Beauty and the Beast – Conversation3

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Ashamed of his monstrous form, the beast concealed himself inside his castle, with a magic mirror as his only window to the outside world. The rose she had offered was truly an enchanted rose, which would bloom until his twenty-first year. If he could learn to love another, and earn her love in return by the time the last petal fell, then the spell would be broken. If not, he would be doomed to remain a beast for all time.  As the years passed, he fell into despair, and lost all hope, for who could ever learn to love a beast?

( Beauty and the Beast, Walt Disney, 1999) 

Conversations

  1. Why does it get so difficult to face the animal we have become? And yet despite this, why is it so difficult to seek our salvation?
  2. What would it take to learn to love and be loved for who you are?
  3. Is it possible to love a person who has no love in his heart? How do we then help those who are in despair, shame and hopelessness? Wherein lies their redemption?
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Beauty and the Beast – Conversations 2

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And when he dismissed her again, the old woman’s ugliness melted away to reveal a beautiful enchantress. The prince tried to apologize, but it was too late, for she had seen that there was no love in his heart, and as punishment, she transformed him into a hideous beast, and placed a powerful spell on the castle, and all who lived there. ( Beauty and the Beast, Walt Disney, 1999) 

CONVERSATIONS

  1. Some people Have never loved and so they have never lived at all! Why is love important for wellness?
  2. Can we continue to human if we don’t have love in our hearts?
  3. It’s love that makes the world go round! How do we help people who have no love in their hearts (and live as hideous beasts) to love and be loved?

Beauty and the Beast – Conversations

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Once upon a time, in a faraway land, a young prince lived in a shining castle. Although he had everything his heart desired, the prince was spoiled, selfish, and unkind. But then, one winter’s night, an old beggar woman came to the castle and offered him a single rose in return for shelter from the bitter cold. Repulsed by her haggard appearance, the prince sneered at the gift and turned the old woman away, but she warned him not to be deceived by appearances, for beauty is found within.

Conversations

1)What is (y) our idea of beauty? In what ways has this been shaped by Media?

2)”Beauty is found within”. Do you agree with this? Why?

3)Why is there so much of ‘attention’ for the ” good-looking” and worse, a mad craze for “looking good” within our culture?

4) Why do you think it is so difficult for us to accept the fact that beauty is not skin deep?

Anbe Sivam!

 

The God debate is inescapable. Some believe in God. Some disbelieve in the idea of God (There are reasons but no excuses). Some cling on to the belief in God because they don’t want to accept defeat (which is pitiable). Some pride themselves in being atheists (which sometimes borders on arrogance). Who (or may be what) is God?

Events, experiences and Pain evokes questions about the existence of God. In the face of evil, pain and suffering we are unable to make sense of the divine. The idea (and belief) of God who is good, loving and all powerful simply does not make sense. How could God allow the innocent to suffer (and worse evil doers to flourish) What kind of God do we have? One philosopher contends, If God exists, he must be the devil?

Anbe Sivam (2003) is an interesting film that raises the question about God (and suprisingly answers it). The film is about two contrasting individuals Nallasivam (played by Kamal Hasan) and Anbarasu (played by Madhavan). Nallasivam is an activist who is driven by communist ideology. Anbarasu is an advertisement filmmaker. They accidently meet each other as their flight is cancelled due to bad weather. They are stuck together and travel on trains, buses and taxis to reach Chennai. The casual travel becomes a journey as they engage in philosophical debates and consequently self-reflection on their philosophical positions and ideological stances.

The film contends that Love in God ( Anbe sivam).  Nallasivam (the protagonist) says the the good that we find in humanity is God. While a case as been drawn for “Love as God”, does it adequately inform contemporary God-debates. If the desire to help people in need, the deliberate acts of compassion and even the refusal to do evil is God, can this adequately explain the orgin, nature, meaning, morality and destiny of humanity.

Why do we do good to other people? And then, why do we do the worst sometimes? If there is a drive to do good, why do we do evil? How do we arrive at “what is good?” and “what is bad?”

