Nos Duo Turba Sumus (We two are a multitude…)

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‘The Hammer of God’ has been an all time favorite. Chesterton’s Father Brown has been my soul delight since teenage. Recently, mesmerized by the BBC’s ineffable command of their background music-which can haunt you for years endlessly- I watched their new, delightful series based on the beloved, titular character.

The hammer was definitely not Thor’s (Forgive me Father, I could not help that pun); the story-line was totally different, and the depth of psychological analysis in the original was perhaps missing too. Except that they retained a single line about ‘the heights making men believe they were Gods perhaps!’

But my daughter and I agreed that Father Brown was adorable. His open mind, his love for scones, his ability to laugh easily ( In the ‘Bride of Christ’ he laughs out -and won my heart- when he reads the quote pasted to castigate: ‘When lust conceives, it shall bring forth sin!’) and his sweet simplicity, were hmm…plain delectable! I can  bring myself to forgive that they  mercilessly hijacked the classic story ‘Eye of Apollo’  only because of Father’s great charisma.Kudos, Mark Williams!

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The Essays of  Elia (1823) by Charles Lamb is another classic.

I  got an opportunity to thoroughly relish his eponymous essay ‘A dissertation upon roast pig’  and  ‘A bachelor’s complaint of the behaviour of married people’ by chance accident…( Your hand reaches out to pick a book which just had these delights tucked away in them) only to watch the movie ‘Guernsey literary and potato peel pie society’ that blew in the essay on the pig-with its whiffs of simple joys- right back into my life a few days later. Serendipity? Oh, yes! May she continue to grace my life always.

In Joseph Addison’s essay on ‘Friendship’  (1888) he quotes from the Holy Bible presciently, ‘Some friend is a companion at the table, and will not continue in the day of thy affliction : but in thy prosperity he will be as thyself and will be bold over your servants. If thou be brought low, he will be against thee, and hide himself from thy face.’

Wow! How many of those ‘friends’ I have had! Exactly the above observed behavior!

Ironically, in Goswami Tulsidasji’s ‘Sree Ram charit manas’- the Hindi Ramayan- in the Fourth Canto ‘Kishkindha Kanda’,  Lord Ram explains to Sugreeva about toxic friends!

” Aagem kah mridu bachan banayi/ Pachem anahit mann kutilayi//

Jaakar chitt ahi gati sam bhai/ Us kumitra pariharehim bhalayi//’

‘The friend who speaks sweet/sugary words on your face but bitterly gossips about you behind your back, that one is wicked! His mind is crooked like a serpent’s path. It is better to forgo such a bad friend from your life.’

Gotcha!

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Note: While browsing through a magazine in a shop, I encountered the confession of a royal who had it all: including depression.

He said something deep. ‘ Depression is the inability to have feelings. It is not about bad feelings.’

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For sunshine, Father Brown, chewing on the delights of roast pig and ruminations on the vagaries of  friendships… a toast for the joyous feelings that they provoke! Perhaps we underestimate the value of life’s most precious gifts- disguised as the simplest and easiest to find- on our life paths.

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Title: Shamelessly copied from the starting of Addison’s essay.

Ovid, Met.i. 355

 

Panchagni/ Five Fires: Classic Movie(Scenes 1-3)

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One of the best movies that I have seen till date is M.T.Vasudevan Nair’s “Panchagni”. It was released in 1986, and I was a school student then.

If you google for the best screenplays, lots of Oscar winning film scripts become available online  for the reader. I have enjoyed Fargo, China Town, Out of Africa, All about Eve and lots more in this manner. However, we lack a database of similar scripts in English, for classic movies made in other human languages, all across the world.

It struck me forcefully, when I was trying to explain the Malayalam conversations in Panchagni, to a  non Keralite film aficionado. It was not possible for my friend to relish the classic movie- so dignified and gracious-because the beauty of the language and the depths of meaning got lost due to lack of subtitles.

There are so many of us,  decently well versed in multiple tongues, who pursue careers having nothing to do with literature; but with an abiding love for movies. If a few of us make an effort, can we not easily make available a treasure house of such scripts for the non native speaker? If I get to read a screenplay of a  classic Telugu movie in English, I’d be able to relish the scenes  to a reasonable degree, without any subtitle.

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The catch in the script is that M.T.’s screenplay  has been changed drastically in the final scenes of the movie. They changed the victim to suit the sensibilities of a 1980 audience.

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Panchagni ( The Five Fires)

Total scenes 68

Scene 1 ( Day)

Women’s Jail

Women inmates sentenced to life time imprisonment, are seen engaged in various works. The female wardens are supervising them.

Different types of prisoners. Those who have travelled through life’s darkest alleys.

From somewhere in the background, the toll of a bell is heard. The women stop working and queue up for food.

Scene 2 ( Day)

Jail

Indira’s Cell

A warden walks to a locked cell. She stands there.

If you gaze through the bars, one cannot completely see the lady prisoner who sits in a corner of the room.

The warden opens the door and steps inside.

Indira, totally exhausted , sits leaning against the wall.

Age 27-28

She is not inclined to look at the warden.

Warden:  Are you not tired of starving yourself?

Indira lifts her head and looks at her. Though her body is fatigued, her eyes have a spark in them; they are rebellious.

Warden: Get up now, and lick up what is given!

Indira , unaffected.

