Thursday, August 30, 2018

Ujala (1959)

Watced the movie ‘Ujala’ on Netflix.
1959. Shankar Jaikishan (music), Shailendra and Hasrat Jaipuri (lyrics)

Being old school, I love anything that takes me back to old times, good or bad...anything that has a grounding effect on me.
And this movie had the effect of grounding me. Devoid of all pretense and ostentation, humble, simple, sincere and down to earth.
Took me back to Doordarshan, Vividh Bharati, and may be a part of my childhood…

It was a bit of a test in endurance though. Poverty, hunger, starvation, children dying. Made endearing all the more because of the simple joys of life and humour even in the midst of such threadbare existence.

Ramu (Shammi Kapoor) is the sole breadwinner of a large and poor family. He is sincere, hard working. His penury and hardships cannot move him astray to dishonest ways but the hunger of his little siblings and the burden of his old widowed mother prove too trying and for their sake, he allows himself to heed the tempting invitation from Kaalu, a blackguard, a petty thief and joins his gang. To return to his moral path but to be swayed again by a blow from destiny.
Until at last, he makes his final return to the home of honesty.

You can feel the compulsion of Ramu as you watch him surrounded by hungry siblings, a sister to be married, house owner demanding seven months rent of 14 rupees and a kid sister dying in the hospital waiting for an operation.
Just when he resolves he will quit pick pocketing, there is fresh trouble at his door, on one side and on the other, that gangster, alluring him with the ten rupees on which his life depends, for one last crime in a dark narrow alley.

As you see, with a wrench in your heart, a person beg and plead in helplessness, not for his own sake but for his kid brother crying for milk, or his sister run over by a speeding car, you rethink the qualities of self respect, self worth, self esteem and their rather exotic nature.
What would it mean to to starve your 5 year old children to uphold your lofty ideals that mean nothing to them? It would be selfish. Cruel. It would be like someone enjoying at others’ expense.
It also makes you see how easy, cheap and meaningless our own ‘self respect’ and ‘esteem’ are, in our present time.
Clearly, they are no big deal in times of financial well being and material abundance.
But how difficult and impossible they must be for those neck deep in poverty, whose only hope is the mercy of some generous soul, some kind hearted savior.

It takes a movie like this to appreciate the strength of character of those of our forefathers who tread the right path in the face of the compulsions of poverty, wretchedness and desperation.

My own grandfather walked on fire but did not stray from the path of honesty and uprightness.

The Acharya in the ashram who appeared on the scene at a crucial moment offering sixty rupees, would appear like too much of lucky coincidence, and unrealistic, if not for the fact that there really existed in those times, people of such noble nature full of lofty ideals though they would seem an oddity in these times.

The ending could have been simpler without all that circus and such far fetched extra ordinary complications.

A trivial and insignificant thing that I have to say a lot about, is the water tank, in the outskirts of the town.
The top of the tank is the bad guy Kaalu's place of dwelling. It is the scene of a scuffle between Ramu and Kaalu in the climax. Ramu falls down while crossing over to the other end of a rope that connects the tank and another building and nearly dies.
The thing is, this water tank from which a fall is supposed to be fatal is actually only about eight or ten feet tall.
It's endearing to see the gentlemanly understanding between the movie makers and the audience, the understanding that the audience will appreciate the movie makers' limited resources and will ‘get the message’, never mind the simple humble inaccurate visuals.
When today's moviemakers use all their resources and take you to Switzerland and Paris and exotic locations but there is no sincerity in their movie making, the sophistication of the visuals doesn’t matter.

A bunch of songs that I grew up listening to are now strung together by this movie.
Duniya walon se door, jalne walon se door,..
Jhoomta Mausam, Mast Maheena,…
Ho Mora Naadan balma na jaaane dil ki baat…

A beautiful song I discovered was ‘Suraj zara aa paas aa, aaj sapnon ki roti pakayenge hum’. Its poignant because its gay; a happy, children’s song, sung by Ramu to divert his little siblings’ attention from their hungry stomachs towards hope and dreams of fun foods that he promises to bring them one day. And the group of hungry children led by Ramu sprint down the streets, spring in their step, twinkle in heir eyes, singing of fun foods, roti and ghee and curry they will have one day.
Just how poignant!
It is a song of those yesteryears, of almost all households…
The very down to earth Manna Dey’s voice is tailor made for the 'threadbare' theme of the movie and particularly this song.

