[On 26th Feb 2013, on the second day of the three day Screenwriter’s Conference held in Mumbai by the Film Writer’s Association, the first FWA award was conferred on Salim-Javed and Gulzar for their contribution to film writing. The FWA asked me, as a young aspiring screenwriter, to speak of Gulzar’s contribution to film writing in two minutes, just before the award was conferred. I could speak only a part of what I had prepared not because of time constraints but because I lost my path, seeing Gulzar seated on row one and Javed Sahab was sitting next to him. But I touched on almost every aspect I wanted to touch, though did not speak as prepared. Here is the entire text that I had prepared keeping in mind the ‘two minutes’ time span I had in hand.]
Gulzar sahab to the larger mass, as a film writer, is a lyricist though his contribution to film writing also consist of screenplay writing and dialogue writing. As a literary figure his popularity is that of a poet though his literary body also includes short story, biography, plays and also translation. The truth in the popular image is that whatever form that Gulzar sahab work in he is essentially a poet, adding a poetic touch to that very form.
While we all accept that songs are an integral part of the narrative in Indian popular cinema we forget to see that lyrics as a part of the screenplay. Gulzar sahab, even while writing only the lyrics, has always been the co-writer of the film as he understands the role of songs and lyrics in the film and sees it as a part of the screen narrative itself and not divorced of it. In performing his role as a co-writer of the film he, more than often, is not just adding to the narrative but giving insights into the narrative and also lifting the narrative to a different level by deepening and heightening the narrative through his lyrics, thus becoming a co-writer of the film. A great example of this would be the lyrics of Mani Ratnam’s film Dil Se, where the sufiyana undertone (the story of an omnipresent yet inaccessible beloved culminating in death which is also a divine unity) was marked by the lyrics of Gulzar saheb which lifted the narrative to a newer level. That makes him the co-writer of the film for her underlines the narrative with a new insight.
While his verse added to the narrative, his real contribution, is in making the narrative poetic. Take the example of a scene from Shekhar Kapoor’s Masoom. There is a crack in the relationship between the husband and the wife. The husband enters the bedroom while the wife is changing her saree. On seeing the husband enter the room the wife covers herself and moves to the bathroom. Now, is this dramatic? To me it is poetic! While watching the films that have been written by Gulzar sahab I have wondered whether what he writes is really a screenPLAY? I have often wanted to call it, at the risk of being objected by academicians not as screenplay but as screen-poetry or to make it sound better screenpoessy. Its not just a simple re-phrasing of the term but is essentially a pointer at the redefining of the style of screenplay by Gulzar sahab by re-imagining screenplay. His screenpoessy created a new kind of cinematic image, it appears. An image not created by the director or a cinematographer but by the writer. This image is that which is not shown (on screen) but that which is seen (by the audience).
One personal story. Few months ago I happened to meet Gulzar sahab in Mangalore where I took his autograph on his biography. He had written “To YOU with love, Gulzar” and trust me I have felt, since then, my name is You. It was a unique lesson for me: To be able to see ‘You’ in ‘Me’ and ‘I’ in ‘You’ which is the required transcendence for any artist and the casting away of the ‘I’. So now when I stand here to thank Gulzar sahab for his contribution to film writing and all that has been learnt from him, I am not just I but all of you.
One last thing to be said to you Gulzar sahab: Agar nazm ko shaql mil jaaye toh woh aap ki hamshakl hogi (If poetry ever got a face it would resemble you.)
[Warning: It is not advised that those who haven’t watched the film Pieta read this as it discloses the plots of the film which is a discovery one should be making while watching the film. This is not a review of the film but a reading of the film and all the opinions expressed here are that of the author who takes up the responsibility for all the opinions and observations made here which he declares as original]
“With its unprecedented growth for such a small country in a relatively short period of time, we tend to view South Korea as a kaleidoscope of state-of-the art electronic gadgets, a modern, puissant state, and a place where serendipity is taken for granted. We are not mistaken. Still, such achievements weigh heavily on a working class that keeps rolling the wheels of progress without enjoying many of its benefits,” is what Marta Merajver-Kurlat says while introducing Kim Ki-Duk to her readers (of ‘Kim Ki-Duk On Movies, The Visual Language’, Pub: 2009) to set up the context for the master filmmaker. But just before introducing the artists in her foreword she has just said, “You do not need to think; this is not an intellectual exercise. You need to watch, to watch carefully, and to open all your senses to what is on the screen. You will probably discover that, at some point or the other, you too were there. ‘There’ is not a physical place. It is a moment in life, suspended in mid-air; it is a sensation you cannot describe; it is a tear, a smile, a shiver. Something coming from a place with no name will pierce into some equally nameless part of you. And your emotions will flow into the river that connects the past with the future, the real with the imaginary, the doable with the impossible.”
I have quoted MMK in length to state that though the description of KKD’s films as “not a physical place” “moment in life” “suspended in mid-air” and “nameless part” holds good to most of the films made by KKD his latest film PIETA (2012) suspends the world that is suspended in the mid-air and grounds his world on the earth/soil of a “small country” where the economical achievements “weigh heavily on the working class that keeps rolling the wheels of progress without enjoying many of its benefits,” which is one of the reasons why Pieta stands out among the films of Kim-Ki-Duk.
In grounding his world on the earth Kim Ki-Duk, through Pieta, has not just portrayed the state of living in South Korea but also has created a piece of art which is a fine critique of capitalism and capital too.
