Friday, September 01, 2006


A young filmmaker recently asked me about adapting the Marquis de Sade to Indian cinema. This is what I wrote him.

Dear R.S.,

About the Marquis, I believe there is a film about him- Hollywood ishtyle, of course- with Geoffrey Rush: pitting him on head-on collision with the Holy Roman Catholic Church has the effect of accentuating his 'work'; in the end, he succeeds in posthumously transforming his would-be reformer into an acolyte of sorts. Personally, I didn't care much for the film, especially the necrophilia: how Hollywood loves to shock!

The cliché that 'there is a very fine line between pleasure and pain', in my opinion, best sums up de Sade's peculiar premise. Freud of course situates the 'de Sade meme' in his almost universal archaeology of stages of infantile development. I don't buy that either. A better explanation comes from the most famous occupant of Reading Gaol: 'variety is the spice of life,' he said, and went on to create the complex character of Dorian Gray. Here is a man at war with himself: every grain of right and wrong, every principle, every sense of aesthetic, every norm that has been 'constructed' into him. That's how I would personally like to see the Marquis, anyway: a child of dissent; the Robespierre of Sexual Politics.

We live in a post-modern age, but still tend to define ourselves using the 'modern' vocabulary, based on a very specific notion of Reason. Film, more than any other medium, has the potential of inventing- creating- a new language: Citizen Kane made a beginning; Fellini, with his 8 1/2, went even further. Remember the 'dream sequence' when the mother suddenly- shockingly- kisses Guido, only to be visually transformed into the wife in the next frame. Even Freud- the presiding deity of the Oedipal Complex- couldn't have communicated it better. Given your taste in cinema, I'm surprised to see- or rather not see- Warhol and Morrisey. Pasolini, the high-priest of 'neo-realism' (personally I've never been able to understand what that means), reached his creative-orgasm with 'Theorem'; after that its all been downhill: it is one thing to be eccentric, but to force those absurdities down an often-forgiving audience is simply not done: the same of course goes for Fellini and the rest of the post-war Italian noveau-wave. Should we watch a film just because it's 'Pasolini/Fellini/Godard'?

The greatest contribution of these filmmakers, as also those of the French avant-garde, is to restore the film to the auteur. Each misé-èn-scene is contrived to penetrate the human mind, like an arrow: most of the time, they do not since most of us have become 'immunized' against anomalies. But does that mean we- or rather, you- stop trying? No.

Non! I rather fancied an Indian de Sade. There are many, you know, but all neatly tucked away somewhere in the closet. Numerous references to 'apadh' (in extremis) in our venerable sastras vouch for their discreet existences. A former chief minister of Orissa had a thing for pre-pubescent boys, who kept disappearing mysteriously; after a while, their bodies were found, brutally mutilated: it was said at the time that they were 'sacrifices' to the goddess Kali. Of course, we may never really know. The last RSS sarsanghachalak once remarked when asked about Narendra Modi's marital status (separated, if you must know) that 'in India, everything is allowed; yet nothing is permitted.' Nobody has defined our ethos more succinctly. Or for that matter, more precisely.

The post-modern cinematic-auteur must endeavour to penetrate- expose, dismantle- this Ethos of Duplicities. What we will get, in the end, will be The Dance of the Seven Veils. Of course, with one difference: we as Salomes dancing- à la Madhubala in Mughal-é-Azam miming Naushad's Pyaar kiya to darnaa kya- in an endless Hall of Mirrors.


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Amit Aishwarya Jogi
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