The Affable Anomie

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Location: New Delhi, India

Monday, July 25, 2011

Why Delhi Belly is Morally Repugnant (No, it's not the bad language!)


To be honest, I did have a lot of fun watching Delhi Belly. It was genuinely hilarious, scattered with lots of scatological humour, which luckily didn't quite succeed in disgusting me. There was also a genuine sympathy for the trio undergoing the main trials, since they did try their best to 'do the right thing' despite their 'shortcomings'. But there was something more to it that I found extremely objectionable, and even though it may not be fashionable enough to say it, I'll take the leap, because it did elicit a strong reaction. And it is about relationships. 

My case might seem trivial, but it is what leads to the smiley faces at the end of the movie. It's about a small tragedy, about something left unsaid, about a small value being flouted.

So here I begin.

There has to be sufficient cause for a person to let go of a relationship, at least in a movie, which either reflects values or influences them or both. In the case of Delhi Belly, we have Shenaz Treasurywalla as an airhostess, who for no fault of her own (except for the fact that she 'seems' silly and is stereotypically an air hostess who's supposed to be dumb) is just unceremoniously dumped by her boyfriend, the main character, Imran Khan (known as Tashi). The character of this poor girl is insufficiently developed to merit such a fate (as the laws of karma in the best movies dictate, or it trying to be irreverant and cool in this too?). She accidentally gets caught in a smuggling racket, still loves her boyfriend despite the disgusting conditions he lives in and what is worst, during her crisis, her boyfriend is snogging another chick whose character is too insipid and insufficiently developed for him to not only like her but to dump his fiancee for her. And immediately after she (Shenaz) is almost killed, her fiancee tells the brutish ex-husband of his rebound chick that he was the one kissing her, in front of his traumatised fiancee. So much for sensitivity towards another human being. And the movie thinks it's cool to do such a thing.

What's even more disturbing is the  scene of picking up the phone while having sex by a journalist while using the other person to their own ends. Rani Mukherjee (acting as a Barkha Dutt type character) does it in No One Killed Jessica and Imran does it again here, evincing a general cynicism and apathy towards relationships, where careers  (values of the market?) are prioritised above other human values) such as, in this event, even respecting another person or personhood in general. So even if Tashi doesn't love her, there's a basic respect that he owes to the woman to whom he as an apparent commitment. This cavalier attitude to commitments is a trend which is celebrated in the 'Move On' Fasttrack ads, where a person who breaks up is a really cool guy and a break up is good fun. Whereas break ups are more like tragedies in a fallen world, a little less than divorces, and the attitude I'm talking about undermines in general the idea of the sacred that ought to build relationships and the very fragility of love itself.

Why am I saying all this? Let's rewind to the Pirates of the Caribbean series (I haven't seen the last one so I don't know what happens), but the romanticism that leads Keira Knightly to forget her husband (or is it lover?- Orlando Bloom) and fall for Johhny Depp is coupled with guilt and also leads to the sort of separation between them that the relationship deserves. Taking my cue further from Noir film which is the prime example of everyone getting their due (and in general, there's a sort of tragedy when everyone get's more than it and a comedy in them getting less), the character of Shenaz doesn't get her due at all (perhaps that is her tragedy, but don't bother). Even the Woody Allen movies which talk about relationships getting monotonous and people leaving them, looking for excitement or finding excitement in a mutual adventure, hold the actors responsible for what they do.

One might say that when Tashi takes the interview of a stupid celeb, he bonds with the other chick (whatever her name is) on the grounds that she is smart and the idiocy of the celeb reminds him of his girlfriend. And the girlfriend's fault is that she is stupid and one can sympathise with Tashi for becoming disillusioned about an idiotic world. Although on the other hand, I'm not sure about how much intelligence he displays (except for creative cunning during adventures, which is hardly a virtue) or what other virtues he possesses except for the fact that he is slightly courageous, nonchalant and a picaresque character (the type of 'rogue' who goes through a series of episodic adventures) and what his ultimate education is, one really has to rack his or her brain to unearth (except for the very basic doing the right thing and saving people's asses. But that's just skeletal morality, elementary stuff that everyone's expected to do). To be fair, the so-called virtues I've outlined above are virtues in a sense, but are more geared towards getting your ends through the right kinds of means rather than anything that bespeaks anything humane. Added to that, the 'doing the right thing' is a kind of rationalized bureaucratic mentality too, where your morality is merely abstract and impersonal. Again, this speaks more of a kind of market mentality, where the coolness quotient is what defines you because that 'works' rather than any kind of positive kindness or just being nice. At the end of the day, everyone's still as callous as they come, except for the 'genuine sympathy' that they arouse, for which I'll still give a morsel of credit to the movie.

