These are examples of some iconic popular culture fixtures, in the final part of this series on the many identifiable personal inspirations for this writer, brought to fruition by the artistic medium over the years . That’s why I use the term contingency, something brought by chance to one’s notice. These instances, too, came to me randomly as a viewer first and then stayed in my mind for years, as they will continue to be in the future.
Also, this is the final part for now. As inspiration strikes again, more additions will make way.
So here they are.
THE DEVIL WEARS PRADA – COLOURS
THE DEVIL WEARS PRADA signifies a lot of things to multitudes but to me, more than its surface appearances and thrust on presentability vis a vis growing up in the inner circle of elitist society, it’s about how the fashion world doesn’t have a dearth of talent. Its vision singularly defines our sartorial choices of every hue. Only we don’t realize that. The hard work is equivalent to its inimitable position in the arena of popular culture. Of course there are other trappings attached to the fraternity, some time honoured stereotypes and all .
THE DEVIL WEARS PRADA is memorable because it bears myriad colours of human experience. There are no judgements in the immediate narrative although viewers will take away their own perspectives. Disguised as a breezy comedy or even one of manners, it holds several life lessons about survival.
The greatest one comes when the innocent rookie secretary (Anne Hathaway) enters the fashion fray, as an absolute outsider on her first step towards a literary career. Her first step lands her in a space where she is looked down upon because of her appearance. Given those hypocrisies and the many layers of personalities, she, too, is made to come down from her high horse in one betokened instance. Her boss, the imperious editor and czarina of the fashion world Miranda Priestley ( a sensational Meryl Streep) is discussing a colour coordination prototype with her associates and Anne gives out a caustic chuckle as she feels there are no variations to the color scheme, it’s just one shade.
Then Miranda guides her, in her own inimitable caustic manner, about the whole process through which something harmless or baseless as colour coordination percolates down to the clothing choices of even the worst dresser, with the designs showcased by iconic fashion houses becoming the norm and attracting biggest buys at sales.
The newbie is hurt, teary eyed, visibly humiliated because Miranda is no holds barred and to the point but as a viewer it taught me about humility, to not disregard any creative profession just because it overreaches towards goals you and I are far removed from as the matrix of creation is unending; and even when the other person is a shrew.
Only the surface appearance of the fashion world is what we see. But we cannot deny that we are led towards our selections by its bearings. This scene is a masterclass and remains one of the most eye opening instances occasioned by popular culture.
We have our misconceptions no matter how well meaning and earnest we are. This brings it down to a realization. I identified with it because I believe we always look up to the very intricacies of fashion to adorn our best form of self identification. Only it remains implicit and hidden most of the time. But it is changing in these uber modern times we live in. Good taste, now, is crossing the threshold of elitism alone. This film has a lot to convey about that post millennium beginning for our generation and does it with clarity.
THE ICONIC PEGGY AND DON SCENE FROM MAD MEN (EPISODE : THE SUITCASE, SEASON 4, 2010 )
A pattern here emerges again as part of this essay. All people discussed struggle to make ends meet while chasing the vast, overbearing ghost of privilege, sometimes inherited by them and at others earned by dint of opportunities and sheer hard work. The latter bit fits the bill of Don Draper (Jon Hamm) and Peggy Olson ( Elisabeth Moss), two of the greatest performances / personages to come out of the post 2000s artistic boom on MAD MEN (2007-2015)
This prime example of the show’s penchant for detailing, down to the last conversational bit, is drawn on a rare episode ‘THE SUITCASE’ centered around just the two of them, professional soulmates who have the most unique connection, away from rampant cynicism and sexism of advertising in the ’60s. The series has a way to make the particular moment timeless, applicable to any era and to the rapport shared between the sexes.
Peggy has a stressful birthday where nothing fruitful has transpired for her personally and she feels the pinch of her age( though she’s just 26) , a glaring void in her love life and the bittersweet value of her profesional undertakings as a copywriter. In short, it’s a bad day and on top of it all, she is made to stay for extra hours by Don to work on an upcoming pitch.
