALYUG was produced by Shashi Kapoor who in his producer’s phase made some really good cinema like Junoon, Kalyug, Vijeta and Utsav..its another matter that none of them did well commercially though they did get a lot of critical acclaim and bagged a host of awards.

Kalyug tells the story of two feuding business families-one led by Raj Babbar and the other by Victor Bannerjee.They are both cousins incidently and the patriarch of the whole family is their grand-uncle played by AK Hangal. Raj Babbar who has too honest and retiring a disposition finds it difficult to acquire the smart and shrewd ways of the corporate world. He basically lacks the guile and craftiness to take the family business forward much to the chagrin of his wife Rekha. His younger brother-Kulbhusan kharbanda assists him but the person who actually runs the show is their kid brother Anant Nag who plays a driven and highly ambitious person who hates to lose.

On the other hand,Victor Banerjee is a person who will do anything by hook or crook to get one-up on his cousins.He does not hesitate to use devious and even diabolical means to beat them in the game of business.In this he is assisted by his brilliant and loyal manager Shashi kapoor who does not really endorse his ways but is too burdened by his debt to protest.Victor Banerjee has a life-long gripe with his cousins as he feels he was unfairly denied his right of leading a unified and undivided business by his cousins.He knows the dark truth of his cousins’ birth.They are not really his uncle’s children as his uncle was impotent-they were fathered by a Swamiji whose ’’sewa’’ their mother-Sushma Seth did.Victor Banerjee therefore considers them ’’bastards’’ who had no rights whatsoever on the business..

Does this story sound familiar..does it ring a bell..yes the narrative of KALYUG is heavily inspired and derived from the Mahabharata..with the 2 estranged families who fight till they completely destroy each other..Its a clever interpretation of Mahabharata in the modern context..where Raj Babbar is the self-righteous Yudhistir,Kulbushan Kharbanda is the simpleton Bheem,Anant Nag is the highly skilled Arjun,Victor Banerjee is the diabolical Duryodhana and Shashi kapoor is the loyal Karna-the illegitimate son of Sushma Seth.Shashi kapoor is incidentally called karan in the film and to make matters even more delectable there is a passing reference that his marriage proposal was rejected by the very snobbish Rekha-Draupadi.

This film wonderfully extrapolates the incidents of Mahabharata in the narrative making the going-ons very interesting.The film moves at a brisk pace and you never feel the pace of the film sagging.Considering the complexity of the plots, the film still manages to very skilfully examine and delve into the protagonists’minds.Its very adroitly done-with minimum of fuss and some wonderful dialogues by Satyadev Dubey..not the ’filmy’ kind but everyday language is used...

The film’s ensemble cast put in spirited performances-be it Victor Banerjee who hits just the right pitch to play the arrogant,refined yet spiteful Dhanraj.Anant Nag shows his inherent restrain and underplays his slightly flamboyant role.Raj Babbar mercifully doesn’t ham and neither does Kulbhushan Kharbanda-think Mr. Benegal held them on a tight leash.Rekha plays the snobbish,unhappy-with-her-husband,hard as nails,uppity character with flourish.Shashi Kapoor shows what a wonderful actor he was..wish he had done more roles like this..instead of the happy-go-lucky poor man’s Shammi Kapoor roles he specialised in..The rest of the cast puts in some good urmila matondakar as the young parikhshit...:)

The direction by Shyam Benegal is unobtrusive..he creates a complex web and draws the viewers in it..slowly but surely..there’s no look-at-me technical wizardry of Ram Gopal Verma in his directorial touches.Incidentally Ramgopal Verma said in one of his interviews that his ’Company’ was inspired by ’Kalyug’!!!Trust Ramu to come with gems like that...

So folks go for it..if you have not seen this one..there was a time when Sony used to show this film a lot..they might still be doing it on whenever you do get an opportunity revel in the mastery of Shyam Benegal..

P.S- BGM of the movie by Vanraj Bhatia is complements the movie brilliantly!!

Monday, September 29, 2008

How to start smoking a pipe.....

