May 26, 2011

Making it through the water

I'm a lethargic person, not something that pleases me but I've learnt (as any lazy ass does) to get around it. Basically, I  trick myself into doing thing. This blog for example, I started because I wanted to practice and thus I told myself I'll try to write four posts a month. A normal person would have just maintained a journal, which by the way is a wiser decision because mostly journals are only read by parents and the people that are ill-mentioned in them (karmic law). I've decided it's decidedly worse when the whole world can see exactly what you're thinking - such is my plight right now because while I don't really want to talk about anything, I did want to a few days ago and now I feel the need for another post just to take that post off the first page of my blog. Please don't go looking now...! Not that I'm going to delete it, it should stay to remind me to shut the hell up on occasion. 

A lot has happened over this month, there's a lot I could talk about. Osama's death, Obama's stand up at the White House correspondents' dinner, The Arab Effect's full effect is finally being felt, Shane Warne's trial, Bob Dylan celebrating his 70th birthday. In India, we saw our state elections- typical wins, though it was nice to see the Congress results in the South wasn't it? Even if the right messages aren't getting across, some kind of a message is. But I don't want to talk about serious things, because I don't think anyone is taking things as seriously as they should. 

Instead, I'm going to do the equivalent of turning the television on to zone out; I'm going to talk about a television show that I recently watched called Treme. It's a docudrama that follows the lives of various key and non-key residents of in New Orleans, post hurricane Katrina. It's written and produced by a man who I think makes the only watchable shows on television - David E Simon. I'm not going to gush on about how he's a genius, but he is pretty fucking smart and I like how he thinks. His previous productions have included The Wire, Generation Kill, Homicide: Life on the streets (basically a list of my favorite shows). Treme is the latest addition to this enviable list of work.

The show is slow paced, as is most of David Simon's work (think the first season of The Wire). The storyline sort of saunters; and is deeply entangled, but in a manner that is so natural its the closest to real life that you can get on television. Why would you want to watch the real shit on television you ask? Because its nice to see intelligence reflected and even better, celebrated on television. It really is but I imagine that still isn't a good enough reason to watch this show- it does test your attention span at times - so I say if nothing else, watch it for the music - the old Jazz, the new southern hip-hop, the funk, the Marde Gras Indians, modern Jazz. There's tons of cameos from greats like Irma Thomas and new talent like Kermitt Ruffins. I promise you even if you don't like Jazz, by the end of the first season; you have an understanding with it.

Another reason to watch it  (apart from the above mentioned musical intelligence it's got) is that it, like all of David E Simon's work - is very very relevant. It asks hard hitting questions, it proposes logical theories, on matters that range from economic to emotional to simply social. It is a wide range I can tell you- in one hour you may witness a sixteen year old girl's teenage embarrassments along with a middle aged man's battle with life-weariness. It is like I said; like life- there's a lot going on. 

My thing is, I don't think that the show is only relevant for New Orleans, or even just the US. We in India would do well to have a few producers like David Simon, people who are telling the hard stories, asking the right questions and not taking the first easy to digest answer they're being given. 

All in all, if I haven't convinced you to watch it- just watch it because it teaches you a lot about people. David Simon's characters come in all shapes and sizes, all colours, all backgrounds. You have the broke trambone player whose juggling women, gigs and more women; you have the struggling but street wise, chef whose really just a soft hearted country girl; the smupid (that's a stupid smart person) deejay who comes from a rich family but thinks he's the white reincarnation of Sammy Davis Jr, there's the angry English professor, I don't want to go on and on about each character specifically but I could.

That's the beautiful thing about David Simon's characters; they're multi facted, real, to a large extent good hearted and relevant. The chef shows the audience the food, the DJ preaches about the music, the English teacher helps put things into perspective. Everyone is there for a reason and it all melts into a wonderfully rich multi-layered and fascinating watch. You can tell which ones he loves the most though; those characters come across as Randian delights- the old Indian chief who won't let anyone punk him, the single mother trying to juggle a family along with her civil activism and her legal career, the young uber-talented overly modest fiddle player. Just good people who want to go about their work without being harassed too much in the process. 

