And taste kills pleasure.
I don’t know where I read that, but it’s stayed in my mind. And it more or else sums up my current state of being, my likes and dislikes, my passion and my boredom, what I’d kill for and what I wouldn’t give a damn about. Till a while back, everything with me was a constant conflict between knowledge and pleasure. In my case, fortunately or unfortunately, the twain has never met. At least in the conventional sense. What are we getting at here? Let’s try making it coherent.
Its 4:30 AM, I’m in Delhi doing post-production for a forthcoming TV series. I’m at my wit’s end and taking a breather, sipping hot water and looking out the window, literally marvelling at how pretty the city looks. Yes, even in the dark. And thinking about myself. Not in that narcissistic way where I look in the mirror and say, “You’re gorgeous, baby!” But more like “where am I at and what next as yet another year comes to an end.” What brings such profound thoughts?
I got a call a few days ago from a good friend who’s a Bollywood scriptwriter in the big league. Now, without naming names, we must understand that there are two big leagues in Bollywood. The Cerebral Big League (No, it doesn’t include The Factory) and The League of Extraordinary Gloss (That which we love to hate but still watch!). Scriptwriter Friend is from the former and has healthy disdain for the latter. Him and I have spent many hours trying to convince each other about our respective leagues. He’d recently watched Dhoom-2 and the call was about that. He laughed as he confessed how he wanted to leave the theatre halfway through the film but stayed back after an interesting thought struck him. The fact that he should watch the second half of the film “completely from Vijayeta’s perspective,” trying to grasp what I would have “loved” about it and why. At which point, with much glee I informed him that I’d absolutely loved the new Don as well. He confessed to being deeply flummoxed and was waiting for me to return to Bombay, when he could ask me a few very basic questions about those films and if convinced, he’d be as big a believer as I am. Hearing that, I was deeply touched and also slightly amused. I ended up laughing and when the conversation ended I didn’t know if I was laughing out of happy amusement or was it the laughter of the hysterically insane. I had a feeling it was the latter.
So here I am right now, thinking about “My Perspective on Films” and how insane it really is. It’s shocking. So here’s where that quote about knowledge breeding taste comes to mind. When you do an MA in Film Studies, you’re subjected to a lot of textbook jargon about the craft of films. Painfully boring books called The Five Cs of Cinematography, Editing Explained, Sound Theory etc comprised a part of the killer syllabus. The other part, and the more interesting one was Film Appreciation which comprised watching up to 4 films a day in a cold auditorium and discussing each film to bits once over. We saw all kinds of films. They were usually divided into sections like Film Noir, French New Wave, Italian Neo- Realism, The Hollywood Classics and so on… Without inviting mainstream Bollywood cinema to the merry little party. Hmpfh!
Phew! I guess I’ve shown off enough! Point is, I did appreciate most of that stuff. I could watch the works of Fellini, Truffaut, Godard and Tarkovsky a number of times. I loved the Noir films by Jules Dassin, Fritz Lang and Billy Wilder from that era and after that Scorsese’s Taxi Driver proved to be eternally fascinating. While the Japanese and Chinese films provided a good reason to doze off somewhere in the last row of the auditorium. Except Rashomon, everything else was beyond me and the Communist cinema from China made me burst into hysterical giggles which I’d a hard time controlling. One film by Ozu began with a whiny little Chinese child singing an extremely annoying song, the subtitles for which were “Hammer and sickle, hammer and sickle…” I had to duck my head to suppress my giggles and when I rose to leave the class pretending to cough madly, the subtitles were something about the Red Army and rice! Instead of returning to class I bunked and went to watch Dil Chahta Hai, first day first show. It seemed like ages when I wasn’t watching a film to write an 8 page essay on it later! I wasn’t looking at edit techniques, mis-en-scene, blocking, influences in narrative style, subtext, visual grammar and more such stuff even though I’m sure there was lots. The romantic in me was up and about and kicking. I was glowing.
After the film studies exam, which was in January 2003, I’ve never watched any of those films again barring La Dolce Vita as a rare impulse. If someone held a gun to my head, I could still discuss them and tell you what was awesome about them, but that’s that. Knowledge had given me the taste and refinement but completely killed pleasure. And what was pleasure?
Pleasure is Bollywood cinema through and through. The lost and found twins, the ichchadhari nagin films, the films of the early 80s with south Indian sensibilities, the disproportionate voluptuousness of Sridevi and Jaya Prada, kickass jhatkas that could be measured on the Richter scale, villains that took the cake in being over the top and the ever so delightful vamps! I mean, the classics and all that are fine, but this is staple, wholesome regular movie fare. Isn’t it? At least I think so.
