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!
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?
(Watched A Dangerous Method in the evening and was once again tempted to believe in the power of the methods of Psychoanalysis. The film in a way inspired this post.)
How I despise the pace at which this moment keeps passing by. It was rich with possibilities and forever in my memory will it remain. From the hinterlands of memory another that comes to mind at once is here in words.
It is an ultra sunny day in July or August in early 80s. The class at the primary school in the village is on. Seated on a mat in line with some five to six other girls and boys I shout with them “Six twos are twelve, six threes are eighteen…” and keep pinging my head up and down in sync with the rest. Ameen is on my right. The color cubes and the paint brush he has in his bag vie for my attention. Ameen draws and sketches very well. The cut quarter of a lemon or that of an apple made to lie neatly beside the whole fruit. Or even a bunch of grapes. The lovely curly motions of his pencil that would bring those berries to life on paper. In the wavelets of the pond overflowing nearby, rays of the sun twinkle like candles. Four naughty ones are swimming across the pond and calling each other names. They did not come to school today. The head boy pronouncing of those judgments on the relations between digits is asked to stop and go to his seat. The bell rings and all of us shout “Chhuttiiiii”. We collect our things, pick up our bags and run out of the verandah of the school. My eyes search for Ameen. Will he get his color box tomorrow? Don’t walk with him beyond a point. He takes a separate route back home. Mine passes through the field where peas are grown every winter. White clouds run amok on the canvas of the blue sky. Panting, running and panting again, I reach home. My elder brother has come home for a few days. It’s his break time at the engineering college. He gives me his glasses, and I try them out. The world around me goes as dark as a night. I remove the glasses and look around. Get disappointed to see that nothing actually had changed. Put the glasses on and it gets dark once more. Believe me, I have searched for those glasses at so many opticians till date and yet none of them have ever shown me one that makes it appear so cloudy and rainy as those first glasses of my life did. My brother is tall, has so many friends. Everyone seems to love him. To talk to the men who till those pea fields, he sits on the cot with one of his legs spread out and the other hinged around the knee forming a triangle of a bridge. A pillow in his lap may be. He laughs, pats me somewhere on the cheek and asks everyone if I was doing well. He has these lovely shirts. Stripes of blue and red and white- I have never seen any of those in any of the shops I have gone to myself. It is raining today and he throws away his plate in anger. Steel bowls make noise and Pooris dance. His motorcycle bathes unabated in the rain. I am busy with a Hindi children’s magazine. Engrossed in finding out the missing resemblances in a set of two photographs in the puzzle section of the same. I have to find out fifteen differences in all and so far have only marked out three. A game of Ludo is about to begin. The four colored houses in the game are receiving their occupants. Four heads will soon lean over them and the ‘tik tik’ of the dice in the small box will decide futures.
These songs and the burnt, blackened forests that they stream from. Born in the pile of ashes that those twigs and leaves turned into once the raging fire engulfed the greenery where the deer and the hare galloped, the elephant bathed and the snakes swirled, danced and stung the bores. The leaves with the flames lost all that was damp and polite about them. They hardened, the chlorophyll evaporated and their skeletal remains chipped, cracked and fell to the ground. Those frames rested on the ground and poked the musician of nature to take pity and sing sing and sing.
The clocks kept ticking. Life needed an age to come back to work in the woods. The musician was all the time at work. No leave for him. When prosperous, songs of dance and tunes of romance got flourishing down to my soul and the time soon came when the deserted vacuüm sent across melodies of pain, destitution and recluse.
Heart felt miseries of love and loss and of heat and rain come in one place and make the mind swoon. The elixir of being a have not balances all the loss and it feels extraordinary to know or even think of how the orchestra must have went on when something was collected from the vicinity of the woods and then re recorded in the studios- places where most of the destinies of our eardrums are written every moment.
Times change, places change and so do melodies. What separates the fate of melodies from that of the woods and the elephants is that sound has wings. It can flutter and fly across borders of taste and hatred. Mellifluous was the word invented not for the gallops but for the sounds those hoofs make. Sights disappear, sounds do not. Ever wondered why it is far more difficult shutting one’s ears than closing one’s eyes? A cousin of mine used to talk to me about a machine that would soon be able to recollect all the sounds that people in the world ever made. Amen!
