Saturday, August 24, 2013

Dans La Monde Fantastique de Cocteau

When our French teacher Cloe asked us to form groups based on our interests, I picked Cinema over Cuisine and Theatre. The choice somehow looked the most apparent one.

Seven of us in the group began to discuss our project. It started off with directing a short feature film, then it turned into a documentary on the influences of French cinema on society and vice versa.

Every Saturday we would be lost in defining our goal. Then Cloe came to our help. She made us realize that the subject we had chosen was vast and could not be achieved in 2 months. So she suggested that we concentrate on one director instead and may be his works during a crucial phase of his career.

Not being very knowledgeable about the history of French cinema, we had no option but pick the first name she mentioned - Jean Cocteau. But finally, thanks to her, our project for the first time, looked possible. We decided to split the work of watching every movie directed by Cocteau during the world war two and little after. With two of the team members leaving and two other being irregular, it was too much of a task for the remaining three. Considering the fact that time was running out on us, we reduced the scope even further. We zeroed in on one of his finest films - La Belle et la Bête. 

The whole process of making this documentary was fun and tiring at the same time.. We watched the film, formed our opinions and made a plan of the script. But every time Cloe would visit us she would leave us with a new thought, a new perspective towards Cocteau's work that would make us feel so primitive. Her way of looking at things was so different from that of ours. She would always invoke fresh thoughts and perspective in us by asking - "Why do you think Cocteau picked this particular story soon after the war?", "What does it signify?", "Why does Belle wear black in this scene?". One of the best example of cultural difference we had was her way of looking at Cocteau's Opium addiction - "May be his addiction to drugs boosted his creative abilities", she said while few Indian eyebrows raised. Considering that some, if not all of his works are surrealistic, influence of one on the other could be highly possible. There was always something interesting to learn, like about sixteenth century Dutch costume used in the film, Influences of famous paintings in the lighting and settings.

As much as we were excited about these new findings, we were also concerned that we were not progressing as quickly as required and the deadline was soon approaching. We finally put together our script and got it corrected. We picked the scenes we thought were relevant and made a draft film. Geetha gave the voice over for the entire film. Our draft was what it is meant to be and thus had several corrections in terms of scenes we had chosen, in pronunciation and tone and editing. But making that draft was the best thing we did in days, as it gave us an idea of to where we were heading. Until then I was skeptical about the project but the draft boosted my hope. Thanks to iMovies in my macbook, I was able to quickly sew the scenes together easily with interesting transition effects. 

Then came the final days of our project. I do not remember working this rigorously even for my college project. The final video was ready and now it was time to record the voice. We decided to find a quite room in AFB that could prevent noises from traffic. But unfortunately every room was noisier than the other. We almost completed one full set of recording when we realized that there was some acoustic issue in the room and the voice sounded very low. So finally, frustrated and irritated we began looking for a quite place in the school. And then the idea struck - the car! It was perfect. Inside the car, it was quieter than any place we could go to that day. 

With more work on iMovies we were finally done. It was awesome how we all got together on this project. Geetha, Ashish, Harsha and me. It was interesting to discuss our new findings and sometimes also the frustrations about the project. But in the end, it was a work that we shall never forget. And all the credit goes to Prof Cloe who made this experience of French learning so memorable to us. Through this project, not only did she introduce us to French cinema but also made us dive deep into French culture, art and music.. 

On the 23rd of July, when we showed the movie on big screen to a decent crowd at AFB, we were happy to see what all our handwork had turned into. But most notably for me, this experience had changed the way I watch movies. I no more watch a film just for its story and acting but I have begun to analyse why the director choose to represent a scene in a certain way and what were the influences. And interestingly this new perspective has made me enjoy every film that I watch in a way that was unknown to me before.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

A Blend Of Literature & Art

I wanted to thank my French Professor Cloé for all the good things she had taught us and how she has inspired us and opened a door towards a new style of thinking, teaching and learning.

