Tag Archives: Bollywood
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Photo: Madhuri Dixit aging splendidly

22 Nov

Flamenco: sometimes “I can’t get enough” of something because it’s just so awful (even with a goddess like Estrella Morente); the limits of fusion; Andalucía to the Caribbean, ida y vuelta, or allez-retour; Spanish casticismo and crappy Greek reality TV

20 Sep

You know, you can’t just throw together anything you feel like…like, I dunno, the Pennsylvania polka with polyphonic southern Albanian orchestration or background singers, and call it music. There’s a great Greek expression for what would result: “May God call that [whatever] …” music, in this case; то есть, only God can give this thing the existential status it’s claiming for itself.

Fusion happens organically. Egyptian pop has a çifteteli rhythm Greeks like, and slowly Greek pop develops a whole genre that is heavily Egyptian sounding. Klezmer musicians, especially Romanian and Moldavian ones, heard Greek Balkan tunes in Bucharest and Constanța and Istanbul and incorporated them into their repertoire. Serbs are attracted to Greek music, to its tone and melodies and especially to its affective nature, so lots of the new starogradska music (which literally means “old city” music, meaning popular, but urban, not folk, like Greek λαϊκά) develops a deep Greek vibe. Greeks loved Bollywood in the 50s, so a whole genre (one railed against by many, including Tsitsanes, which is why I can’t forgive him), of some really beautiful music, developed out of some plain rip-offs, and some imaginative reworking, of the Indian material that Greeks liked in their movies.

I’ll soon bring you examples of all of the above. My point is simply that these intermeldings happen organically and if they’re forced, consciously and stupidly, the product kinna sucks.

I’m sure the intentions of the Khoury Projectfour Palestinian brothers from Jordan, with a last name that probably indicates Christian (“Khoury” means priest in Levantine Arabic) — are good…oh, Lord, please don’t let them be misunderstood. But the result is atrocious. It’s a little bit classical Um Kalsoum Arab suite, a little bit Balkan brass band or tamburaša, a little bit demek jazz improv’ — and it’s all made worse by the lust for speeeeeeeeeed our civilization suffers from, to cover up for lack of art, because form is sacrificed on the altar of cheap excitement, till form becomes illegible, rhythm becomes unfollowable, and melody disappears…and it all turns into a dog whistle that we can’t even hear.

Everything is like coked-up Bregović.

And what did that poor kanun do to this dude, that he’s banging away at it like it’s a heavy metal drum set, or like he’s hoping to snap a few of its strings?

Ok, there is one cool idea they’re working with, and that’s in the title: “RUMBA”. It’s not a ton of people who know that, but the musical and other cultural influences that Spain, especially Andalucía, sent to the Caribbean, were matched by the musical influences that the Caribbean, especially, of course, that heavenly font of music, Cuba, sent back to Spain. (You can probably trace the popular music of the whole twentieth-century world to either this one island of ten million people or the Mississippi Delta…or to the West Africa that both sprouted from.) Rumba, for example, is a flamenco genre, as is tango, though they don’t much look like their Latin American namesakes in their Andalusian gypsy forms (Morente gives us a moment of Cuban/Andalusian “rumba” dance moves at 6:56). But sevillanas and bulerías also have rhythmic structures and verbal phrasing and dance moves that have earlier Cuban antecedents.

The reason most people don’t know this is because there’s no more cliché-bound human than the modern tourist. And the academic tourist, who you think would have more outré interests to pursue when he travels, is often the worst of all. So as far as Spain goes, they’ll go to Barcelona, because it’s just such a “hip,” “cosmopolitan” Mediterranean (Christ, sometimes I hate that word) city, and skip the edgier, scruffy, by far more involving urban vibe of Madrid.* And if they’re under 35 they’ll go to Ibiza; over 35 will go to Mallorca. The MESA or other academic folk won’t go to either (if they want beach action they’ll come to one of our more remote Cyclades); rather, after Barcelona, they’ll do the Glories of Al-Andalus tour of Córdoba and Granada and then hightail it back home.

