Unexplored Bangalore #4: National Gallery of Modern Art (NGMA)

Unexplored Bangalore #4: National Gallery of Modern Art (NGMA)

I first heard of NGMA Bangalore in 2010, only a year after it had been opened to the public. Around that time, we lived only a ten-minute walk away from where it was located, but never got around to visiting it. Seven years later, we live in another part of the town, over twenty kilometers away, but were seized with the urge to visit this gallery – so that’s what we did yesterday. Drove to Indiranagar, took the metro to Cubbon Park station, and then walked along tree-lined roads and past lovely houses with gardens to Palace Road, where this art gallery is located.

A little history

Manickavelu Mansion, front view. Houses NGMA Bangalore
Manickavelu Mansion, front view

The gorgeous building where the gallery is now housed stands on a 3.5 acre ground with many large, ancient trees, well-tended gardens and a pond. The building was once the residence of the yuvaraja of Mysore, but was sold in the early 1900s to businessman Manickavelu Mudaliar who has his own rags-to-riches story. According to this article, he once wanted to visit the mansion but was denied access until he bribed some of the caretakers. Once inside, he was so struck by the beauty of the place that he vowed to live there one day.

Mudaliar and his family did live in the mansion for a brief period of time but financial issues forced them to give it up. The mansion was then auctioned off and became taken over first by the City Improvement Trust Board (now the BDA) and later by the Ministry of Culture. It was also temporarily used as the UN office for technology initiatives but by the late 80s, the state government proposed that it be converted into a museum.

Restoration work  eventually began in 2003, preserving the heritage building at the centre but with the addition of a cafe, library, and a new wing, and the repair of the auditorium. By 2009, this became open to the public as the third National Gallery of Modern Art in India, the other two being in Delhi and Bombay. You can read more about the history of the building here.

The inside story

We didn’t know what what to expect from the term ‘modern art’, but the introduction to the museum right at the reception helped explain matters. Here, modern art is defined as art and sculpture created by Indians or those living in India at the time from the 18th century to the present (although we didn’t spot any work created after 2000.)

On Saturdays, there is a short guided walk conducted for free by one of the museum curators and we were luckily in time for this. Our guide explained the significance of the various galleries and the unique aspects of some of the styles of art, as well as the techniques used in creating woodcuts and lithographs. We were then free to explore the gallery as we liked.

Most of the paintings are marked with the name of the artist, the year of creation, the title, and the medium, but these details were missing in quite a few exhibits displayed in the new wing as well as in the sculpture gallery. But apart from these omissions, all the galleries are beautifully lit and maintained with many helpful staff stationed to guide you from one exhibit room to the next.

NGMA Bangalore, an inner courtyard
NGMA Bangalore, an inner courtyard

There were collections from the Bengal school, the Madras school, the Baroda school and the Mysore school with works by Rabindranath Tagore, Abanindranath Tagore, Jamini Roy, Raja Ravi Varma, and many others. Some of the works remain with me even now, especially M.F.Pithawala’s portraits of Parsi women and girls and Abanindranath Tagore’s rural scenes from Bengal. There is a virtual gallery available here for those who are unable to visit the museum, although nothing beats the original.

In the ground floor of the new building is a gallery dedicated to exhibitions and a collection by Kazuaki Tanahashi – Japanese artist, calligraphist and Zen teacher – was on when we went. His works had simple, yet powerful brush strokes in stunning colour combinations, and heroed negative space with great effect.

One piece that caught my eye in the sculpture gallery was an alloy cast of a flautist – there is no discernible head, but every line and curve of the figure is poised to create music, his fingers splayed over the holes on the flute, his lips puckered to blow. An absolute stunner.

There is also a cafe downstairs adjacent to the auditorium where you get really good comfort food like sandwiches and shakes, pasta, parathas, and biryani at reasonable prices. We tried the pasta, fries, and a cold coffee – all were delicious. The view of the garden with the tall, ancient trees right next to where you sit and eat is an added bonus.

The cage at NGMA Bangalore
The courtyard cafe

The garden in the front is full of trees and plants of all kinds, stretching towards the sky. Many of them are old, having been around since the bungalow was constructed. As you sit down by the steps and look at the greenery around, the quietness of the area suddenly strikes you. This is another world, a verdant, whimsical garden, an oasis in the middle of this teeming city.

