Chennai Summer

Arigato, mon ami!
It’s that time of the year
When sweat trickles down my belly
And the Sun scorches and sears,
The moment I step outside my room,
Hotter than the winds of Barsoom.

When cold showers are necessary
Morning, afternoon and night
When I’m forced to drink my coffee cold
And keep hot liquids out of my sight
Have you ever experienced a Chennai summer,
Where even shadows are dispelled with light?
Tans are temporary, short-lived bummers
Chennai makes black skin a permanent sight.

The heat permeates through the skin
And quickly boils the blood
Soon, the River of Sweat begins
And escalates into a flood
Absolving me of all my sins,
Turning my shirt wet and thin
Releasing an odor wicked and foul
Making the people around me howl
In pain, in their unwarranted subjection,
To a punishment they didn’t deserve
Unable to make explicit their objections
Protecting politeness with fervent verve.
Apologies for the digression,
Of no purpose did it serve.

Summer, when omelettes can be cooked on the road
And days are longer than usual,
I spend most of the time in AC abodes
And the Sun and I constantly duel.

Mangoes and Watermelons
Oranges and Pineapples
Are primarily what I eat
As cool respite from the heat

If you close your eyes and listen closely
You can hear, even feel the sound
Of the solar waves pulsating slowly
Enveloping everyone all around

I pity business executives in suits
And every single husband and wife to be
The men who dress up as 6 foot bunnies
With extra thick floppy ears to boot

The Sun burns through clouds
That previously acted as minor shrouds…

All this talk of heat makes me thirsty
And so I shall abruptly go,
Sayonara, mon amigo!

Attribution: Summer Evening by Andrew, CC-BY-SA-2.0

(NaPoWriMo 2013 #29)

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The 10th CIFF

‘I’m back.’

It’s been a full month since I’ve posted on this blog, but I’m not going to push it any longer. Some of you may be jumping up and down, clapping your hands in utter glee, or you’re just shaking your head that this online travesty will still exist. Either way, I don’t really care. I need to get back to my writing routine, and what better way than to irritate the followers who are still with me.

This last week, I pushed my love for cinema to a whole new extreme. I went to the 10th Chennai International Film Festival, my first proper (debatable) film festival. I had wanted to attend for a number of years, but December was always that time of the year when teachers tighten their exam sticks and whip students harder than usual. Such meaningless clasps and irons did not hold me down this year; I watched an average of three movies a day for the whole week and saw a total of 20 movies. Not bad if you ask me.

The festival was peppered with a variety of films, including this year’s award-winning best like Holy Motors (Leos Carax), Amour (Michael Haneke) and Pieta (Kim-ki Duk), retrospectives on Claude Chabrol and Michael Cacoyannis, a celebration of 100 years of Indian cinema with screenings of classic films like Pather Panchali (Satyajit Ray), Karnan (B.R. Panthulu) and Guide (Vijay Anand), an Indian panorama that assembled this year’s independent Indian standouts like OASS: The Dew Drop (Abhinav Shiv Tiwari) and Delhi in a Day (Prashant Nair) as well as a focus on films from Colombia, Israel and Hungary. The films were screened across the city at Woodlands Theatre, Inox, Sathyam Cinemas, Casino Theatre and Rani Seethai Hall. As it is actually impossible to watch all the films that are screened at any film festival, let me highlight the ones that I enjoyed.

Here are the best films that I walked into without knowing anything, and which haven’t won many awards:

Nadine Labaki's Where Do We Go Now?

Why should boys have all the fun?

Nadine Labaki’s Where Do We Go Now? was clearly the most fun film of the fest, even though it was set within the backdrop of a Muslim-Christian communal conflict in a Lebanese village. Maybe I was just bogged down with too much drama, but this film has a lot of heart in depicting women trying to save their community through peace, not guns.

Michel Franco's After Lucia

Ouch.

Michel Franco’s After Lucia is a very clinical film that explores social interactions between teenagers brilliantly. It’s a slow burn that walks a fine line between drama and horror. I found a certain scene involving a cake the most disturbing thing I have ever seen on film, and I’m usually unfazed by extreme graphic violence in other movies.