Welcome to the pipe and all those flavours and aromas...
I was always a Cigarette smoker…started of with Wills Navy Cut and smoked Gold Flake Filter Kings till I left it few months ago due to health issues. Holding a pipe was a distant thought to me, never really took it seriously. It took me about six months to get really good at packing my pipe—partly because several of my first pipes have fairly deep, narrow bowls, and these can be a little trickier. Many folks get the hang of it after just a few times, and sometimes even the first time!
The pipe. Understandably, you may not want to invest a lot in something you're not sure you're going to like or continue. However, if you can start off with a not-so-cheap pipe, so much the better. Some cheaper pipes do turn out to smoke quite well, but not all. Here, I'm speaking mainly of briar (wood) pipes, and am leaving meerschaum and clay pipes out of the discussion for now. Corncob pipes are also a good option if you just want to try pipe smoking—they are very inexpensive and require no breaking-in. They do lend a different taste to the smoke, a taste which I generally find more compatible with natural or the so-called English blends, than with the flavoured and sweetened blends.
Cheap pipes sometimes lead to bitter tastes and wet or hot smokes, but sometimes these effects are merely a result of a new briar not being broken-in. Before you blame your pipe, consider that the problem may be caused by your smoking technique or by overly moist or dry tobacco. With a bit of perseverance, you do get better at figuring out what is wrong if you have a smoke that isn't as enjoyable as it should be. If you're not sure, always smoke as slowly as possible, and that cures many pipe problems.
The tobacco. Tobacco choice is important. In my case, at first I wasn't trying the kinds of tobaccos that I would be likely to enjoy, but I had no way of really knowing that. I had always liked the aroma of the sweet-smelling tobaccos but I found they lacked something when I tried smoking them. I finally tried a couple of natural, English-style blends, despite warnings that these were for more serious, seasoned pipe smokers only. Surprisingly, these tobaccos provided the kind of taste experience I was somehow hoping for. Be forewarned though that natural or English-style blends don't usually have exactly the same degree of sweetness in their aroma, and that they're not for everyone. Only experimentation will help you figure out what you like and don't like. Trying new blends can be a lot of fun, but no matter what, always keep some of your favourite blend on hand in case your sampling doesn't go well!
There is a myriad of different pipe tobaccos available with different flavours and smoking qualities. However, you are not totally hopeless as to where to start—just take the plunge and enjoy. If you have a taste for sweets, why not start off with something commercial and easily available like Sail, Captain Black or Amphora, or ask any reputed Tobacco Wala for their recommendation. Some folks stick with these blends forever, but others find much pleasure in the elusive search that perfect tobacco.
If you have a taste for stronger or more bitter flavours in coffee, chocolate, tea or beer, you should try a light English blend as your first tobacco instead of a sweeter one. Better still, start with a pouch of each of the two types. Just don't smoke them in the same pipe if you can avoid it ... Smoking an English blend in a pipe used for aromatics often tastes rather weird, and vice-versa. Let your pipe take on the flavour of your tobacco for a while and then judge the tobacco. Of course, that doesn't mean that first impressions aren't lasting.... If you're smoking a fairly moist blend (like most flavoured tobaccos), be sure to pack your pipe looser than you would a drier, natural English blend.
Packing the tobacco in your pipe. If you've already smoked your pipe, cover up the bowl of the pipe and blow through the stem in case there are small bits of tobacco that are blocking the passage and which could clog your smoke.
I find that there are two key aspects to packing a pipe correctly. First, the tobacco should be only "somewhat" tight in the pipe—it should still be springy to the touch on the surface. Second, the pipe should be loosely in the bottom half of the pipe than at the top, so that it doesn't get too tight down there when you tamp it while smoking.
Start by taking a wad of tobacco that looks like it might be a bit more than enough to fill your pipe. If the tobacco seems really stuck together, fluff it up a bit before you do this. Hold your pipe over the pouch (or tin) so that the pouch catches the tobacco that falls while you're filling it. Push the tobacco in until the pipe is full and a bit of the tobacco is overflowing over the top of the pipe a bit. Don't cram it in tightly; just make sure the pipe is well-filled. Slowly and carefully fill the pipe as if you were trying to measure how much tobacco the pipe would hold under "average" circumstances, not how much you can cram in.
