Monday, January 29, 2007
Hitchcock introduced this concept of split personality in a very effective way in Psycho. The condition of Norman Bates (played to perfection by Anthony Perkins) swinging wildly between an over-bearing abusive mother and an utterly vulnerable yet rebellious kid, both within the same person, the change of the voice, the transformation of the body language, the co-existence of the dual personalities, are rooted in a very strong premise/foundation - the repressive inner-child within Bates created an alter ego to channel his fears and frustrations into, and the actions of Bates cannot be pinned on his fictional alter ego and vice-versa. The premise here is pretty strong to absolve Bates of all the horrific crimes that he commits in his mother's garb. Hitchcock lays the foundation pretty strongly. Next in the list is David Fincher's brilliant adaptation of Chuck Palahniuk's biting social satire "Fight Club". Dulled by the numbing tedium of every day life, lulled by the consumeristic culture prevailing all around, the protagonist of the movie invents an alter ego, who is everything that he is not - free, unburdened, bold, charming and ultimately nihilistic. The alter-ego's nonchalant attitude towards destruction and annihilation completely contrasts the protagonist's conservative and timid approach towards life, making the creation of such personality by such repressed a mind totally believable. Last in the list is an even more interesting split personality in Smeagol/Gollum in "Lord of the Rings". While the other two characters are based on repressive behaviors of some sort, this character is seated in basic morality, plain good and bad. Smeagol's good nature in helping out Baggins reach his destination is overpowered by the avaricious quality of Gollum in claiming possession of the "precious" ring. All the three characters establish the basis of their split and conflict in their natures, giving root to their alter-egos.
Shankar's "aparichituDu" is rooted in apathy, in indifference, in lack of concern, in the negligence of basic civic responsibilities. Split personality, a serious and an extremely rare condition (despite what the movie leads the audience to believe citing internet sites, medical journals and white people in white coats), is a cognitive disassociation phenomenon - a willful partition of the thinking process, completely separating one piece from the other, shielding one's thoughts from the other and blocking off the flow of information between the two - all this, on the premise of apathy? That, people indifferent towards the every day duties, sometimes inconveniencing and sometimes affecting the lives of the fellow citizens, would lead to the creation of an avenging angel, set to bring society back in order towing the same line, stands as the basic premise for Shankar's story. Granted that suspension of disbelief is most often the pre-requisite and the cardinal rule, while applying logic and a sense of believability to a commercial movie, but trying to tackle the reality of every day life, the problems and the issues by applying a totally illogical and fantastical premise greatly reduces the seriousness of the issue, all the while completely undermining the very foundation of such solution, in this case, the split personality syndrome. While comparisions to Shankar's earlier venture, "Indian", are fairly obvious, the Senapati character in "Indian" carries move weight than the Ramanujam character in "aparichituDu", owing to the simple reason that the driving point, the motivation for Senapathi is far more pronounced and far more serious, forcing him to pick up the weapon and dispense justice as he sees fit. Even within the commercial parameters, the old age of Senapathi, when tackling much younger and much stronger enemies, is never called into question, for, it is already built into the script that he derives his energy and strength from the strong reasons that made him pick up the weapon in the first place.
Shankar falters at this very first step of providing the lead character the right reason to create an alternate persona who does the laundry work. "aparichituDu" is a super human story of a different sort. A superman story already comes with a pre-packaged alter-ego option. The man dons the cape, he becomes super man, he wears glasses, he becomes Clark Kent. So are Spider Man, Batman and the rest. All these supermen are clear in their agendas of fighting evil; inner conflicts for them is more of an identity issue - whether Spiderman is more Peter Parker than the man in the suit, whether Bruce Wayne is the alter-ego of Batman and the like. When "aparichituDu" takes law into his own hands and starts killing people, because they shirked their responsibilities towards the soceity, it presents a complex dilemma - whether the timid Ramanujam is removed far from "aparichituDu" because of all the killings, or whether Ramanujam created "aparichutuDu" to do the killings, meaning, whether the guilt of the murders on a socially responsible citizen enhance the alienation from the alter ego, or the creation of the alter ego is precisely for the purpose of carrying on with the agenda. This difference is important within the current context, in that, how could a morally and socially responsible person condone the killings, which flies in the face of the basic tenets of the society, even if it is only at a mental level and not on any physical scale, established in Ramanujam trying to exact some sort of revenge on the perpetrators by going to the website and lodging his complaint. If he thinks driving on the wrong side of the road calls for a punishment, how and why did his mind accept the idea of such harsh punishments to indifferent people, which are strictly anti-social, not to mention, unlawful? Senapathi, in "Indian", differs from this behavior, in that, he does not mind weeding out the ills of society, by any force necessary, even if it means ending lives, which is established in his background as a member of Indian National Army (Azad Hind Fauj).
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While "aparichutuDu" goes by value judgments (what is food for one is poison to another), Senapathi relies on fair justice. Shankar's earlier social movies, tackling reservation (Gentleman), corruption (Indian), and, for that matter, accountability (oke okkaDu) seem to have a much stronger base resonating in the genuine problems that plague the contemporary society. Picking up an issue that, at best, riddles the society, and, at worst, inconveniences it, and trying to apply the same extreme justice that is applied to the rest of the cases, do not seem just, leave along, logical. The sincerity in maintaining the focus on the key issue, that is usually his trademark in all his social ventures, is diluted in split personality syndrome and the tacky special effects that went into justifying the abnormal behavior of "aparichituDu", which brings afore the next culprit in question - Peter Haine, the stunt choreographer. The unnecessarily elongated elaborate wire-work stunt sequences coupled with the time-slice (inspired by Burly Brawl sequence from Matrix Reloaded) techniques, push "aparichituDu" fast into the fictional world of fantasy and super-human powers and demonstrations, while the tone of the rest of movie tries desperately to cling on to the realm of realism. Even with the leeway to the maker that hyperkinetics of the alternate persona is responsible for this seemingly super-human strength, compare it to the super-human, yet contrastingly, realistic, behavior of Senapathi, during the execution sequences. At no part does it feel that the director was crossing his permitted degrees of freedom and it felt that he stayed strictly within the confines of dramatic licenses. Among all the technicians, Sujatha (the original dialogue writer, and translated by Ramakrishna) justified his presence and worthiness to the fullest extent, through some sharp, funny, satirical dialogues and observations. To sum it up, in the process of creating a super-human story, Shankar ended up with a script that is neither super nor human!