Lovers Anonymous

Emoticons

Like the rest of the country, I was heart-warmed by the gentleness of the narrative and performances in the movie Lunchbox last week. It has been crafted with such warmth, care and detail that it is matched only by its protagonist Ila’s preparation of the delightful meals that set the foundation for this unusual love-story. Much has been said in praise of the film itself and there is hardly any way in which I can possibly review this work of art as it demands a viewing. A relationship portrayed through the lives of Saajan Fernandes and Ila, who connect through a series of exchanged dialogues alone, never meeting each other through the course of the relationship. Though, theirs is a story of people brought together by fate, I was intrigued by other such scenarios in life, where people find solace and company without the presence of an actual person.

In the past decade or so, post the advent of the internet these anonymous relationships have  been easy to forge and conduct. It became  easier to connect with that best looking girl in your school, pursuing a masters degree across the globe who you never had the courage to even talk up in those days. (If things went well over the next year through chat conversations and phone calls, you could take the next step to holy matrimony.) It became easier to say things to strangers in chat rooms, that you’d never have revealed to you best friends. Easier to share your fears, dilemmas, and mistakes which had thus been the slaves of a few agony aunt columns in tabloids.

You could be proposed to on an email (if you  were lucky) or could simply be staring at an ‘I Love You’ on your watsapp window, with emoticons added for effect. Long distance relationships, even marriages became viable over skype, facetime and such. Words replaced eye-contact, emoticons  upgraded consistently to mimic facial expressions and heartbeats could be counted though the Last Seen on time on Watsapp as you waited in anticipation of your partner’s responses . In these carefully constructed relationships, everything could be curated and controlled much like our social network profile, we became a generation of Lovers Anonymous.

But I have wondered about this for a very long time- Can any of this replace an actual person? The good old-fashioned method of making eye-contact with someone across a crowded room and walking up to them for a conversation? Really finding out if there was any chemistry at all before we checked out their facebook profile? But life provides very little opportunity for such encounters and truth be told, most of us won’t take up the challenge in our social situations. Because chat windows/emails/letters provide the platform for dialogue unattached to social labels of age, marital or financial status and limitations of geographies.

Would Ila and Saajan ever have talked to each other if they met on the Mumbai local? Would they have connected through the emptiness of their eyes and exchanged their fears and hopes if not for the solace that anonymity provided? Probably not.

On why I love Trinny-Susannah, Stacy London and co.

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Since the time of Cinderella, everyone I know of loves a great makeover. In other words, for our media obsessed times, that translates into makeover shows.  If the success of Home and Gardening TV (HGTV for the uninitiated) is anything to go by, which by the way is a 24×7 channel dedicated to design makeovers of every kind, it seems safe to conclude that both men and women love watching things in the format of before-after, the subjects of which can vary from cars, home spaces to clothes. And if you have ever had a chance to catch Trinny and Susanne in action on the original British version of the very popular and controversial ‘What not to wear’, the above list would include lingerie as well.

So what is it about makeovers that has us at the word ‘intervention’. Why do we all love to watch the fixer-upper elevate from the abyss of rock bottom to desirable? Since there is really a plethora of makeover themes I could write about, I want to explore this through my favorite kind of theme- a fashion makeover.

I was introduced to this fabulous world of television through some dated episodes of these new-age fairy godmothers, Trinny-Sussanah’s show on Indian Television (as most of our western programming is dated).  There was very little a girl in this decade could take away in terms of fashion trends from a show that was aired in the 90s, but I was hooked to their presentation of the show – they were confrontational, direct to the point of being brutal, and would tell you things your friends would never dare say to your face. I loved the show, because it was so much more than about changing your clothes.

This is how the show worked – In each episode the duo picked  two middle-class real-sized English women in desperate need of help with their wardrobes and lives. Thus, one of each stylists went on to live the life of these women for a day, to take a peek at not only their closets but understand their daily pressures, routines, hopes and dreams. Later they were shown a footage of their respective family,  friends and colleagues voicing their honest opinion about the way these women dressed in life. Sometimes little children deemed their moms’ style as ‘careless’ and husbands called their clothes ‘elderly’- some of them cried trying to trace the exact year they lost themselves to the pressures of raising a family while some of them resolved to change at least a part of what they saw on the footage . The next step involved a 360 deg mirror, much like in trial rooms, where the woman confronted what she thought were her ‘problem areas’, and thus most of them dressed to hide them or continued to be indifferent to its existence. (And yes,  believe me, even the woman with the best body had a body part she wanted to change.) This was the point where our stylists stripped the women not only of their garb, but the falsely projected images of their unique bodies, often times revealing to them their own ‘problem areas’ which they intelligently hid from the world through the right clothes (This is also the point of the show that drew negative reactions from the boundary-loving British audience).