And you can’t get a full picture of flamenco in any of those places. Yes, there’s clearly a gypsy community in Granada that has created its own sound (including Estrella Morente and the whole Morente clan). But “gypsiness” and flamenco are to be truly appreciated in lower Andalusia, the flat river-delta of the Guadalquivir (the al-wādī l-kabīr in Arabic, the “great river”, like the kabir in this blogs’ name.) The great (or “kabir”) flamenco palos or genres, the great flamenco singers and guitarists, are almost all from the Gypsy barrios of Seville, Jerez, Cádiz, Sanlúcar, Puerto de Santa María, or the large village/towns of the region, like Osuna, Écija, Carmona, Utrera. This was not just the entry point for Spanish contact with its American colonies; it was the region that soon after the Reconquista came to be made up of large estates, latifundia, and a large rural proletariat that worked those estates and a large urban proletariat that lived in semi-employed poverty. Unfortunately, this was the pattern that Spain exported to not just its American colonies, but to southern Italy and Sicily during the centuries that it ruled those lands. What’s so fascinating about Naples and Palermo (like, of course, Seville) is that they were the first large, third-world cities of European modernity, overgrown, over-densely populated, surrounded by a countryside where land ownership was wildly unbalanced, cities of fabulous wealth and a dispossessed urban proletariat that still characterizes the modern and post-modern megalopolis — from Bombay to New York.

The Guadalquivir

Unfortunately or not, the pressure-cooker of urban poverty seems to be the petri dish of fantastic music: whether it’s Havana or Seville or Naples or New Orleans or New York and Chicago or Smyrna or Piraeus. We owe it to the creators of this music, and their suffering, to not mangle it the way the Khoury Project has done in this and in many other videos of theirs.

That’s why I’m bringing you more than just one of the original versions of the Cuban classics that Morente and the Khoury project butcher beyond recognition. Take the time to listen to both: the several original versions and the shameless interpretations the new fusion versions bring.

At 6:15, Morente sings the historic Cuban song “Songoro Cosongo”. This was a “son”, an Afro genre from eastern Cuba that, in the early twentieth century, became the more or less national dance (out of which the mambo and then salsa grew) replacing, even in polite society, the danzón. The lyrics are not original “Afro”; they’re Art-Afro, from the Black Cuban poet Nicolás Guillén — y de allí you get into all kinds of questions of authenticity that basically lead you nowhere. What’s important is that this first version was sung by the Septeto Nacional, which was the first group of Black musicians who were allowed to play in the Havana Tennis Club in the 1920s, marking the entry of Blacker music into the social mainstream of Cuban life (or maybe that was the Sexteto Habanero?). Here’s the original version. For Colombians, forget the baldosa please and watch the first part of the video and incorporate some movement into the dance; drop the screwdriver step.

And here’s Hector Lavoe’s 1970s big band sound, salsa version:

The other Cuban/PR classic that the Khoury Project and Morente make kokoretsi out of (at 7:10) is the piece known alternately as “Mandinga” or “Bilongo” or “La Negra Tomasa”.

Here’s a Cuban έντεχνο version from pianist Rubén González of the Buena Vista Social Club:

And here’s the truly breathtaking salsa version, again from the 70s, of Eddie Palmieri, with singer Ismael Quintana: “Kikidi-boom, Mandinga, Kikidi-boom Mandinga….”

Y aquí la tienen, la Negra Tomasa:

La Negra Tomasa, like Mamá Inés (“ay Mamá Inés, ay Mamá Inés, todo’ lo’ negro’ tomamo’ café.”) It’s amazing how powerfully Pan-American this archetype of the Black woman is: Mamá Inés, La Negra Tomasa, Aunt Jemima, the Black woman who, despite the misery and servitude of her existence, still feels and expresses genuine love for those she has to care for. Here’s the scene from Gone with the Wind where Hattie McDaniel gave the performance that garnered her the first Oscar to go to a Black woman:

Ok…

And back to Estrella Morente’s outta space performance. I don’t want to sound like one of the judges on #MyStyleRocksGR (though I’d like to have a drink with Stelio Koudounare — below)** but, Estrella, you’re a magnificent woman. But you’re also a modest Gypsy girl. Don’t wear a strapless dress that you’re constantly tugging up for fear it’ll fall off and reveal your ample bosom. It cramps your style, especially for a number as fast this “Rumba”.

