I love you, Katherine Hepburn

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Day one of Kate/Duplikate: Summertime

To watch Katherine Hepburn in Summertime (1955)  is to have a dream-undream realised.  There is the simple pleasure of watching her arrive in Venice – alone (unless you count her camera-companion), in love with the idea of being on her own, and worrying that she won’t like the city.

Sitting next to a man on the train, she asks him, even if her attention at this point is really on the city unfurling outside the window –‘Do you think I will like Venice?’

She follows the porter carrying her luggage out of the railway station with the briskness of a free woman chasing her dreams, with the stubbornness of Rani in Queen who wouldn’t let go of her bag.

She is not going to let anybody ruin this for her, not even herself. Even so, despite the joy she brings to her face, and ours – when she swallows the city with her eyes, she is also sincerely vulnerable in the way we are when we find ourselves companion-less in strange cities. No matter how much we have longed to be there, how much we have fought to finally be on our own, sometimes the silence of empty chairs next to us is too loud.

When I was 25, I took myself to Goa – alone. It was better than I thought it’d be. I was happy: I ate, I drank, I read and wrote, I watched Magadheera in Hindi on Sony Max. Everything was great – except on the last day at lunch, when the only other occupied table next to mine, paid their bill and left – I felt so abandoned that I began to cry.

I couldn’t understand it. They were total strangers and I was perfectly alright the next moment and before it but I still blame them for leaving me alone when I was still only half- done with my prawns.

I should have known then that Katherine Hepburn had a solution. Hepburn’s Jane Hudson deals with the silence of an empty chair as if it were not an empty chair – but an ‘extra’ chair. She puts it to sleep by making it lean on the table uselessly. This may have been done out of desperation to not feel alone, yes. Still, what we see is a woman fiercely straddling between alone-ness and companionship – not knowing how to ask for either.

One particularly lonely afternoon, she finds the courage to ask a young married couple if she could join them for drinks – the man declines. She’s heartbroken but takes herself out to lunch where she sees this couple strolling with another couple. At this point, she puts the ‘extra’ chair next to her asleep.

When the man who has been waiting to woo her shows up, she is happy but he sees the sleeping chair, thinks maybe she wants to be left alone, and excuses himself. Hepburn’s hand reaches out to stop him but it’s too late. She can’t reach him and neither can her hand. When she breaks down, we are humiliated on her behalf. But we don’t know if she is.

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Two is good number, she says somewhere else in the film. But when she becomes two, she just wants to be one again.

Why? Because despite it all, and despite herself – she is the first to say ‘I love you’ to him, after resisting-letting go-resisting his kisses. She doesn’t know what she wants, which is perhaps the one thing that independent women are wholeheartedly compassionate about. We root for her when she’s in love, we root for her when she doesn’t want to be in love and we root/hoot for her when love pushes her into a canal.

It is charming to watch Hepburn resist love. She does it unwillingly and we watch it willingly. She tells the man a story from her past – the only story he and we know so far. And it takes us a while to realise that we actually know nothing about her – except that she’s from Ohio and that she’s a ‘fancy secretary’.

The only other story we are allowed is that she always wanted to wear gardenias. Later in the film, she gets a gardenia if only for a while before it falls into the canal, and when he rushes down to catch it – it is obviously out of reach, just like he was a few scenes ago. I was left wondering and then knowing that had she gone after the gardenia instead of he – she would have got it.

But that perhaps is the beauty of finding and not keeping the romance that one stumbles upon in strange cities. This idea of them being just as out-of-reach as you are. Jane Hudson never gets to keep the gardenias that men buy for her. Either they are too late or she loses them and they become unreachable. The only things that remain hers are the things that she buys – shoes, a dress, a glass, a somewhat sisterly affection for a small boy (not bought but given)

In the middle of a passionate kiss with the man, I worry that she will drop her shoe (which she is holding in her hand) The shoe is frighteningly close to the balcony and just when the kiss climaxes, it falls gently inside the balcony. I needn’t have worried. It was a shoe – not gardenia. She bought it with love while in love. It is hers to keep.

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She loves looking at birds that fly over the buildings in the city. She likes to see the bells ringing, she won’t just be having the sounds, no thank you. She will see them. She will carry cigarettes but won’t smoke them, she will down a glass of bourbon mixed with something else. She will cry when she wants to. She will ask for company when she wants to.

There is something spectacularly ordinary about Hudson when she tells the man why she’s leaving.

All my life I’ve stayed at parties too long because I don’t know when to go. Now with you, I’ve grown up, I think I know when to.

I know that in the years to come, I will come back to this moment again and again because it’s the most extraordinary lesson you can learn on your own. No one can teach you and we get to witness this as she learns to recognize it.

