I knew I had the evening all to myself. This is not really a good thing. I tend to be fine so long as I’m out, about and productively occupied, so long as the sun is still shining. The problem is, as soon as it gets dark and I’m left alone for the evening (which happens about every evening), the demons rise up and whisper my deepest fears into my ears until my head is filled with dreadful words dripping with worry. One of the ways to banish the demons is to become engrossed in a movie, in a movie that is truly more of an experience. Simply put, a movie that can take me away from all this… this fearful “self.” I wanted to see a particular kind of movie, you know what I mean, certainly you’ve looked for the movie that would be just right for your mood, a movie that you’ve never seen, a movie that creates precisely the right atmosphere and contains just the right amount of fantasy and drama for your needs… you know, a movie that doesn’t exist. I have wasted a lot of my time seeking “that movie.” Of course, the tone and texture of that movie changes with my moods, but I never seem to be able to find a crystallized version of that specific but incorporeal movie that only exists in my head. This night I wanted to see something as colorful as a Disney cartoon, as fantastical as a fairy tale, romantic, maybe exotic, oh… and wouldn’t music as tuneful as the songs of Harry Nilsson be nice, too? And of course, this movie had to be full of women I can relate to. I can’t really relate to “the modern woman” as she exists in America, especially as she exists in American pop culture, so this is an especially immoveable challenge. Needless to say, once I got to the video store I realized the absurdity of my quest and just started looking for something that might keep my restless mind occupied. I picked up everything from Pixar, to the fifties movie “Lilith,” to a collection of Gerald McBoing Boing cartoons. In the end I wound up in the Bollywood section at Video Rodeo, and I settled on “Saawariya.” I figured at best I could simply endure it, which would at least be a distraction.
Being a Western Hindu, one might assume I am a huge Bollywood fan, or a huge fan of all things India. Not exactly, I mean I am fascinated by the romantic promises of India, but unsure as to whether I could weather the realities of India. And so far as Bollywood goes, I have seen plenty of great Indian cinema, though rarely do the films I like fit into the Bollywood category, a notable exception being the classic “Sholay,” which is rather like a Bollywood “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.” This one, “Saawariya,” turned out to be a shining example of the sort of magic only possible in a Bollywood picture… anymore. No doubt my unconditional and instant love of this movie was greatly assisted by the fact that the lead actor looks a helluva lot like a young Indian Paul McCartney from the White Album, or perhaps straight off the cover of McCartney II.
I mean… that would be enough, right? Enough to elevate this to a fave. Just imagine, a romantic movie with a young Indian McCartney. Swoon! I’d like to say that that wasn’t why I liked the movie, and actually it isn’t, but the similarities are strong. For one, the lead actor is not afraid to be silly, ditto McCartney. For another the music is melodious in the film, as it is with McCartney’s. And there is not a shred of cynicism in this film, nor is there any of that in McCartney’s music. I know this comparison may seem absurd or obsessive, but it isn’t, McCartney embodies those things I value most, as does this film, as did this film right from the establishing shot!
I surrendered myself to the film from the opening scene, and I decided to trust it and let it take me where ever it wanted to.
The story is based on the Dostoevsky story “White Nights,” and I don’t know much about the original story, but the film plays the story out like a wondrous fairy tale, and that, right there, McCartney stuff aside, is why I fell in love with this film at first sight. “Saawariya” is a fairy tale of the highest order. The imagery, the colors, the lighting, all create a world bathed in the sort of beauty I could sink into, never to be seen again. The visuals are opulent, as only films made by Indians can be (See Mira Nair’s sensual delight, “Kama Sutra”), any visit to a Hindu Temple would prove that the Indians know something about rich sensual beauty. The Indians, like no other, know how to celebrate beauty. Beautiful stories, beautiful costumes, beautiful boys, and stunning women. How could any people born under such beautiful Gods be anything but admirers of beauty? Perhaps I generalize, but in my experience, Indians know something about beauty that the rest of us seem to have forgotten.
“Saawariya” was a treat to my weary eyes, especially in the grim mire of modern American films which seem to be getting more and more obsessed with the dark side of reality, with being “realistic,” films which more and more seem hellbent on being colorless and drab. I loathed Jackson’s “Lord of the Rings” for that very reason, every damn moment in the film was olive drab, brown, or a cold and depressing blue. So it goes with the cynicism of our age, our art, and our culture. Fortunately India hasn’t turned its head too far West for too long. The Indian’s have not forgotten what fairy tales look like, not like Tim Burton has, as evidenced by his perverting Willy Wonka into his own twisted world of cornball (ahem) “dark” gothic fetishism. “Saawariya” is bathed in blues and greens, the backgrounds, I must confess, are close to monochromatic in some scenes, but even those blues and greens are not the blues and greens of depression and death, not like Jackson or Burton uses, no, these are the blues and greens of springs and valleys, of moonlit nights and magic! And these blues and greens always make way for warmer colors, and these blues and greens celebrate rather than mourn. There is so much to mourn in life, I don’t need to spend any of my time steeping in the mournful drab of Jackson or Burton’s visions. I would much rather dance in the light of “Saawariya.”