One might even say that Shenaz gets her due by virtue of her insensitivity when Tashi undergoes an ordeal the previous night, she scolds him for having been careless with the brand new car her father gifted him (which gets shot at etc.). But the same can be said about Tashi, who's cool by virtue of being indifferent for not having related the incidents of the precious night to her at all (perhaps because of his stiffy for the other chick), especially after she has indeed expressed explicit sympathy for his black eye. So basically, there's not only a massive communication gap because Tashi doesn't think he owes her an explanation, but also that the scene in which she's scolds him seems actually forced to fit what's to come, without any necessary sympathy involved for her (misogyny? excessive prejudice for a man's world?) which might include the possibility that that was just her initial reaction at seeing the state of the car which she could've reconciled herself to afterwards. For all we care, Shenaz is not worse than any of the others in the trio and I almost wish that she too got a fair share of the adventure. Moreover, it is appears that she more or less forgives Tashi or would've forgiven him for what happens to the car. 

What about Shenaz forcing the wedding on Tashi in collusion with his and her parents? From what I gather of Tashi, he seems to be a commitment phobe, as I've already delineated above, so I'm not sure that there's much more to say about that. He's freaked out by the idea of the wedding, given his bachelor irresponsibility, evidenced in his pad. That's understandable, but there are other ways of dealing with the phobia in question.

But above all, my problem is with the violation of the archetype of the hero involving a self-giving, along with the death and resurrection symbol. That the trio are unlikely heroes is very evident. That Tashi gives himself to save Shenaz at the climax is also clear when he covers her to save her from bullets. And that is a symbolic moment of death and after the bloodbath, when they find themselves alive, that is the symbolic moment of resurrection. And transgressing the shared death and resurrection ('if we died with him, we will also live with him'), Tashi goes on to go for the other girl; where maturity actually demands that there is a renewal of the love between Tashi and Shenaz, Shenaz forgives him for the 'adulterous' kiss, and the other chick comes to terms with it. So in the bottom line, here's where I have a major problem with the film, which is why I find it nihilistic--that it violates qualitative growth and renewal and substitutes it for a spurious one. 

Overall, this Delly Belly thingie seems to try to destroy the sacred in just the way Kunal Roy Kapur(Nitin) does it; the photojournalist who takes photos of breasts of interviewees, keeping the reels for himself, and puts flowers in the ears of the dead, taking photos of them, and is asked in turn "Is nothing sacred?" Or is it trying to say that that universe is random, and because random things happen to us, we should just be--random.

Or lets just say, as Simon Pegg says it in How to Lose Friends and Alienate People, "He (the director) is a talentless, pretentious little twat, who thinks that cinema began with Tarantino. And somebody needed to say that."

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Friday, February 18, 2011

Mornings at School (A Glimpse)- Work in Progress


Wake up at 6. Dorm Master calls. Slightly annoying voice, effective enough to wake you up. You raise your guts. Sleep for half an hour more. The nicer guys have woken up and have gotten ready. You have fallen by default among the ruffians for this tiny rebellion. You brush, wear uniform, tie etc. and wear your socks that haven’t been washed for a week, which you will dispose of anyway after they’ve turned brittle and have crumbled. After slipping on semi-polished shoes, you rush for the morning study at 7.

You have missed out on the morning milk between 6.45  and 7, called ‘chota’. Unlike many others, you don’t have any chocolate powder either. Important choice of priority that will affect you the rest of your life- milk or sleep. You choose sleep.

A brief interlude. Running to the study on little crunchy pebbles, you feel jerky morning breeze. Enough to make you realize later that you’ll never have mornings like this. Not even while rushing to the office. The flow of youth and small risks. 