The irony was that exactly a day after my exams were over, I flew to Bangalore to start my career in the entertainment industry as an assistant director, it was a huge un-learning experience. No one really cared about how many essays you wrote and how innovative you were while making your student film. The entire movie industry is self-obsessed, inane, capricious, cruel, misogynistic and silly. Sometimes the whole thing seems quite ridiculous when you realise you’ve spent the better part of a day trying to get an actress to dance so you can get at least 3 shots right in an entire song! It’s a beast that requires vast amounts of money, time, and skill to get "right.” And for all the blood, sweat and tears it provides only a few brief, shining moments of rightness before becoming completely wrong. Before being written off by pseudo-intellectual, uppity critics or being run over by next week’s bigger blockbuster with hotter item songs. With each new project in the entertainment industry you understand it as the place where you see where you are on the food chain every day - you can’t help it. You see where you are by the work you’re involved in. Who talks to you at parties? Who you talk to at parties? One survival mechanism here is a deliberate un-selfawareness which leads to an inability to be ashamed or embarrassed or humiliated. And the shoots soon become a happy memory shared by all the unit members who really become like family.
Armed with that un-selfawareness and inability to be embarrassed, I will proceed to admit that even years later, I am still entranced by the opening music when the opening credits come on in the dark theatre. I am shamelessly enchanted and mesmerized by all the “entry scenes” of each character no matter how predictable they are. If I walk into a theatre late and miss the ‘hero ki entry’ I feel awful and I sulk at all those responsible for getting me late. I sit grinning happily when two people are falling in love and when their first song comes on. It warms the cockles of my heart to see a lovely looking Kajol dancing happily amidst the pyramids of Egypt wearing lovely saris and SRK in transparent linen shirts. At that time, they are not SRK and Kajol for me. They are Rahul and Anjali from two different socio-economic backgrounds who’re fighting against all odds to be together. I understand the horrible political incorrectness of Kuch Kuch Hota Hai but I love it nonetheless. I wait for the scene where Rahul sees Anjali for the first time after 8 years and when it comes, I’m usually crying happy tears. Oh, before that, when he ignores Anjali for the hotter looking Tina, I’m just short of sobbing hysterically for unrequited love. While watching Krrish, I’m not watching Hrithik. I’m watching the first Indian superhero doing really awesome stuff and beating up all the bad guys. And for the duration of that film, I really am able to believe that he is a superhero and not another actor hooked on to dozens of complicated wires that enable him to fly/run like that. While watching Dil Chahta Hai, I cry for Aamir Khan’s loneliness when he makes that call to his father and reminded me of myself many many years ago when I was in the hostel and made a similar call home. Omkara is Omkara to me and Othello is a distant memory. When he’s killing Dolly with that pillow in the end, my heart aches for her and I wish that somehow, magically he should know what he’s doing is wrong and stop! I also feel bad for being completely unable to stop him myself! Kal Ho Na Ho remains my all-time favourite film and I’ve been ridiculed countless times about it. But I really feel that the title track is one of the best which symbolises the optimism and helplessness of a terminally ill man, yet without being pathetic. And Kuch To Hua Hai is 100% me when I’m in love even before the film came out and I’m already grinning like there’s no tomorrow! One of the most profound moments for me was the screening of Border after its release in a makeshift auditorium for Army officers and jawans in Srinagar. The silence during the film was something else and I saw many, many people crying discreetly during the Sandese Aate Hain song.
I’m aware this already sounds quite insane, but it’s true. Masala movies just transport me totally into their world. At that point, the last thing on my mind is blocking, shot division, mis-en-scene, narrative devices etc etc. For me, its movie magic all the way. And it's because films provide a complete escape. It offers the fantasy of a life that is way beyond the mundane routine we’re bound by, paying our bills, long commutes, meeting deadlines and dealing with a bad PMS! It is pure, airbrushed, and unadulterated gorgeousness, and it provides the promise of something more, something that transcends the everyday grind. It’s the bubble I can build around myself and the world suddenly looks sooo much prettier. It’s clean, exotic and glossy filled with shiny happy people who sing and dance out of pure unadulterated joy. They cry for the sake of love, for the agony and anguish of love and often there’s a sad song to underscore that feeling. Such ability of the characters to totally give in to any emotion and to lose themselves in it with such unselfconsciousness completely feeds the romantic within me. And mind you, the romantic within me IS. A. G-L-U-T-T-O-N!
The romantic in me gives in to emotions at the drop of a hat. I’m very easily moved by a painting, even architectural brilliance, books and songs. And I’m not ashamed to cry. Though the people who accompany me usually are. Not ashamed to cry, but ashamed of having accompanied me. My biggest regret is going to watch Black without carrying a pack of tissues! And if I were to write a comparative essay on anything to do with films right now, I’d probably do it on the best ever “Confession of Love at the airport” scene of all times. Umm, it’s also my biggest romantic fantasy. Every time I take a flight, I can’t help thinking about it. That The One is madly in love with me and realises just about now and I’d be gone for good after this. So he runs wildly on the roads, dodging traffic, hitching rides, panicking and worrying and trying not to cry but keeping in sync with the heart wrenching romantic song playing in the background. He manages to sweet-talk/dodge airport security creates a merry chaos inside while I walk towards the plane completely unaware right till the point the plane’s about to take-off and he shows up and confesses his undying love to me. (If there are any spectators they should be rooting for him to stop the plane in time so he gets The Girl!) And of course we’d live happily ever after!