Twelve years later, Joan Didion will say something similar about New York in this essay. 

***

I was grateful that he comes to say bye to her (despite her request) — when she’s leaving – leaving forever – on the train. I was grateful if only because she was expecting him. I was even more grateful when their hands never meet.

And again, the final gardenia that he brings for her –  she cannot touch, because it is still, after all this time out of reach. But that’s alright – I write this bearing in mind that all the things she bought in Venice are neatly packed in her many blue suitcases.

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BQFF Diaries: Days Two & Three – 10/3/18 & 11/3/18

4:20 PM:

Missed Portrait of Jason. The auditorium is full of heads bobbing, nodding, and laughing so I hang out at the stairs for a bit. At 5:45 there’s some room, so I squeeze in next to two women who smile as they make place for me. My toe pokes the big man’s bum in front of me but he either doesn’t care or doesn’t mind but I hug my toe and protect his bum from it for the rest of the evening.

Ladies & Gentlewomen by Malini Jeevarathnam begins, and I am not prepared for the heart fail I’m going to have in the next hour. When Joshua Muyiwa introduces it, he says the director intended the documentary to be watched by Indian parents.

The first couple of scenes show a woman with a mic asking random strangers in Chennai if they know what a lesbian is. ‘Ayaaayoo venda pa, no comments’, says a woman who giggles and walks away. ‘Yenna ma, dustbin ah?’ says an uncle on his scooter. The audience erupts in a little volcanoes of laugh. Next to me the woman says what’s wrong with these people why are they laughing?

As the documentary takes us through activists, lesbian couples, and bisexual men – there’s a parallel story of a mythological couple – an upper caste woman and a lower caste woman both in love with each other. They are found out, separated, and ostracised. When they can no longer bear it, they run away and meet each other. They spend some time together before setting themselves on fire and jumping into the well.

I am saddened by their suicide but I cannot stop thinking about how these women held each other – eyes full of love, hands full of trust.

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Image Credits: silverscreen.in

Lesbian relationships are just meant to be. That’s all. It’s the only way that women’s bodies can learn to trust again. But that’s not all. It’s fulfilling in a way that nothing is. Maybe this is my fascination with Ferrante. There’s so much secrecy and violence but there’s also so much love between Lenu-Lila.

I long to walk the streets of Bangalore with a woman in my arms, or I in hers. How will I do it in Basavanagudi? I can. The cows don’t mind as long as there are enough roads for them to plod on. And my suspicion is that all the ajjis here are closeted lesbians anyway. So we are basically full of lesbians and cows – just like the rest of the world.

A woman in a yellow kurta smiles into the camera as she says that there’s no space for a man in a lesbian relationship and that’s the best thing about it.

Smiles. Hearts. Giggles. A lot of women nod loudly.

The other couples in the documentary inspire similar feelings and by the end of the documentary – I am full of joy but am unable to understand why I’m also a little sad.

A middle-aged bisexual man says – ‘Just because I’m bisexual doesn’t mean I’ll say yes to sex to whoever asks me. See, this is the misconception. Queer people aren’t with each other only for sex. Like heterosexual relationships, they are also about eating, sleeping, walking, and doing other things together.’

The first thing that Malini Jeevarathnam says when she takes stage amidst the roar of cheers and applause – is ‘I don’t know English’

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The applause grows louder and some people from behind me scream ‘It’s okayyy’

“I am happy and full of tears”, she says. And the audience says – ‘us too’

It’s the only way to feel after you’ve watched this documentary. So much so that my stomach craved love so I went up to the café, drank wine and stuffed my face with potatoes.

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Sounds – On screen – the crackling of fire as the many couples jump to their deaths, the sound of waves as lovers walk hand-in-hand by the sea.

Off Screen – applause, hoots, cheers from the audience. The sound of my heart breaking into millions of pieces. The tch tches I imagine my father would produce if he were in the auditorium.

***

Ein Weg (Paths) – German, Directed by Chris Miera

The mattresses are mostly empty so I plonk my bum right in between – head is dizzy with wine.

I begin watching and am surprised by my focus on the faces of the two men on screen – Andreas and Martin. I watch as they scratch their noses, and hold their chins when they skype with each other. I am soon obsessed with the closed windows of the house. I see that it opens just the one time in the film – when they both fight and one of them leaves and the other puts his head out the window and begs him to come back. I am familiar with the sounds of the house now. The sounds it makes when they fight and stomp feet, when they make love and their bedsheets ruffle, and when they make tea, and when they clean.

So strange no? That when you watch a film, you too begin to live in the same house as them.

Sounds – House, Baltic Sea, crickets, and trees.