Radu Jude's Everybody In Our Family

I’ve got 3 days left with her for this year…

Radu Jude’s Everybody in Our Family blew me off my feet. It’s a movie that shifts fluidly between dark comedy, drama, socially acceptable and unacceptable behavior. I don’t want to reveal anything about this movie, but I will say that duct tape rules all.

And here are the obvious awesome films in the fest that everyone around the world loves:

  • Rust and Bone: Jacques Audiard’s fist pumping movie about pain and disability slices through melodrama and convention with standout performances from Marion Cotillard and Mathias Schoenaerts.
  • We Need To Talk About Kevin: I was a little late to get to see this one, but it is even more relevant against the background of the Newtown tragedy and the world’s problems with gun control. With superb editing and visual metaphors, Lynne Ramsay accurately depicts the life of the mother of a serial killer.
  • Melancholia: This is the second Lars Von Trier I’ve seen, and it is both simply magnificent and utterly disappointing. The character study that it tries to be amidst the apocalyptic scenario fails to be as compelling as it could have been, while the spectacle of both the beginning and the end still lingers in my head.

The festival was organized by the Indo-Cine Appreciation Foundation (ICAF), and I went to their headquarters in Chennai to register myself for the festival. I was quite surprised by the state of disarray it was in as well as its secluded location that might as well double for an Mi6 dead drop. Imagine a dark room filled with books, newspapers, magazines and general bric-a-brac, within which two people are nestled. That’s the ICAF I saw, and it wasn’t pretty.

I had some problems with the festival in terms of its organization. Now you might think I’m throwing rocks at it just because I have nothing better to do, but hear me out:

  • The volunteers were a bunch of college kids from a college no one had heard of (at least my friends and I hadn’t) and they never actually volunteered to help us through the festival. They kept moping around as if they were forced to do it.
  • Some of the screenings I went to were either canceled or postponed, thanks to the unreliability of digital projection. Now, that problem is unavoidable, but what was irritating was that these cancellations were announced minutes before I got to the theatre. They were announced in the daily newsletter that was given to festival delegates, but this newsletter was also provided seconds before the first screening. Ridiculous.
  • At Woodlands theatre, there was a sign stuck on the door that said ‘People will not be admitted 15 min after the screening has started’, but this statement was meaningless because people kept walking in and out of each screening. I thought that the film going public for international films would be a little more cultured by keeping their cell phones switched off or on silent mode, but I was disappointed. Every screening had its share of inconsiderate idiots.

But hey, what can you do, right? This festival also gave me the opportunity to watch two Claude Chabrol films, a filmmaker who I had only heard about before, and on the big screen too! The actual films themselves weren’t great, but now I can claim to have seen Claude Chabrol in a theatre. I wish I could say the same about Pather Panchali, which I started watching (and it was amazing. It’s quite astonishing how awesome Sony Pictures Classics restored the 35mm print after all these years) when my phone rang and I realized that I had forgotten about my Model United Nations class in my excitement to watch the movie. I was out of there faster than a bullet, and sped half way across the city. It’s the one film I regret not seeing in the fest.

This was also the first time I watched films at Woodlands, which is normally the place to go if you want shitty seats, decaying walls, and a bad audience to watch crappy films with. Now, those qualities had an air of vintage and antiquity along with the novelty of watching exclusive films that will never be released in our country.

The 10th Chennai International Film Festival was certainly a great experience. I don’t think I’ll be watching any more films until the New Year…maybe.

How to ride a bus in Chennai

Transportation in Chennai is quite varied: cars, bikes, auto rickshaws, bicycles, buses and trains populate the grid. We’re getting the Metro Rail soon, which I’m sure will transform how the city looks. Many people have complained to me about how moving from one place to another is a real pain here, but I beg to differ otherwise. It’s smooth sailing if you know how to navigate the streets of Chennai. And there are some basic tips that will help out everyone in this regard.