The rest of 30-minutes of the show were spent on advice from the ladies in picking the right styles, colors and accessories for their body types before they sent these women out to shop through the boutiques in London. Of course they all came out looking gorgeous towards the end of the show, not believing the reflections of themselves in the studio mirror.

Later when Trinny and Sussanah moved on to other things, I switched to watching Stacy London(I love love love her personal style) and Clinton Kelly  upgrade the sneakers-jeans loving Americans in their version of the same show in New York, aired in more recent times. The format somewhat remained the same with additional doze of drama thrown in as part of the cultural adjustments.

I don’t just love these shows for the obvious reasons that invlove clothes and shoes. But  because I genuinely feel fashion makeovers are the toughest to do. Because unlike homes, gardens, cars, people have set ideas, notions and image projections that manifest in how they dress themselves. And people resist change when it involves themselves and changing their set ways. Thus to get through to someone in their late 30s or early 50s, to make them realize that how they present themselves on the outside to the world is as important as being a great person at heart is tougher than deciding to paint a house chartreuse. There are very few people in the world that really think and feel themselves fabulous inside out, and to make them believe that, even for a few fleeting days is no mean feat.

Time was not just spent on assembling a new wardrobe for these women, but equally on breaking apart old patterns and notions of self. It was not only about buying that gorgeous dress, but also about getting rid of that beloved sweatshirt that you couldn’t live without.

We all love makeovers because they are symbolic of the little, graspable empowerment that is possible even within our limited lives. Because even though a shiny new  wardrobe can hardly change our lives and situations, it does have the power to change the way our little world views us.  But most importantly- how we view ourselves.

P.S: I leave you with one of my favorite episodes from the American “What Not to Wear” featuring Mayim Bialik (better known as Sheldon Cooper’s Girlfriend from The Big Bang Theory). I was surprised to see that the actor dressed as her character in real life too before the Stacy-Clinton intervention.

 

Of stealing hearts

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You know it is not a tale of this day and age, when the  female protagonist in a movie cherishes the mundane act of watching her object of desire shave, secretly through a laced window in her room, while the radio plays “taqdeer se, bigadi hui” from the classic Baazi. Lootera stole my heart in many such delicious moments forged by its creator, adapting only partially the masterpiece once written by O’Henry.

Continue reading “Of stealing hearts”

Silver Linings Randomness

Image I loved Silver Linings Playbook, but then obviously a lot of people did since it made its way to the Oscars this year among the heavy weights like Argo, Django Unchained, Zero Dark Thirty, Lincoln and the works. And I have been sitting on it for weeks to figure out exactly what I wanted to say about the Rom-Com (as New Yorker and NYT claim it is) that had the Oscars not only take notice, but also let Jennifer Lawrence (Hunger games fame)  walk away with one. Right after, I also watched Lawrence’s tripping-on-her-Dior-dress videos followed by her interview to the media where she had them in splits with her ‘whatever’-ish take on everything still hung-over from her character Tiffany- the reason for her big win that night. And to me, it all somehow fit together, David Russell’s crazy narrative of a bipolar Bradley Cooper, depressive Lawrence in a world of dysfunctional relationships (which apparently is David Russell’s old game) and Lawrence’s demeanor at the Oscars.  And though, I generally pride myself for steering clear from ‘Rom-Coms’ that Hollywood churns out along with all the great stuff it produces each year, I knew I needed to put Silver Linings Playbook in a genre less likely to be written-off at face value.(since i actually watched it twice)

Recently I came across this blog in the Washington post, that seem to answer some of my questions both about the movie and Lawrence, perfectly titled ‘Imperfectionism- Why the cult of Jennifer Lawrence Matters’, where the author talks about the solace most of us find not in the proper lady-like but alienating behavior of say an Anne Hathway (though I love her) but someone as improper or real as Jennifer Lawrence.

In a way, this also points to reasons why some of the movies in the genre have stood out and become great successes in their narrative of  the imperfect, manic, crazy without the need to reconcile it with the ‘normal’ as we know it. Rom-Com as a genre, has broken so many boundaries, spread its parameters so broad that it is begging to be re-defined or being obsolete altogether. Not about pretty/perfect people just waiting for destiny to match them together. It is no longer just the story of overcoming class barriers a.k.a Pretty Woman or Notebook. Or a narrative of commitment-phobic singles as in Breakfast At Tiffany’s and a million other movies. It has come to include stories from a world, closer to us than we are comfortable with and where romance is unromantic, sloppy and sometimes unnecessary. As Good As It Gets (Remember the Jack Nicholson-Helen Hunt starrer from 1997), according to me is the front-runner of this alt-genre, which also won Hunt her first ever Oscar. If you recall, it the story of an obsessive compulsive author (Nicholson) past his forties and a waitress and single-mom (hunt) in an unlikely, mother-of-all-awkward pairings and yet the movie wins me over every single time.  And very recently in a similar vein, ‘500 days of Summer ‘ opens with the self-confession – ‘This is not a love story’ before it plays out for the next 95 minutes to say exactly why. And no post on movies is ever complete without the mention of my all-time favorite – Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind which created a different genre for itself in its romance meets science fiction in the story of a  unstable Clementine (Kate Winslet) and Melancholic Joel (Jim Carrey).  Of course there is a happy ending and all that or an inkling of it, the trademark of the Rom-Com cult, but then after the glimpses of the imperfect world in which these characters are set, endings don’t necessarily mean a happily ever after.

