Month: February 2008

Mythologies | Roland Barthes

The difficulty of starting with a contemporary author, of philosophy, having tall reputation is that they seem not to engage with areas which seem basic or eternal but are the by-products of a generation or two feeding upon those basic or eternal things. It’s the same feeling that I seem to have with certain directors too. Deciding to watch Lynch or Haneke seems a bit difficult at first as compared to picking a Bergman or Tarkovsky movie. The themes or issue that they seem to pick have cultural basis in them which somehow makes it difficult to relate to, not in the sense that one is unable to understand the meaning but rather the difficulty in feeling the true essence. Few movies like Piano Teacher, Lost Highway etc left me a bit unsatisfied in that respect.

Anyhow, what I actually wanted to talk here concerned Roland Barthes. I had the same sort of apprehensions while deciding to start with him. Showing a bit of courage I picked up “Mythologies“, though the thin size of the book also helped the cause. Midway through I am quite delighted what the experience has turned out to be.

The book in its main theme is a critique on how some of the mass culture of current time (actually 1950’s, when the book was written) is at times contradictory to the very essence it wishes to portray.

In the preface Barthes says

The starting point of these reflections was usually the feeling of impatience at the sight of naturalness with which newspapers, art and common sense constantly dress up a reality which, even though it is the one we live in, is undoubtedly determined by history. In short, in the account given of our contemporary circumstances, I resent seeing nature and history confused at every turn, and I wanted to track down, in its decorative display of what-goes-without-saying, the ideological abase which, in my view, is hidden here.

The tone with which he writes is most of the time witty, a bit sarcastic and all the way probing. He starts of by analyzing the world of wrestling, showing its historical biases, parallels to world of theater and dramatics and then quite elaborately rounding it off as a great spectacle of Suffering, Defeat and Justice. He says, “..but what wrestling is above all meant to portray is a purely moral concept: that of justice. The idea of paying is essential to wrestling, and the crowds ‘give it to him’ means above all else ‘Make him pay’. This is therefore, needless to say, an immanent justice. The baser the action of the bastard, the more delighted is the public by the blow that he justly receives in return”. And just to be clear he was in no way sarcastic in that.

Then he talks about the misinterpreted or rather misguided use of ‘ last lock which duly reaches the top of the forehead, one of those Roman foreheads, whose smallness has at all the times indicated a specific mixture of self-righteousness, virtue and conquest‘ in the contemporary Hollywood movies. Then he talks about why a ‘writer on a holiday trip’ or a ‘king wearing open neck shirt and short sleeves’ means when they appear in popular press. And then about ‘Blind and Dumb criticism’ by critics.

I am not even through with one third of the book, but it surely is getting more and more interesting & delightful and is quite easily proving how misplaced my initial apprehensions were.


No Smoking

Watched No Smoking few days back at Habitat Center, Anurak Kashyap was a guest there and did a session of Q&A after the movie. Though he advised before the movie began that the movie be seen as the fight of a man against the system, but the obvious reference provided in the movie by naming the central character K was too big to miss. The movie written was by Kashyap at a time when he was at one of the lowest point of his life apart from being penniless and homeless. And unarguably reason for such a situation was the System of Indian Film Industry. A system because of which Paanch was yet to be released, Gulal was yet to be completed. As Kashyap says the K in the movie may be Kashyap himself fighting an un-comprehend able and corrupt system.

200px-no_smoking_poster.jpgK, i.e. John Abharam in the movie is an Arrogant man for whom smoking is his life and the world around is hell bent of making him stop smoking. There’s a wife, a mother, a brother, few friends who somehow know what he’s supposed to do with his life and then there’s the system hell bent on rehabilitating him. The rehabilitation center, named Prayogshala, has a character named BabaBangali who is the head there and presides over several other characters that are symbolically linked to the system.

