These were young men who had dropped out of school and, in many cases, had been working since they were very young, though they continued to live with parents. In one haunting sequence, the camera circles the boys as they pose in a classroom of the sort they should still have been studying in, while the soundtrack lets their memories of childhood bounce off the walls: Even as children we would lift heavy weights Or gamble with friends.
The good girls know that by speaking up they will bring shame upon themselves. The swagger was laced with insecurity. The closest any of them had come to a real girl was the floppy-haired, boyish Bunty, who appeared to have a rather bold admirer. I would have flung her down and taken a kiss at least. The language of cinema was the surround sound of these lives. Hindi film romance could often couch harassment as attraction, and the boys imbibed that lesson faithfully: But even that ubiquitous fantasy did not make imaginable a leap into real-life love.
It was the arranged marriage that loomed large, complete with the vision of the domineering wife. At the end of the documentary, Roy asked the boys if he should come back ten years later. Cynical humour met television melodrama in his vision of the future: Aur main kahoonga, ja ma ko dawai de aa. He paused for an instant, as if to let the joke sink in. Then his face changed. The arranged marriages had happened, children had been spawned. The four protagonists had lost some hair, gained some weight.
They seemed irretrievably older—but not necessarily wiser. Perhaps it was just that the protagonists were young, not yet quite set in their ways; perhaps it was simply the good humour and hope they still had for the future. No radical loves have shown up to soften them. Their certainties have grown stronger. In order to become men, it seems, they must either become hardened, or break. The enormous energies of Indian commercial cinema, in every region and language of India, are channelled into creating portrayals of young men for audiences of young men.
And yet, watching Kamal, Bunty, Sanjay and Sanju makes you realise how rarely you see men on the Indian screen actually negotiating the everyday pressures of work, family or financial responsibility—and, importantly, failing. A vast gulf separates the heroic masculinity of Indian cinema from most lived male experience. When is the last time you saw a Hindi film hero have—or strive for—an arranged marriage?
Arranged marriages are too close to drab reality.
But if our feature films choose other tasks for themselves, then it is left largely to non-fiction films to give us some sense of what the lives of most Indian men and women are like. And documentary is indeed stepping in where fiction fears to tread.
All four films, though very different in style and approach, are strongly rooted in their specific milieus. Jahangirpuri is a resettlement colony established in post-Emergency Delhi. By the s, it was a bricked-up warren of lanes.
Cynical humour met television melodrama in his vision of the future: It's great for a family 2 kids. Although we have made every effort to display the colours accurately, we cannot guarantee that your computer's display of the colours accurately reflect the colour of the Products.
The interiors of their pakka homes look as claustrophobic as in , though they do contain, at the very least, a bed, a television and several plastic chairs.
Each also has a wife and children. Responsibilities have expanded, but the scope of their lives has changed very little. Only Kamal, who has stopped working since he made a loss of one lakh rupees a year and a half ago, is lucky enough to have parents still able to provide for him.
Bunty, whom we saw driving an auto in , now works two jobs daily: Sanjay still runs his cycle rickshaw rental business but mentions that his brother sources and supplies pigs, while he himself has begun to put his savings into real estate. Real estate, he says, is the future. Sanju, who used to assemble electrical equipment in , made heavy losses and now drives an auto.
He stopped driving for six months because of a spine condition, and has only recently got back to work. Then, as if on cue, Sanju flipped around the idealistic message of the s classic. To live, one has to dream. In the film, we see Sanju in his dark, cramped home, in which he and his ever-smiling wife live with his mother and three rather sweet children.
The eldest child is urged by his mother to tell the camera what he wants to be when he grows up. Perhaps all of five years old, the boy struggles with the thought. Papa abhi tak toh kucch bhi nai bane. That gendered division of labour holds true even—perhaps especially—when a man is unable to go out and earn money.
None of the four wives work outside the home.
We should introduce a new public holiday, Maori Gratitude Day, in place of the much disdained Waitangi Day. One twin room has an en suite shower room, with wheel chair access if required. And documentary is indeed stepping in where fiction fears to tread.
This, despite the fact that the households from which Roy picked his protagonists already contained working women in the s. But he seemed to approve mainly because she could take days off at will. Unsurprisingly, with the exception of Sanju, the men all seem quite comfortable with the idea that disciplining their wives might involve some physical violence. Meanwhile, Bunty has acquired a lover, a relationship that seems to consist largely of cellphone flirtation—and that he does not appear to think of as being in any way unfair to his new wife.
This one is much sweeter.
The film opens with Hari driving his taxi on a mountainous road, one casual hand on the steering wheel, speaking cheerfully into the cellphone. Hari is quick to pounce. Now Hari grins happily.
Then, in a mock-serious tone: Whether it looks like it or not, Hari, too, is having an arranged marriage, one which he only agreed to after six months of refusing. Sarin and Sonam have lived in Dharamsala for 16 years, and have known Hari since he was 16—he lives in a village behind their house. They even knew he was going to get married. Hari has not had much say in the choosing of his bride, Suman. But now, talking to the filmmakers, he chooses to have a say about not having had a say.
And the tenor he chooses to do it in is often side-splittingly funny. Both Hari and his two brothers feel that the sacrifices he made for them must be repaid by being good and obedient sons, which means, among other things, marrying the girls their father chooses for them.
But while Hari is marrying to oblige his father, his own expectations from a wife are fairly traditional, too. Hari is completely transparent. They chose not to meet Suman until Hari did.
But I ached to also hear the women talk about their lives—without their husbands being around to hear the answers. That moment never came. When the kids insist on going out, he takes them in his auto, but not his wife. Bunty seems to have mourned for his dead first wife, but clearly has no relationship with his second.
In contrast to these men, Hari offers us hope. And he is able to follow up that recognition with a wonderfully matter-of-fact sensitivity. One evening a month before his wedding, Hari sits on a bench outside his room, swinging his legs with trademark restlessness as he muses aloud about love in marriage:
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