Tuesday, June 01, 2010

Love and a Sense of Place

Pop music lays a truism upon us that really, love happens everywhere and if you truly are in love, it’s enough that it’s just the both of you and nothing else. Even the poets of old imagine an exclusively created world in which lovers perch together against just about everything apart from it.

But given the case of some people not liking ‘long-distance relationships’ and for that matter, Woody Allen stubbornly refusing to leave New York to be with his lover, reality at times seems to say the opposite. And this is where, for some of us, something as insignificant as Delhi (from the lover’s point of view) becomes larger than life.

Imagine sitting broke in North Delhi for two years, spaced-out not only because of studying, but also due to Kamla Nagar having been the only place you’ve been hanging out. Moreover, you feel dug-up and turned inside out just like all of North Campus being excavated for the Commonwealth Games. And when you bring all of this to your relationship, no matter how much love unwinds you, you still feel slightly stagnated. Given that there was a time when you could be in South Delhi and be all charm and wit, it annoys you even further.

Against the odds, we decide to go to India Coffee House (still CP, again the only accessible place and so you’re slightly sick of it) and the open balcony there brings about a certain candidness. We can now feel things beginning to move, and latch on to it for the next month. Later, with the threat of exams hovering about us, we sense the need for another sortie. So we proceed to JNU to get that extra sense of freedom, JNU being a place that is nowhere in particular. Invigorated by the breeze there, I tell her, “You’re exotic enough for me” and this somehow takes us further. Next comes the Basant Lok market, where the reassuring glow of the Fact and Fiction Bookshop and the coziness of Modern Bazaar (you feel like you’re in a refrigerator full of goodies) create that sort of world between her and me. We haven’t been to Khan Market yet, but I’m sure the white uncluttered atmosphere of the place is going to infuse us with a calm dignity and clarity of mind.

Indeed, you did visit these places when you were single. Indeed, you might have been happy there. But the point is, when you are in love, these qualities become part of your psyche and become more worth cherishing. Even on the way to these places, be it in the metro or a bus, you face each other differently and observe different things together (you can have fun at the expense of T-Shirt slogans in the metro or enjoy the embassy-lined road in Chanakyapuri with flowers of various colours in a bus). A sense of place not only makes you do things together, but makes you the kind of people you really want to be. And is that not the essence of love?

Monday, May 26, 2008

A letter I once wrote on boredom, laughter and the rest (29th May 2007)

Dear N---,

It’s really very nice of you to read my stuff, especially the ‘Ditties with no tone’ sketch (included in this blog). If you did notice that carefully, it is a description of mine, and everyone’s attempt to find meaningful content in life, and our struggle against boredom. Boredom has been one of the main themes of all my work and I consider it the greatest of all evils; I strive to find reasons behind it and explain its processes.

In the light of this, consider that I bore you at times, and this has been happening more and more often recently, when you have been in more of a hurry on the phone, and in this short time, like when someone goes up on stage impromptu, I land up bungling up by merely describing what I have been doing. What’s even more ironic is that I might be boring you in this very letter by discussing the boringness of boredom!

Well, the other day I really really called up to describe the opera. It meant so much to me. It was the nearest substitute to being in love and probably the greatest kindler of passions for those who are only a little in love. The elevated sentiment of it giving life to one’s deepest longings and the bringing together of the highest comedy and tragedy in it were quite a surprise, never really experienced by me before. I’ve never been so pained at unrequited love. It’s like when you’ve found a treasure but you suddenly discover to your utter bewilderment that the treasure chest develops wings, spreads them and flaps away disappearing into the stars: perhaps where it really belongs.

The story I might tell you later if you are interested.

The day before yesterday, my mother pulled me to the May Queen Ball at the ‘Ordinance Club’. I really didn’t want to go but I just thought, ”What the hell it might just be a different experience.” And so it was. The theme of the beauty contest seemed to be the synthesis of inner and outer beauty. From the beginning, I knew it was a gross mockery of all that smartness stands for and even perhaps what outer beauty is. For God’s sake do not judge a book by its cover is all right, but why on earth should the it be ugly!