Another song that I hadn’t heard before was - Ab kahan jaye hum,… I must listen to it again.

Mala Sinha, ‘Chabili’ in this movie, is a cowherdess, a 'gwalan'. Double or triple chin. Awkward was her 'Rrrrraaaaaam kasam' at the beginning and end of every line. Boring exchanges between her and Shammi. The love story is hardly there. You have to believe it without seeing it.

A pocket picker had picked a 1000 rupee note from the territory of a rival gang. That reminded me of my father who had said, he had seen a 1000 rupee note those days, I forgot where...

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

To play or Not to Play

Should India play cricket with Pakistan? Or no?
Every time I hear this debate, I ask myself whether it should.
This is one of those subjects regarding which I don’t have a strong opinion, one way or the other - very rare since I usually have my confident opinion on almost every subject.
With time, some have grown, some have gone and some are born. Others have remained the same.
Those that have remained the same have grown from poorly founded to well founded. On books, movies, conversations and endless reflection.
But not on fashion. Never.
Not political correctness. No peer pressure. Never.

One of these days I decided I must develop an opinion on this subject too. Our exchange with Pakistan. And I did.

Here I am, logging it.

As long as the players, be they artists, singers, actors, painters or musicians, are individuals, and not representatives of the state, and visit us in their individual capacities, there should be no objection to cultural exchange. Oh! How I love Rahat Fateh Ali Khan, and those few gems from Adnan Sami, and what I would have missed if…

However, if they are representatives of the state, batting for their state, literally or metaphorically, which cricket players are, we must not have anything to do with them.

There goes my stand. Done.

Sunday, August 26, 2018

Ladhak & Kashmir 2010 - Day 15 - Return...

It had been a journey of disillusionment. The shattering of an illusion that I would, at least this once, make my parents happy.

They didn’t like the food. ‘Everything has onion garlic in it’, they made faces before the polite gentle Ladhaki waiters in the restaurants and embarrassed the hell out of me.

They didn’t like the Buddha. ‘It is the same Buddha, the same Gompa everywhere you go’, they said, refusing to climb a few steps to some of the famed monasteries I urged them to come to.

When they did come to a few of the Gompas, it was as if they were doing me a favour. They made faces, blaming me as if, for all their exhaustion.

My mother kept clucking her tongue every time I slowed the taxi down, for a photograph.

Everyday they kept harassing me to cancel the visit to Srinagar and to make bookings to return to Delhi via the Manali bus. The valley had been in the news again.

When a young and rash driver, driving us to Nubra valley, turned nasty and uncooperative, refusing to slow down or to go to this spot or that, I told him to behave better. My dad took the driver’s side and shut me up and kept praising his efficient driving.

After ten hours of journeying to Padum in the Zanskar valley, the taxi finally stopped. I got out and went looking for the guest house owner who was not to be seen. When I returned after several minutes, they snarled at me, “How long? How much more do we have to wait?”, not mindful of the truth that I had journeyed the same distance as them, I was exhausted too.

Eager to reach the moon valley in Lamayuru before evening so I could take some pictures when it was still sunny, I begged them not to break for tea and to allow me to continue journey until we reached Lamayuru. ‘We will have as much tea as we want anywhere anytime, who the hell are you to stop us’ barked my father.

‘Any other cousin of yours would have sit their parents down and poured a cup of tea herself, look at your face in the mirror’, he taunted again that night. Yes, they would pour a cup of tea, nothing more, they would certainly not take their parents to Ladhak, I thought.

Whoever said there are ungrateful children but never unkind parents was wrong.

A few days ago, I received a whatsapp forward about happiness. It said there are four hormones which determine a human's happiness - Endorphins, Dopamine, Serotonin, and Oxytocin. When we exercise, or read or watch funny movies, the body releases Endorphins. When we accomplish many little and big tasks, it releases Dopamine; so we must set goals and achieve them. Serotonin is released when we help others - giving back to society, you know.
And Oxytocin, is released when we become close to other human beings, when we hug our friends or family.

Very easy and simple, it made it sound.

I replied to the message that the first three are in our hands, sure, but Oxytocin is pure destiny.

Because there are some people who exist solely to resent and disapprove of others. When you go to them and hug them, they will whiplash you. And if you have very bad karma on your head, you will be born to two of these people.

