Thursday, June 19, 2008

ladies and gents

This last month I watched three films that I've been thinking about for various reasons (instead of work)

-Sex and the City by ( I had to google this) Michael Patrick King
- I Am the Very Beautiful by Shyamal Karmakar
- Sherman's March - Ross McElwee





This is a rambling and maybe unclear post because I'm still sorting through the jumble of thoughts in my head. 

Again it felt to me that while there's a cliche about how women are obsessed with love and romance (thanks for nothing Byron) they don't or can't seem to create works around this. Obviously I am not talking about Mills and Boons - nor am I dismissing them. That's just a separate discussion. I mean that Sherman's March and I am the Very Beautiful are obviously abiding, strong, resonant films about love and men - this is a very masculine perspective (and I am not in complete agreement that the women in this film - Ranu in IATVB and the 5-6 in SM are allowed to construct their own realities alone without the filmmaker imposing theirs over them. That sort of goes hand in hand with the myth of verite - which both of the films use masterfully. In fact the charm of both films for me lies in the fact that they are so strongly the filmmakers' constructions and it renders the filmmaker vulnerable and reveals for me very intriguing things in a way that involves me. I feel this way also about Hanif Kureshi's The Black Album - a very male book but transparently so in which it's almost as if got an intimate entry into a man's mind, otherwise an area of shall we say, speculation). 
And then there's Sex and the City. I must say that while I was a bit leery of the class aspect and a little floral feminism thing going on there, I also enjoyed the first two seasons because they were funny and had something recognisable in them. But also because they were funny and very well written. It was kind of nice that there was a space where love and sex could be spoken of simultaneously although not necessarily together/in a causally related way and women had jobs as well as breakfast and all along you could indulge in the ultimate female pornography - role play through clothes. 
But the film! When Carrie gets stood up I felt her shock and pain and well I just thought - yeah, that's what you get for wanting to marry Big! When she runs to be with Miranda on New Year's Eve while Samantha and Smith make out and Charlotte is playing happy families I really really thought the film would end. But no - it went on through the whole excruciating process of Big sending apologies and copying other people's love letters and finally Carrie marries him again and just forgives and forgets because "it wasn't logical, it was emotional."
Anyway this is not a rant about SATC as much as just wondering why women aren't making work about love which is more personal and honest. I know what stops me for instance. Like I've always wanted to make a sort of female Hi-Fidelity, going back to all the men I'd ever been with to ask what and why happened. I don't do it because it seems that I'll get laughed at - which is to say, I'll be exposed for being a loser, inviting comments about my appearance and my various shortcomings. I shouldn't care about it would be one way of thinking about it. But as Carrie says, it's not logical it's emotional. But the fact is, the fear of it never really being listened to for what it is ends up making the artist search for more disguised forms of this expression. If a woman made a film like Sherman's March, with that Woody Allen style voice over, people would call it self indulgent and self pitying. But this figure of the commitment phobic, self pitying, indecisive man is a convention and it's supposed to be honest and sweet.
I marvel at how in SATC Big is allowed to be, well, a guy. That's just how he is. I panicked about getting married so I didn't land up at the altar (oh that's ok, you know, men aren't able to cope with feelings so go on, forgive him). (Of course the entire subtext of SATC is that it's Carrie's fault because she wants a big wedding that naughty spendthrift).  And the way too that both men in the documentaries mentioned above are also just allowed to be themselves even when that self causes hurt to the women around them. Those films are gentler to the women in the film and the sense of mystery that these women hold for the  men filming them is a touching sort of filter through which we too see the narrative. 
In contrast the women in SATC are constantly examining themselves, figuring out where they went wrong, trying to fix themselves ( so they can have men really but well, why not perhaps).
Of course one can and should point out that  SATC is not written or directed by a woman. The original series was co-written by the woman author of the book Candace Bushnell but the film is written by a man. However SATC has that veneer of being about a life women have written for themselves. You can see that in the way groups of women come in to watch the film, giggle a bit too loudly at the generic chick culture jokes while they don't get the NYC references, but eventually lapse in energy. However their idea when they enter the cinema is to claim this film as something written by them in a notional sense.
Of course no one identifies with Samantha the one woman who makes a non-coupled choice in the film. Because Samantha is supposedly a slut however much they may celebrate her wild ways.
Anyhow - if someone knows work by women that's about love and in English - the anger, pain, sensuality and which is not written by Colette or Anais Nin (how faithfully they get trotted out everytime) please let me know, I am curious to read and think of this more. I think there's stuff in other languages which must be good - Krishna Sobti's Dil-o-Danish comes to mind though I've only read it because it is in English translation while I can't read others which aren't.But the work in English I am more curious about.  Similarly if there's more films you know that I could watch that traverse this territory of men and love. I'm looking more for non-fiction than fiction but both would do really at this point.
Meanwhile there's also another film battling inside SATC - one that vaguely reminded me of Dil-o-Danish, in which when Kutumb, the wife, rails against her husband having a mistress she's told to stop being ridiculous. Women aren't supposed to consider men so important. The important things are the clothes, the jewels, the house, the kids. In SATC too Carrie says while at the NY Fashion Week - "I don't know if it was because it was just us 4 together or because it was the fashion. But for the first time in a long time I felt like my real self." And later she meets Big again only because she goes to bring back her pair of $525 Manolos which she left behind. It's very clear where the real love story lies here and the timid celebrations of it while noteworthy aren't nearly enough.