(There’s something that’s so interesting about the semiotics of Gypsy and flamenco sexuality, a really interesting interaction between the revealing and openly erotic and the puritanical and covered up — that’s maybe a real remnant Indian cultural trait. We had a long-time Gypsy tenant, Mandy, who rented a commercial space in a building we owned in Manhattan for her Tarot-reading business; how they made the rent for a midtown Manhattan space offa Tarot readings is anyone’s guess. And whenever I dropped by at that time of the month, she was always dressed kind of like Lola Flores in this video below of commercial, movie, kitschy but beautiful copla-flamenco [look up “copla”; it’s a critical bridge between flamenco and other Spanish popular music]:

A tight top, but with straps — please — and an ankle-length skirt, tight around the hips and flaring out from the knees, like Gypsy women all over the world wear. The use of the skirt in flamenco dance, the flipping and turning around, the gathering up of its ample folds and ruffles and waving them back and forth or stuffing them between the legs, almost up into the crotch…all of those moves become especially powerful because revealing of the lower body seems so taboo. Not to mention the similarities between the prop manipulation of the long skirt in flamenco and that of the cape in the corrida, or bullfight.)

всё…

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* There’s a wonderful expression in Spanish: “De Madrid no se ve el mar.” — “From Madrid you can’t see the sea” which condenses the whole personality of the city. Madrid is really nowhere. It doesn’t occupy a strategic position, like the older cities of old Castille. It’s not on an important navigable river. The weather sucks: the famous “nine months of winter and three months of hell” (“nueve meses de invierno y tres de infierno”), though I love the cold, sunny weather of a Castillian winter (“colder than a Lutheran” says one character in the film version of Alatriste), and the food is perfect for the climate. It was simply built by royal fiat as a court and imperial capital in the early 16th century because there was an old, Moorish town there in the geographic center of Iberia, on the high, arid and underpopulated central plateau, or meseta, of Spain.

And yet this isolated city — from where “you can’t see the sea” — in the middle of nowhere became the sophisticated, highly cultured and rich capital of a massive empire. The contradiction is that it couldn’t ever really evade or deny its roots. Madrid remained and remains a deeply castizo city. “Casticismo” is a complicated term that means “pure”, “[Spanishly] authentic”, “native”, “conservative” and even a solid melding of all of those together won’t give you the precise sense of the word. Casticismo is what makes Spain Spain. I’m tempted to find Greek analogies and thought that it might be Romiosyne as in versus Hellenismos. But no…

When you’re in a bar somewhere in the center of Madrid in July, and there’s a cold, sweaty caña, or half-pint, of beer and an equally sweaty few slices of ham in front of you, when there’re dirty paper napkins or toothpicks (or there used to be; this custom has sort of fallen out of style) or peanut shells on the floor (the more garbage there was piled up on the floor, the more it signalled to potential customers that, “oh, this is a fun bar that people like…let’s drop in here”) and you’re packed in with super-friendly, inquisitive Spaniards speaking at a totally unnecessary decibel level…and it’s only 11:00 am — well, that’s the right time to get a feel for casticismo, even if it’s just a sensory feel that you can’t express discursively.

And that’s kind of the essence of Madrid, a liberal, tolerant, mad creative, open place that’s still closed and stubbornly archaic and even anarchic: even cañí (tacky) or hortero (red-necky, rough, kitschy, or vulgar). As opposed to the dizque sophisticated-acting, cosmopolitan but actually staid bourgeois air of Barcelona, Madrid is more a microcosm of Spain: one of the West’s and Europe’s most progressive, advanced in every way, societies, that’s simultaneously not part of the West or Europe at all, but a wild, limit-pushing land that is something totally itself, where the grappling between the “raw” and the “cooked” is as interesting and powerful as anywhere.

