The common themes in both of these very well made Alexander Payne films are old age, the superficiality of human (read familial) relations and the ugliness that we have, bereft of options, increasingly come to celebrate as the ordinariness of everyday life. Payne brilliantly succeeds in unraveling the layers that comprise this ordinariness. Having watched these films, I found myself reflecting over the cinematic consequences of such an attempt. I am not sure if Payne intended to turn it sad and sour in the end. Despite being ‘light’ films, they end up leaving a very unpleasant taste. The images that persist are of sagging chins and balding heads, of jammed knees and of smelly underarms and of poor dinner tables and bland soup. The protagonists in both the films- Jack Nicholson as Schmidt and Bruce Dern as Woody deliver excellent performances and in doing so make us look inward into the crevices of our familial and professional lives. No prizes for guessing that we see only make do arrangements all over. What disturbs the most is the dumbness and the stupidity with which one goes about rejecting one permutation of sociality over other equally painful combinations. Be it divorce, moving away from parents or choosing a new lover, one is always face to face with hope and despair in equal measures. Roaming about the city and the urban neighborhoods in Omaha and Nebraska with these old men- sick of their wives and dim wit children and with a loathing of the treatment the world has meted out to them post retirement, we get to see the meaninglessness of self-imposed obligations that shape the entirety of our lives. Both the films have a number of characters that do little to repose our faith in the ideals of personal and social responsibility and in virtuous conduct. What guides their behavior is instead selfishness and a go with the flow attitude that is hilarious and yet extremely irritating. Mulroney’s act as the mediocre sales rep specially left me wondering about the trajectories that lives of people like him follow. Not that those of people like me would be any better. Overall, these powerful films leave their mark. They mirror very truthfully what and who we are today and force us to suspend judgment and go back to celebrating once again how ordinary have we all become. Watch them in a series if you haven’t already. They are very ordinarily impressive. Congratulations to Mr. Alexander Payne!
I have read a number of your writings. I belong to an age where satisfying the needs of the person at the consuming end matters more than anything else and hence I write to you with a wish list of things I want you to pen down in the work that you take up next. I sincerely hope that you would not take to heart a petulant reader’s intrusion into the world that you alone are and should be the master of. See if you can be accommodating enough and touch upon themes I so want to read about. If you could write a short story dealing with the bane of our times. Yes, I mean privacy. If you could clarify through the wisdom soaked nib, nuances of all the lies we say to each other all the time merely to keep our cupboards with hidden skeletons locked and away from the public view. Would you be interested in painting the portrait of an artist as a young man who does not realize and has no belief in his acumen. It would fascinate me no end reading about his encounter with a real life successful artist who cannot do justice to his oeuvre merely because of the shallowness of his approach and the powerlessness of his style. See if you can talk about vanities that have come to count for distinction. Thackeray is dead and gone. I want to read about a pair of women professionals who live a dying life each day in order to proclaim their status of being alive to the rest of the world. If you could put in a chapter where they cry hoarse about their birth as humans first and as women later. Will it be possible for you to devote a section of your book to overgrown children who look half their age and think along varying shades of grey. Write about a tree that looks at all these people standing silent and firm. Bring in the buffalo chewing its cud and pondering deep over the next big thing that the internet would be able to do for it. I don’t think including all of these requests into a piece of writing would be feasible, but then, yes, at times you must attempt a failed novel, a prosaic poem and an autobiography that is a disaster of all sorts. After all nonsense matters as much.
I hope to hear from you,
In a rather first, today, a whiff of anxiety and scare lashed by my soul. For a moment I found myself lusting for being amidst the unseen and the exotic. The moment when one despairs at being fettered to inconsequential chores stood staring me in the face. It so happened that I ran into a gentleman who had that care free aura around his congenial face. A short striking conversation with him made me brood over for a while and I sat down to think of his talk about racism, about visual communication and of temples and beggars in far-flung corners of the country. In the rest of the journey that he alighted somewhere in the middle of, my mind flew away to distant shores. I heard the storming, gorgeous waves and saw those picturesque tides. The inability to have that world surround me for real meant that the world was no longer at my feet as it always used to be. I cannot recall the last time I yearned for anything not within my immediate reach as strongly. That fleeting moment I was yearning to break free. As someone who has maintained, if not professed, that breaking free is not an option available to the human race, that desire of doing so came as a tough pill to swallow. That leap of imagination has left me weaker in terms of my suitability for a set pattern that I have tended to follow and fall by.
Curiously enough, I was haunted yet again, equally ephemerally, when in the market I saw this group of young boys selling chillies and gourds. Sitting side by side, attending to buyers, weighing the greens, they were jostling their things at each other and constantly conversing about things I could not know much about. Amidst the shrillness and the chaos was their world- unfettered, jovial and supple. It is funny to admit but I will. I felt like being one of them for the evening. Oh that I could travel back with them to their fields on a rainy noon and tend to their crop. Thankfully, I was done buying by the time I could take a firm decision. Smiling to myself and at the pretentious sounding plans that got sketched in my head, I headed back home.