***

Day Three

Today, I see the festival itself, not the films. I am sitting in the projector room with the organisers. I watch as the tension, and the anxiety of running festivals unfolds before me. Delays, Subtitles not working heart attacks, people queuing up to watch films – line growing and growing.

Irattajeevitham – Malayalam, Suresh Narayanan

Favourite scene in the film is when Sainu and Amina take off someone’s boat out into the sea. Sainu is shit scared and tells Amina let’s go back. Amina is thrilled because she can’t believe they are floating in the middle of the sea and can’t stop squealing. As they row back to the shore, a crowd has gathered to wait to see if they’ll return alive. Because not one of the boys in the town has had the balls to take a boat out like that with no experience.

Sounds – Sea, Kerala, Trees, Birds, waves, crickets.

The Ice-cream killer – Ukraine, Anna Wasswerwoman

The second half of the day, I sit demurely, in the back. It’s noisier here. Because I understand that people are full of opinions here.

This is my favourite film of the day. The film is five minutes long and shows a woman devouring an entire ice cream for five minutes. It’s a thick cone with Vanilla ice cream. The melted bits fall on the street and the camera zooms in on that for a while.

How often do you see this?

I love watching women eat. Die if you don’t.

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Behind me two men loudly bemoan the choice of films. They haven’t liked a single film since morning, they want to talk to the selection committee, and they leave in a huff. I want to scream after them –you forgot your male privilege here boys, you’ll need it – take your opinions with you please, they are stinking up the whole place here.

Behind me, a woman tells her friend in Kannada to sit chakkla mukkla to ease her cramps. I think back to when the last time I listened to that phrase was. Very long.

All my love to the organisers of #BQFF2018. Keep doing what you guys are doing. Because it makes men leave in a huff.

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BQFF Diaries, Day One – 9/3/18

Image Credits: BQFF Twitter page

As always, the darkness in the auditorium at Max Mueller was inviting, not too cold; and my first glimpse of whatever was on screen was the bluish glow from the white mattresses on the floor, and the various bodies sprawled on it.

When one is in the auditorium for the first hour of BQFF, one is a body – in that, you are conscious – the mattresses take about an hour to make you feel at home so you won’t put your feet in people’s faces, you won’t even put it back, out of respect for the body behind you, you worry that your feet smell, that you are taking too much space, but within an hour – the bodies become shapes and you become a shape too. Slowly, you begin picking on the cracks of your heels, the corns on your toes, your hands go back, your body feels lighter and then you are slouching too.

The people seated demurely on chairs behind you are very much there but you only acknowledge them when you exit.

I spent the first five minutes adjusting bum, and a few minutes after that – looking for familiar shapes. Found a couple but one can never be too sure so I stayed put and didn’t grope them like I usually do (with consent, of course)

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The first film I watched was the Bengali & English – Aabar Jadi Ichchha Karo (If You Dare Desire) by Debalina. Two women who go by many names – Swapna & Sucheta; Aparna & Kajali; Moyna & Bandana leave home to be with each other. In Kolkata, they find family after family but not the space they need to simply be left alone with each other. Even so, they puncture the city with charming moments. Standing under a tree on a rainy Kolkata day – they both hold each other even as another woman offers them her umbrella.

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They get in. A herd of goats pass by and they both move back quietly, shivering. They seem more afraid of the umbrella woman than of the goats. Here they hold each other warmly, their arms entwined. This is a moment I teach myself to look for in all of the following films. Focus on hands, faces, chins, and stolen smiles.

Sounds – Kolkata rain, crickets, and early morning birds.

***

Ektara Collective’s Turup (Checkmate) was the highlight. It reinstated a long-standing belief I’ve had. That only old women can pull off the best dialogues in films. The star of the film is the 60 something Monika Mausi who works as a maid in a family that I feel like I know very well. Husband – booming industrialist who gives money to right-wing mofos. Wife has quit her career in journalism because husband wants baby.

She asks Monika one day – Tumhari shaadi nahi hui na? (You didn’t get married no?)

Monika snaps – Shaadi nahi hui nahi. Maine Shaadi nahi kiya (It’s not that I didn’t get married. I did not marry)

Monika   Image Credits: Scroll
                                                  Monika                                     Image Credits: Scroll

Monika is actually a cat who can’t stand cats. She lives alone, walks alone, reads, plays chess, tears down Hindutva cow posters, and drinks chai standing up – thinking, planning, and living. A fab moment was watching her play chess in one scene. A cat walks by and Monika brushes it away, like a cat would, nonchalantly.

Journalist wife asks her one day – Don’t you ever get lonely?

Yes. But it comes and goes.

