Thursday, February 25, 2010

Candid camera

I entered my usual café and walked straight into a Tamil film crew in the middle of shooting a series of scenes, including the quintessential Indian film close-up of the hero lowering his sunglasses in awe to get a good look at the girl.

Apart from the main players – the director, cameraman, still photographer, crew, actors, hair-and-make-up, actors’ keepers, two production people and the unfortunate soul who was “continuity” – there were about fifty others who didn’t seem to have prescribed roles. Some of them seemed to be just roadies. Others hovered with the watchful tension of vultures above a kill. One of these suddenly won himself a place in the inner circle – a light went out and he was on the terrace correcting it at the source even before the director had finished hurling abuse. He won what seemed to be the signal honour of wielding the clapboard. And lost it after two takes by not paying attention.

From the little bit I saw being shot over and over again, the hero, having coffee with a friend on the verandah, spots a girl through the window and asks a waiter to pass on a message. I initially thought there was no heroine present, and that the follow-up would happen elsewhere. But then she suddenly turned up, so maybe was being kept in a covered basket till then. Tamil heroines seem to have shrunk alarmingly; this one was more size zero than Dravidian goddess. Also noticed that the hero was rather vain about his hair and the director was a pleasant person, infinitely patient with the extras. He needed to be, since it was an unrehearsed performance. Surely they’d cut down on a lot of shooting time (and wear and tear on the director) if they invested a few days in rehearsals? Those of us watching take after take, unconsciously assuming the roles of so many assistant directors, saw it when they had the take and sat back with a sense of achievement when the director called it a wrap.

I watched with some nostalgia (made sweeter by the knowledge that I’d never have to do it again) for the days of shooting humble 30-second commercials with people who were anything but. It was nice to note that certain things had not changed. Film crew trailers are recognizable from a distance. The clapboard is still the same old one. There is no vernacular equivalent for “Roll camera”. And the correct response to this is still “rolling”, no matter that all other conversation is in Tamil.

The director had the uncomplicated confidence of established genius and he was being borderline respectful to the actor so I’m guessing they were both famous. Unfortunately, my waiter did not know their names, him being Bengali (his reason, not mine).

It’s amazing how the regular patrons refused to be discouraged by the considerable inconvenience – they perched on ledges and borders of flower beds, moved good-naturedly whenever requested to get out of the frame, shared tables with strangers, or – as in my case – willingly sat at an orphan table surrounded by cables and lighting paraphernalia. And the waiters never forgot me perched up on the precarious platform. That’s why I love this place.

Since I was well situated to talk to the light boys, I did eventually find out the names of director, actors and movie, but won’t mention them in case there are implications of some sort.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Saj for the soul

After a few bad experiences with hummous at various places around Bangalore, I have steered clear of Arabic food here. But a Lebanese restaurant in easily accessible Indiranagar that also serves shisha is too hard to resist. It proves to be worth the risk. Mezzeh is a lovely wooden-roofed bit of Beirut on top of a building in Bangalore. The impression is heightened by the fact that the roof next door contains a giant bird cage, bird room really, full of parakeets and hung with little clay pots, and the one behind contains a table tennis table. The hummous and labneh are good. The music is Arabic Lounge. The boy preparing shishas over there is clearly Egyptian. The excellent shisha bears witness to this. Most tellingly, other Arabs are eating here. Sitting here with the treetops and esoteric roofs of Indiranagar before you, it feels as if the sea is right there beyond that line of coconut palms.

It seems I turned native at some point in the 10 years I spent in the Middle East. I blame Oman. And my Lebanese colleagues in Dubai. Mezzeh made me at first tearful and then retrospective.

After an hour of sitting here, I know it’s not so much the Middle East I miss, but the person I was then. I miss the absolute trust in the eyes of those who handed me briefs, the confidence with which I took them. I feel the lack of daylight on my desk, in every sense. I’m glad I don’t have to deal with the troughs of a high pressure job but I could do with some of the highs. Surely I’m too young to not have highs at work? And life is probably too short to allow yourself to be eroded by the long-distance politics of the outsourcing industry to a point where a plate of hummous makes you emotional. I think that as an exercise in root-cause analysis, the hour was well spent!

One thing about Mezzeh, though: it’s expensive.

Friday, February 19, 2010

The green, green AstroTurf of home

I know lots has been said on this blog about the transformation of Whitefield but I need to do one more. It’s for the readers who grew up there or visited it often enough to know what it used to be like, so they’d know what I’m rabbiting on about (and why).

Recently, I wandered around the stores, and assuming the local wares are an indication of what the neighbourhood wants to buy, the things I found were wondrous. Within an easy walk of where all of us lived, you can buy a three-season tent, rock climbing equipment, a high-tech crossbow, a Bianchi or Cannondale bicycle. Then you can get Calvin Klein t-shirts to match.

