Life is an Illusion – Vaazhve Maayam

“There is no pious like the new convert” says an old adage. The dictionary defines ‘pious’ as religious, devoted, dedicated etc. The original saying must have meant the religious converts but later the saying was used to identify people who have found faith in new ways of life. For example you can use it to define people who drank whiskey by the barrel for years and two days after becoming teetotalers, start admonishing people who drink and preach how even a single peg a day can cause serious health problems.

You see people who have just turned vegans, lecture about the virtues of vegetarianism after being a meat eater all their lives. They go about preaching people that if Americans stay off steak for a day entire Africa can be fed for a year.

There are people singing peans about small and hybrid cars after driving gas guzzling monsters for zillion miles.

Last month I saw a friend of mine who had quit smoking recently, advising a group of young smokers why they should not smoke. It was good of course, but he was all over them like a headmaster scolding his pupils who just stole the school bell. I fell once in this category but I will come to that in a bit.

The famous quartet of Anjuham School, Mohan Ram, Venkatesan, Shivaji and yours truly split up after SSC exams (kind of ‘O’ levels in India) for our ‘A’ levels (HSC for the uninitiated). Mohan and I ended up in one school; Shivaji and Venkatesan in another. All the friends were introduced in my Cricket Match Blog, VII A Vs VII C – My First Cricket Match.  We continued to remain close, sharing our successes and meeting when possible.

The entry into college split us all. Mohan got into medicine, Venkatesh picked up Maths major, Shivaji, life sciences and me, well, I got into bits and pieces of all. A part time college, coaching for Cost Accounting exams, my first job and as if all this was not enough, I also enrolled myself in Alliance de Française, Madras (now Chennai) to learn French. It was my first attempt at multitasking when the word was not even invented.

I was going through huge metamorphosis at this time. I put the disappointment of not getting into an engineering college behind and immersed myself into many things. I started to read literature and moved from pulp fiction to Shaw (Bernard) and Shelly. In Tamil, my native tongue, I began reading Kanaiyazhi (கணையாழி) a serious journal, ditching popular weeklies. The British Council, USIS and Connemara libraries played a huge part in this. The first two of them were air-conditioned (which was a luxury those days) and one could get lost for hours by reading books in the cool comforts of the libraries’ reading rooms.

The USIS and Connemara offered free membership to students and BCL charged 15 Rs for annual membership and you could borrow 4 books and 4 magazines at a time. I read everything that was on offer from Wodehouse to Advertisement journals. One of the most memorable books I read was London Taxi Driver Slang. I had no idea at that time that I would ever travel outside India forget taking a Taxi in London, but read the book with interest to understand what did the words biker, flyer, leather arse and kojak with a Kodak mean (‘a passenger who tries not to pay’, ‘a ride to the airport’, ‘cabbie working exceptionally long hours’ and ‘policeman with a camera to issue speeding ticket’ respectively).

Years later during my visit to London, I kept insisting on taking Taxi everywhere even when my nephew Vijay was protesting that London Taxis were the most expensive in the world. May the the book was playing at the back of my mind.

 

The British Council (L) and Connemara (R) Libraries – Chennai

I also remember watching the rains one day through the huge glass partition in the USIS library while reading Robert Frost. I was cocooned in the air-condiontioned room and the glass prevented all noises from coming in. Thus for the first time I watched rains in total silence; a spectacular sight.

As a natural progression my taste in movies also changed. Alliance de Française used to screen movies on Thursday and Saturday evenings for the students and members. Though most of the movies were in French to help the students understand the conversations, they also screened movies of some of the greatest directors from all parts of the world.

AFM-facade-300x168
Alliance de Française, where the affair with good movies started.

I got to see Battleship Potemkin by Sergei Eisenstein and Seven Samurai by Akira Kurosawa. I also saw Bicycle Thieves by De Sica. Later AF screened Pather Panchali of Mr. Satyajit Ray who was inspired by De Sica’s movie to make the most well known movie of Indian cinema at that time.

I saw Max Linder in silent films who probably would have become as popular if not more as Charlie Chaplin had he not died so young.

Battlship Potemkin
Battleship Potemkin 1925. Odessa Steps, the most talked about scene in World Cinema

I learnt a little about Film Noire and Neo realism in cinema. Renoir and Jean-Luc Godard became the most talked about directors. I also got hold of Satyajit Ray’s Our Films Their Films, a classic book on world movies. After watching these classics, Tamil movies looked trash to me (at least the ones I used to watch). Balachandar, a famous director of Tamil movies looked pedestrian when you compared him with Bimal Roy or the other leading figures of world cinema. Bimal Roy’s Madhumati was amazing to watch for cinematic excellence.

 

Bicycle Thieves – 1948 by De Sica (L) which inspired Father Panchali – 1955, Satyajit Ray (R)

train shot
It took Mr Ray more than 6 months to get this shot right (Pather Panchali)

Even Hirak Rajar Deshe by Mr. Ray was so refreshing to watch. And the movie helped me to reply to Ray’s critics who said he portrayed only poverty. I also started learning to talk and more importantly to argue in English (basic quality required for a budding intellectual in Madras even if it’s for showing off)!

