These are important touchstones from the artistic realm that told me some grave, insatiable truths while also making me revel in others’ success. So here are the instances in which popular culture made me wiser and joyous, in this third part of an ongoing series.
‘MEN WILL BE MEN’ REALITY IN ARTH
Acclaimed director Mahesh Bhatt’s career was carved out of certain unseemly truths that he had to endure and some bleak realities he himself was responsible for as an adult, more so as a married man. His personal repository of memories was, however, never as striking as on ARTH (MEANING, 1982) where his infidelity and the price of longing for reconciliation and eventual freedom for his wife upped the stakes in its no holds barred recreation on screen. It was a confessional and an ultimate feminist breakthrough as Pooja ( Shabana Azmi) finds that her individuality is more pronounced than being attached to her husband Inder’s( Kulbhushan Kharbanda) surname of Malhotra.
The film is important on that count as Pooja, orphaned earlier in life and raised in an orphanage, takes it upon herself to find work and the power to be separated from her once weeping, distraught self who begged the other woman, the popular cinema idol Kavita Sanyal ( Smita Patil) to leave her man as she had nobody to fill her void even as her own husband accepts it is his own frailty and has nothing to do with her. In our world, these are the trademarks peddled to pacify women on the verge and it’s a given that she will take the straying male back, one who has shared his body and mind with another person. That circulatory progression is heaped on her. The storytelling is realistic and nuanced here as none of the leads are presented as petty caricatures or of one archetype. They are all victims of conventions, be it Kavita who finds comfort in a married man’s arms as her mental debilities make it essential for her to have company for alleviating her fears while Inder, too, is ridden with guilt for trespassing his boundaries. Pooja, at one point, is humbled by seeing Kavita apologize to her and at the same time expressing her helplessness and desire for comeuppance as Pooja’s suffering has been compounded in her mind, haunting her and exacerbating her mental state of paranoia post their heated confrontation at a party where Inder openly walked in with her while the wife became a pitch dark patch in the background.
So Pooja is the vessel imbibing every little emotion, her own suffering fluctuating with the deep support from her best friends ( Gita and Siddharth Kak), a hostel mate’s eye opening unraveling and burgeoning love from an upcoming singer (Raj Kiran)
Her own life takes a new turn as she earns her financial independence, however modest it may be, taking the bold step to leave the home she had yearned for with her husband as it was never her own and was financed by the rich mistress ; additionally she decides to adopt her domestic help’s ( Rohini Hatrangadi) daughter and find the courage to illuminate another life without being trapped by her disappointments. A woman walks out from a bad relationship and hardly turns back, no matter how difficult the ensuing postscript is, as my mother always tells me and it should be for every self respecting individual. Her life comes full circle yet one last exchange with Inder posits the men will be men credo that we have been made to learn by rote. Inder is jilted by Kavita who sees him for his insincerity, is left by his friend Harish who never approved of his philandering and stood for Pooja and meets his soon to be ex wife . He wishes to come back. Pooja looks at him and bluntly asks him whether he would have forgiven her if she were in his place. He gives a smug smile and almost instantly says a ‘no’ ; Pooja, firm and unwavering, bids him goodbye, ushering in a wave of change for women who refuse to see the uncertainty of such worldly arrangements with men who have already tainted the honor and trust in a partnership and allowing a whole consciousness to strive for a brighter identity. The circle of life and its meanings enlighten her because she chooses to not be trampled upon as a victim.
That Mahesh Bhatt chose to highlight his own ilk’s dented mentality and turned it on its head was relevant then and is more than ever before in our present.
ARTH remains one of my go to guides on interpersonal relationships and the bond we need to broach with our self, with our own first names. It informed me that bottomless egos always reach a dead end and the world moves on.
THE POET – FATHER IN VICKY CRISTINA BARCELONA
In the 2008 film VICKY CRISTINA BARCELONA, the two titular best friends ( Rebecca Hall and Scarlett Johannson) arrive in Spain to be swept by the cult of personality around Juan Antonio ( Javier Bardem) and later his wife Maria Elena ( Penelope Cruz), both of whom possess a kindred spirit of tempestousness.
In the midst of this elegant exchange among people, who often hold themselves in high regard and weigh others on account of attractiveness, there is a little vignette where Juan visits his father, a humble artist who is poles apart from his unabashedly exhibitionist son. That distinction is clear in this scene. The most important aspect here as related by Juan to one of the two girls from the title is that his father is a poet and nurtures a great vocation but by not sharing his creations with the larger world, he marks his protest at people who consume art for the sake of it. By doing this, the man scuttles their artifice and swooning impermanence in his own individualistic way .
