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Little things

I love watching French and Iranian movies whenever I have an opportunity- not that I've watched a lot, only what gets shown on a few cable TV channels (there's one showing world movies, and there used to be a French channel which had English subtitles - sometimes). But then, except Amelie (starring the incredible Audrey Tautou, also of Da Vinci Code fame) I don't remember the titles of the wonderful movies I've watched.

The supreme ordinary-ness of plot in most of these is an eye-opener. How there is a story, a most engaging, warm, and memorable story in the most common, day-to-day events of non-extraordinary people, like you and me and everyone else. Not a single one I've watched portrays a super-hero, some bulked up caricature destroying villains a dime a dozen. No towering explosion in the background, with cartwheeling cars/buses/trains/airplanes as the hero walks away nonchalantly, in slow-motion. No car-chases or gory shoot-outs. Just quiet depictions of the simple challenges we face in life, and how we overcome those.

Makes me wonder, why do our Bengali tele-serial makers wrack their brains to come up with the most unlikely, and frequently Machiavellian plots! Here I digress a bit - until about 6-8 months ago I used to watch at least one Bengali serial chronicling the life of a young 'bahu', who aims to be a police officer. She was the first character (on TV or on celluloid), that I know of, who used to be furious over street-littering! I found that so unique, being used to our cine-Stars from older days casually littering - with cigarette butts or crumpled envelopes, that I decided to follow the story :) And there were indeed passages, and events, which almost rose to sublime excellence. Like the one in which she burns a paper receipt, the only evidence of her innocence, so as not to tattle-tale against another family member. I was impressed by those tiny sequences. But then something happened, and now it has become a horrible drudgery of clichéd dialogue/plot, and infantile acting (except for a few, who continue to maintain high standards of acting despite the over-all decay) So I don't watch it anymore, and I wish they'd allow life in that family to go on 'normally', without having to invent drama at every turn. Anyway, over with the rant!

There is so much charm in the details of ordinary lives in these movies, that it leaves me deeply engaged. Scenes of a busy, apparently harried mother blissfully combing her little girl in preparation for school (remember the large-eyed Apu in Pather Panchali, haltingly trying to do what his late sister used to do for him every morning?). Of a rugged-looking tradesman taking his little boy by the hand, both dressed in well-worn, traditional salwar suits, and teaching him the details of his trade. Of a typical family scene over one sumptuous X-mas dinner, the little intrigues, banter, joviality, boisterous uncles, messy babies and furtive glances of newly-weds across the dining table, kicking at and sliding against legs under the table, the jousting and leg-pulling between cousins and friends, aunts and grandmas baking food and joking about forgetful grandpa's, all so perfectly ordinary. Middle-aged spouses grumbling at each other in private, perhaps over one's smoking habit and the other's expanding middle, and then becoming pictures of perfect family idyll in public. Of a young rascal taking a stick and swishing at every sapling on the way to (or back from) school. Of puppies chasing soap bubbles, of kittens purring against legs, of some fashionable lady in head scarf, quickly checking her passing reflection on a shop window. Something we are all familiar with, and what scripts most of our lives. And yet, there is a story in these, like the normal flow and ebb of river, unique nonetheless at every instance. And which, when strung together like these film-makers regularly do, make for the most memorable movie-art. 

Yesterday night I couldn't sleep (dogs outside were busy fighting world war three) and was flipping through channels. I came across this French movie, dubbed in English. It was about the challenges of a young mother, pre and post-birth. At one point of time, fascinated as I was, I couldn't help but wonder - how very normal every character is! How very predictable their reactions! It was like watching a real, reality show, like being a fly on their wall. And yet this was a full-length movie, with a beginning and an end, and had a definite plot, and was such an enjoyable watch. The little dramas in their lives, like when the mother returns - having suffered an emotional/physical burn-out after a year of intense mothering, during which she wouldn't accept help from anyone - no aunt, sister, mother or mother-in-law, and having left her husband (and baby) for a few weeks to time herself out. How the young father had nurtured his tiny daughter during that time, and when the mother finally returns, how they reconcile eventually. How she cradles her baby and tenderly gushes - 'You little monster, tell me what the two of you did all this time, every hour, every second, tell me everything!' The last  part, whether they'd actually reunite as family was open-ended, but one is left with a perfect sense of symmetry, of the universe at balance. This was how it was supposed to be, and this was how it had to unfold. All very non-spectacular, yet as significant as life itself. 

When the quarrelsome dogs had finally settled down, and I had switched off the TV set, I thanked them for this opportunity - to have another glimpse at the beauty of the little, ordinary things.

 
4th Feb '15

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