Monday, April 25, 2005

The Black Magic

As the carousel rolls and the projector throws the beam of light, the dead, bland, blank, abstract and emotionless screen comes to life and through the chiaroscuro of the projected rays, it emotes, taking the audience with it, in an otherwise dark, often faceless, hall. The usher guiding the latecomers, with the only other official source of light, through the aisle becomes a nightmare for those sticklers of time, who restlessly oscillate to see through the silhouettes as if their very life depends on seeing every inch of the screen. The ease with which the inanimate screen catapults the consciousness of hundreds of people, which normally revolves around their individual selves, to itself, is nothing short of a miracle. For the duration of the movie, the individuals cease to exist and the screen becomes the centre of their collective conscious universe. It almost enslaves them. They smile, sigh, sob, shiver with fear; all in unison -- so uncanny of individuals when they form a crowd -- and yet we fail to notice that single most radical change a movie screen entails in the crowd behaviour. The degree and smoothness of such a magical shift in the centre of consciousness of the audience is proportional to quality of the movie. Black, the recently released Hindi movie, is an undisputed apotheosis of such quality.

What would it be like to be congenitally- visually and audibly challenged? Being surrounded by vast oceans of blankness; a blankness consisting of eternal and ubiquitous 'blackness'. And a perennial deafening silence accompanying that blackness. You're left to perceive and identify the things around through their shapes; a practice not vastly different from what the majority follows, but the means to that end is touch and not vision. The very thought tingles our skin to discomfort. And where does this handicap leave the individual in the omnipresent nothingness? Would the people, who move and talk, be any different from the inanimate furniture when you just can't see or hear them? How would it feel to be happy and yet not be able to wrap it in the package of words or feel sad and be hysterical about it? How would it be to not know that there are more colours in the world than 'Black'? How would it be to not know that sound can also be heard and not just felt with the hands? Our life, in contrast, looks like an unending honeymoon. For so long, our film industry has fed us with the strong, smart, successful, larger than life, Adonis and Aphrodite image of lead actors that we forget there are people, for whom success isn't about saving the world or about winning the love of a nymph but about taking their first step towards a dignified living and being recognized as equals despite their preordained shortcomings. Michelle McNally, played by Rani Mukherji in Black, is one such character. Her deafening shriek of ecstacy, on realizing that her mentor Mr. Debraj Sahay is back, sets the tone of the movie and portends what is in store for the audience. Rani, through this movie, has put herself in the league of Nargiz of 'Mother India' fame. The mesmerizing performance is sure to make her the toast of Bollywood. Rani, you're the Queen.

The Academy awards committee that claims to be the foremost representative of the global cinema has actually never done justice to its own claim by restricting the global cinema under the "Best Foreign Language Film" category. Mahatma Gandhi never won the Nobel Peace Prize. Leo Tolstoy never won the Nobel Prize for Literature. Yet, one wonders if the mortal prizes like Nobel could've done justice to their immortal contribution by merely recognizing them. Amitabh Bachchan has also never won an Oscar. Need I say more? Or shall I say, with a movie like Black under his belt and having acted in it the way he has, he probably stands the best chance, he ever had, of leaving the distinguished company of those immortals? As he rightly conceded, his performance in Black effortlessly relegates his past and future performances to mediocrity. Not that he is to be blamed for that. Thanks to the parochial Bollywood film-makers, who cannot think beyond the much clich├ęd romance and the nauseating melodrama, Amitabh Bachchan, the colossus that straddles Bollywood, seldom got roles that could make him stretch his own limits. Until that practice is ameliorated, he will be wasted in utterly forgettable roles.

The very thought of Ayesha Kapoor, who plays the young Rani, scares you to death. Assuming that actors mature with age, I fear Bollywood might not have enough roles to even scratch the surface of her potential when she finally ripens. Her performance is the result of a child's energy channelized in the right direction by the director. I also wonder if there are enough directors good enough to tap her incipient potential.

