I missed the Pawan life-story; it is as if I had merely glimpsed the beginning and the end and had skipped the middle, the hard part. The hard part is also usually the hidden part of the few success stories in the movie business
Don’t you love happy endings? I do. Not in film, but in life. In film I go for anguish and desolation in a big way but give me peace, lord, in my own life and in the lives of others. You must understand that when I say ‘ending’ I don’t mean the end of a person’s life (which is not a particularly happy occasion) but the end of a sequence of events triggered by a decision or an episode. A person could experience several ‘happy ending’ moments, and we who witness them may rejoice with him.
I suspect that a certain filmmaker is going through one such moment right now. I would be, if I were he and I’d made Lucia. One of life’s happy endings is when a risk you’ve taken, a struggle you’ve endured, is rewarded in a manner that exceeds your expectations. No, I’m not talking of how Pawan Kumar risked the public’s money and trust (it’s the first crowd-sourced Kannada movie, as you must have heard ad nauseum), but of a risk he took much earlier in his life. I remember meeting him ten years ago, a twenty-something Bangalorean who told me his family was giving him grief because he had dropped out of engineering college to do theatre full-time. I saw a solo performance scripted by him at the Alliance Francaise and said to my playwright friend M, “He’s got promise.” Later, at the same venue, we saw a light-hearted play he’d written and directed, and I found myself echoing my earlier opinion. Then I lost track of him. Someone told me he had moved to Mumbai, and Mumbai, as you know, is full of promising young artists who have had their dreams dashed to the ground. Years passed, and news began to trickle in of a young Kannada filmmaker who was “making waves”. Was it he? Pawan Kumar is a common enough name. It turned out he was the same man, who has today made an uncommonly good movie. But I missed the Pawan life-story; it is as if I had merely glimpsed the beginning and the end and had skipped the middle, the hard part.
The hard part is also usually the hidden part of the few success stories in the movie business, which has ruined more careers than it has built. Lucia is a film about the film industry, about single-screen ‘talkies’ and multiplexes, English and Kannada, dreams and reality, the losses and gains of love. It has Bangalore in it, which makes someone like me very happy, because then I can nudge my partner every time I spot a landmark, and whisper “That’s beneath the Windsor Manor bridge” or “Isn’t that the pedestrian underpass that connects the bus stand to Subedar Chatram Road?” I quickly stopped doing it, though. The superb editing, the unusual plot, the acting talent, the witty songs, the twist in the tale — they sucked me in completely. The uncomfortable reclining seats stopped bothering me and I wasn’t aware how 135 minutes sped by.
We usually blame the movie business for selling dreams and illusions to the moviegoer and the moviemaker alike. But isn’t the modern world just as unreal, marketing dreams that delude us into thinking that we can be whoever we want to be, and that it is better to be who we are not? A pill that allows us to manipulate our dreams doesn’t sound that far-fetched. But are we the dreamer or the dream? That’s the central question in Lucia and it makes for a dizzying experience. Picture nodu, kano, take your brain out for a spin, and meet Nikki the Mandya huduga who’s the common-man hero, a mild and sweet-natured usher who carries a torch for a pizza parlour employee. I found him a total darling. Then there’s the movie-star hero, the man that Nikki wishes he could be, for the world of the star is magical and colourful and he always gets the girl — or does he? Maybe it is the common man whose life is coloured by hope. Maybe he stands a better chance than the star at attaining a happy ending.
I found it slightly ironic that a movie celebrating the talkies and the common man is screened mainly in multiplexes that the common man can ill afford. But that’s reality. The era of the talkies is over. Somewhat coincidentally, I saw three young boys who looked as if they couldn’t afford the tickets try to slip into the hall while it was being cleaned. One of the multiplex employees, obviously a relative, held them back. “They’re scolding me, go in later,” he hissed. Later, they sat in front of us but had to move when the claimants for their seats arrived. The two older boys went out and returned with three ticket stubs. Their anna must have got (bought?) it for them. Since they couldn’t read they had no idea which row to occupy, and soon they were evicted once more. A viewer examined their tickets: ‘A’ row. “It’s right in front,” he told them, and the poor things believed it. They didn’t know their anna had got them prime seats. And they meekly moved ahead. After the interval, though, they discovered their rightful seats at the back. Their day was made. Happy ending.
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