Never On Sunday (1960) – Prologue

Might Hurt the ‘Trumpish’ feelings.
Advice for the strong nationalists who had by error landed up here, not to read any further. In fact I would advise to skip the second part too.

I would sort through the pile of rocks (that is movies), with a fond of of finding something precious among them, and rocks were they! They had been some openly racist/ sexist/ and all other -ists, sometime all in one single movie.

Normally due to these combine-ists, I rarely watch western/ cowboy movies and even more so if they are those of specific actors, like John Wayne. More and more I come across them, my conviction about their notoriety only grows, the latest one to make my conviction rock-harder is Without Reservations, Wayne with Colbert.

Some of the movies could have been quite good, but were spoilt by the political propaganda (WW-2). This is the second category of the movies that I rarely watch, unless there is something special (which would be very rare). The propaganda would sooner or later creep in and would stay for quite long, probably till the very end. To be honest, probably they did need it (and in fact still do), to cover up for their own activities, offence being the best defence. Aren’t we all doing it some way or other? Paint the opposite camp all black and inept to the point of being comical, where as we are pure silvery white and of course efficient and intelligent. What I fail to understand however is that with so much intelligence at our disposal (and stupidity at their), how did they even manage to put up a fight?

The unfortunate part is that these are the movies which rank very high in either viewer rankings (e.g. IMDb) or even the Academy Awards. So, if I go by those lists I would (and do) quite often get trapped into the quagmire. That happens quite often, despite my checking the synopsis with a microscope and ensuring that it isn’t a Western or War movie. But then these poor fellows (the production houses) do have to cash in on the public sentiment and simultaneously change that sentiment that suits them. For example, the western movies about the famous (or infamous) Boxer Uprising, or Indian Freedom Struggles or Vietnam had been completely distorted and made to suit the ‘national’ sentiment painting the others as barbaric, wild and murderous vermin (this epithet isn’t mine, it has been used). Of course the fact that the uprisings had been against foreigners imposing their ideology on the natives had to be glossed over as would be the fact what the civilised armies did when they ‘took care’ of the uprising, not only with the armed ‘rebels’ but also the civilians, frankly that wasn’t much different from what the notorious IS is doing with Kurds, or Boko Haram is doing in Nigeria. The mindset is the same, these barbarians, who haven’t seen the ‘divine’ light are not humans, and hence need not be treated as one. Of course the females too are not human, but still they are of the gender. Probably if one does check through the history properly (and undistorted), those crying fouls would find that they had been doing exactly the same things even very recently. Only thing is that they had the power and only too willing media (TRP rating or threat of punitive action), to suppress the facts. 

While sorting through these rocks, sometimes I do land up among a few gems. To be a gem, it obviously have to be endearing and beautiful. For a movie, I would equate it to one which is watchable and able to hold the interest till end. Of course, the story need not be something very off beat. After all, how many of totally different story can you create? In the skeleton, almost all fall into only a handful categories, Cinderella, Pygmalion, Class-conflict (social/ racial/national…), Run-away (incognito) princess/ girl (some time heir/ prince too – like in My Man Godfrey) and a few others. Anyway, most of the romantic comedies will be love-hate-compromise and romantic tragedies would he hate-love-compromised. That is irrespective of whether normal or musical (e.g. action, mobster, thriller etc or even Science Fiction like Star Wars).

I frankly don’t bother about the repetitive themes, but rather enjoy (or hate) how these themes are handled. As I said, if it remains watchable and able to hold the interest, I would classify it as a gem. Slipper and The Rose (1976), the pure unadulterated Cinderalla Story is, as per me, one of the gems of this genre.

To be entertaining and attention-holding, the plot need not be without pot-holes. naturally one would find a lot many of them in a movie, if one cares to search for them. However, these pot-holes shouldn’t be so large that they become disruptive. While watching the movie, one shouldn’t start questioning the happenings, which automatically would take the mind away from what is happening on the screen. The glitter would disappear and it would turn back into the rock.

For example, in the recent one (Without Reservation), why the heroine, of that stature and fame, had to go by train from NY to Hollywood and that too on the invitation of the boss of the top production house, who wanted to present her in an press conference? Commercial flights were already there. She was already in TV (that had been shown in the beginning) and had a huge fan club, but they couldn’t recognise her, while moving incognito. Funnily someone, himself famous, Jack Benny did and took her autograph in the railway station, but not the others, and there were many of them, professing their adoration, reading her book and so on.

There are other such hundreds of pot-holes in the movie, how the report of her arrest blared in the national air when she was mistaken to be a con-woman masquerading as she and cheating people. Will it be a national news? I wonder. It would have been when the identities were found but that wasn’t yet then, since hearing this news the big-shot producer, who realised, rushed in his private jet to rescue her (by the way what were they doing in Mexico?). At least Love Is News (1937) was better, since when the heiress was arrested (the hero in fact ensured that she was), he, being a reporter reported the scoop, which resulted in the flood of newsmen (and splurge of the news). That too had its potholes, the time taken from the action to the news in the printed media was a bit too short. Almost as you walk out of the home, the news is outside the gate in the hand of the news boy. But somehow that didn’t really felt discordant, may be it was because Tyrone Power didn’t have the superciliousness of Wayne. 

