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.

Premam: The 2nd Movie In The History Of Malayalam Cinema With Nothing New. Literally.

Premam: The 2nd Movie In The History Of Malayalam Cinema With Nothing New. Literally.

After 2 failed attempts to get tickets, I managed to watch Premam last week It was running (and continues to do so) to full theatres within and outside Kerala, and the rave reviews I’d been hearing made me determined to watch it at any cost.

I sat through the movie, smirked a few times, sniggered a little, and came out. Next to me, SR was raving.

“How much would you rate it?” I asked.

“4.5!” he said, happily. I remained quiet.

“What, you didn’t like it?”

“It was okay.”

That was it. Premam was just okay – funny and sweet in parts, but not mind blowingly awesome as I had been led to believe. And I am part of a target group who should have been predisposed to liking Premam. I fulfill both the essential criteria:

(1) I am a fan of Nivin Pauly

(2) I generally like coming-of-age and friend circle movies

Yet, the movie is exactly what its poster claims: it has nothing new!

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But I am not going to dish it on that argument alone. Here are some of the other things that are off in Premam.

Mary

For me, the Mary story line dragged. It had one too many songs and one too many weird shots of the road in front of the tea shop, and one too many scenes of the angry dad chasing various boys away. (They could have cut this short by 15 minutes-at least-and used it to develop the Celine story. But more on that later) And if they had shown one more shot of Mary stroking her vaikol thuru hair, I would have had to rip my own out (whatever is left of it!)

Premam Stills-Nivin Pauly-Anupama Parameswaran-Malayalam Movie 2015-Onlookers Media

Cafe Agape

I’m not saying that all of us have to display signs of our calling in life from a young age. But really, for 60% of the movie -in fact, until George graduates from college – would you have guessed that he would become a pastry chef running a posh upmarket cafe?

To me, the cafe setting seemed like something fit in forcefully just to provide a beautiful meet-cute for Celine and George. The George we had seen so far had been genuine and ordinary – this suave pastry chef, with his perpetually frowning eyebrows and orders barked at his staff, felt like a complete stranger.

Celine

You would expect a 30 year old man -who’s already been scarred once in a love affair- to be a little more cautious when falling in love with a girl he had last seen as a kid, and for all intents and purposes, as a kid sister. Wouldn’t you expect him to take some time to get to know Celine, and then slowly realize that she’s no longer a kid, but a woman he’s fascinated by?

But no – the director’s already given too much reel time to George’s first love, and is in a hurry to wrap up the movie. So, the Celine plot line is lazily developed, and too much happens in too little time. The treatment is shallow, and therefore, this relationship – the supposedly perennial one in George’s life – feels the most hollow. Quite unfortunate.

There were other little touches that could have made a difference, but were missing in the movie -for instance, Mary and her dad are conspicuously absent at George and Celine’s wedding; What happens to Vimal sir? I always thought he would end up proposing to Anjali, the girl he used to keep telling “Doubt undengil parayanam!”

But I can live without these.

What works for me in Premam is Nivin Pauly’s acting – the man definitely has screen presence, and how he can pull off any look and age is just amazing. 1983, OSO, Bangalore Days, and now this… he is certainly here to stay.

Nivin-Pauly

Sai Pallavi is well worth all the raving – she has screen presence and her simple charm is thankfully unmasked by layers of makeup. The chemistry between the duo also certainly works.

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The boyhood friendship that grows (without maturing!) over time is also done brilliantly. The actors, the banter, the songs… all of it work.

By itself, Premam isn’t a bad movie at all. But like all things overhyped, it falters under the weight of expectation.

And while we are making controversial statements, let me add a few more I’ve been bottling up inside.

Manju Warrier’s best role is not Unnimaya in Aaram Thampuran. (If anyone’s interested, it is Aami in Summer in Bethlehem. More on that in another post)

ARR’s music in OK Kanmani is just about average. The songs don’t grate on your ears, but they are eminently forgettable.

Drishyam is a good thriller and worth a watch, but I don’t see what the bruhaha is about. (And Meena did a terrible job, just as she did in Katha Parayumbol.)

There, I said it!