Don’t you want to have a family of your own?

Why? We can choose our families no? That’s also possible.

The audience sighed, clapped, cheered, hooted, and whistled. Two tear drops came for me.

Sounds – A Koel cooing gently every time Journalist wife sits in her bedroom, wondering what she’s doing with her life.

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Image Credits: Gaysi

***

Malila: The Farewell Flower (Thailand, Thai, Anucha Boonyawatana)

I learn that doing what one loves to do is the surest way of happiness – alone, with little joy, in sickness and in health.

Pich makes Baisri (an ornamental decoration made with leaves and flower petals) and this helps him survive cancer. He loves making them even if they wither and die soon. The most difficult thing about making this, he says, is that you must hold the leaves gently but fold them tightly.

Image Credits: Kino pavasaris
Image Credits: Kino pavasaris

Once he’s done, he lets it float away in the river and feels complete only after he lets go. Too many truths, too many moments. Many sighs. I liked watching him alone doing his Baisris than with his lover, Shane – who I wanted to kill. Pich died doing what he loved. In one scene, he tells Shane that he believes he gets better and his cancer goes away when he makes a Bai Sri. ‘It’s all in your head’, Shane tells him. Shane is just a husband through the whole film. Dabba fellow.

Sounds – Rain, forests, crickets, frogs, hills.

***

Snapshot (USA, English, Shine Houston)

Obnoxiously loud North Indian women howl and scream and laugh when a woman on screen is having orgasms for the first time in her life. Sounds of orgasms are far more desirable than the loud, raspy, insect laugh of people in gangs. Wankers.

Sounds – The camera’s kachaks, clothes ruffling, and women moaning. Off Screen sounds – disgust.

Image Credits: Twitter
Image Credits: Twitter

Evil things and all

Luke: ‘There isn’t anything like family to screw up a marriage’

Lorelai: ‘Well in my case, there isn’t anything like family to screw up a family’

Between running around from film to film, venue to venue and from cheerfully waking up in the morning to grumpily entering the home a half hour before midnight, I stumbled upon the source of all human tragedy in life, family. People are miserable because of family. Either because they can’t stand them or because they love them to bits, so much so that they have to smother you with their love and couldn’t care any lesser for your life and its various demands on you. I had to juggle between 2 sets of worlds and deal with the tragedies in it by creating 2 sets of lies, just to be able to do something that I wanted to do.  I wanted to attend the Film Festival this year, absorb whatever little I was capable of and write about it like a mad woman.

Attend, I did. Write, I tried to but for reasons not entirely because of me, I couldn’t write much. I was tired from all the excuses I had to make, the lies I had to lie to try and manage the 2 different worlds that I live in to keep the people in it from tearing their hair out and mine.  Now that I think about it, I am sure that at one point those 2 worlds merged. And that’s when trouble began.  Maybe my boyfriend and I were able to manage without fights for so long because for 8 years I was able to keep him away from the world that was occupied by Emily and Richard. It was easy because he made no demands. But he is beginning to speak the language of the Gilmores now and that scares me.

I am 25 and I work. I am an adult. I don’t have to lie to attend the Film Festival. I shouldn’t have to micromanage my life and the people in it if they cannot deal with what I want to do with my time. I shouldn’t have had to miss a day of the film festival to go and nurse an upset boyfriend’s hurt feelings.  I shouldn’t be made to feel guilty for missing my mother’s birthday cake cutting. For one week, I wanted to watch movies, talk about it and write about it. I wanted to stay back as late as I bloody wanted to on all those nights and not rush home like a mad woman, fearing a teary eyed mother, full of blackmail and menace.

I shouldn’t have to explain this to anybody. I love my life here, I love my job, and I love what I am doing right now. I shouldn’t be made to leave all of what I love and go someplace far away just to be away from these people. Why am I ranting when I can say screw you and continue doing the shit that I am doing anyway?  A 500 word post later too, I still feel screwed. I look at women, my age and younger, living lives their way and I want that.  I don’t know these women all too well but nothing stops me from constantly stalking them on twitter and face book and blogger.

So when I feel insanely jealous about the free lives that they are living, I feel better when I see that most of my friends from school and college are either married or getting married or have kids or are getting pregnant. It is sad and evil, I know. But you have no idea how great it feels to return home at 11:30 in the night after having watched 5 kickass movies one after another, battled a hundred different questions about the movies, asked them out loud, got laughed at, had conversations about the movies with people who know this stuff, made mental notes about how to write only to find out that that guy who sat in the fifth bench and was very rarely nice to you is married. And he is 25. Yes, I am an evil person, making judgments and everything, but what the hell, I am 25 too and not married so I get to gloat. Hee haww!