Wednesday, May 31, 2006

The French channel

Sadly, I have lost the ability to watch or appreciate movies, whatever be the language. I have always found Hindi, Tamil or other Indian films far too melodramatic for my liking. While I have lapped up hundreds of Hollywood films in my younger days, I find it increasingly difficult to follow most accents now and need to invest that extra bit of concentration to lip-read and understand what’s going on.

One day last month, sitting in front of the TV and indulging in my favourite pastime of aimless channel surfing, I stumbled on to this French channel called the TV5 Monde, that was screening a French movie, with English sub-titles. I must say that I found it quite absorbing. I threw away my remote device and stayed glued to the channel till the titles came on. Since then, I have returned to this channel quite often. One of the films was set in the days of the Spanish Inquisition, another was a murder mystery, a third one about a music teacher who wanted his son to become a great pianist, yet another about the French Resistance during World War II – so quite a variety.

When I tried to analyse what aspect of these movies appealed to me most, I could not come up with a ready explanation. They were certainly not the typical ‘art movies’ – a genre of films that is far too intellectual for me and that I steer away from. There was nothing extraordinary about the stories, the actresses were not, necessarily, stunning beauties and the action was certainly not livelier. Slowly, it dawned on me that what I liked about them was the understated style and the subtlety in the techniques and in the acting.

I find most Indian movies too loud, in every sense of the world. The shots and the frames keep changing in a kaleidoscopic manner. Loud music with special sound effects come on at the slightest opportunity. The directors believe that the actors need to display their histrionic skills in the most extreme fashion- cram as much dialogue as possible, sob uncontrollably when sad, laugh hysterically when happy, seethe with indignation when angry ( with close-up shot of blood-red eyes, accompanied by thunder and lighting) – all calculated to manipulate the emotions of the viewer and jar his/her sensibilities. The whole experience is quite draining and you come out of the theatre as if you have traveled long distance in a car where the driver kept steering recklessly while accelerating and jamming the brakes in rapid succession and honking incessantly..

In contrast, these French movies involve minimal camera movement and infrequent zoom-in and zoom-out. The music is never too loud and comes on gently in the background. The actors are restrained in their emoting and don’t find it necessary to gesticulate wildly and thump their chests madly. In fact, the dialogue itself is kept to a minimum. This, aided by the fact that English sub-titles are used, makes sure that dimwits like me don’t remain clueless about what’s happening. An ordinary story manages to come alive and leaves an imprint.

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Cause and effect

After some painstaking research and by closely observing hundreds of married couples for fairly long spells, I have discovered that, after ten years or so into the marriage, the partners start developing an uncanny resemblance to each other . Yes, the pattern is unmistakable. The resemblance is not so much in terms of looks, but more in the mannerisms- as in the raising of the eyebrows, the fluttering of the eyelids, the craning of the neck, the movement of the hands, the frown, the curling of the nose, the laughter, etc. If you take me to a room where there is an assortment of husbands and wives whom I have never met before, I will be able to ‘pair’ them up with a high degree of accuracy.

Doubt. Which was the cause and which was the effect ?. Did the resemblance set in as the partners were in constant company of each other, to a point where they started to sub-consciously mimic the other’s mannerisms ? Or did the partners get together in the first place, attracted by the similarity of behaviour, as in positive assortative mating ?

On a related point, do you know any successful person who doesn’t have a streak of arrogance in him or her? Unlikely. A famous actor or cricketer may sound all pious and humble and may even appear to ooze milk and honey from every pore, but scratch the surface and you will detect the conceit or the haughtiness.

Doubt : Which is the cause and which is the effect ? Does‘success’ happen first and produce the arrogance in that person or does the ‘arrogance already resident in that individual drive him and spur him on towards success ? Is the bloated ego a result of the success or a pre-requisite?

Stay tuned to this channel for more such deep insights and profound thoughts.

Balanced ethnic mix- at any cost

I had heard, of course, about Singapore’s ‘Ethnic Integration Policy’ which seeks to regulate and maintain a balanced ethnic mix of Chinese, Malays and Indians. But, while on a recent visit there, a friend of mine explained to me that the proportion of 75% Chinese, 15% Malay and 10% Indian was enforced strictly at the macro-level as well as in public housing estates across the country. So, if you are an Indian and want to sell your flat, you need to find another Indian to buy the flat so as to comply with the regulations and to not disturb the ethnic mix in the neighbourhood. The policy is applied uniformly and consistently across all ethnic groups.

As my flight took off from Singapore, I flipped through one of the local newspapers and, as is my morbid habit, turned to the obituary notices. There were about 20 insertions in all and I counted 15 Chinese names, 3 Malay names and 2 Tamil names.

Can this be true ? How Orwellian ! These guys are ruthless and efficient. They will go to any extent to maintain their ethnic mix!