Saturday, 26 February 2011

Dhobi Ghat

Dhobi Ghat, I believe is going down in the annals as one of the most avant-garde movie of Indian Cinema. We always identify Indian movies with the cliché of song and dance or boy meets girl and it is exactly what the Indian masses go looking for at the movie theatres. They want to escape from their harsh reality and the escapist cinema of ‘Bollywood’ provides just that dose of masala, or might we say an overdose? When movies like Dhobi Ghat come out, they are always subject to a lot of criticism on the part of many, either within the Indian movie fraternity itself, the media or the viewers due to the fact that they are different. Now we know that it takes time getting acquainted to difference and some might argue that the film is either too intelligent or over- pretentious to the likings of Indians. In one of the biggest democracy of the world with the biggest film industry, I believe that every movie maker can carve their own niche making the kind of movie that is true to them while at the same time gratifying the senses of those viewers in desperate search for a different kind of escape.

Dhobi Ghat is aesthetically set against the backdrop of Mumbai directed by first time director Kiran Rao, wife of Amir Khan. It is the story of Mumbai city and of its tenants who make their temporary dwelling become homes, memories left behind leaving space for new ones to be made. The people around which the story revolves are Arun (Amir Khan) the artist, Shai (Monica Dogra), a non-resident Indian on sabbatical leave in India, Munna (Prateik Babbar) a dhobi-walla and Yasmin (Kriti Malhotra) who becomes Arun’s muse for his new paintings. The plot is not overarchingly difficult to understand, it is simplistic and there are no two brains about it, the lives of each character are entwined and this weaving of each other’s lives provides the fodder for the development of the story while promoting the narrative.

So what sets this movie apart? The first thing that grabs your attention is the form and technicality that went into the making of this movie, which has, to my knowledge never been attempted before in Indian cinema. The viewers are introduced to the movie with the images of real Mumbai via the usage of a subjective hand held camera being filmed by Yasmin (the idea of a metapicture (that is a film within a film...just a side note...). It sets the pace and the mood of the movie right from the beginning. The usage of the hand-held camera is very much prevalent throughout which provides a gritty, naked and real image of Mumbai city. The montage is equally commendable for it connects one scene to the other through various styles from the fixed camera to the hand-held or black and white still images.

The inherent theme that reverberates throughout Dhobi Ghat attests to the fact that this is a movie made by a woman. It definitely has that feminist streak which seeps through. Apart from Kiran Rao who is behind the camera, within the diegesis , that is, the fictional world of the movie, the two female characters Yasmin and Shai are also behind cameras, the latter capturing the city through photography and the former documenting her everyday activities in Mumbai. The age old adage of movie making always talks and infers to the male gaze whereby women are turned into objects under the scrutiny of what was a patriarchal society or maybe still is... But Kiran Rao’s movie is laced with the female gaze, which is less talked about and takes a subdued position in film theory. She has very cleverly made allusion to this female gaze in a very subtle way through her female protagonists whereby they are placed behind the voyeuristic tool which is the camera. Yasmin’s filmed images are present at regular intervals throughout Dhobi Ghat whereas Shai is constantly in search of new subjects to photograph and both these ladies at certain points can be found discretely capturing people without them knowing donning the role of the voyeur (a role reversal from the male gaze, much talked about in Hitchcock movies and Jacques Lacan’s psychoanalysis) laying grounds for scopophilia. I think this is one Indian movie that gives immense pleasure to dissect. I have not gone into the nitty gritties but rather lightly touched upon certain aspects of Dhobi Ghat that made it interesting for me to watch and critically appreciate.

This concept of storytelling is not unknown to Hollywood, we confer to the fact that at times they are more creative and endearing with their cinematography and that is exactly why when someone from an industry we think is not liable of such creative genius takes the unorthodox path it always amazes. I recommend Dhobi Ghat to everyone who loves movies and movie making because it is off beat, unconventional and a fresh take on Indian cinema.

Tina Deenoo

(Published on 18th Feb in L’Express Weekly)

Wednesday, 4 August 2010

Paki !

"Look a Negro" Franz Fanon had heard 100 yrs ago and "Paki paki" was what I heard 2 days ago...

No, I am not a "paki". I have never quite understood the implication of this term "paki" nor have I ever thought that I would be a target of this racial slur until yesterday... I thought we had moved on from name calling and progressing towards a modern society of acceptance without raising our noses to difference. I was shocked and stunned by this venomous projectile that came my way. I don't really know what I had done wrong to incur such wrath. Etymologically, "paki" is derived from Pakistan and in contemporary"United Kingdom" it refers to all those who are Asians, specifically those from Pakistan, India... It is a word of abuse.