The go-to book on casticismo is by my saint-hero-philosopher Miguel de Unamuno who wrote it in the early 20th century, when the question of identity — especially after the disastrous Spanish-American War of 1898 when Spain lost its last colonies to the United States — and how Spain needed to generate some kind of new dialectic between its “deep” identity and the modernity it had to face was a red hot, controversial issue. As a Basque, he had a particular insider-and-outsider take on Spain and if you read Spanish or can find an English translation — which I’m not sure there is — it should be on your reading list before your next visit there.

En torno al casticismo (“Regarding casticismo”)

Miguel de Unamuno 1929

** Yes, don’t ask, I’ve totally regressed:

Stelios Koudounares, Greek fashion designer and guest judge on #MyStyleRocksGR

I’ve never been even remotely interested in fashion. I mean, I like to know that what I’m wearing looks ok, but in terms of high-end, concept fashion that nobody really wears…nothing’s ever bored me more. So don’t ask why I’ve gotten hooked, and on a daily basis, to #MyStyleRocksGR. Yeah, I like Stelio, but it’s basically because the judges and contestants on the show are all having so much fun…and when it’s mean it’s because there’s some serious Greek shade being thrown around that, ultimately, no one takes seriously. Any way, I’m addicted.

Next: between occasional blogging and working on my translation of Polites’ Stou Hadjifrangou, I’ve also gotten addicted to reality show #BigBrotherGR. (Owning up: I was addicted to Jersey Shore too.) The other night I sat transfixed through three-and-a-half hours of the special live Friday night broadcast they do, because I was afraid that my favorite room-mate, Demetres Kehagias (Δημήτρης Κεχαγιάς) below, was going to get booted off the show.

I don’t like Kehagia just ’cause he’s good-looking. I like him ’cause he’s echt-Greek/Rhomios. He’s always grouchy and irritated about something and someone and getting into fights with everyone around him, talks a mile a minute in thick Athenian attitude and intonation… And then suddenly becomes all loving and caring and sweet in a way that makes everyone around melt. Luckily he survived.

Here he is in rare form against his nemesis room-mate, the woman with the fried peroxide hair, Anna Maria from Chania (that’s just what they were missing on this show, a Cretan woman of a certain age with fried, peroxide hair…) Check them out in this video below; the fun starts at around 2:17. Yes, the two guys in the black t-shirts are identical twin brothers (makes for all kindsa nuttiness), Zac (Ζαχαρίας) in the Marine t-shirt says and does absolutely nothing in any episode except look pretty, and the zaftig chick in the fuchsia top with the fan, splendidly named Aphrodite!!! is the loving Big Mama that me and apparently all Big Brother addicts in Greece — so say the polls — adore, and she spends lots of her time trying to de-escalate arguments like these. Enjoy. This is a perfect Greek kavga, the Turkish word we use for pointless, steam-letting, “let’s-have-some-fun” arguing. I’m not going to translate or tell you what it’s about….because it doesn’t matter!!! It’s not about anything! They’re just arguing!

I started watching ΣΚΑΪ (SKY) because it’s the of right-of-center channel that still maintains (despite these trashy shows I’m into) some sense of cultural and social standards out of all Greek TV stations. And also because a right-of-center good friend of mine got voted in as MP in Greek Parliament this year and he appears as the go-to expert on Greece’s international relations — especially at a tight time in Greek-Turkish relations like now — on ΣΚΑΪ‘s news broadcasts. But then I get back to work and leave the television on with no sound. Explains how I got hooked on these shows.