Anyway- as a parting try- here's some of the soundtrack: Made it through the water- Free Agent brass band

May 16, 2011

Tiramisu- a play

A friend of mine tricked me into attending a theatre workshop over the weekend. I attended the first day enthusiastically and in true Avantika form, skipped out on the 2nd to go home and chill instead! The third day however we were all supposed to come up with a ten minute play and me being me, I took the road easiest to travel and converted my short story into a play.

It's on this last day that I really came to appreciate the spirit behind the workshop and when everyone's plays were showcased, really I was amazed by how much talent there was in the room. Also I have to admit, it's a rush to see your words take on a three dimensional form - my heart was pounding and my knees shaking. The actors may not appreciate what I'm about to say now but they really do make the best 'writers' test dummies'!

My favourite part though was watching virtual strangers find their own connections with my work and interpreting it for themselves - what each person saw in the words, gave me a glimpse into their soul. After the showcase, they didn't feel like strangers anymore.

Anyway since this is the place for my first drafts, here it is; the first play I've ever written (though hopefully not the last)


Time: Late night

Setting: A South Delhi apartment. Door opens (at stage right) into an open plan living room (at stage left). On the kitchen counter (upstage), the remnants of take away are visible. The living room (down stage) has two large armchairs and a coffee table. Across the armchairs, the television is on and one can hear the insincere laughter soundtrack and unfunny punch lines that are the trademark of late night television. The door that leads to the bedroom (upstage left) is slightly ajar and reveals a glimpse of a pristine white bed that looks almost clinical. The apartment is smoky but well lit.

Characters: A boy and a girl; about 22-23 years old.

The boy is sitting in the living room on one of the armchairs and hunched over the coffee table. The clock on the wall chimes to indicate its 2 a.m. The boy is rolling a spliff while watching television.

The doorbell rings, once, twice, thrice... He suits up the spliff and then walks over to answer but in no particular hurry. He opens the door, standing there is the girl. She has a disappointed look on her face.

Boy: “Hello! Fancy meeting you here and at this time! I thought you were on a date?”

The girl shrugs and silently moves past the boy into the apartment. He follows her in, lighting up the spliff he has just rolled.

Girl: “Got anything to drink?”

Boy: “Yes, there’s some Coke in the fridge, help yourself.”

The girl fetches the Coke from the fridge as the boy goes back to the armchair he was sitting on, still smoking.

Boy: “So? How was it with the tennis player? It’s late, I’m guessing someone had themselves a good time!”

Girl walks back to the living room. She sits on the other armchair and scoots it towards the boy.

Girl: “It was okay....”

Boy: “Just okay? I thought he was perfect.”

Girl: “So did I. But then halfway through the date I realised something; nobody’s perfect.”

Boy (laughs): “I could’ve told you that! But you slept with him anyway didn’t you?”

The girl nods

Boy: “Why?

Girl: “I don’t know…. I guess I get lonely.”

Boy: “You mean horny!”

The girl grimaces and sighs but says nothing.

Boy: “and how was it? Also just okay?”

The girl nods

Boy: “So you’ll see him again.”

The girl shakes her head

Boy (relieved half laughter): “Poor guy, he’ll be wondering what he did wrong in the sack!”

Girl: “He didn’t do anything wrong. It’s just that.... I don’t know… sex is just so much better when you actually love the person....”

Boy: “but you just met him, barely even know him. Aren’t you expecting a bit too much too soon?”

Girl (nods her head): “Yes, I don’t know him. I guess that’s the problem. It wasn’t bad mind you, it just wasn’t….” She makes a face “I want to say, perfect.”

Boy: “Well yes then you definitely have a problem. Nothing is ever going to be perfect.”

The girl shrugs

Girl: “Some things could be perfect.”

Boy: “Like what?”

Girl: “Like....”

Boy: “ can’t think of anything, because nothing is.... perfect I mean.”