Things take a turn for the worse when her frustrations get the better of her and she confronts Don with those priceless lines, “but you never say thank you” and Don replies, angrily, “that’s what the money is for”
He apologizes, she turns away, crestfallen, leaves and then cries in the ladies room, in front of the mirror. The tough dynamics of the boss, his dispassionate, non- sentimental presence have made her stronger over time while the clear eyed focus on creating more has kept her away from many of those petty, conventional dramatic tics others subscribe to. However, this exchange posits that in a capitalist regime, the professional bond exists to facilitate work and emotions take a backseat. Every hand on the deck has her/ his work only to speak for them. A sense of hierarchy too governs this exchange. Secondly , these two have always been lonely, cut out even when sorrounded by admirers and adversaries. This stage of their conversation is pivotal to understand the stagnation point for both of them, at a time where both lash out against each other, in their own individual ways.
The rest of the episode winds up becoming a tribute to the present dynamics of this beautiful bond after the storm of the confrontation has passed , crystallizing in intimate conversations and while their bond shares ups and downs over time, this scene is reflective of the challenging career crests and personal shortcomings they endure.
It is reflective further of the way we interact, react and then take forward our narratives like mature adults even when the stakes are against us.
Claire Foy’s legendary embodiment of Queen Elizabeth the 2nd on iconic Netflix show THE CROWN has facilitated a different kind of in – depth understanding of the world’s longest reigning monarch, for me and millions . The perspectives provided by her distillation of the Queen’s iron clad resolve, determined will power and utterly singular stands on issues pertaining to the personal and the political is a grand yet intimate statement on the post modern reading of authority. Power, in her case, comes from being true to her own ideals and seeking the right way even as her own kindred cast aspersions over her abilities or her society wears her down by its inherent complexities.
The brilliance of the writing on this show doesn’t skimp on her pride and unbending reserves of privilege too, telling us that her rearing has seeped into her very being. But this is an individual who tests her own limits, takes some left turns and is eager to look at her flaws and rectify them in the long run. Be it running roughshod over Winston Churchill (John Lithgow) and a whole network of males within the establishment for their slackness or trying to balance her own personal desires to see her sister( Vanessa Kirby) unite with her beloved( Ben Miles) , a divorced man not from the aristocracy, away from royal decrees that deem it to be forbidden, it is a portrait of an essentially lonely figure who has sometimes not the power to look at her own reflection in the mirror as her responsibilities come first. She has the gumption to also take speech lessons from an expert when her words don’t communicate the pulse of her immediate era, connect with the common standpoint of projected appearances with First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy and listen intently to a popular American preacher when her own mother is not too keen to lend an ear to the young thirty something lad.
Going by the accuracy of facts represented, this is a profound showcase of a life that seems too far from our grasps and with Olivia Colman taking over the mantle in its third season premiering late this year, we will be enlightened about more unseen facets.
We look at just the grandiosity of her position. The Crown examines the weight on her shoulders as her mythic status alienates her sometimes from her common human core and leads to several moments of soul searching. I gained a lot of insights about the nature of a person in position and the unique trail it occasions.
THE WIFE – “A WRITER MUST BE READ, HONEY”
I have already written about the Glenn Close starring book to film adaptation of THE WIFE on this blog a little while ago so I will not go into details except to say that its tale of an unlikely shadow figure, an anonymous writer reeling under the misogyny of her own husband( Jonathan Pryce) , a literary firebrand, is truthful to the manner of how a male dominated society functions and is now getting vetoed out for its own purge.
In the middle of the film, come the most arresting two minutes, a snippet of which was a clear highlight in the trailer as well. The younger version of the wife ( played by Close’s own daughter Annie Starke) meets a female alumni of her college ( Elizabeth McGovern of Downton Abbey fame) and within seconds she advises the young, promising writer with a sparkle in her eyes that she shouldn’t think about doing it. Never should she imagine that the male only club of editors, publicists and fellow writers will allow her to make her mark. Like the visiting lady’s own books, hers will end up in the alumnae library. Then she takes out a book and tells her that this is the sound of one that hasn’t been read.
The younger one says a writer must write.
The older one, with a pained expression accumulated through years of experience, tells her these pivotal lines, “a writer has to be read, honey”
The truth has been told here and as a writer myself, I don’t refute the multiple associations occasioned by these lines. Yes, we have to be read. Period.
Discover this scene to let the same sting of reality hit you.
There are also parallels in THE WIFE regarding the Nobel Academy in a whirling scandal relating to sexual harassment, leading to the prize for literature not being handed out last year and the lead male in the film standing for the same brand of toxic masculinity in more ways than one; he is shown to be receiving the Noble for literature . Its release in 2018 truly makes this one a work of our times then.