Monday, December 26, 2011

how can this be?

I cannot believe I am at work today.  It is simply dead as a doornail.  I don't even know if there are any therapists in the treatment rooms.  The subway was dead quiet and the streets were dead quiet and even my coffee cart guy (who is Muslim) wasn't out this morning.  I keep thinking maybe I'm here by mistake, that I was really meant not to come in today and misunderstood Lucie.  I had asked to use comp time to take the 23 and 26th, and the 30th and 2nd, and she questioned whether I felt behind in my work.  I had been out sick twice over two weeks, not very usual and very much stress-related, and had felt a little behind at one point.  Now the coming week seems yawningly empty, though there will probably be therapists around for the rest of the week.  Judy should be back in tomorrow, and Lucie will likely be working from home (she only comes in here Mondays and Fridays).

I'm pleased to report that I managed to pull myself out of that dreadful self-consciousness about the perceived snub/competitiveness of that woman in the online community; the community involves Bollywood, and my "problem" with this woman was tainting the whole thing for me.  A piece of this was also that I had recently seen part of a film dealing with caste and "reservations" (basically the Indian version of affirmative action for persons from lower castes, who had been disadvantaged as far as education and employment).  I had then read a piece in the New York Times about the caste issue, and had asked something about it in this online community.  I had included my email address, in case someone felt they wanted to reply private, but I had absolutely no response, privately or online.  I started to think that perhaps it had been a rude or offensive, a topic One Didn't Discuss, and somehow this got tied in with the difficult woman.  Maybe I expected that as a fellow American, she might have been kind enough to respond to this very American question (even if only to tell me that it was bad taste to bring it up).  So I ended up posting an apology for having asked the question, in case it had offended anyone.  I had no response to that either, which was kind of a relief.

I should explain that this community is basically a cast of around 300 characters who read an comment on the blog of a particular Bollywood personality (connect those dots, if you would).  The blogger clearly reads some of the comments and occasionally replies, but the commenters seem to also communicate with each other and even build bonds and friendships.  I guess I was expecting to feel more welcomed, but maybe I'm just too new.  I suppose this was also some of the issue with this woman: we had discovered some things in common and it seemed as if she reached out to me, and then when I responded, she was silent.  This is probably a snub, or her feeling somehow threatened; one of the things that I found annoying was that she seemed to be trumpeting a very close personal relationship with the blogger.  I somehow read this, in addition to her maybe-snub, as a message that she was the "American girl/best friend," and that there was no room for me.  She did a lot of sharing (the rather uninteresting) details of her life as if he would hang on her every word, both on the blog and on Twitter.  (I did notice that he does follow her on Twitter, but this may owe to her being an old-guard fan, who knows?  Not my business.) 

However, no one else posts things like that.  Some people have been lucky enough to meet him, and there have been some posts saying things like, "It was nice to meet you, thank you for spending a little time with me," and some very gushy I-love-you posts; but no one else is acting like she is having an actual love affair with him.  I realize that she is probably bugging the shit out of a lot of people, not just me.  Additionally, if indeed they were having such a close relationship, it wouldn't be playing out so publicly; they would simply email privately.

I had a situation in the past where I belonged to a fan community which was not a blog, but simply a fan group/listserv, and it happened that I was a close personal friend of the person of whom we were fans.  But apart from passing along some news (prior to the time when he became computer-literate enough to participate himself), I didn't go on and on about how we spoke on the phone every day or what I got him for his birthday or a joke he told me or a trip we went on together.  He was a musician, so mostly I reported on things connected to that.  I made no secret of the fact that we were personal friends, and it was understood that I had special access; I did mention when I had attended a rehearsal, or a private party he played, or when he played a new song for me in his living room.  But it was never, "I'm the only one he invited!" or "No one else has heard that song yet except his wife!" or "I sat in the front row at the gig and he smiled at me the whole time!"  I mean, yuk.  My posts were more along the lines of, "Victor played a song for me that will be on his next album, a bouncy Cajun thing with anti-Bush lyrics, very funny.  The producer has been stalling, but the album should be released in June."

Anyway, I just decided that this woman was a big asshole and everyone knows it, if they bother to think about her at all.  And since I had no response at all from anyone about my caste questions, I stopped letting any of it get in the way of my participation as a commenter or my enjoyment of all things Bollywood.

I did want to say something more about Twitter.  I had joined some time back, but found the word limit very frustrating, and couldn't figure out how to get followed anyway.  I followed a handful of people, mostly comedians, who did know what to go with 140 characters.  But I probably hadn't logged on for a year until recently, again following my Bollywood curiosity.  So I'm following about 4-6 people/media outlets connected to Bollywood, and have added on more comedians and writers.  I'm still only followed by about 10 people, but have started participating in some hashtagged jokes, where I have to say I'm holding my own decently well.  There were two particularly good ones over the weekend; one was tagged something like "Scorsese Xmas," which was basically lines from Goodfellas with Christmas things stuck in (e.g., "As far back as I can remember, I always wanted to be an elf.  For me, being an elf was better than being president.").  The other was something like "If the movie was Jewish," which was film titles with Jewish things incorporated/substituted (e.g., "The Jewish American Princess Bride").  I contributed about the to the latter; I am most proud of "A Gefilte Fish Called Wanda," which got retweeted!

Which brings us to a third topic: movies.  My Bollywood fervor does not seem unusual to me because I am a lifelong film buff; I didn't simply become mesmerized by the pretty colors or by Amitabh Bachchan.  I come from a family of people crazy about film and theater (and in my brother's case, opera too).  I have a reasonably encyclopedic knowledge of American film, which includes actors and directors, and to some extent, screenwriters, cinematographers, producers, studios, composers, and so on.  It occurred to me over the weekend that maybe this was not a universal interest; it was during the Jewish-film thread on Twitter.  I was about to post "Our Daily Matzoh," and stopped to wonder if the other posters would be familiar with King Vidor's 1934 "Our Daily Bread."  (I didn't post it; still not sure.) 

