Saturday, May 12, 2012

Small town dead end

I am just back from the movie Ishaqzaade.

On the face of it, a usual and the regular outing for us empty nesters, going to the movies. But this particular viewing turned out very different, ending up becoming an experience in fact.

For one, we chose to go to “Delite Diamond” on Aruna Asif Ali Road to watch this flick. It is a very different world from the DT Star Promenade. The crowds wait outside on the pavement until the hall has been emptied of the previous show. The popcorn is cheaper and less buttery, the coffee frothier and sprinkled with chocolate powder. People are aggressively unapologetic, answering cell phones in loud, completely at home voices. No one bats an eyelid when annoyed voices are raised at audible conversations.

There were several side shows in progress inside the hall, running parallel to the drama on screen. When the movie broke at intermission for instance, there came in a harassed looking man, shuffling up to the last row where we were seated.  He did not look like he owned a movie ticket. There was in his hand a tiny digital camera instead.  After a momentary hesitation, he took quick and furtive pictures of the couple sitting two seats down the row, to my right. There was a muted flurry, a subdued, almost calm suspense, broken eventually by the lady who squeezed past my feet, grazing them slightly, to go and stand near the photographer. A couple of urgent voiced exchanges later, it was established that the picture shooter was indeed her husband who had come to confront her with her office boyfriend!  I gaped as she walked out of the hall and her husband lowered himself next to the much younger Lochinvar to ask him outright and distinctly so, “Are you having an affair with my wife? I want to know. I have a five year old son.” The paramour says, “No, no…there is no such thing.” Just like that!!

A young couple entered late, again to my right! She wore a comprehensive hijab over her face, covering it all but for the eyes. The cover came off completely just as soon as they were settled into the far corner. The two proceeded to bond over intermittent lunges and a heart to heart dialogue, treating the movie hall more as a safe getaway than a space with any clear purpose.  One of their phones would suddenly begin flashing as they pored over some mutually gratifying photographs

This is India, I told myself bemusedly.

Far more than anything else, there was a dissonant pathos in these alternative lives unfolding around us. In their needs clearly on display, there shone a reflection of what lay at home. The movie hall was many things to many people. A comfortable, air conditioned break for the policeman on duty, an escape from drudgery and despair for the adventurous lady and a cosy cove for the young couple.

Interestingly, the images on screen spun a similar story of the small town life in India. Against a realistic location of small landfills, grubby rail tracks, grimy toilets, sweaty and unkempt humanity, Zoya and Parma lived their curiously escapist existence. I saw a certain menace in Parma’s filial obedience and loyalty. His childish and short range reactions were as though, cries of defiance against the terrifying violence around him. Zoya’s inner world was unravelling even more make believe, if anything. From being a filmy and pampered daughter, she was cast out of the family in a cruel turn of events. Her unrealistic flights of fancy with Parma were chilling in their disconnect with what lay around her. There was sexism, there were clich├ęs, there was a predictable end but most of all, there was a deep seated desolation in the jagged frames of Ishaqzaade. They spoke of people dying to live, of hating to love, of defying to die.

For me, the predominant flavour of the film was one of no place to go, no cause for hope, and no silver lining to the cloud. In the movie’s dim lit fabric lay a tale of chronic clan wars, deliberately cultivated male chauvinism and the validation of might being right. The only bugle belongs to the male heads of the Chauhan and Quereshi families, the rest provide the shell for their mounting.

Ishaqzaade is the dead end of the small town India. It is not about living but about staying alive.                                                               

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