The film in brief is about Lee Kang-Do a thirty year old orphan who works for a loan shark as a debt collector, by threatening the debtors and by crippling them in case they fail to repay the loan in order to claim the debt money through insurance. His life takes an unusual turn when Jo Min-Su enters his life claiming to be his mother and asking for forgiveness and a chance to undo the past by mothering him. This turn in life takes yet another unusual turn when it is discovered that Min-Su is the mother of one of the debtors who committed suicide after being crippled by Kang-Do and has entered the life of Kang-Do for revenge. The revenge is through affection and kindness. Creating an atmosphere of dependence and belonging for Kang-Do, Min-Su kills herself by putting up a performance of being killed and thus tortures Kang-Do. The affection and the suicide of Min-Su makes Kang-Do realize his mistakes and as an act of redemption makes him kill himself.
This is at a narrative level. But through this narrative journey unfolds the theme of the film which makes this film a dark tale that chronicles the condition of human life in a capitalist society.
The film begins with the suicide of Min-Su’s son Sang-Su. But the actual story begins with the scene of Lee Kang-Do on bed, masturbating: a self-fulfilling act with no involvement of an ‘other’. Like act of sexual intercourse in Nagisa Oshima’s ‘In The Realm Of Senses’ was a metaphor of self-absorption, masturbation in Kim Ki-Duk’s Pieta becomes a metaphor of self-fulfilling act and an act that is symbolic of self-absorption. This theme of self-absorption keeps repeating itself throughout the film. In the very next scene of the film where Myeong-Ja and Hun-Cheol are in their workshop, fearing the arrival of Kang-Do their conversation is this:
Myeong-ja: “Why would you sign the insurance?”
Hun-Cheol: “I wish I could sell even you right now.”
Hun Cheol: “Do something even you used it, dint you? But only I become a cripple?
Myeong-Ja: “You cant. Then I will have to support you.”
Just before this conversation Hun-Cheol has got a call from Won-Bong who tells him that Kang-Do can be expected anytime. In his conversation with Won-Bong, Hun-Cheol says, “Sell your house and save me,” to Won-Bong.
“I wish I could sell you,” “You can’t (because) then I will have to support you” and “Sell your house and save me,” are reflections of extreme concern about the self at the cost of the other, risking the other and being insensitive to some extent about the other. All of this is caused by the threat of loan shark, at a level of phenomena, but the relationship between the loan shark the debtor and the threat is based on capital.
Before Kang-Do cripples Hun-Cheol, Myeong-Ja offers herself to Kang-Do saying, “Do whatever you want but please give us two more weeks to repay the loan.” Kang-Do without touching the body of Myeong-Ja pulls out her bra and starts assaulting her with her bra. Throwing her out of the workshop Kang-Do cripples Hun-Cheol with the help of the machines in the workshop of Hun-Cheol. Its interesting to note the tools of assault. It is not external elements brought by the assaulter but are the items which have protected the attacked. This theme too gets repeated in the film, be it the role of the loan sharks who come to rescue when money is required who go on to cripple and torture later on or the role of Mi-Sun who becomes the protecting mother and then causes the destruction. The striking element is not that of the protector becoming the destructor as much as the protector being used for destruction but that protector and destructor being inseparable, the destructor being in disguise, the destructor being omnipresent and importantly the inescapability from destruction.
This inescapability from being murdered repeats itself in the film not just through human characters but also through the animals. The rooster that Kang-Do is carrying escapes when he slips on a greasy, slippery alley but is caught by Mi-Sun and gets slaughtered and cooked. The Eel is kept in the aquarium- not killed- by Kang-Do but gets chopped in the hands of Mi-Sun. The rabbit that Kang-Do brings home is freed by Mi-Sun only to be murdered by an unknown vehicle on the road. Even if one escapes (rooster), or is protected (in the aquarium like the Eel) or freed (like the rabbit) the end- of being killed- is assured.
It is a no escape situation.
When Kang-Do is about to leave after crippling Hun-Cheol he is called a “piece of shit” by Myeong-Ja. Listening to the abuse Kang-Do tells (explains/ justifies) her that people (like her and Hun-Cheol) who “irresponsibly borrow” and do not pay back are “Shit” and not him. Later in the film when Mi-Sun is missing and Kang-Do goes to his boss suspecting the boss has kidnapped Mi-Sun the boss tells him that it is not him and says that it could be one of those who he crippled. Not stopping there the boss tells him, “You were asked to collect the money and not to cripple them. You butcher.” The victims of oppression are held responsible for their condition and not the oppressive system thus asserting it to the oppressed that the oppressor is clean handed, fair minded and is not at all an oppressor, blaming the oppressed completely for his/her miserable condition. Even when Kang-Chul commits suicide by consuming pills what Kang-Do has to tell the corpse is, “Irresponsible fool,” which again blames the murdered for the murder that appears to be a suicide.
When Mi-Sun makes an entry into the house of Kang-Do she is thrown out by Kang-Do who after throwing her out of the house throws the knife in his hand at the dart board, on which he has placed a female figure. But he slips because of the flesh and blood on the floor (that of an animal) and the knife hits the window and breaks the glass. When he moves out in search of the knife Mi-Sun comes with the knife in her hand. Her hand is trembling out of anger. Kang-Do asks her to hit him but she simply returns the knife and leaves. The saga of revenge could have ended at the beginning itself. But the murder story and the story of revenge that Kim Ki-Duk wants to speak, through Pieta, is not a blooded story but of the cold-blooded murder where blood is not spilt. A bloodless murder is what an oppressive system is. It doesn’t spill blood yet murders.