Addendum: they’ve also been broadcasting American Crime Story: The Assassination of Gianni Versace these past two weeks. It’s fascinating. Because it’s not about Versace almost at all. It’s about his tragically psychotic murderer, Andrew Cunanan. And it leaves you with the very disturbing sense that he wasn’t so distantly psychotic from the rest of us, that he just wanted what we all want; things just came together in a way that pushed him over the edge. It’s on Netflix; check it out.

Darren Kriss as Andrew Cunanan in The Assassination of Gianni Versace

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NikoBako told-you-so prediction: someone’s gonna start b*tching that Bollywood promotes irresponsible drinking…

11 Oct

…someone with no sense of līlā who doesn’t get everything that’s sexy, young and fun about it:

…and doesn’t appreciate that Ranbir Kapoor’s pelvis is jointed in ways different from that of ordinary mortals.

Comment: nikobakos@gmail.com

 

Riz Ahmed, Immigration, Suketu Mehta and me, Identity Politics, and Varun and Sidharth’s “shining future”

21 Sep

riz-ahmedRiz Ahmed is the first man of Asian descent to win an acting Emmy Getty Images

Suketu Mehta’ conclusions in “This Land is Their Land” (see: Suketu Mehta in Foreign Policy addendum, whole text) echo some of my points on immigration in Greece, Britain, U.S. and everywhere (see: It’s immigration, “stupid”: the United States’ best-kept secret…streams of thought on a hot Sunday afternoon).

Me:

“It’s when immigrant/migrants/refugees are leaving that you should worry.

“My often-stated opinion that the West has both the resources and the historical obligation to take in every-body that needs and wants to come still holds.  That the European Union’s migration agreement with Turkey marked people fleeing a country in the condition of Afghanistan’s as “economic migrants” was a scandal.  But when you’ve got a problem with Poles — whit-er, better-educated, harder-working, more Christian, cuter, better-mannered and less binge-drinking than you — then you really do have a problem…

polish-scum

“America’s best-kept secret, despite what trailer trash Donald Trump and his crew tell you, is that immigrants are a self-selecting group of already highly motivated people who are connected and aware enough to have heard that things are better where you are.  And they’re not coming to take that from you; they’re coming to improve it.  They’re the A-list crew that crashes your party because they’ve heard your parties are the ones to crash and in the process makes them even more of the hottest ticket in town.  It’s a self-fufilling, auto-re-perpetuating process.

“New York, in other words.”

“Olympian Zeus, king of the gods, will tear your head off if you’re unwelcoming to the stranger — or worse, for a Greek, make you ugly — so you better watch out. He comes in disguise to test you. Like the angels to Abraham.”

“So…wooops…there they are. Here they come! They’ve arrived. And they’ve instantly made Greece a more interesting place. And interesting is strong. And strength is freedom.”

And Mehta:

“Countries that accept immigrants, like Canada, are doing better than countries that don’t, like Japan. But whether Trump or May or Orban likes it or not, immigrants will keep coming, to pursue happiness and a better life for their children. To the people who voted for them: Do not fear the newcomers. Many are young and will pay the pensions for the elderly, who are living longer than ever before. They will bring energy with them, for no one has more enterprise than someone who has left their distant home to make the difficult journey here, whether they’ve come legally or not. And given basic opportunities, they will be better behaved than the youth in the lands they move to, because immigrants in most countries have lower crime rates than the native-born. They will create jobs. They will cook and dance and write in new and exciting ways. They will make their new countries richer, in all senses of the word. The immigrant armada that is coming to your shores is actually a rescue fleet.[My emphases]

Was that one of the subtexts or even the skeletal structure of “The Night of…”, the brilliant mini-series and incredible ethnographic essay on New York from HBO for which Ahmed won his Emmy: good, criminally uninclined, son of hard-working Pakistani immigrant parents from Jackson Heights, with …a shining shining future
Sadda bright si (see full video at bottom), gets led to his doom by decadent white girl? or is he a good Muslim boy led astray by Hindu seductress disguised as lawyer who then screws herself in the process?  (I have to admit that the sexual scratch-marks on the back of Ahmed’s character, Naz, that come to light in one courtroom scene put me in mind of the Gita Govinda.)  Or more misogynist than that even: that women — period. — are trouble?