Nevertheless, the film is both a treat to the theist and the atheist. Both of us need to find the basis for our belief or disbelief in God. Don’t we? It helped me to engage with my own beliefs about God and even reflect on “why I believe what I believe?”. I thoroughly enjoyed the movie. It made me cry. It made me question. It made me think.

KANKY marriage – what does it take to say ” I still do”

A faith commentary on Karan Johar’s Kabhi Alvida Na Kehna by Samuel Thambusamy

There’s surely a fracturing in relationships, particularly marriage relationships. We get to hear stories of jealousy, unfaithfulness, abuse, and betrayal within marriage relationships and we wonder why a working marriage is a rarity. The question: “ Is the institution of marriage relevant to our times?” is unconsciously wired into our everyday conversations.

Karan Johar’s message in KANK is: Getting married is easy but staying so is difficult. Karan contends the ‘failing marriage’ scenario had sown the seeds for KANK. Is a KANKY marriage a solution to the problem?

Hindi cinema has addressed the question of relationships, often times portraying marriage and relationships in negative shades. But why must films show marriage in a very bad light? And interestingly, the blame is always on the woman, urban space and modernity. The formulaic myths of patriarchy, rural values, and tradition are (re) played at regular intervals to uphold societal values.

It is sad that the recent Salman Khan starrer Shaadi Karke Phas Gaya Yaar endorses the ‘stay-at-home’ submissive woman’ gender stereotype. Any legitimate question for ‘space within the yesteryear traditional framework of the Indian family is rubbished by the portrayal of the woman as – arrogant, modern and vampish. Worse, maleness is reinforced through violence (by a slap) on the woman. What does it take a marriage to work? Usually, it works if the woman has the courage to be silent, submissive and subdued. But, is this an answer to happy, healthy and holistic home?

Ironically, gangster movies present the family and marriage relationships very differently. The family stays together (although there may be an odd black sheep) through out the movie. The mafia don is shown at the dining table having meals with the family. He seeks justice for women and also chides the men who falter in their family responsibilities. The wife, for her part, is supportive of the don who saves all his hatred, violence, and killing for the outside world. Who or what gives the glue for the gangster family to stay together? Is it fear or the need for emotional cushioning? (Perhaps, RGV can enlighten us on this issue).

Some Bollywood movies present the cure outside of the troubled marriage. KANK is supposedly about such explorations for fulfillment outside of a ‘lifeless’ marriage. Jism (and its clones and distant cousins) brought some legitimacy to extra marital affairs. I know movies do reflect the troubled nature of our society (although not in its entirety). KANK, with its trademark ensemble star cast, good songs, humor, big budget dharma production, supposedly portrays a realistic picture of modern human relationships.

It is so easy to ‘recoil’ and either uphold traditional values or dump tradition altogether. I found Karan Johar’s take on modern human relationships in a recent interview very interesting. He says, “ Basically there is no black-and-white areas in relationship. We all live in the grey. There is no right and wrong in relationship”. Ideas have consequences. If we believe that there are no absolutes, then we come to believe that the solution to life’s questions lies in the search for answers rather than in finding the answers.

What keeps a marriage going? I think, the answers are quite simple: Mutual acceptance, Mutual love and mutual respect between two people committing to one another. Marriage is not finding the right partner, it is being the right partner. Ayaan in SKPGY fails to be the right person. He is not in love with Ahana (shilpa Shetty) but he is in love with himself. The characters in KANK (Dev, Rhea, Rishi and Maya) also fail to be the right kind of people within a marriage relationship.

Interestingly, Salaam Namaste gets to resolve the puzzle of a failing marriage (although there is no marriage relationship in the first place). Nick (played by Saif) and Amby (played by Preity) recognize the need and significance of passion, intimacy, and commitment in a man-woman relationship. Young people are cynical about marriage and this cynicism is turned into a commercial opportunity in the guise of entertainment. Marriage is such a beautiful thing. It provides sense of belonging, emotional security and sexual intimacy to two people in love.