6 Iconic Scenes From Malayalam Cinema (Late 80s – 90s)

6 Iconic Scenes From Malayalam Cinema (Late 80s – 90s)

During summer vacations when I was in school, I used to spend most of my time indoors. My brother would be out playing cricket with his buddies. But I didn’t have any friends in the locality and used to just curl up with a book. I also used to watch one B&W movie a day with Pappu thatha, my paternal grandfather -these were classics from the 60s and 70s and used to be aired every morning at around 11AM on DD Malayalam (if my memory serves me right.) Some of the most memorable ones include Aswamedham, Pareeksha, School Master, Kavyamela, and Murappennu.

I suspect my love for Malayalam cinema stems from these matinee experiences I had as a child. Even today, after a tough day at work, my favourite way of relaxing is to watch an old Malayalam movie (the period depends on my mood for the day) – sometimes I skip through the songs to the parts I love most; sometimes, I read up trivia about the movie or its actors or crew. For those few hours, I am transported back to those days – the Keralam of those times. And it is truly an escape.

In this post, I am compiling some of the most poignant scenes from Malayalam movies, in which there is some fine, nuanced moments of acting. These scenes have moved me – sometimes to tears, sometimes not – but they are powerful, and make you forget for those few moments that it is acting that you are seeing. That Maya and Siddharthan and Ammukkutty are not real people, but simply, characters brought to life by very talented actors.

So, here goes.

1. Oru Yatramozhi (A Final Goodbye) – 1997

Think about this movie, and the names that come to mind are those of stalwarts Sivaji Ganesan and Mohanlal. No doubt they have done a brilliant job of portraying Periyavar and Govindan Kutty. And they have received enough and more praise for their acting. But for me, the truly tragic figure in this movie is the character Appu Mama played by Nedumudi Venu. Here is a man whose life has been spent pining away for a woman who will never love him back. He hates himself for this weakness, but still, he cannot keep away from her. Knowing that till the very end, her heart belongs to someone else, being mocked and ostracized by his own relatives, knowing that she is using him for her own selfish needs time and again, Appu is unable to tear himself away.

In this scene, in which Gowri asks Appu to meet Periyavar and tell him to leave the village, you see all these emotions flit across Appu’s face: shock, angst, anger, and self-loathing. Because as much as he protests, “Should I be the one to do this too?”, he knows he will do it again – for her.

Oru Yatramozhi

Watch the scene here:
Oru Yatra Mozhi – Nedumudi, Bharathi

2. Ente Sooryaputhrikku (To My Unacknowledged Daughter) – 1991

Every time I watch this movie, SR has a wry grin on his face. He really doesn’t get why I would want to watch such a tragic movie. What captivates me really is Maya Vinodini, the character played by Amala. She is like a wounded animal – hurt and vulnerable because she doesn’t know who her parents are. Then again, she is a typical college girl, wanting to have fun, play pranks, and dally in a little romance. In the hands of a poorer script writer or actress, Maya Vinodini could have become a melodramatic and shallow caricature. But scripted by Fazil and acted out to perfection by Amala, she is in safe hands.

One of my favourite scenes in this movie is the one in which Maya comes to meet her mother, Vasundhara Devi, played by the beautiful Srividya. The soul stirring background score of this scene – punctuated by a harsh discordant note that embodies Vasundhara Devi’s shock – is simply brilliant. At first, it looks like Maya has the upper hand – she walks in as cool as a cucumber, and her mother is shaken. She gives out a false name – thereby, letting her mother know that she knows. But a little while after she leaves the room, she turns into this little girl who desperately wants her mother to acknowledge her. When Maya makes that call from the booth, her trembling fingers and the downturned corners of her mouth betray her desperate hopefulness, which dissolves into frustrated tears and anger as she is rejected again.

Ente Suryaputhrikku

Watch this scene here:

Ente Sooryaputhrikku – Srividya, Amala

3. Dasharatham (The Fate Of Dasharatha) – 1989

This is not one of my favourite movies, and I have watched it in its entirety perhaps only once. But what remains etched in my mind is the very last scene. Rajiv asks his maid Maggie, “Do all mothers love their children as much as Annie loves her son?” The disturbed Maggie replies in the affirmative. Then, unexpectedly, Rajiv asks her, “Can you love me, Maggie?” Maggie is shocked.

In the few seconds after asking this question, Mohanlal shows just how brilliant an actor he is. Various emotions flit through his face – a bit of a laugh at the ridiculousness of the situation, his deep sadness, a ‘squaring up his shoulders’ and getting ready to move on decision… So much that is said in a span of 3-4 seconds.