Your pipe should now have some (or a bunch of) tobacco sticking out of the top and may look like it needs a haircut. Pull most of this off, then take your pipe tool (a "tamper" available at your pipe shop) and *gently* push any loose ends down into the pipe. This way, your tobacco ends up a bit more tightly packed on the top than underneath, which is what you want. Touch the tobacco on top lightly with your thumb. It should feel somewhat springy.
Lighting your pipe. Put the pipe in your mouth and take a few puffs of the unlit tobacco. Not only should it taste good, but you shouldn't have to apply much suction to get air to pass through it. It should only give a little resistance, like drinking liquid through a straw. If you find that you have to draw hard on it, empty it out and start over— you have packed it a bit too tightly and it will not smoke well. Just pry it out slowly with your pipe tool.
Now, the fun part— lighting up! Big wooden kitchen matches work well, as does a lighter. If you try to use small paper matches, you may end up frustrated and with burnt fingers... As soon as the sulfur burns off, pass the lit match across the surface slowly and puff slowly but firmly, just enough to draw the flame down into the tobacco. Try not to burn the rim of the pipe. You can puff deeply, but not too hard. Hold the smoke in your mouth, but try not to inhale it. Let the smoke puff out of your mouth as you take the next puff. It can take a good 10-20 seconds to get your pipe lit. The tobacco should fluff up a little, perhaps a lot. Now take your pipe tool and flatten out the surface of the scorched and fluffed-up tobacco so that you have a flat surface on the top of your tobacco again (don't apply much pressure).
You have just completed what is sometimes called the "false light." It is called "false" because it is now time to light your pipe again. Pass the flame around the top of the tobacco, swirling it slowly to get all of the tobacco on top lit (which you just flattened). As usual, puff slowly, just enough to bring the flame down into the tobacco. This may take another 10-20 seconds or so and generate a lot of ambient smoke, which you will probably enjoy. Now you're on your way... your pipe is lit. Take a slow deep puff every 5-15 seconds or so—more often if the pipe seems to be going out, less often if the pipe seems to be heating up a lot.. You can either hold the smoke in your mouth for a few seconds and just let it drift out and stop there, or you can take a puff, keep the smoke and the pipe stem in your mouth, then a few seconds later, take another puff, letting the previous puff escape into the air. Some smokers will swallow a small quantity of the smoke, which causes it to escape through the nose and look like you had inhaled it. But you didn't. Some pipe smokers actually inhale the smoke like cigarette smokers, but the smoke is very strong and this is not recommended.
If your pipe goes out while smoking, no big deal, just re-light—this is pretty normal. Especially at first, you may need to re-light frequently. It's always better for your piep to go out from time to time than to prevent it from going out by smoking it hot. Furthermore, there's no need to panic and re-light your pipe the second it goes out if you don't feel like it or if you're busy doing something. You can come back to a partially smoked pipe a few minutes later if that's more convenient. And if you're smoking a bent pipe, you can carefully put your lit pipe in your pocket when you enter a non-smoking establishment and it will self-extinguish rather quickly. Every 5 minutes or so, or more or less, tamp down the tobacco a little, just enough to crush the ashes on the surface and to make sure that the tobacco that is lit is touching itself and continues burning. You don't want to apply so much pressure that the tobacco underneath gets further packed.
As the tobacco burns further down, the pipe will heat up. It should get warm, but if the pipe starts to get hot to the touch, let it go out for a few minutes to cool down; you might be smoking it a bit too fast. Hot smoking can cause the tobacco to become bitter, in addition to being uncomfortable on the tongue. As well, it may create moisture build-up that is very unpleasant if drawn into the mouth (which is particularly easy to do if you are smoking a straight pipe).
If you are smoking a brand-new pipe, it will need to be broken in. Smoke only half bowls for a while (at least 10 times or so) until you start getting some carbon buildup on the lower sides of the pipe's bowl. Try to smoke to the bottom as much as possible to get this carbon cake built up and your pipe will smoke much better later. On the other hand, if at any time your pipe starts to taste nasty, stop. Pipe smoking is always supposed to be pleasant and there's no reason why it shouldn't always be so.
Practice makes perfect (or almost). Enjoy!