A view of the grounds at NGMA Bangalore
A view of the grounds

Other details

Address: 49, Manickavelu Mansion, Palace Road

Entry tickets: Rs.20 for Indians. Rs.500 for foreign nationals.

Recommended duration of visit: 2-3 hours.

Photography is not permitted inside the galleries.

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Travel Travails

Travel Travails

Imagine that you live in a remote suburb of Trivandrum.

For all practical purposes, it is in the middle of nowhere. There is no bus stop and no self-respecting auto driver will go there. You have to walk 1.5 kilometers south west to reach the nearest bus stop, from where you have a direct bus to college at 8:40 am. If you miss that, you will have to get on a series of buses, clinging on for dear life on the foot board. So the direct Veekkay bus is your lifeline.

One Monday, you are late. Despite having jogged all the way, you miss the bus by a wide margin. On Tuesday, you leave the house ten minutes early, determined to get the bus; but just as you reach halfway, you remember you have left your purse behind and rush back. You locate the purse in a jiffy but find it empty; you bang on the bathroom door, where amma has conveniently disappeared, and obtain the necessary cash. By the time you get out, you are no longer early (to say the least). You run all the way with your satchel bouncing up and down, sporadically smacking your bottom whenever it feels you are slowing down. You reach the bus stop just in time…to see the bus gliding away like a swan.

On Wednesday, you get out of your house twenty minutes early, after carefully checking that you have all the necessary cash and assignments in submittable condition, and walk at a leisurely pace to the bus stop. You can’t help feeling a teeny bit smug because you just know in your bones that today is your day. But just as you pass Bhagat Singh lane, you run into a family friend who insists on inquiring after the welfare of all your family members and describing his son’s many coups at a hair oil company in Chicken, Alaska. After ten minutes of looking pointedly at your watch and shuffling from foot to foot, you give up all hope and stand there resigned to your fate.

On Thursday, you leave forty minutes early so as to allow time for unexpected delays. But no obstacles come your way and you reach the bus stop at 8:25am. At least four buses going in your direction pass that way, but you smirk at them, secure in the knowledge that the Veekkay bus that will drop you off right in front of the college gates is coming up. 8:40am comes and goes…then 9. A bald man at the bus stop informs you that the bus you are waiting for has had a puncture and is in the workshop. You fling yourself on the dusty ground and weep.

On Friday, you leave the house at dawn, much to the annoyance of everybody else in the house. Miraculously, you get the bus. Your joy knows no bounds, as you hand a coin to the conductor and say triumphantly, “One ticket to Pappanamcode!”

He gives you an irritated look and says, “Didn’t you read the board before getting in? The route has been changed…this bus now goes to Museum.”

[I came across this piece on my old blog. It was written based on real life incidents in March 2006, in the days before Uber. I tend to dislike most of what I’ve written in the past, but this was an exception.]

 

Dear Zindagi, you surprised me.

Dear Zindagi, you surprised me.

Once upon a time, we were foolish too. Like paying good money to go watch Ajab Prem ki Ghazab Kahani. Or buying toothpaste with salt in it. Or thinking ‘Hey, this Arvind Kejriwal fellow seems to be making sense!’

Older and wiser today, we’ve tried to make prudent life choices, one of them being never to watch more than one Bollywood movie in a year, and then too, only something that is as unBollywood-like as possible. So one year it was Kahani. Another year it was Special 26; then Lunchbox and Piku. We even gave 2 States and English Vinglish the benefit of doubt. The years passed by in this languorous way; Sallu bhai kept making movies in between, but those didn’t touch our lives, except for the occasional grimace we gave as we caught a glimpse of them while channel surfing.

“This is good,” we congratulated each other, “We are watching quality movies, not trash.” We’d already earmarked Kahani 2 for this year and there was no reason to believe our plans would change.

But we had reckoned without the crafty marketing team at Bookmyshow. They appealed to the basest, most primal instinct of us Indians – the love for a good deal. They wooed us with cashbacks and card offers, and convinced us that we could watch one more movie practically for free. The catch? It would have to be before December 1st.

How to use this excellent opportunity? (I mean, we were practically making money on it) We scrolled feverishly through the listings – but we’d already watched everything we wanted to watch.

