He sat there in utter helplessness and a great sense of loneliness. Stars couldn’t be counted for they were not visible. There were rain drops to count for him. He was looking forward to something and looking back at several things. He was looking forward to some help from somebody coming from Kalakshetra. He was looking back at his life in arts and politics as a part of the Samudaaya theater movement. He was also looking back at his personal life.
Not many days had passed since C.G. Krishnaswamy popularly and affectionately called as CGK had returned from the historic Jaatha of Samudaaya, a left leaning street theater movement in Karnataka. The success of Jaatha made every member of Samudaaya believe that revolution was around the corner. So the members, soon after returning, gathered to stage one more play and the play was ready. It was Dangeya Munchina Dinagalu.
Samudaaya was carried, mainly, those days, by two people- Prasunna and C.G.K. The Jaatha demanded months of work and the Jaatha itself was for about a month cutting through the length and breadth of Karnataka. These months of preparation and work had put CGK’s teaching profession at Bangalore University and more importantly his family in the back seat for him. He was in financial crisis yet his commitment for the cause of art and politics was not compromised on.
During the rehearsals of Dangeya Munchina Dinagalu CGK’s son Keerthi was ill and hospitalized by a friend of CGK. After the first show of the play at Kalakshetra, CGK rushed to the Marthas Hospital where his son was admitted. He entered the hospital to see his wife and his parents boiling in anger refusing to talk to him. The doctor came to him to say, “I have given the prescription in the afternoon. Kindly get them quickly.” Hours had passed since the prescription was given. But the financial crisis was such that his wife could not have gotten the medicines. The doctor was unaware of the financial crisis and CGK was in no position to explain either. Collecting the prescription from his wife he went to the near by medical shop. There must have been nearly ten pockets in his shirt and pant put together. But not a single penny in all of those ten pockets. There was nobody that he could think of at that moment who would come to his help. He asked the medical shop owner how much the medicines would cost. A price was quoted. Two hundred off rupees. Removing the watch in his hand CGK placed it on the table. He asked the shopkeeper if he could keep the watch and give the medicines. The shopkeeper agreed. Taking the medicines CGK ran back to the hospital. Giving the medicines to the doctor he went near his parents and his wife who were seated in a corner. Looking at their face he realized that they had not eaten anything since morning and it was nearing 22:00 hrs.
He walked out of the hospital and sat on the bench outside not caring for the rain. He kept looking at the gate hoping somebody from the team would come with some money to help him. It was past ten then. He calculated that the props must have been moved to the office by then so someone or the other must be on the way with some money collected from the tickets that day. But nobody came. He started looking back at the past few years of his life.
The times were bad. Troubled times. Post-Emergency times. The aggressiveness accumulated during the times of emergency had not lost its temper. The mood of the nation and especially in the realm of arts was anti establishment and rooted in the soil and in the times. CGK then became a part of the Samudaaya troupe which went on to create unbelievable ripples across the state with its revolutionary theater. CGK was one of the main pillars of Samudaaya along with Prasunna. In his extreme involvement with art and politics or rather political art he happened to prioritize it over his family and also job as a result of which his family was in crisis completely the financial crisis being at the base of it.
Two thoughts crossed his mind. “Who to blame?” and “Why to blame anyone?” He started speaking to himself about his mistakes. Rain drops falling on him continuously yet failing to distract him nor fill the emptiness he felt at that very moment. Tear drops were standing a step behind the last layer of his eyes, waiting to slit open the eyes and rush out and join the rain waters. He couldn’t even console himself saying he had sacrificed his personal life for the sake of revolution because no revolution had taken place and also because the false consolation would have done no good for he was completely aware of the misery which he was living.
Through the withheld tears he could see Shahidar Adapa swimming towards him. CGK hoped that Shahidar Adapa would have got some money with him from that day’s ticket collection. He asked Shashidhar Adapa if he had brought some money. “No,” came the reply. The tears could not be withheld anymore. Slitting the eyes tears rolled down. The force of the rainfall doubled beneath his feet.