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Garam Hawa(1973)

Garam Hawa (Hot Winds) was the first feature from director M.S. (Mysore Shrivinas) Sathyu of India. The film was controversial from its inception, as it was the first film to deal with the human consequences resulting from the 1947 partition of India. This action, ordered by British Lord Mountbatten, split India into religious coalitions, with India remaining Hindi and the new country of Pakistan serving as a refuge for Muslims.
Despite its controversial subject matter the film was initially accepted by a commercial producer, but then pressure and fear of the critical and governmental reception of such a work led to a rapid withdrawal of the offer. Sathyu turned to the government sponsored Film Financing Corporation (FFC) for support. This agency was created as an alternative for filmmakers seeking financing for work which was not commercially embraced by institutional distributors. Its aim was to free these artists from the dominance of loan agencies and their control of film content. Sathyu secured FFC financing and his film, based on an unpublished story by Marxist activist Ismat Chughtai, was completed in the city of Agra. The production of the film was plagued by a smattering of public protests; ultimately, Sathyu had to divert attention from his actual locations by using a fake second unit crew and sending them out with an unloaded camera.
Once finished, Garam Hawa was again the subject of controversy; it was banned as an "instigation to communal dissension." Sathyu was strong in his conviction, however, and he showed the film to many government leaders and journalists. The influence of these people on the censorship board led to a reversal of the ban. The film went on to win a national award for its contribution to "national integration." More recognition followed, including accolades that praised the film's efforts to create "a language of common identity" and to humanize the situation endured by Muslims in North India who did not wish to move from their homes after the partition.
The screenplay for Garam Hawa was written by Kaifi Azmi (an Indian poet and lyricist) and Shama Zaidi, Sathyu's wife. The tale is a complex narrative assembled with loving attention to detail. The story's main focal point is Salim Mirza, played by veteran actor Balraj Sahani in his final film before his death. Salim is a Muslim shoemaker and patriarch who does not want to relocate to Pakistan. There is the added element of a love story woven into this political narrative, however, and it is this element which adds greater meaning to the story. The filmmaker's adept use of light and framing adds dimension to the characters and their struggles.
Salim's daughter, Amina (Gita Shauhat Kaifi), is betrothed to Kazim (Jamal Hashmi); they are shown to be deeply in love and very happy together. Kazim goes across the border to Pakistan to find work (as there is none for Muslims in Agra as the story progresses). When he returns to marry Amina, he is arrested. She pines for her lost lover, but has the attentions of Shamshad (Jalal Agha), whom she does not love and does not wish to marry. Her agony is a reflection of her father's; these people are trapped between two worlds.
Salim is powerless against the shift in attitudes and political climate; he finds himself unable to secure bank loans, unable to keep possession of his family home, and losing his means of survival as once-loyal customers take their business elsewhere. He has done nothing wrong, yet he is punished by the post-partition environment in Agra. As Salim's situation becomes more grave, the camera frames him in smaller spaces, implying his imprisonment in his own hometown. He says, "They have taken everything. Only our faith will survive." He is strong, but he is discouraged by the exodus of family members into Pakistan. In the end, he too makes the journey to the train. On the way, Salim and his son Sikander (Faroukh Shaikh) encounter a massive protest rally which seeks to unite the dispossessed of the nation. First Sikander, and then Salim, join the flag-waving mob. The train is forgotten, and the final scene brings a sense of hope as we see Salim accept his situation in a new way and begin to take charge of his life.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Inge Morath

Inge Morath, the daughter of a scientist, was born in Austria on 27th May 1923. The family moved to Nazi Germany and as a teenager she was sent to the force labour camp at Tempelhof for refusing to join the Hitler Youth.

Morath graduated from Berlin University in 1944. After the Second World War she worked as an interpreter for the United States Information Service before joining the RWR radio network. Morath also contributed articles to the literary magazine Der Optimist.

In 1950 Morath moved to France where she worked with the Austrian photographers Ernst Haas and Erich Lessing. This involved writing text captions for the two photographers. The following year she found work as a photojournalist with Picture Post, a magazine based in London.

Morath's first book, Fiesta In Pamplona 1954. After the publication of an photo essay on French worker priests by Morath in 1955 Robert Capa invited her to join the Magnum photo agency. Other books by Morath included Venice Observed (1956), Bring Forth The Children (1960), Tunisia (1961) and From Persia to Iran (1961).

Morath married Arthur Miller in 1962 and together they published the book In Russia (1969). This was followed by My Sister Life (1973) with poems by Boris Pasternak, In the Country (1977), Chinese Encounters (1979), Salesman in Beijing (1984), Portraits (1987), Shaking the Dust of Ages (1998), an autobiography, Life As A Photographer (1999), Masquerade (2000) and Border Spaces; Last Journey (2002).

Inge Morath died of lymphatic cancer on 30th January 2002.