Taking the knife Kang-Do walks to the workshop of Tae-Seang where he is with his mother. Mi-Sun follows Kang-Do when he goes to Tae-Seang. When Tae-Seang tells Kang-Do that the system (of loan sharks) is unfair for which he gets hit by Kang-Do. While Tae-Seang is being hit by Kang-Do his mother is watching her son being hit and Mi-Sun, who claims to be the mother of Kang-Do, is also watching the same incident. Here Kim Ki-Duk is reminding us to watch the film that is unfolding with very humane eyes as here we are reminded that both the agency of violence Kang-Do and the victim of violence are very normal humans like you and I who are born to humans. ‘The love of Judas’ mother for her son couldn’t have been any less than that of Mary for Jesus,’ (words of Kahlil Gibran) because the two of them were born as humans. By putting this perspective before his viewers Kim Ki-Duk asks his viewers to look at the larger scenario which turns humans violent.
This question as to what turns humans violent gets answered at two levels in the film as it progresses. Immediately after Tae-Seang is pushed from the top of a building Mi-Sun tells Kang-Do that its all her fault because she abandoned him. Though it was not Mi-Sun who abandoned Kang-Do it is true that Kang-Do’s mother abandoned him. Later in the film Tae-Seang’s mother is about to murder Mi-Sun as an act of revenge. But by then we have realized that Mi-Sun’s affection is also an act of violence to take revenge for her son’s suicide/murder. What is interesting here is the fact that an invisible or unknown “mother” has abandoned a child and this has turned humans against humans turning each of them violent against each other. If this abandonment is seen as a social-economical and political abandonment and mother as a symbol of affection and sense of security then the film is speaking of a larger reality through the characters.
After having crippled Tae-Seung and after Mi-Sun having got eel for him Kang-Do goes to Kang-Chul who before his arrival has consumed pills and killed himself. After calling Kang-Chul “irresponsible fool,” Kang-Do goes to the mother of Kang-Chul to see if somehow some amount of the loan can be gotten back. When he realizes that there is no bank account or jewellery which he can claim as a repayment he takes with him a rabbit that Kang-Chul’s mother’s companion of loneliness in the house. The last and the least possession is also snatched by the barbaric oppressors.
Once having taken the rabbit home Kang-Do calls Mi-Sun and asks her, angrily, if she is his mother. Angrily he tells her, “I lived for thirty years without a mom,” which speaks of his sense of abandonment and his anger regarding the abandonment. In this angry statement the relationship between the abandonment and the anger, which is making him violent, is established. When Mi-Sun comes home later Kang-Do just does not accept Mi-Sun as his mother. He asks for a proof. When Mi-Sun doesn’t provide any proof and take resort in apologies Kang-Do cuts a part of his body (testical) and asks Mi-Sun to eat her. He doesn’t stop with that. He pushes his hand to her vaginal area and says, “This is where I came from, isn’t it? I want to go back,” and forces himself into Mi-Sun. As violent and as disturbing as it would appear what it says is the need for Kang-Do to reunite with his past, with his mother, to go back to where the umbilical chord was not cut. At the same time it also says that violence is an equalizer in an unequal society at least for the oppressed. The act of violence involves harming the self and humiliating the other but finally it is acceptable to the agency because the self-harm and humiliating the other equalizes both the parties as victims.
In an unequal society death, tragedy and pain seem to be equalizers for the oppressed mind and the sense of victimhood. Hence Kang-Do wants to pain Mi-Sun and Mi-Sun wants to pain Kang-Do. Hence Sang-Gu, Mi-Sun and Kang-Do become equal, in the end, in the burial. It is the tragedy of Mi-Sun which equalizes her with Tae-Sang’s mother who comes to murder Mi-Sun in the end, equating the two not just as mothers but also as those victims who want revenge.
After humiliating Mi-Sun and equalizing the scores of victimhood, to a certain extent, Kang-Do becomes slightly humane which becomes visible in his interaction with the next debtor he visits. The debtor is about to become a father and wants more money and is ready to get crippled but wants more money. Looking at the joy and sense of self-sacrifice that the man is ready to make for his kid Kang-Do says he is envious of the kid. Without crippling the man Kang-Do places the guitar in his hand and asks him to play the guitar for his kid. But to his surprise the man cripples himself.
Before Kang-Do places the guitar in his hand the man has told Kang-Do about his love for music and made the statement, “If I had continued with music I would have ended worse.” The system that we have invented for ourselves has moved us away from what we love with no freedom to unite with what we love. Speak of alienation from self of the self. Making this point in passing Kim Ki-Duk draws our attention to the violent system which we have built around us where even kindness (of Kang-Do to not cripple the man) is also an act of violence (as it will leave him with no money for his kid) and self-injury (physical emotional and mental) is a part of survival for surviving. The act of kindness to ask the man to play music for his son and placing the guitar in his hand is also violence within concern as it is known that if he takes guitar in his hand his condition would be worse than what it is. It is a point of no freedom and a point of no escape from bondage.
After returning from the man with the guitar without crippling him Kang-Do declares to his mother that it is his last day of working. Saying so, Kang-Do leaves for one last time. While leaving he removed the female figure on the dart board indicating that there is no target left to aim at. But Kang-Do doesn’t realize that he himself has finally become the target by withdrawing from the job and becoming soft.
The last debtor to whom Kang-Do goes keeps his hand on the machine for Kang-Do to cripple and goes on to narrate the story of his life. He says, “I lasted 50 years here and ended up with nothing. The owners get new buildings coming in. What about tenants like us?” and jumps into a philosophical question, “What is money?” and explains his position as, “I had no intentions of paying back from the start. I got it to spend like crazy, then die.” He then asks Kang-Do if he has seen Cheonggyecheon from the sky and takes him to see it from a height. While having an Ariel view of Cheonggyecheon the man tells Kang-Do, “This place is going to be gone. I came when I was 16, 50 years ago. Soon this place will be filled with high rises too.” Then the man starts climbing the stairs further. Kang-Do stops him and says, “Death will complicate the claim,” listening to which the man asks Kang-Do, “What is death?” As he climbs up Kang-Do gets down and while getting down he hears the sound of the man jumping and falling on the ground. Once he comes down he sits down for a while and sees under his feet a strip of paper which read, ‘Happy private loans.’
