CONTINGENCIES OCCASIONED BY POPULAR CULTURE- PART 1

There are times in our always evolving lives where artistic media define our immediate stations in life and transcend the narrow view that big words and emotions pour out of books and cinema only .

I have always believed the similitudes occasioned by popular culture and certain crucial examples have marked me for life, with all the intensity and positivity I accord them.

These are the contingencies brought by art that impacted my life, in ways that pedantic classroom interactions or hollow pearls of wisdom never can.

Also, I had longed to write this series but it got delayed. But here I am.

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.. THE LIONESS NURSING A BABY DEER —

The first instance I recall is one that almost everybody I knew then watched on television ; for those were truly the days of infotainment when popular culture had something unique to share with viewers even as it found new narratives to weave around wildlife that can often go in the same concentric circles regarding visual details.

It was probably on National Geographic or Discovery that we saw our notions of the wild – with the predictable emphasis on survival of the fittest – go for a complete transformation and the hunter / hunted binary transitioning to one of pure humanity.

A baby deer, separated from the rest of the clan after the latter becoming prey to lions, is nursed, looked after and protected by a lioness who becomes a maternal figure of singular strength, facing odds from her own ilk to ensure the young one survives. This is so relevant to our present scenario where personal hatreds do not spare the innocent ones. Being reminded of this episode shot by the crew of naturalists years ago informed me of the sheer strength of character present in living beings, who have the capacity to rewrite conventions and prevail with their individuality, whether in the wild or in our concrete jungles.

It’s a lesson we, the so called rational beings, must learn as social creatures . It still leaves me moist eyed

This instance still remains a miracle of nature, just like that Nat Geo cover shot of the Afghani girl with ‘tiger eyes’ that became a pop culture fixture. ‘The lioness nursing a baby deer’ has become a legend, akin to a modern parable and is vividly remembered by us, mere mortals.

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.. GIMME ALL YOUR LOVE APPEARING WITH JENNIFER LAWRENCE –

In this case, it was telepathy or intuition as I am blessed with a good dose of the latter. The thing is being an admirer of the musical outfit ALABAMA SHAKES, their sensual, riotous spell of sensations and vocals on their number GIMME ALL YOUR LOVE had become a mainstay.

Somehow, since there was no visual accompaniment to the single, I imagined trailblazing actress Jennifer Lawrence featuring in the video, standing in front of a mirror and performing a contemporary dance reflected in it while her movements were matched by a male performer, possibly her lover as instructed by the song lyrics, on the other side of the mirror. The dance, almost impromptu, would be perfect for the meeting of two souls waiting to be together. That was my visual cue.

Lo and behold, as I watched Jennifer later in her film JOY, what did I find? The same song played in the background prominently as the ever resourceful actress displayed strength in the face of mounting odds. The instrumental bits of the song, among its most powerful elements, came alive for me. I was speechless by this contingency though it is unbelievable.

Perhaps my intuition really did bear fruition, gloriously so this time around. I wish if in this lifetime, I ever get to meet Ms. Lawrence, I can relay my vision of her in the song’s video and how in JOY, it almost telepathically validated my original idea / imagining. The fierceness of the lyrics and the performances of Lawrence melded into one unit.

What an instance!

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JON HAMM COMING TO LUCKNOW FOR THE MILLION DOLLAR ARM SHOOT —

I wonder aloud : what were the chances of this contingency even though I didn’t come face to face with the man I had come to admire greatly.

Around 2011-12, I had discovered the classic AMC drama Mad Men and since then there has been no looking back. It so happened during the course of my feverish devotion to the series and its cast members, that included parsing every written article, watching interviews and clips and being in the know of every cultural detail, that another charmed contingency made me believe in the power of appreciation. Perhaps sometimes stars align to ensure we come closer to those we love.

In early 2013, I discovered in the papers that the team of Hollywood movie MILLION DOLLAR ARM was shooting in my city Lucknow and what’s more they were canning a crucial scene at the University of Lucknow’s beautiful Arts Quadrangle, the institute where I was studying. Man, that was a shot in the arm. Jon Hamm, my idol, was there ( he played real life coach Mr. J. B, an American baseball coach who came to India on a whim to find talented sportsmen who could play the American game and ended up recruiting and turning around the furtunes of two native sons from my own state ; they are now prominent stars in their field). That I had read about the real life story few years before the shooting commenced on a national magazine made it sweeter.

I mean what were the odds that the man I came to admire as the suave Don Draper on Mad Men would come all the way from Los Angeles, halfway around the globe, to my very place of residence. As an admirer, it felt like a personal validation that connections are forged in the most unlikely ways.

Due to my final examinations, I could not see him and shoots are generally conducted with discipline and so I wouldn’t have pried on the space. Reading about it the next day made me joyous and this instance in itself was a profound sign of the fact that the world is a small sanctuary indeed .