And while I’m not watching a film currently, it’s three songs to blame. Melissa Etheridge’s I Want To Be In Love and two songs from Salaam-é-Ishq: Dil Kya Kare and the title track, Salaam-é-Ishq which are on repeat play right now. Er, I think I must mention here that I’m not in love with anyone currently and am still single but I want to have all those “madly in love” moments from films to happen to me right now! Films like this are a total guilty pleasure for me. Pleasure as far removed from the trappings of cinematic “knowledge” as possible. Of course it doesn’t mean I’m not aware of the craft and the way complicated shots and stunts are handled. And all that's 100% make believe created by people like us. And it’s pure knowledge that’s making me go into long, self-conscious explanations like these. I mean, if I liked eating dark chocolate, would I care to explain that much? Hell no! But then, I wouldn’t be perceived as a hopeless retard either, right? I mean who in this day and age goes to watch films and gets so carried away just stopping short of believing that the characters were behind the screen and I could reach out to touch them!
Though sometimes I wish I could. Like right now. The horizon’s a foggy blur and it’s an hour before dawn and work is far from over and here I am seeking shelter in my romantic bubble. I’m thinking of Woody Allen’s The Purple Rose of Cairo. At this moment I could be the tired, overworked Cecilia going to the movies to be transported into that glossy world and the high life. And er, while Cecilia had Tom Baxter walking out of the film and falling in love with her, I want (See? It’s ‘knowledge’ that makes me hesitate so much before naming the name! And the fear that I may be disowned by all those who love me. Oh well! Let’s risk it!) The name’s DON. No, not Shah Rukh Khan in his real self. But the character Don. The man I was literally gaping at right from the first scene when he takes that mock bow with the ballet dancers in Paris. Such deadly panache! And the way he looked as he teed off on that awesome course, that easy sex-appeal underscoring his relaxed body language (Which had more to do with the camera’s languid tilt-up shots of him and divine lighting. There! That’s knowledge again!) Basically, it’s everything. And I want that character to step out of the film just like Tom Baxter does, walk up to me and profess undying love and invite me to join him in his life of crazy adventure, fraught with danger and thrill (Er, yes, a lot of it is illegal but then in the film he never gets caught, right?) I even know which scene made me feel that way. While Don was an incredibly polished and cultured character, my jaw dropped when I saw him in that walk-in sort of safe where he went to keep the diskette which has all his vital contacts. I wonder if anyone else noticed Edvard Munch’s famous painting The Scream in the back, kept with the loving care of someone who proudly cherished his art. Not just that, The Scream was stolen in the year 2004 but it was recovered in 2005 making it a year too late for the complete relevance in the film. Anyway, there’s knowledge sneaking up again. Point is, Don obviously loves expensive art. And I’m sure he’d also love having long conversations about post-impressionists and expressionists and also modern artists. Sort of like Bond. I want to be with him in the car during all the car chases. I want to be with him in that HUGE bath tub in that gorgeous spa-like bathroom. I want to pour him champagne while giving sexy come hither looks when he’s looking particularly dapper in those fitted jackets matched with the Tag Heuer watches. I want to dance with him on Khaike Paan Banaras Wala matching him in his energy and steps. And of course, I want to save him from the bad guys (The gyarah mulko ki police!) YES! Duh! If you look at it from ‘our’ perspective (hee hee, that sounded gooood, OUR) those are the bad guys, but then WHY AM I EXPLAINING!? And then after saving him, I would get to hear the ultimate, million dollar line “Don ko pakadna mushkil hi nahin…” And you know what’ll be so cool about it? He’d say it to me! It’d be his original line and (anyone who wants to make any references to the earlier Don is not allowed to speak here!) I’d be over the moon thinking how cool, witty and sexy he is! Like Tom Baxter he can say: I love you. I'm honest, dependable, courageous, romantic, and a great kisser.
And I guess I’ll have no choice but to say, like Cecilia: I just met a wonderful new man. He's fictional but you can't have everything. And the credits will roll as we drive a cool Mercedes convertible into the sunset. (Does this sound like the film in a film theme from the film? Is Knowledge sneaking up again?)
And I know no one’s going to take me seriously after this brutally honest admission and I’m practically inviting trouble from all fronts from all my intelligent, well-informed friends (especially Scriptwriter Friend who's still trying to grasp why I liked KANK!) and Best-est Friend who's totally understanding when I withdraw into my little bubble, holds my hand indulgently and passes on tissues too when i'm crying in the theater over someone else's life!
Back to work now! It was an all-nighter after all but writing this was such pleasure. If tonight’s work were a film, this post would be the hot item number in it!
(Singing loudly - I Want To Be In Love)