Artistic license? Or too much Will & Grace?

Yesterday, Anatha, Samanth and I watched “A First Class Man”. This was my first time meeting another blogger and it was fun. The play was bad, but it was awesome to meet up with two other ex-Chennai-ites who also like Tin Tin and Asterix and Seinfeld and well, just take it from me that we had number of things in common.

But I digress – let’s return to the play. It’s about Srinivas Ramanujan, the math genius. The play focused (mostly) on the mathematician’s years at Cambridge – the spiritual, cultural, professional and alimentary challenges he had to over come during his stay in England. The big picture was fine – it was the little things that just didn’t work. Ramanujan sounded like how Hollywood-types think Indians sound like (thank goodness he didn’t sound like how northies think “madrasis” sound like, so there were some things to be grateful for, I suppose); his widowed mother appeared in a colorful saree, with a full head of flowers; the only veggie options in early 1900s Cambridge consisted of carrots and lime pickle, and as the icing on the cake – a strong suggestion of a love triangle with Ramanujan being the object of affection of his lady friend Esme, as well as his mentor Hardy. Fortunately, Samanth had read The Man Who Knew Infinity, and was able to warn me about the bits where the playwright had indulged in, shall we say his “creative license”. 

History’s a tricky thing. When you’re dealing with a non-fiction account, you’re less likely to make errors of interpretation, I think. An account of battles won or lost, wells dug and trees planted is just that – a list*. But add a couple of dialogues to keep people from nodding off, and boom, you risk changing everything. When Hardy calls his time with Ramanujan, “the one romantic incident in my life”, I don’t know if he meant what we today automatically assume he means. (Hey, the playwright could be right in his interpretation – it’s just difficult for me to believe that a man who didn’t know how to “operate a bed” was remotely close to understanding the mechanics of a romantic entanglement, let alone one with Hardy.) Two hundred years from now, will people be as amused at us, and our eagerness to interpret same-sex friendships as being more than what they actually are?

There’s a temptation to overdo it these days, I think. There’s an ad for Chivas Regal that I see only on Channel 73 – it has a group of men out in the jungle somewhere – fishing and rafting and camping – hajjar male bonding and what not. The whole effect is spoiled by the background score – a particularly sappy song that goes, “we could be together, every day together”. Every time I see that add, I have to laugh. That they don’t seem to use this ad in non-desi programming makes me wonder about a couple of things – are desis less likely to see the ad as being anything other than four guys doing guy things, inured as they are by years of watching Salman dance without his shirt? If that’s the case, then the problem clearly is with me. Am I watching too much Will & Grace? 

But with yesterday’s play, it wasn’t just me. I don’t know about the rest of the audience but each of the three of us felt “Kadavulae, enna ithu!” or its equivalent before repeating the same thing together.

I sound ancient when I say this (not to say 23 kinds of a prude), but I really do miss the old days when math was maths and gay simply meant happy. And watching an ad or a play was not so fraught.

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3 comments so far

  1. anantha on

    thank goodness he didn’t sound like how northies think “madrasis” sound like, so there were some things to be grateful for, I suppose

    Hey, I thought that the mathematics teacher character was hard to miss?

    But in any case, now I am in two minds whether I am right in expecting actors in a production in a setting like this be free of accents of any sort. I don’t know. But like I said, mebbe, having grown up cringing in agony, hearing the faux Tam accents from the mouths of Mithun Chakraborty and such, the moment we hear something like it again, the nightmares seem to come back.

  2. DoZ on

    Yeah – I remember the teacher… He was bad, but not as bad as Mehmoud used to be – he’s the gold std. of “northy-pretending-to-be-southie”, and this one didn’t measure up…And fortunately, I haven’t see Mithun do Tamil… *shudder* I am blessed indeed…

  3. Shripriya on

    Honestly, I thought the math teacher was better than Ramanujan. And more realistic.

    The biggest issues I had were:
    1. Esme. Come on!! Ramanujan did not have an affair of any kind. This is taking poetic license too far. Many people (non Southies) in the audience did not know. I had to tell my friends that that was the case.

    2. The actor who played Ramanujan was SO one-note. He was either a befuddled jackass or a desperate, yearning, pleading fool talking to Namagiri. There was NO dignity, no quietness portrayed.

    My husband got up and left at intermission because he was so disappointed.


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