There was curfew in parts of Srinagar. Our taxi ride to the airport was uneventful. At security, my nail-cutter was taken away, my father had to give up a bunch of bananas. Srinagar was special.

The Delhi airport surprised me. There were pigeons inside walking all over the lounge, perched up on the beams, I don’t think I saw them flapping wings though…

It was a quiet and bland journey back to Bangalore.

Sunday, August 12, 2018

Ladhak & Kashmir 2010 - Day 14 - Srinagar - Sights on the way back...

On the way back, the auto stopped at a garment shop and I purchased 2 salwar kameez material with Kashmiri embroidery. One black and one cream. The salesman said it would be 500 less without the bill or the sales copy. I said I wanted the bill.

As we came down, and met our father who had been waiting downstairs, my mother promptly reported what I had done with her usual ‘smile of the invalid’ on her face. And he yelled at me like a madman. Which Kashmiri pays tax to the government? What difference does a bill make???

I refused to get into the auto with them. And started walking back to the hotel. Soon as I sighted that beautiful road flanked on both sides by walls of poplar, there was a change of mood.

I turned left and walked on that street taking pictures. I walked back not having the courage to continue on that desolate. I got into a Shikara and sailed back to the banks by my hotel. I remember reclining completely on the bed, one foot raking the water surface. But before i had let go, I had taken some last pictures of the Shankaracharya temple, the TV tower and the dal lake. It was goodbye Kashmir, until next time.

Saturday, August 11, 2018

Little Women (1994)

Watched 'Little Women' on Netflix.

If the movie is so beautiful, so consummate, how much more beautiful the book must be.

Susan Sarandon, playing Abigail, is the mother of four daughters, living in Concord, during the times of the American civil war and this is the story of these little women. (This is a time when the great city of New York is shown having mud roads and horse drawn carriages on it. Brought a smile on to my face) Their father has been summoned to the war, the family has very limited means and yet the girls live a contented life, supporting each other, cherishing their dreams, hoping for a better tomorrow while living their today in total grace.

Susan Sarandon, the mother, gives them life lessons, moral support, encouragement to pursue their dreams and most importantly, approves of her daughters as they are, in the face of societal pressure to mold them into ‘ladies’.

When a neighbour remark that her girls are wild, she says

“Young girls are no different than boys in their need for exertion. Feminine weakness and fainting spells are the direct result of our confining young girls to the house, bent over their needlework in restrictive corsets” (at this there is a sudden hush because the mention of the corset is indelicate in those times)

While the society around her is preoccupied with keeping appearances, she assures her daughters,

“Time erodes all decorative beauty but what it cannot diminish is the wonderful workings of your mind, your humour, your kindness and your moral courage”

This one got my standing ovation.

“I wish I could give my girls, a more just world”

Isn’t it the best that any mother or parent could say, a completely novel thought, requiring true courage? When all the parents of the world are twisting their children to fit into this world, isn’t this a great mother who wishes she could give a better world to her children?

"If you hit and humiliate a child, the only lesson she will learn is to hit and humiliate". So saying she removes Amy, her youngest daughter, played by the very cute Kirsten Dunst, from school and puts her under the tutelage of Jo, her spirited second daughter.

Jo, played by (Winona Ryder) is her spirited, free thinking, girl, an angry young woman. Of all of them, I like Jo the most. I believe she is closest to my own character.
I found Winona Ryder very beautiful.

Its not just the mother, but the family is shown to have moral courage to stand up to whats right.

“The family hasn't bought silk in years. They have ‘vieeewwws’ on slavery”, says a girl sarcastically

“Isn't it true your father's school had to close when he admitted a little dark girl?” she asks Meg, the eldest of the girls in a party

“This silk isn't made in the south, but right here (Boston area)” assures another woman, persuading Meg to buy silk for her gown

“They use children for labor. All silk mills do” replies Meg, in righteous indignation.

When the sisters express their worry about people gossiping, Abigail (Susan Sarandon) observes,

“Nothing provokes speculation more than the sight of a woman enjoying herself”, asking her daughters not to worry.

Susan Sarandon has such a delicate and husky voice. Also a beautiful accent. Her speech is ultimate polish and refinement. Love it.

Being old school myself and for the love of the good old world and all of its charms, I noted everything that seemed to me, not queer, but charming, somewhat amusing, and some of which made me wish I had lived in those times.