DON DRAPER / JON HAMM has become a bedrock of my cultural experience for a lifetime now. God bless him.

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.. THE LIFE LESSONS AND SELF IDENTIFICATION FROM EK DOCTOR KI MAUT (DEATH OF A DOCTOR)

This film, released in the early 1990s when India underwent a successful transition to a liberalized economy and firm placement in the annals of global interaction, presents an unsparing picture of nepotism, doubts about one of our own’s abilities to bring about a profound change, the muddled politics of compatriots and our poor national estimation. We have become so cynical as a society and in our internalized complexities of occupying a post colonial and third world ethos that we just cannot accept that a distinctive individual among us can be a pioneer.

Whereas other films of the era focused on extravagance, Tapan Sinha’s DEATH OF A DOCTOR showed us a man’s struggles to convince the immediate community around him that he has painstakingly prepared a potent, potential cure for leprosy. He is morally troubled, cornered, accused of plagiarism, at the worst of fraud owing to his present job in a government hospital and his anguish and frustration is a direct condensing of a real life doctor who eventually committed suicide.

The doctor here opts to reach foreign shores and kindles some semblance of hope towards the end but his promise has been overrun by systemic rot and interpersonal jealousies. His sense of humility and pioneering feats remain trapped in his own despair. His wife is the point of view lens to his eventual anguish that will be for a lifetime.

This film, reminiscent of Arthur Miller’s DEATH OF A SALESMAN through its title and its melancholy realizations that even the most academic minds are ultimately defeated by their inner demons, in the process destroying someone else’s future, opened my eyes as I, myself, had been in the throes of betrayal by my own seniors who treated me as an intelligible cipher, nothing more . EK DOCTOR KI MAUT brought those inner monologues to life and that’s why it is so powerful. Actors PANKAJ KAPOOR and SHABANA AZMI lay bare here the very canvas of our complex society’s lowest instincts, the one that hurts through words and a backlog of mediocrity.

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.. THE LINES FROM ARDH SATYA BY DILIP CHITRE

ARDH SATYA (HALF TRUTH, 1983), for me as for countless cinephiles, is a seminal and earth shatteringly realistic work because it addresses the inner inadequacy of a virtuous man within a corrupt, finagled, dominant world of males. That he happens to be a cop who refuses to kowtow to street smart ways of his force, the one he was forced to join on the insistence of his own father ( in a case of generational passing of the baton to the same professional pedigree ) plays multiple beats of moral reflexivity on his soul. He wears a crown of thorns as reformation falls by the wayside and petty internal politics are what he is handed down as a legacy from his seniors.

THIS ENGLISH TRANSLATION OF THE POEM ABOVE APPEARS IN MAITHILI RAO’S 2015 BOOK ‘SMITA PATIL : A BRIEF INCANDESENCE’

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It’s the kind of internalized revolt of the spirit, in this classic 1983 Indian cinematic work directed by ace filmmaker GOVIND NIHALANI, that leaves usual centricity of male ego behind. This is not the usual dilemma of ‘a man’ to the exclusion of everybody else but rather its offsetting patterns for ‘an individual’ are relatable to half of us on the right side of the great divide around which the circle of life runs its predictable course fuelled by herd mentality and compromised change. A tone of emasculation too influences these verses.

The title poem comes at a crucial juncture of the protagonist’s ( Om Puri) life when his blossoming love for a college lecturer (Smita Patil) coincides with his impassioned self actualization. In a restaurant are seated two sensitive individuals who create an oasis of calm in the middle of the big, bad cityscape / world where amorality rules. She hands him a book of poems. He reads it and finds the words resonant, reaching to the very core of his existential crisis. A crisis of the everyday where the common man is caught in a whirlpool of half truths peddled by custodians of society. Two giants of Indian cinema, now deceased, bring to our consciousness our deepest struggles with expressive fecundity.

This poem by famed writer Dilip Chitre is like a private moment of catharsis as also a monumental, evocative but never self serving testament of art being nothing other than a compendium of life lessons and experiences. It captures the mood of the times for every generation. It transports the very essence of all great art : to be an unblemished mirror to the world we live in and in which conventions hardly change.

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EKLA CHOLO RE( Walk alone)

IF NOBODY HEEDS YOUR CALL, YOU WALK ALONE…….. EKLA CHOLO RE……

These immortal lines by Nobel Laureate Rabindranath Tagore have given self assurance to millions. The ideas of the works mentioned above, EK DOCTOR KI MAUT and ARDH SATYA, seem to get subsumed in the simple, immersive and ever truthful philosophy that ultimately even the best of relationships are transactional and conditional with present situations.

One pendulum swings low and everybody brokers distances from us . We realize, hence, early on that sometimes trusting one’s own integrity to ideals is the ultimate victory. It is a lonely, long winded road but we must prevail. Universality drips from these precious words.

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