19 comments:

Banno said...

Interesting. There are so many stories I find it difficult to tell, because of the very reasons you mention, the fear of coming out as a loser, the fear of being judged, of revealing too much about myself, of being vulnerable. And yet, I feel that if I could get over that, I'd have more power-packed stories to tell.

SATC, have never seen the serial, but didn't like the film much. Ultimately, a stereotyping, like you've put forth.

swati bandi said...

Hello Paromita,

I wish I had discovered this blog as I wrote a 30 page MFA thesis chapter on your lovely film "Unlimited Girls." I loved it and also "Where's Sandra?"

Best,
swati.

parotechnics said...

Banno: It's interesting also that all with this new talk about masculinities and how fragile men are etc. And somehow women's vulnerabilities, both in their own and other people's tellings are often too much in the victim mode rather than the experience mode - or if not, then they get interpereted as such anyway. So if male artistes clearly are articulating themselves against a certain convention of masculinity then are women hesitant to articulate themselves against some convention of femininity? Do I find it hard to tell stories of heartbreak taking on the gormless personal that I might very easily do in other kind of narratives, one that sort of makes a little fun of me but at the same time delineates my human fragility a la Woody Allen? I suspect in languages other than English this is not such a huge issue. I mean Kamala Das' autobiography is spoken of with a vague hint of embarrassment because she revealed all her romantic innards. Should go back and read it and see what I think now. Well, I seem to have created me a project to escape from all the DEADLINES!

Swati: I'm at a loss for words. Thank you for liking the film!

chamcham said...

Hey Paro

Ok here's some stuff you could read. Read Sarah Waters: "Affinity" and "the Night Watch". Read "Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell" by Sussanah Clarke.Read "An Autobiography" by Janet Frame. Sarah Waters is about women, and love. Of course she's a dyke (so am I) and these are passionately written lesbian experiences...and there is what I think you're looking for - the authentic female voice. The other two are not specifically love stories, though love does come into it - and how different it is when told by a woman.

I'm trying very hard to not be too dykey and put you off, but really you can't look to men for anything to do with female experience. We can get into the debate about gender later, but talking in a straight heteronormative way for once, don't even go there girl!

Why. Read: Persuasion, by Jane Austen.

And finally, read "Wide Saragasso Sea", "Good Morning, Midnight", "Quartet" - by Jean Rhys.

Remember Jane Eyre? Middlemarch?

The NOVEL - the whole idea of these bloody plotlines that had something to do with the female animal in love - was built by WOMEN. Read "The Handmaid's TAle" (ok I know you've read it). Read "Alias Grace" if you haven't.

OK I'm ranting now. Anyway. I'm just wondering, really really wondering WHY an intelligent woman (who is also a great writer and whose blogs I read to cheer myself up) would even WONDER why she's missing something in the masculine narrative. For men the mysterious woman is "the angel in the house", that super-slayer of all of us. That is the bottomline. The rest is a chick who shops (as in SATC, which I've always hated) and who WANTS A MAN.
I'm in useless dyke mode now. Please ignore me. I hope you enjoy some ofthe books.

chamcham said...

Hey it's me again.
I guess all I really meant to say was: there's a lot of stuff out there about the anger, pain, sensuality etc - only all of it's by women.

Also, you should go ahead and make a film on WHATEVER YOU LIKE. You don't need me or anyone to tell you this. Your films are all super. And a film by you on love etc would be one I would PAY to watch (I haven't had to pay for watching any of the others yet at all those free festivals).