This interaction between the man and Kang-Do gives the history and history of the present of South Korea directly to the viewers. The quote of MMK in the beginning speaks of “achievements” which “weigh heavily on a working class” who keep “rolling the wheels of progress without enjoying much of benefits.” The same reality comes out visually and verbally as the “high rises” and how it will replace the small workshops, in which dwell the worker who do not benefit anything of the progress made by the country by their turning of the wheels but are forced to live their life completely on loans and are forced to kill themselves asking to themselves, in a state of complete hopelessness, “What is money?” and “What is death?” where the question, “What is money?” becomes a question stemming from not knowing what money is- because of poverty- and also a philosophical question dismissing the undue importance given to money the absurdity of a capital centric society, and the question “What is death?” becomes a reflection of the existential crisis of a living which welcomes death over life and also means to ask if death means only the death of the body or if death is also a condition of living in an oppressive society. While all these question starts shooting Kang-Do and the audience the filmmaker gives us a small glimpse into what gives birth to such a condition of living. Happy Private Loans- a loan shark, a pointer at the larger capital centric society, a capitalistic society. It is on that ground that Kang-Do is standing. It is on that ground that the society is built. It is on that ground that we all are living.
On reaching home after the man jumps and kills himself, Kang-Do asks Mi-Sun the same question, “What is money?” as he is disturbed by the question and is awakened to the absurdity of the money-centric society, slightly if not completely. Mi-Sun answers: “Money is the beginning and end of all things,” to mean memory and future has no value and that money is an end in itself. A capitalistic society riding on the wheels of urbanization, globalisation, liberalisation, consumerism, has no place for nostalgia, for memory and lives without caring for the future without being concerned of the future and lives only for itself. In that sense money is the beginning and the end of all things for a money-centric society.
When Mi-Sun goes on to say that money is also “Love, honour, violence, fury, hatred, jealousy, revenge and death,” it alerts Kang-Do for he now feels someone might take revenge on him. But these words of Mi-Sun encapsulate the dramatic journey of all emotions of the film and tell what has been the moving force behind all of it. Her love (performance of) for Kang-Do, the honour (out of fear) of Kang-Do, the honour of the “high rises”, the honour of the boss, the violence of Kang-Do on everyone, her own violence on Kang-Do, her hatred for Kang-Do, Tae-Seang’s mother’s fury against Kang-Do and Mi-Sun, the fury of the man on wheel chair in Han’s Machinery, the fury of Myeong-Ja, the fury and revenge of Tae-Seang, the revenge of Mi-Sun, the revenge of Tae-Seang’s mother, the death of Sang-Gu, Mi-Sun, the man who consumed pills, the man who jumped off the building, the death of Kang-Do all are enacting themselves on the stage of money.
Kang-Do is alerted by the word revenge and fears being targeted by someone to take revenge on him for whatever he has done. He asks Mi-Sun to not open the door if anyone knocks at the door, without realizing that the real enemy who is to take revenge has already entered the house and he himself has opened the door for the enemy. This failure to locate the enemy repeats itself when Mi-Sun goes missing and Kang-Do goes to his boss, suspecting him, and then to several victims of his violence. (With the inability to locate the real enemy there is the invisibility of the real enemy, to which I will come later.)
After instructing Mi-Sun to not open the door, Kang-Do along with Mi-Sun goes out to the city. In the city, he wears a glass, with Mi-Sun and also plays with balloon which makes an unknown person comment on him (and Mi-Sun) as “retard.” This is again similar to the scene where Kang-Do involves in sexual intercourse (forcibly, hence could be called rape) with Mi-Sun which was an act to re-connect with that which was lost. Here it is to live the unlived childhood. This throws a light on the (cruel- as opposite to innocent) history that creates a Kang-Do while narrating the history (of violence and cruelty) that he has created and unleashed, without justifying him or anyone. Here again this abandonment and loss of innocence should be seen as a socio-economical and political abandonment and cruelty to understand the larger picture on violence towards which Kim Ki-Duk is trying to draw our attention. It is the failure in knowing the reason for such a drive to reconnect with the past and the past itself which makes the stranger in the street call Kang-Do a “retard.” An understanding is required to realize what the exact situation is and not a judgemental attitude which looks only at the surface of, “grown adults acting like kids” without attempting read the complexities within it. The complexities beneath the surface have the story of abandonment, the story of cruelty.
While the fight between the stranger on the street and Kang-Do takes place on the other side of the street is Tae-Seang begging. Next in the film Tae-Seang, knocks at the door of Kang-Do holings the knife around Mi-Sun’s throat and asks Kang-Do to pour petrol/ kerosene on him planning to burn him. Tae-Seang tells Kang-Do that he had insulted him before his mother when Kang-Do begs Tae-Seang to not hurt his mother. Mi-Sun saves Kang-Do and also herself by biting the hand of Tae-Seung and making place and time for Kang-Do to hit the knife on Tae-Seang’s chest.
This scene shows how the cycle of violence continues making the victim an agency of violence. The same is seen later in the film when one of the crippled man’s young son attacks Kang-Do with a pencil. It is said by the man, just before his kid attacks Kang-Do that he keeps reminding his son about what Kang-Do did to him. This becomes an indicator of violent acts sowing the seeds of violence in the hearts that have been victimised, which will bear fruits someday to keep the cycle of violence moving continuously.