So after giving it a lot of thought, I decided to gift her one of my poems that I had written a long time back and which I consider to be one of my best. But simply framing a poem did not make the gift special. So I started thinking of an idea to make it more creative and convert it into a work of art. Making the paper look antique was an immediate idea that occurred to me.

In search of methods to realise my idea, I browsed through several websites and videos. It was interesting to notice so many people who had tried it and wanted to share their learnings. So I began taking prints of the poem in different types of paper and fonts, dipped them in coffee and tea before baking it to an ideal temperature and time. I played a lot with different concentrations of tea and coffee and also with the temperatures. 

Finally, Tea worked better than coffee for me and temperature around 150 for not more than 2-3 minutes seemed perfect. The same setting might not work for others but what you need to make sure are following things - 

  1. Place the paper in a baking tray and pour tea. 
  2. Allow the tea to spread for not more than a few minutes. (May the solution not be too strong)
  3. Bake at a lower temperature and for less time, else the paper looks charred.
After many such iterations, I finally found my best. I used a thicker sheet of paper. For an interesting effect, you can also crumble the paper first or burn the sides after baking.

Below is the translation of the poem in English.

A Wonderful World

In this world are many countries,
In every country is a war,
in a war fights a soldier,
in the mind of the soldier, is a memory,
in that memory is a village,
in which village is a beautiful farm,
in this farm is a pretty garden,
in which garden, plays a little boy,
little boy has big eyes,
in those big eyes are bigger dreams,
in those dreams is a wonderful world.


Wednesday, August 07, 2013


"Was the movie inspiring?" Many of my colleagues asked me after we had watched "Baagh Milkha Baagh" together along with rest of the office. HR considered this outing as a team building activity and a way to motivate the employees. It indeed was a good team building initiative. But I was not able to answer the question immediately, like I never am. To me, an opinion must be a result of well contemplated process. So I only said what I could say without a second thought - "I loved the making." I liked how the story switched between past and present; I liked how the camera captured some minor details like the dust raised by an athlete's foot as he ran; symbolism behind rain drops filling up a bucket of sweat relating to hard work. However, I was also clear that I hated the way movie promoted hatred. It glorified the misery of partition and amplified the enmity between two countries in a time where each of them have to learn to move on by putting away the differences. I disliked the fact that the story tried to justify every mistake of Milkha's life without accepting the fact that people need not be plain black or white. But having said all this, I was still aware of the fact that I had not yet answered the question. 

After giving it some thought, I realised how sportsmen never inspire me. For instance in the movie, Milkha first ran for his life, then he ran for a glass of milk, then for a team India coat, then to defeat his evil opponents and then to prove himself worthy and then to break a record. And if I relate this to other sportsmen, they all strive towards one common goal - Victory. For them, if you do not win, you lose. To me, sports is not the best example of passion other than that for victory. That said, it does not mean that I disrespect them but all I want to say is that these stories do not inspire me. Sports always promotes competition, determination, dedication and glorifies a message that winning is the only ultimate goal. If a sportsman denies this, he is not only being unfaithful to himself but also to his team and his country.

However, it also made me think of a few sports movies that I have liked and even found inspiring. For example, "Chak de India". Yet, it is not the game or the team's victory that inspires me in the movie but it is how a coach or a leader can unite a team with conflicts and make them strive towards a common goal. I enjoyed "Invictus", but it is not how they play rugby that motivates me but it is a president's vision to unite his country through sports. I loved "The blind side" not because of the sportsman but for the boldness of a mother who adopts a kid from a suburb and provides him a better life.

On the other hand, there are several artists and creative people who inspire me. A true artist does not create his work to prove anything. It is simply a work of creativity; to express his state of mind or his thoughts. When I say artists, I mean that in a much broader sense, such as a musician, painter, film maker, poet or a writer provided they are not focusing on encashing a market like a successful entrepreneur who has masterfully learnt his way to sell his idea and who can be an inspiration only to those who think success is all about earning more money. Artists, their thoughts and their purpose in life is much more than just winning and making money. A teacher or an individual devoting his life towards service of the society is inspiring for me as he lives for a greater mission.