You also asked about films. See Marguertie Duras, and I'm sure you've seen Marta Mezaros etc. More recent stuff: how about The Piano. Ok it's not recent, and you've seen it, but isn't it great! About love (and sex) too.
And see "I Have Heard the Mermaids Singing". That has your Woody-ish voice-over.

Finally, just occurred to me, read Sylvia Plath's diaries (if ever a woman was unjustly accused of being 'self-indulgent" !!!)

AND "ORLANDO"!!
AND "ALL PASSION SPENT"!!!

There you are. Only the babes know how it's done.

parotechnics said...

Chamcham: I'm laughing hard at your exasperation! Thank you for a) all the lists of books and movies b) the nice things you said.

And now to clarify - I meant in English, in INDIA. But I didn't say it clearly it's true so you're not to know that. That's why I never write about anything really serious on this blog because I tend to get a bit careless here.

I'm wondering aloud about why we don't. I've seen and read many of the books you've listed. I'd say Jean Rhys is just fantastic in the way her books are heavy with sensual pain - I especially liked On Leaving Mr. Mackenzie for this.

But somehow contemporary Indian women writers and filmmakers, working in English, I think don't go here, except in elliptical ways. I think I try to in my written work way more than in my film work. I think women writing in other languages do, even from my very limited exposure, usually in translation, I can see that.

I think also that some of the stuff you see/hear earlier in popular culture and I'd say here mostly Hindi film songs, although written by men, seem to , from time to time generate some ideas/narratives of love that are very accessible, thought that's not the word I'm searching for, but an emotional, creative, conceptual space or experience of love that one can enter into.

So now you'll have to leave a third comment with lists of Indian women who've written book and made movies like all the non-Indian ones eh ;)

chamcham said...

Hi

thanks for liking my poem. That was sweet! I'm revenged on my critical girlfriend. Now I can always say: "But Paromita Vohra liked it" etc.

Now: HIndi film songs. I have had a pet theory about them. The best ones, the most thought-provoking and heart-achey ones are sung in the male voice. The list is too too long but think about it. And the ones in this category that are sung in the female voice are (on screen) sung by the vamp/tawaif/ outsider woman. Think: Dil ki gireh chod do, Aage bhi jaane na tu, Aaj Sajan mohe ang lagaa lo. There's a reason why Lata had to dress up in her white sari and play the virgin all her life, and Asha got brushed over with shades of badness. You will NOT be able to find really profound stuff ever being sung by the heroine. No, the songs that belong to them are about love and/or loss. Nothing too sexual, and definitely not too profound. Can you imagine some heroine singing "Hum hain rahi pyaar ke" or "Hum bekhudi mein tumko pukare chale gaye"...??? Now what if it had been Preity Zinta who wondered aloud: "jane kyun log pyaar karte hain"?? What if it had been Waheeda singing "Jaane woh kaise log the jinke"? Gulzar, in that awful film ijaazat, does create this "other woman" character who moons about a bit, but she gets killed in a motorcycle accident all right and tight after singing "mera kuch samaan" (hate that song).

The reason: don't need to tell you why. At all.

Books. In English. About this stuff!!! What d'you think I am, a magician?? Ms Roy did a few steamy scenes really badly, as bad as the whole book actually, and this MAdhu Kapoor did a dyke book recently which was terrible.

But darling read "Facing the Mirror". It's full of stuff that still turns me on. About SEX, straight and simple, and horrible, burning, soul-destroying LUST. Keep reading Scripts, it's published in Bombay. You'll find that it's the dykes who are really, really writing because, well, "freedom's just another word for not caring at all what the boys think". because somewhere, if you buy into their point of view as a writer, you've had it. I was horrified to read that Rajendra Yadav had the temerity to criticise Alka saraogi for "not writing like a woman" and that Saraogi meekly accepted this. Him!! Who decimates and destroys a poor woman in "saara Aakash". how could she have listened to him?

It has to be elliptical in expression because most Indian men couldn't bear it if they thought that Indian women could actually think for themselves, especially about "down there", which no decent woman should think about, let alone write about, escept Shobha De whom they love.

But, man, check out the new Savita Bhabhi porn strips!!!

will think more and write. Got to work up a list for you!

parotechnics said...

Chamcham: How come you know my name and I don't know yours? Ah well..it's always a shock to me that anyone except my friends (and not even half of those) visit this blog.

Shobha De cannot write about sex for nuts with the exception of a certain repressed steaminess in Starry Nights - and even that's pretty adolescent stuff.

But about Hindi movie songs I'd counter your proposition and say it's more a question of what's happened over time. I think till the 1950s there's a lot more ambivalence - for instance its a woman who says: roz roz mulakat acchi nahin, pyaar main aisi baat acchi nahin, thoda thoda milna, thodi si judai, sada chandni raat acchi nahin.