To some how concoct a story, when they make a mess of the things, it goes down the drain. Sometimes, of course despite these potholes the actors can make the movie survive. For example, “Without Love” is watchable due to Kat-Hep and Spen-Trac, despite very big pot holes. Some great scientist (of Feynman calibre) who was doing a top secret defence project (which he wasn’t supposed to even talk about) would do it in some stranger’s home? That stranger was a drunkard, whom who had met in his carousel state just the previous night? The military had moved all the high-tech instruments in that house’s cellar, but no guards to attend to KGB or Nazis. However I could gloss over that, probably because at their calibre, Kat and Spen are quite often able to smoothen even big creases.

Once these gems are identified, of course they have to be classified in to semi-precious, precious and exceptional. If with the first quality (enjoyable and attention riveting) these have negligible flaws in the story, these become precious ones, the one you would love to watch repeatedly. Of course, here too the actors help, since they could make creases up to a large extent completely disappear. Most of the good actors and actresses could do it.

The Hepburns (both), Bette Davis, Bergman could almost invariably do it, Loretta, Lombard etc up to quite some extent. Naturally I won’t bother to list the male actors, since they are my competitors in romancing the previous group. But grudgingly I would admit that Tracy, Powel, Grant, Gable etc too helped. Probably most of these gems are with one or more of them My Man Godfrey, Roman Holiday, Autumn Sonata, Two For The Road,…

Talking about the two Hepburns, funnily one of them could hardly called even be pretty. Probably in the list of AFI 25, she is the least pretty of all and she is numero uno. Most beautiful (per me, opinions might differ) are the #3 and #4, (Audrey and Ingrid) and may be Vivien too, and followed (not in sequence) by #2 (Bette), Grace, Liz. That she could overcome the nature is great. Another interesting thing is that unlike Garbo, Ingrid and other foreigners, Audrey’s couldn’t pick the right pronunciation. Her pronunciation (with stress at wrong syllables) had been naturally due to her soft first language. But even that somehow seemed lovely (probably considering whose mouth it came out of ?). On a serious note, I love it, when spoken with more than a hint of the French/ Italian origin of the speaker. Somehow that special lilt sounds very endearing to me. In Sabrina, where she is British, settled in US, and has gone only for a couple of years study to France. In fact even before going to france, she is not in US English. Funny Face is even worse (she is a pure US national). Whereas Ingrid, in “Adam Had Four Sons” is French Governess, who had just landed in US, but her pronunciation is near perfect.

To be a real prized jewel, it must have something more. With known or unknown (though exceptional) actors, it should have some secret ingredient. Like the works of Picasso, it should force me to think and make me interpret it in my way (or may be if I don’t want, borrow from other’s interpretation). It can’t be definite and unique, and should have diverse possibilities. In that case you really don’t lose the interest, since every time you watch, it is an entirely new movie.

Obviously, there are not many movies of this category. Most of these avant-garde movies, that provoke me to think, unfortunately miss the first two aspect, especially the enjoyable coefficient. We normally come out at the end of these noir movies with darkest cloud hovering in our mind. There are not many, who would really love Picasso or Dali. How many discuss them for the “Showing Off” purpose? In addition, probably the amount of thoughts and the dark moods reflected in many of their works would cover us in blue. There are many movies of these categories, Govind Nihalani, Benegal, Mrinal Sen etc were the leaders in India in these avant garde  genre (Ardha Satya, Mrigaya, Ankur,…)

Beauty isn’t rare, there are so many beautiful things around us. Beautiful people (of other gender, or same gender, depending upon the inclinations) too aren’t rare. Despite the beauty being in the eyes of beholder, still there could be so many eyes to look at them with, and we have large hearts to accommodate many of them at a time. We find so many of them, not only attractive but even worth chasing.

But once the honeymoon period is over, how many of them can keep us charmed, the way Chantal (Sandra) was tutored by her mother in If A Man Answers,Every night, for years, throughout the life”? This isn’t gender specific, and goes both ways, this same dialogue was repeated by Chantal to taunt her suitor Eugene (Darin). If a woman has to make efforts to keep a man tied to her, so has a man, to remain beloved to his beloved.

To be that the beauty must cross the skin thresh-hold. Of course, the skin is necessary, since that is the one which make one cast the net in the first place. But then that night after night (and day after day too) comes in. For that now I would go to Gigi. (Once in a while you come across dialogues which are apt for your line, and you got to plagiarise). I won’t of course won’t repeat verbatim, only the gist, where Honoré (Maurice Chevalier) tells Gaston (Louis Jourdan) that the Sophisticated women are highly predictable, and hence soon gets boring (in Gaston’s phrase).