The world of languages fascinates me. Given a chance to fulfil a wish, I would jump at mastering as many languages as possible. It is one of my earnest desires. Thankfully my career as a student of Sociology and Social Anthropology does not come in the way. For having a way with languages is considered to be an added qualification in this branch of social science. The level of fascination is so high that on meeting new people, I make all direct and indirect attempts to find out the number of languages they know. People with multilingual abilities impress me so much. I must confess of a sense of envy that crops up in the subconscious.
So far I have been a slightly decent sample of the ‘rolling stone’ variety with a little moss gathered here and there in my brain. My efforts directed towards learning languages have met a mixed fate. Some were disasters, some weren’t as disappointing.
While in college, I enrolled for a year-long part-time certificate programme in French. I passed easily. Basking in the little glories of ‘bonjour’, ‘comment ca va?’, ‘je suis desolee’ and several verb-forms, I enrolled for a diploma in the following year. Things had changed by that time. My attendance at the lectures declined because of my participation in everything else that college and hostel life had to offer.The French syllabus suddenly appeared monstrous to me as the number of lessons had shot up. I remember that my examiner at the viva voce examination asked me to describe to her ‘an imaginary stay at a hotel in France’. I would definitely not like to talk about the look that dawned on her face as soon as I shook my lips. It was clear that she tried her best to find some meaning in the nonsense that I had tried faffing up. Thanks to her strict marking that the French train I rode for those two years came to a screeching hault. It still stands at the same station and waits for a green signal from my side. It has been over ten years now and I have no idea of when and how will my ‘rendezvous’ avec ‘le langue Francais’ resume?
Urdu and Arabic
The experiences of learning French kept me mum for another few years till I finished my masters. The fieldwork for my Ph.D. research
began in 2006 where it was essential for me to learn the language that my respondents used. During the course of my interactions with the members of the Jamaat in Delhi and in Uttar Pradesh, I had to take up learning Urdu with a fresh zeal. This time I was sincere with the classes and made the best out of my year-long association with the masters. Thanks to this attentive phase as it enabled me to comfortably read, write and speak Urdu. I did a large part of my year long fieldwork at a madrasa in Azamgarh where I made many friends. One of the senior Maulanas here was extremely kind and generously helped me polish my Urdu. Satisfied with the progress I made, he gave me around a dozen intensive classes in preliminary Arabic. I could finish a primer with him in those classes. Sincere gratitude to his support and guidance. He made the subject so engaging and I was the most influenced by the method of his teaching. He continuously worked with me to dispel the notion that the language of the holy Quran is tough to understand and learn. He did make it clear by the end of my fieldwork that Arabic could be learnt as easily as any other foreign language.
Having finished fieldwork, I came back to the university. I could now fluently read Urdu newspapers and could use the literature that I had collected for my thesis. I got enrolled for a course in Arabic which was hugely helpful in advancing the basic knowledge I had received from the Maulana. I found Arabic to be quite like Sanskrit in its structure and syntax. The rules of person, tense and number are very similar in both the languages . There are similar verb forms and combinations to be memorised. Arabic surely isn’t that difficult a language to learn as it might initially sound.
One of the most fascinating aspects of university life is that it is a platform where people from diverse cultural and linguistic backgrounds get a chance to intermingle. Numerous ideas, varieties of knowledge systems interact and are discussed and shared. Each time that I listen to my friends using their own language, the linguistic lust gets ignited in me. I quickly add to my kitty some of the interesting sounds from their conversation with a hope that there would be a day when this kitty shall be useful. 😛
Another occasion that triggers the madness is when I watch a film in any of these languages. The wish to learn Bangla was at its peak when a friend gave me a DVD of Ritwik Ghatak’s classic films. While admiring his genius in films like Meghe Dhaake Taara, Naagrik, Baari Theke Paaliye and Jukti Gappo Tarko, I noticed that I was for a brief while intent on learning the Bengali language. Thankfully I did not enrol anywhere and continued paying attention to the work I was supposed to be doing. A similar week-long Marathi phase passed not so long ago. That week was all about the Lavani and Nautanki videos on Youtube.