Watch the scene here:

Dasharatham – Mohanlal, Sukumari

4. Devasuram (Of Gods & Demons) – 1993

This movie has a larger-than-life hero, songs, action, romance, and a happy ending. By all definitions, it is a wholesome entertainer. But definitely not shallow or superficial. There is not even a modicum of melodrama: the dramatic element in this movie is tuned to that fine heightened pitch where it is most appealing. A trifle more: an extra word in the dialogue, an additional gesture or expression on an actor’s face, a different background score – could have ruined the scene. But Devasuram triumphs on every count.

My favourite scene in this movie is the one in which Oduvil Unnikrishnan comes to meet his fallen hero and friend. He refuses to step into the courtyard, confessing that he does not have the courage to see the fallen Mangalassery Neelakantan. He would rather hold on to the image he has been carrying about in his mind.

Before leaving, he recites a six line poem that is a poignant elegy to Krishna who is lying wounded by a hunter’s treacherous arrow. Sung in MG Radhakrishnan’s voice, this is the poem.

Vande mukunda hare, jaya shaure,

Sandapa hari murare!

Greetings, O Mukunda, brave warrior, destroyer of all sorrows!

Dwapara chandrika charchithamaam ninte

Dwaraka puri evide?

Where is your kingdom Dwaraka, where the moon of the Dwapara Yuga used to rise?

Peeli thilakkavum, kolakkuzhal paattum,

Ambadi paikkalum evide?

Where is the sheen of peacock feathers, the song of your flute, and the grazing cattle of Ambadi?

Kroora nishadha sharam kondu neerumee

Nenjil en aatma pranam

I bow to your heart that is bleeding from the cruel arrow of the nishada

Prema swaroopanam sneha sateerthyante

Kaalkalen kanneer pranamam

I bow, tearfully, at the feet of my dear friend, who is the very embodiment of love

Watch the scene here:

Devasuram: Oduvil Unnikrishnan, Mohanlal

5. Aalkoottathil Thaniye (Alone In A Crowd) – 1984

My father had a book of the collected scripts of MT Vasudevan Nair, and I have spent many hot summer days lying on my stomach in the upstairs bedroom, reading Kuttyedathi, Perunthachan, and Nirmalyam. Funnily enough, I still have not watched any of these movies – yet, the characters and the dialogues and the scenes are imprinted in my mind.

Aalkoottathil Thaniye is an MT movie that is neither an outright entertainer (like Pazhassi Raja or Oru Vadakkan Veera Gadha) nor a tragic drama (like Nirmalyam or Kuttyedathi). It doesn’t have a particularly detailed story – everything revolves around the anticipated death of Balan K Nair – nor memorable songs. In fact, it actually has a reasonably happy ending. But the one character that remains in your mind long after the movie ends is that of Ammukkutty, played by Seema. We see her evolve from an innocent and playful lover, to a mature and supportive woman, and finally, a tragic figure who proudly refuses to let you point out the tragedy of her life or pity her.

In this scene, Vinod (an old friend of Rajan, the character played by Mammootty) comes to meet him, and mistakes Ammukkutty for Rajan’s wife. She manages to correct his presumption, and cautiously, he asks Ammukkuty, “So, then you…?” Ammukkutty replies, “Me? I… I live here by myself…”

She says so much by saying so little, and Vinod’s sense of disbelief and pity is palpable. He goes away, disillusioned, no longer keen on meeting Rajan.

Aalkoottathil Thaniye

Watch the scene here:

Aalkoottathil Thaniye: Seema, Mohanlal

6. Paithrukam (Heritage or Legacy) – 1993

This is a movie in which the story and script outshine the perfectly adequate acting. The scene I have chosen here is also similar – more than the acting, it is the dialogue and the direction that take centrestage.

The radical atheist Somadathan (Suresh Gopi) has learned that he has just had a son. He tells his father, the priest Chemmathirippadu (Narendra Prasad) that he doesn’t want his son to be brought up according to Vedic beliefs, because he himself doesn’t believe in any of them.

“My son must grow up according to my wishes – I want my son to be like me!!” he declares arrogantly. To which the Chemmathirippadu replies sadly, almost paintively, “But I did not insist thus about my own son!”

The stricken Somadathan turns away, speechless.

Watch the scene here:

Paithrukam – Suresh Gopi, Narendra Prasad