And then came the great bit. There was this singer, almost lipsing his way to glory and a four member dance troupe behind him dancing with grins on their faces. Now they were doing all of this to the remixes of serious old songs, originally sung with the most serious faces. Added to that there were oldies acting out old songs in even slower motion than the old songs, like ‘Chaundwin ka chaand’, bringing out the absurdity inherent in these songs. When you come to think of it, all these performers were giving these old songs their due and bringing out a significant truth about life, love and other mysteries. In a way, these songs were extremely serious as the lyrics signify and the importance given to love in the greater scheme of things. But they are extremely absurd and ludicrous as seen in the amplified and magnified slow motion and the flippancy with which these dancers danced to it. It’s like Emran Hashmi and Udita Goswami in ‘ Tere bina meri shaam nahi dhalti’ or whatever, doing the most absurdly serious actions to what can be defined as puppy-dog-plastic love. Or as Oscar Wilde put it in a better way through one of his characters, he and his wife went their own way all day and when they met, they spoke the most ridiculous and absurd things with the most serious faces.

Perhaps this is what life is in general and love in particular. Every event in it can be viewed with utter seriousness and met with the most earnest attitude. But its incongruities make it necessary to give each one of us a right to laugh at them, however serious or sacred they may be. Maybe in slow-motion love we are trying to preserve the fleeting moment and thus struggle against the passage of time: rather serious and heroic, but at the same time absurd because it is futile to do any such thing, for who can wrap time in her arms? To all of this, to be fair, I’ll just add that shallow behaviour and loves deserve different laughs than the really profound ones. That’s probably the reason behind the difference between good and bad comedy.

Another thought that was rather funny and came in passing was that these shoddy dancers were like the common masses used by aristocrats for purposes of cheap amusement, mostly sexual, in the bygone era and that this is a modified relic of that. Again, like the parallels I’ve drawn between this and the opera, aristocrats had the use of the opera for the more profound side of life, serious or comic and this as the more flippant side of life. Perhaps we need both at times, and we even become both, coming to represent both the tedious and the elevated, the tiring and the sublime. I often like to think of myself as the moon, at one moment waxing excessively so as to be tiresome to the eyes, shallow because of flaunting its surface; at other times I’m dully covered, I become a mellow crescent moon when I’m quieter, dull crescent when quiet and boring, and maybe at the right and appropriate time just good enough to shine the right amount and covered with the right proportion of clouds to be soothing and brilliant at the same time. And I can venture to think that most of humanity is like that, in different degrees only they don’t realize it that they themselves and others happen to be so.It's rather ironic that it would be quite a drag without these longdrawn tedious processes. Imagine being the same all the time. Bo-ring.

Being with you has taught me stike a balance between seriousness and flippancy, silence and talkativeness, childishness and adulthood and even sanity and insanity. It's not that I accept conventional ideas of any of these: we need all of this at the same time and I guess we spend a mojor part of our lives trying to strike the perfect balance, an aesthetic charm. It gives us a will to want to do something other than just earning money and work like an animal. As C.S.Lewis said "There is a kind of happiness and wonder that makes you serious." Lose that balance and you lose the desire to live, at least not mechanically.

Ho hum, I guess I’ll have to end here. I’m writing this because it’s easier for me to write when I’m addressing it to someone than to no one but my self. Authors write better when they know they’re writing to an audience than not. According to my psychology book, humans perform better when others are around because of an unconscious desire to be competitive. To end, all I can say right now is that I thank you for being my audience for the time being.

Thanks again,

Love,
Shamik

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Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Oscar Wilde's Homosexuality, Catholicism and his hunt for Ideal Beauty

Stephen Fry in his interview, who acted as Wilde in the film ‘Wilde’’, and other scholars have often puzzled about Oscar Wilde’s homosexuality. But one look at Michaelangelo's David by any man might just give the answer to this conundrum.

Indeed, Wilde was enraptured by the idea of beauty. But as is natural with all humans, he had the desire to possess it, and perhaps with his passionate temperament, this desire was stronger than usual.

It might arguably be said that all longing and art comes from this distance between beauty and the desire to possess it. This produces what the Germans call Sehnsucht, vaguely translated as 'inconsolable longing'. This disparity also produces irony, as is seen in various ways in which overstatement and understatement take place, represented as distance from the normal.