And that’s how we found ourselves in a cold, dark theatre last night, watching Dear Zindagi.

I’ve clearly woken up this morning with a hangover. Let me try and get it out of my system by randomly putting down everything I feel about the movie. Screw structure and subheadings.

I’ve never been a fan of SRK (like ever, god promise). And I would have thought by this time all the botox would have frozen his facial muscles so that whatever little emoting he used to do would also have become a thing of the past. I went in fully expecting SRK to overact and ham up the show – but he didn’t. In fact, he acted his age, looked perfectly comfortable in the skin of Jug and even managed to not take himself too seriously. It was unsettling, to say the least. Now I can’t hate him with the same heartfelt intensity of old. Gah.

To give ourselves the courage to book tickets to Dear Zindagi, we had to tell each other repeatedly that Alia Bhat is a good actress and Gauri Shinde is a good director. After watching the movie, we’ve changed our stance. Alia Bhat is certainly an excellent actress but Gauri Shinde has a long, long way to go.

Every person is born with the capacity to digest a certain quantum of pontification/gyaan. This has to be used judiciously so that it lasts you through your life. So if you’ve already watched a lot of Aamir Khan movies, from TZP to PK, I’d say you should skip this one. Dr.Jehangir Khan does have one or two cool stories and even gives Kaira sensible advice, but by the last thirty minutes of the movie, you’re impatiently looking at your watch and wishing you had a remote so that you could skip ahead.

Old Bollywood habits die hard and no director, however nobly motivated, is really free of these shackles. So they have to drum things into you and shout in your ear, “Get it? Get it? This is what I mean!” That’s why the movie ends with a new, free Kaira who has

  1. made her short film, the ‘longest project of the century’
  2. garnered the admiration and goodwill of all her ex-boyfriends and the family who used to judge and scorn her
  3. met a new potential soulmate
  4. made peace with her parents
  5. accepted herself for who she is
  6. started creating new memories for herself by playing kabaddi with the samunder.

Every single fucking thread is closed so that nobody in the audience has anything to think about or imagine as they drive back home.

In conclusion, I’d like to say that DZ is not a movie that would make you want to stab yourself (Or the makers. Or bookmyshow) in the throat. But it could have been less self-indulgent, shorter by at least 30 minutes, and definitely, definitely gotten Kunal Kapoor to take off his shirt.

The View From My Window

The View From My Window

An ant crawling up the glass.

The dull grey expanse of sky. No clouds in sight.

The tops of buildings, half-constructed.

A patch of green, rich, tempting, like velvet.

Cars gliding in, cars gliding out.

And huddles of smokers, restless on their feet,

their figures slightly bent, pulled forward by intent.

Even the cars seem sure, so full of purpose,

that I feel life is passing me by,

as I sit here, behind a piece of glass.

But I am mesmerized by the view outside my window.

Hypnotized, like one is by fish tanks and terrariums.

I go back to the pretend games of old.

Turn into a microbiologist, watching fascinated,

a petri dish teeming with life.

At that moment, I am detached from what I see.

I could be an alien instead, so great is my wonder.

Or a boy of twelve in a darkened theater,

staring at a bright, flickering scene.

Or an idler at an exhibition, passing time,

staring at the frames, seeing, yet unseeing.

Knowing inside that it all means something.

But not seeing it, growing uneasy.

My phone rings, my table vibrates.

I feel relief, like a river rushing through my veins.

“Hello?” I say, already loving the caller.

My gaze dragged back to the dark indoors.

My attention my own again.

The Warm Fuzzy Feeling Of Compliments

The Warm Fuzzy Feeling Of Compliments

The best compliments I’ve received have been the most unexpected.

Remarks that tell me something I didn’t know about myself. Or those that I’ve got when I least expected it. Or from people whom I’d never have imagined would observe something like that.

It’s a strange and delightful experience, completely different from when you dress well and you know it and someone tells you you’re well-dressed. Or you make a particularly good speech and people clap you on the back and say “Good show!” These don’t warm the cockles of the heart in the same way. Because compliments (like so many human interactions) work on our need for external validation and acceptance.

