Aug 24, 2010

Failure ...

... rankles, undermines confidence, deprives sleep, forces you to confront old demons. Once you have failed miserably, is there any sense in re-attempting the same? Even if you do well the next time, will the pain of the first attempt vanish? No. That is your's forever.

The problem with eternal restlessness is that you are forever seeking, easily moving from one fulfillment to another, never quite sure what you want. Restlessness is a curse, and self-doubt and loathing are close cousins. For the quester wants are like clay dough that children play with - changing shape and easily malleable. Anything goes. And if you are forever seeking and striving, you are bound to fail sometimes; the odds can't support you forever.

You are a moth and all you ever wanted was to be a butterfly. When you do finally metamorphose into one, you tear those beautiful wings.You spend all your life seeking something and when you finally find it, you realise that's not what it was about. Or you do something stupid and lose it. What then? You decide to key in a new search. Thus begins Eternal Sunshine of the Restless Mind.

I read Updike's seminal 'Run, Rabbit Run' again recently. Morbid is too mild a term for such works. Yet, I understood his impulse to run. Point is: do you run towards or away from?

I used to listen to this song a lot while growing up; post a late night conversation with L, she said something and it came back:

Run To You

I know that when you look at me
There's so much that you just don't see
But if you would only take the time
I know in my heart you'd find
A girl who's scared sometimes
Who isn't always strong
Can't you see the hurt in me?
I feel so all alone

I wanna run to you
I wanna run to you 
Won't you hold me in your arms 
And keep me safe from harm
I wanna run to you 
But if I come to you 
Tell me, will you stay or will you run away

Each day, each day I play the role
Of someone always in control
But at night I come home and turn the key
There's nobody there, no one cares for me 
What's the sense of trying hard to find your dreams
Without someone to share it with
Tell me what does it mean?

Aug 22, 2010

Notes on Peepli [Live]

There is something incredible that happens as you sit watching Peepli Live (PL), another gem from Aamir Khan productions. You start to feel fat, bloated, ugly, dirty, ummm, .... corpulent. This feeling hits the peak midway into the film when we meet the skeletal figure of Mahto, the farmer who has lost his land & now keeps relentlessly digging mud all day on an empty stomach and under a merciless sun, to sell it for construction work . You have seen such Mahto's in previous films of rural exploitation by mrinal sen, shyam benegal and adoor gopalakrishnan, yet it knocks a hard punch again. Any filmmaker who can present a story or material that we are already familiar with and yet shake us so hard, deserves kudos and that is the least of Rizvi's accomplishments.

PL tells the story of Natha (Omkar Das Manikpuri), the dimwitted, ganja khor, younger brother of Budhiya (Raghuvir Yadav), both impoverished farmers living in one of the many hinterlands of our great nation where farmers' lives are held ransom to the gratuitous wishes of local politicians and their goons and the whims of a capricious monsoon. The family loses its ancestral land, though one look at the other farmers and you know the land wasn't that big a boon for them really; and through a curious mix of circumstances and very shrewed psychological manipulation by Budhiya, Natha announces that he will commit suicide as the government has announced a compensation of Rs 1,00,000 for the family of such suicide victims.  Post such sensational announcement, his suicide is touted as the first 'live suicide' and media channels from all across the nation swoop down on Natha and his family, and probe, poke, punch their way to obnoxious breaking news. As the media circus grows crazier and everyone from bureaucrats, reigning politicians to opposition members get involved, the once sleepy and dead village in Mukhya Pradesh becomes a hotbed of business. Corn stalls, sellers of 'Miss World' bindi , and candy floss carts range around the periphery of Natha's house. No one seems to care that at the heart of this drama is a very real & haunted human being who recedes deeper and deeper into a corner and loses all semblance of a living, breathing, individual. PL is not really about the scumbag that the media is or about political apathy to the nation's problems. It is actually about something that is dying, or already dead in all of us; something that was not supposed to ever die; the loss of which we cloak in an air of nonchalance as we cite our busy schedules and hectic lifestyle as the reasons behind such indifference. We watch wonderful films, read inspiring accounts of whistle blowers who pay with their lives, shed a few tears, write a blog and go get a drink.

