Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Singles commingle, for once

What exactly were the indie-rock band American Princes alluding to when they belted the following lyrics of their hit song “Real Love”?
I don't care about real love; I just want a world that can bear its own weight
I really don’t know but in the recent past I saw three movies that were thematically different but had the above lyrics at the heart of them. They are: Richard Linklater’s acclaimed Before Sunrise (1995), Before Sunset (2004) and Alex Holdridge’s “In Search of a Midnight Kiss” (2007).

These movies are made of stuff that make up the wet dreams of the urbane youngsters – free-wheeling conversations, references that are elusive, no maudlin climax, Hollywood fare but no trappings. For the cinephiles these movies are the best things that could have happened to them after sliced bread and Nanook of the North – shoe-string budget, Dogme-invoking camera sequences, mumblecore before mumblecore. In fact, Holdridge’s feature is shot in black-and-white.

The movies are about the heady intersection in the lives of two lonely people who may never again see each other but, at that moment, being with each other is almost inevitable. Their roadmap is as follows: Man (Ethan Hawke) meets woman (Julie Delpy) on a train in Vienna (Before Sunrise) and asks her to spend a day with him. When a flustered Julie manages to mumble a why Hawke blurts out the most telling rationale ever witnessed on Hollywood screen: “Jump ahead 10, 20 years, okay? And you're married. Only your marriage doesn't have that same energy it used to have. You start to blame your husband. You think about all those guys you've met in your life... and what might've happened if you'd picked up with one of them. I'm one of those guys. That's me. So think of this as time travel.”

Thankfully Julie takes the bait and for the next 75 minutes the viewer gets a fly-on-the-wall account of the weighty and compelling conversation between the lead couple that even includes Hawke’s Proustian dream of his dead grandmother (I am excluding Annie Hall as it doesn’t qualify with Woody Allen hogging all the limelight, rightfully of course). As fate would have it they part their ways in the early morning with a firm resolution to meet after six months.

Linklater, of School of Rock fame, has other plans and the young couple comes across each other in Paris after nine years in Before Sunset (2004). Obviously, the enriching conversation resumes where it was left albeit on a more sedate tone, keeping their ages in view. Forget the threadbare storyline these two movies work solely on the basis of their dialogues and the way actors mesh.

An unwitting derivative of these two successful films is Alex Holdridge’s 2007 release, which is nowhere closer to Linklater’s cerebral tone. I mean you won’t see a Hawke-like man mimicking Dylan Thomas tone while reading out Auden. Banana peels are strewn all over but the lead couple’s charm would win you over. It’s New Year’s Eve and post break-up Wilson (Scott McNairy) is still recuperating in seclusion in Los Angeles. Goaded by his friend he signs up on craigslist to find a date with a hook of “Misanthrope seeks misanthrope” so as to spend the evening in a more eventful way. Lo and behold he gets a prospective date in the form of Vivian (Sara Simmonds).

A very engaging scene is the first encounter of the lead couple when Wilson finds himself at his wit’s end that Vivian is searching “for the love of her life” on a dating site. Vivian rambles and Wilson loves her self-indulgence and, consequently, the viewer gets sucked in. And why not after coming to know that Vivian takes pictures of every solitary picture that she comes across. Why? Who would lose only one shoe, she says. The viewer would be as dumfounded as Wilson and that’s no mean achievement. Holdridge and Linklater are thorough romantics because cynics cannot make these movies.

Only grouse: I wouldn’t mind spending another hour with these couples or maybe I am asking for too much just like the male leads do in these movies.

Is our country really going to dogs?

While I was marveling at the fact that Iam McEwan's "Saturday" is available at a 'pirated' book stall, one man asked the seller in a surreptitious tone if 'Lost Symbol' is available only to be disappointed as the answer was a resounding no. With that my trance was broken and got me thinking why would anyone subject themselves to reading something, which is like getting lobotomy done on someone while that person is awake. Dan Brown has achieved a cult status among Indians for being a master storyteller when in fact his writing is clunky at best. The genesis of this undue reverence lies in our perception of art. Let's be brutally frank — the escapist form of art is what we like the best. We want to be entertained and in this pact of Faustian proportions we are willing to put our brains at home when it comes to the Bollywood movies that are made for an audience who has never seen a Hollywood movie or suspend disbelief if Langdon's escapades are described on paper.

In a recent Rolling Stone interview U2 vocalist Bono makes a telling statement that the saddest people he knows are the ones working for their own well-being. That is exactly the reason why our media gets a collective orgasm even if a dog catcher in the US happens to be an Indian American or if Danny Boyle makes an apology of a movie on a slum dweller's life. Except Tehelka to a large extent and Outlook to a minor extent, none of the other newspapers or magazines or the dime-a-dozen news channels are reporting on Naxalism and if at all they do, their reporting is done through a jaundiced eye. Little wonder that a leading news channel had a prime time debate on "If Naxals are the Taliban of India". Where is a country heading to if the media is pandering to the sensibilities of upper middle class?

The panacea to redeem such a hopeless situation is to ban television, which has become the retina of the mind's eye. You burn all the books in the library at the town hall and no one would care two hoots about it. You remove the same youngistan's televisions and they will be there in a jiffy armed with pump shots and pitchforks. Does all this inner decadence suggest that we are at a point of no return? Not really. I am in no way coercing everyone to be idealistic and foment a revolution similar to the ones seen in Iran and France. I am not asking you to shun your Twitter and Facebook accounts. All I am saying is that while you update your status message as "my kitty just sneezed", also read something stimulating. You might say to each his own but that doesn't mean you watch a trashy flick and mention it on your orkut profile.

The primary reason why our country is culturally bankrupt is the fact that we don't respect humanities as a subject. Sociology, anthropology are looked down upon and that is exactly the reason why the country is literally going to dogs. Every university wants to produce those factory made zombies called engineers but humanities is that pink elephant that is safely avoided. The other day I was reading W G Sebald's 'Austerlitz' where one character traverses Europe to trace the architectural history of the 19th century spas. If someone is to propose a similar idea in an Indian university with an Indian connection forget research funds, he or she would be branded as a lunatic.

Apart from Hindu no other newspaper gave the death of Claude Levi Strauss , 'the anthropology god', the kind of prominence it deserves. His structuralism has almost changed the way the intellectuals perceived the world. his structuralism theory said that every culture has some common traits and that went a long way to lend legitimacy to the eccentricities of Amerindians.

Unless there is an intellectual wave sweeping the country, Chetan Bhagat will be writing dimwit editorials about the youngistan.