I think more than being offended itself, it just made me really sad. We are still being judged by our corporeal layer and being slotted into categories based on stereotypical preconception. I have an identity. I am a girl from Mauritius and if you do not know where it is, it's that tiny Island on the east of Madagascar, where many of you pay loads to come and visit!

Friday, 30 July 2010

What is Aesthetics?

The literal dilettante perception of aesthetics would directly be to infer the perceiving of the world and being touched by it, hereby having its etymological derivatives from the Greek word aisthese. Aesthetics as invented by Alexander Gottlieb Baumgarten has its conceptive root in perception. The source of aesthetic perception naturally revolves around a particular subject, a subject that evokes a certain sentiment and arouses a bodily reaction. The subject that comes under scrutiny offers itself to a myriad of debatable rhetoric bound on the need to conclude or liberate, the meaning of an aesthetic experience cradled in perception. Therein lies no finitude of possibilities to which we assert our cognition of aesthetic perception, for to judge or lose ourselves aesthetically means to be aware of.

“Aesthetics is to be the science which will investigate perception for the purpose of describing the kind of perfection proper to it” ( Baumgarten, p.4), we can hereby relent that beauty becomes a subject for that kind of perfection. The subject of beauty lies within the realm of the artistic endeavours, for Baumgarten it is poetry, he does not deal with beauty literally, but he insinuates the concept within the operatives of poetry. Hegel’s domain is inundated with the geist. The work of art according to him is perfected by the absolute spirit, through which it also permeates and religion was first made to be experienced. Kant on the other hand deals with recentering man and foregrounding him at the core of all experiential properties of beauty within the ideals of romanticism. The modernist subject of aesthetic perception took the aesthetic turn rather than delving into further ideological critique. Theodore Adorno reiterates the complete detachment from totality while Maurice Merleau-Ponty invocates individualistic absorption and thereby disclosure. The postmodernist outview of aesthetics breaks away from the romantic and modernist approach by proliferating a chaotic stance that builds itself up into something commonsensical from Barthes who kills the author in order for the work of art to exist and Foucault’s dialectical approach through painting to show the nonsensical nature of words and images in the state of the art.

The subject of aesthetic perception to some would be based on it is beautiful and to some it is not beautiful, but would these two statements be the two sides of the same coin? It is the additives it is and it is not that renders the true essence and meaning of the word beauty. By the mere utterance of the word beautiful, no one would appropriate it to something, and it would seem be a word that has been uttered, but once you make a reference of the thing itself, it makes perfect sense. In relation to Baumgarten, where aesthetic perception is perfection, it can be deduced that “…clarity, vividness, fullness, and thematic harmony of perceptual representations” (Baumgarten, p.5) plays the role of identifying and referencing to that added beauty to poetry, that is a concept being attached to a subject. The creation of aesthetics hereby entails a notion of structure within a logical frame. Baumgarten’s philosophy is consequently bathed within the cognitive rather than just the emotive factors. For poetry to interest someone and gratify the senses, according to Kant’s aesthetics, that would be the agreeable and relying on subjective validity it can also be the good. At the same time Kant’s perception of beauty lies in the disinterestedness and without concepts, from a critical point of view, Baumgarten’s notion of perception perfected which invokes beauty is not possible, for poetry entails a concept and logic. Perceiving the beautiful requires purposiveness without purpose. It is not the it is or it is not that is important, but just the fact that the beautiful is, for it is bound by universal acceptance without depending on any concept. We can relate it to an unequivocal divine body that requires no critical judgement and disinterestedness, for if we show interest that means it becomes subjected to enquiry within logic, science and morality.

