So of course I was willing to forgive a lot of "Pankh", despite the fact that this was the only good review I read about it, just because it dared to bring surrealism into Bollywood just like Meenaxi brought post-modernism. But this post is not about the virtues of the movie, nor is it a review. This post is about its tagline: "The Unbearable Lightness of Being".
Borrowed from Milan Kundera's best-known novel, Pankh's tagline must be trying to tell us something, so I set out to find what connects the two pieces of art that couldn't be any more different. And I will make this analysis a little anti-climactic by warning you from the get-go that I don't really see what the connection is, if it even existed. But as I was digging deeper and deeper for meaning, I was surprised to find many shared themes, though the approach is miles apart.
This was one of the themes that surprised me by appearing in both the movie and the novel in completely different get-ups. In Kundera's novel it plays a central part in the doctor's life because of a misinterpreted essay that he writes "comparing" communists with Oedipus. Without going into details, the most important point that the book makes is that Oedipus may not have been guilty of the sins he commits, but he still owns up to his actions and punishes himself as if he had been aware of what was happening all along. Who, if not ourselves, is really responsible for our destiny, Kundera makes us wonder.
In Pankh, the theme comes about in a more clinical way, in the form of a dominating, alcoholic mother that Jerry has a love-hate relationship with. She has shaped his destiny from early childhood, and continues to do so, even when Jerry rebels. And just like Kundera we wonder again: who is in control of Jerry's destiny? Is it his mother? Is it his muse? Is it himself? Or is it some higher power? And when the movie ends, can we say that he also, like Oedipus, took his destiny into his own hands? Or did he shift the blame back on his mother?
Funnily enough, the most blatant similarity between the book and the movie comes from the two gender-confused characters: Jerry, a boy forced to play a girl's roles in Bollywood movies during his entire childhood, and Karenin, the dog. Both are forced to exist as the opposite sex for reasons that in the long run turn out to have no weight or reasonable justification. But while the dog Karenin assumes his/her new identity with no repercussions, Jerry's life is forever scarred by this.
WEIGHT AND LIGHTNESS
Similarly Jerry wills himself weightless, wishes for wings to fly out of his own life, and refuses to acknowledge any mark he may make or may have made on the world. Fame and talent, he thinks, are not important, and his acting is irrelevant. Do his actions in the end give his life any weight? Probably not, and again, ironically, the only thing that will be left of him after his death will be the films he had made as young baby Kusum, a legacy he spends his entire adolescence trying to refuse.
EINMAL IST KEINMAL
This is another point where the movie differs from the book, at first sight, because we know that the abuse that Jerry goes through in his childhood is not an einmal type of situation. In fact, the movie being inspired by real life, we know it has happened to other children as well. Could it then be the type of event that Kundera would deem too heavy a burden for the world if it were to reoccur eternally? Or, since it is a truth so obscure, so little known, and so meaningless to the history of the world, isn't it safer to assume that no, it carries no weight after all, even if it were to happen again and again and again?
THE UNBEARABLE LIGHTNESS OF BEING?
Other parallels can be drawn between the characters of the book and those of the movie, the philosophy of the book and the events in the movie, but everything that brings the two together, also seems to set them far apart. As I stumble in the dark still looking for that one convincing argument, I have to wonder: did I miss something?