 

Madhumati – 1955 and Hirak Rajar Deshe – 1980  (Classic Movies of Indian Cinema)

Sorry I digressed too much. It was only to explain my newfound zeal and how I fitted in that adage mentioned in the first line of the blog. The four of us did not meet regularly during this college phase and one fine day I decided that we should watch a movie together, go to the famous Marina beach and complete the day with a dinner. I went to every one’s house and conveyed the message (none of us had a telephone) and fixed up a date. Since all were Kamal Hasan and Sridevi’s fans we decided to watch Vaazhve Mayam – வாழ்வே மாயம் (life is an illusion) which had just been released (1982). At last, there is the connection to the title of the blog, after 950 words. Thanks for bearing with me.

Off we went to the cinema and within first 15 minutes I realized it would be a crap. For starters, let me try a synopsis. A rich boy (Kamal) sees an air hostess (Sridevi) walking with her friends. He chases her but she rebukes him. He chases her more in the air and on the ground. She rebukes him even more. He tells a friend (friend 1) about his love who knows the heroine. He also befriends a friend (friend no 2) of the heroine who asks him to chase someone else and make the heroine see that so she would have a change of heart (out of jealousy). She (friend no 2) finds out a friend (friend 3) who was an air hostess but becomes a prostitute (how convenient)! And the original friend (friend 1) knows the brother of the heroine (friend 4) who agrees for the marriage after a lot of struggle, chases, fake injury and hospitalisation. But the brother of the heroine who is a doctor (friend 4) finds out the hero has cancer so postpones the marriage under some pretext. Since his days are numbered anyway, the hero makes sure his friend (friend number 1) who was also in love with the heroine marries her and once it’s done, dies happily vomiting blood all over the place. I mentioned about the cancer connection of Indian films in my blog Ninaithale Inikkum.

vmayam
Vaazhve Mayam – An illusion of course!

The absurdity of the story and the vulgarity of the chase was beyond my comprehension. For the coincidence of everyone knows everyone else to happen, Madras should have had a population size of two hundred people. But even in 1982, Madras had a population of more than 2.4 million. You can guess the probability of all these happening in a sequence. I was getting irritated and started yelling at others what kind of trash was this. The chase by the hero was so crude. If today, Mr. Yogi Adityanath  (Chief Minister of UP) sees anyone doing this, he would arrest him under anti Romeo act, lock him behind bars for life without parole and throw the keys away.  I used some comments to this effect but I don’t remember the exact words.

My disparaging observations were not liked by Mohan, Shivaji and Venkat but they were tolerating a dear friend.  But people who had come to watch their favorite hero and heroine by paying good money were not as chivalrous. They kept warning us and when my criticism was getting out of hand, they threatened to throw us outside. I murmured a little more and Mohan Ram said enough is enough and we walked out during intermission before being actually thrown out.

It was also the first time I was talking in English with friends using some choicest bad words in Tamil as well to describe the absurdity of the movie. Once we came out, I started a big lecture on what was ailing Tamil movies and how far they were removed from reality. Even a movie entirely shot in a village the heroine would appear with complete make-up, trimmed eye brows and 2 inch Max factor foundation on her face. And after six hours of back breaking work in the field she would be just as fresh without a strand of dis-shelved hair. Make up was unheard of in those days amongst ordinary folks; for village and city dwellers both.

 

Tamil Cinema’s Village Belles after a hard day in the field; fresh as daisies

As we took the bus to Marina, Mohan commented, “at least one good thing came out this movie. We learnt that you could argue in English, right or wrong.”

The good friends we are, we never spoke about my outburst afterwards. Just as my first movie with Mohan Ram Eye Witness – Movie with Mohan Ram was a memorable one, the last outing was also unforgettable albeit for the wrong reasons. Yes it was the last movie we watched together.

*********

Doodle Courtesy: Rachna

P.S 1: After reading my tribute for Sridevi, Mohan said I should write about this episode as well, so here it is.

P.S 2: A couple of my comments on Tamil movies, made Naga (my schoolmate) to say that I am a traitor of Tamil Films (தமிழ்ப்பட துரோகி). Wonder what he is going to say now!

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3 thoughts on “Life is an Illusion – Vaazhve Maayam

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  1. Yet another great one capturing the transformation you were going through. I remember those days when we started seeing the Bengali at pictures at the annual event of chennai Bengalis club , a 3-4 days affair much before the advent of TV and it’s Sunday noon pictures that was meant to put you to sleep. Our interest in non main stream picture was alive till early 90s when we had some good Hindi movies getting released. We did not have any opportunity to see Tamil movies till technology made it possible. English movies remained the constant one through the years. Rahul theatre in Pune got the maximum revenue.

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    1. Kalaivanar Arangam which screened those Bengali movies. People were interested in discussing good movies. Vinay mentioned the other day that he gets to know what films he should be watching from my blog. We knew what to watch when this information deluge was not there

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