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Thursday, December 24, 2009


I'm at the gym, grooving to my Hindi songs, ipod cranked up. Limbs flailing on the elliptical, I'm delirious with joy, listening to the first strain of chord, recognizing a familiar but unexpected song:  'Woh Ladki', haven''t heard it in ages . . . and it's coming at me in a rush of memories from the Bollywood movie, Badshah. Clutching the handrails for support, I swoon at the lilt and melody of it, marveling how it manages to be simultaneously full of rhythm and beat. The sounds of staccato in my ear propels me further, fast and furious, elevating incline and increasing speed. I'm lost in a reverie of images about the song: the actor, Shahrukh Khan, playing it up as only the best of hams can, the entire song sequence couldn't be "cheesier."

Why the quotation marks around "cheesy?" I'm acknowledging the implicit pejorative without succumbing to it.  It's such only if we impose Western standards of decorum, protocol, and emotional restraint. In the West, opacity in expression is prized, especially for men. Women are given more berth--it's the estrogen, you know! But men are given so little allowance for displaying feelings. They may express authentic feeling if its tenor is aggressive, but what about raw and vulnerable? They're likely to be judged as milquetoast man, effeminate, a pansy, and the like. Facing recriminations such as these, I feel for those with the impulse to remain cloaked and keep feelings shuttered. A recent example: when Tom Cruise proclaimed his love on the Oprah show by jumping up and down on the couch, he was skewered left and right, by public and media, fans and foe alike. He became an overnight object of malign, ridicule, and contempt; if the cultural disdain had been measured, the collective sneer would've stretched around the planet. My dismay and bewilderment? Why was this man being reviled by the masses for doing nothing other than fervently showing love? For not just talking the talk, but walking the walk? For mirroring his actions with what he felt inside? Why was he a laughingstock? What crime was it to be open about falling in love? Should he have hid it? What is it about a man un-peeling his heart and holding it up for the world to see? Why oh why are we so uncomfortable to the point we chafe and bristle, accuse and point fingers . . . did we need him as our object of derision? Did he touch something in us we'd rather avoid? Confrontation of Self is tough. Accusation of other is easy.

Unlike the Cruise debacle, Bollywood movies and characters are rife with emotion, unadorned and golden, spilling and tumbling forth in messy disarray. For the Indian, melodrama passes for drama. Actors study the William Shatner acting method :-) Part of my marvel at the song are the snippets and slices of pictures in my mind's eye: Shahrukh gallivants about the marble floor, one-legged sashay, eagerness writ large, smiles from ear to ear in hot pursuit of the requisite woman. He sways and twirls, one arm in continual pose, head held high, undulates and pirouettes as gracefully as any ballerina. His hips swaying, swerving torso and neck bobbling . . . he's all but prancing forth with open, naked tremors of FEELING across his face, rippling down and up, back and forth. His face and body are on a mission: to inhabit and BE his emotion--damned what others think, hell with fellow actors and director talking about him. His entire Being is consonant with felt experience--and his actions follow suit. He allows himself to become and morph into emotion--no regard for "masculine" or "feminine" or "neuter," no labels, no nothing.

 He is absolute, unabashed, insisting his feelings be on display for the world stage. His commitment to exuberance, to the music he surely must be humming inside his skin, to the totality of his presence vis a vis the actress.  With this song sequence flitting in front of me, I'm swept away, the elliptical pedals gain more momentum.  What moves me so, leaves me breathless? I remember when I first watched the movie years ago, I felt a secret furtive thrill, akin to eavesdropping on a juicy bit of gossip . . . I recognize this for what it is: I rarely see people be so bare, their feelings writ large, plastered across faces and bodies, heavy draperies of self-consciousness let loose. Instead, I see faces drawn with worry. Worry that they need conceal, not reveal feelings. So when I taste this bit of unfiltered, unvarnished energy dancing about, unfurled without cares . . . what tastier treat? With this movie scene, truly I felt invited to move about freely, without abandon. What greater gift?

We're a product of our prevailing mores, values, norms. We can't escape the social womb--somersaults of cocoon and prison, turning this way and that. The challenge is to peek from behind, dig from beneath: question the status quo and the default.  What are we surrounded by as a matter of course? The lure for us:  analyze what appears the de facto. Question, question, question--and then some. We question and what's the worst that can happen? Arrive at an unsavory answer, we'll promptly discard it. Arrive at vanilla, we'll forget the undistinguished.  But what if, unexpectedly, we arrive at a revelation? Our life blossoms,  abundant possibilities fresh in tow. Everything to gain, nothing to lose; by any measure, it's a win-win fulcrum. As self-reflective creatures, we gaze inwards, outwards, and towards all--Socrates said it best: "the unexamined life is not worth living."

1 comment:

  1. Hi Ranjan,

    This is the most brilliant blog on Bollywood I have ever read. It's a literary piece par excellence, very unfamiliar in the film world. Undoubtedly, there is no match to the energy of Bollywood male stars, displayed in song and dance sequences of their movies. And nobody to beat the vereran actor Shammi Kapoor (Yahoo fame)in energetic rendering of songs, not even Shahrukh Khan.
    Looking forward to more such blogs on Bollywood.

    Tilak Rishi