The latest one to have smitten me is Tamil. The craving began a couple of days back when I watched Mani Ratnam‘s Iruvar once again. Iruvar is a brilliant film that presents a fictionalised account of the friendship and the political rivalry between the cine-political personalities from the south Indian state of Tamil Nadu- MG Ramachandran and KM Karunanidhi. Snippets from the Dravidian movement find interesting space in the film. It bespeaks of the power that cinema and poetry can play in electoral politics. The characters of the playwright politician (played by Prakash Raj) and that of the Tamil cine star (played by Mohanlal) are amazingly portrayed. Powerful poetry rules the film from its’ beginning till the end. This unending appreciation for Iruvar is only to slyly mention to the reader that Tamil has made it to my list too!
For this mega project of mine (clearly I haven’t done enough for it) inspiration isn’t lacking. The Indian Prime Minister Mr P V Narasimharao’s mother tongue was Telugu and he had an excellent grasp on Marathi. In addition to eight other Indian languages, he spoke English, German, Persian, Arabic, French, Spanish, Greek and Latin. Thinking of him and the others of his stature thrills me no end!
This is to end by saying that dreams and aspirations are integral life processes. They lead mostly into the domain of the impossible. They at times stand for the best and the worst in us. It can be fruitful to ponder over the dreams that recur. And yes! dreams alone do not and cannot mean much until and unless intelligently pursued!
(For the fourth post in this series, for which I have interviewed people I am close to, I emailed Vishwanath Ji a set of questions. His responses have been reproduced here. I hope that you would like the idea and enjoy the conversation. The series is to be continued with other friends as and when possible. Sincere thanks to all readers who commented on and appreciated the earlier posts).
My friend with us for today’s post is someone very special. Mr. Vishwanath Gopalakrishna is one of those very nice people whom interestingly, I have known for a very few months. Being acquainted with him is for me a clear evidence of the rich meaningfulness that online interactions can be a source of. I have read a number of his extremely pleasant writings on a whole range of issues- short, amazing memoirs, reflections on the changing social institutions such as marriage and still interestingly his lovely, insightful comments and suggestions on a number of blogs and other online fora which he regularly reads and contributes to. A Civil Engineer by profession, I see in him a flair for continuously exploring and attempting to make sense of the ever-changing world. Vishwanath Ji’s articulations on some of the issues I just mentioned are instances of brevity meeting wisdom and wit. For the short duration that I have known him, he has already become a source of warmth and inspiration. In this extremely enjoyable interview he talks about various aspects of life and its changing course. I hope my association with him becomes an everlasting one and that this exchange of ideas and information continues unabated.
Vishwanath Ji currently lives in Bangalore where his engagements with technology, life and society continue to flourish.
Personal Concerns – Thank you Vishwanath Ji for agreeing to respond. To start with, I would like to ask you something about your days as an Engineering student at Roorkee. What was it like in those days to be a student of Engineering?
Vishwanath Ji– Roorkee (1972 to 1974) evokes pleasant memories. I had just obtained a BE(Hons) degree in Civil Engineering from BITS (Pilani) in 1972. But the best institute for Civil engineering and all its branches was Roorkee University at that time. I badly wanted the Roorkee “Chaap” on my degree.
Roorkee was the oldest Engineering college and it was the post-independence successor to the legendary Thomson College of Civil Engineering set up by the British more than 150 years ago. Most of the well-known Civil engineers of the country had studied at Roorkee and I remember that most of the text books on Civil Engineering were written by Professors from Roorkee.
The Civil engineering department of University of Roorkee was the biggest in the country with over 70 teaching staff, nearly all of them PhD’s in Engineering and offering the widest options to civil engineering graduates to specialize. Getting into the Structures section was the toughest of all and they selected only 10 from the hundreds of students from all over the country who applied. I got through and have never regretted my decision to postpone entering the job market by two years in order to specialize and get a Masters degree in Structural engineering from the University of Roorkee. It is now called IIT Roorkee.