“Gentlemen, I dislike all this money talk, it isn't refined", says Meg as the others discuss business, rich husbands, the amount you get paid for each story you give to the press and so on…”

“Don't say 'aweful', it's slang…”

“Mr.Laurence, one doesn't shout at ladies as if they were cattle” says Laurie’s tutor, when Laurie shouts from his window to one of the girls, asking her a question or something.

“It's proper to take a gentleman's arm if it's offered” Meg defends herself when Jo tears her away from the company of John Brooke, complaining “You were all over him” or something.

“Why didn't you tell me? (of your pregnancy), as ks Jo, of her sister Meg.

“One hardly speaks of such things”, says Meg shyly.

"And don't shake hands with people. It isn't the thing anymore." Changing trends!

Those were the times, when there used to be ‘coming out’ parties.

Coming out party - a debut into society, a formal debut

"Preparations were going on in the family for Meg to attend Sally's coming out"

“How is Margaret to be married without a proper debut?” Asks an aunt of the girls, concerned, because the family doesn’t have the money to host such a party.

“The one hope for your family is for your daughter to marry well, though I don't know who marries governesses. And Josephine has entirely ruined her disposition with books”…

And when had missplaced one of her gloves, “She cannot go to the party without gloves, those folks are society…”

The ladies wouldn't eat for weeks before their coming out parties, else they wouldn't be able to draw their laces.

“I thought your family were a temperance people”, so saying, Laurie takes away the glass of wine from Meg’s hand.

“I am not fashionable enough for London. You need someone elegant and refined”

When little Amy goes to aunt March(a ‘lady’), she is shown having been groomed, with golden curls and all. A subtle way of showing transformation and even the humour in it without a loud emphasis on anything.

Little Amy is shown mispronouncing words in typical childish funny way, almost every other sentence. The little things that go a long way in making an ordinary story interesting, though this movie is far from ordinary.

All the women are with braided hair.

A charming and queer little ceremony during Meg's wedding. Everyone holding hands, singing song, circling around the couple that stand in a circular bamboo enclosure…

Josephine sold her hair for money to buy her mother's train ticket to go her father who was wounded in the war. She is shown having bob cut.

“Are you thinking about father?” asks Meg of Jo who was crying.

“No, my hair” she says.

When the father arrives for Christmas, from war, and sees Jo’s hair, he says jokingly, “Well, this could become the fashion...“

In both Sense and Sensibility, the doctor is shown to be bleeding the ailing woman to cure her of sickness. In this one, the physician mentions it but says it might kill her, hence wont do it.

Laurie proposes to one March sister after another (march is their last name). He says he hates the husbands or fiances of all the sisters ‘attached’ so far, because he has always known that he must be part of the March family. A sentiment I have never seen before. Yes, sometimes you want to belong to a family. You love not just the person but everyone and everything in it. Or, it is perhaps he reverse. When you love someone too much, you find out all about their family, all the members, their background, the house of their dwelling, the school and colleges they have gone to, and begin to love them all… isn’t it?

And then there was the age that was, before feminism.

"Mr. Davis said it was as useful to educate a woman as to educate a female cat"

“Laurie is a man. He may vote, and hold property and pursue any profession he pleases”

And then, the flip side of male domination, that continues to exist even today.

“Why is it Amy may paint China and you(Jo) can scribble away, while I must manfully set my music aside?”. An important point for feminists who don’t see that men conform to more norms that women do.

“A constitution that denies citizenship to women and black people.

They just passed the 15th amendment, they can vote”

"Stand up to the lions of injustice..."

America's choices are strange. The vulture is the national bird. In their movie Jungle Book, it's a wolf that is the mother of mowgli. And lion stands for injustice! Whoa!

“Where in tarnation are mommy's glasses?”. Where in tarnation, means, where in hell. Changing times bring changing colloquial.

I noted some quotes…

“Over the mysteries of female life, there is drawn a veil, best left undisturbed”

“Change will come as surely as the seasons and twice as quick, we make our peace with it as best as we can”

“Some books are so familiar. Reading them is like being home again”

“Go and embrace your liberty and see what wonderful things come out of it”

“The immortality of the soul is asserted to be in consequence of its immateriality as in all leipothymic cases consistent with the idea of immortality and immorality and physicality”, whatever it means…