Tuesday, July 6, 2010

2 Degrees of Separation – The Iliad and Tollywood Dishoom

Hm... This post turned out much more serious and definitely longer than I had intended. I promise some much lighter fare in the next one.

I've heard the comparison between Bollywood and Greek tragedies more than one time, and I certainly agree there is much to be said about their similarities, especially if we're talking epic love stories. But since Tollywood seems to value its fighting much higher than its love stories, I feel that a more apt comparison for Tolly dishoom (action) movies would be with the Greek epic poem The Iliad, which recounts the ninth year of the siege of Troy and every single one of the battles that took place, not only between the two armies but also between the Gods on Mount Olympus. (The link is really only provided to refresh your memory should you want to, it's definitely not a summer read I recommend.) Looking at it now, I realize The Iliad is a little like a game of Killer Bunnies: you can fight and struggle all you want, in the end it's still luck (or Fate) that dictates whether you win or lose.

I hated the dreadfully boring Iliad with every fiber of my being when I was forced to read it at 15. But I have always had a weak spot for the Greek/Roman gods and their foolish, immature ways, so read it I did. And some of it managed to stay with me enough to pop into my head when I was struggling to find the European artistic equivalent of Tollywood dishoom. The great thing is Tolly did away with all the bore, kept all the fun and gave us a modern day, evergreen Iliad.

## The first thing that I remember vividly about The Iliad is not the poetic descriptions of the weapons (though there are many of those), not the hilarious fights between the Gods (that's second on my list), not what I took away as the general message of the poem (which is that not even the Gods can change what was written for a man, but there can certainly be many ways to get a man there) and certainly not the epic scenes of battle (which really make up pretty much the whole book), no, it's none of that. It's the trash talking! Which is what initially prompted the comparison. Nowhere else have I seen so much blabber and disses before a fight as in Tollywood. Until I remembered fragments such as this from The Iliad:
Thus, then, did the battle rage between them. Presently the strong hand of fate impelled Tlepolemus, the son of Hercules, a man both brave and of great stature, to fight Sarpedon; so the two, son and grandson of great Jove, drew near to one another, and Tlepolemus spoke first. "Sarpedon," said he, "councillor of the Lycians, why should you come skulking here you who are a man of peace? They lie who call you son of aegis-bearing Jove, for you are little like those who were of old his children. Far other was Hercules, my own brave and lion-hearted father, who came here for the horses of Laomedon, and though he had six ships only, and few men to follow him, sacked the city of Ilius and made a wilderness of her highways. You are a coward, and your people are falling from you. For all your strength, and all your coming from Lycia, you will be no help to the Trojans but will pass the gates of Hades vanquished by my hand."

And Sarpedon, captain of the Lycians, answered, "Tlepolemus, your father overthrew Ilius by reason of Laomedon's folly in refusing payment to one who had served him well. He would not give your father the horses which he had come so far to fetch. As for yourself, you shall meet death by my spear. You shall yield glory to myself, and your soul to Hades of the noble steeds."

Let's face it, we can call it by any other pompous name, the Iliad remains one long diss-fest. Not very different from say... this scene in Bujjigaadu

Or how about these two:

Thus did they converse, but the other two had now driven close up to them, and the son of Lycaon spoke first. "Great and mighty son," said he, "of noble Tydeus, my arrow failed to lay you low, so I will now try with my spear."
He poised his spear as he spoke and hurled it from him. It struck the shield of the son of Tydeus; the bronze point pierced it and passed on till it reached the breastplate. Thereon the son of Lycaon shouted out and said, "You are hit clean through the belly; you will not stand out for long, and the glory of the fight is mine."
But Diomed all undismayed made answer, "You have missed, not hit, and before you two see the end of this matter one or other of you shall glut tough-shielded Mars with his blood."

## The Iliad consistently sees, in gory detail, might I add, the heroes defeat dozens of opponents on their way to victory (or to death). As do most dishoom movies. Except it's easier to keep track in movies because the hero, thankfully, is only one, whereas the Iliad still makes my head spin with its ever bountiful crops of heroes and their fathers and forefathers. Just give Book V a look-over and then lie to me that you were able to follow who was killing whom without a diagram! And then to cleanse your brain, enjoy this scene from Magadheera where our brave warrior does away 100 enemies in about 5 minutes.