Sometime last year, we had my husband’s nephew and niece from the US staying with us. This visit was particularly memorable because they were the right age (10 and 14) and we had many interesting conversations during their week-long stay. While making a list of married couples they knew, our niece A2 left out SR and me. When asked why, she said dismissively, “Oh, you and SR maama don’t count. You’re always chilling and having fun!”

Needless to say, SR and I were delighted.

*

“Tell me something you haven’t told me before” is a game that SR and I often play on long drives and quiet evenings at home. The response can be anything from a compliment to a confession, a long-forgotten memory or a funny story – it just has to be something as yet untold. Our theory is that as long as we don’t run out of things to tell each other, we’ll probably stay married.

The last time we played this game, SR told me, “You are a true liberal.”

Divorce, fidelity, having and raising children, vegetarianism, animal welfare, environment protection, cruelty-free living, good writing, filial duties – the list of topics on which I have strong views is fairly long. So this remark quite surprised me.  I then went and checked the definition of ‘liberal’ and found this: liberal-meaning

Quite flattering, I must admit. Ever since then, I’ve tried to live up to that description.

*

Personal hygiene has never been an obsession with me. Important, yes, but not something that dictates my everyday life. For instance, I strongly, strongly believe in washing your privates after every time you pee/poop. Similarly, my dad had taught us to always wash our feet before going to bed (because Nala’s downfall was brought about by Kali who entered his system through his unwashed heel). But I pet my dogs and frequently forget to wash my hands before I eat. Or if I find a stray hair in my food, I don’t retch and run from the table, but pick it out as a matter of course and continue eating.

I’ve never considered myself particularly neat or kempt. That’s why it surprised me when a colleague said one day that I always smell very nice. “It’s not deo or perfume,” she said, “but you just smell nice all the time.”

That’s a line I hug to myself every time I feel a little under-confident about the way I look. I firmly tell myself, “Well, at least, you smell nice.”

*

An after-effect of this rumination is that I am trying to do an Uncle Fred and spread sweetness and light with my compliments. The way I see it, you’ve already observed/thought of something nice – then why not let them know? At worst, they will be embarrassed. But at best, you could make their day.

So this weekend when I was trying out various clothes (and discarding them regretfully because I seem to have graduated from size L but my ego doesn’t allow me to pick up XL), I came across a lady who was trying on a very pretty anarkali dress. Her husband was making all the right noises of encouragement, but she seemed rather doubtful.

I thought it fit her beautifully, but instead of walking right past like I would have, I stopped and told her so. “Really? You think so?” she asked me eagerly.

“It’s perfect,” I told her and strode away grinning because the two of them looked so delighted. Shoppers Stop owes me one.

Hmm, perhaps I should be a professional complimentist (not complimenter, because it sounds so urgh).

Gowri N Kishore. Specialist in honest compliments, guaranteed to delight.

I could work for stores, helping customers make up their minds; in support groups with people recovering from addictions, self-image issues and other emotional disturbances (pro bono, of course); even with PR firms, putting valued guests in a good mood.

Not a bad prospect, actually.

7 Unforgettable Female Characters from Malayalam Cinema (1980 – present)

7 Unforgettable Female Characters from Malayalam Cinema (1980 – present)

This is a list I have been struggling to put together for months now, constantly adding and removing names, wondering whether the actress did justice to the role, whether the role gave the actress enough scope, and whether anyone looking at this list would call it a curation of cliched choices.

That is exactly what I do not want this list to be, wich is why I have tried really hard to omit the obvious names. Hence, Ganga from Manichitrathazhu, Maya Vinodini from Ente Suryaputhrikku, Ammukutty from Aalkoottathil thaniye, and Kuttyedathi are missing even though they certainly deserve to belong. (Here‘s another list I found that has some of the most popular names).

Kanchana [Thalayanamanthram]

Writer: Sreenivasan

Played by the indomitable Urvashi, this is one of my all-time favourite characters. A little manipulative, a little naive, greedy for life’s little luxuries, yet unthinking of the price she would have to pay for it all… Haven’t we all encountered a Kanchana, or at least a version of her, somewhere in life?

To me, the song Mayaponmane perfectly brings out her delightful, thoughtfully sketched character.

 

Pooja [Om Shanti Oshana]

Writers: Midhun Manuel Thomas & Jude Anthany Joseph

The bubbly, yet vulnerable Pooja is a character that must surely have been written with Nazriya in mind, and indeed, she pulls off this role with ease and elan.