The joy of togetherness can be found if like Nikhil Arora ( Saif) we begin to see ourselves as we truly are and accept the other person as they are. I found these lines very perceptive:

“ You were pretty, smart and perfect. You were perfect. And I fell in love with your perfection. Then, I saw your other side. Your anger, mood swings and stupidity…fighting without provocation. I’ve seen you double-sided…but my love never lessened. I don’t love you in spite of all this. I started loving you because of this. I just keep loving you even more. I am not perfect Ambar. Neither are you and life is never going to be perfect. But you will always be perfect for me. I love you Amby. Please, will you marry me?”

Many years back, in exchanging our marriage vows, we had said, “ I do”. Now, there’s no need to fall out of love. It takes acceptance, love and respect to say “ I still do”. May be we can say the same Saif lines and we can discover the joy of being married.

Will God ever forgive us?

Blood Diamond (2006) and the Human nature debate- By Samuel Thambusamy

Danny Archer: So you think because your intentions are good, they’ll spare you, huh?
Benjamin Kapanay: My heart always told me that people are inherently good. My experience suggests otherwise. But what about you, Mr. Archer? In your long career as a journalist, would you say that people are mostly good?
Danny Archer: No. I’d say they’re just people.
Benjamin Kapanay: Exactly. It is what they do that makes them good or bad. A moment of love, even in a bad man, can give meaning to a life. None of us knows whose path will lead us to God. – Blood Diamond (2006)

All have sinned and have come short of the glory of God – Bible

Introduction

Just watched Edward Zwick’s movie Blood Diamond a few days back. It was deeply a spiritual experience. David Bruce contends, “I believe that our search for God and life’s meaning is reflected in Hollywood films and in our culture.” I am in full agreement with him. God speaks to us through the obvious and the subtle. He reaches out to us in big and small ways.

Despite all the blood and gore, Edward Zwick’s movie Blood Diamond (2006) unfolds a message. The movie presents several themes of interest to a socially-engaged viewer: Illegal trafficking of diamonds, child conscription, civil War fuelled by self-interests if not conflict diamonds, the illegal arms trade, slavery in rebel mining camps, the supply-demand manipulation by Transnational companies etc.

The Human nature debate

However, the film also contains several theological themes. I find the human nature debate portrayed against the background of Sierra Leon’s conflict diamonds very interesting. We are introduced to people who are driven either by the power of greed or the greed for power. And then, at key points in the film the question of human nature is raised through one of its characters.

Danny Archer ( played by Leonardo DiCaprio), a trafficker of conflict diamond remarks, “Out here, people kill each other as a way of life. It’s always been like that.

Danny has learnt to accept violence as the very nature of humanity. Not surprising, given his difficult childhood experience.

Captain Poison from the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) remarks, “ You think I’m a demon, but that’s only because I have lived in Hell ”.

This is an interesting comment considering RUF’s reputation internationally for its tortuous cruelty during its decade-long struggle.

Benjamin Kapanay, a social worker involved in the rehabilitation of child soldiers, remarks “. It is what they do that makes them good or bad. A moment of love, even in a bad man, can give meaning to a life”.

How does Blood Diamond answer the question of human nature? Well… It does not emphatically state its answers. However, there is hint (or at least a suggestion) that humanity is inherently good. It is what they do that makes them good or bad. People are just people. What they are (or have become) is due to their specific context. So Danny Archer may well blame his past. Captain Poison can blame his present condition.

The greed for power and the power of greed

The inherent goodness of humanity is a humanistic premise. “The idea of the essential goodness of humanity” as Stuart McAllister reminds us, “has taken on a life of its own and is now imbedded in our modern psyche”. But… is the inherent goodness of humanity an experiential reality? In the film, Benjamin Kapanay is unable to accept this wholeheartedly“: My heart always told me that people are inherently good. My experience suggests otherwise”. We share the same anguish like Solomon Vandy, the innocent fisherman whose family is torn apart due to the conflict diamonds: “ how can my own people do this to each other?

