Aaj Kal Vinnaithaandi Varuvaaya?

Love Aaj Kal

Vinnaithaandi Varuvaaya

A week ago (since I had nothing else to do), I happened to watch the Tamil film Vinnaithaandi Varuvaaya. No, don’t worry. I don’t intend to add another review to the multitudes that are already available for this pretty decent (though over-rated) movie in various media, written by those who are (hopefully) much better writers and film critics than me. It is just that I had run out of things to write about on this newly and very enthusiastically set up blog of mine, when I happened to watch this movie. And I thought, perhaps I should write something on that favourite subject of almost all Indian movies – the four-letter word starting with L, ending with E… you know what I’m talking about.

When I thought of the word, another movie that I’d watched a few months before flashed across my mind screen. It was Love Aaj Kal. On further  probing and analysis, I found two reasons (apart from my being a fan of Deepika Padukone) behind the sudden popping-up of this Hindi movie into my mind:

1. The word LOVE appears in the title of the film

2. Both these movies seem to follow a similar approach in dealing with LOVE.

The first reason is quite clear (unless you don’t know English and have still managed to read this much). The second reason perhaps needs a little explaining. But first, some filmy facts. Take a look at the conventional love stories we see in mainstream cinema. Most of them have the boy and the girl meeting (somewhere somehow, very frequently in situations that can be imagined only by a scriptwriter who’s gone  completely mad) and falling in love (which is equivalent to going to the Swiss Alps and singing songs. Or if the producer isn’t that ambitious, singing songs closer home). Then, they want to marry (this is before live-in relationships started happening), which is but natural. But then, their families don’t think it’s natural. So then we have to solve the issue. And what better way to go about it than with fiery dialogues, heroism and villain (yes, he came into the picture somewhere in-between) bashing? Finally, our hero manages to take the beauty home. And they live happily ever after.The families either get fed up of advising (read threatening) the young lovers and disown them, or come to realise their grave mistake of trying to stop the force of divine love.  The sheer number of films built on this basic premise is mind-boggling.

However, it is a notable fact that the two films I mentioned  here tell the story a little differently. Of course, there may be other films as well, but I choose these as representatives of the new-age love story because they have managed to grab the attention of a wide audience.  There are two aspects of these films that make them different from the usual fare.

1. Perspective

Both these films have chosen to portray a close-up view of a love story. The camera probes into the intimate lives of the lovers, instead of focusing on the wider world around them and being philosophical. Lovers’ small and undramatic conversations have found considerable space in both the movies. For example, while watching Vinnaithaandi Varuvaaya, there are several instances, especially in the second half, when you feel this is going nowhere. You find yourself getting fed up of the lovers’ childish fights and fantasies. You somehow want them to get over these trivial things and move on to more important things like proclaiming their love for each other.

In Love Aaj Kal, this focusing on individuals is in the extremes, so much so that there is no other character of significance in the film, apart from the two lead protagonists. The whole film revolves around just the two lead characters Jai and Meera. In fact both of them act as though they don’t have anyone else who is interested in them and their affairs – not even a friend! This seems quite unnatural. VV (for short) does not go to such extremes though, and acknowledges that both the girl and the boy have parents (and didn’t drop on this earth from outer space like Love Aaj Kal seemed to suggest) who are concerned about their relationships. VV even has the conservative dad who is opposed to his daughter marrying a guy who is not of the same religion. The point is, both films have in common an individualistic (or couplistic?!) viewpoint of a love story. I would even go ahead to say it is a closed view. Nothing is said about the impact the two characters have on the people around them. Even in VV, this is shown only to a very small extent. And even though it is a viewpoint devoid of heroism,  it has managed to gain popularity. I suspect this is because our society itself has become ‘closed’ to an extent. Most of the families have gone nuclear and most people are concerned only about themselves. I have doubts on whether this will be a sustainable trend in mainstream cinema though, unless the dialogues are as refreshing as those (by Imtiaz Ali) in LAK or the visuals as pleasing as in VV.

2. Confused Characters

Every man was once a boy. And every little boy has dreams, big dreams of being the hero, of beating the bad guys, of doing daring feats and rescuing the damsel in distress. Every little girl has dreams, too: of being rescued by her prince and swept up into a great adventure, knowing that she is the beauty. But what happens to those dreams when we grow up?