Shashidar Adapa searched all his pocket and all he could find was a 50 ps coin. Handing it over to CGK Shahidhar Adapa said, “call Kalakshetra somebody might be there. Ask them to come here with some money.” Taking the 50 paise coin CGK went to the nearby coin telephone booth. Inserting the coin he dialed the number of Kalakshetra. The phone rang. Someone picked up the phone. “Hello, is it Kalakshetra?” he enquired. “Sorry, wrong number,” came the reply. In utter helplessness in utter loneliness out of great frustration CGK banged the receiver on the phone. Such was the anger and force that around forty coins dropped on the floor from the telephone. Shashidhar Adapa and he picked up all the coins and went to Kempegowda circle to bring some food. Getting some idlys packed CGK started walking back to the hospital. Thunder and rain increased as he walked. Shashidhar Adapa suggested that they should wait for a while. CGK without caring enough to listen to any word uttered by Adapa walked towards the hospital in the rain as if it was not raining.
Reaching the hospital CGK handed over the packet of idlys to his parents and his wife. He could not pull the courage to ask them to eat. He just handed the packets over to them and left from the vicinity.
Moving to one corner of the hospital CGK stood staring at the photo of Jesus Christ. He remembered how his mother had lit candles before Christ praying for his recovery. As he recollected it he placed his palm over the burning flame and prayed for his son. He saw a poster hanging nearby which read, “Don’t lead me, I may not follow you; Don’t follow me, I may not lead you; But come with me let us go together.” The comrades who joined voice to voice while crying slogans had not walked with him in times of his needs. He saw himself not walking with his family. The melancholic feeling and the loneliness was overpowering. Those who he walked with refused to walk with him in times of difficulty and those who belonged to him he had walked miles away from them to the extent that the point of return was seeming difficult.
“Who am I?” he asked himself. He concluded that he was not a leader. He concluded that he was not a cultural ambassador. He wrote a melancholic letter to a friend (G. Rajshekar) saying all he wanted was his family and his son.
The doctor came and announced that Keerthi was recovering. CGK lit a cigarette with Shashidhar Adapa. As morning dawned Shashidhar Adapa told CGK that he would bring the money in a while and asked what time CGK would come to Kalakshetra to rehearse for the repeat show of the play. In a detached tone CGK said he wouldn’t come to Kalakshetra. He announced his decision to move out of Samudaaya. Realizing their mistakes the members of Samudaaya apologized. But CGK went back to his department at the Bangalore University and went back to his family, hoping to set that world correct which was in a broken state.
This is my narration of a part from CGK’s autobiography Kattaaley Beladingalolagey. This part troubled me and continues to trouble me immensely. Tears swell up in my eyes and I imagine, fearfully, what would have happened if CGK had walked so far from his family that he could have not returned. I feel a lump in my throat when I think how painful it is to be left out by the so called comrades who are not to be available in times of requirement. Wonder where would have CGK gone had his path drifted completely from his family, feeling left out by his own comrades. I wonder how lonely a human’s life is. You be all pragmatic involving yourself with revolutionary stuff or stand before the God, burning your palm in prayer. Neither pragmatism nor devotion will pull one out of the helpless and lonely condition to which man is born. The immortal loneliness remains. There is no escape from this. This part of the autobiography confronts me with the incomprehensibly tragic fatalistic loneliness of one’s existence.
[Last evening- 16 March 2012- I had the opportunity of watching Jafar Panahi’s film The Mirror at the weekly screening of Manipal Film Study Centre, Manipal. Here I string in words the image of the film as reflected in my mind.]
Mina playing as Bahareh is a school going girl studying in first grade. The film begins on an evening when she is seen outside her school waiting for her mother to come and pick her up. Her mother doesn’t turn up and she decides to find her way. She takes the help of strangers first to cross the road then to reach the busstand on a scooter and then reach a terminus which is not the terminus where she has to go. We see that Bahareh ventually gets lost while attempting to find her way home.
While she is still struggling to find her way out, saddened by the fact that she is lost there is an instruction from behind the camera asking Mina, the real life character, not to look into the camera. That is when the film takes an interesting turn by breaking the fourth wall and we see Mina removing the cast on her left hand, removing her jacket and scarf and declaring- I don’t want to act anymore, before she gets down from the bus in which they are shooting the film on a lost child i.e. Bahreh.
The film crew tries convincing her to get back into the role and continue acting. But Mina refuses and decides to go back home by herself. The film crew then decides to follow Mina and the film which till then was of the neo-realist kind takes the cinema verite style for itself. Mina now taking directions from strangers but refusing to be assisted by strangers finds her way home, having no clue that she is being followed and filmed by the film crew.
