Thursday 25 December 2014

Stephen King's Revival, and Manmohan Desai

[NOT a review of Revival. Or of Manmohan Desai films. Just a rambling bunch of thoughts and connections]

I just finished reading Stephen King’s latest book, Revival. [There will be spoilers here, so beware]. The book spans almost the entire life of its hero, Jamie Morton. Beginning from when he’s a small kid, and ending when he’s past sixty, it talks of his multiple encounters with Charles Jacobs, a pastor and later carnival showman, miracle healer, and researcher into pseudoscience. The climax is a disquieting peep into the afterlife – a hell enforced by Lovecraftian beings and giant-ant-like creatures.

As it stands, the book is good. The question I came away wondering is, is this really a story that needed recounting of an entire lifetime to tell? An alternate novella-length version could have started from just before the climactic Frankensteinian experiment, covered the revelations, and ended, say, with all the characters dying or mad. King’s decision to let the tale unfold over a lifetime does give us more to chew on, of course: the fates of the various patients cured by Jacobs, the slowly disintegrating Morton family, the changing of the world and technology.

One thing is for sure. The way the book has been structured, to be a narrative of a life rather than of a set of events, there is no scope of a sequel. There isn’t going to be another four stories where the pastor shows up and heals people in mysterious ways. Perhaps the full impact of the climax was felt only because this was the single more important thing that happened in Jamie’s life.

And this brings me to a peeve I always had in days past: why did Bollywood movies never have sequels? No matter how much you enjoyed, say, Amar Akbar Anthony or Sholay, you couldn’t imagine a proper sequel being produced in the next couple of years. I used to watch, say, Armour of God Part 2: Operation Condor and enjoy the idea of watching the characters in more adventures. Why couldn’t Hindi movies do that?

With the years, I realized the reason was the scope of the typical Hindi movie: it wasn’t a single event or a sequence of events, but a chronicle of an entire life. Amar Akbar Anthony, say, or Zanjeer, or Sharaabi or whatever, documented the absolutely most important events in their protagonists’ entire lives: getting separated from their families, or growing up with significant family issues, or being wronged by an epic villain, and then over the course of the movie, righting these wrongs. When these characters got old and retired from their job, they would put their grandkids on their knee and tell them about the events that were depicted in these movies. Their neighbours would always know them as “the guy who caught and killed Loin”, or “the guy who was separated from his parents, but finally was reunited with everyone”, and so on. It would be too incredible for them to have any more adventures in their lives.

On the other hand, Jackie Chan in Armour of God, or Sean Connery in the James Bond movies, or Mel Gibson in Lethal Weapon, was just solving another case. Once it was done he was pretty much walking away and ready to do another one. You could imagine Mel Gibson having hundreds of weeks similar to the events listed in Lethal Weapon.

There are exceptions on both sides, of course: There can’t be a sequel to Titanic, or Independence Day, for example. And there actually was a sequel to Sholay and one to Jewel Thief and another one to Nagina, not to mention the sorta-sequel to Munnabhai MBBS. But the structure of these movies, on both sides, proves my point.

What does it say about desi movies in the 80s? Well, to powerpoint my thoughts:  
·         Bollywood movies have a smaller number of writers, writing a large number of movies. So, many movies are written by people who had written at least the same number of movies as Stephen King has written books.
·         As you keep writing, your plots tend to get bigger and bigger in scope, until you really need to write about entire lives. I really need to analyse the typical story arc period for a Bollywood screenwriter over his career to prove this, but I can see how this makes sense.
·         Or maybe it says that experience teaches you that large events reverberate through entire lives, so you need to paint your canvas at lifetime-level to explore your plot properly.
·         Or maybe audiences of Hindi movies wanted large scale in everything: the villains larger than life, the dialogues and the soundtrack reverberating for the ages, the hero’s journey a lifetime long, the heroine the most beautiful woman in the world…

In any case: Revival is very good. Read it. Also watch Amar Akbar Anthony if you haven’t seen it yet.

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