PL has been labelled a black comedy, a satire and even been compared to Janey Bhi Do Yaron. The thing that stuck me as odd was that not once in its 2-hrs plus running time was i able to laugh as i do every time i watch JBDY.Thing is, there's too much at stake here; plus JBDY, while very distressing, delves about something that we have all had to accept fairly early on - the loss of integrity. But we haven't killed anyone! PL has at its centre a helpless human being ; one who, albeit an imbecile, is the father to 3 children and a son, a brother and a spouse. Sure his life is no great guns, yet it is all he has. You can't sit back and laugh as that life, the only one he has ever known, is taken away from him. As this theatre of the absurd unravels, you start to feel a strange constriction in your chest, you wish you could weep, but can't. In this, PL impacted me in much the same manner that Revolutionary Road & MDB did. These films leave a hangover that you struggle to shake off in the next few days.

What is really wonderful about the film is that even while outlining all the muck and dirt and corruption we have become so accustomed to, it never exhibits any self-righteous indignation, nor is the media a terrible conniving villain as in Rann or New Delhi Times. Like all of us, journos have their KRAs and KPIs to think of  and when TRPs decide your next pay hike or promotion, it doesn't take much pushing to cover sansanikhes stories like Prince-falls-into-the-well. The journalists in the film are not particularly unscrupulous, they have simply chosen to desensitize themselves in much the same manner a surgeon has to in order to perform his job effectively.  Which is why, when one of these journos does fall, that strange compression swells once again, yet you feel oddly relieved. Had he continued to live, Avinash (Nawazuddin Siddiqui) would have turned into another Mallika, another one of us.

I don't want to talk about the film's music or fantastic actors as much has been written about those things. But there is a particular scene that deserves special mention. Nawazuddin Siddiqui is that rare actor who can produce that slight crack in the voice that men emit when they are struggling to speak without breaking down, that slightly wet-eyed stare as they struggle to maintain their bravado in the face of events that scar them forever. He has done the same in a 5-minute scene in that eminently forgettable film New York where i first noticed him. He embodies all that was once alive within us and which we lose as we grow older. He reminds you of the wisdom of those old words - the good die young. 

Finally, a sense of immense gratitude to aamir khan for backing such films, for ensuring them the promotion that is PL's due, yet would have been impossible had he not been behind it. I'm an unabashed aamir khan fan and i can see many smirk at what i'm going to write next (D, jd, avi). To me, he embodies the life cycle of a successful man, one we must all aspire to be. He is/was a brilliant actor and now that he doesn't exactly have to bother where his next meal will come from, has branched out and lent his expertise to promote subjects close to his heart. It's not simply a TZP or PL that earns him my respect. This was the 1st actor who visited the jawaans in Ladakh before NDTV started carrying out weekly excursions with the likes of actors like urmila matondkar and sunil shetty! This is the very same guy who i have yet to see in a single yawn-worthy, forgettable ad. In an industry rampant with mediocrity, he is the epitome of quality (ok, am sure he signed Ghajini in a moment of amnesia). Salude Sir!

Aug 17, 2010

Devdas, the Shakespearean King and their Rights

I'm not a huge fan of SLB but you gotta give it to the dude: when he gets it right, he evokes the tragic grandeur of Guru Dutt. Check the above scene even if you think SRK is worse than H1N1 & the Afghan mujahedeen combined. C'mon, it's less than 2 mins!

When i first read 'King Lear', i was puzzled cause i couldn't appreciate any obvious tragedy in what happens to Lear. He's a cranky, selfish, egotist who doesn't really care about anyone but himself & gets what he deserves. But wait, let's not be hasty. The beauty of this great tragedy is not what befalls him, but what it makes of him. There is something deeply moving and almost spiritual about the way he changes once he has lost it all - daughters, the crown, dignity. Yet, never has Lear stood taller than in those scenes on the heath when he stands challenging the elements. There is something about being stripped of all your dear possessions that must shake the very foundations of who you are.

Devdas refers to something similar in the film above. He has been stripped of his village, his home, his beloved, and wonders when it will be his life. It is shattering if one comprehends that the man is left with no centre to define himself anymore. He has to start from scratch or simply perish. However, like Lear there is a bit of assertion left in him. The world gives and takes away temporal titles and rights. But, there are some unassailable rights which no one can take away from us. It is this right to his mother's affection that he speaks of. These are the rights we arrogate to ourselves to make meaning of our lives & cling to in our darkest moments. Probably what makes them so unique is that there is no expectation that flows from these rights - they are deeply personal & ours alone and you know no one can take them away.