What makes these movies so watchable and layered to me is this quality of the non-romance or as the article above suggests, a solace for the imperfect, the silver lining in the randomness. 

I am signing off with my favorite scene from Silver Linings Playbook, that kind of sums up the movie  and this post for me. The scene from the diner:

 “Tiffany: Why did you order Raisin Bran?

Pat: Why did you order tea?

Tiffany: Because you ordered Raisin Bran.

Pat: I ordered Raisin Bran because I didn’t want any mistaking it for a date.

Tiffany: It can still be a date if you order Raisin Bran.

Pat: It’s not a date…” –  —  Silver Linings Playbook

 

 

Of tulip fields and chiffon sarees

Two things happened last week. First, while we were still musing over the moments of brilliance and cuteness in Barfi, a video that went viral online informed us of the various sources that ‘inspired’ at least 50% of the flick, thus sparking the debate about the Film Federation’s prudence in sending it to the Oscars (which frankly shouldn’t surprise us anymore, given their bizarre picks in the past) So we revised our opinions about Barfi, clicked our tongues and shook our heads to ‘what shame Bollywood’.

I haven’t yet made up my mind about the whole incident yet because I never thought Barfi was brilliant in the first place, but I do think Indian Cinema has given us some proud moments recently in the name of Gangs of Wasseypur, Delhi Belly, Paan Singh Tomar, Love, Sex Aur Dhokha and more. These two parallel world of ‘experimental’and ‘commercial’ cinema (pardon the generalization) have always existed in the Indian film industry, so not much disturbs me about our products. However, when the trailer of the upcoming Sharukh-Katrina-Anushka starrer Jab Tak Hai Jaan started doing the rounds with Gulzar’s poetry interlaced with A.R Rehman’s intense score set against the backdrop of exotic locations around the world, that I started thinking about the lost world of the Yash Raj Films or as the film’s trailer proclaims – A YASH CHOPRA ROMANCE. Because to me, like a majority of Indians, our cinema was always incomplete without our romances, our sappy love stories, the chiffon sarees and the tulip fields.

Of course the banner has churned out films every year, introducing new directors, launching fresh chiseled faces in movies whose names I can hardly be bothered to recall.   Compare that with what the banner had set out to do in the 80’s – In Silsila – letting the very righteous hero of Bollywood (Amitabh  Bachhan) become the guiltless cheating husband, who can honor family commitment yet not forget his only love. Really, which Bollywood song in recent history with all the skin-show thrown in hold a candle to Rekha-Amitabh crooning ‘Yeh Kahan Agaye hum’ holding hands and each others’ gazes clad from head-to-toe? In Lamhe- where a 16-17 year old Sridevi grows up loving her guardian played by Anil Kapoor (the ever brooding kuwar-ji over his unrequited love for her dead mother). These film must have raised several eyebrows in its time, over their experimental subjects tricked into a commercial shell but there was a timeless quality to the treatment of such cinema that was etched in our memories forever. Be it the theme of pain and separation of lovers in Kabhi-Kabhi or the crazy-in-love quality of the Rishi Kapoor-Sridevi story in Chandni, the farmlands of Europe still conjure up in my memory hearing the sounds of ‘Aage Aage chale hum, peeche peeche meet mitwa’. This was what our commercial cinema looked and sounded like, until we all forgot how to romance on-screen as the pretty pictures and the expensive clothes became the soul while stories and performances deemed unnecessary.

So the trailers of ‘Jab Tak Hai Jaan’ piqued my curiosity and expectations a little, because I have been craving a classic romance done desi style, supported by the spine of a solid story, to bring back the genre we have lost to films like Mohabbatein, Veer Zara or Bodyguard (which I am not even sure was suppose to be a love story?).  

And as for the whole ‘running around trees’ argument about Bollywood and how it projects us to the world,  in my opinion, if the world knows us by our butter chicken, so be it, as long as the curry tastes good and we are still proud of it.

Without the Voldemort and the jokers!

