web counter The Madness of MokcikNab: A Comparative Study of Early 19th Century English Literature vis-a-vis Contemporary Cultural Arts in India.
The Madness of MokcikNab
Motives, movements and melodrama in the life of a thirty something mum.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006
A Comparative Study of Early 19th Century English Literature vis-a-vis Contemporary Cultural Arts in India.

Oh, who am I kidding. You won't find any such treatise in my blog. It was never meant to be clever. Rightly, I should be mulling the ammendment to Article 121A of the Constitution or the un-Islamic Islamic Family Law or the sorry state of government, but then it won't be much fun, would it? I'd have to do research and invoke names like Suffian Hashim and Ahmad Ibrahim and Hickling; and that sounds too much like tutorial to be enjoyable writing. I certainly can tell you, at length, my strong opinion on these issues, but it'd be best over a cup of coffee (or Chinese tea and dim sum, depending on your budget)

What of the deceptive title, then? Now that I'm left to my own devices in order to amuse myself (that sentence may seem like euphemism for "buying a vibrator", but it is not), I have since used the time I would have otherwise spent gazing up my husband's chin, to read. I've been reading, like seven books at one go : Confessions of an Economic Hitman by John Perkins, The Roaring 90's by Stiglitz, a Jane Austen Omnibus (Sense and Sensibility, Emma and Northanger Abbey), Adam's Lemony Snickets about some saw-mill adventure, that famous book about geishas I borrowed from my sister, Elfriede Jelinek's The Piano Teacher and Muhammad by Karen Armstrong. Sadly, it is an abortive attempt at appearing intellectual, for the only books I actually finished were the EHM guilt-trip, Memoirs of a Geisha and the exploits of them Baudelaire orphans; and by far the orphans' story had been the most enjoyable. Of the rest, the only book I'm likely to read in entirety, is the one by Miss Armstrong.

I didn't finish the Omnibus because I have never been a big fan of Jane Austen as literature. But as work on celluloid I probably would have watched everything the British Film Commission could throw at me. So as compensation for not finishing the book, last Sunday, for the first time ever, I went to watch a movie on my own. Nobody else wanted to see Pride and Prejudice; or was too embarrased to admit it to their husbands. I bought a single ticket, and sat in the last row, next to a couple who must have thought it was a funny date movie. They were insanely annoying. The boyfriend kept making comments, like "haaa, tu lah, tadi dia tak nak" or " hahahaha, kelakar aaa", as though they were watching Gila-Gila Pengantin or films of that ilk.

If I weren't too busy being snobbish, I would have realised that wouldn't be too far off the mark. Storylines in the romance genre hasn't really changed that much since Austen or Bronte. In fact, I thought, Pride and Prejudice could have very well been set in present day Bollywood. I felt I was qualified to make that comparison because just the previous morning, in a bid to delay bathtime, I had sat through Barsaat (Bobby Deol, Priyanka Chopra, Bipasha Basu, now on Channel 21) for an entire 3 hours. Not taking a shower until noon must have accounted for something.

Let's see the similarities between a typical Austen protagonist and the circumstances befalling a glamorous Hindi heroine. Both would be temporarily prevented from realising true love because (a) they konon-kononnya hate the man in question, tapi sebenarnya nak (you see me lapsing into the Malay boyfriend mode here) (b) their families are of different rank and the union is dihalang oleh keluarga and (c) various misunderstandings and social situations would prevent them from confessing their desires. Of course everything will be revealed in the end, and the heroine will be swept off by the man, who is inevitably, always rich and good looking, if not a little moody. The whole story would usually be supported by these characters : the doting father, the responsible sister, the helpful but gossipy aunt/neighbour/orang gaji, the aloof martriarch, and of course, the prettier, richer, more urbane girlfriend that the hero would otherwise have to marry. In between there will be lots of sumptous dresses in yards and yards of muslin (or organza as the case may be), plenty of song and dance, sweeping cinematic shots of landscape, getting caught in bad weather and crying at trees.

Now tell me that Austen was not the original Hindustani screenplay. I can definitely imagine Keira Knightley in a saree, doing the Banghra instead of a Quadrille.

Post Script : Thanks, Dusyum for pointing out Bride and Prejudice, the Austen meets Bollywood film by Gurinder Chadha, who incidentally, also directed Bend it Like Beckham, the film in which we first meet Miss Knightley. (Unless you count Star Wars) . One reviewer actually preferred this film over Pride and Prejudice, suggesting that he would have enjoyed it more if Elizabeth Bennet had actually worn a purple saree.


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