Roorkee had a special attraction for Civil engineers. The place housed not just the University of Roorkee with its internationally famed Civil Engineering Department but also several prestigious Civil engineering institutions like the Central Building Research Institute, The Structural Engineering Research Center, The School of Research and Training in Earthquake Engineering, the Water Resources Development and Training Centre and the Irrigation Research Institute. All these were located in adjacent campuses. Not for nothing was Roorkee called the Mecca for Civil Engineers.
The one regret I have was that the PG scholarship offered by the UGC was just Rs 250/- those days and it had remained at that figure for several years before I enrolled there. Several batches of students had been agitating and representing to the Govt of India for enhancing the scholarship to prevent hardship to the students. We were the last batch who were given this paltry sum. The next batch, after I passed out got Rs 400/- per month.
Vishwanath Ji – Oh! It is unrecognisable! We have all heard of the Industrial revolution which changed the lives of millions of people initially in Europe and later all over the world. That revolution is nothing compared to the second Computer/Software/Internet/Communication revolution that I am fortunate to be part of. I still don’t know whether today we are still at the beginning of the revolution and have yet to see most of it or if we are somewhere in the middle or if we have come close to exhausting the possibilities. For the generation or two that preceded mine, electricity, the automobile, printing press, aeroplanes and radio represented the wonders of modern technology. I grew up without being amazed or impressed by any of it.During my childhood long distance telephony, supersonic aircraft, black and white movies (35 mm), and the gramophone and tape recorder, typewriters, telegrams and later telexes and modern nuclear weapons and missiles, and the amazing advances in health care, vaccination, birth control, antibiotics and the elimination of small pox and polio etc and modern methods of methods of surgery like the first heart transplant represented advanced technology.
In my youth technology was represented by feats like space travel, orbiting and landing on the moon, and military advances and modern weapons like missiles and hydrogen bombs, and neutron bombs.
During my early adulthood (age 20 to 30) TV, VCRs, PCs, even the humble calculator, Photocopying machine, colour photography, 70 mm movies etc were all unknown and they all made an entry one by one and I watched these developments unfolding and experienced the thrills. I later actually experienced the computer revolution starting in India in the late sixties. I learned Fortran programming on the IBM main frame computers in the late sixties at BITS Pilani, moved over to using minicomputers and later graduated to the personal computers in the Nineties. I was part of the internet revolution right from 1998 onwards and have enjoyed and benefited from the amazing progress we have achieved and are still achieving in this area. I never dreamed 15 years ago that mobile telephony will be a reality and become so cheap and widespread. I think more than anything the cell phone is the device of the century and has done the maximum to influence our life in a positive way. I envisage the gradual amalgamation of entertainment, information, communication and computation into one device in the years to come.
PC – To what extent do you think that technological advancement should be taken to be an indicator of human progress and development as these terms are commonly used and understood?
Vishwanath Ji – I would say the extent could be 50 percent. When I say this I mean technological advancement is not the only reliable and complete indicator of progress. India with practically no technology (as we understand it today) was considered a country where enormous progress and development had been achieved by the heroes like Ashoka, Chandragupta, and later by the emperors who ruled from Delhi. Prior to this we have accounts from the Mahabharata and Ramayana too about the progress made by human beings.
Today, we need technology but it must be balanced with concern for the environment. I would rate those countries as the best to live in where it is not technological advancement but political stability, security, health and general quality of life of the average citizen that is the criterion. I would not rate USA at the top in spite of all its miraculous advancements in space and war technology but would choose countries like Switzerland, New Zealand, Australia, Netherlands etc.
PC – In case you believe that to be the case, how are south and north India different from each other?
We can live with and perhaps celebrate some differences also. It is fact that the South is in general less aggressive. May be the wars in the North have influenced people’s behavior. The south has not suffered as much from wars as the North (particularly Punjab) have. I also believe crime in the South is less than crime in the North both in severity and number of incidences.