So that is my answer to the question and I think I am pretty clear about it.

Saturday, August 03, 2013

Cartesian influence

It is interesting to notice that how easily some teachers can inspire us. And if I look back, every one of those who have inspired me, have been a teacher; as from them, I have learnt something new.

When we started our B2 level in French, we were happy and nervous about the fact that our teacher was a French national. Cloé definitely started the class by laying some ground rules and appearing strict. She had rules, most of which made perfect sense to avoid any lenience and maintain a discipline. "I am strict with myself and so shall I be with others." She had said.

As the classes continued, it was interesting to notice that she went totally off the text book and gathered exercises from newspaper articles and novels that were much more captivating. B2 is a very important level in French learning. Until B1 one has learnt the basic grammar and now it is time to apply them and concentrate on the structure. Some of the major topics we covered were - How to comment on an article (Commentaire); how to present an argument and how to write a synthesis of an article by extracting its basic ideas. And as she taught us this, Cloé introduced us to a very different style of thinking, teaching and learning -The French Cartesian school of thought. 

Descartes's philosophy has strong influence on French education system and it may not be wrong to say that every French has a Cartesian mind. Their mind can be related to a garden with plants systematically arranged in different geometric shapes. From a very young age they are taught to follow rules. A dissertation should have both thesis and an anti thesis and the two should be chained with an introduction and a conclusion. An article is automatically dissected like an animal on a study table and the observations are then regrouped with not more than 3 to 4 strong ideas. And the most interesting; in a debate, not only does one think of the points related to his side but also against his side to understand the opponents strengths and prepare for the same.

Cloé also had a very distinctive style of correctiong our work. She would only point out the errors and it's type but not really correct the mistake herself. An error in structure, morphology, grammar or lexical suggestions were noted and she would expect us to resubmit the same writing with the corrections. Eventually our writing improved. Every argument had to be clearly constructed with a cause and a consequence, every switch in idea must have a connector to maintain coherence. Every idea that repeated itself with new words was clearly marked. And with these corrections, I looked at writing and reading with a very new perspective.

Every class of her's was interesting. With articles such as - "Views on education by philosopher Rousseau", "A skeptical view on media by a French journalist", "Questioning the authenticity of Wikipedia" and "issues with student exchange programs", she would explain how one could identify the ideas from an article and extract the opinions of the author that hides somewhere in a line with apt use of adverbs and adjectives.

Every Saturday, last hour was provided for our project work. Mine was to make a documentary film on Jean Cocteau's masterpiece - La Belle et La Bête. And truly the experience has been amazing. I would be writing a separate article on it shortly. Through out the making of the film, Cloé was a constant source of inspiration and her thought provoking questions helped us view the film in ways that our style of thinking would not have permitted.

With an exposure to new style of teaching and learning, I could not help comparing the same with Indian way. Our style mostly involves teaching straight from the book, following the book like a bible and sometimes to read despite understanding. Mistakes are neatly corrected rather than making the student realise the errors. Scope to develop a style of thinking is totally neglected as compared to the time invested on perfecting the rules of grammar and spelling. If things have changed today due to influence of American style of education, I am only glad for that.

However, with all the good things that the cartesian thinking comes with, I also feel that somewhere it might limit the openness to accept a new perspective. It might restrict innovation in the way we think itself, Perhaps there is another better way to look at things!

But having said that, A blend of my learning, this new introduction and American way of practical learning has all made me a much better absorber of knowledge. And one day when I decide to give back to the society what I have learnt, I shall include the best from everything. For knowledge is realised only when it is shared. Just like what Cloé meant when she said - "All I want is to share what ever good I have learnt and give you my best." And her piece of advise for us on the last day was - "Soyez Cartesian!." (Stay Cartesian!)