The very scene could also be read as Mi-Sun’s selfish act to be the avenger of Mi-Sun not allowing anybody else to be the avenger. But at the same time it could also be read as a pointer at the unconscious attachment she has started developing for Kang-Do which she herself reveals at the end of the film. Even if the latter one, which gives a human dimension to the tale of revenge and to the character of Mi-Sun, what is striking is the fact that she cannot let herself get emotionally attached to Kang-Do. She doesn’t let it happen. In the larger condition which is violent emotions have no value and no space and even if it has it is suicidal as in the case of Kang-Do for who his emotional attachment for Mi-Sun becomes suicidal. The condition created by us for ourselves has little (or no) space for emotions. Even when Mi-Sun and Kang-Do (who is more humane now) look out of the window, out of concern, to see if Tae-Seung is safe and see he taking a car but voice both their concern and their anxiety in the next moment saying, “He probably did not die, nor reported to the police.” Even if there is concern there is no place for concern as it is overpowered by other emotions of fear, of anger, of revenge. Tender feelings get crushed under the boots of the harsh emotions.
That night when Mi-Sun sleeps next to Kang-Do she extends her hand to masturbate Kang-Do. This act of satisfying him, is again an indicator of understanding him and his needs which makes her get attached to him slowly though against her will, but is also a glimpse into the violence of kindness and violence through kindness and kindness as a pathway to violence, which recurs in the film. Like Mi-Sun creates a family for Kang-Do before torturing him, she also gives him pleasure before traumatising him. In a similar way, as pointed earlier, the shark loans first extend a helping hand by providing money when required and then cripple and murder the debtors.
The film, at the level of its narrative, takes a dramatic turn next when Kang-Do declares his attachment to Mi-Sun by saying, “I am scared that you will suddenly vanish. I can’t survive being alone again,” which while showing his attachment to Mi-Sun also reflects him becoming weak with the strengthening of his emotions for Mi-Sun. In the very same scene Mi-Sun denies gifting the sweater to Kang-Do and then placing it on Sang-Gu’s body which reveals for the first time the real identity and intention of Mi-Sun.
(The filmmaker keeps sowing the doubt about Mi-Sun being the mother of Kang-Do, in audience’s mind, at regular interval before revealing making it a slow exposition. Such reminders are also places even after revealing who she is actually: her hand shivering in anger while holding the knife before returning it to Kang-Do, she singing the birthday song for Kang-Do on her son’s birthday saying its Kang-Do’s birthday without taking the name of Kang-Do while singing, she looking into the diary and shedding tears on seeing her son’s name in it, her eyes swelling with tears when asked if she had a family and if Kang-Do has a sibling etc.)
The denial of sweater is an act which indicates the emotional condition which makes a mother fail to see every boy as her son, even when she is becoming attached to that boy, because as a victim the heart is numbed and cannot see any and every boy as her son. This emotional condition is conditioned by the violence that surrounds everyday life.
At a narrative level this scene reveals the motive of Mi-Sun and sets the floor for revenge as by this point Kang-Do is also attached to Mi-Sun and thus has become weak making way for his own suicide.
When Mi-Sun goes to cover the body of Sang-Su with the sweater she has woven and to bury him, Kang-Do on not being able to find Mi-Sun gets worried and thinks his boss must have kidnapped her and goes to the boss. Before uttering any word Kang-Do says “Sorry” and without uttering any word the boss starts slapping him and says, “You ungrateful bastard. Get lost, someone else is doing it now.” This not just reflects the kind of power structure in a employer and employee relationship but also an indicator of the ruthless manner in which employees are replaced without caring for what would happen to the employee who has been replaced. When Kang-Do asks about his mother the boss says he doesn’t know and says one of those who he has crippled must have done something and says that he had asked Kang-Do to just collect money and not cripple people. This, as pointed earlier, speaks of how the oppressing force asserts it being clean and blames the victim completely. The ungrateful employer calls the employee ungrateful without considering all the work that the employee has done until then.
When Kang-Do returns home he sees Mi-Sun there and is angry and happy at the same time. Mi-Sun, who earlier told Kang-Do that it is his birthday, now while he cuts the cake asks him to plant a tree and asks him to bury her under the tree when she dies.
That night when Kang-Do sleeps next to Mi-Sun he is slapped and asked to sleep on his bed. When he asks if he did anything wrong Mi-Sun gives no answer and asks him to go water the plant. This again is an indicator of Mi-Sun getting attached to Kang-Do but forcing herself to not to. It is also an indicator of Kang-Do’s growing affection for Mi-Sun and the relationship becoming more of a mother and son relationship from the moment of Mi-Sun forcefully entering the house of Kang-Do and Kang-Do forcing himself into Mi-Sun’s body. Mi-Sun at this point realizes her growing affection for Kang-Do and fears it and at the same time realizes that the emotional ground of Kang-Do is fertile for the final act, as he has come to live the relationship as a mother-son relationship. These realizations make her prepare for the final act of revenge.
When Kang-Do is out to water the plant, Mi-Sun puts up a performance of being attacked with the phone connected to Kang-Do which makes him come home running to not find Mi-Sun at home. Now he looks through his diary to figure out who could have done. This again is an indicator of what I pointed to earlier as the inability to locate the enemy in our capital centric society.
In search of his mother Kang-Do goes to several debtors of his. The first visit of Kang-Do in search for his mother is to Han’s Machinery where a man is sitting on a wheel chair and working. Its seen that he is angry over a lot and has directed his anger towards the machine and is hitting the machine. When he sees Kang-Do in his workshop his anger melts and fear overtakes his emotions. But once Kang-Do leaves he starts hitting the machine harder saying, “I will kill you.” This displacement of anger is also the strong assaulting the weak. The man of Han’s Machinery cannot strike Kang-Do so his anger is displaced towards the machine. Kang-Do is weak before his boss so he bends and asks for forgiveness but is strong before the debtors and beats them up. Even Mi-Sun in creating the illusion of family for Kang-Do is also waiting for him to turn weak. When he is strong she lets him enter her. But while he has weakened a bit she masturbates him. When he has weakened completely she slaps him and asks him to sleep on his bed. When she is the anvil she bears and when she is the hammer she strikes. When the power equation between the two changes she is able to take revenge and be violent to Kang-Do.