The world of villains has always been so fascinating in popular culture. More often than not, in novels, in movies, and in comic books, they occupy if not more then equal screen/page/story space as the heroes. Sometimes, as in the case of Joker (who I can safely say was one of the most enchanting for-bearers of evil in recent times, as well as entertaining) their characters receive more care in the hands of their creators and more attention from the audiences. Even back home, if not for Gabbar and his eccentric dialogue delivery, Sholay would hardly be the eternal Bollywood classic that it is. Other examples that come to mind include Mogambo, Shakaal etc. and then I think Indian cinema lost the plot on the villains thereafter( because I can hardly recall a screen villain worthy of the same stature in the recent past!)

Also, evil enjoyed a decade long run in the name of Voldemort spread across the seven chronicles of the Harry Potter series. The magnificence of Harry’s heroism could only be measured fairly  in face of the evil he was chosen to destroy, a villain considered so dark as to earn the endearment of ‘he who must not be named’ by the world’s most powerful wizards. In short, evil was the backdrop in front of which all ‘good’ is read and examined.  In most tales we have grown up on, we always  knew who was to be loved, who was to be hated and how much. A clear world of black and whites.

I recently picked up ‘Immortals of Meluha’ and  its sequel ‘Secret of the Nagas’ because of the books’ popularity within the women folk in the metro, since every 3rd person was reading them. (On an unrelated note, I think it is a great way to find your next read!) The books are a work of fiction recounting the story of Lord Shiva on the premise that he was once a mortal who rose to God status only through his great deeds across the sub-continent. He is brought into the India kingdom from Mount Kailasha ( where he lives as a tribal) after being identified as the ‘Neelkanth’ ( the one with the blue neck), the man who is prophesied to destroy ‘evil’ according to an old legend. Without giving away much of the plot, the stories progress with Shiva moving from West to East across the subcontinent while his definition of ‘evil’ is challenged through various empires. He wages war on some, losing some of his finest men and friends only to find out that what he viewed as ‘evil’ was either a difference in perspective, way of life, or just grossly misunderstood intentions. What is most delightful about the tale, is Shiva’s realization that his biggest responsibility was to establish an absolute evil before he could destroy it, if at all. His journey reveals, that each empire, each tribe awaits the Neelkanth as their own savior from what plagues their lives.

Amish Trivedi’s tales have no Voldemorts ( Nagas yes, but I have a hunch they won’t be declared pure evil either), no Gabbars or Jokers. It is much like our own lives,  where there are no clear heroes, no absolute bad guys, just a very morally testing battlefield with only viewpoints to fight. Go read!

To the Meera in us…

Some evenings ago I reluctantly agreed to watch a dance ballet at Kamani auditorium on the life of Meera Bai, agreeing only because I was vaguely familiar with the subject in focus. The ballet was choreographed with an eclectic mix of both contemporary and Rajasthani folk dance forms, the region to which the tale originally belongs. At the beginning of the performance, I found myself grappling with the renditions in a unfamiliar language in the very familiar voice of Shubha Mudgal. However, as is the case with most art forms, when the performance weaved deeper down to its central story, finding meaning in the words seemed unnecessary, redundant even. Because when you are recounting and enacting the tale of one of the most prominent rebels/lovers in mythology (my favorite only after Sati), intensity is the only language to be spoken, emotion the only words to be understood. And even though I have barely read or researched on the Rajput princess, I only attempt to share it how I saw it.

Young Meera on the realization of her love for Krishna informs her mother of how he is the only befitting groom for her.  She grows up soaked in the love of a man/God she has never met, married to him in soul, her faith unwavering while pressures of adult life loom in the vicinity. Krishna is her jewels, and also her salvation. Soon enough Meera has to succumb to marriage in the patriarchal society she lives in because love is a whim rarely entertained among royalty. On the night of her wedding, failing to reconcile her reality with her desires, her soul splits into two- one the wife of Krishna (the young Meera)  and other the future wife of a Rana. They dance in unison, making promises to stay together through the demands of life, desire and duty co-existing for the lack of another choice. The ballet then progressed to craft out the rest of her life of surrender, rebellion and later total emancipation from the order of society. The indestructible devotion that catalyzed the inception of numerous renditions speaking of loss and longing.

The ballet left me moved at  various moments and triggered a thought that I finally had to put down as a post. In many ways I found Meera of her wedding day resembling so many women around me. The young, naive Meera who almost believed to that point that keeping a desire/love/choice for life was simply a matter of unshaken devotion. Little did she know of the burdens of duty, the demands of ‘reality’, that leave no room or time for desires like of young Meera. Don’t all of us women, at the point of succumbing to a life of duty sometimes split ourselves into the one that was and the one that ought to be? Only rarely letting the former surface in our new lives.

I am still mulling over what exactly stirred me that evening, but I would run the risk of an amorphous thought than never pen it down…:)