Wednesday, June 25, 2008

... and Broadway

This trip to NYC was not about sightseeing, but just to catch up with friends. And Broadway. Or to be more precise, RENT. This was my opportunity to experience the phenomenon before it closes on September this year. So we booked a Sunday afternoon show at Nederlander Theatre.
And Broadway is literally a just a broad way connecting two ends of the New York City. The theatrical district is just a small part of it. The good thing about all American cities is the well laid out plans and streetways. You just need to know the nearest intersection of roads. And in places like NYC where all the streets are numbered in a systematic way (Streets running East-West with increasing number towards North and Avenues run North-South with increasing number towards East), its hard to get lost. Still we managed to make walk in large circles just to reach to the next block! And the subway map is really complicated. So many routes... I wonder if A.J. Deutsch were to write the famous sci-fi now, he would've written it about NYC MTA not about Boston MTA! Coming back to Broadway, we just had a short walk down 7th Ave from 34th St to 44th St to reach the junction of Broadway and 44th St at the famous Times Square (which, eventually, is a triangular junction) and again traced back along the Broadway just to find the we were actually hardly a hundred feet away from our destination from where we started! You know actually we were not paying attention to the street and avenue numbers as we had plenty of time to kill. We were just drifting with the crowd which being mainly tourists had obvious destination of Times Square.
And then the Nederlander Theatre. A shabby, old building in a narrow lane. Who thought that a theatre with more than 1200 seats will be there. Its hardly distinguishable from other buildings. On the other side of lane there is another old almost-derelict building with old stairwell hanging outside. That is the Amsterdam Theatre playing "Mary Poppins". The entrance to the Nederlander Theatre was 'guarded' by parked cars on the road and a big tourist bus covered the entire facade of the building (which was nothing but a series of posters of Rent on an old wall with wide doors!
Inside the theatre, things are as they should for a play whose premise is shady areas of mid-nineties New York! And with a lot of deliberation I had bou,ght four tickets of orchestra seating in fourth row with the idea that its gotta be a big hall to accommodate 1200+ people. And soon we realize, its apparently not that big and from our place we can touch the stage if we try hard! But the real problem was that we were little too close to the loudspeakers; nonetheless that didn't prevent us from enjoying the show. And that was a thrilling experience, but that story is somewhere else.
And back to Broadway again. That place - the place cordoned by Broadway, 7th Ave and 40th to 46th St is simply ... what should I say ... awesome, at least to me! Which way I turn my head I see a theater hall playing something. And not only something, they are playing plays like 'Rent', 'Boeing Boeing', 'Grease', 'Gypsy', 'South Pacific', 'Sunday in the Park with George' and what not! Its like a treasure trove! Theater is something I cherish and Musicals are something I love. I know some theatricians might not get that excited about Broadway because its not really a playground of experimental theater. Broadway is the capital of mainstream theater and hence the main interface with the crowd and the theatrician. I respect this community for having such a conglomerate of theaters here and making them a social outing place. Its like making theater more and more common-man-friendly. But there is a concern, too. Now-a-days just like any other popular media, Broadway is losing its originality. It is getting overshadowed by Hollywood. If you just go by the current shows at Broadway, how many of them are new and original? Not much. Mostly are wither revival (Boeing-Boeing, Sunday in Park..., South Pacific, Grease, Gypsy, etc.), or continuing old play (Mama Mia!, Phantom of the Opera, Rent, Lion King, etc.) or adapted froma hit movie (Lion King, Little Mermaid, Young Frankenstine, Xanadu, Hairspray, etc.) Earlier the trend was opposite, there were Broadway productions first then there were movies based upon that. Think about shows like 'Hair', 'Sound of Music', 'Fiddler on the Roof', 'West Side Story', 'Oklahoma!', 'Miracle Worker' and lots more. Now its opposite. There are movies like 'Legally Blonde', 'Hairspray', 'Cry-baby' which are the sources of new theater of Broadway. This is saddening. Theater used to be so much live, so much fresh, so much original...

But I have had my experience on Broadway, at last. And that too with Rent!

Tuesday, June 24, 2008


So I was there this weekend. The city that never sleeps! After living here in a small university town for almost a year, this was my first real visit to a big city (not just passing through or spending a night), and my first impression was, 'Wow!'
Living in this small university town made me taking disciplined, organized, friendly crowd, clean streets, no-nuisance neighbourhood for granted. And New York reminded me how wrong I was. It reminded me of another big city.
Dirty subway trains, dirty platforms, commuters leaning on door just beside the warning of not to lean on door, and incomprehensible announcements about upcoming station greeted me on my way to NYC. I was getting more and more comfortable, homely. Then I came out of the subway station at 34th Street, and 'Wow!'. So many people rushing about, street is all crowded, yellow taxis, hawkers yelling and selling things on the sideways, smalltime sellers selling used books and cds on the pavement, people shouting and bargaining, beggars asking for pennies, taxis honking, double decker buses, old torn movie poster on shabby walls, stinking dumpsters just beside a restaurant. I never felt so homely! It is just like Kolkata just little bit scaled up!
In fact Kolkata metro is probably little cleaner than NY subway but its much much smaller in volume, too. Kolkata doesn't have so many skyscrapers. Kolkata has tram, NYC doesn't and Kolkata has a distinctive betel spit decoration that sets her apart. There are some more minor differences such as cops don't pose in fron of their car with tourists in front of Victoria Memorial in Kolkata like they do in Times Square, you can hardly find an open manhole in NYC and things like that. Strikingly its the same life force jostles down the streets of NYC like it does in Kolkata. I guess this is the charecteristics of all the big cities.
And I read this inside the subway ...
"There are roughly three New Yorks.
First, there is the New York of the man or woman who was born there - who takes it for granted and accepts its size, its turbulence as natural and inevitable. Second, there is the New York of the commuter - the city that is devoured by locusts each day and spat out at each night. Third, there is the New York of the person who was born somewhere else and came to New York in quest of something.
Commuters give the city its tidal restlessness, natives give it solidity and continuity, but the settlers give it passion." - E B White

Isn't it true for Kolkata, too?

Saturday, June 14, 2008


Dyuti sent me link to this video.

Umqombothi is an African beer. And Yvone, the singer is one of the most famous African artist. She's often called princess of Africa. African music are very rich in percussions and the rhythm is simply amazingly vibrant. Apparently this song was used in opening sequence of Hotel Rwanda. It seems this is one of the biggest hit songs of Africa.

The funny part will reveal is when you listen to this video:

Its a Bengali band - Chandrabindoo performing a Bengali nonsence-rock.
I have no qualms with someone "copying" someone else's music, It is hard to differentiate between copying and getting inspired! Inspirations are always welcome, if you acknowledge your inspirations very good; if you don't, well, you are insecure and scared of your own capabilities! Anyway, this is not about copying someone's music.
I appreciate Chandrabindoo for their urban, satirical and nonsensical lyrics. But this time the first line of their song phonetically matches first line Umqombothi in an uncanny way! I mean, being a Bengali if I listen to Umqombothi, I'll hear the first lines of the song as "Brahma Janen, Gopon Kammo ti" ... and this is such a weird Bengali line, it can spun a beutiful nonsense poem in the hands of a good lyricist. I wonder if that's how this song worked for Chandrabindoo!
We MaDlamini

Uph'umqombothi (3x)

I work hard every day
To make my beer
Wake up early every morning
To please my people with African beer
I make sure the fire burns
To make my beer
My special beer Umqombothi
Is African beer