There are moments that make you laugh. In 'Black', such moments come as often as oases do in a desert. But when they come, their innocence, simplicity, naturality and spontaneity give you a relief comparable only to the relief you derive out of oases. It forms a lump in your chest; a lump so full of emotions that you almost choke with suffocation and yet so empty that you fail to react in words. With his vision, Sanjay Leela Bhansali has created a song-less wonder, in an industry where songs, beyond anything else, are the USP. Inspired by "The Miracle Worker", "Black", with its power packed performances, riding on mesmerizing, almost magical play of light, gives any sincere watcher, a punch of conscience. It hits you hard, where it hurts most. In our daily selfish existence, it makes you wonder whether there could ever be people, except the "Indian house-wife mothers", who dedicate their whole lives to others' cause so selflessly. It makes us wonder, when was the last time we sweated for others? When was the last time we dedicated a day for others; for someone, who couldn't in any way, have returned the favours? It gives you a void of conscience, and then fills it with a thankful realization that you are blessed; blessed that you can see with your eyes and listen with your ears. As for the feelings, well, the heart can never be a vestigial organ.

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Impervious to Love?

After reading this, you're going to ask me one question. My answer to that is "no".
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I always thought I was a strong person. Not in the physical sense of the word; but from the perspective of heart. Although an emotional person, I never quite understood what actually caused a boy to fall in love with a girl. Yes. True. I think I never really fell in love. Apart from the mild crushes and the childish infatuations, I never really felt the pangs of love for any girl. I always believed I was impervious to love. My conservative Gujarati upbringing, along with my sensitivity towards my parents' feelings and expectations, never really allowed me to water the plant of feelings for girls who did not belong to the Gujarati-Brahmin bracket. And having stayed outside Gujarat for most of my youthful years, I didn't quite meet those girls, with whom, I could've permitted myself to indulge. I almost prided myself on the fact that I can't fall for a girl. That was until recently, when she, out of nowhere, came into my life.


She works for a client company at Bangalore. We started chatting over some work. Some high-priority work forced us to call each other once in a while. She came across as a friendly girl - a Tamilian, basically from Calicut, brought up in Mumbai. It couldn't have been a more cosmopolitan upbringing. It was a delight to hear a Tamilian dishing out Mumbai's colloquialisms of "haan kya" and "nahi re". Before we knew it, we were constantly chatting to each other. We both would wait impatiently for our chat windows to produce that 'click' sound and then blink, signaling a message for us to open and read, so we could reply... and then wait... for the next reply...and so on... it went on... tirelessly. And before we knew it, we felt depressed and suffocated if no such sound came or if the screen didn't blink for some time. Much before we knew it, we knew a lot about each other. Much before we knew it, we were getting addicted. Within a week of our first chat, she spilt the beans by saying she was getting addicted to me.

I had not as yet thought about this. I was still under the impression that we were nothing but good friends. Years and years of self-imposed restrictions never really allowed me to look at the whole thing beyond the purview of friendship. And yet, I found I was being drawn to her; drawn, like I had never been to any girl before. Knowing her in the week that went by had been the most exhilarating and unexpectedly pleasant experience of my life. We had started talking to each other at night. But, it was not just talking. It was each other's presence at the other end of the phone that mattered. We both just wanted to be on phone, with the surety that we're both speaking a lot; and yet, nothing from the mouth. Her very presence on the phone was reassuring enough; reason enough for me not to hang up. It was as if, hanging up of the phone was suddenly the most difficult thing to do in the world; as if the one to hang up first would end up at the gallows. And still, I was hopelessly preventing myself from believing that I'd fallen for a girl who was a brahmin, but not a Gujarati. I was still trying to give myself an assurance that there was an escape; there was still a way to avoid all the hassles I was going to plunge myself into. And yet, there was a desire to be wanted, to be loved by someone other than your parents and family, by someone really unknown, for whom you could be the world.

