Now that we’re well and truly in 2009, and I’m no longer living from hangover to hangover (what is it about the last week of the year that makes Kolkata’s posh set want to emulate Paris Hilton?), I think it’s time to indulge in a little nostalgia about 2008. I wasn’t going to do a “Best of…” post but then Ultrabrown‘s Manish drew my attention to what popped up when he posted about one of the Guardian’s writers finding a post of mine “tasteless” – an add for a “Bondage Gimp Smorkin Labbit”.
That was when I knew that I had to have my very own award show. One day, perhaps, I’ll order a vast number of gimps from Kozik Posters & Toys to give out at the Anonandon Awards. For now, we’ll stick to the jpeg version.
There are problems with awards. First of all, you have to remember what happened this year, which after spending New Year’s among drunk octogenarians in Kolkata is no mean feat because right now, after having consumed the equivalent of my weight in alcohol over about 72 hours, my entire life seems like a blur. Then there’s the other problem of access. So, despite my best efforts I didn’t get to see “Vicky Cristina Barcelona” while in Barcelona, “Slumdog Millionaire” hasn’t yet made it to India, Julian Schnabel cancelled his exhibition in Mumbai, most of the Booker longlist titles are unavailable in bookstores and I’m still waiting for “2666“. Instead I read “Playing“, survived a Jonathan Meese ‘performance’ and watched films like “Jaane Tu…“, which was essentially “Beverly Hills 90210” by way of Bandra and St. Xavier’s College. Actually, I’d like to award a broccoli to Jonathan Meese and “Jaane Tu…” for being overhyped, overpriced (it’s Rs. 70 for a broccoli in Pali Market at the moment; that’s the price of an entire meal at certain places) and boring. But I digress. And the Gimp goes to…
Salman Rushdie for writing the more fun novel than Amitav Ghosh, whose book had the advantages of having foppish Bengalis from the turn-of-the-century, pirates and opium but sadly, “Sea of Poppies” seemed to be told with the lethargy of an opium addict. “The Enchantress of Florence” had the best of Rushdie’s literary flourish in parts and a bit about potatoes and vampires and Vlad the Impaler which had almost no connection to the rest of the book but what the heck. Also Rushdie nibbled on Scarlett Johannsson’s neck, thus giving succour to many an Indian gent’s soul.
“Netherland” and Chuck Ramakissoon for dispelling the illusion that baseball is an American sport. Actually, cricket is. And Chelsea Hotel is no longer sunken in the memory of Leonard Cohen’s gloom-ridden dalliances but has a guardian angel. Or at the very least a large Turkish man dressed like an angel. Much like a good cricket game, Joseph O’Neill’s novel was outstanding until the end when it lost much of the energy of the earlier parts. But that’s really nitpicking. Subtle, hilarious, staggeringly well-structured and full of little gems like, “There was an unexlained Finn”, this one’s going to be one of the few books in future postcolonial literature courses that won’t make students curl into foetal positions with empathetic pain.
“A Case of Exploding Mangoes” for superb storytelling. Mohammad Hanif’s version of General Zia’s assassination is so much fun, thanks to the laconic dry wit of his narrator, and the humour makes the darkness of that time that much more cruel. It was also perhaps my favourite love story of the year. To Under Officer Ali Shigri and Baby O, cheers.
“Reprise” for being one of the most cleverly made films this year. Directed by Jochaim Trier and starring two very cute Norwegian boys, the film is about two friends who write a novel each and what happens to their lives as they become the writers they had dreamed of becoming. Playful, witty, painful and spectacularly edited and shot.
“I’m Not There” for turning the idea of a biopic into this weird, surreal and fantastical experience that is about as tangled as the logic in the best of Bob Dylan’s lyrics. Plus, the soundtrack had Charlotte Gainsbourg’s husky rendition of “Just Like a Woman”, Sonic Youth doing “I’m Not There” and Calexico’s eerie cover of “Goin’ to Acapulco”.
“Standard Operating Procedure” for being able to come out with yet another documentary on Iraq and Abu Ghraib but making it arresting viewing. Errol Morris used all the things that made ’80s public service broadcast films stodgy and boring: photographs, interviews with people looking at the camera and re-enactments. Which goes to show the worst of things can become incredibly effective when they’re used intelligently. There are no great revelations in “Standard Operating Procedure”. We all know what has happened, and perhaps continues to happen, in Abu Ghraib and places like that. But Morris makes it compelling viewing all the same.
Minam Apang for, simply put, a beautiful show. “The War With the Stars” took a myth from her home in Arunachal Pradesh and turned it works on paper. Nestled within the paint drips and inky doodles were sufficiently ponderous ideas about the environment, the relevance of myth, the importance of sacrifice etc. etc. What made the show poignant was how all these serious concerns came together to create a fragile bridge between this ultramodern city and Apang’s memories of her distant home.
Anju Dodiya for making the print a three-dimensional and showing us how recycling can be creative. “All Night I Shall Gallop” used motifs from her older works, lines of poetry by Sylvia Plath, resin, mirrors, fabric and paper to make hugely overpriced but spectacular single-edition prints.
Aditi Singh for the bad luck of having one of the most stunning shows of the year for the shortest period of time. Most people loved her red flowers, with the colour spreading like fresh blood, but my favourites were the painting with the fluttering leaves drawn in the palest of greens that almost blended into the paper’s whiteness and the drawings of small, silhouetted birds done on rice paper that made an enormous collage.
Nandini Valli for bringing the Blue God into the Brown World. “The Definite Reincarnate” was lush, exotic, funny and melancholy. Far from perfect, Krishna was just a little tubby (but then that’s to be expected since our myths insist he spent his growing years on a diet of white butter) and reasonably out of place as he stood against peeling walls and chic hotel rooms.
Swapan Parekh for turning randomness into art in what was the city’s best photography show this year. Most of his photographs look weird when seen individually, especially in the catalogue. While flipping through it, you may well wonder how a flying pineapple, photographed with a violent flash, turned into high art. You will not find an answer to that particular question in “Between Me and I” but the question of the flying pineapple is likely to slip out of your mind as you go through the exhibition. There’s an intricate network of shapes and symbols that make the entire show something like a constellation. Parekh frames are outstanding in most cases and for all the randomness, each one is rich with emotion. And he’s the only male artist to get a Gimp.
Happy new year.