This desire for beauty overtook him when he saw beautiful men. If you watch the movie 'Wilde' , you would come across a scene on the couch with Bosie and Wilde making love, but Wilde being intensely pained at the whole experience, and his complaint about his own compulsive behavior when it came to his homosexual 'lovemaking'. Yes, past reason hunted, no sooner had, past reason hated. And this intense pain, this overbearing and compulsive desire to possess beauty was his tragedy- his beautiful tragedy. His hamartia.

A connection can also be made with this disparity between beauty and the desire to possess it with his love for Catholicism. In the the act of partaking the sacraments and the mass, the sacramental and symbolic nature of the world actually gets one in possession of beauty in a sense, in a way that metaphors which are parts of beauty in us, but not concretely in our possession. The sacraments then become the most concrete objects of beauty than can be possessed.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Men, Women, and the In-between.

The great thing about family is that they laugh at the worst of our jokes. I think that's the reason why people get married and are eager to have families--immediate or extended, and that's probably one of the reasons why the whole institution exists-- to help people get away with jokes without embarrassing themselves; embarrassment only takes place in front of friends, girlfriends and outsiders, and not really with family, the family being more forgivable most of the time. Quite obvious, I would think.

Before getting married a boy-man is exhorted by his girlfriend to 'grow up' whenever he makes an attempt to be funny. Well, he indeed is funny in the beginning stages and full credit is given to him for being so. But then this man's sole responsibility becomes to 'grow up' and get serious enough for marriage. But then again, when marriage does come, he now obtains the freedom to crack as many wise ones as he wants to and get away with them as he isn't insecure now about his wife leaving him for this 'irritating' but little foible of his (little? and yeah, his girlfriend would surely have left him) .

Of course, his wife has to take it and accept that 'humour', that particular bent of his disposition as she has to do others. His children have to bear them because he is their father. Still, a corollary of all this is that the day the wife stops laughing no matter how funny you are, is the day you know you have a major problem--or that your marriage is on the rocks. Marriage is all about compromise isn't it, and well, when that doesn't happen, there must be something grevously wrong. And that's when it's time for the man to compromise with his funny bone. Life isn't all fun and games, is it?

At least that's what women want us to think. But then, from the time they are kids, they have been playing at being adult--what with the dolls' house and the kitchen set, so it is more likely that they are playing games all the time since we can't figure out when this girlish game-playing stops and becomes the womanly not-game-playing: humans are creatures of habit, old habits die hard and all such reasons just go on to prove this all the more.

So it is women who are the ones playing games most of the time. We men are serious with our joking. Dead serious. Our life depends on it.

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Monday, October 29, 2007

A Matter of Life and Death

We have to fear death somewhere. This is because if we don't, I doubt if we would attribute any value to life. In other words, one of the main reasons we fear death is precisely because we value experience. A complete attitude of indifference to death might reduce any value whatsoever, and might produce a kind of nihilism which would justify not only the reduced worth of our own lives but also of others, thus producing a kind of psychopathic attitude, logically speaking (that is, if the principle of non-value is applied consistently.)

And again to fear death too much would be another extreme, the consequence of which is all too obvious, and here life might be valued to that extent that living itself would be paralysed because of the fear that one might lose it. In this picture I would bring in the value of comedy, or rather the comic view of life. In the latter case, the comic view of life helps because one can laugh about death, life and everything, knowing that one ought not to take it all too seriously and be willing to let it go when time calls.

But to counterbalance it, one must take the tragic view of life as in the first case, knowing all too well that death is inevitable, there is nothing one can do about it, and there is much sorrow at the loss of this grand wonder called 'life'. That's why especially we feel sadder at the death of a younger person with 'potential' because he or she hasn't ' experienced 'life ' to the uttermost. So comedy and tragedy are two sides of the same coin, and I say this especially to those to whom this comes as a surprise. The greatest comedians are those who are aware of this. To find out why this is so, just try telling yourself "I'm gonna die" in a funny Donald Ducky voice!
What's really interesting here is that Woody Allen explores all these themes in his movies, i.e. death, comedy, tragedy and fascism (the psychopathic mentality?) in a very fascinating way. Charlie Chaplin's done it too and for that matter all great long-lasting comedy has been doing it till now. And there's always the clown in Shakespeare's tragedy. So, in the light of all this history and histrionics, the only thing that can be said right now is, "Take my advice, adopt the tragic view of life!?...Huh!"

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