During the course of our last late-night conversation, I failed to tell her unequivocally that I had fallen for her. May be I hadn't decided. May be I wasn't sure of its outcome. May be I was overcautious. May be I wasn't ready for a commitment just yet. But I made her say the same thing scores of times. And she did repeat it, without expectations. Each of her statement tingled my skin to discomfort, gave me a kick that could match the addictive trance of cocaine. And yet, I didn't realize how selfish I was in making her profess the affirmation repeatedly. With each statement, I was plunging her into a deep valley, from which I myself would not be able to rescue her. I then told her a whole lot of things about my tastes, talents and female friends. She then realized she was different; different from the kind of girl I was looking for. She realized I would reject her on seeing her; if that day ever came. She developed a fallacy that I was a class apart and deserved a much better girl than her. So, she decided to break it all on her own. She gracefully accepted the fact that it was not necessary for me to fall for her just because she had fallen for me.

She came to my life like a whirlwind. In a matter of a week, she made me realize I was not impervious to love, and these feelings could enter my fortress irrespective of caste, religion and other barriers I had built for myself. She pulverized the castle of my pride to dust with her gentle voice and friendly demeanor. She taught me that the character of a person is not found when the relationships are made, but when broken. It is the grace with which she accepted our differences and loss of the first love of her life that made her a much better person than I was. My being a much more talented person made her feel she was a raw deal for me. How do I tell her that finding your love is not about finding the best person in the world? It is about finding the best fit.

The ways of the world sometimes puzzle me. Everyone keeps scouting for talented people for company. And yet, one's talent can hardly be of any use to others except for public display of the pride of such a possession. It is only one's 'goodness' that could be of any use to others when it matters most. We've scores of yardsticks to measure the success of a person. But the strength of the person lies in how gracefully he accepts the failures. And we've failed to produce yardsticks for that. The discrepancy in the talent between us became the reason for our breakup. And yet, I doubt if my talent makes me any better a person than her. Does my talent really make me good enough to make her undeserving of me?

And yet, I'm jealous of her. She had the courage to accept it all and get to the depth of love without bothering about the consequences. She was debonair enough to go right under the waterfall of love. I stood at the shore and sprinkled my feet with water. I was the loser on both counts. I lost my pride and am bereft of her love as well.

Monday, April 11, 2005

The Paradox of Nobility

One morning in my portico,
as I sat on my swing,
enjoying the breeze,
hearing the birds sing.

Up on a wall crevice I found,
a spider had cast its web.
An ant struggled to escape from it;
of urgent succour, it was in need.

As the old-wily spider crept to its prey,
the ant struggled harder, seeing its end.
A bout of nobility struck my head;
I broke the web and saved the ant.

Relieved, the ant walked off.
I went back happily to my swing.
The hungry spider, bereft of its prey,
too old to re-spin, ended up dying.

The 'web' of nature is so intricate,
here one's death is other's life.
My smug nobility lay rebuffed;
for in saving the ant, I took spider's life.

I always carry a first aid kit
to help anyone in need.
Ever ready to salve others' injury;
be it a small bruise, or a mild bleed.

One day in a bus
a co-passenger was injured.
Out came my kit to soothe;
he was relieved and I was pleased.

But a sudden shock, a moment later,
came to me in a flash of light.
Am I to take the credit for helping him
or to take the blame for his plight?

The seed of desire carries with it
the hidden tree of its fulfillment.
The fellow's injury was not a cause here,
my desire for nobility lead to his predicament.

In the existing reality,
a doctor is a noble man.
But in a healthy society,
he is a nonentity.

The nobility of curing is
but an after-effect of disorder.
It would meet its obsolescence
in neverland and its inherent order.

In a utopian world, nobility is extinct.
In the death of utopia, nobility is born.
It needs suffering to survive,
and ironically, calamities to thrive.