Reading : Masala Shakespeare

As an quick introduction to the book, here is a short extract from the cover: 
“Masala is a word that conjures up many associations. The word derives, through Urdu and Persian, from the Arabic ‘masalih’—ingredients. To a westerner, it immediately suggests exotic eastern spices. In its most widespread metaphorical use in India, it means embellishment or exaggeration. It also means a mixture—originally a mixture of ground spices, but more metaphorically any kind of mixture, especially one of cultural influences. While Shakespeare today is considered ‘literature’ and is taught as a ‘pure’, ‘high’ form of art, in his own day it was the quintessential ‘masala’ entertainment he provided that attracted both the common people and the nobility. In Masala Shakespeare, Jonathan Gil Harris explores the profound resonances between Shakespeare’s craft and Indian cultural forms as well as their pervasive and enduring relationship in theatre and film. Indeed, the book is a love letter to popular cinema and other Indian storytelling forms. It is also a love letter to an idea of India. One of the arguments of this book is that masala—and, in particular, the masala movie—is not just a formal style or genre. More accurately, it embodies a certain version of India, one that celebrates the plural, the polyglot, the all-over-the-place. The book is also ultimately a portrait of contemporary India with all its pluralities and contradictions.”

I arrived at this book through from many entry points : It is published by Aleph whose books are always interesting, it about cinema and that too popular Indian cinema,  Baradwaj Rangan (film critic i follow) recommended this book, and the push to buy and read the book came from knowing that the author is an academic too. And also a recent nudge by a profile of Jonathan’s personal library photos by the Delhiwala. I am curious about books on cinema and that too popular Indian cinema, which has been my main connection to arts (if you may call it) all through my childhood. Even though my main entry point was cinema, the unexpected dive into masalaness was the engaging and enjoyed part of the book. I was reluctant to pick this book, as it was about Shakespeare (whose work i have not read much) . It was so interesting to know his direct influence on Indian Theatre and how his writings has been a bed of inspiration for so many creative practices. The lens of masala is what intrigued me a lot throughout the book and also the main takeaway from the book.  “It is, in short, a tale of masala genealogy. The genealogy of Masala. But also genealogy as masala” 

The book begins with the authors experience of watching Lagaan in 2001 in Chanakya Theatre in Delhi  “Lagaan impressed on me how the venue in which a film is screened is a crucial part of its story. The Chanakya Theatre may have been located in the well-off South Delhi. But its size and ticket prices were designed to accommodate a mixed audience, one consisting  of people from many classes and communities. Lagaan was made to be screened in venues just like Chanakya Theatre. Aamir Khan’s victorious cricket team – made up of Hindu,Muslim, Sikh and Dalit, supported by men and women, young and old, maharajahs and commoners alike – symbolically mirrored its diverse audience.” This reading rekindled my experience of watching the movie in 2001 , as a young teenager, watching in a similar environment of Mothi Theater in Bellary. 

Extending the reading on Lagaan : “This reflection is the essence of what is called the masala movie – a film that, like Lagaan, is grounded in a mixture of genres and languages that caters to an equally mixed audience. A masala is a concoction that is tasty and spicy, but it is also literally a mixture. The masala movie’s stories mix tragedy with comedy as well as scenes of dialogue with song-and-dance routines. Its lovers, too, are mixtures, often coming from different communities. And its sources are equally mixed : there is no ‘original’ story in a masala movie, as its narrative is khichdi of other, earlier stories or formulas. Lagaan, for example, combined elements of the spaghetti western and the underdog sports-team film with the tried-and-tested Bollywood love triangle. All these mixtures were a reflection of an India that is itself a mixture of many cultural ingredients” 

Similar to this reading of Lagaan, the book covers a lot of themes like more than oneness, plurality, all-over-the-place, stories-within-stories. It’s been a very engaging read, even though the point of entry was cinema, but main delight in reading this book was is the lens of the masala.

Space within a Space : Well in Joji

Space with a space : A theme I am currently exploring where one can perceive two spaces simultaneously. Even though the smaller space is embedded inside the larger one, both have distinct sense of enclosure independent of each other. The original trigger was the reading of the Orinda House designed by Charles Moore, in which the two rooms (the bathroom and living) are embedded  as pavilions with in the larger perimeter of the house. The thematic idea is to explore of the condition of ‘simultaneity’ in crafting of space.

