Think about it…..if we couldn’t read the stories that others wrote , if we didn’t internalize the songs that poets composed and recite them as if they were our own, if we didn’t imbibe the colours of an artist’s imagination , if we didn’t get moved by the sounds of a string or the rhythmic drone of a drum , how impoverished we would be !!
Story telling must surely be as old as verbal communication or may be older still. May be as old as the time when Man started drawing pictures on the walls of the caves he lived in. How strong is our urge to communicate, to express our feelings, to speak of things that brings us delight , as also that which frightens us and fills us with awe!! He that can be alone and yet feel connected with everything and everyone without feeling this need to speak or sing , he who becomes part of the music and mystery is perhaps the enlightened one. But for us lesser folks, we will always feel the need to talk and be spoken to, to express and receive sensory inputs, to reach out and touch and feel the vibrations trembling to merge into our own.
A story well told touches a chord , not just in the immediate group of listeners , when communication was only verbal, or the immediate readers, when scripts came into being , but finds echoes through generations and ages hence, it evokes just the same feelings of helplessness, of admiration, of sadness and joy, as it did when first conceived in somebody’s imagination. All our myths and narration of anecdotes , many of which form the very basis of our religions, are but stories well told that have gripped the imagination of humanity because of certain values that have been applauded through these annals and which are still relevant .
Human emotions have not changed even as the material world has and drastically at that. Love and hate , pride and patience still jostle for space along with insecurity and frustration and hope and despair in our psyches . Only the externalities that evoke these feelings in us , have changed. They , of course will keep on changing. If the pre-historic Man felt scared by the flash of lightning in the sky and interpreted the mystery of it to be the presence of something huge and awesome and exalted it to the status of a God, we , in the Modern Age, have still not been able to quell our fears. We’re afraid of different things, that is all, of not being socially accepted, of not being rich enough to own the things that would bring us at par or above those in our neighbourhood or fraternity or group of peers. We have created other Gods, Success being one of them, although we pretend to be chanting prayers in the temples and mosques and the churches to other deities.
We still swear by love , but our ability to love has actually been shrinking from its dispersed way of spreading from one’s heart to another’s and from the limitless way of existing between Man and Nature to being confined to the tribe and then to the wider family , the smaller joint family , the nuclear and now perhaps primarily to the Self. Our sense of angst has not disappeared , only increased perhaps, as our ability to love has found smaller and smaller boundaries to confine itself and that is proof enough of the failure of all established religions.
All these train of thoughts were provoked by a really well made film I watched on the You Tube yesterday. The film, titled “Akale” (In the Distance) is by Director ShyamaPrasad and is based on the play by Tenessee Williams, “The Glass Menagerie” which was premiered more than sixty years ago. Shyam has been able to adapt the story and place it in a relatable atmosphere in South Kerala without the least bit of dischord. Compared to the crores that are being spent on lavishly made movies with inane scripts and marked by lacklustre performances, this film ,which surely wouldn’t have demanded too big a budget, is hauntingly etched through the four characters , within the spaces of an oldish house and a very few shots outside it. That it can still create a lasting impact on the viewer’s sensibilities , is as much an indicator of the strength of the script of the original play and the Director’s finesse and the stellar performances of the actors in the different roles , as also a tell-tale sign of the basic fact that we tend to recognize and relate to the emotional content in a story or film , more than the superfluous props of songs and settings. Those are our distractions and we need them too perhaps, but deep inside we still want to sit around that fire outside the cave and listen to stories that tell us of our own emotions, of things that make us sad and happy, of our insecurities and of heroes who manage to overcome them , so that hope remains alive in us . We also want to hear of those who succumbed because we realize that not all of us have the gumption or the destiny to go beyond our limitations and then it consoles us to know that there are others who have been and are like us, vulnerable and weak and worthy of our love still.
