This is the fourth edition of Reel and Real, sent fortnightly on Saturday. That is about all things cinema, society that watches it, industry that creates it, and media that writes about it.
We usually send this letter in the morning hours, but last time we had to miss out on it for which our apologies, before that we sent it during evening hours, and this time we thought to make it your late night read.
Well, well, well. Life has this unforeseen way of sending you new stuff to chew on.
This is that time of the year when all the articles screaming “Look back to 2020” come out. We’re now in the second half of December, and our collective state of mind has already begun looking towards 2021 for hope. For all of us, 2020 has been a year we’d much rather erase from our memories. But this is also the best time to look a bit in the rearview mirror.
We began this year with a lot of promise, and like every other year, only some of us kept to our resolutions. But this time we weren’t alone. We were stuck with a new companion (or overlord), Corona (a.k.a. COVID-19), whose antecedents aren’t clear to this day. Corona came from somewhere, killed a substantial part of the population, brought governments and economies to their knees, and made the rest of us fear for our lives. Overnight, our lives turned topsy-turvy.
We came under a lockdown and spent all our time at home. Most of us grew restless, and couldn’t wait to join the world outside. Some of us started new hobbies, and consequently, new social media trends. I mean, if you hadn’t posted a photo of homemade dalgona coffee, were you even doing it right?
As it became more and more clear that getting back to the office was not going to be easy, companies and government departments decided to accept the inevitable, and work towards accepting “work-from-home” as the new normal. I use the phrase “work towards”, because going to the office is still seen as a necessary evil by most employers. As more and more meetings began to be conducted over video calls, “Zoom fatigue” joined a growing list of COVID-induced anxieties.
Some of us are now waiting for the first stroke of good news from our renowned laboratories. Corona has not gone—it is still here, and pouncing on unsuspecting prey. Wearing masks, which was the norm even a few months earlier, has suddenly become a hobby. It’s almost as if people have given up, and decided to throw caution to the winds.
This is a time of grave confusion. Governments and nations are now conflicted everywhere. Worldwide, there seems to be a split—between people who accept COVID as a credible threat to their lives, and people who think it’s just like any other illness. And unlike other battles which we have the luxury of observing from a distance, this one rages closer home. Every time I step out of the house, I get terrified on seeing so many people without a mask or even refrain from using hand sanitizer. The virus has become the new flashpoint in global politics, with even its forthcoming vaccines becoming a tool for all sorts of political manoeuvring.
Under such circumstances, I keep getting weirdly reminded of a movie I watched last year, Thiagarajan Kumararaja’s Tamil film Super Deluxe. If I go back to the start of this conversation, we began 2020 with some sort of belief in the power of logic in the midst of all the chaos in the world. However, as the sprawling, hyperlinked story of Super Deluxe shows, there is chaos all around us, and it is futile to expect to find logic in every situation. Some situations cannot be explained rationally.
No one, for instance, knows where Corona came from. No one had suspected in their right minds a year ago that they’d spend a better part of 2020 behind closed doors. None of us had ever thought that the fear of manifesting a deadly virus would finally make us do what FMCG companies had been advising us for years—wash our hands. But we did it, and if you’re reading this right now, we lived to tell the tale.
Coming back to Super Deluxe, it is the perfect film which showcases the “butterfly effect” in spectacular fashion. A chance incident in one context can have far-reaching implications in another context. The setups are weird, and yet they are all interlinked in the grand scheme of things. It’s also a perfect metaphor for life, as traditional notions of gender, love, chastity and morality are turned upside down. It’s actually a template for everything that has gone down these past few months.
We have seen a virus shut down the world, people dying of improper hygiene, once-thriving businesses shutting down overnight, people lose their lives while going back home on foot because of the lockdown, and people clamour for survival. We have seen how privilege often breeds insensitivity, as delivery executives ferried everything from food to medicines to everything else, and we kept ordering from e-commerce sites.
For some of us, however, it took a virus and a lockdown to make us look back at our lives, examine our privilege and our own position in the grand scheme of things. If anything, it has taught us that we don’t, and can’t afford to, live in a bubble anymore. The threat from the virus is real, but the threat it poses to our pre-existing understanding of the ways of the world is much greater than we think it is. Our world, as we know it, is dying; yet it is also regenerating in newer ways.
My most favourite moment in Super Deluxe comes when little Raasukutty tells his father, who has become a woman, that he loves her irrespective of her gender. I think this simple scene holds a message for us all. Kindness begets kindness, and empathy begets empathy. Both are qualities we can do with more of, in 2021, along with the realisation that the world is changing, and we need to change too.
Que sera sera.
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When he’s not busy watching old cricket matches and reaction videos on Youtube, or marvelling at how bad screenplays in Hindi cinema can get, this guy teaches English literature at a university in West Bengal, besides taking an interest in Indian cinema, popular culture and global media industries. Rony also reviews movies and shows for LetsOTT. He can be reached at email@example.com, on Twitter at @ronypatra, and on Instagram at @rony.writer.