## And if you thought Telugu masala movies invented the winning concept of repeating everything at least twice, especially scenes that just happened, for added emphasis, guess again. This is only one of the many dialogues that, if cut, would make the Iliad half its length. And I don't believe for a second it's there for poetry's sake! If only they trusted the reader to remember the previous sentence...

And Juno said, "Sleep, why do you take such notions as those into your head? Do you think Jove will be as anxious to help the Trojans, as he was about his own son? Come, I will marry you to one of the youngest of the Graces, and she shall be your own- Pasithea, whom you have always wanted to marry."

Sleep was pleased when he heard this, and answered, "Then swear it to me by the dread waters of the river Styx; lay one hand on the bounteous earth, and the other on the sheen of the sea, so that all the gods who dwell down below with Saturn may be our witnesses, and see that you really do give me one of the youngest of the Graces- Pasithea, whom I have always wanted to marry."

## For the longest time I avoided South Indian movies because I had heard they were violent, and violence is just not my thing. Little did I know that while being gory and bloody, they manage to keep it at the cartoon level most of the time, so surprisingly, reading something like this:

Patroclus went up to him and drove a spear into his right jaw; he thus hooked him by the teeth and the spear pulled him over the rim of his car, as one who sits at the end of some jutting rock and draws a strong fish out of the sea with a hook and a line- even so with his spear did he pull Thestor all gaping from his chariot; he then threw him down on his face and he died while falling. On this, as Erylaus was on to attack him, he struck him full on the head with a stone, and his brains were all battered inside his helmet, whereon he fell headlong to the ground and the pangs of death took hold upon him.
makes my stomach turn just a wee bit more than seeeing something like this: 

## One last observation, though I am leaving many unaddressed. I was very amused to discover that while my entire Telugu vocabulary consists of about 20 words, among these, I happen to know pretty much all the jungle predators: tiger, cheetah, lion, etc, just from movie titles (or words repeated enough times during a movie for me to figure out what they mean). The reason why I find it amusing is because almost 3 years into Bollywood and I still don't know some of these words in Hindi. Coincidence? I think not! Telugu movies don't bother with glossy, subtle metaphors like Bollywood. They embrace their earthly, untamed nature and their references are not surprisingly from the animal world.
In this fight from Yama Donga, NTR junior gets juxtaposed over a cheetah hunting an antelope, to metaphorically show him as the invincible predator that he is.
And of course, here is one of the equivalent quotes from the book, relishing the description of the powerful beast, though funnily enough Greece doesn’t even have jungles, leopards and lions, to my knowledge:

Menelaus heeded his words and went his way as a lion from a stockyard- the lion is tired of attacking the men and hounds, who keep watch the whole night through and will not let him feast on the fat of their herd. In his lust of meat he makes straight at them but in vain, for darts from strong hands assail him, and burning brands which daunt him for all his hunger, so in the morning he slinks sulkily away- even so did Menelaus sorely against his will leave Patroclus, in great fear lest the Achaeans should be driven back in rout and let him fall into the hands of the foe.

At the end of all this I am left with one question: who are our Gods in dishoom movies? Our playful, often logic-defying but ever powerful Gods? Why... the action choreographers of course! Who else protects and saves our hero from the most unlikely situations and allows him to perform death-defying stunts and come out in one piece at the end? And who else guides his machete through dozens and dozens of enemies who fall at his feet like grass under the scythe? Could our heroes still be heroes were it not for these Gods of Creativity and Awe? 
So, in the end, allow me to give a shout out to these unseen magicians of the silver screen and wish that their madness never cease to amaze us! 


Gauri Radha गौरी राधा said...

Very interesting post!!

Dishoom-ery will be around forever I suspect, in one form or another.

And I couldn't agree more with your last paragraph, hats off to the choreographers/cinematographers and all the unseen magicians who make this happen!! :D

Dolce and Namak said...

Yes! Dishoom zindabad!!! :D

And another cheers to the people who never seem to get enough credit. I always root for them. Probably why I am more likely to know the choreographers, the cinematographers and the action coordinators than the producers and directors.

Gauri Radha गौरी राधा said...

"Dishoom zindabad!!! :D"

Exactly Dolce, and this phrase needs to be an SI fan bumper sticker like yesterday!!

Dolce and Namak said...

If I had a car, you know I'd do it! :)

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