Girl: “Ok, ok, maybe sex wouldn’t be perfect if you loved each other, but it is different. It’s got layers you know... tenderness, passion, lust, vulnerability, there’s more to it than just instinct might even say its flavourful...”

Boy: “You’re going crazy. Are you seriously comparing food to fucking now?”

The girl laughs.

Girl: “Hey, that’s not fair. You guys did it with American Pie remember? Besides I’m not talking about fucking, I am talking about tiramisu…”

There’s a pause, the boy leans in, he’s curious. 

Boy: “Tiramisu?”

Girl: “Uh huh, sex with someone you love is like a perfect tiramisu,”

Boy (snorts and rolls his eyes): “you can live la vie en rose if you want, but considering that you’ve just met the guy, what we’re talking about is fucking is it not?”

Girl: “Are we still talking about him? I thought we were talking about love and sex... screw that, lets just talk about tiramisu.”

Boy: “No forget the tiramisu, let’s talk about sex.”

Girl: “OK lets. Like I was saying sex without love is like a dry tiramisu...”

Boy: “Why do you keep going back to this tiramisu business? You’re hungry aren’t you? Yes you’re hungry, are you?”

Girl: “Was that a question or an answer?”

Boy (laughs): “and did you just ask a question to answer a question?”

The girl is silent.

Boy: “This is why women make good detectives…”

Girl: “What?” (pause)  “What does that mean?”

Boy: “You’re all so good at following leads!”

He throws his head back and laughs loudly. The girl shuffles in her seat, looking un-amused, takes the spliff out of his hand and starts to smoke it while looking in the direction of the television and away from the boy.

Girl: “To answer your original question, No I’m not hungry and I guess now I’m not horny either.”

Boy: “But it wasn’t like a perfect tiramisu?”

Girl shakes her head sadly,

Girl: “It was good, but no... I wouldn’t say it was like the perfect tiramisu.”

Boy: “But sex with love is like a perfect tiramisu?” 

There’s a moment of hesitation where the girl seems to be thinking about the answer

Boy: “Ok tell me honestly are you hungry? It’s odd but I have some tiramisu in the fridge,”

Girl: (smiling) “I know you do, I saw it in there when I went to get the Coke,”

The boy gets a scared look on his face.

Girl: ‘Oh god, chill out, or are you keeping your blow up doll in the kitchen cabinets these days?’

Boy is quiet for a moment, a sheepish expression on his face. The girl looks at the boy quizzically, he clears his throat.

Boy: “So, do you want tiramisu?”

Girl (smiling): “Only if it’s perfect...”

Boy: “Dude, its a tiramisu, I don’t know if it’ll be perfect, it’s been lying in the fridge for a while now...”

Girl’s smile grows wider

Boy: “oh’re now talking about sex again aren’t you?”

Boy gives girl a frustrated look and gets up from his arm chair in a sudden motion,

Boy: “I’m going to go get that tiramisu,”

Girl (adamantly, grabbing his wrist) “No, no don’t...that’s not what I want!”

The boy rolls his eyes but then sits. She keeps a hold of his wrist for a few seconds; he seems not to notice this.

Boy: “Alright so explain this to me again, sex is like tiramisu?”

Girl: “No love is, and so sex with love is,”

The boy looks uncomfortable and starts to fiddle with things to make a new spliff. In the process, he pulls his arm away from her, still seemingly without noticing.

Boy: “Alright, I’ll accept that.” (pause)“So then let me ask you this,”

There is a pregnant pause; boy turns to the girl looking immensely serious, as if weighing his words carefully. The girl shuffles in her seat again, starts to sit cross-legged, looks into the boy’s eyes earnestly.

Boy: “What makes a perfect tiramisu?”

Girl (laughs wryly): “Oh mon cherie...a perfect tiramisu…that is a question for the sages...or at least the chefs.... and at the very least it will take time....” (laughs again) “Just like the tiramisu!”

Boy: “We’ve got time, tell me.”