– John Eldredge in Wild at Heart

Now, the more important point. It is true that secretly every single human being enjoys being loved by someone. However the truth is that most of us are bound by the shackles of logic and practicality and self-imposed ‘constraints’. Love and commitment are all filmy concepts that do not work in practice, or so we think. The beauty of both these films, I feel, is that they acknowledge and reflect this reality of today. LAK starts off with the couple who were till then ‘in love’ deciding to ‘break-up’ as their careers demand their being away from each other. They decide to be just ‘friends’. This is very much like the youth of today, for whom commitment is just not practical and is so old-fashioned. (The Docomo ad for daily plans and the Fastrack ad urgin you to ‘move on’ are perfect illustrations that substantiate my point here!) VV, on the other hand, portrays only the girl Jessie as being confused. The guy, Karthik is sure that he ‘loves’ Jessie. Jessie is depicted as secretly enjoying all the attention Karthik gives her, though she doesn’t have the courage to go against her father’s wishes and marry him. This is aptly represented in the climax where we get a glimpse of Jessie’s real desires  on screen. LAK ends on a ‘hopeful’ note with the message that though the way in which you realize your love for each other changes, the feeling remains the same now and then. VV is more closer to reality!

Now, you must be wondering why I said all these things about these not so exceptional movies. I feel, the films through their characters and plot, accurately reflect two important aspects of today’s society: individualistic nature and lack of purpose or conviction in people. It is a pretty sad fact that today’s youth are very apprehensive about standing up for what their conscience says is right. I just used the characters in these movies as an illustration of the same. It is true that man’s nature is generally very complex and there is nothing wrong in that. What is wrong is that we are apprehensive about chasing our dreams, about living for others, about so-called selfless love. Some even deny the existence of such things. Today, chasing your dreams implies meeting selfish ends by any means. Living for others is almost non-existent. And selfless love? What’s that?!

When I talk of selfless love, it is not just the love between a boy and a girl. It could be anything; where you sacrifice your own selfish desires and start living for something. Sure, you may argue that terrorists do the same. But that is not what I mean. Give yourself up for something just; something worthy; make life better for someone else, instead of just keeping on accumulating for your own and worrying about the consequences. Think big. Paint on a wider canvas.

LOVE is giving up yourself for someone/something that is just and worthy, even if it may not benefit you.

So now coming to the title of this post, do you have the courage to cross the skies?

DOG (Contd.)

Years passed. He discovered Selvan’s drinking habit, when he noticed that his stock of liquor was diminishing a bit too rapidly. Sometimes he even thought he saw Selvan taking bottles out with him. He doubted Selvan was drinking with his friends in town. But he said nothing about it. He couldn’t dare to lose Selvan at this time of his life. Besides, he had more than enough money to satiate both Selvan’s and his friends’ drinking habit. He was in his early eighties now, and Selvan in his late twenties. His eyesight was dim, and his hearing capabilities were no doubt deteriorating. He seldom heard any sound that was more than two meters away.

It was that time of the year again. The cold seemed to grow more bitter with every passing year. His woollen overcoats weren’t as effective as before to counter the new found strength of the cold. The whisky was good however, and that was his only comfort in the harsh winter. That evening Selvan said he was going to town to buy some things. He agreed. He didn’t know what all things were needed. And he wasn’t sure if Selvan was in fact going out to “buy things” as he had said, or to entertain his “friends”. Only Selvan knew. And he didn’t care. After all, Selvan was running the house now. But he still made sure that he complained, if the water wasn’t of the right temperature. That evening was unusually cold. The cold was clenching its fists around his frail bones. He needed a drink. ‘Selvan!’ he called out. It was then that he remembered Selvan had gone out. He was exasperated. He decided to get the drink himself. He started descending the steps slowly.

It happened suddenly. He lost his balance. He was surprised that there was no step where he had put his foot. Before he could think more, he was rolling down the staircase. Rolling and rolling. It never seemed to end. Until it finally did. He lay sprawled on the floor. He was numb. He tried to move. His leg hurt. It hurt like it was going to be detached from his old body. He opened his mouth. He tried to call out for help. He couldn’t. No sound came out of his mouth; only warm air, which condensed in the cold surroundings, forming a mist. He wished he could spell what he wanted to say, in it. Perhaps someone would see, then. There he was, lying on the floor with a broken leg and no one to help him. Where the hell did Selvan disappear? He felt like he was falling. Falling deep into a dark black hole. He lost himself.

Suddenly he was brought to himself by a throbbing pain in his head. Something had hit him. He groaned. He moved his hand to his forehead. It was wet. He hoped it was sweat. It was not. He looked at his hand. ‘No!’ he thought. But it was. Blood. As red as ever. He didn’t know who or what had hit him. He couldn’t think. He suddenly felt like everything was going to end. He had no one to think about. His wife who died long ago? No. His two daughters? No. Selvan? Yes. Where was Selvan? Why had he forsaken him? Didn’t he give him all that he needed? He tried to call out. ‘Selvan!’ He thought he heard a faint laugh. The exertion was too much for him. In fact, it took his whole life breath away.