Warden is non-plussed for a few moments.

Then, softly mutters : Fasting! Break her bones- that is what is needed…

She goes outside.

Warden locks the cell.

Scene Three

Day

Jail. The area where prisoners eat their food.

The female prisoners are eating. Three inmates are talking.

First One: Her mother is very sick. She wrote that she wanted to see her daughter, but the parole has not been issued.

The second one(relishing the food): Those who strike by denying themselves food, must be totally nuts!Nowadays the food in the jails is so good! No one can find fault with it. Twice a week, mutton!

Third One:Go ahead,  pitch camp here forever then!

Second One: What’s wrong over here, I ask you! If one acts a bit humble, there is no issue at all!

First One: That is true for those who suck up to the wardens.

Second One( flaring up): You …..don’t you dare to play with me! Did you not murder a child to grab a mere half sovereign worth gold chain?

(She tries to find an ally in the third one.) There won’t be any one else among us, who must have committed that sort of dastardly crime, eh?

First One: Oh, as if you were specially invited by the Government, to come and reside here! Let me not start!

Second One: I did what any red blooded woman would do! Hacked them both! Trusting that son of a bitch, I had left everyone at home…and ditching me, he dared to take up with that bloody whore…!

The Supervising Warden: Silence! Who the hell is raising her voice?

The one who had started narrating the tale of slashing her husband becomes silent.

Scene 3A

Jail verandah

Outside the cell, a warden who resembles a man more than a woman, and two lady orderlies, are in a dilemma over whether to force feed Indira or not.

One can see Indira lying on the ground of the cell.

She looks at them, standing just beyond the bars, and then closes her eyes.

Lady Warden: If you two can hold her, I will show you the way to make the food go down!

One orderly: Two? To hold her, one of us is enough!

They salute as the Jail Superintendent and the Assistant Jailor walks through the courtyard.

The Supdt takes a look.

Lady Warden: Shall I force feed her, sir?

Supdt: Thinking..then negating the suggestion…Hmm

As he walks away, the orderly peeks inside the cell.

Indira, apparently in a serene sleep.

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Dreaming in Words and Images

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I love movies. Especially if the movie has been made from a known story. The eyes perceive what the mind once imagined freely. The process of remembering the beloved lines of the book , as the story unfolds on the screen, is a very enjoyable one.  Sometimes, one finds that the artistic liberty of the director has changed the story line altogether-  for example, any one who has read ‘Chocolat’ the novel by Joanne Harris, and watched the movie,would appreciate the point above. But surprise, surprise, one finds that both the versions are great and delectable.

The vagaries of directorial interpretations have directed me to a new past time- reading screen plays. And then you realise that the movie is yet a third version, forget the story and the screen play! In Sanskrit theatre and in Kerala Kathakali there is something nuanced known as ‘Manodharma’- what the actor on the stage can come up with-on the spot. Improvise, I believe,is what the normal people would call it. But Manodharma can often take genius tinted leaps of imagination! It can be in a whole new laugh, the twist of the mouth, the swagger that came in, the look that smoulders, the tilting of the head..When a singer improvises, like Mohammed Rafi  using his Manodharma during certain songs featuring Shammi Kapoor, the voice can undulate and elongate to suit the actor’s artistic eccentricities.

When I grew up, beautiful novels in Malayalam were regular features of vernacular magazines that were voraciously consumed in my household. I used to have free access as a child, thanks to quite understanding aunts and uncles around, to Malayalam novels written for much mature audience. Now, in You Tube era, I happily discover that many of those novels, whose characters and lines I still remember,  can be watched  in movies uploaded therein! The happiness is ineffable- like a child who suddenly discovered a treasure trove of old comics inside a dusty trunk in the attic! I have enjoyed movies based on my favourite novels of writers like Mallika Yunis, Shyamala,Chandra Kala S Kammath, Ajayaghosh and a host of others.( Ente Upasana, Sandhyakku virinja poovu, Rugma, Snehamulla Simham etc…yeah even cult classic Kalika which was written by the formidably brilliant and erudite IFS officer Mohanachandran,serialised in Kumkumam…My mother was a wonderfully liberal mother,haha! Or in other words, it shocked the hell out of readers- and would certainly be banned today. The movie is a far censored version, I should say! Ah, that leads to the screenplay of Nirmalyam…let me not start digressing!)

Certain movies were entirely different- based on pertinent political events of the times- nothing to do with novels.How lovely to watch some of them-strong and dignified characters.”Do not be enslaved by anyone or any thing,” says Indira, the brilliant revolutionary in M.T.Vasudevan Nair’s classic ‘Panchagni’ to her brother who is a drug addict.Quoting an incident about Fidel Castro, the hero ( actually she is the only hero of that movie unless you count her mother, the fiery freedom fighter) tries to get her attention! I love their dresses, their elegance, the sense of self-worth. I find many women in the eighties’ movies depicted as  doctors, advocates, writers , journalists  -who holds fort along with the men. They are remarkable in their dialogues, in their wisdom and in their body language.

We live in a world now where “Bechdel test” is needed in movies to check whether women are actually given any importance whatsoever! ( Bechdel Rule is a simple test which names the following three criteria: (1) the movie scene has to have at least two women in it, who (2) who talk to each other, about (3) something besides a man.)

At least Kerala movies of 1980s would have stunned Alison Bechdel!

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