Saturday Features

Looking in

  • Is an individual’s reflection of oneself, who the society expects her or him to be or what the person has made of oneself as a response to circumstances?
- Prateebha Tuladhar

Jun 16, 2018-

The man cannot talk. To anyone. Not even his mother. He is a man of schedule. He can only function as he has been taught to. Under the guidance of the social norms of right and wrong. And as we all know, the world only accepts us if we accept its series of guidelines of dos and don’ts. The saner ones follow them. The smart ones bend them to their convenience to make them possible to follow. The not-so-sane break them because they do not know how to follow or to bend. So, the only way to keep living is to break the rules and not make your own.

I met a man recently in a Nepali film I watched, who made me think about these rules. The man is called Hari; a name he shares with his father and forefathers. As the story unravels, we are introduced to this character who lives according to the rules created by his mother—his caretaker, his benefactor. He follows the rules he is expected to follow, beginning the day with daily rituals, leaving for work, visiting temples, doing his job diligently and then going back home again to his mother.

The details begin to twist as time goes by, as it does in most films. It turns out Hari is a man who does not know how to bend rules, so when he gets tired of following them, he breaks them. And as he breaks them, I watch him transform from a man who cannot step outside of the cocoon of protection his mother has created for him, to becoming an entirely new character who defies and defiles.

The first seeds of the change are sown when he meets the important woman. And unlike most women we meet on Nepali film screens, this woman is independent and not a conventional beauty. She drives a tempo. Pulls over to sort things out when there are disturbances on the street, focuses on her job and her family, mostly, the women in her life. Her sub-story is skillfully woven into the weft of Hari’s waiting to catch to glimpse of her and transforming as a character. And although in the scenes that follow, she becomes mostly a background desire who appears in his dreams, she also becomes a muse of sorts to push him to venture into a world, never before known to him.

Every time she crosses into his thoughts or he sees her pass him by on the streets, there’s music in the air. And literally, this is juxtaposed against his humdrum by the strumming of Sarangi, by Hari’s father’s friend, who meanders in and out of his daydreams. And his childhood being the only happy days he has known, his absent father’s absent friend becomes the symbol of that happiness in his imagination. So, every time the chords of his heart strum, there’s sarangi.

Hari is not a beautiful film. Some scenes have a Brechtian feel, as romance is caught up in dirty alleyways with noiseless serenading. Here’s love that’s not consummated but inspires to the charge of that inspiration. Only, it doesn’t happen in the traditional, beautiful way of meeting the woman, professing love and living happily ever after.

This is the story of unrequited love of a man, who goes into a journey of self-discovery, because self-love is always above compassion in a real world. The surreal can be as beautiful and as perfect as we like to create.

But love is not the central theme of the film, just like it isn’t the central theme of life. There’s the strange soothsayer, who becomes what one might call, his corrupter, even though he promises to take care of Hari. The amulet he hands the confused young man, seems to instill confidence. Hari is now protected and doesn’t need to follow strict rules to remain safe from the world.

Once he lets go of his inhibitions, he goes from being a strict vegetarian, to rekindling the demons known to his Late-missing father; the ones that reek of booze and flesh. Now there’s abandon and intoxication at different levels—the physical and the spiritual. There are neon lights, stranger women and men, drinking and messed up hygiene.

Hari is beginning to fall apart. He is no longer the man of schedule, but one who revels in drinking, in ripping apart sinews with his teeth, in riding through the night, swallowing air whole and gobbling down recipes he’s never tasted before. He goes through lengthy scenes that represent hours when the head is fuzzy and every abominable action seems to be just the ones that cannot be avoided.

Hari is no longer his mama’s boy. When he wakes up to a bad hangover, he throws up basket loads of garlic, onion, and chicken with flapping wings—everything forbidden to the Pranami way of life, shattering his mother’s expectations of him. But he’s also beginning to react to the good and the bad around him. He is no longer afraid to say what he thinks. He’s learning to value his receptionist’s contribution at work and upgrades her position. I’m taken by his ability to rise from a nonchalant male boss to someone who respects good work. There’s no confusion there. He recognises what is good in others and begins to celebrate it.

But Hari’s story is not that simple. Paths cross in confusion. Some details are too refined and confuse me. Who is Hari? Why does he share his name with his forefathers? Why do the multiple soothsayers speak in his voice? When he finally disintegrates, how does he resurrect? And I’ve tried to figure my own interpretation of all of this: We are the same as our ancestors, playing on repeat, with slight variations. We try too consciously not to repeat the mistakes they have made, because we hate to be like our parents. But sometimes, we falter. And we are exactly like them in many ways and we repeat their mistakes and find ways to justify them, which only push us farther into that faltering.

What about the repeated appearance of soothsayers in the film? I like to think we are each our own soothsayers, with the knowledge that every action has an equal and opposite reaction. How I act, invokes a response from others that builds up to create a future for me. Life is eventually a collation of that data of responses.

The two hours I spent watching Hari made me feel like Nepali films were finally going somewhere, away from traditional love stories, violence and gore, sexist jokes and the reality as we know it. The characters are not flawless, just like no individual is. Also, films don’t always have to be about female characters alone to defy misogyny. A solid female character, who goes about her own life and career amid a setting of male characters, can bring across that message powerfully. The tempo driving woman did that for me.

There’s gluttony, there’s avarice, there’s lust, and all of the other deadly sins in this film, just like there is outside of a world of cinema screen. And that’s what makes life whole—the acknowledgement of the fact that we’re a make-up of all the sins, which in turn blends into an entirety of good and bad. Sometimes, when you mix it all, it is possible that the good still emerges in a prominent streak over the bad. Like it did for me in this character Hari. He disgusted me and made me experience compassion at the same time. Often, it is how I feel about my own actions. But most of all, he helped me come away, wondering. And sometimes, all you need to get on in life, is to be able to wonder.

Published: 16-06-2018 09:35

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