So the Bollywood thing is just another hunk of film stuff, although it is my first deep interest in the cinema of one particular foreign country.  As a teenager, I watched my share of classic "foreign films" from a host of different countries: Japan (Kurosawa, Mifune), France (Jean Renoir and the New Wave), Spain (Bunuel), and of course all kinds of movies from England.  I'll never know about Indian film what I know about American film; there's an awful lot to take in.  Plus in Indian film, in addition to knowing actors and directors, there are also composers and singers and choreographers. 

In American films, I know actors and directors best; see Andrew Sarris on "director-as-auteur": he posits that the director is the person who is most responsible for creating each film.  It's a very American point of view, and for me, one I subscribe to as far as American film.  Different story for me with Indian film.  Except for someone like Satyajit Ray (who is more in the category of art-film director than Bollywood director), I haven't seen anything too distinctive in Indian directing -- with the notable exception of Ram Gopal Varma.  I have a feeling I like Varma a lot because he's clearly very much influenced by American film, and a lot of his movies are in American-type genres like gangster films (he directed the wonderful Godfather-inspired Sarkar and Sarkar Raj). 

I'm getting familiar with a fair number of Indian actors, of course, and already know the names of 20 or 30 lead actors and a handful of character actors.  I'm less familiar with the singers, although you can't go wrong with Mohammed Rafi and Kishore Kumar, who are of an older generation.  I can't name a single songwriter except for two contemporary ones, Vishal and Shenar, and can't name any composers.  Of course, I struggle with Hindi names and Hindi song titles and Hindi movie titles, because they are all entirely foreign.  I've studied French and Spanish, and can make some sense of Italian, Portuguese, and even German; but in Hindi, I can't figure anything out and have to memorize words and names exactly, and watch all kinds of videos, interviews and clips to learn how to pronounce any of it properly.  (I swear it took me two weeks to learn how to say "Amitabh Bachchan" correctly, after having spent a few days memorizing the spelling.)

Understanding Hindi words is even more difficult, since song and movie titles are rarely translated into English.  I only seem to learn any meanings from a combination of hearing certain words repeatedly and reading subtitles; not knowing Hindi syntax or sentence structure, it's often hard to detect the meaning of a single word from hearing a sentence and reading its translation.  I can say with some authority that "dil" means "heart," since it turns up as much in Hindi songs as "corazon" does in Spanish ones.  There are also some cute doubled words in Hindi, like "kuch kuch," which (I'm fairly sure) means "something."  I've also figured out which words mean "father," "mother," "brother" and so on, plus certain pronouns.  I might know 20 or so words.

The idioms are beyond me, and sometimes one has to watch or listen very carefully to understand what's going on.  For instance, I watched Maya Memsahib over the weekend, and there was one playful scene between a man and a woman where the translated dialogue made no sense at all; but from listening, I realized that each person was saying something that rhymed with what had been said before, so they were kind of improvising silly verse.  Between trying to really understand the social and cultural context, struggling with the language, and simply the length of time required to consume so many very long movies, it's a pretty exhausting pursuit.

Maya Memsahib, by the way, was of some interest to me because I had read that it was a little sexier than most Indian movies, plus it was based on Madame Bovary.  I enjoyed it, although I found the ending kind of weird and confusing.  I do find I can understand the Indian point of view a little better when I see films that are based on/inspired by/remakes of American films, or a familiar piece of literature like Madame Bovary.  The familiar material helps me see what is different and unfamiliar.  (I recently bought a DVD on eBay that I can't wait to see:  Ram Gopal Varma's take on the deliciously trashy American film Poison Ivy, with Amitabh in the role originally played by Tom Skerrit.)

I also started watching Kabhi Kushi Kabhi Gham (which I think means something like "In Joy and in Grief"), which is the same kind of masala (mix) film as Kabhi Alveda Naa Kehna.  It's full of family drama and comedy and romance and dancing, with a host of very familiar faces:  our old friend Amitabh; his wife, Jaya Bhaduri Bachchan; Shah Rukh Khan, Rani Mukarjee, Kajol, and Hrithik Roshan.  It's from 2001, and everyone looks fantastic, although it's not the best hair I've seen on AB. 

I'm fairly certain that he's worn a hairpiece since the mid or late 80s -- that is, that it's a hairpiece and not a weave or transplant -- and it's sometimes very close to natural and sometimes very close to awful.  He also had his jawline tightened up at some point, subtle but very good work.  I mostly hate fake hair and hate the idea that men have to display a full head of hair to be considered attractive, but I cut AB some slack here.  For one thing, he was known from the old days for having an absolutely splendid head of hair; and even at nearly 70, he's still more of a leading man (albeit an older one) than he is a character actor.

On the topic of hair...Shah Rukh Khan is also known for having a simply gorgeous head of hair, and I found this really funny video on YouTube, nearly three minutes of clips showing nothing but Shah Rukh touching his own hair.  It's silly and yet kind of fascinating, because he really is stunning in it.  Let's see if I can dig it up...

It's a little weird getting YouTube videos onto Blogger, since for some reason, there isn't a mechanism to simply go to "My Favorites" on YouTube and select something for posting there.  The Blogger link to post videos requires you to search YouTube, so you have to look up or remember the exact title of the video.  However, a sear for "Shah Rukh hair" found this one right away.  Enjoy.

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