Dwindling away from the grips of romanticism and if one were to take on the role of the viewer of a fairly pleasing work of art; it becomes quite difficult to show lack of interest in it and as Adorno stipulates “it is through the concept of disinterestedness that Kant breaks up the supremacy of pleasure in aesthetics” (Kearney and Rasmussen, p.249). Adorno therefore rejects the idea of beauty that procures no interest. He also emphasizes more on the relationship and reciprocity between the art object, that is, its form and content, and the aesthetic experience. The subject of aesthetic perception according to him should be autonomous, it ought not be an imitation of society that has been plunged into darkness but it should avow to showing that light at the end of the tunnel. Adorno’s aesthetics is not in favour of figurative concepts that tie society, but it is about breaking from its clutches to initiate a world free of the convergence to a totality. His philosophy initiates negative dialectics and its firmness to non-identity which is exemplified by the fragmented cubist works of Picasso. The importance here is not how the works were created but what appears within it, that is the form which identifies with nothing but itself, thus implying the way in which “…art communicates with the outside world is infact also a lack of communication, because art seeks, blissfully or unhappily, to seclude itself from the world” (Kearney and Rasmussen, p.243). This defies Hegel’s philosophy as well, because for Hegel, art should not seclude from the world and through the convention of forms, the absolute spirit that exists is invested within the work creating identification and therefore aesthetic perception whereas for Adorno the non-metaphysical spirit is created only when the work unfolds before a viewer for contemplation.

Contemplation is imperative for Merleau-Ponty but not one that creates mere satisfaction from a distance but one that removes the barrier and is contemplated within. It is beautiful then becomes outer static representation of intangible triviality since “my gaze wonders in as in the halos of Being” (Kearney and Rasmussen, p.291) for one does not see it but with it or according to it, therefore true meaning of aesthetic perception involves depth and not just outwardly gratification. Seeing is phenomena that occur because of our situatedness within this perceivable world, we see therefore we are also being seen and this form of existence defies Cartesian rationality of I think therefore I am, for to think happens internally, while being a body in flesh and blood is the existential proof of being. Meeting a Cezanne, being infront of his Mount Sainte Victoire, the reversibility of affirming your existence as the painting affirms its presence is intertwined and everytime this happens the disclosure happens in new ways, with no set a priori. Cognitive approach with logics is not a pre requisite to aesthetic perception according to Merleau-Ponty but the direct lived experience. What confers immediate response is the painting for according to Hegel as opposed to sculpture it “liberates art from the sensual completeness in space which attaches to material things by restricting themselves to a plain surface” (Bosanquet, p.484) and this plane translated into Merleau-Ponty’s philosophy would be the two dimensional plane surface that rendered the true character of the canvas and colour used by which to break form spectacle. Cezanne’s mountain or Klee’s colours envelopes itself within selfless depictions of their world and experience for our own world and experience.

The postmodernist shattered the conformity of the route paved by aesthetics, prior to them. The subject of aesthetics was to them an avenue to disrupt all that had been constructed and opens it up for even more experimentation. Going back it is beautiful as a statement; I assert my opinion and taste onto others and to Roland Barthes that would seem inappropriate, for everyone should make their own interpretation as to the satisfactory factor of an object of aesthetics which in his case was literature. He believed that the work being perceived or read should speak for itself inorder to give birth to the reader and “epitome and culmination of capitalist ideology…” (Kearney and Rasmussen, p.371)that relied and became dependant on some foundation to create their own identity which parallels in some way Adorno’s perception of art being used in a pejorative fashion simply to bring solace to the bourgeoisie. Ridding the work of the author, and existing for itself, the work opens itself up to different elucidation; one sees and understands what one wants. Seeing something that touches in the most subjective way, like it touches no other, has been explained in photography by Barthes as the punctum.

Taking the terms from Barthes, should the role of the subject in aesthetic perception on the whole be a studuim that allows me to know the story and becoming of the image or the punctum that sting, which is proper to every individual in distinct manner? The subject of aesthetics involves a person as a cultural construct of the society, for it is being part of this society that one makes judgements based on what is appropriate or inappropriate and it also is, that cultural construct that makes one want to detach from that sort of reasoning. The subject therefore simply entails different notion of perception.


- Baumgarten, Alexander, Gottlieb, Reflections on Poetry, University of California Press, 1954.

- Guyer, Paul (ed), Kant, Crtitique of Judgement, Cambridge UP, 2000.

- Bosanquet, Bernard, A History of Aesthetics.

- Kearney Richard, Rasmussen David (ed), Continental Aesthetics, Romanticism to Postmosernism, Blackwell Publishing, 2001

- Barthes, Roland, Camera Lucida: Reflections on Photography, Vintage, 2000.

Sunday, 17 January 2010

Offending works of art?

It's been a while since i created this blog, but i never really got around to updating and now is the time! I have been working on a project for a while regarding offending works of art and i would appreciate it if you could leave your comments in order to help advance my work. Anyone familiar with Dejeuner sur L'herbe and finds it offensive, and how about Tracy Emins work My Bed? I am curious to find out how people's nature and character affects the way a painting is read. Do find the time to leave your comment :)