In the last couple of months or so, I came across two brilliant works around the Indian middle-class. Both works are understated, interesting to the point of becoming gripping and reveal a phenomenal amount of incisiveness about the two creators.Unfortunately, neither of them have received even a fraction of the attention they deserved. Coming from India's two leading producers in the respective fields, this is rather strange.
One is a book. The other is a film. And I have given both of them away in my title!
Mother Pious Lady is a book on the Indian way of life, more specifically the middle-class Indian way. The title is taken from that Great Indian Institution of Matrimonial Classifieds, where it is commonplace to mention "father civil servant, mother pious lady" - to indicate that the family has a certain stature and the would-be mother-in-law is 'more inclined to burn incense sticks than daughters-in-law'!
Nothing is too trivial for Santosh Desai to expend his 800 words on. So, we have expositions on stainless steel, summer vacations, Chupke Chupke, scooters, competitive exams, Vividh Bharati, auto-rickshaws and even the humble nightie. He manages to manage the almost-impossible task of dwelling on each topic in detail but not spending so much time that it becomes monotonous.
As a planner of brand development & strategy, Santosh Desai had access to - or may have commissioned - some very interesting research. For example, one study of classified advertisements over three decades revealed we - as a society - have become more conscious about looks (as we now spend more words in a matrimonial ad describing appearances). The number of words spent on education has reduced while the importance of caste has remained constant.
Strongly recommended. Keep it on your bedside table and read one chapter a day. Any chapter. Just open at any page and read.
Very few films in recent times have received such unanimous praise from reviewers as Love, Sex aur Dhokha. The audience wasn't so united. But whether they liked it or not, the shock value was undeniable.
For me, the film was such a sharply picture of the present-day middle India that it took my breath away.
The girl at supermarket who wears a t-shirt uniform and a taveez on her arm is just visible under the sleeve. The sting-hungry TV editor who decides only a sting-on-a-sting can get TVRs out of her jaded audience. The sleazy performer at the marble-dealer's family wedding. The boyfriend who shrinks away from his girlfirend when she tells him about her friend's honour killing.
All these and a million other details make it so living that the device of using 'real footage' almost seems secondary. With such strong images to show, the visual style - though fantastic - becomes just a strong support to the screenplay.
It is a crying shame that cut-price DVDs of the film were already available when the director was recording his commentary for the 'bonus features' section of the DVD and the film was still playing in some theatres. As it is, very few - if at all - Indian films have a 'Making of..' section, deleted scenes and director's commentary...
None of the online sites seems to have the enhanced version of the DVD yet. It is priced at Rs 199 (so, don't buy Rs 149 version yet). How did I know the price? Well, the only I saw the DVD till now was a road-side pirated-CD shop in Gurgaon.
I think Dibakar Banerjee would have liked this.