A still from Joji

While watching this brilliant Malayalam movie Joji, i had made a quick note on the well (or pond) in my notebook. I was intrigued by the stone retaining wall registering the slope of the landscape.The net tied on the top to hold the falling leaves adds to the degree of enclosure. In the movie, it is in this well Joji plots up the evil ideas to kill his own father. A place where he is himself, devoid of the mask of innocence he is wearing in the house otherwise. The writer of the movie Shyam Pushkaran says “The idea was that Joji, as a child, had a fort at this pond, Whenever he felt abandoned by his father as a child, he would go there and cry. The pond was a comfort to him. He returns there after the murder to seek comfort.” (1) In contrast  to his own closed bedroom inside the house, the open well, slightly far away from the house, helps him grow his intentions is private. Two facts, which i figured out later about making of the movie, made me more curious. The well was added to the existing plantation to shoot these important scenes. And another fact is that Shyam completed the script after the location is chosen(2)( A classic move which Frampton would have loved to indicate in his ideas of critical regionalism). The need for the well is a great reminder on what has architecture to offer. A sense of enclosure in the form of a refuge, a frame to articulate darkness and most importantly an interior space. Architecture in India has always had affinity towards the subterranean and the cave. Like the stepped wells. And this well is a classic illustration of that primal urge to move into the ground.

Unlike I have discussed earlier on the same theme in Melkote (link), here it is strategy of the landscape. A space within a space at the scale of the landscape. 

Link to the Film Companion piece where  (1) and (2) are discussed.

List 01 : Steven Holl

All words are pegs to hang ideas on.” Henry Ward Beecher

I love lists (tables included). They are sharp, focussed, definite yet open ended and elemental. In an online lecture Steven Holl gave recently, he presented this list below (reproduced for clarity here). It covers a wide range of thoughts. He builds upon first two columns from a pre existing Colin Rowe’s list (not to able to place the original source). I was delighted to read the subtle differences between the terms Exact-Precise, Predictable-Mesaurable-Differential, Ritual-Functional-Operative.

Listening to Eno

Austin Kleon (a big fan of his blog and books on creativity) posted these notes from listening to Brian Eno speaking at this Broken Records podcast. I have also been recently reading on Eno. So I made my own notes below just to extend Kleon’s notes. It was interesting for me how I added my own words ( marked with a ‘+’ symbol) triggered from hearing / mis-hearing / swaying / misunderstanding from what Eno was saying. Note-taking is such a simple wonderful tool to record and play with thoughts.

Austin Kleon, Instagram

Notes from my sketchbook

The Cook and the Chef

Again, in preparing for a talk on pedagogy, I made this slide below. It extends on Tim Urban’s wonderful analogy of ‘The Culinary Spectrum’ in explaining Elon Musk (Link to the piece). I have just picked up a fragment here, and extrapolated it on learning curves. Tim Urban writes

“Cooks span a wide range. On one end, you have cooks who only cook by following a recipe to the Tcarefully measuring every ingredient exactly the way the recipe dictates. The result is a delicious meal that tastes exactly the way the recipe has it designed. Down the range a bit, you have more of a confident cook—someone with experience who gets the general gist of the recipe and then uses her skills and instincts to do it her own way. The result is something a little more unique to her style that tastes like the recipe but not quite. At the far end of the cook range, you have an innovator who makes her own concoctions. A lamb burger with a vegetable bun, a peanut butter and jelly pizza, a cinnamon pumpkin seed cake.
But what all of these cooks have in common is their starting point is something that already exists. Even the innovative cook is still making an iteration of a burger, a pizza, and a cake
At the very end of the spectrum, you have the chef. A chef might make good food or terrible food, but whatever she makes, it’s a result of her own reasoning process, from the selection of raw ingredients at the bottom to the finished dish at the top.” (emphasis mine)

My general reading in academics is that, we expect all our students to be ‘chefs’ all the time in all subjects we teach. So may be instead of expecting ‘chefs’ from every course we teach, we could aim at the ‘already existing starting point’ for cooks at the left end of the spectrum and give the students a datum to become a ‘chef’ on her own terms. We could also imagine this learning spectrum at different scales – 5 years, each brief, each assignment. There is another wonderful statement from Bauhaus, that guides me a lot : “The basic teaching error of the academy was that of directing its attention towards genius rather than the average” I think they mean the French Academy – the prevalent institution for architectural education before Bauhaus. I am borrowing from Correa (from an earlier post), to support this argument :

“Each semester these unhappy students are presented with brand-new problems, often in complicated and subtle contextual situations, and then asked to come up with new and brilliant responses, possibly expressed in an architectural syntax of their own invention. In the entire hisory of our profession, very few architects have managed to pull that one off— even once in their lifetime! Yet we demand this of each student, in each design studio. The result: dismay and frustration (and at several universities, among the highest stress rates of all departments)”

I made the diagram on the right bottom corner (in the tradition of academics making things look more complex than it actually is ) to overlap these spectrums. We could imagine them sliding both horizontally and vertically to chart different possibilities of the learning curve.