Monday, December 31, 2007

What is a great art?

I have found that my idea of art and its impact on the audience has changed over time. I understand, this is quite natural and most everybody else also experience this changing attitude towards art and its effect over time. It's just the other side of the fact that I get moved differently every time I read, say, the play Daakghar (The Post Office).

Art, no matter what form, needs to move its target audience emotionally. We - this term may need some elaboration, but please take it on the face value for now - tend to over-analyze art. I even feel that sometimes we go to some concert or play or read some book just to analyze and critique the art. And in the process we forget to enjoy it. May be, on a subconscious level, we are thinking, "I may not be an artist but I am a critique who can analyze and tear apart any artist's work - main hoon baap kaa baap".

What I said above is not directed to anybody in particular but me. I few months back I realized this sad fact that the gratuitous critic in me is coming in the way of my enjoyment and the art. My training and knowledge in some form of art, namely music and drama, is not helping me either. During an intense dramatic moment of a play, part of my mind is analyzing the blocking, the lights, the actors' business and so on. While listening a new song, my mind gets unnecessarily concentrated on the arrangement of the song, the chord progression, the crispness of the recording. In the process the dramatic moment and the song is gone, probably forever. The first experience never comes back.

I am actively trying to correct it since I found this lacking of mine. And trust me, it's not easy. Apart from untraining and retraining my senses and mind, there are some more philosophical dilemma to sort out. The biggest of them is, "Just because an art moves me emotionally, should I call it a great piece of art?" I tend to answer a subjective "yes" though I am fully aware that some second rate tearjerkers can and do move me emotionally quite often. And of course there is the other side too, where a piece, which is considered great art by many, failed to impress me at all. However, I rationalize that by accepting that it may be a result of my improper training.

The bottom line of art appreciation is training. Most of us are self-trained in art appreciation and most of us are smart enough to separate wheat from chaff. The problem is with the borderline staff - the staff that cannot be called great at the first experience nor cannot be pushed aside as crap. A great art will move you emotionally as well as give you enough food for thought that you ruminate for a few days, if not weeks. A crap art will give you neither. The borderline case will give you some. Unfortunately, the world of art is full of these borderline cases. And the fact that it is majority in the world of art forces us to bring out the critic from inside us more often than it forces us to just sit back and enjoy. That's a sad fact of thinking life.

Friday, December 21, 2007

A Tale of Java, Ubuntu and Fonts

As a part of an ongoing Java project, I had designed a rudimentary Java text editor. The project is a WIP, so every so-many-months I put my minds on it only to stray away in a few days. Last time I worked on the editor part of it, I was running Fedora core with Java 1.4, maybe 1.5. The code loads a non-English font into the editor and then you can see those fonts as you type. The font is ttf font which was loaded as System fonts in /usr/share/fonts directory with the updated font-cache. It worked just fine, loading and showing this font (the name, BTW, is itxBeng. It's a Benagli font) without any glitch.

A couple of weeks back, I opened up the code on my Ubuntu 7.04 with Java 1.5. And surprise, surprise!! When I am supposed to see Bengali characters, I now see gibberish. My first reaction was that I might have changed some code and forgot about it. I told you, I haven't touched this code in a while. So I looked at the font-loading code, but did not find any problem or resolution. I was furiously scratching my head. No clue, what's happening!?

Next day I ran the code on my office computer, which is running CentOS 4 (basically repackaged Redhat distribution) and Java 1.5. To my not-so-big-surprise, the fonts loaded just fine. So I narrowed down the issue to Ubuntu problem. So next I installed Java 1.6 on my Ubuntu machine. This time the fonts loaded fine. I haven't played extensively after that, so don't know if there are other problems. But the most intriguing problem is gone, or at least I ahve found a work-around.

Bottom line: Ubuntu 7.04, Java 1.5 and ttf fonts manually loaded in system do not play well.

Monday, December 17, 2007

After a hiatus

I just finished directing a play by Sudipta Bhawmik called Ron. It's a very relevant story of our time waited to be told. Sudiptada has weaved a magic spell of contemporary tale on an age-old philosophical conflict between the need to fight some wars and the principled position of anti-war. This not only looks at the current time, it does so from the first generation and second generation immigrants' perspective.

After the play there was a short Q&A session with the playwright where he said that the play is definitely anti-war. But I am positive nobody can call it propagandist. I actually found it to be well-balanced and portrays the viewpoint of a soldier and his family's perspective in a very touching way.

After being involved with immigrant Bengali community theater for about 7-8 years, what I find most challenging is to capture the imagination of the community. The issues, the problems, the dreams, the hopes, the frustrations, the achievements of the first generation immigrants are different from the folks back home. Yes, this is true that the first generation, especially we the Bengalis, do enjoy living in a bubble of nostalgia when it comes to culture. We prefer Rabindrasangeet over classic Jazz, Bhimsen Joshi over George Gershwin, Kishore Kumar over Norah Jones. We prefer to go and see the current crops of group theater when we visit Kolkata, but seldom make attempts to see the local repertory theater's productions. However, we do live our lives outside that bubble and constantly get challenged by a different world than what we used to face back home. Our theater should capture that.

In Ron, I thought, Sudiptada could strike the golden balance there where he could evoke a sense of nostalgia within the realm of our everyday existence. Our third production Chhenra Collage also struck that balance, it seems. Even after our tenth production some of the regular audience still refer to the third production. I may have some conjectures as to why this is happening, but cannot really tell for sure. But one thing is for sure, I like to continue doing this kind of theater where we can introspect our contemporary lives with compassion and humor.