In search of his mother Kang-Do next goes to Jong-Do’s place and finds his mother who takes him to the grave of Jong-Do and speaks to the grave of Jong-Do telling Jong-Do that he has a friend and goes on to say, “How nice there is a friend who still remembers you.” The fact that Kang-Do doesn’t remember Jong-Do and the fact that Jong-Do’s mother remembers Kang-Do speaks of how in the circle of violence the perpetrators of violence never know their victims nor do they remember them and how the victims of violence remember and never outgrow the memory of violence.
When Kang-Do reaches a Buddhist monastery searching for his mother he meets a monk on a wheelchair who is trying to stand on his legs to see the valley. When Kang-Do gives him a helping hand the monk tells Kang-Do, “I led a foolish life so I can’t see as much as others can.” While this scene appears unmatched to the other parts of the film it could be seen as a reminder of the theme of redemption which Kim Ki-Duk explored in Spring Summer Fall Winter And Spring and in that sense it gets connected to a later scene which I will speak of later.
Next Kang-Do goes to the place of Myeong-Ja and Hun-Cheol searching for his mother. We realize that now after Hun-Cheol got crippled Myeong-Ja has been earning for the family all alone by selling things next to the highway. We see how Hun-Cheol becoming physically and economically crippled has become frustrated and that, along with his physical state and his dependence of Myeong-Ja has fractured peace in their relationship and their family. Speak of what poverty and indebtedness can do to humans at an individual level and to their interpersonal relations. In the same scene we see Myeong-Ja asking Hun-Cheol to shut his mouth if he wants to be fed,” which like the authority that the loan sharks show towards their debtors is an authority that an earning member shows towards a member who doesn’t earn. The relationship becomes uneven by the power of capital. When Kang-Do arrives and Hun-Cheol asks him for money Kang-Do offers him money as a sin cleanser. This act of giving money is also because he has become slightly humane now. But Myeong-Ja rejects the money by throwing it back at him and also breaks a bottle of beer and pointing it towards him says, “If there was no law I would kill you a hundred times.” Interestingly the law couldn’t come to her help when the loan shark crippled Hun-Cheol through Kang-Do and she believes that if she attacks Kang-Do as an act of defence the law will not be in her favour because the law, in an uneven and unequal society, is with the strong and not the weak. So the law is not with the weak even when violence is perpetrated on them nor when they take refuge in counter violence to safeguard themselves. Law, like the entire system, is a game of those with the capital power.
Finally when he is at Sang-Gu’s workshop, while searching for his mother, where he sees his own photo with knife marks on it, he gets a call from his mother where he can hear his mother screaming while she is being hit. This angers and scares Kang-Do. After a while he gets a message with the photographs of a half constructed building, telling him where his mother is.
Kang-Do runs to the building and sees his mother Mi-Sun on the top of the building screaming out of fear. Just before the arrival of Kang-Do in her soliloquy Mi-Sun reveals, for the first and the only time in the film, that she is feeling bad for Kang-Do but again the circle of violence is such that it doesn’t let her bleed for anyone and prepares her for the last piece of her violence towards Kang-Do. In actuality nobody has taken Mi-Sun to the top and nobody is pushing her. But she puts up a performance as though somebody is about to push her from the top. Seeing his mother stand on the edge of the building top Kang-Do assumes someone is behind her and will push her down. In his assumption he pleads to the assumed person who is about to push to not punish his mother and confesses that it is all his mistake and his mother should not be punished for his mistakes.
This is a scene where cruelty and violence is at the peak and love and care deep (literally too). But what is striking in this scene is the invisibility of the enemy. Capital centric society unlike feudal society and earlier forms of society where the enemy in the form of feudal lord, politician etc are visible, has made not just villains out of every human but also has kept the real villain invisible which has made fight against capitalism extremely difficult. In a capitalist globalized privatized consumerist society TV is a villain yet the villain is not the TV set, money is the villain yet its not the money in the form of currency note and coins. Villain in a capital centric society is a force that is invisible which is a murderous force killing all of humaneness and unleashing violence completely. The mother, an embodiment of affection, care and sense of security, is being murdered by an invisible villain. At the same time the guilty is pleading and confessing before a non-existent listener which speaks of the absence of a confession box which allows humans to cleanse their sin and start life all over again. The absence of a confession box makes cleansing of sin and returning to life impossible. The invisible villain not just kills the humane elements in the society but also erases the opportunity to return to life after making every human a tool of violence. There is no redemption and hence the Buddhist monastery is empty and isolated.
When Mi-Sun jumps and kills herself Tae-Seung’s mother is about to push her which indicates the circle of violence, as mentioned earlier.
Once Mi-Sun jumps and kills herself Kang-Do as promised prepares for her burial under the plant that he planted. While digging the grave for her he finds the corpse of Sang-Gu with the sweater which earlier he assumed as his gift and which Mi-Sun refused to give him. This clears the entire story for Kang-Do in his mind. Burying Mi-Sun next to her son Kang-Do sleeps for a while next to Mi-Sun holding her arms. This, as said earlier, is a symbol of death tragedy and pain alone being the equalizers and uniting force in an unequal and unfair world that we have created for ourselves.
