Bombay Showcase

Please don’t stop the music

Ludovico Einaudi’s ‘Experience’, a quasi-orchestral, hypnotic squabble between violin and piano, reaches a fever pitch as an off-white sedan crosses a bridge. A feisty 40-something lady is at the wheel, driving her troubled teenaged son to — she doesn’t know where. He’s a restless blonde bundle of energy. Perhaps, she hopes, his ‘ailments’ — the volatile Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder (ADHD) and its melancholic cousin, Attachment Disorder — may call a truce and go for a drink one day. Perhaps.

The music soars into a stringy rhythm, almost magically stretching the screen wide open. The tension melts away as they approach the beach. It soon turns into a picnic. The sky is gloomy, but they can sense the sun. He gleefully runs around without worrying about being chased; all those ugly fights and terse moods fade away.

He grows up, tempers himself, graduates, turns into a strapping young man and, finally, finds love. At his fairytale wedding, between sips of the finest French chardonnay, the woman dances with her son. She reflects back to the car ride on the bridge that could have gone either way. At long last, all those countless ‘expectation’ and ‘reality’ scenarios in her mind fuse into one giant ordinary frame. Life seems normal; life seems too good to be true.

Because it is. She is snapped out of her thoughts by the boy.

The traffic light turns green, unlike their long-time equation. The music has ended. There is no sun to be sensed, and soon, there will be no son.

Moments later, she is to forcibly deposit him at a special hospital. He is blissfully unaware that he will go to bed that night, straightjacketed, like a juvenile Hannibal Lecter. The glorious vision of what could have been makes the sound of a ticking car indicator, accompanied by the final turn into the parking lot, a mortifying symphony of betrayal.

This sequence, enacted by Anne Dorval (as Diane, or the more contextually appropriate ‘Die’) and Antoine Olivier Pilon (as Steve, the problem child), belongs to French-Canadian filmmaker Xavier Dolan’s exhilarating tragedy, Mommy. But the wishful montage and, specifically, the punch-drunk jolt, a nightmarish pinch interrupting a lucid dream (as distinctly expressed in Nagraj Manjule’s Marathi film, Sairat), belong to several homes across the globe.

In my college years, I’d analyse my father at the table every evening. He was an alcoholic, a man with a “drinking problem” in hush-hush Indian-family parlance. His love for a good session was not destructive; it was, on the contrary, one of profound solitude. But it was elevated into a condition by the responsibilities of adulthood, because he had ploughed through many high-profile jobs.

Some days, I would laugh at his jokes and admire his positivity. The universe around us would feel like more than life’s recorded footage, more than Dolan’s restrictive 1:1 squared aspect ratio. Other days, I would mourn him even though he was right in front of me. He was an imposter; the frame tightened back into a dour Instagram portrait.

Under the influence, he would speak about how he’d buy me a house, just like Steve promises Die that she would never have to work again. I appreciated the sentiment, recognising it as an emotional manifestation of guilt.

In Steve’s case, this would invariably be followed by bouts of expletive-laden energy and Oedipal mood-swings. He made life very difficult, but his blue eyes bore an ocean of unrequited care. “That’s what we’re best at, buddy,” Die would assure him, when, at his most vulnerable, he wondered if they still loved each other.

I breezed through college, studied abroad, returned, found a cushy job, married my childhood sweetheart and dedicated my success to my father; he headed his next company, quit the bottle, earned a fortune, bought that house, and lived there happily ever after with my mother. And then, like Die, I’d wake up. And I’d head to college, anxious about which face of his I’d see that evening.

Unlike Steve, my father eventually agreed to visit a rehabilitation facility on his own terms. He said he would see me in four days, the duration of his therapy. When I hugged him goodbye before his flight, I had to look away. The ticking of Die’s car indicator brought back memories of the airport’s benign announcements. He didn’t know it yet, but I wouldn’t see him for four long months. Betrayal, even for an intangible brand of betterment, is still betrayal — the refuge of reluctant traitors.

At one point, when Steve is being subdued, she pleads with the manhandling guards to be gentle. The camera, not unlike an errant paparazzi cellphone, invades their space and becomes an extension of their jittery ordeal.

It’s the moment a crushed mother at the end of her tether is caught between instant regret and bitter resentment. In her eyes, right then, he is just a little boy throwing a bloody tantrum.

A week into his institutional stint, I couldn’t bear that my slighted father would have to spend a hundred days away, feeling abandoned with no end in sight. Did he, too, need to be controlled? In my eyes, right then, he was just an old man being castigated for enjoying his two drinks.

Eventually, he came back, lashed out, rose from the ashes, worked for two more years, bought things, inspired me, and retired to a quiet life. I grew up during those months, breezed through college, pursued my passions, wrote for a living, found love and will, perhaps, dedicate speeches to my father.

This is no dream. Because this time, I won’t wake up. I can hear the ‘experience’, and it has only reached its crescendo.

The writer is a freelance film critic, writer and habitual solo traveller

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Printable version | May 7, 2021 6:44:49 AM |

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