‘The Lovers Radha and Krishna in a Palm Grove’; miniature painting from the ‘Tehri Garhwal’ <i>Gita ­Govinda</i> (Song of the Cowherds), Punjab Hills, kingdom of Kangra or Guler, circa 1775–1780

Some of the frustrating contradictions of identity politics in the Washington Post‘s Riz Ahmed makes history as the first South Asian man to win an Emmy acting award.  If Riz Ahmed wants to not be type-cast as a Muslim or South Asian man every time he gets a role, but to eventually just play a character called “Dave”, then he’s going to need his fans’ help and have them not get apoplectically happy because he’s the first “Asian” (whatever that means) to win an Emmy, but because he’s a great actor who won an Emmy.

In the meantime, tabrik.

Comment: nikobakos@gmail.com

 

For F. Khaanum and all my Iranian friends: Derti, love and the afflictions of Naipaulian self-loathing…

19 Nov

 

derdThere’s a radio station in Athens — just got out of a cab — called “Dertia.98.6” — “Love-aches.98.6,” — from the Farsi obviously — dedicated solely to torturous, soul-trampelling, ripped-out-heart, impossibly painful, love songs.

درد  — “dard” is one of those words that entered Greek through Ottoman Turkish (and Turkish pronunciation: “dert”) but has now retained only very specific, cultural and socio-contextual meanings.  It means “pain” in Farsi, but in Greek you would never use it for a head-ache or a bad knee.  It’s only used to mean a broken heart, an unquenched desire, and their attendant sufferings, and then only in the context of a very popular, let’s call it “arabesque”-type music, the listeners of which are usually of my cab-driver’s sociological profile, though in truth Greeks of all classes enjoy it as well — but only as a secret, guilty pleasure that they’re scared is too ghetto to actually own up to.  It’s a great injustice, as much of this music is beautiful.  But such are the self-hating complexes of an insecure and provincial people.

Because there’s an experience I’ve had from South Asian dance parties in the East Village to Greek clubs in Astoria to San Juan to Madrid to Naples to Belgrade to Salonica to Istanbul to Kabul.  You go to a club and all the pretty young things are standing around listening to club-crap, with a drink in their hands and a studied look of coolness that is actually masking profound boredom.  Then like at around 3:00 am, the d.j. relents: the “local” stuff — Paco Ortega or Kaite Garbe or Tarkan — comes on; the hand-clapping which all Spaniards are secret experts at, the hip-shimmying that all Istanbullu — who are really Maraşlı — girls have drunk with their mother’s milk (the true White Turk, like the true Northern Suburb type here, can’t dance to save his life), suddenly explode…and everybody finally allows themselves to have a good time.  It’s pathetic.

Majnun.jpg

Majnun in the Wilderness, from the Shah Tahmasp copy of the Khamsahname by Niz̤āmī. Mid-16th century, painted by Mīrak.

This — by the way — was the song playing in the cab: “​​Φύγε κι άσε με” — “Leave…and let me be…” a 1962 tune, sung by Panos Gavalas and Zoe Panagiotou.  This is part of a particular sub-genre of popular Greek music, that hit its heights from the mid-50s to the early 60s, and that was heavily, and clearly, influenced by the popularity of Bollywood films and music in Greece at the time, (until Greek fascism and racism, including that of Tsitsanes himself, silenced it)…often just complete ripped-off reworkings, or “sampling” in Black hip-hop parlance, which is probably just a completely natural part of music since its the beginnings.  But that’s a whole other post.

nikobakos@gmail.com

 

From Al Jazeera: “A star-studded protest in India” — Finally someone speaks up against Modi and the BJP

