Aatish Taseer talks to Budhaditya Bhattacharya about his upcoming show on masculinity in India, and the difficult journey from writing to television
If Aatish Taseer had his way, he would have probably called the show he is hosting something other than Chivas Studio - Gentlemen’s Code. In addition to it being awfully antiquated, he feels it evokes pornography.
Alongside the embarrassment at the title of the show, however, one also detects in his voice a certain pride towards its content. The attempt has been to capture a moment in masculinity in the Indian context. “I have tried, despite the fact that we have different masters and we have to cater to a number of needs on the show, to make sure that that is the essential theme of the show,” says Aatish, the author, among others, of the novels “The Temple-Goers” and “Noon”.
The moment he speaks of is a deeply contradictory one. It is, at once, a moment of opportunity and crisis. If, on the one hand, as he argues, there is a clear generational shift in the “creative, interior and emotional” lives of men, pointing to a more sensitised, less rigid masculinity, on the other hand, there is disturbing evidence of the persistence of an aggressive, violent masculinity.
This contradiction is tied to the modern urban experience. “When powerful ideas of masculinity come into the context of the city, they feel a kind of an affront. You have to let go of the tribalism and provincialism, of certain ideas of how women would have behaved in smaller communities governed by ideas of honour…” This dislocation is at the heart of the crisis of masculinity, Aatish opines. “Negotiating that passage between remaining, to some extent, who you are, and becoming a new man, is a very difficult. Being able to make that crossover without it causing too much violence to the past is…the challenge,” he adds.
The magazine style show, to be aired on Star World January onwards, consists of six one hour specials, and Aatish is the thread across its various stories. It will deal with the significance, for men, of relationships, money, status symbols and style. Additionally, there is a segment that includes an interview with an “iconic Indian woman”. In a show so full of male voices, it was important to have also the scrutiny of the female gaze on men, he explains.
Talking about his involvement with the show, he says, “When I was approached for this, I thought maybe this is a way — with a much lighter touch and in a less literary way — to deal with something that does concern me. As the show worked out, I felt that that’s more or less true.” While there are certain aspects of the show that he is “not so wild about”, he vouches for the good intentions of “the core of the show”.
Masculinity has been a preoccupation in Aatish’s writings as well. In “The Temple-Goers” for instance, a character called Aakash has a “very interesting and fraught relationship” with the narrator of the book along the lines of class and masculinity. “…he feels that for the narrator to be of the class that he is from, is also to be kind of effeminate in some way, to be a softer man than Aakash is.” In “Noon” too, the idea of masculinity was a pertinent one.
The passage from writing to television hasn’t been an easy one though. “I had been really secluded for many, many years, working completely on my own. The only collaborative moment in my life was when I submitted a manuscript and I received an edit back…so there is a real feeling of intrusion when you have someone touching your face, doing your make up. Someone’s telling you to speak in a certain way, and you have these lines that are not yours…That was pretty hard…I felt very tired and used by the end of it, which is not the experience you have from writing.” Much to his relief, he is now working on another novel.