Friday 29 February 2008

Moments of Transcendental Aesthetic (2)

In our previous entry in the Sublime series, we mentioned that we could not recall a single moment of Sublime aesthetic enjoyment that did not involve a healthy degree of eroticism. i.e. That didn't involve our current celebrity crush. As we said, philosophers like Clive Bell would deem us philistines for letting such tawdry emotional involvement get in the way of our pure aesthetic Taste, essentially turning Beauty into soft porn. But we would challenge that view: surely rather than undermining a legitimate aesthetic appreciation, an initial, less refined attraction for things like SRK's tense eyebrows or Shashi Kapoor's head wobble can open doors to greater things - namely, the Sublime. Consider this: enjoyment of a piece of art naturally inspires us to expore it further, to want to familiarize ourselves with it, learn more about it, understand it. While the ice-breaker might be something a bit more vulgar - even just a song which we think is fun to watch - that charmed and open-hearted attitude will lead to more high-brow investigations. That is to say, if the Sublime is artgasm, then watching something because you like Amitabh's boogy is artdating.

Or, in another simile, it's like Maslow's hierarchy of needs, only applied to aesthetics: you need to address your more basic needs (I want to enjoy it) before you get too cerebral (I want to achieve a higher plane of existence).

That said, there are films where the intellectual stimulation is enough to pull an emotional involvement along with it: for example, Children of Men. Similarly, there are celebrity crushes which have developed after an onslaught of intelligent shots indicating a familiarity with transcendental skill: for example, Raj Kapoor in Awaara. We really do love him for his mind!

But then we remembered that there is a whole category of the Sublime that the PPCC loves without necessarily wanting to also jump its bones. And that is usually things like Sufi mysticism and its related appendages: ghazals, qawwalis and poetry for the broken-hearted and mystical.

The second example:
Muqaddar Ka Sikandar, Salaam-e-ishq

There's actually a couple moments in Muqaddar Ka Sikandar which the PPCC has deemed sublime. When Vinod Khanna sings Zindagi to bewafa hai... we usually see sparkly transdentals. Similarly, we have a weak spot for Rekha singing ghazals, and much of Umrao Jaan was also bordering on the sublime (with the final song, Yeh Kya Jagah Hai, Dosto?, being a wonder). In fact, we have a weak spot for Sufi aesthetics generally, and poets like Rumi and Mirza Ghalib, singers like Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan and Faiz Ali Faiz, have all moved us to the Sublime experience more than once. Perhaps this is because of Sufism's characteristic mysticism - it is an aesthetic that aspires to the Sublime in a way that others may not.

Now, while we at the PPCC love Amitabh and Rekha, we don't necessarily want to jump them the same way we would jump SRK or Shashi, hence here is an example of a Sublime moment completely removed from personal attraction (i.e. the crush factor).

Why sublime?: What's interesting is that we have never seen this song with subtitles, so we actually had nothing but a bare jist as to what it was about. But the music so moved us that we could cry on command when this song arrived at its most sublime moment: Mera dil dhadka! (TABLA) Mera dil tarpa kissiki nazar ke liye... The jolting, stuttering tabla, the minor key slowly falling in the background... Wah! Kya bat hai! And then the way it is filmed: with the slow close-ups of Rekha, the tracking shots of her as she dances across the room, and those wonderfully evocative shots of Amitabh watching, 100% involved (indeed, to the point that it moves him to sing along!). This is one of our favorite filmmaking techniques, something that Spielberg also uses a lot: the awed reaction shot. It has always augmented the emotional resonance of a scene when we see one of the characters marvelling at it - at its tragedy or, indeed, its sublimity. In Amitabh's case, it seems he is as compelled as we are by Rekha's song, by something that - a bit like SRK's limping loneliness in the KANK sublime moment - seems larger and more epic than its description. (Compare this to the red girl sequence from Schindler's List, when Liam Neeson is awed instead by terror and watches with the same open-mouthed concentration.)

1 comment:

Filmi Geek said...

I love *Muqaddar ka sikandar* - more than most, I'd venture to say - but there is nothing sublime about the Pepto-Bismol colored horror of an outfit Rekha wears in "Salaam-e-ishq." It's also not my favorite of her mujras - she's capable of quite a bit of grace (see Jaan, Umrao) and I've never quite figured out why she stomps about so in this song. Actually pretty much everything about her character bores me to tears and seems the least interesting, most disposable part of the movie for me, there because they needed someone "sexy" (I don't find Rekha attractive, am speaking more broadly) to pin some songs on. So yeah, I guess, un-sublime for me.