[A slightly edited and rewritten version of the mail written to a friend last night after watching Pedro Almadovar’s film Talk To Her last evening. It was a quick response to the film, which I felt I could also share here on my blog]
Since the film opens with Pina Bausch’s performance let me use a sentence once spoken by Pina to begin my loud thinking about the film. “I am not interested in how people move, but in what makes them move.” To me the film Talk To Her is also about what makes people move the way they move and not how they move and whether the way they move is right or wrong.
When the Lydia asks Marcom why he wants to do a write up on her he says he like “desperate” people! When Benigno goes to the psychiatrist he is asked what is troubling him and he says, “Loneliness.”
During the first bull fight scene, Nino de Valencia, who was Lydia’s partner ealier, is told by the man next to him that she would let the bull injure her so that he can see it. In the end when Benigno swallows all those pills its not to kill himself. He says he is hoping to reach a state of coma and in that state of being become close to Alicia. These are the two characters who take extreme steps in their desperate need to get away from loneliness and in the process end up, accidentally, killing themselves. Their need for a life without loneliness is such that they are ready to risk their lives for it, hoping to feel belonged, to gain attention, to be loved.
Marcom too is a lonely man who gets to witness closely two extremely desperate and extremely lonely people. But Marcom, though lonely, cannot go extreme levels, he cannot go irrational like Benigno and Lydia. That is why he refuses to talk to the Lydia when she is in coma, even when Benigno insists on him talking to her regularly. His hesitation to go all the way for love and in love is a double loss. He remains lonely and he fails in bringing the Lydia back to life. Benigno goes all the way and goes irrational in love and for love. He ends up bringing Alicia back to life and he lives a largely fulfilling life where he wasnt as lonely as Marcom since he had the company of Alicia.
Did Benigno rape Alicia? Was it against her consent? Though it appears like it was rape and without her consent (since she cannot speak), I think that within the world of the film and within the world of Benigno it is not a rape. Now we have to get slightly irrational here, to understand this.
But before that let me just deviate a bit since this part of the film i.e. Benigno allegedly raping Alicia leaves people within the film and outside the film uncomfortable and the act unacceptable. To me the question is not whether it is right or wrong. To me the question is, whether it is possible or not? and what makes it possible?
Not to say political correctness is a taboo. But probably stapling our expectations to political correctness, at times, becomes our limitation. And political correctness need not be, at least according to me, the preoccupation of an artist. Then it becomes sloganeering. Its only when art doesn’t mind being politically incorrect that it enters a realm of human life and human mind that we get to know something more about our own existence.
When Alicia’s teacher discusses her ideas with Alicia in the presence of Benigno we see Benigno telling the teacher that Alicia likes the idea. He is indicating the Alicia’s approval of the idea put forth by the teacher. He can hear/ sense her approval, her disapproval. He speaks to her and he can also listen to her or sense what she is saying. A strange communication which is beyond the understanding or comprehension of others does exist between the two. What looks like a “rape” to the world possibly was an act of love making with consent. And nowhere in the film nor in Benigno’s character we get a hint of him having the possibility of raping someone. Remember the moment when he has sneeked into Alicia’s room and is spotted by her while coming out from the bathroom. She screams and he says, “I am not harmful.”
The “desperation” the “loneliness” and also the “love” and “communication” of the characters are of a different kind. Its not “normal” in the worldly sense. Hence he is called a “psychopath,” which is a kind of ab-normalcy.
In the end a kind of normalcy is achieved, in the film, with the hint dropped about Marcom and Alicia possibly getting together. Like the teacher says, ‘life emerges from death,’ this normalcy emerges from ab-normalcy. Deep love, that of Benigno for Alicia, emerged from his deep loneliness. Great courage of the Lydia came from great insecurities and vulnerability.
Will Marcom and the girl get hooked? They will, I think. Because what brings Marcom and Lydia together is their loneliness their desperation. What brings Marcom and Benigno together is their loneliness and their desperation. Now with Marcom being alone again and in Benigno’s absence Alicia losing a companion, the possibilities of the two being lonely and feeling a connect and getting painfully connected is high. The reason the film doesnt show Marcom and Alicia hooking up is because both are quite hesitant by nature to explore and expand and to go all the way in love. So there is just a possibility that we see. Whether they will make use of the opportunity and become lovers depends on whether this time they will leave behind their hesitation.