Journey- is a recurring motif in most of the Iranian films. Be it Abbas Kiarostami’s Where Is My Friend’s House, Golam Reza Ramzani’s The Cart, Majid Majidi’s Father, Sameera Makhmalbaf’s Blackboard or few others where the film unfolds itself in a journey of one of its characters. While the other films I mentioned- because I am familiar with them- we see that through the journey of one of its characters the film, in parallel, narrates the story of the journey of a relationship showing how it eveolves, giving a glimpse of Iran. But The Mirror through the journey of Mina reveals the journey of the women of Iran and how the women of Iran have evolved.
While the film is being shot Mina, as Bahareh, gets into a bus hoping to reach her home. In the bus she there is an intersection of three stories with that of Bahareh. One is of the old lady who speaks of her story of being subjected to patriarchy. There is another story of a young lady who is sitting between a discussion about a divorced lady, who silently looks at a young man in the bus with the clear cut separation of ladies and gents compartment in the bus. Then there is a young girl, almost the same age of Bahareh whose palm is being read by an astrologer who predicts that the girl will do well and will be “no less to a son.” Here the film captures the past present and the future of Iranian women.
While the old lady speaks of an oppressive past leaving her with no option but to take refuge in solitary walks in the garden and rest on the bench. The young girl dares to look at the man in the bus and exchange words through eyes with him. The middle aged ladies in the bus “speak” of the divorce and how wrong it is. Later when we see Mina, not as Bahareh, travelling in a cab is sitting through a conversation between some men and women, where women argue with the men demanding for equality as a right. Here we see the way in which Iranian women have evolved. The when we see Mina refusing to act and finding her way home without any assistance we see what the next generation of Iranian women have evolved into.
The strength of the Iranian women first gets expressed, in the film, with Mina refusing to work in the film because she is offended by something. She refuses and stands her ground even while the entire crew attempts to convince her. This strength to refuse and to stand her ground is the new strength of the new generation of the Iranian film.
When Mina refuses to act as Bahareh she throws away the cast on her left arm thus immediately turning from a fractured self to a un-fractured self. While she is taking the assistance of strangers as Bahareh she, as Mina, is not asking for any kind of assistance though she is asking for directions. From a lost child she has emerged as a person who can find her way. The Director of the film doesn’t show her as a complete independent individual here. (Probably because interdependence is the nature of life) She asks for direction and at times and also takes help to cross the road at times. But she essentially has the freedom to refuse certain helps offered to her on the way by lot many strangers. She decides for herself as to when she takes help with direction and from whom in order to find her way. This power of deciding for oneself is one of the major differences between Bahareh and Mina because Mina is made to take help from many and even when she gets off from the bus she is dragged back to the bus by the bus employee.
Interestingly it is at this point that Mina refuses to act. Though we do not know what offended her in the film shooting, we can come to believe that what offended her was the rather weak nature of Bahareh who is “made to wear a scarf” and “made to cry always,” as she herself tells the old lady while finding her way back home, as Mina, after refusing to be Bahareh. She takes her call and refuses to be someone who is being scripted by someone. That is where the film begins to be scripted by Mina and not Jafar Panahi for he is nothing but a follower of Mina after she refuses to be his character and decides to be herself. This strength to change the course of the story is the new strength of the emerging empowered women. Mina turns the film from its realism to cinema verite thus travelling from realism to real.
With this juxtaposition of realism with cinema verite the film speaks of its title as the mirror of real as art and art as real. But at a deeper level the film becomes a mirror of the past in a creative manner where the image gets reversed- the right becoming the left and the left becoming the right. So we see a reverse image of the old lady in Mina and also of Bahareh in Mina, from a dependent silent individual to a vocal and strong independent individual, from a fractured self to an un-fractured self, from a lost individual to an individual who successfully finds her way, from a helpless solitary walk in the park to a confident walk cutting through the man’s world to find her way.
The Mirror reflects not just the society which it depicts but dives into its own story and reflects the past in the present and future and points at the reverse image formed in the mirror, in the reflection. The Mirror documents and reflects not just its times but also the changing times and the evolving position and narrative of women in Iran.