I don’t believe some myths that the south (and Bengal) is more “intellectual” and that hospitality in the north is warmer. I am willing to believe that the average North Indian is physically taller, and stronger and some shades fairer in complexion than the average South Indian. I believe literacy levels are better in the Southern states than in the north.
I have lived both in North, West and South India and feel perfectly at home in all these regions and enjoy the advantages and tolerate the disadvantages of each.
PC – How many languages do you know? Which one is the most special?
Vishwanath Ji – In decreasing degrees of proficiency, the languages are English, Hindi, Tamil, Kannada, Gujarati and Malayalam and French.
By birth I belong to a community that has its origins in Paalakkad District of Kerala near the Tamil Nadu border and as a child I was exposed to a strange lingo that my parents used. It was a mix of Tamil and Malayalam. The sentence structure of the language was grammatically closer to Tamil but Malayalam words were generously used and the spoken accent was totally Malayalee and my parents wrote in the Paalakkad Tamil dialect using the Malayalam script. This was my first exposure to any language, learnt sitting in my mother’s lap.
Later, having been brought up in a Gujarati speaking neighbourhood in Mumbai, I was exposed during my childhood to Bombaiya Hindi, and Gujarati. The school I went to was an English Medium School run by Catholic Missionaries and I developed a taste for English and it was my favorite subject in school. I did extraordinarily well in English in school and was the favorite of my teachers. I read voraciously in English.
I learned Hindi as a compulsory subject in school but I polished up my Hindi during the five years I spent at Pilani and later two more years at Roorkee and developed a taste for the language courtesy Bollywood film songs. Starting much later, I worked hard at reading and writing Hindi and read voraciously in Hindi to catch up. Starting with pulp fiction of Gulshan Nanda I graduated to more high brow reading of authors like Premchand. My Hindi speaking skills improved due to close interaction with Rajasthani friends at Pilani and later UPite friends in Roorkee. I can now talk almost like a native Hindi speaker and you won’t be able to detect a south Indian accent in my Hindi. The only dead giveaway is my occasional gender error. This ka and ki of Hindi still sometimes flummoxes me. But the language I communicate best is English and this is the result of not merely an English medium education in School but the fact that my profession used no language other than English for nearly 37 years.
In addition I can speak colloquial Tamil and a smattering of Gujarati and Malayalam and Kannada and I manage to communicate with the servants, taxi or auto drivers, and street hawkers in these languages. I can also read and write slowly and haltingly in these languages. I can read hoardings and sign boards in these scripts but would be unwilling to exert myself to read a book or periodical in these languages.
I learned French for four years in School and got good marks in the matriculation exam in 1966 (90 percent) but due to lack of opportunities to use it later, have totally forgotten it. I can now only sprinkle a few popular French words and phrases in my written English and can read simple French.
I admit I have artificially inflated my list of languages here. To be really honest, the languages I can rightfully claim to know are English and Hindi. English and Hindi are both special to me. I value English as my ticket to the world beyond India and my proficiency in this language has helped me advance in my profession and also build up an international network. I value Hindi as it has enabled me to reach out to the largest number of my fellow citizens in this country. I love to read technical literature only in English but I don’t fancy reading about our myths , scriptures, culture and tradition in English and always prefer Hindi. I love reading poems in Hindi and listen only to Hindi Songs, never English. I respect the west for some technically great movies they have produced but I can’t relate to the story in English movies. I ALWAYS prefer watching a good Hindi Movie or Teleserial to an English Movie or TV serial if I have the choice.
Vishwanath Ji – Yes, of course, there is a generation gap and there has always been one and perhaps there will always be. The youth of today will be the elderly tomorrow. The issues may differ from age to age but the gap will always exist. It is not a bad thing. It is natural. I am quite comfortable with it and I tolerate it and do try to bridge it without sacrificing what I cannot give up and without imposing my views or prejudices on another generation. I don’t feel comfortable with some of the beliefs, tendencies and practices of the younger generation but I live and let live.