The absence of a confession box allowing to cleanse one’s sin and to return to life leaves the sinner, who is also a victim, with only one way to redeem himself. The final step that Kang-Do takes is to tie himself under the truck of Myeong-Ja and be pulled on the road as the truck moves and thus kill himself. Death becomes the only sin cleansing act because life has become so intermixed with violence that it has reached a point of no return.
As the truck moves and Kang-Do is killed we see the image becoming metaphor and we realize that right in the middle of the clean roads of spectacular looking Korea there is blood and murder happening which is goes unnoticed by those travelling on the same road. The murder happening right under their nose, their truck and right under them goes unnoticed because like the villain the murder is also invisible. Murdered is also a murderer. Murderer is also a murdered. Both are just two small clips in the long chain of violence. In this chain of violence self becomes a tool of violence, self-destruction too becomes a tool of violence. Affection becomes a performance and a tool for violence, kindness becomes an agency of violence, where violence becomes a ‘duty’ for several people. Every violence leading only and only to destruction.
Myeong-Ja doesn’t realize she becoming the murderer like Kang-Do never realized himself being the murderer of Sang-Gu, of Kang-Chul, of the man who jumped off the building. From Sang-Gu to the man who consumes pills and does to the man who falls from the top of the building and dies to Mi-Sun to Kang-Do everyone’s death is a murder and suicide at the same time through which the films speaks of the murderous society we have built with our own hands which has been nothing but a suicidal act for the whole of society.
Death is the only thing that appears when there is no life to look forward and there is no way to get back to life as life has reached a point of no return. Only life can be brought to an end in a situation where violence cannot be brought to an end. Has society also reached a point of no return? Is capitalism the last act of human society to end with death? Was the beginning of a capitalist society truly an end of history?
The last shot, that of hills, probably, is Kim Ki-Duk’s prayer to the nature saying, “Have mercy on us,” which is the Italian meaning of the word Pieta.
Continuing her introduction of Kim Ki-Duk after locating the space, time and condition of the space and time of Kim Ki-Duk, Marta Merajver-Kurlat writes, “It is striking that in this time, as in others before, one individual should rise above his class, his life circumstances, the toils he seemed to be destines to, to stand out as a great creator, one who is saluted as such by the globalized world.” Truly Kim Ki-Duk is one such creator. Salutations.
For those who do not know K.P.Rao is the one who put Indian language on computers for the very first time. Other languages took the model from K.P. Rao and implemented. Thus K.P.Rao’s contribution was not just teaching Kannada to the commputers but showing the path for others to teach other Indian languages to computers and thus widening the scope of computer usage.
When I met K.P. Rao for the first time in 2005 I was a complete computer illiterate, not even knowing how to switch on the computer. Today I am a semi-literate in computers. I say this because in this small write up I am not able to pen down the real contributions of the great man to the world of computers and Kannada. Yet, I am forced, by an inner force and affection, to write about this man who I refer to as “Mentor” and get referred to, by him, as “Tormentor.” So I am just trying to string a narrative which would give an idea of the man K.P. Rao as one of his students saw him as a teacher and as a human.
I met K.P. Rao in the year 2005 when I joined the a media institute in Manipal where he was teaching. He had just joined the institute. My dad, who was K.P. Rao’s colleague, in an engineering college in Manipal, several years ago told me while joining the institute that one K.P. Rao would be teaching me and instructed me to go meet him. The Institute had mentorship arrangments those days. A faculty would have some students under her/him and would be their mentor for that academic year. The day the mentorship list was put on the notice board I was reminded of my dad’s instruction which I had almost forgotten. What reminded me of it was the fact that the list said K.P. Rao was my mentor. I went directly to meet K.P. Rao Sir, who spoke to me extremely affectionately. There was warmth in his company, which gave me an assurance that I could approach him anytime. He was accessible and available.
One morning he casually asked me about my dad and I told him that my dad was going to the Himalayas in a couple of days with some of his friends. “Ask him to call me once before leaving. I will tell him where and all to go,” said K.P.Rao and said he could take me to the Himalayas then and there itself. Saying so he switched on his computer and opened google earth. It was no less to a wonder for a computer illiterate like me. He opened google earth and started telling me his favorite spots in Himalayas explaining the terrain the temperature etc etc of the various places. He went on to narrate stories of his Himalayan experiences. He said that he went to Himalayas every year. Till recent he did. Now for personal and health reasons he doesnt. But in his own words he gives a “proxy” attendance by motivating and sending some of his friends to the Himayalas every year. But that meeting with him, where he took me to the Himayalas, through google earth and through stories, showed me how knowledgeable and updated the man is about the real world and the virtual world. He has always come across as a man who knew both the worlds well.
Knowledge is his purpose of life, I have always felt. Every time I meet him, now, he discusses some new idea some new thought that he is engaging with and takes out some book from his bag and starts speaking of it. Not always I understand what he says yet I listen to him for the enthusiasm and excitement with which he speaks makes me realize what passion is what learning is and creates a spark within me to be thirsty for knowledge.
Few months ago K.P. Rao and I were standing right outside the building of a newspaper office in Manipal. He was telling me of some developments that is taking place in his research in the field of linguistics. A man dressed like someone holding a high position in some company/ organization walked out of the building. He asked his car driver to wait for a while and came to speak to K.P. Rao who had taught him during his engineering days. With all the respect and love in his heart he spoke to his teacher and said, “All that I know today is because I was your student. All that I am today is because I was your student.” Any other teacher would have lost gravitation by such flattering words. While I was feeling proud that somebody spoke about my mentor with such great respect my mentor said, “You are what you are because you are a student and not because I am a teacher. You are a student of life and that is what has made you what you are. Remain a student always. Be a student of life.”
