Here we come again to India.
And again to Tamil Nadu.
When last we visited India in our minds, we spoke of For the Love of a Man.
Another Tamil documentary.
About the superstar of South India: Rajinikanth.
But An American in Madras takes us back.
Indeed, it is the story of a man named Ellis Dungan.
And his 15 years of fame (complete with tuned klaxons) [meme mixing] was 1935-1950.
Ellis Dungan from Barton, Ohio.
Who went to Spain.
And bicycled to France.
Worked a bit in Paris.
Became interested in photography.
And somehow ended up in one of the first cinema cohorts at USC.
Met an Indian student.
Got an invite to Madras (Chennai).
And six months turned into fifteen years.
Isn’t that the way life works?
If you think I’ve spoiled too much of this story, you’re WAY wrong.
There is so much more to this fantastic documentary directed by Karan Bali.
Mr. Bali is in his prime, being just 48 years young.
But he has made a significant contribution to cinema with this picture.
Yes, this story is unique and compelling.
But again, we get a priceless view of India.
I promise we will move from Rajasthan and Tamil Nadu eventually (the only two provinces I have really covered).
But you really must see An American in Madras.
It is currently on Netflix.
And by the screenshot–the thumbnail…you might think it’s about a Jewish director.
That would be wonderful and fine.
But you would be wrong in assuming such.
Indeed, it seems that the six-pointed star on the “film poster” is not the Star of David but perhaps, rather, the Star of Goloka.
Which is to say, an Indian six-pointed star.
And though there are (and certainly were) Jews in India (though not very many…all things considered), An American in Madras is just about a bloke from Ohio who somehow ended up directing some (14) of the classic Tamil-language films.
He left India at the behest of his wife.
They divorced a short time later.
Okay, ok…I will stop giving spoilers.
But suffice it to say that An American in Madras tackles a very sticky conundrum:
For most of my life, my main motivation has been EXPRESSION…
What I’m doing right now.
Showing off my verbiage.
But hopefully adding value to the world.
[there goes my business school dissection…it’s second-nature now!]
And yet, my motivation changed.
For I was presented with a crossroads.
Not like Robert Johnson’s crossroads…
But more like Robert Frost’s crossroads.
God damn it!
I chose the path less-taken.
I chose love.
And it doesn’t make me a saint.
But it is what it is.
I gave up music.
I gave up expression as my main motivation.
And I attempted to evolve.
To nudge an inch closer to nirvana.
I chose love.
As my main motivation.
It is not a rockstar path.
Mother Theresa probably had some pretty rough days…
And I ain’t no Mother Theresa.
But I’m trying.
Trying to put other people before myself.
I am on the path.
And yes, I become wistful.
It seems like 40 years ago.
Maybe I can catch a wisp of song in my memory…a shard…a sherd…some hieroglyph of my past life.
But growing into an adult can entail smiling through the tears.
Singing a snippet, and being glad to be here now.