12 Nov

FINALLY…  It had to have been Al Jazeera, of course.  I’ve been watching the BBC for days here and all it is is praise and gushing: he’s creating economic confidence in India around the world, which is all the business-world whores care about.  I’m not impressed the Indian diaspora is mad about him.  There hasn’t been a single report on whether any one in the crowds he draws for his cheap Bollywood-like spectacles in Britain and soon to go to the U.S. is Muslim.  And the even cheaper use of Hindu love-and-namaste imagery that the West is such a gullible child about as a cover is doubly repellent: spread enough saffron and marigolds around and you think everyone is going to forget your horrendous, sectarian, nationalist background and how your holding Prime Minister’s office is only strengthening its poisonous effect on Indian society.

23a4f30b7f404637b3587fd8b764b297_18

Indian Bollywood actor Shah Rukh Khan [AFP]

And who finally calls out the emperor’s new clothes but Bollywood itself?  We’ve always known that Bollywood is a slightly disproportionately Muslim industry and seen as suspiciously so by Hindu conservatives — like Hollywood and Jews — to the point where in the past many Muslims often changed their names to save their career (Dilip Kumar was born Yusuf Khan in Peshawar, malaka), but you also expect Bollywood to generally have the principles of a pack of weasels, so that this standing up to Modi from SRK and others is pretty impressive.

Read “Chandrahas Choudhury” whole opinion piece here.

Comment: nikobakos@gmail.com

The Dark Lord

12 May

In a previous post, April 10th “A Dancing Girl,” I wrote about the ubiquity of Krishna-Radha imagery in Indian culture, from the obvious traditionally religious contexts to Bollywood cinema.  Sudhir Kakar, Indian psychologist and I guess all around cultural critic has a very interesting analysis of the Krishna archetype in Indian cinema.  He contrasts him, the playful phallic teaser, with the Majnun archetype, the distraught, longing lover (“majnun” means crazed in Arabic, the same Semitic root as “meshugeh” in Yiddish), setting up an interesting Hindu-Muslim interplay between the two:

“The Krishna-lover is the second important hero of Indian films.  Distinct from Majnun,the two may, in a particular film, be sequential rather than separate.  The Krishna-lover is physically importunate, what Indian-English will perhaps call the “eve-teasing” hero, whose initial contact with women verges on that of sexual harrassment.  His cultural lineage goes back to the episode of the mischievous Krishna hiding the clothes of the gopis (cow-herdesses) while they bathe in the pond and his refusal to give them back in spite of the girls’ repeated entreaties.  From the 1950s Dev Anand movies to those (and especially) of Shammi Kapoor in the 1960s and of Jeetendra today, the Krishna-lover is all over and all around the heroine who is initially annoyed, recalcitrant, and quite unaware of the impact the hero’s phallic intrusiveness has on her.  The Krishna-lover has the endearing narcissism of the boy in the eve of the Oedipus stage, when the world is felt to be his “oyster.”  He tries to draw the heroine’s attention by all possible means – aggressive innuendoes and double entendres, suggestive song and dance routines, bobbing up in the most unexpected places to startle and tease her as she goes about her daily life.  The more the heroine dislikes the hero’s incursions, the greater his excitement.  As the hero of the film Aradhana remarks, “Love is only fun when the woman is angry.”

“For the Krishna-lover, it is vital that the woman be a sexual innocent and that in his forcing her to become aware of his desire she get in touch with her own.  He is phallus incarnate, with distinct elements of the “flasher” who needs constant reassurance by the woman of his power , intactness, and especially his magical qualities that can transform a cool Amazon into a hot, lusting female.  The fantasy is one of the phallus – Shammi Kapoor in his films used his whole body as one – humbling the pride of the unapproachable woman, melting her indifference and unconcern into submission and longing.  The spirited, androgynous virgin is awakened to her sexuality and thereafter reduced to a groveling being, full of a moral masochism wherein she revels in her “stickiness” to the hero.  Before she does so, however, she may go through a stage of playfulness where she presents the lover with a mocking version of himself.  This in Junglee, it is the girl from the hills – the magical fantasy-land of Indian cinema where the normal order of things is reversed – who throws snowballs at the hero, teases him, and sings to him in a good-natured reversal of the man’s phallicism, while it is now the hero’s turn to be provoked and play the recalcitrant beloved.”