* * *

It was the day after the New Year. The Inspector was in his bed at home, pulling the warm blanket over his head, and prolonging the act of waking up. He made a quick glance at his watch. Its hands glowed in the pseudo-darkness under the blanket. He could make out it was almost 6 am. He stuck his head out of the blanket and looked out of the window. Mist covered the hills.  They looked beautiful. As always. He liked this place. It didn’t have the frenetic pace of the city. Life was relaxing. And work as well. He had another look at his watch and then at his cosy bed. ‘There’s time’, he thought and closed his eyes under the blanket, slowly drifting into his dreams again. He heard someone calling him. Someone was shaking him, telling him to wake up. He opened his eyes. It was the constable who was supposed to be on night duty. And it was not a dream. ‘What is it? Why are you here?’ he asked. ‘Sir, a newspaper boy came to the station in the morning. He has something to tell you.’

‘Where is he’? the Inspector asked.

‘He’s standing outside sir.’

‘Wait. I’m coming in a few minutes.’

* * *

Soon the two men and the boy were in the jeep, driving to the sprawling mansion on the top of a hill. He stopped in front of the gate. The boy led him inside the house. There was the man, lying sprawled on the floor. He noticed there was a pool of blood around the man’s head that had dried up.

‘Sir, I came to check if there was anyone here, when I saw that yesterday’s newspaper was still lying by the gate’, the boy said.

‘Good. Did you notice anything unusual?’

‘What could be more unusual than this’, the boy thought. ‘Well, sir, the door wasn’t locked. I didn’t notice anything else. I cycled to the station straight away on seeing the body’, he said.

‘Constable, search all the rooms. Tell me if you see anything unusual.’

It was then that the inspector saw the stick. It was lying near the old man. It had blood on it. He picked it up and slowly rolled it in his hands. Then something caught his eye. A small grey, almost white, hair. It was stuck in the dried blood. It could only belong to the old man. ‘He was murdered.’ ‘What sir?’, the boy asked. ‘The old man was murdered.’ The constable returned. ‘Sir, all the safes and cupboards are open. I think there was a robbery here.’

‘Was the old man living alone?’, the Inspector turned to the boy.

‘I do not know sir, I am new in this job. In fact, I started delivering newspapers only yesterday. Sankaramama might now. He used to deliver newspapers in this area earlier. I can take you to him.’

‘Hmmm…’ He turned to the constable. ‘You stand guard here. I’m going with the boy. We may need more men.’

The Inspector put his arm around the boy.’Come, let’s go meet your Sankaramama…’

The constable looked on as the duo got into the jeep. He saw it winding through the snake-like roads through the misty hills.

‘Wonder, if I’ll get some tea nearby…’, he thought to himself.

* * *

DOG

He took a cigar from the box. Holding it in one hand he nipped off the end with the aid of his prized cutter in the other. He placed the cutter by his side and proceeded to take out a burning ember from the fireplace. Slowly he rolled the end of the cigar near the flame ensuring that the end never made actual contact with it. The rolling continued until the entire rim was lit. Light wisps of smoke started rising from the end. He took a long draw. The satisfaction was evident from the crooked smile under the bushy moustache on his puckered face. He closed his eyes, savouring the flavour, as he relaxed on the large sofa near the fireplace.

Temperatures dropped very low in Munnar in the month of December. The mornings and nights especially, when there was no sun to offer even the feeble resistance which it did during the day, to the cold that was mercilessly biting into the flesh right unto the bones. But he never knew what it was like to be out in the cold. He was always comfortable in his long woollen overcoats. He had plenty of them gifted to him by either one of his two daughters, both of whom were abroad. Far far away from this snapping old man. They sent him gifts for Christmas or on his birthday. They called him once every month. But they never visited him. They used to, at first. But then, their children had school, college and what not. They couldn’t come even though they wished. Or that was what they said. He had his water almost boiling hot, to bathe everyday; a bottle of Grand Marnier was always by his side. Selvan ensured that. Selvan did everything for him. From shopping to cooking to watering the plants. But still he disliked him. He was jealous of Selvan; Selvan was the embodiment of youth and energy, qualities he did not possess.

Selvan was just turning eighteen when Kuppusami brought him to the mansion, saying he could no longer work due to old age. Said the boy was from the village and was efficient. And sure he was. Too efficient for him. He could find faults with Selvan only with great difficulty. But still he persisted in the act. Either the water was not of the right temperature for bathing, or his clothes weren’t properly ironed. Or there was too much salt in his cooking. Selvan was never allowed to visit his village or his family. Once or twice some people from the village did come to visit Selvan. They brought news from the village. That was how he came to know of Kuppusami’s death. Days and months passed. Once a larger number of people than usual turned up at the mansion. The wanted to meet Selvan. It was after a while that he heard loud cries. It was Selvan. Maariyammal had died. Selvan’s mother. Selvan prayed for a week’s leave. It was not to be. He was allowed only a day. Who would prepare the hot water if he went?

