Wednesday, 20 August 2014

Piranhas and the Ultra Left Dream

We got cable TV in 1998 when I was thirteen; until then I grew up watching two channels: DD1 and DD2.

I remember the first time I heard the Pink Floyd song Nobody Home, which had the line:
I got thirteen channels of shit on the TV to choose from
I was amazed that anyone had thirteen channels (shit or otherwise) to choose from. It seemed like some kind of paradise.

Every Saturday night, DD1, if my memory serves me right, used to broadcast an English movie. In pre-cable times, these movies, along with the VHS tapes my parents rented for us to watch during school vacations, were my only exposure to western cinema.

I have vivid memories of many of the DD1 English movies, but some left more of an impression than others. The Adventures of Robin Hood was screened in 1993, a few days before my brother Sujaan, who was three years old at the time, was due to start school. When the movie ended, he flatly announced that he would go to school without a fuss, but only if he was kitted out entirely in Lincoln green. After some bargaining our mother got him a green bag, and this was enough to keep him happy.

The night Robin Hood was to be telecast, we tuned in early to make sure we did not miss a single minute. The movie was announced by an on-screen message: Coming up: The Advantage of Robin Hood. I remember my father laughing at Doordarshan's typo.

I had a friend who also used to watch the DD1 English movies. In school on Monday we would discuss the movies in detail, and repeat lines which had made an impression on us. One such movie, The Phantom of Hollywood, had the line (in a threatening note slipped to a studio-chief) "To destroy the backlot is to destroy yourself."

We thought this had to be the greatest single line in cinematic history.

* * *

Last night I was reading some of Nabarun Bhattacharya's short stories. His (devastatingly good) short story ফ্যাতাড়ু (Fyataru) – about "an anarchic underclass fond of sabotage" who can fly with the aid of a secret mantra – has the following conversation:
—শনিবার টিভি-তে ইংরিজি সিনেমাটা দেখেছিলে?
—না তো।
—তা ভালো জিনিস দেখতে যাবে কেন? বইটা ছিল হেভি ভয়ের। এক পাল উড়ুক্কু মাছ! উড়ে উড়ে লোক ধরছে আর গলা কামড়ে মেরে ফেলছে।
—না, না। ভ্যামপায়ার তো হলো গিয়ে বাদুড়। এ হলো মাছ। একটা ডোবা জাহাজের খোলের মধ্যে থাকে। মাঝে মাঝে দল বেঁধে লোক মারতে বেরোয়ে।
Translation (with help from Sujaan):
—Did you catch the English movie on TV on Saturday?
—Of course, why would you watch the quality stuff? The movie was real scary. There was this swarm of fish which could fly. Flying at people, biting at their throats and killing them.
— No, no. Vampires are what you call bats. These were fish. They lived in the hull of a sunken ship. From time to time they would emerge in hordes to kill humans.
The characters in the story are clearly referring to Piranha II: Flying Killers, a movie which I remember watching on DD1. ফ্যাতাড়ু was published in 1995, so it was almost certainly the very same telecast that I watched. On a Saturday night in the mid-nineties, in different parts of Calcutta, an excitable 10-year-old kid and a 47-year-old revolutionary writer at the peak of his powers were probably both watching the same corny American horror flick.

On a side note, director James Cameron jokingly described Piranha II as "the finest flying killer fish movie ever made" – a description which reminds me of a certain Durga Puja advertisement.

* * *

From the Times of India article about Nabarun Bhattacharya's demise, a line written without a trace of irony:
He sympathized with the ultra left dream of a society where "people will get enough to eat, their health will be looked after, and children educated."
On days when I think about my own (small) contribution to capitalist exploitation, it is good to know that in my own way, I too entertain ultra left dreams.


mrunmayee said...

Doordarshan used to play "world cinema" at 11 pm (some weekend night, I think it was the international movie festival india selection or something)..I remember watching movies I mostly did not understand..somehow they were enjoyable because they did not feel like movies!

Sroyon said...

"somehow they were enjoyable because they did not feel like movies"

relativelytruthful said...

why do you say irony? and - i notice there are exclamation marks and question marks in your english translation of the dialogue but the bangla uses only periods. how? is punctuation implied?

Sroyon said...

I meant that they could have been ironically making the point that wishing for such basic things as getting enough food to eat or being able to educate one's children is now an ultra-left dream, but they weren't.

I used a couple of additional punctuation marks because I thought they better reflected the tone of the original – not sure if I succeeded though.