It is close to my heart because we writers are ultimately caught in a dilemma whether to showcase our art and exhibit it to a largely consumerist culture or keep creating in our private sanctuaries. It’s a matter of choice, I think and yet multiplying our voice is the best measure of success. In the old man’s predicament, I found an extension of my own complexity of the mind where few even care to look at my creations with discernment. For the rest, it’s a ‘I’ll read it soon’ sentiment of indifference. That is the kind of consciousness the poet hopes never impinges upon the purity of his craft. It’s an enduring statement within this enjoyable film that probes human nature.
JOHN LEGEND IS A REINCARNATION OF NAT KING COLE.
You hear him, you see him belt out the most rousing melody with crystal clear enunciation, each word audible to the ear. As for his stage presence, well he is commanding and inspires swoons and gasps of joy, almost the kind of respect this generation doesn’t easily identify with. Once the gold standard of NAT KING COLE, a figure of supple charm for generations altogether down to the present era, that magical aura, according to me, now matches John Legend. After listening to his flawless delivery on ALL OF ME, one of my all time favourites, I was amazed at how his phrasing and emotional range seemed to be a modern day incarnation of Mr. Cole. The smoky, sensuous vocals and even his overall persona is on the same dignified wavelength.
It’s as if Mr. Cole left a profound part of himself in John. The piano playing being another similitude. It makes you believe in miracles and I always see Mr. Cole’s legacy continue with John’s continuous ascent. Also let not this take anything away from John Legend’s individual stamp as an artist. He is one of the very rare gentleman of our times. I hope that if ever a biography on Mr. Cole is made, he essays the legend.
ADELE’S ROLLING IN THE DEEP AND HOW I HAD PREDICTED A PROFOUND CHURNING ON THE CULTURAL FIRMAMENT. ALAS! I WAS RIGHT.
I don’t need to describe or even begin with the untramelled good graces of one Adele Adkins. All I have to say is she marked a tectonic shift in popular culture, directing us towards the classical style of musical excellence that had gone missing in the millennial timeline. We yearned for rare artistry from a singular artist and since 2008 Adele, barely out of her teens, gave the world a benchmark of timelessness.
My own brush with her was in her breakthrough year of 2011. As soon as I heard ROLLING IN THE DEEP with its opening drums, bass and those extraordinary pitches, I instinctively knew it was going to be special. Yet I wondered if it will be one of the great cultural fixtures like many pop numbers go on to become readily. In my mind, she had heralded a new tide. Lo and behold! As the song and her whole album 21 broke every conceivable record, I was reassured, as if I had a direct stake in it and today I realize that a listener’s keen eye can actually hold the power to change others’ artistic fortunes. All we need is the discerning ear and eye along with a pure heart to encourage greatness.
ADELE’S ROLLING IN THE DEEP too made me a participant in her saga of musical riches.
REVOLUTIONARY ROAD – ABOUT THE EXTINGUISHING OF MORTAL WISHES
I have already written three pivotal posts on this exemplary film here on my blog last year, during the earliest stages of building up my profile so I will cover no new ground this time around .
REVOLUTIONARY ROAD (2008) is a deeply personal tale for me as it draws on these very visible impulses we observe in our families, among our parents who have to trudge lonely roads while raising us and maintain collective facades of predisposed unity even as their individualities seem to go in opposite directions. It congeals their inner passions and a lust for life paves the path for bitterness, complexities and a love- hate dynamic central to two people who have said ‘I dos’ for the long haul.
April and Frank Wheeler have none of their mutual love lost but they want to lead a more liberated life together, with their young children in tow away from a post war, suburban American stillwater. It’s a pact they make with each other and are happy to share that confidence as life partners. But others, others’ opinions, constant smirks and banter lead to a resolution that leads to the couple’s untimely rift, atleast in spirit.
The extinguishing of mortal desires is realized beautifully and poignantly in Sam Mendes’ film and as I have observed life from close quarters now, the outer realm of acquaintances and ‘friends’ usually influence our thinking, sometimes leading to a permanent crisis of confidence within one relationship shared by two. In this year, that realization of couples drifting apart after being together for almost half of a lifetime became an instant reality for me, propelled by the emotional gravitas of REVOLUTIONARY ROAD and parallels in people I know intimately . It is a page torn out from the everyday cranks and frustrations in almost every home for which you don’t need a neutral perspective as the issues hit close to the bone.