Tuesday, August 12, 2014

For Robin

Anyone who knows me knows just how much I love the movies. I speak in movie quotes and I basically live my life like a character from a Judd Apatow film. Which is why, when a member of the film community passes away, it feels little better than losing a close friend.

When Philip Seymour Hoffman passed, I thought I’d never feel that bad about a celebrity death ever again. The man was a legend, an inspiration to many and one of the greatest actors to have ever graced the screen. It was like losing a part of myself.

Then I heard about Robin Williams.

When I was a little kid (I would’ve been five or six at best), Star Movies used to show Children’s movies every Saturday morning. It was the only day of the week I’d get out of my all by myself with little effort from my parents. I’d brush my teeth, bathe, eat breakfast and finish off anything that had to be finished off that day well before 9 AM, which is when the show began.

On one such Saturday morning, Star Movies was supposed to air a movie I’d been looking forward to watching (I can’t even remember the movie now), but a last minute glitch led to them airing a movie that changed my life forever – Mrs. Doubtfire.

This was my introduction to the genius that was Mr. Williams. The man was so effortlessly funny. Even the six-year-old me, who was just then beginning to watch films outside of Bollywood, could see that this man was unlike any other actor I’d ever seen. Mrs. Doubtfire made me laugh more than anything had ever made me laugh in my entire life.

I was hooked.

From then on, I made it my adolescent life’s mission to watch every Robin Williams movie I could get my hands on. I borrowed VCDs from my friends, scanned the giant, decorated walls of Palika Bazaar and waited in front of the TV hours before a movie of his was to be aired. I watched Jumanji, Flubber, Popeye, Patch Adams, Jack, Good Morning Vietnam. Heck, I even re-watched Alladin when I found out he was the voice of Genie.

When I was about fifteen, my father recommended I watch Dead Poets Society. Robin Williams had been a man who (and this was rare) everyone in my family found equally funny and I was hardly surprised when my father suggested a movie of his. What was surprising, though, was a little tip that went along with the recommendation.

“The ending is not going to be easy to watch, so prepare yourself for it. It isn’t happy”.

You have to understand that fifteen year olds are obnoxious little shits who believe that the sun shines out of their hormone-fuelled bums. Instead of trying to explore a side of Robin Williams I’d never seen before, I thought “Why on earth would I want to watch a sad Robin Williams film?” and discarded the idea completely.

The first time I saw the film was at the age of 19, and it did for me what Mrs. Doubtfire had all those years ago. Robin Williams was a man who could make you laugh till your sides hurt, but his portrayal of John Keating could move grown men to loud, shameless tears. It was time for round two of my Robin Williams marathon.

I saw The Birdcage, I saw Good Will Hunting and, much to my disappointment, I consented to watch Night At the Museum mostly because he was in it. This was a man who couldn’t fail. Even in his last years, he stuck to the game with his sitcom “The Crazy Ones”. What a horribly unfunny show that was, and how hilariously convincing was Robin Williams in it.

I know now that he spent most of his life battling alcoholism and depression. It should make me sad, maybe dent my image of him as a perfect, golden god, but it doesn’t. It makes him a bigger hero than I could’ve ever imagined. Mr. Wiliams took all that pain and suffering and turned it into something beautiful. He turned it into laughter and joy that was so terribly infectious that it spread to every corner of the world.

I am writing this now because I know that even though Robin Williams is no longer with us, he will never truly be gone. I know it sounds like a cliché, but it’s so much more than that.

Robin Williams taught me that nothing was off-limits and everything could be made fun of in Good Morning Vietnam. He taught me that sometimes, laughter is the best medicine in Patch Adams. He taught me that all that was really important was a good vocabulary, a love for art and a desire to seize the day in Dead Poets Society. He taught me that you could always go the extra mile for the ones you love and that there was nothing shameful in a man dressing in women’s clothing if he so chose in Mrs. Doubtfire. He taught me that an alternative sexuality didn’t mean you were a freak or any different from a mainstream sexuality in The Birdcage. He taught me that no matter how tough things got, you could get by with a little help from your friends in Jack.

I live my life by a lot that Mr. Williams taught me. I try to see the glass as half full, I try to make people laugh as much as I can and I try to turn the times that aren’t as good into art that is. In that and so much more, Robin Williams will never truly be gone from my life.

Here’s to you, O Captain, my Captain. 

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

I get by with a little help from the friend-zone

The thing about hope, and it’s a sad thing indeed, is that it comes with its share of disappointment. In the case of a conversation I participated in recently, though, the disappointment was almost immediate.

A couple of weeks ago, drunk on more than a few beers and the joy of the upcoming weekend, I got roped into a heart-to-heart with an acquaintance I’d barely spoken to previously. What started as a conversation about movies and music and the soul-crushing hurdles of the corporate life quickly spiraled into a discussion about the “friend-zone”.

You know the friend-zone, right? It’s the idea that (for the most of it) women, considered almost universally as the more irrational half of the species, find themselves constantly chasing men who, for lack of a better phrase, treat them like trash and; as a corollary, reject the men who've spent themselves treating them as they should be treated.

“I’m a decent guy” said the acquaintance, “I don’t have archaic, Khap Panchayat-esque views about how women should behave. I don't think they're responsible for the sexual crimes against them and I’m all for letting women live their lives the way they want. Why, then, do women not see this? Why can’t nice guys finish first?”

Hope and, sequentially, disappointment.

Hope that, at the very least, there is a marked change in what constitutes the right approach to treating women (I apologize for using the words “treating women” repeatedly. I don't mean to put down womankind as a separate group to be dealt with through a blanket attitude. It feels wrong just to type that. It fits in this context, however, so bear with me.)

His statements are mirrors to the changing perception of women’s rights among, at least, the urban educated male population in the country. They are clear signifiers that sensitivity, rationality and a preference for equality are gradually, albeit slowly, becoming traits to be desired. The fact that there is a rising awareness among men that kindness and respect, rather than force and claim, are the way of the future implies that the potential for equality exists, that the possibility of a society completely founded on romance through consent, though dim, is visible on the distant horizon.

On the flipside, and I quote, “Women aren’t machines you put niceness coins into till sex comes out.”

The hope came with the immediate realization that believing in the equality of the sexes was an achievement for the person sitting across the table. In his mind, the ability to even consider allowing women to live life on their own terms made him a catch. The way he saw it, he was one of the nice ones, the ones that were exceptionally rare in a patriarchal world.

The disappointment lay in the fact that equal rights and mutual respect between the sexes wasn’t the natural order of the world for him. In his head, going out of his way to place his faith in the wild and radical ideas of feminism entitled him to a spot higher than men around the world. Secondly, the disappointment lay in the fact that he believed that by virtue of believing in these radical notions made him eligible for a members only buffet (excuse the language, but I’m trying to make a point) of the women of his choice.

What worries me, however, is that he may have been right about the first one, and that he will continue to believe he is right about the second.

I don’t have an ending to this post. Yet. Maybe someday I will find answers to all the questions flooding my mind about this and I’ll make sure I keep you in the know.  Until then, if there is anyone out there who has anything to say about this, please do leave your thoughts out here for the other readers and for me.