The movie is now way a anti-smoking movie and if taken in its true sense its actually quite ironically (or may be not so ironically) a pro smoking movie, though not in the literal sense. While answering one question Anurag said it was actually a dishonest movie whereby he has fooled many a lot, primarily the sensor board by making it a bit indirect. …what can a man do when only one of his movies gets released in eight years and that too be then stalled by the court. I was hell bent into getting my movie released so I made it bit indirect and they never knew its actual sense before it got released …….I smoke and I am never going to quit smoking….On asked why he casted John in the movie about such a serious and grave issue, he replied…Reason for casting John was that I wanted to get my movie released and actually he was one of the only few who could understand what I was trying to show...Towards the end one feels that somehow very quickly the movie has started going into several threads, but when asked Kashyap replied that, “Yes, there a few things towards the end which don’t make any sense as they actually represent my mindset as I was writing the story long back. I couldn’t understand many of the things around me”.

The Castle was incidentally the first English novel that he read, though he had read few in Hindi before that.

It’s quite a brave movie, though desperate but very honest and no doubt will be a pillar stone when Indian cinema will be seen in retrospect some time from now.

Kashyap also sometimes writes here. And here’s something he wrote as the movie got released.

Reading Jung

…Philemon and other figures of my fantasies have brought to me the crucial insight that there are things in psyche that I do not produce, but which produce themselves and have their own existence..[..]..”If you see people in a room you would not think that you made those people, or that you were responsible for them”. It was he who taught me the psychic objectivity, the reality of the psyche…

from “Memories, Dreams, Reflections”, CG Jung’s Biography

Jung by saying the above, in addition to it, seems to be saying that the subconscious has an independent existence of its own, not in literal sense but that it functions on its own without any interference from the usual conscious self that we relate to.

But herein lays an imperative question. What does the subconscious feeds upon? Does it works upon the same material that our six senses provide or has some other means too? Or does it have different ways of deciphering/interpreting/processing the same things that our senses provide to us?

Well, I am still half way through the book. Probably things will be more clear when am though it. It’s been a fascinating read till now. Jung was quite a learned man not just in his area but also in Literature, Philosophy, Mythology etc. And so understandably has quite a literary fair in his writing. Some of his description of things and events has a magnificent surreal quality.


Crash (by David Cronenberg) no doubt is by far the best movie that I have watched this year. I did watch a few movie this year where director has a theme that he explores very well and you are satisfied by the movie, but Crash just bamboozles you by what it presents and how much more it achieves. It truly is one of the most original and daring work of recent times and was deserving offered Cannes special jury award for that.


The movie revolves around a movie director Ballard (JG Ballard was actually the author of the novel on which the movie was based) who after a car accident discovers a secret society of people who get a high with car accidents and there’s one of their leader sort of figure, Vaughan, and two crash car victims who derive a sado-masochistic sexual pleasure out of car accidents. Ballard is then slowly drawn into their world and also along comes his wife/ partner Catherine.

The movie depicts car crashes as an extension of the sexual activity that the main characters in the move undergo or rather in other words they fetishize car accidents. So much so that they even watch, analyze car accidents and one of their projects is to recreate the famous car accident of actor James Dean, performing which a character later dies.

The movie is an symbolic representation of how technology invades our lives and how slowly they become an extension of our body, mind and subconscious, as here in the movie the car crashes become an extension of sexual life. In real life, as things invade us they do so slowly and also in a facade of technological advancement which makes us oblivious of its life altering affects. But here Cornenberg makes the process much more rapid and much more dangerous without any facade, where by reflecting the crude and dangerous facet of it. Here he doesn’t takes or makes any stand, which is actually very much relevant in context of such movies as they are not any stand but a mere revelation of a hidden texture of our common life that we simply overlook or are overshadowed in the wake of advancement. It’s reshaping of the human body by human technology as Vaughan says to Ballard.

There are few other threads that the movie captures, one being the influence if celebrities in our lives shown as the characters try to emulate the James dean crash.

One of the defining moments of the movie comes comes when Ballard ends up penetrating a thigh wound(which was a result of a car crash) of a woman, where by showing how commodity fetishism or sexual fetishism can make one deviate under influence of some thing’s actual purpose or reason of existence. This is again furthered by showing how Ballard and Vaughan get too much smitten by the car tattoos that they get on their bodies that they end up having a homosexual encounter with each other.

As pointed out here by an academic who specializes in art/film/performance and psychoanalysis: … the scars borne by the characters are old and bloodless –in other words that they lack vitality. The wound is “not traumatising” but, rather, “a condition of our psychical and social life” .

No doubt the film received mixed responses at it’s release but as J G Ballard says it definitely is one of the first films of next century.