& occasionally about other things, too...

Sunday, March 17, 2019

A decade in Toronto - 28

Celebrating Che's 19th birthday at Montana steakhouse
I’ve been writing these blogs on my decade in Toronto since 2018. When I began, I’d hoped to complete the entire narrative of ten years in 52 weeks. But as that line from Robert Burns’s poem To the Mouse famously predicts, “The best laid schemes o' mice an' men / Gang aft a-gley,” my resolve crumbled in the face of rapidly changing circumstances sometime in the spring 2018.

And a project that was to be completed last December, continues to drag.

Che: from adolescence to adulthood
Recently, I also complied all the posts into a Word document and realised that I’ve put together over 30,000 words so far (2008 to 2016) and I guess, when this exercise will be completed, it’ll all add up to nearly 40,000 words. In these days of shortening attention spans and the habit of reading falling side, 40,000 words is about the right sort of length for a decade of life.

Upon re-reading some of the posts, two things struck me:

The first was that most of the posts are based on my blog, which is sort of obvious because I’ve been blogging for the last decade, and the blog has become some sort of an unofficial journal, albeit one that mainly focuses on books and authors, poets, and book-related events.

To overcome that anomaly, I’ve taken some inputs from Facebook, to connect the narrative to my life, and to provide some context to the changes in my life in the last decade with what happened in the world.

I’m skeptical whether I’ve succeeded.  

The second was that I realized that this is a sanitized version of my life in Toronto, and I’ve kept out unpleasantness. I’ve commented on this briefly in one of my earlier posts, too. Nobody’s life is without unpleasantness, mine is no exception; if you’re looking for a life without unpleasantness, you’re likely to find it only on Instagram.

We choose not to dwell too much on unpleasantness primarily because those experiences are caused by our own expectations; expectation of what we want others to do for us or not do to us. And these others are not strangers that we exchange glances with and nod ever-so-slightly to on public transit, but people we consider our own – family, friends, co-workers, neighbours.

Before I’m accused of transmogrifying into a fake Baba, a sort of Buddha of Suburbia (and suburbia here being Toronto’s West End), let me quickly return to the narrative, with just a brief digression: I interviewed Hanif Kureshi after his debut novel was launched in India for The Daily at Strand Books. He was mildly annoyed at everyone constantly referring to him as following Rushdie’s footsteps.

I want to focus on the arts (mostly popular) in this post.

Popular Hindi cinema is a passion for both Mahrukh and I. We don’t miss any opportunity to go to a Hindi movie, especially if it has one of the three Khans in it. Lately, of course, two of the three Khans have only given duds, but they remain our perennial favourites.

All the three Khans gave memorable films in 2016. Fan was Shahrukh Khan’s valiant effort to move away from the stereotypical roles and do what he perceived to be different and challenging. It bombed comprehensively. Perhaps not as badly as his 2018 dud Zero. But Aamir Khan’s Dangal and Salman Khan’s Sultan (both based on wrestling theme) were tremendous hits.

I’ve found the moviegoing experience in Toronto so unique that I’m always tempted to write about it every time I go to see a movie. After going to the downmarket Albion cinema to watch Hindi movies for the first couple of years, we changed over to the Cineplex at Yonge and Dundas.

Here’s a brief passage of what I wrote about the cinema venue when we went to see Dangal:

I’d have thought that the first-generation immigrants such as Mahrukh and I would comprise a majority of the audience at the Cineplex in downtown Toronto because that is the kind of audience that comes to see Hindi movie in cinema halls.

However, for Dangal there were a good number of second and third generation Indo-Canadians, and a substantial number of students from India enrolled in Canadian universities.

All making for a rather raucous audience that was totally involved in the film; clapping, cheering, grunting, sighing and exhaling as the story unfolded.

Wisely, Cineplex had permitted audiences to get in half-an-hour before the show time, and the sprawling hall for screen 13 had filled up in no time. Once again, the sight of so many northeastern Indians surprised me.

A lot of nachos were being consumed, and a lot of Coke was being drunk. The smell of food was at once overpowering and nauseating.

In addition, there was almost a muted roar inside the hall; this is because wherever there are Indians, there is immense and unceasing chattering. As the movie began, there were a few whistles and a lot of clapping when Aamir Khan came on the screen.

For a more involved piece, I suggest you read the post on The Sultan Experience in Toronto. Salman Khan is one-of-a-kind, helluva of superstar. The audience participation for any of his film is qualitatively different.

2016 was the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare and it was a great reason to write about Vishal Bhardwaj’s Shakespearean trilogyMaqbool (2003, based on Macbeth), Omkara (2006, based on Othello) and Haider (2014, based on Hamlet). Street Soldiers, a local, Toronto production, was an exceptional film that handled the drug scene in Toronto with a rare maturity and panache. Some of the actors in the film were theatre veterans (from the SAWITRI Theatre) and their performances were expectedly stellar.

In 2016, I suggested to Tushar Unnadkat, who’d been given charge of the annual community festival organised at Gerrard Street’s Little India. I suggested to him to have a literary component to the festival and he invited me to organise and moderate a panel discussion on South Asian Canadian theatre. He agreed with his usual alacrity. I invited all the South Asian theatre veterans I knew to participate in the panel discussion.

Panelists at the discussion
(l to r: Dalbir, Jasmine, Ravi, Andy and Sally)
The panelists were: Jasmine Sawant, actor, producer, writer, manager, and the Co-Founder and Artistic Co-Director of the award-winning SAWITRI Theatre Group, based in Mississauga; Jawaid Danish, a playwright-poet and translator, and the artistic Director of Rangmanch-Canada, a not for profit Indian Theatrical Group; Ravi Jain is a Toronto-based stage writer, director, performer who works in both small indie productions and large commercial theatre; and Dalbir Singh, a PhD Candidate in Theatre and South Asian studies at the University of Toronto, and recipient of the Heather McCallum award for Emerging Scholars. 

At the panel discussion, we were also joined by Nitin Sawant and Shruti Shah (both of SAWITRI), Andy Hazra of York University, Sally Jones of Rasik Arts, and Tushar Unadkat. I’d also suggested to invite Rahul Verma of Teesri Duniya from Montreal for the discussion, but budgetary constraints prevented his participation.

It was a fruitful and engaging discussion that explored the limitations, challenges and prospects of the topic we decided to discuss. The focal point was what is South Asian and what is Canadian, and does the canon have space for non-English language theatre. I’d urge you to read a report on the discussion here: South Asian Canadian theatre

That year, Ravi Jain’s company also brought Piya Baharupiya (Hindi adaption of Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night) to Toronto, and SAWITRI brought Mohan Rakesh’s Aadhe Adhure. Both were exceptionally good.

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