The film is not just about loneliness, as I see it, it is also about how lonely people get painfully connected to each other. It is like what Faiz said, “baDa hai dard ka rishtaa.”
It is about what great loneliness and immense desperation can make people do. Its concern, as I see, is not how they move but why they move the way they move. In a way it celebrates love that has within it the possibility of going irrational and beyond the framework of normal. Because it is there that love and life can flourish.
My grandfather Haregod Lingappayya Acharya was a mechanic. Quite a popular mechanic in and around Byndoor, in coastal Karnataka. He had named his garage/ work-shop Suresh Auto Works. But the name of the shop never became a part of the popular knowledge. For any mechanical problem people would be told to take it to “Lingappayya” or “Achar” as he was known among the people. His popularity was such that the work-shop/ garage required no name. The given name got eclipsed by his popularity.
Three years ago my grandfather passed away and couple of months ago when I visited Byndoor I saw the tools in the work-shop, which were like an extension of my grandfather’s hands, having accumulated rust and dust.
When a person disappears an entire world disappears with him/her. A way of life disappears with him/ her.
Former President APJ Abdul Kalaam is no more. Following the news of his demise people across the country have been showering obituaries. The love and respect of the people of the nation for Mr. Kalaam is genuine and unwaxed.
It can be said that two reasons, mainly, played a major role in making Mr. Kalam as popular as he is. One, him endorsing weaponization. Two, his soft nature. He was a fascinating mixture of the two and carried them within him without much conflict about it.
Abdul Kalam was the best possible choice for the India which has just stepped into the 21st Century having closed 20th century with strong memories of Kargil war and Pokhran. He was the best possible choice for the Atal Bihari Vajpeyee government which was looking for a face which could become their secular mask.
The life story of Mr. Kalaam is undoubtedly inspirational. His journey from poverty to such heights, from Rameshwaram to Rashtrapathi Bhavan is truly heroic. But that need not make us accept the weaponization and the masculine politics that he represented.
In the case of Koodakulam certifying atomic energy as “safe” by Mr. Kalaam reveals that he was more of a nationalist than a scientist. Juxtapose this with the response of scientist and humanist Albert Einstein to the atomic bomb during Second World War.
For a nation which poses like a peace loving country but believes in militarization and for a society which speaks of ‘vasudaiva kutumbakam’ and not just discriminates but also breeds violence through intolerance the best representative face embodying its interlocked opposites and a peaceful coexistence of this opposites was Mr. Kalaam.
For a country which was fancying weaponization Abdul Kalam became the undisputed icon. His iconic nature was also because of his soft nature.
Culturally we are conditioned to trust and respect, easily, those who are soft natured and soft spoken. A soft speaking oppressive landlord appears more trustworthy than a militant oppressed bonded labourer. Over ages we have acquired in our collective unconscious this notion that soft natured people are trustworthy and respectable. ‘Shaanta Rasa’ (tranquility/ peace) is more accepted and respected over ‘Raudra Rasa’(fury) in this nation. So the slogans of the agitating protestors of Koodakulam get drowned in the words of a soft spoken Kalam certifying atomic energy as “Safe” and the nation lends its ears to the soft speaking Kalam and not to the cries of the people.
Ours is a society which gave godly status to the saints and Brahmins who because of their easy life without any struggle for life or livelihood because of their lifestyle divorced of sweat and toil could ‘culture’ themselves as soft natured people. As a continuation of the same tradition we tend to trust believe and respect soft natured people, soft speaking people.
The soft nature of Atal Bihari Vajpeyee played a huge role in making him a popular leader. Added to it was his skill in soft speech. The same was with Abdul Kalaam.
The same society also celebrating, at once and at the same time, ‘Veera Rasa’ (courage) is puzzling and revealing at the same time. It speaks of a nation/ society which has opposite interlocked within itself. So a soft speaking but hatred injecting Vajapeeye becomes a heroic figure, a soft natured Abdul Kalaam who promotes militarization and weaaponization becomes an icon, Salman Khan who plays the soft hearted boy who upholds masculine power and violence becomes a star in this country.
Society and an era represents itself through and reflects itself in a person and thus enables us to deconstruct and decode. Some persons become an embodiment of a time and a society. Abdul Kalaam was one such person and hence his death has disturbed an entire nation.
A final salaam to Kalaam.
[Originally written in Kannada as a part of the fortnightly column being written in Karavali Karnataka]