Post the 60s Lata takes over big time sure and many things you say apply. It's interesting also that there's been three or so women music directors from the 40s to now but no female lyricists. Hmm.

It is true I am talking about heterosexual women more, because, being heterosexual I find such an absence of that experience in art around me. But I think it's also something to do with class and how middle class investment in the patriarchal, consumer dream makes women hold back, self proclaimed feminist women too.

In fact my frequent crib (and I admit it's a crib so to be taken with a pinch or two) is that there's a space to speak of same sex love and desire and a space to speak of heterosexual long term coupled up love and desire but no place to speak about that thin slice of single and serial anywhere. Unless you want to partake of that ridiculous laddish Cosmopolitan single girl discourse of which SATC becomes a certain extension at times.

That's why I am actually curious about Kamala Das' My Story which I am told she wrote cos she thought she was going to die. And which people often speak of with a kind of embarassed for her giggle. I just haven't been able to get hold of it in this city with few libraries.

OK, ok, make that list when you do.

parotechnics said...

CC -as for Savita bhabhi, I thought the first lot was promising. But now I think it's a bit uneven. I was very intrigued by the message board though and the high performance of the women writing there about their clearly made up escapades in cyber cafes and what not. I know often these are men pretending to be women, but I think some of these were women for sure. I hope one of them starts writing the storylines for SB soon!

chamcham said...

I read "My Story" when I was twelve or something, and don't remember much. I think it was about several love affairs that she had, but do forgive me if I turn out to be wrong.I remember feeling frustrated with her lack of directness. Her lovers remain mysterious and unidentified, all very convenient - so I don't know. But then, I don't remember either. maybe what I was looking for at that age was some really hot stuff.

I have to think more now about pre-1960s music. You're prob right.

I don't think it's got much to do with class. If that were the case, then middle-class dykes wouldn't write at all, which they are doing. And that stuff about single/serial is what you will also find in gay writing. Monogamy's a bit of a dirty word these days, and commitment very very passe, in "The community".

"holding back" - that does frustrate me too. I've felt so let down at various times by various women around me, women from whom you wouldn't expect it. In the words of Mr. Dylan, I'd like to say to all of them : "Why don't you come out once and scream it?" Are they raelly investing in this patriarchal dream as you say, or are they just too cowardly and uninterested in thinking for themselves?

But I'm feeling bored with being this dyke supremacist. Not having been single for a while, I know it feels quite different to other states. So, if you're not sick of all this posting, do explain what you mean by "single/serial" and maybe I'll come up with something.

PS - wasn't I supposed to know your name?

parotechnics said...

No no - I just meant how come you know my whole name and I don't even know half of yours?

What I mean about being single and serial and hetero - when women write about it, it's often a linear way I think. As in they're talking about the trajectory a relationship is going to take and not merely the experience of it often. And being single and serial may mean polyamorous, but it could also mean mongamous till committed. Also, someone may be single because of numerous bad relationships but there doesn't seem to be much work about that either - not even something funny and not so radical like Hi Fidelity. It's as if women are nervous to draw attention to their "failure" in love. So it often doesn't get spoken of, or else is often spoken of in a reform oriented narrative: always chose the wrong guy, now I've learned to choose the right one, or learnt how happy I am on my own. Women rarely write about say - unhealthy fascination for the erotic life of their ex and his current lover; or feeling needy and wanting that to be accepted even while knowing it is unfair. For that matter they rarely even write about jealous. In films - at least non-fiction - there's barely any exploration - and in fiction too there's a sort of correct feminist narrative. The untidiness of love is almost never spoken of. In going back and forth I think we have arrived at some understanding of why that is, so maybe the thing is to a) excavate material which does all the above b)write and encourage such narratives so that the tribe might grow and bring some relief! This weekend I watched Jab We Met and much as I enjoyed it, I found it so damn arranged marriage type of love in the end. That's all we've got, to be excited about?

chamcham said...

I assume we are still talking about Indian writers.

Well, I found "Umrao Jaan Ada" by Mirza hadi Ruswa quite radical, but I read a transcription of the original Urdu (in the Hindi script, I mean). I'm sure it will lose plenty in translation. There is a wonderful chapter that describes Bismillah's dissatisfaction with all her lovers.