True, we wonder why people behave the way they do. The genocide in Rwanda, the ethnic cleansing in Bosnia, the killing of Muslims in Godhra are powerful reminders that the inherent goodness of humanity is a myth.” Every step forward in scientific revolution/ civilization has only made us more barbarous than ever. We are predisposed to the power of greed and the greed for power. We grab, we hurt, and we kill like professionals without undergoing any specialized training.

Inherent goodness?! – The contradictory experience in real life

Why does it come so easily to grab, hurt and kill? The blood and gore in Blood Diamond is just a mere shadow of what actually happened? The reality was even more horrific as you fill in the details. Ironically, the RUF began its struggle raising the slogan: “No More Slaves, No More Masters. Power and Wealth to the People.” During the course of war, the RUF was notorious for hacking the hands off to prevent people from voting. There were many child soldiers in the RUF, up to 23,000 at one point. Most were used for attacks on villages and on guard duty at diamond fields.

The RUF in its decade long struggle against the Free Town Government conscripted thousands of boys and girls to serve as soldiers or as prostitutes. Worse, those chosen were sometimes forced to kill their own parents. They also introduced the new recruits to worst forms of barbarity and thus made them maniacal and fearless. It has been reported that some child soldiers would bet on the sex of an unborn baby and then slice open a woman’s womb to determine the winner.

Why do we do terrible things to each other?

As you watch the movie, you perfectly understand Solomon Vandy anguish: “ How can my own people do this to each other?” We do the worst things to each other. The RUF was so obsessed with the greed for power that they turned a blind eye to the suffering of their own people. The diamond traffickers were overpowered by the power of greed that they traded these diamonds for blood and gore. The diamond buyers and arms traders in the West were equally guilty of fueling the blood and gore in Sierra Leon – all for cheap diamonds. The insatiable desire of diamond wares of consumers fuelled the tortuous killing of more than a million people. You readily identify with Danny Archer’s inner struggle: Sometimes I wonder… will God ever forgive us for what we’ve done to each other?

The ‘best-fit’ answer: Humanity curved in on itself

Experience contradicts the inherent goodness of humanity. Why does it come so naturally to grab, hurt and kill? The Christian-philosopher St. Augustine contends that humanity is in a “mess of sin” (Massa peccati) which he calls “original sin”. This state of fallen-ness (from our original state of innocence) makes it impossible to refrain from all the grabbing – hurting and killing. We still are able to choose the good, but our desires remain chained by our evil impulses. Martin Luther, in the same Augustinian tradition used the phrase ‘mankind curved in on itself (Homo in se incurvatus) to describe the human condition.

The phrase paints an image of reaching in to oneself rather than reaching out to help others and helps further to illustrate the inherent selfishness that lies at the heart. The Christian answer to the question of human nature/condition matches our daily experience of both good and evil in our encounter with people.

It’s the matter of the heart condition

It is very difficult to agree with Benjamin Kapanay when he says, “It is what humans do that makes them good or bad. Human experience tells us that “doing good” does not come naturally. Individuals/communities need to deal with greed, envy, and lust in order to live fully and meaningfully . And so we seek redemption through technology, awareness, education and socio-economic development.

But are these able to deal with greed, envy and lust? We only gain sophistry that aids our grabbing – hurting and killing. We have a predisposition towards evil and unless we deal with it we will never be able to live “fully” and meaningfully. As Ravi Zacharias contends, the heart of the matter is the matter of the heart. We can all seek redemption if we turn our hearts to God. But will God ever forgive us for the things we have done to each other?

In the film, Danny Archer raises this important question. There are two options before us: Either we believe that God has left us or God is with us.

Will God ever forgive us? – The remedy

The film points us to the way forward through Solomon Vandy plea.