First of all, buses are arguably the most widely used mode of public transportation, and the rules that apply to buses do apply to trains as well. One must understand that riding a MTC bus is akin to playing chess: there are strategies one needs to use in order to have a good ride. First and foremost is the time during which you should travel in a bus. If you are in control of the time during which you travel, then you’re in control of whether your ride exhausts you or invigorates you. The best times are early in the morning, between 5: 30 to 7, and late at night, between 9 to 11, when the wind is cool and the traffic is mild. Obviously, most of you would not have reason to travel between these extreme hours, so the next best alternative is traveling in the noon time, between 12:30 to 2:30. Sure, the sun would be beating over your backs, but the dry air sort of makes up for that. The traffic is also relatively mild at this time because everyone’s gone for lunch, except you. The worst times are the bottle neck hours when everyone either wants to get from home to work or from work to home: 9 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. and 5:45 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. You really don’t want to be in the middle of all that.

Okay, so now you know when to go. The next thing I want to talk about is bus etiquette. There’s a certain way you travel in Chennai buses. First off, most of the time all the seats are taken, unless you’re on the bus from its start point at some depot. So, you’ll be standing a lot in Chennai buses. Depending on the time, it will be either an orgy of bodies writhing and squirming as the bus moves, or just you and the wind blowing past you.

Now for the coolest experience while you’re traveling and trying desperately not to slip into the travails of boredom, use the Footboard Technique. Many MTC buses don’t have working automated doors, and if the number of passengers in the bus swells, people start hanging off the steps and footboard (the final step). This is actually great because a. you’re not in an orgy of writhing bodies (who wants that? Sweating, smelly people from all over the city scrambling for a hand hold in a bus. Sometimes you start sweating the other person’s sweat if you’re not careful. All their feet and footwear pressing on your feet…the thought of it all doesn’t affect me because I have to do it sometimes) and b. you get the most of the wind that a moving bus can provide. And it’s a thrilling rush of danger and coolness. The etiquette that the Footboard Technique requires is that at every stop you have to get down to allow passengers further inside passage to disembark and then jostle with the other FT people for a spot on the footboard (it’s not really big, it’s a step after all).

Another etiquette to follow on the bus is the Chain Technique. Since there are a lot of people on a bus, mobility for each individual passenger is quite limited. The conductor has his own seat which he treats as a throne and passengers have to come to him to pay their share for using a public service. The Chain Technique involves trusting a total stranger with your money in the hopes that that stranger will pass it on to another stranger to another stranger and so on until it reaches the conductor and you get you ticket. Sure, the strangers don’t really have anywhere to run with your money because they’re on a moving vehicle, but its still a Chain of Trust.

The Courtesy for Females (CoF) clause is basically a free pass for all women on a bus. The seating arrangement in Chennai buses is such that on the right side of the bus is the side for men while the left side is for women. It’s basically a free for all in the last row and the first seats opposite the driver, but you get the idea. Chennai is conservative in a good way, where women are treated with courtesy. Through the CoF clause, women are allowed to sit on the men’s side if they want while men aren’t allowed to sit in the women’s side. Also, the bus driver has to stop for any women that’s running at full pelt to it even though it started much before she was anywhere within the vicinity.

Some other pointers that don’t deserve much detailed analysis:

  • The Weave Technique: When you’re two stops away from your stop and the bus is kind of crowded, it’s a good idea to get out of your seat and head toward one of the exits in the bus so that you’re prepared when the time comes. Don’t believe that everyone on the bus would move to each side like the Red Sea did for Moses because, let’s face it, if you’re riding in a bus you’re not a celebrity. So, weave through the crowd, duck under arms, step over legs and get to the exit.
  • Don’t take the Footboard Technique to extremes by hanging on to window railings and climbing on top of the bus. That’s not cool, in fact, that’s pretty irritating because all the rest of us in the bus would have to wait for another half an hour for the cops to come and beat you down. I once saw a cop take out his stick and chase a bunch of guys climbing on a bus. The chase was intense; even the people who got away from the scene and acted like bystanders were chased down.
  • The Change Rule: Always make sure you have adequate change before stepping on a bus. It’s nerve wracking to have lots of money but not be able to use it. These days, because of the increased bus prices, many people get in the bus with notes so conductors are strapped for change.
  • Always practice your balance before acting cool and hanging off a rail with two fingers or something. It doesn’t usually end well. This applies while getting off while the bus is moving too. I’ve had many a crash landing.

But above all, happy trails, fellow and future bus riders! I hope this was a good summation of what you need to know to have a smooth bus ride in Chennai. But, as for anything, practice makes perfect.