That, for me, is what truly set “Saawariya” apart, there is not a hint, trace, or even whiff of cynicism in the air. The film is unrelentingly romantic, emotionally tragic at times, but only so much as all the great fairy tales often contain a mix of romance and tragedy. Some might see “Saawariya” as mere fluff, I do not. The skill, inspiration, craftsmanship and artistry displayed in this film, the total commitment to beauty, were enough to leave me swooning for more.
I admire anyone today who dares to strive to create beauty in this culture, a culture that has forgotten how to approach or even admire beauty. We have confused beauty with our fragile attempts to make believe that ugliness is beauty, that the mundane is beauty. No, beauty is an elevated state, it is to be worked for, yearned for, earned for, and above all, treated with the deepest of spiritual respect. God how I dread modern photography, full of sober shots of banal American slobs in their filthy or spartan and visionless cages. We have forgotten the value of romantic ideals, of beauty for beauties’ sake. This film’s sole purpose seems to be to breath life into us through it’s sheer beauty. The backgrounds look like the very best of vintage Disney, but brought to life. “Saawariya” is shameless and unapologetically beautiful.
One of my other pet passions is bare feet, especially other barefoot women. There are a few barefoot scenes in the movie, but there is not one barefoot character, nor extended scene of any character barefoot outside of their dance scenes or homes, and though I mourned that personally, it was hardly going to put me off the movie, but it certainly would have enhanced the movie for me, though this is hardly a criticism, and is much more of a personal confession.
The other thing is that I love Indian Pop! The stuff is always such an experimental mix of cultural influences all filtered through the purely Indian sense of melody and rhythm. The melodies in the film’s songs are bright, fresh, and moving. The melodies, though at times filled with influence from Latin ballads and pop culture, are truly things of beauty. This is music, great melodic film and pop music without the banal crud and clamor that has polluted the cheap chincy world of market-driven drivel and computer-ravaged aggression that is American pop. The dance numbers are visionary, rather than being an odd or even incongruous interruption in the narrative (as with many Bollywood movies), this music is integrated beautifully, and wholly essential! This really is a musical in the most glorious sense. A beautiful romantic musical!
The characters are in and of themselves not merely archetypal, but charming and nuanced. They can surprise you.
Lilipop, the old woman who runs the inn where our hero stays, is quite a delightful character. The lead actor charmed even me, and most boys leave me rather cold, but this one drips with good nature and a certain unearthly, if not simple, wisdom. He does not swagger with testosterone-fuelled ego, no he plays, like a child, like Peter Pan, though far wiser, far more insightful and touching. Gulabji, the prostitute is also a charming character, vivid, full of life and confidence. Gulabji left me wondering what the boy saw in Sakina, who was by comparison rather sad and even gratingly devout. The one thing that I found most enchanting about the movie was that every single character seemed possessed of some sort of easy magic. There is a subversive nature to the film’s characters. At first glance it appears the boy is charming every woman he encounters, but we soon realize that he is wholly at the mercy of each and every one of them. These are powerful women. These are ultra-feminine women. These are women I can relate to. These women have style!
There are moments of wisdom throughout the movie. The boy hero, Raj, is not merely adorable and charming, like any lost boy, he is possessed of some wisdom, and certainly plenty of magic. He has come not only to fall in love, but to teach, to open up the people who surround him. He is there to speak of God, when he says that God never takes everything from us without giving us someone to take care of us. How true I know this to be. I had to be reduced to nothing, to absolute hopelessness myself, before landing in the arms of those who helped take care of me. Of all the things I have lost, I regret nothing. Everything I have lost was taken from me so that I might see beyond my attachments and move closer and closer to where it is I need to be. I never needed to remain in the company of the things I have lost.
of course, none of this writing was really about the movie, it was about my reaction to the movie, about how delighted I was to see it. I haven’t researched the movie, frankly, I don’t want to know. I don’t want or need to know if it was a hit or a flop. I don’t want or need to know what critics and cynics think. I don’t feel any need to allow that silly gob of pudding in my skull to shout down my heart. What is the point, I often wonder, of checking in with critics or writers, to meet what end? I have learned to trust my heart over my brain. My heart is telling me that this film made me feel warm and completely joyful, what business is it of my brain, of some critic, of some controversy to jump in and shit in my happy place? It is enough that the heart knows it has been filled with joy, I do not need or crave any approval from that self-righteous patriarch… the brain.
What this blog entry was about was, quite simply, that on this one day I went out looking for that movie, that specific movie I had created in my head, that ONE movie that would take me exactly where I wanted to go, that one movie that would wholly fulfill my needs. That movie was “Saawariya!”
It’s nice, isn’t it, to know that once in a while a movie can really hit the spot? And it’s nice to know, isn’t it, that consciousness has a way of connecting artists with those who most need to see their work? Consciousness, our Godheads have spanned that distance between Flordia and India, and the artists that made this movie and I, we have shared in this beauty together.