Dia, What are you doing? Dia! Look at me, look at me. What are you doing? You are Dia Vendy, of the proud Mende tribe. You are a good boy who loves soccer and school. Your mother loves you so much. She waits by the fire making plantains, and red palm oil stew with your sister N’Yanda and the new baby. The cows wait for you. And Babu, the wild dog who minds no one but you. I know they made you do bad things, but you are not a bad boy. I am your father who loves you. And you will come home with me and be my son again.

Like Dia, we are faced with the choice. To remain in our wretched condition or to seek redemption. Like Dia, who ran to his father, we can run to God our maker and seek his forgiveness for all the bad things we have done. It takes a penitent heart to hear God say: “ I am your father who loves you. You will come home and be my son again”. – Samuel Thambusamy

The urban discourse of desire and despair

– A commentary on Anurag Basu’s Life in a Metro


Life in a Metro is not just about infidelity or casual relationships. The film is about breakdown of relationships, the commodification of sex, chasing dreams, the greed for success (read power), and letting go of personal values. The film raises the question: What is it that people are running to? What is it that they are running from? and most importantly “why?”.

Globalization has changed the hue and texture of our cities. What would life in a city be like today? Anurag Basu’s Life in a Metro (2007) gives a preview into the urban Indian middle class and their tryst with Love, Romance, Dreams and Lust.

Life in a Metro is not just about infidelity or casual relationships. Although, that’s the first impression the promos give (Blame Bollywood for it). Life in a Metro is about people either uprooted from smaller towns or re-rooted within the changing Urban cultural space.

The film is about breakdown of relationships, the commodification of sex, chasing dreams, the greed for success (read power), and letting go of personal values. The film raises the question: What is it that people are running to? What is it that they are running from? and most importantly “why?”.

The characters

Life in a Metro essays the lives of Akash, Rahul, Neha, Ranjit, Shikha, Shruti and Monty. As the story unfolds, we see the urban ‘desire’ and ‘despair’ through their everyday interaction – their romance, marital breakdown, love, and lust. We are immediately introduced to the characters and we quickly learn a few things about them.

Neha: I need someone who really loves me
Ranjit Kapoor: I want to feel twenty again
Shikha Kapoor: I feel trapped within a failed marriage.
Akash: I am a loser
Rahul: I am here (in the city) to win the race not a morning walk
Shruti Ghosh: Everybody’s falling in love. I am 28 and still a virgin

The price to pay

Well…you surely have to pay a price to live in a city. The price is not always the ‘crowded streets’, ‘traffic jams’, ‘long working hours’, ‘insensitive neighbors’, ‘stress’ and ‘strained relationships’. More often than not, it is the rumble and tumble you go through – in your attitudes, beliefs and character – in your fight for (economic and emotional ) survival. The city constantly strips you of your humanity. You begin to grab everything, hurt everybody and trade anything.

Everyone’s got a prize tag

So much so, sooner or later everybody in the city carries a price tag. You can buy (or sell) love, sex, career and just about everything…

  • Rahul trades his Uncle’s trust to negotiate his growth plans at the workplace.
  • Neha sells sex to buy love.
  • Ranjit flashes perks to buy a bit of happiness (read sex) without commitment.
  • Shikha lends support to buy herself some comfort.

The line of defense

It’s all a heartless transaction. You wonder if you can have meaningful interactions within the urban space! Why do they do what they do? Well…each one has neatly worked out a line of defense.

* Neha: I need someone to love me
* Rahul: You don’t get rich with a regular job
* Ranjit: Nobody’s hurt. Who cares?
* Shikha: I am hurt and neglected; It is only natural that this happened.

Nevertheless, each one hurts himself (let alone others) and through time become comfortably numb.
What are they running to? Why?

Ranjit, Neha, Rahul, Shikha, Akash, Shruti and Monty are all running away from something. More importantly, they are running to something. What is it that they are seeking? At what cost?

Can’t Ranjit get the same happiness at home? of course he can. But, he’s got to deal with his ego. Ranjit’s real problem is not sex, it is power and control. He knows Shikha (his wife) is better than him, probably can earn better than him. (Is that why he stopped her from working?). Neha, his subordinate at the workplace gives him a sense of power and control.

