Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Is your script beautiful enough?

In DesignIndia yahoo groups there are two interesting posts on communities resisting to adopt Latin/Roman scripts in their communication platform. This is my take on the issue.

I observe Latin/ roman invasion in script as a direct virtue of certain burocratic convenience. The colonization that prevailed over centuries in many countries had a direct influence in the way legal/ official language had been developed for communication as well as documentation of information. I remember, very recently i happened to stumble across some documents with my dad's which included his "Jathaka" written over palm leaves and some property ownership stamp papers which were written approximately during 1948-1951. Assuming that two different professionals wrote both approximately during the same time but the change in language structure was very much apparent.
While the Jathaka followed a "post-Maniprvala" classical Malayalam structure, the legal document had a mix of newly defined English-Malayalam legal terminologies written in Malayalam. However, one visible resemblance in both was the formation of long sentences much similar to the oral linguistic tradition. Now if you look at a modern version of these two documents in computer print outs you may hardly find any difference in the sentence structure barring the finer details of the message that is communicated.

The dependencies on publishing mechanisms and channels had altered the script structure over the years. As the community got trained and stamped with this mode of language, reverting back to old scripts and its structure seemed to be a less friendly path. Part of our comfort in accepting Latin/roman structure comes from this perspective.

Another observation that i have is that most of the Indic scripts don't have a documented calligraphic tradition. Except the scriptures in Brahmi and Devnagiri i don't recall any strong calligraphic aesthetics specific to Indian scripts. This is often a very hard reality for font designers when they are faced with challenges of designing a new font in any indian language. I had tried a lot to find a well-documented calligraphic tradition in Malayalam for a better study of script forms while I was doing my font design project at IDC. True, Indian scripts like Kannada, Malayalam, Bangla, Oriya has stunning visual forms but the translation of them in to more structured type design format is tedious. This has driven Indian font design to many directions. We have purists designing fonts based on intricacies of native script and we have modernists who either cater to the needs of todays publishing platforms. For the later, often the path to design typefaces for specific needs gets translated to adopting the proportions of a Frutiger or a Gillsans for display text or a DINMittelschrift for a signage application or Bellcentinniel for an address book font.

So, to conclude there is a greater need for awareness for the beauty of Indian scripts among the people who are using them. We need excessive documentation- a documentation that should not find its place in bookshelves or government archaeological Museums but documentation that can bring a cultural brand identity such as Kaanchi script brings for Orientalism. Honestly, how many of us can associate with a fashion statement of writing on your T shirt- a proverb from your regional language, in vernacular script? I have my own doubts. But we are extremely comfortable with an oriental script, rubber printed on our T shirt (and adidas brand). Type Designers should also work in these lines of creating awareness of Indic script tradition than trying adopt serifs or half serifs for Malayalam or Tamil scripts they develop.

Sunday, April 03, 2005

Unfamiliar Voices...

The day is coming when a single carrot, freshly observed, will set off a revolution. - Paul Cézanne

Cézanne argued that “We are trained to see things in certain way. Painters are trained to see things in depth. But what happens in this process is that our vision becomes a routine”.

Things have not changed much after Cézanne. We are still trained by guilds, ideologies, and our own prejudices in our views.

Few years back when I was having a discussion on film music with Raghuram, he told me that he likes M.G Sreekumar’s voice and style of singing. It was hard for a puritan like me who got trained in Carnatic Music to accept MG Sreekumar as a singer at par with KJ Yesudas. I believe many will still agree with me if I rate Yesudas as a better singer. In view of the things that had happened in Indian popular music over the years and the ways in which it reaches an average music fan like me, I am forced to have a second thought on my music tastes.
Popular music does not anymore exist in isolation with singers or even movies that belongs to any particular region. Channels air music that is cross-cultural and we have no choice but to listen to and form opinions. We confront with perplexing decisions as to listen to a song or not (Do we have any choice?). On the other had the music director has an immense pressure to create tunes that are widely accepted.

One very recent instance is the song Lajjavathiye… from the film 4 The People. Sung by the music director Jassie Gift himself, the song disgusted me in its rendition both through visuals and the voice of the singer. The song had gained a lot of critical attention for all the surprising reasons- its popularity (hit the top of the music charts in all the 3 south Indian languages to which the movie got dubbed), activists celebrated the attention that a Dalit singer/music director got in predominantly class patronized Malayalam music scene, the blend of Dalit music and reggae tunes (both voices of the oppressed).

In Picture: jassie (right) and Jayaraj, film director.

Let me tell you my discomfort with this song. My music tastes are trained to expect a Yesudas or Venugopal rendered song for this song's lyrics. For me to form an opinion on Jassie Gift and his song for its radical treatment is hard because the song exists no more in isolation. Its hard for me to imagine the character played by Bharat, a superb freestyle dancer to sing and dance for Lajjavathiye… with totally out of place cultural collage of classic Dance forms from Kerala at the background and a romanticized song in its simple lyrical meaning (lyrics by Kaithapram who is a Brahmin!).

Jassie Gift could not repeat his magic as a music director in the movies that followed as many expected. In one-way people expected yet another Lajjavathiye from him.
But I started liking Lajavathiye… when I started listening to the song more often and when I restrained myself from seeing the image of Bharat jumping around and the buffoon like Kathakali- Mohiniyattam performers in the song as they hold no relevance to me to understand his music. I accept Jassie Gift as a singer now after listening to him singing few Telugu songs and one playful song from the new Jayaraj film- Makalku. These songs are shot with out diluting the intentions of the songwriter or the movie flow.

Songwriters and music directors are least understood and under utilized in today’s formula driven movies. Jassie Gift’s effort to invent a music style is genuine for his role in the film industry. Although the effort had gained attention, much of its real power as a piece of pure idea had been diluted by the intellectual discussions that hovered around it- thanks to its visual version by an insensitive director.

Jassie’s voice and his music is special for its reach to the widest spectrum of popular film music lovers in recent times. I don’t think it is for the fast and trendy camera and editing work that Jayaraj adapted to visualize this song… but it is for the depth and rustic sound of Jassie singing and the popular music of his own blend that worked for the song. We can observe a lot of singers with the not so soothing sound delivering powerful songs that reaches people across regional boundaries. The likes of Jassie Gift, Kailash Kher and Rabbi Shergil are laying the basics of an avant-garde music movement in India. There is truth and honesty in their vice that a common music lover can digest.