Girl: “Well, a proper foundation is everything, so the base has to be right. You can’t cheat, you need ladyfinger cookies, soaked in espresso, timing is everything, you can’t let things lie too long, then they are no good to anyone, except maybe your old grandma....”

Boy (in a mock growl): “Leave the grandma out of this lady...”

Boy and girl laugh together.

Girl: “Ok Ok, after you’ve prepared the foundation, you need to add something extra, something sweet, like chocolate if you will.”

Boy: “Has to be chocolate?  Can’t it just be sugar?”

Girl: “Well my dear boy, if you want it to be right, the beginnings have to be correct...nothing good comes from bad beginnings. You’re interrupting a lot, are you sure you want to know this?” 

Boy nods and makes a gesture to indicate he will be quiet. His expression is mocking; the girl continues to speak without missing a beat.

Girl: “Then you have to combine the mascarpone with the egg whites and rum, you need to whip that till its ligh...”

Boy: “Whip it baby! I can’t believe we’re still talking about tiramisu!”

The girl rolls her eyes but this time she also smiles

Girl: “I was being serious you know,”

Boy: “I know.” (He ruffles her hair) “Maybe its not as complicated as you think it is.... you chicks do have a tendency to over think things you know. The secret to love is to lower your expectations."

Girl: "Firstly we’re not chicks. Secoundly, everybody knows that. Besides I don’t think that’s a gender specific problem, or maybe it is... perhaps because we don’t have dicks our brains are free to think for us.” 

Boy (laughingly):“Now there’s a low blow if any. I think my penis is offended. I’ll confer with it later and I’ll tell you for sure” 

Girl (sighs impatiently): “Why don’t you guys want to grow up?”

Boy: “I don’t know, but if we’re doing the thing where we ask questions that we can’t answer. Riddle me this, when did it become fashionable to wear your biological clocks on your wrists?” 

Girl: “it’s not the same thing!!”

Brief pause, girl looks at the floor with a thoughtful expression on her face, boy looks around the room to finally rest his gaze on a wall clock.

Girl: “Feeling sleepy? Do you want me to go?”

Boy: “No, not at all, why would you think that?”

Again a brief pause, both look at each other as if trying to figure out what the other’s thinking.

Boy: “What is it with women and French pastry...?

Girl: “Tiramisu is Italian darling,” 

Boy: “ it a stud thing?”

Girl: “A stud thing?”

Boy: “like French guys are, Italians, GĂ©rard Depardieu, Jean Reno you know, stud boys?”

Girl: “what do studs have to do with pastry?”

Boy: “No, not pastry. Love. It’s just that I've never heard a woman compare love to sweet and sour soup nor heard a girl say that Jackie Chan is sexy. Do you think maybe the two things are somehow related?”

The girl laughs, the boy seems pleased.

Boy: “the French, the Italians, they seem to have produced a land full studs.”

Girl: “Now you’re just exaggerating!”

Boy: “Don’t pretend with me like you don’t know. I’ve seen you girls check out the men. Ooohing and Ahhing about their barrel chests and behemothic biceps. And all that talk about French kisses, Italian sausages...”

Boy shakes his head as if in defeat.

Girl (giggles): “I’m sure there’s French boys out there who don’t know how to kiss...”

She pats him on the shoulder as if to comfort.

Boy: “Well, if there is I’ve never heard about him. I bet, that if a man is born ugly in these countries, they just kill him. Seriously, have you ever seen an ugly French baby?”

Again the girl laughs again. Her hand is now on his forearm.

Girl: “Or maybe they deport them?”

Boy: “Yes! Maybe they deport them to....”

Girl: “Sri Lanka.”

Boy (quizzically): “Sri Lanka? That was fast! Too fast. How can you just condemn an entire nation of men like that...that’s just wrong.”  As he says this he leans towards the coffee table and away from the girl, her hand falls unto the arm of the chair.

Girl (looking pained): “You know what’s wrong?”

Boy: “What?”

Girl: “A guy who wastes a perfect tiramisu.”