You’ll also find French wine and, to go with it, a range of goat cheeses, Roquefort, Camembert, Brie and so on. If you want to cook whatever you caught with your cross-bow, you’ll find fresh parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme. For music while you cook, pick up Bang and Oluffsen speakers or accessories for your iPod. Shower later? Here’s a designer shower head that costs more than your bathroom.

If you don’t feel like cooking, you can choose between Italian and Chinese in every conceivable price range. There was a time when you had to drive 20km for the latter, and go to Italy for the former.

If you’re a local bride, you can find all your outfits locally, with shoes, bags and jewellery to match – and never feel like you compromised.

If you’re a kid, you can buy seventy-five thousand types of toys, including a giant (and really cool) roboraptor without even crossing the magic line that divides home turf from I-told-you-not-to-go-so-far-you’re-grounded territory.

Most bizarre of all, you can buy a catcher’s mitt in Whitefield – a full size one, not even Little League. I haven’t been to the Inner Circle ground on Sunday mornings for a long time, should I assume they play baseball there now?

Monday, February 15, 2010

Mac not so much?

A friend's latest article brought to the front a suspicion I've had for a while - the Apple glow is getting a bit low-voltage.

Not when I have to go through three extra steps to do one little thing on my PC. Not when Vista refuses to recognize that a file in a "recently opened" list has simply moved to another location not off the face of the earth. Nor when I have to restart, safe mode, safe mode with networking, remove battery, marinate, saute lightly with onions and press F(***)8. Certainly not when my Windows phone is putting me through a regimen of counter-intuitive antics when I just want to tell a bunch of people I have a new number.

But at other times, especially when reading comments on Wired or yet another cocky blog, I feel something which is not unlike the irritation of the first wife who knew the guy when he actually was rather cool, rather the mid-life-crisis git the new girl's on about.

I still would never get into a Mac vs PC argument - as far as I'm concerned Windows is a temple to mediocrity, pseudo creativity and committee decision-making, all the things I consider most hazardous to my health. But what the article threw up is a much more damning comparison - Mac vs Mac.

The original Apple lived up to itself. Take the designs. Technology dates really quickly, and Apple designs matched that. In fact, some of these designs were deranged, but they didn't care. This I think is was what was so cool about Apple, the Mac ethos that deserved cult status. They used to be "gloriously daft", to paraphrase Richard Hammond in a recent episode of Top Gear. He was talking about a Lamborghini Gallardo. You can buy a debugged, technically perfect, non-dating Lexus (for example) but that's not what it's about.

Apple seems to have gone Lexus, Steve Jobs has gone CEO. The 1984 spirit is lost in pseudo-creative contrivances and pricing just for the sake of it (at least that's what it looks like). There are no incomprehensible amorphous shapes. Nobody in Apple is creating a ridiculous mouse that evokes a belligerent designer saying "well, I like it and I'm not changing a thing, so you can just fuck off". The lowercase i replaced the uppercase one, and Apple is poorer for it.

I found the iPhone bulky, and awkwardly sized, as if it was launched too soon and driven by marketing rather than engineering. The iPad seems to be neither here nor there. It's an expensive Kindle with no design advantage. A netbook that won't play Flash. A very mobile laptop substitute that cannot do more than one thing at a time. Who is supposed to buy this to do what? It's daft in the worst way.

For a while now I've been half considering a netbook for the size advantage. I checked out several but thought I'd wait for the iPad. Though that didn't end well, I'm still staunch enough to wait some more, in case they bring out an alternative.

Finally, as with everything, it comes down to comfort level. I just really like working on a Mac. It makes me happy.

Who made valentine a saint?

Boredom is the mill of God, the one they claim grinds slowly but exceedingly small. Waiting is the wing-man of boredom. It’s the most soul-destroying activity there is, and it’s not an activity at all. It’s a powerful non-thing, like nerve gas.

I have waited. In airports, bus stations, at home by the window with my life packed in a suitcase in my head. For a day, a week, a year, two years, three. For a farewell or a return. For promises to be made or kept. And it corroded me, lowered my resistance, laid me open to every passing virus of the mind. These were new illnesses, a different kind of isolation that comes of being in a long-distance relationship. Dangerous drop in self esteem caused by prolonged disuse, novel injuries from a new type of infringement that nobody could be called to account for because it had no name and indeed, no being.

So it could only go inwards, warping and brittling whatever it found. The repairs have taken years. A lot of it had to be cut out and thrown away. Replacement parts had to be sourced at great trouble and expense. Now, it’s all sparkling new, even better than before. So the value’s gone up and it won’t lend itself to tawdry Hallmark festivals, which brings us back to… boredom. It grinds slowly but exceedingly small.

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