But yes, your question was about English writing. Hm. What can I say? I live in a limited world, and ALL the Indian writers in English come from this world. I am at one degree of seaparation from each one, and in some cases there are no degrees at all, in the sense that I know them myself. So very often I'm reading a book and thinking, god there she goes describing her mother again, or something. Very few writers in this well-heeled world take chances. I am also a conscientious reader of submitted manuscripts (though I don't work in publishing) and writing seems to have become a "career choice" these days. Most writers submit cvs along with their manuscripts and these make for some weird reading, more interesting than the tag-along manuscript. There are men and women who've done the mummy-papa route, gone to IIMS and are currently employed at Fidelity or Barclays or wherever, and have dashed off their novellas during lunch hour. Some manuscripts are better than others but none are good enough, even though I have instructions to not set my standards too high. If I tell you about the first print runs of selected manuscripts, it would put you off any future thoughts of writing. It's terrible terrible terrible out there.

That said: Priya Chhabra has come up with something not bad at all in "Generation 14". I'm in the middle of the book, haven't finished it, but I'm happy for her and Zubaan (who published it). I don't know where this book is headed yet, but she can write, and it's all quite fascinating. And she's having a bash at describing eroticism, though it hasn't done any wonders for me so far. But yes, it's seen from the point of view of a solitary, very alone woman, and there's no romance - not yet anyway.

As for films. All I can say is that there are some dyke non-fiction films around that are quite focussed on sex/lovers/breaking up and looking back/blah blah blah. I think it's up to you to make something now.

"that's all we've got to be excited about?" you say about Jab We Met. Yes, as of now. You only have to look at Preity Zinta's transformation from one happy chick in Dil Se to the current brain-scrambled Wadia-arm candy version to see what's going on. Women don't care enough about themselves.Like so many others (including dykes) she wants to be MARRIED.

parotechnics said...

Well Chamcham, now you've totally terrorised me away from writing anything lest it come to you for a reading. Only my CV will be apropos.

First print runs bole tho? 500 copies, like that?

Maybe a movie with total 500 viewers it will have to be after all...

parotechnics said...

Well Chamcham, now you've totally terrorised me away from writing anything lest it come to you for a reading. Only my CV will be apropos.

First print runs bole tho? 500 copies, like that?

Maybe a movie with total 500 viewers it will have to be after all...

chamcham said...

arre hum itne bhi bure nahin hain...bas jhik-jhik karte rehte hain!! You should read some of the stuff that comes in, is all. Yes indeed, print runs of 500 is often all that they do. Sorry if I sounded crassly arrogant, actually I'm a sweet gentle shy quiet person, especially when writing rejection notes...I do like to give way to my worst self on blogs...and i'd like to see the person who could terrorise you!

anyway I've been so busy posting on this thread that I haven't been updating my blog, or reading the new posts in yours. So perhaps I should wind up now!!

pooja said...

recently i watched a bunch of movies on travel (which i know is something you've also been thinking about), and was struck by how many of the films i watched tended to center around masculinity and "the road," which is also a very masculinized trope (ranging from king kong to the passenger, some films by wim wenders, jim jarmusch's dead man, name your western, and many many more). and then i saw this movie called "messidor" by alain tanner, who also made "return to africa" which is a pretty great little film. messidor is in french but the copy i saw had subtitles. its about two swiss girls who escape into the countryside, and deals with love, intimacy, violence, and what they might mean for women outside of the context of the city in a really interesting way. it troubled me for a long time for reasons i still cant quite pinpoint. i think you'll enjoy watching this film if you can track it down, its pretty compelling.

also, have you seen chantal akerman's "news from home" or claire denis's "chocolat"? also french, i guess..

i saw some article on morality tv in the faithful mirror and tore it out before leaving but where did i put it?

parotechnics said...

CC: We can all be sweet, shy, arrogant and critical at the same time I'd say! So my terror is intact. What makes you think I can't be terrorised, a sweet shy girl like me??

Miss Pooja: That article in the Mirror is unfortunately online and a study in pell mell sentences, which follow one after the other with no specific connection and end up making me sound like a fool, but well..

Interesting you bring this up about travel because Sherman's March is also a road movie of course. All hail Odysseus, wandering husband of Penelope I guess. And I will not go ,endeavour to understand some of that web art stuff ;)

parotechnics said...

No no I meant NOW go endeavour.. jeez

pooja said...

yeah, i just unearthed and read that article. it is indeed awfully written, but also striking in its defensiveness! makes you sound like you're on some kind of generalized rampage against, well, everything, but esp "journalists like me who are only doing our job whimper whimper"

let me know if delve #2 into web piece yields any glimmers of light or just more frustration!