Readers Write In #166: The undefined ‘purpose’ of public figures

Posted on May 3, 2020

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(by Aneesh J)

In one of Girish Karnad’s not-so-powerfully-themed plays as his earlier ones, ‘A Heap of Broken Images‘, borrowed from T.S. Elliot’s ‘The Wasteland’ –  Karnad’s obsession—  there’s a line that Arundhati Nag utters regarding her husband, ‘आदमी बहुत अच्छा है मगर कुछ काम का नही’ | [I watched the Hindi version, ‘Bikhre Bimb’; unfortunately at Rang Shankara in Bangalore, all tickets for the English version were sold-out since it was a limited engagement; only tickets for the Hindi versions were left;  and I badly wanted to watch the English version since Karnad originally wrote in English]:  And that line has stuck with me for-ever, both on professional and personal level, but on the personal level much more. That line caught me thinking, ‘Am I just like that for my family members personally, and in general, for society?’  I couldn’t sleep that night; kept thinking of myself and representing myself in the sphere of influence –better yet, non-influence—and tiring myself to sleep. The next morning, I got onto my scooter, inhaled the pollution; more importantly, the dust on my official wear and rode off to work.

When I heard of the deaths of two prominent artistes in two consecutive days, and I kept wondering, why do I feel so let-down? I have seen death at very close quarters. What have Irrfan and Rishi done for me? They just showed up on screen, enacted, and took their pay-checks. But then I realized, those hours that Rishi entertained me with Amitabh, and those hours when I am/was lonely and want/ed to escape from the demands of this world to be ‘perfect’, to experience the emotions of people, of societies in general, that maybe similar or diametrically opposite to mine,; these are the folks that soothed that part of my rest-less brain and thus, the heart. For five-seconds, maybe less than that, after we walk-out of those slowly lightning-up theaters during the end-credits, we are still in a trance, and then reality hits us once we are at the parking-lot, riding or driving whatever we have, or just walking back into the real world. Then I realized, आदमी अच्छा, या काम का, कोई एक हो सकता है, ज़रूरी नहीं है, दोनो साथ हो|

I am not even a fan of Rishi Kapoor, but the joy he gave me in watching him play the unacknowledged role of the husband in ‘Damini’, or the damningly popular pop-singer in ‘Karz’, is somewhere there still in memory, only to be on and off-lit by ‘YouTube’, and that means, there’s still wattage in that: Just like you remember the first half-century you made when playing gully-cricket, or the time maybe when you were considered a topper in class. As the years go by, you forget them, but there are glimpses of those memories and they re-kindle and brighten with memory-catalysts. I am in no way diminishing the importance of Rishi, but for me, he was never a great actor, because I had tasted the lion’s blood with Amitabh primarily and then later, Naseer, Motilal, Balraj Sahani, and lastly, Kamal Haasan.

My memories purely are associated with Rishi and Amitabh’s associations in ‘Trishul’, ‘Coolie’, ‘Naseeb’, ‘Kabhie Kabhi’ – mainly ‘Coolie’ since I was able to ‘process’ some part of cinema by then and realize what stars are, what crowds are, what standing in lines under the sun meant to get on-the-spot or advance-tickets. When Rishi was begging to Amitabh to get back home with him in ‘Naseeb’, it literally felt like a younger brother pleading with his older brother. And then I saw ‘Coolie.’ All these political talks of Amitabh always acting in multi-starters and hogging the lime-light, and Rishi’s own statement about Amit not giving enough credit to his co-stars went out the window once I re-witnessed the duo-magic on screen. It was like Laurel and Hardy for us old-folks, inseparable; while the girth and height made these two legends imposing figures on screen, Amitabh and Rishi went about joking about it and giving us a commentary on that, only in a way that Manmohan Desai could.

With Irrfan Khan, it was more of an adult touch: I hardly remember his ‘Chandrakanta’ or ‘Star Best-Sellers’ or ‘Salaam Bombay’ days, but it was his most recent outings starting from ‘Paan Singh Tomar’ that I connected to him. There was an obtuse referential memory to his poignant performances in ‘Doordarshan’’’ going back to ‘Katha Sagar‘ or even ‘Drishti’ or whatever the satellite television offered in the ‘late ’80s and early ’90s, but it was his act in  the most west-imitating, mediocre-film ever-helmed by Anurag Basu named ‘Life in a Metro’ that blew me away. He was the only Indian, apart from, to an extent, Konkana who played an Indian in the movie. The one dialogue that hit me, and the one that encapsulated his Modi-espoused jugaad theory in the movie was his dead-pan, stupendous expression when Konkana agree to marry him at the last moment, and, and, he is more concerned about the cost of wedding clothes needed to be re-sized for his new bride! That was, in a non-succumbing way, a slap to the Neo-Woke movement that it zapped! ‘OH Darling, Yeh Hai India’, there will be debates and shouting-windows, but what this man says, bloody hell, read it!! 

The purpose-to-a-role with which Irrfan carried forward his thought/s in the limited frame of the otherwise-mediocre movie, was mind-boggling! You have a cliched story of a house-wife trying to find some erotic hormones in a play by a ‘stage-actor’ in Bombay, and here is this man, whose marital destinies have been changed in a matter of seconds, and still doesn’t forget the practicality of the Indian life-style and mainly, the inherent challenges! In the scenes between him and Konkana at 1:45 time-frame or when he addresses her regarding his rejection, he so effectively, and unbelievably, but so uncompromisingly, more importantly, with utter honesty, expresses his real concern, is literally delectable! This, is, a, slice-of, life: Conveyed by Irrfan’s Monty, he effortlessly proves, that folks like these, exist, and they are still human beings, and one’s welcome to put them in the basket of deplorables or unbleachables; but exist, they do, and so does society.

It is tiresome to go on and on about Irrfan’s versatility, right from ‘Chandrakanta’ to ‘Hindi Medium’—where he taught non-Chandni-Chowk wannabes how to conduct business in Chandni-Chowk, so I got to stop. And again, I cannot but wistfully re-visit my child-hood, when Irrfan talks in ‘Piku’, about moving on, about development, and sees imploding buildings down in Calcutta to build apartments, and wistfully says, ‘Maybe this is what they all call development these days.’  It is up-to you, to savor and delight in this extraordinary gifted artiste’s art.

The toughest of life’s complications are described by gifted artistes in the simplest of lines and actions; and Irrfan, like Chaplin, was a master at that.

And how can one forget Irrfan’s act in the horrific ‘Jazbaa’, where he slaps a suspect when he demands for his rights to have a lawyer, “You dumbo, this is Bollywood; not Hollywood.”

How can one miss the irony of Khan’s statement?