Selvan was now a muscular youth in his early twenties. But he was the same old man. It was on the last day of the month of December and the last day of the year that it happened. It was evening. The sun had almost disappeared. The twilight gave a heavenly look to the misty hills bearing the tea plantations. It was then that the howling began. He heard it while reading a book on his sofa. He could discern it. It was most certainly a dog. He put on his overcoat and opened the door of the mansion. He stepped outside. The cold was trying hard to find its way through the layers of expensive clothing he wore. He could feel it. Then he saw the dog. It was lying just beside the huge wrought iron gates of his mansion. And of course, it was howling. Crying rather. It seemed to be in pain.

‘Selvan! SELVAN!’ he yelled at the top of his voice. Selvan came running toward him from the back of the house.’Where did this stupid dog come from?!’ he shouted.

‘I… I don’t know sir. I didn’t see it coming.’

‘Get a stick’.

‘Why sir?’

‘Just get the stick, damn you!’

‘Ok sir!’

Selvan brought a stick. It was stout. ‘Good’, he thought.

‘Chase the dog away.’

Selvan tried to motion with the stick to chase the dog away. It did not budge. And it continued to howl.

‘Why isn’t it moving? Prod it with the stick!’

Selvan prodded the thing with the stick. The dog turned over. ‘Sir, I think it has broken it’s leg, sir. It can’t move.’

‘What?’

‘Sir, it has broken it’s leg. Perhaps it was hit by a moving vehicle on the road. It can’t move.’

‘Then kill it! What are you waiting for?’

‘Sir, but…’

The howling continued. Now it was more distressing.

‘Give me the stick.’

He took the stick from Selvan. He started beating the dog. The howling grew worse, echoing through the misty hills. The sun was fading away. Darkness was setting in. He beat the dog on the head. Red blood spurted from its mouth, flowing onto the tarred gateway. ‘Sir, stop sir…’ Selvan’s protests fell on deaf ears. He beat it until it stopped moving. It was dead.

‘Take it and bury it outside the house. I don’t want to smell rotting flesh all night.’ The sun had disappeared. The cold was setting in. Selvan dug the damp earth just outside the iron gate. It was late in the evening when he finished the burial.

* * *

To be continued…

In the Beginning…

‘In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form and void, and darkness was upon the face of the deep; and the Spirit of God was moving over the face of the waters. And God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light.’ [Genesis 1:1-3, The Holy Bible]

Without form and void. Darkness upon the face of the deep. That is how the mind is sometimes. Ironically or otherwise, ‘sometimes’ includes the time when you decide to start a blog. One finds himself devoid of ideas, or even if there are ideas, they are ‘without form’. Then, the most natural question to ask is, why take the pain and extract something out of nothing? Whether you like it or not, Boredom is the answer.

One can’t help but wonder if all bloggers started off like this… Even if all didn’t, there could be some at least, who were goaded into the blogosphere by sheer boredom. In that case one cannot exactly claim the sole ownership of a title like Boredom Blogger. It would be most suitable for all such poor souls who discovered the writer in them after starting a blog. Or perhaps it was the other way round and the world discovered the absence of a writer; the point is, they started blogging out of boredom. Whether the blog itself was a bore is a different matter.

It is debatable whether any sort of creativity flows out of boredom. I recall that “Boredom is the Devil” was the title of one of the articles in our college magazine. The author was in fact, my classmate. So, some think boredom is bad; that boredom is the devil. But I wish to believe it isn’t true. I can even argue that God started creating the universe because He had nothing else to do. No one knows for sure though. But if the universe was created out of boredom then boredom gave birth to the most wonderful of creations. Ah! How I wish it were true…!

So then, ‘encouraged’ by boredom, here I am, making my humble beginning. I am taking the step forward. I’m going to write what I feel like writing. And that could be anything under the sun. It could be the review of a movie I saw, it could be a story. It could be a reaction to what I see and hear around me, it could be sheer madness. Maybe I’m right, maybe I’m wrong. Like everyone, I like to believe I’m right always. But debates and discussions are always welcome. In fact I earnestly hope what I write would be worthy of discussion. It is obviously a big hope, but I do not believe it is unrealistic.

Criticism is welcome. Who wouldn’t welcome encouragement?!

Let there be light!