—  Intimate Relations: Exploring Indian Sexuality, Sudhir Kakar

Bollywood classicists will probably object to my not using one of the above-mentioned actors as a movie clip example, but I’ve chosen to use recent meteor-hottie Imran Khan instead:

Not that Imran Khan…  No relation to Shahrukh Khan either or Salman Khan, but the nephew of Aamir Khan — just in case you doubted how nepotistic Bollywood is, how full of super-size Khan egos it is, or how disproportionately Muslim the industry is, a fact that usually remains unspoken.  Other than his still teenage swagger, which the other Khans are getting a little too old to pull off, I think Imran is so perfect in the role of this archetype because he has those exaggeratedly large, murti-like* eyes and eyebrows that so many Indians have and have such deep religious significance and symbolism.  “Darshan,” or the viewing of a deity, is usually centered on the eyes — on a visit to any temple one will usually find at least one devotee staring endlessly into the god’s eyes — and Hindus believe that the deity’s energy does not come to reside in an image until that very final moment when its pupils are painted in.

Anyway, here’s Imran with his Gopis, in the title number of the 2010 I Hate Luv Stories, playing the Dusky One to perfection (though as in Kakar’s classic trajectory, he’s later humbled into the Majnun lover):

And for those old-schoolers, here’s SRK, perhaps the central casting expert at the type, in the wedding scene from Kabhi Khushi Kabhi Gham, the wedding he’s impudent enough to crash because he’s smitten with the bride’s sister and shows up to hit on her.

 

*”Murti” is the image of a deity in Hinduism, any image: statue, painting, drawing, cheap print from the kiosk.  Obviously I don’t use the word “idol,” with its reek of monotheist condescension and demonization, as I generally consider monotheism — all of them — to be something of a plague and a great historical tragedy.  We’ll just have to do the best we can with what we have for now.

Comment: nikobakos@gmail.com

A Dancing Girl

10 Apr

A “dancing girl” giving us another vision of divine love…

Madhuri Dixit, maybe the most spectacular woman the gods have ever given us, playing the courtesan with the heart of gold, Chandramukhi, in perhaps the twentieth film version of Sarat Chandra Chattopadhyay’s 1917 Bengali novel Devdas, dancing a beautiful, if heavily Bollywood-ized, kathak — when she was four months pregnant…  They don’t make ’em like that anymore.  Kathak is a form of classical north Indian dance that always tells the story of the love between Krishna and Radha (Krishna an avatar of Vishnu, Radha often said to be an avatar of Lakshmi, in Hinduism’s dizzying, endlessly intelligent loops of shape-shifting.)  One of the reasons I love Kathak so much is that it’s a form developed primarily in the Muslim courts of North India, heavily Persian-derived in many of its elements, that tells a Hindu story.  One wishes that that kind of fecund inter-generosity characterized all of India’s history.  More on Kathak: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kathak  I’ll try and find more classic versions of it at some point soon.

Much to be said on Devdas.  Even more to be said on the erotic adventures — sweet, playful and tortured — of Krishna and Radha, which is the background music to, and occupies a huge space in, the collective unconscious of Indian sexuality; its imagery is ubiquitous; it turns up everywhere, sneaking up on you like Krishnaji himself on the banks of the Yamuna.  The breaking of Radha’s bangles by the adolescently phallic and annoying Krishna — “Why do you tease me so?” — who’s a god nonetheless, is one of the most powerful erotic images I know of.  When a religious culture understands that the soul in the presence of God is a flustered young woman being teased by a hot guy, there’s really nothing else to say.

Shahrukh Khan and Madhuri Dixit in Sanjay Leela Bansali’s 2002 Devdas (click)

Comment: nikobakos@gmail.com

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