I felt like it was a lesson that I too had to learn: To become a student of life. What a thought. What a philosophy of life philosophy of learning. All said in a very casual manner. It was also an insight into what Sir is- a student of life. That is what I have to learn from him: being a student of life.
K.P. Rao seem to have never seen himself as a teacher. He saw himself also as a student of life, always learning and always wanting to learn more. Even his students were his co-learners and not students for him. Recently when I moved to Pune he enquired me about one of his students who is now learning in the same institute as I am. “Anadi is such a brilliant student,” he said and added, “I have learnt so many things from him. He is my teacher in many respects.” I was floored by these words. A teacher, who we all respect so much, was referring to one of his students as his “teacher.” This absence of ego this humility as a student of life, all have taught me so much that I can never explain in words.
As he himself says there have been several giants from whom he has learnt, as a student of life. One such giant was D.D. Kosambi. In the monsoon of 2007 he organized a seminar on D.D. Kosambi to mark the birth centenary of D.D. Kosambi. He had single handedly organized the seminar, spending from his pocket entirely. It was a small but deep and meaningful seminar. He was content that day paying his respects to the man who he respects a lot and from whom he has learnt.
After the seminar, that evening, he left the venue casually with no pride of having pulled off a seminar. Even after that day he never spoke of it as though he had organized something great. He did not own up to the success of the seminar. He never owned up anything it appears. After having developed the first Kannada software he did not patent it! Even when one of his students- Srinidhi T.G.- proposed the idea of writing a book on him (which is to be released soon) he instructed that the book be titled ‘Kannada, Computer mattu (and) K.P.Rao ‘, placing his name after Kannada and Computer. He did not own the success of the students even when the students were attributing it to him. He did not own the success of a meaningful seminar.
During my recent visit to Manipal he was asking me about my course in Pune and told me a story which he was working on with the master filmmaker G. Aravindan for a screenplay. Due to the passing away of Aravindan the story remained incomplete and the film never made. Narrating the half worked story he told me, “See if you can complete it. You need not give me any credits.” Completing it was more important for him. It din’t matter who completes it. It need not be him and he doesn’t want the credits for it too.
While I was working on Master’s thesis I remember him getting me newspaper articles from various different sources to help me in my literature review. It was not just concern for him. It was also being a part of knowledge production. He would be with anyone if there is some knowledge churning happening there.
Disinterest in knowledge would anger him, in college. I have seen him angry at times when knowledge is disrespected and there is apathy towards learning. Most of the times he would attack such disinterest and apathy with his humor and sarcasm to express and hide at the same time his anger and his disappointment. I can remember two incidents here which I must quote. 1- A boy came to his cabin and submitted his assignment, with his back bent as a mark of respect. Placing his assignment on the table he turned back to walk out of Sir’s cabin. He stopped when Sir laughed and called his name. All Sir told him, laughingly, was, “I was the one who wrote it for Wikepedia and you submit it to me!” 2- A girl came to him with her marked assignment demanding for more marks. When she continued her tantrum for a while Sir, getting irritated by the demand said, “I haven’t read your assignment.” The girl got furious and said, “Arent you expected to read it?” to which Sir, with his trademark laughter, said, “If I am to read you will not get even what you have got now.”
He was majorly disappointed by the apathy of the students for knowledge. Many a times he expressed it to me. He would get angry and say how the disinterest of the students and their want for spoon feeding frustrates him. He once said, “They want to learn computers without knowing mathematics,” to which I said, “Sir don’t speak of mathematics to me. I hate that subject.” “Its not your mistake. It is the mistake of your teacher who taught you mathematics,” he said. I was more than happy to listen to it. As smile appeared on my face Sir went on to say, “Maths is taught in a very boring and dry manner. Say something like, two apple plus two apple is four apple. That is not the way to teach. The beauty of mathematics is that two of anything plus two of anything makes it four of something.” Wow! Like Wow! Never before that point of life had I found mathematics remotely beautiful.
Most of these talks took place in Annapurna hotel, Manipal where he and I used to have lunch together most of the times between 2006 and 2007. He would not let me pay and say, “There is a sense of fulfillment in making people eat.”
Sir and I have had many disagreements and quarrels and have been honest with each other in expressing it with each other. Many disagreements with regard to ideologies and issues have been there between us and we have discussed them in length. Though I have not agreed with him always his counterpoints have helped me learn something new and has widened my horizon. Today when I called to wish him he said, “I can see that you are more lively than ever these days. Our thoughts- he was referring to the case of Afzal Guru- might differ but we must be alive and lively. That is more important.” What did he mean by “being alive and lively is important,” I asked myself after speaking to him. I got an answer for myself when I recollected eight years of my association with him. His company has taught me a lot.
Today I am happy, in fact more than happy, that my mentor’s contribution has been recognized in a big way. But he seemed casual about it when I spoke to him this evening. Possibly the award doesn’t matter much to him. I remember, in 2007 monsoon, when he got retired a farewell was organized for him. Couple of my friends and I went for the function because of our love and respect for Sir. To our surprise Sir himself had not come. When we called him he said, “I don’t require an official funeral,” and added, “Your love is enough to locate my place in the institute. Your love is the best recognition.” Even today he must be feeling the same. The love for him in the hearts of the people is enough to locate his place and his importance in the world of computers and the world of Kannada. People who know of his contribution have always recognized it and have located his place and importance and even people who do not know of his contribution, with their day to day use of Kannada in computers, have located his importance and recognized his contribution in their daily life. Now its time for some official recognition that’s all, which has come in the form of Nadoja Prashati.
Hearty congratulations Sir… 🙂
(Photo courtesy: U.B. Pavanaja and Srajana Kaikini)