These fleeting distractions today in a way have left me confused and right now I am thinking about my confidence in things, about the levels of my contentment with everything that I have until now not taken very seriously. I seem to be scoring lower on these counts than ever before. Should this be a cause for worry? Be it or not, twice in the day today, I was not myself. That is the best face I can put up right now to account for a weakening of my faith in conformity and austerity, in being content and in being oneself. The day has seen me split into two. Another defense, I think it should calm me down- I am no exception. Its only natural to vie, to be jealous of others and to dream of not being one’s real self.
Sharing a personal favorite today. It is a song from a huge musical hit of the 1960s. Asha Bhosle’s gorgeous playback, excellent picturisation and mind-blowing lyrics. A classic picnic song from that era. Considered by some to be a not so talented music composer, this one by Ravi is truly remarkable. For me the song stands for a sense of energy that accompanies longing and loneliness and infuses ephemeral pathos which depending on one’s mood may well turn out to be lasting. Non Hindi speakers too might love this one. Try n let me know!
Doesn’t matter. The blistering sun outside or the thunderous rain. Surpassing the season of the day is the weather of the heart. When gloom and dark surround one’s soul, no luminosity of lightning can be bright enough. At the end of it we must accept, we face it all by ourselves. The human capacity and it’s predisposition to anxiety and worry are not merely states of the mind that can be dealt with in counseling sessions or through anti-depressant capsules. The fear of the bad and the unpleasant is many a times a fear of the real. It is not an imagination rooted somewhere in the crevices of the brain and is not always a result of a series of chemical reactions that take place within that curious organ. The proneness to rejoice and to be arrogant in times of success and riches is precisely the human way of balancing out on the tragic moments that life offers to all of us- I would not say in varying measures, rather I would say equally. A life that is lived is always a life replete with a complete set of emotions, memorable, not so memorable and despicable experiences. Look at the fate of the happiest seeming and of the most destitute and downtrodden. Both groups of people always have a lot to envy each other for. The man on the street and the king are both privy at the same time to their own sets of possessions as well as deprivations. What the haves refer to as stress and as ignominious is nothing but a fragment of the lived reality of the have-nots. Our worries and fears and our leaps of exuberance can not be traded for worthier things. Hence the formula that the wise have devised. Do good and expect good to happen to you. If it does not turn out to be like that, just accept it and be brave in the face of hardships. I think we need to own up and live free. Nothing really helps!
For Delhi, it was a pleasant and a very pleasant relief from the baking heat that the city had been subjected to by the weather gods for the last one week or so. The drizzly storm that brew up at around noon grew into a cool,rainy and a windy evening. Alone at home, I was in no mood to read or write, cook or eat. After the evening news debates that I am these days quite addicted to, I had some light dinner and sat down to watch the Dallas Buyer’s Club. Had read and heard about the film and owing to its HIV and medicine related focus, I was not very keen on watching it. Just that science and medicine do not really interest me as much. I however, did play the film and was soon engrossed into the plot. Matthew McConaughey’s magnificent performance impressed me no end and frankly speaking, was taken aback by the sheer brilliance of the dialogues, characters, the landscape and the overall imagination of the director. What makes the film special is the uninhibited force with which it exposes the insecurities and looming anxieties of AIDS patients. I appreciated the film more for its political incorrectness and its poignant appraisal of a development in the field of medicine and science as it would have unfolded decades ago. If you haven’t seen this film, rest assured, you have missed out on one of the best ever performances in Hollywood cinema.
Done with the film, I dozed off for a while to dream of my address to a group of three very good looking Muslim men seated on a charpoy. Dressed impeccably in well fitting black suits and with trimmed beards, they listened attentively to my lecture on the beauty of spaces and places. I remember telling them “It’s hard for me to believe that people do not like certain places. How can they not? Aren’t all places beautiful? Pakistan for instance- although I have never been there- surely must be as beautiful a place as any other in the world- with its markets and its people.” I remember mentioning Mecca as well and the listeners nodding their head in strong approval. I recall telling them about Genet and about how spaces as undesired as prisons have been spots where the best of autobiographies, political literature and the fondest of letters have been written. In the dream, I realised that the listeners did not tire of my unending trite talk and a confusion about the reason behind their continued interest woke me up.
Checked my clock to see that it was 1:25 a.m. and there was no power. That meant I had missed the FIFA World Cup opening ceremony. It was not long that I waited for it, and the power was restored by 1:50 and I quickly switched on the TV and saw that Brazil had scored a self goal, Neymar had already been shown a yellow card and Croatia was not as weak in front of the great team as I had taken them to be. Watched the rest of the match sipping coffee and occasionally falling back on the possible meaning that the dream could have. The last twenty minutes of the match were captivating and the goal by Oscar in the extra time was delightful. After the match got over, I went off to sleep again and had another vivid dream about which I shall talk about sometime later. Do share what you think the dream might mean. I would be interested in hearing from you. The morning right now is cool, windy, drizzly and pleasant to say the least. What was last night for you like?
Of late I have been in a ‘explore music’ mode. Please leave the link/title/audio of a song that you like/that immediately comes to your mind in the comment box as I so want to listen to and appreciate what others like and are listening to. A link or a mere mention of the song should suffice. However, a brief introduction to the specific charm of the song for you, if added to the comment, would make it all the more interesting for me. Would appreciate if it is just one song. Language, mood, country, genre, instruments no bar at all! I do wish to write a post on the songs that I receive from you. Thanks in advance for paying attention!
Hoping to ‘listen’ from you!