Probably to idolise their women, the men started spreading the canard of the fickleness and unpredictability of women. But the sword must cut on both sides, the mechanical and predictable life shouldn’t be decried for only one gender, it should cover both. But that should be with a warning, the unpredictability should be charming, otherwise it would become a heartsore. This aspect usually is forgotten.

If the vibe is right, and isn’t limited to the skin, one is sure to find new unexplored regions and get charmed once again by it. This isn’t limited to living things but anything that one finds beautiful. Unless it is there why would one come back willingly and repeatedly to the same object? When I see a masterpiece, whether painting, sculpture or literature, I stop at the first glance and don’t stop at the first visit. The first glance is the “Love at first Sight” and unless you fall in love then probably you are never going to, and are not going to make another attempt, to meet it again. If that ‘it’ is a living thing, of course, second or subsequent meeting is possible (machined by ‘It’), but not, if ‘it’ is an object, say A Poem, A Novel, A Sculpture or a Painting. Still of course sometime possibilities are there, swayed by the opinions of others, but I will leave that aside.

To be attractive in the first glance doesn’t necessarily mean that it should be attractive in a normal sense of word, one would make revisits to Venus De Milo as to Le Penseur or even Carpeaux’s Ugolino and Sons. The attraction, positive, negative or neutral comes in the first sight, and then when you visit again, at every subsequent meeting, you find something new and interesting that you had till then never realised existed in it.

I recall my first meeting with Mona Lisa. I think it was Life magazine (I am not sure of that), that used to send every once in a while, small post card size as well as large prints of famous paintings (May be A1 or A2 size) to its subscribers. These could be put in a frame and hung on the wall, and my father did that for a few of them, one of them being Mona Lisa.

The first thing that attracted us (we were told of it), was that wherever you go, she would be watching you. That sounded strange (at that age it would) and we used to move around to check, go to extreme corners, hide or even try to catch her unaware by surprise entries. Now of course we know the trick, and can only laugh at our attempts.

It remained there on the wall, while we grew up to realise that in fact it was quite an attractive person who was smiling at me. Even later, when I closely looked at her smile, I found that a bit confusing (all others have that too, though independently, and so I am one of the majority). Was it a welcoming pleasant smile, as one would to someone known and expected? Sometimes she seemed to be sad and poignant, trying to hide it through the smile, only partially succeeding. At some other times (that is after I read it), the smile did seem to be a bit embarrassed and diffident.

By now I have crossed not only the skin and flesh, but have started going in her soul and trying to really understand the incomprehensible and hence unpredictable, but still she is as charming (or may be more) than earlier. Every time I see the smile, it seems to be hiding some other type of her inner feeling than I thought earlier. I then feel that now finally I have almost understood her, that is till I meet her the next time. When I do that, to polish up and remove the ‘most’ from ‘almost’, I find that I was all wrong and am back in some other ‘almost’.

Mona Lisa is great, since it is a beautiful piece, which one can appreciate by itself, even without thinking too deeply over it. And if one is ready to think, it brings out infinite channels through which the thoughts could flow, some of them beautiful, some are not, but that depends on me and my mood at that particular time.

In painting and art, you find quite a few of them, as you do in sculpture. Great pieces of literature too are not exactly devoid of it. I will leave aside the great piece of complex literature like Geeta, which is infinitely re-interpretable. Even I read much simpler and contemporary, Tagore’s poems, I find a new possible interpretation, even in most non-abstract love songs (some re-interpretations I have brought out elsewhere), but if I read those again and mull over, I am sure I will find another meaning, as I have in fact, in quite a few of them.

Movies are a completely different ball game altogether. Unlike, painting, sculpture or written media, these are not frozen in time. The amount of confusion they can create hence are very limited. Actors involved, with their body language and spoken words would limit these drastically. Probably they would only bring out a single interpretation, the one that of the director and the actors.

Most of the second or multiple views have nothing to do with intelligence of the viewer, since one would rarely watch it second time, to understand it. These are for something more material than that. May be it is the actor I am fan of, adrenaline (or testosterone) pumps, Oxytocin (Bliss) pumps (Music) or anything other, including political/ racial/ national propaganda which I sympathise with.

Like Mona Lisa, these movies, which one gets a chance to reinterpret are rare. In fact, as I argued above, due to the audio and temporally dynamic visual media, will be much rarer than it. My list has only a handful of them, which in my scale gets the Bo Derek marks. After Nadia Comaneci broke the jinx and forced the judges, they had become very liberal in awarding those marks, but unfortunately, I am not. This is one of the movies that gets it, the other, that comes to my mind (at the moment) is Ritwik Ghatak’s Ajantrik

Simple story, you can enjoy by itself without going into depths. But if you do, you will inescapably fall in love.