What I love most about Pooja is the fact that she has spunk. She decides what she wants and goes all out to get it. She has opinions and no qualms about voicing them. She is unpretentious and funny. Moreover, she is not slotted into a category or oversexed into a tomboy or worse, a girly girl.

Her exchanges with her dad, played by Renji Panicker who seems to have discovered the actor in him fairly late in life, are hilarious. This song tells you quite a lot about her.

 

Gayatri [Artist]

Writer: Shyamaprasad, based on a character written by Paritosh Uttam in his novel Dreams in Prussian Blue

This name came to me fairly late during the making of this list and I was surprised myself that it did. But here it is, and after much deliberation, I believe Gayatri deserves to be here.

This movie makes you wonder: what would you do for love? Not the heroics and histrionics that accompany the battle to win social acceptance for a relationship, but the rags of love that you need to pull together to face each day after you embark on such a relationship.

Gayatri is a a girl who walks out of her ordinary life allured by the vivid, colourful possibilities of a life with her artist lover Micheal. But she has no idea what is about to hit her and eventually succumbs to the relentless demands of everyday existence. Ironically, the very thing that she tried to escape from. .

 

Kalpana [Arike]

Writer: Shyamaprasad, based on a short story by Sunil Gangopadhyay

Kalpana’s is an elusive character – you can never put a finger on what she is really thinking. While she is in a relationship with Shantanu, when she fights her family for his acceptance, when she is in the car with Sanjay and they spiral towards that accident, when she inexplicably changes her mind about Shantanu afterwards…all that time and you keep wondering who Kalpana really is and whether she is capable of truly loving anyone.

The movie reminds me of the mythological story of Ganga and Shantanu. Ganga torments Shantanu with her beauty and her promises and her utter refusal to answer any questions about herself or her actions. She is a celestial, a woman of mystery, who leaves him bewitched and bewildered until the very end.

Samvrutha Sunil is a truly beautiful and talented woman who got very few good roles: I am glad that she got this one before she took a break.

 

Sethulakshmi [5 Sundarikal]

Writers: Shyam, Pushkar and Muneer Ali, based on a story by M. Mukundan

This short film is the most haunting one I’ve ever seen, so much so that I feel quite unable to watch it again, afraid of the emotions that it will let loose. All credit goes to little Anikha who brought Sethulakshmi alive on screen. For a child of her age to even grasp the turmoil that the character is going through is a big deal. But Anikha takes the performance to another level with her micro-expressions, like the quivering of a lip or the hunted look in her eyes.

This uber-talented artist transformed what could have been a mundane, crudely tragic story into something stunning that leaves you  speechless, throat choked up, hand springing to your mouth. I am sure we can look forward to many great things from Baby Anikha.

 

Meera in Mannar Mathayi Speaking

Writers: Siddhique-Lal

I am pretty sure this is one name nobody would have expected to find here. Not surprising, given that the Meera I am talking about is a role played by Geetha Vijayan and lasts barely a few minutes. (In case you’re confused, Vani Viswanath’s character was called Diana and she is merely pretending to be Meera). After her debut in In Harihar Nagar, Geetha Vijayan has sadly been relegated to vampish roles. This is one of the few that she has performed brilliantly and which went unnoticed.

‘Timid rabbit’ is a phrase that is bandied about by romance novelists, but in this one scene, she brings to life a woman paralyzed with fear and with the drugs she has been injected with, staring a horrendous death in the face, yet unable to take one step to save her life. The piteous expression on her face as she takes doddering steps towards the door while Diana screams at her to move, move, to escape, will never fade from my mind.

Watch from 1:40:57 to 1:42:20 here.

 

Ammini [Aranyakam]

Writer: MT Vasudevan Nair

 

I had to Google to find out who the creator of Ammini was and am certainly not surprised that it is MT. Ammini is a dream child, the girl the teenage version of myself most resembled, the ‘vattu pennu’ that my father was afraid I would become. She wanders through the forest, wide-eyed, a thousand stories and fantasies flitting about in her mind, choosing her own company over others’ and eventually succumbing to the allure of an adventure, a mystery. She is a romantic, admiring without understanding, rebellious, yet in the end, defeated, left bereft.