Neha is angry and upset at the male world. And yet, she was willing to have an affair with an older man. Probably, Ranjit satisfied her longing for a father figure (I am looking for my father who abandoned me).

Rahul is searching for success. But… can’t he not get it through his hard work and determination? Why does it have to be through a short cut?

Shikha is looking for comfort. It is obvious that her marriage has completely broken down. Worse, even their silences hurt. As a neglected wife she needs care and attention. She grabbed it when Akash gave it. But… was Akash honest? Why does she drift away?

Akash is looking for success. But…on the flip side isn’t he looking for a trophy partner? Shikha is not just any other girl. Shikha is hurt on the inside and a hurt Shikha satisfies his hurt male ego. It’s his way of getting even with his wife who left him (because he was a loser).

Shruti is looking for companionship but she’s looking for a perfect partner. (” I have one life to live. How can I waste it with a wrong man?“)

Monty is looking for a wife but he has loads of expectations that she needs to fulfill. In fact he is in love with himself. He is looking for a toy – the right shape, color and size – which he will call WIFE. Not surprisingly, he is willing to wait for his dream toy.

Left in despair

What is it that they are all seeking and what do they get? We find them used – abused and confused. The real tragedy is that they are unable to see the good when it stares them in the eye. They miss the good and mess up their lives. Interestingly, there is deep down a desire for togetherness, meaning, significance, success, identity etc. But, the desire is located elsewhere and so they get nothing but despair.

Can we clear the mess?

“It-doesn’t-hurt-anybody excuse” is a myth. A friend of mine once said, “There is nothing personal. Everything is interpersonal”. Neha is hurt. Shikha is hurt. Akash is hurt. Rahul is hurt. Ranjit is hurt. After all money (and perks) is not everything in life. Interestingly, Rahul and Neha discover this (It is better late than never). If money was everything, Rahul would have sold the piece of land that was part of his father’s dream. If money was everything, Neha would have killed herself. There’s more to life. Can we clear the mess-up?

Seeking transformation

Among the six, it is Rahul who seeks course correction. Monty and Shruti too in a small way. Rahul in chasing his father’s unfulfilled dreams is a prisoner of his hopes and fears. He tries every short cut – even at the cost of demeaning himself. He’s worked out his defense: Its all for his salary hike, promotions, climb in the social ladder. But…For how long? As long as he can ’sell’ his Uncle’s trust (and more importantly, as long as there are takers for it). Rahul realizes that he is a poor shadow of himself. He seeks transformation. He pulls himself together and tells his boss enough is enough.

But do the others – Akash, Ranjit, Shikha – seek transformation? May be not. They go on to make the same mistakes again. Ranjit leaves Shikha. He seeks forgiveness but he isn’t willing to forgive. Akash is still struggling for Shikha’s love. Wonder if he would to well in the Promised Land across the seas. Shikha still has a soft corner for Akash. Wonder if she would be able to work through her troubled marriage.

Even Shruti makes a mistake – even if she thinks its right to follow the heart. She shows up at Monty’s wedding to confess her love. But… is it love? Monty dumps his bride…Is it commitment? Would they play out Ranjit and Shikha in the near future.

In other words, life is simple. It’s got to be lived by simple rules. We make it complicated and then seek simplistic answers. Worse, we forget to live. What’s about this life in a metro? We don’t have to give up and go away ( Rahul says:” I can’t cope with the city“) or become comfortably numb ( Neha: ” This City has made me strong“). Well… if we can keep it simple and not mortgage our lives for mobile phones, discotheques, pizzas, flashy cars, palace like apartments…we can live ‘fully’ and ‘meaningfully’.

Transformation is not difficult. It just needs our decision and determination. We like, Rahul and Neha can start a new life. Our entire life could be beautiful…The obsession to get something more, the search for something better..in all this you lose what you have. The search never ends…time does… (That’s pretty much the film’s answer to the urban woes)