The scent of Blue Jasmine
Aseem Chhabra savours Woody Allen's latest film, Raghu Dixit's show in New York and MoMA's Rain Room.
The Museum of Modern Art is a special gift to all New Yorkers -- and, of course, tourists who visit the city. Apart from its permanent collection, the museum often surprises us with special exhibits that can be a rare treat for our senses.
In extending the idea of what is art, the museum often presents to us exhibits which fall into the category of performance art -- where the audience can feel, sometimes touch the art as opposed to just seeing a painting hanging on the wall.
This past weekend, MoMA ended one of its major shows -- Rain Room, an experience that could be compared to that of Moses when he apparently got the Red Sea to part.
In the show a large temporary room in a back lot of the museum was equipped with sprinklers on the ceiling that would throw artificial rain water at the rate of 1,000 liters per minute.
The roof of the room also had sensor cameras that would detect human bodies and their motion. And so one could walk into the room and the water was programmed not to fall on human bodies.
Just like Moses one could walk through water without getting wet (barring a few random drops of water).
The buzz was strong for the show and the special lines were long. I finally ventured to see the show last Wednesday, five days before it was set to close. I joined the line with a friend at 1.30 pm and was warned that the museum closed at 5.30 pm.
There was a four-and-a-half to five hours wait in the line. And that meant there was a strong possibility we would be shut out from the show that day.
We considered coming another day, perhaps on the weekend when people were reportedly lining up all night. That would have been some experience.
But my friend Kriti Gupta and I persisted -- we stood in the line, sometimes sat on the floor waiting patiently along with about 100 people ahead of us. And the Gods were kind to us. The temperature was low and it was partly cloudy that afternoon.
The line moved slowly. We made friends with strangers. But we stayed at our place in the line not ready to give up.
Finally we managed to get in -- after 5 pm, and what an amazing experience it was. The room was mostly dark, other that one very bright light in the centre.
The falling rain with the through the bright light, reminded me of the many Hong Kong action thrillers I have seen -- including Wong Kar-wai’s latest The Grandmaster, where there is a customary fight scene shot in rain at night.
Kriti and I stood in the rain for a while, taking pictures, marveling at the technology that was producing such a beautiful form of art.
Apparently art critics were not impressed by the show. The New York Times called it 'a gimmicky diversion' despite its 'entertaining ingenuity.' But the real critics were the audience.
Everyone seemed to love the experience. The word of mouth was strong and so the lines stayed long. And I am glad I got to experience this rare art exhibit in New York City.
Image: Aseem Chhabra at MoMA's Rain Room
Photographs: Kriti Gupta
The scent of Blue Jasmine
Raghu Dixit is an amazing, energetic performer who has only in the recent years started touring North America with his band, the Raghu Dixit Project. Their reputation is strong in India, on college campuses and especially in South India and in cities like Bangalore.
This trip took the group to cities on the West Coast, San Francisco and Vancouver. And on Thursday night the group performed late night at New York City’s legendary SOBs club to an audience of nearly 200 fans, many of them were immigrants from Karnataka.
“How many Kannadigas are there in the audience?” asked Dixit, dressed in his regular costume of a colourful lungi, bare feet with ghungroos on his ankles. More than half the audience, many who were dancing close to the stage, raised their hands.
Dixit started the show with a quiet piece written by Kannada poet Santa Shishunala Shariff. He was joined by Shankar Tucker, a young American clarinetist and music composer. Later the group sang some of their other popular pieces, including the hit Hey Bhagwan.
Image: Raghu Dixit performing in New York
Photographs: Aseem Chhabra
The scent of Blue Jasmine
Woody Allen is back with his annual offering and at the age of 78 he has given us one of his strongest films -- a rich masterpiece, Blue Jasmine, with a terrific performance by Cate Blanchett that is already generating a lot of buzz of another Oscar for the Australian actress.
Fans of Tennessee Williams will see shades of the playwright’s A Streetcar Named Desire with Blanchett playing a Blanche DuBois sort of a character -- a woman who has seen a good life, and now has fallen on hard times. But there is clearly a touch of Ruth Madoff, the convicted Bernard Madoff’s wife in Jasmine’s character.
Blue Jasmine is a fantastic film. Critics have loved it and so have the audience, giving it one of the biggest openings for a small independent film.
It was wonderful to see the audience respond so warmly a true cinematic experience.
Image: Cate Blanchett in Blue Jasmine