In particular, I do not approve of youngsters tattooing their skins. While I am comfortable with both love marriages and properly arranged marriages I am not comfortable with living together relationships particularly when children are born to such couples. I am not comfortable with sex outside marriage. I don’t like both men and women smoking and drinking and consuming drugs and I shun night clubs and night life in general. I believe night is the time for sleeping. I have adjusted to the fact that the joint family is dying and do not mourn it, though I recall with nostalgia some great moments in my life when we lived as a joint family. I could cite more examples.
PC – Who are your favorite authors and artists ?
Vishwanath Ji – I am unable to give an honest answer. I can’t single out any one. I can only narrow down the list.I have been heavily influenced by Mahatma Gandhi’s thinking and also by Jawaharlal Nehru, but in the last ten years, I have begun questioning some of their policies and beliefs. I have loved reading several authors but cannot pick out any one as my favourite. I have absolutely no knowledge of painting and art. I love classical Music and light semi classical music but have no favourites. I don’t fancy western music, pop music, or rock music. In the field of arts and culture, I am a pakka Desi and nothing in the western world attracts me. I believe our classical dances and our Yoga are better than anything they have to offer. My choice if I am asked to pick the most beautiful woman in the world would be a Sari clad woman from India, never a western lady in their dresses however tall and fair they may be. But I readily admit their overwhelming superiority in sports.
PC – I wanted to know about your favorite films/ books.
Vishwanath Ji – Again, I can’t pick just one. I loved the movie Mackenna’s Gold released in the late sixties or early seventies for sheer technical brilliance during those less technologically advanced times. There are too many Hindi/Tamil/Malayalam films that I can list as my favourites and it is impossible for me to decide which was best. My favourite books include the Ramayana and the Mahabharata.
PC – Please share with us a song of your choice. I would like to know what makes it stand apart?
Vishwanath Ji – I admit my failure here also. I can’t name any one. There are just too many and depending on my mood, each one lingers in and torments my mind at various times. An example (just an example) is the Magudi tune played by the late Carnatic Violinist Kunnakudi Vaidyanathan. It was mind-blowing. There are others too that captured my imagination and made my hair stand on end when I listened. I have been enthralled by Bismillah Khan‘s Shehnai, and the Saxophone played by Kadri Gopalnath. I love flautists T R Mahalingam, Hariprasad Chaurasia, Ronu Mazumdar, My favourite singer is Lata Mangeshkar for light music and I have too many favourites in Carnatic Vocal music. It would be sacrilegious to compare them. They are all simply great. In Light instrumental Music I have been impressed by flutist Praveen Godkhindi.
Vishwanath Ji – Tradition and culture will never be a thing of the past. Yesterday’ customs and practices are today’s traditions. Today’s customs and practices will become tomorrow’s traditions. What will change is the actual customs and practices that qualify as tradition.
(All comments and suggestions about the format and the presentation of the interview would be deeply appreciated. Friends who wish to be included in this series, please let me know. It would be lovely to have you here on my blog. Cheers!)
Needless to say that I am a huge movie buff and enjoy watching all kinds of films. This year was a great year on many accounts about which I will be writing about in later posts. To start this series I have chosen to mention the following ten films which I just appreciated so much that I would love to watch them again and again. Such films I felt, are a definite reminder of the amount of talent a team needs to possess in order to be able to deliver something which ultimately appears to be as marvelous as these.
1. Sunset Boulevard
Sitting huddled together on a breezy summer evening; I saw this film on my PC with close friends Lenin, Vikrant and Awanish. Gloria Swanson as Norma Desmond, the forgotten star from the silent-movie days and William Holden as Joe Gillis, the struggling script writer, represent the two extreme aspects of the film industry- one, which salutes just the rising sun forgetting everything that is no more in vogue and the other glamorous side of it that holds immense attractions for those who aspire to be a part of it. The film takes the viewer to the Paramount studios and provides with a small but close and sensitive account of the forms of sociability prevalent therein. Swanson undoubtedly dominates the film with the accurate facial expressions every time. It is a sort of accuracy, I confess that I had never seen before.
2. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest
I watched this very famous film after it was mentioned by my Professor in one of the lectures where she was talking about Erving Goffman’s classic monograph on the Asylums. Watching the film which is studded with a great performance by Jack Nicholson (of course!), I did realise the impact the novel and the film together must have had in shaping the anti-institutionalization discourse in the west. Louis Fletcher was however someone who was the most surprising in her role as the unyielding nurse. Hers was a mind blowing performance. I watched the film alone and was forced to repeatedly say this to myself “Wow!”
This was the last Hitchcock film I saw this year. What made the film brilliant for me was its acutely sensitive portrayal of the intimidating aspects of aristocracy as they are experienced by an orphaned young girl who marries a widower apparently still in love with his ex wife Rebecca. The lady who ‘hires’ this girl as a companion warns her of the consequences of marrying the rich, elite man and vanishes from the plot. The viewer is then taken to witness the anxieties that the new Mrs. de Winter faces while being in company of the servants attending to Manderley- the palatial countryside mansion. Mrs Danver took the lion’s share of all my appreciation for this amazing thriller.
4. The Untouchables
It was a film that I saw for the nth time again with Lenin, Vikrant and Awanish. Needless to say, we were all once again in awe of the magic that Sean Connery, Kevin Kostner and Andy Garcia created on screen. Robert de Niro as Al Capone mesmerised us all. After the film we actually went on to name each other after the characters of the film. I was Elliot Ness, Vikrant was named Stone, Lenin Capone and Awanish Malone! Definitely one of the best films I have seen till date. Wardrobe by Giorgio Armani added that extra charm to the entire impact the film continues to have on all of us! Can never forget Kevin Kostner’s order to Garcia “You Got Him?…..TAKE HIM”
5. Mr. Brooks
Another of Kevin Kostner’s masterpiece as an accomplished and talented actor. The film gradually grew on me and it wasn’t long when I was convinced of its amazing plot and narrative style. The detour through a personality infested with an obsessive compulsion to commit murders was thoroughly fascinating and made for an exciting watch. Till date this one is the only Demi Moore film I have seen. She seemed extremely impressive here.
6. The Treasure of the Sierra Madre
This marvelous film introduced me to the genius that Humphrey Bogart is. The influence that gold is capable of exercising on the human soul forms the backdrop of the intricate storyline that revolves around three men who go digging for gold. Intensely psychological in its portrayal of the forms of relationship which grows among these men, the film has had a huge impact on the way I have come to look for the importance of meaningful dialogues in cinema.
“Badges? We ain’t got no badges. We don’t need no badges! I don’t have to show you any stinkin’ badges!”
Extremely tempted to include Bogart’s Casablanca in the list as well. Hope one of his should suffice here!
7. The Heiress
This is one of the most magnificent romantic dramas I have ever seen. One of my most favorite actors, Montgomery Clift and Olivia da Havilland spin together this lovely tale of love and betrayal. As Morris Townsend, Clift delivers the best of his talent and for sure, I have no words for da Havilland’s acting prowess. Unforgettable line for me from the film was “She dominated the colour”. This was one film whose camerawork is likely to remain deeply etched in my memory. It is also a film with that quintessential dramatic ending- a scene worth watching.
8. 400 Blows
Truffaut’s masterpiece. I dont think anything from my side is needed to be said about this one. A beautiful film!
9. The Message
The challenging task of making a film on the life of the Prophet Muhammad seems beautifully accomplished by Moustapha Akkad. An extremely accurate and sensitive document, this film I feel should be seen by anyone who is interested in Islam. I plan to watch Lion of the Desert, another of Akkad’s masterpieces in the coming week.
10. Women In Love
What a wonderful adaptation of D H Lawrence’s masterpiece this one was! I really cannot decide if I liked the novel or the film more. Plan to watch more of Oliver Reed’s films as and when I get time. Rupert, when asked as to what does he really want says “I want to sit with my beloved in a field with daisies growing all around us”
Suggestions for good films that I should watch in the coming year are most welcome 🙂