The story itself is not elaborate or complicated. There is this mother , in this film, an Anglo Indian,who is almost always in a wistful mode, harking back to her youth, when her beauty and charm had according to her own version, brought her a line of most eligible suitors. She had settled for a sailor, who had loads of charm , but who hadbecome an alchoholic and had eventually abandoned her to take care of her two children all alone.. In spite of her disappointment , she still seemed to hang on to that which gave solace to her, instead of being swamped by regret. And she wished the best for her children. The son who was older , worked in a warehouse. He is hedged in and suffocated by the circumstances of a missing father, an overbearing, yet affectionate mother and a limping sister whose physical disability not only restrains her physical mobility but also seriously curtails her capacity for involvement in society and negates her confidence in her worthiness for another’s love. She lives like a recluse, her only source of joy being the tiny, fragile, glass figures that she has collected.
The boy isn’t really selfish , just frustrated by the vision of a hopeless fate , stuck in a job which gives him no satisfaction and the responsibility of looking after his mother and sister , affection for whom binds him from escaping to find his own green pastures. And yet, that is the arrow the mother keeps flinging at him…that of selfishness . The ability of the Director to let the audience feel the overwhelming love of the mother for her son, even when she berates him, is what makes the film different from the loud and overly verbose dialogues that others deem it necessary to make the audience grasp anything. It is this underestimation of the intelligence of the film viewer by the Producers and Directors and script writers that make them dish out one gross film after another with the same bunch of oh so predictable characters and same attempts at comedy. The bar , sadly, is never raised . This film is an exception.
The Mother’s role has been acted out by Sheela remarkably well, the glamorous heroine of so many of those films one had seen while growing up. How much a good director can do to bring out the talent s of those he has in front of the camera , is clearly visible in this film. One also remembered the performances of Hindi Actors like Shashi Kapoor , who otherwise sang and danced his way through his film career, when given roles by a Director like Shyam Benegal. Geetu Mohandas as the sister , was excellent. She could exhibit the vulnerable , fragile, uncertain demeanor of the girl in a very endearing manner. She doesn’t have much to say in the film, but her expressions said it all.
One could even begin to relate to the hope that started fluttering and spreading wings inside the cage of her feelings, when her brother brought home to visit them , at the mother’s behest, a young colleague from the warehouse. She immediately recognized him as her young hero of their schooldays, when he had been the heart throb of many a young lass. The intervening years had changed his circumstances too and put fetters on his dreams , as he recounted to her in an attempt to make her understand that life is not hunky dory for anyone.
In between the time she reluctantly opened the door to receive him into their home, and the moment he took leave, he had managed to wake her out of her shyness, paint a picture of herself in her own mind as an extroadinary human being , delicate and different from the run of the mill kind of girls that thronged outside, made her forget the limp as he made her sway and swirl to the music floating towards them from the community centre where some revelry was on , in the warm glow of candle light , ( as there was an interruption in the electricity) and then finally breaking the very dreams he had slowly been building in her by the news that he was already engaged. A sigh escapes us too at the cruelty of destiny. She is like the glass unicorn , whose horn he had broken , the act inadvertent , both the times.
The film is in flash back mode , brought to us through the lines of the book the brother has launched upon to tell the story of his sister , whose life is so intricately webbed with that of his and his mother’s. It is a process of catharsis for him as he leads us through the days following his friends visit, when Rose his sister had become more withdrawn and eventually admitted to a sanitorium . She had died there and it was as if a part of him had also died.
The story is only another reminder that our lives are not entirely our own. The more sensitively inclined we are, the more tangled we become in the lives of those we become related to, not just as family and friends , but even as distant acquaintances. And if a story is well told or if a film is well made , we become affected by imaginary characters as well, because at the end of it all, the emotions that held sway in those tales, hold sway over us too.
It is also perhaps true that the cause for all our grief is that we tend to dwarf the possibilities for joy within the boundaries of our individual selves and those closest to us. Our capabilities then appear to us multiplied and grandiose and swells our ego and our failures and weaknesses deflate our spirits because we cannot let our cognition look beyond and understand that strife holds no monopoly over a single soul but is the underlying echo of all of Mankind.