For the Love of a Man [2015)

What a film!

Sometimes I end with that sentiment, but I want to make sure that you take away that message.

This fantastic documentary takes a look at the cult of personality surrounding the biggest star of Tamil cinema:  Rajinikanth.

To paraphrase from one of my favorite films (Genghis Blues), Rajinikanth is like Michael Jordan, Elvis, and John F. Kennedy rolled into one.

If you live in the state of Tamil Nadu.

India.

Yes, we recently touched on Rajasthan, but let’s find Tamil Nadu on a map.

Very southern tip of India.

On the east side.

And here’s where we find Chennai.

[Which seems to be pronounced Chin-ay]

And, of course, Chennai used to be called Madras.

Now that we are caught up on geography, let’s get back to this amazing figure known as Rajini (short for Rajinikanth).

If we are to compare him to other international cinema stars, we might look to Jean-Paul Belmondo.

That great lip-rubbing outlaw of À bout de souffle.

Definitely a smoker.

Smoking those thick-tar Boyards cigarettes.

[Or so I imagine]

And sunglasses.

Rajini must always have his sunglasses.

Cigarettes and sunglasses.

Sounds like a ZZ Top song.

But for Rajinikanth, you need a big, thick mustache.

And you need a certain finesse with those props (the smokes and the shades).

Like Michael Jackson in the “Smooth Criminal” video.

Yeah!

This is India, man!

There’s dancing in the films!

The stars dance!!

And sing!!!

[Of course, don’t tell the generations of voiceover singers that]

But it is well-known.

Mohammed Rafi.  Lata Mangeshkar.

But did Rafi ever sing in Tamil?  Not that I know of.

And Lata?  I have no idea.  But it wasn’t her main language.

So let’s take a step back here…

Tamil.

By “native speakers” (70 million), Tamil is the 20th most spoken language in the world.

That’s ahead of Turkish, Italian, and Thai (just to name a few).

By “total number of speakers” (74 million), Tamil is still the 20th most spoken language in the world.

That’s ahead of Korean, Turkish, and Vietnamese (to name just three).

But what about Tamil cinema?

I’m sure it goes without saying that this is my first venture into writing about this unique slice of the world pie.

Indeed, it’s my first time even really contemplating it to a serious degree.

But back to this Rajinikanth fellow…

He’s ostensibly been the biggest star in Tamil cinema…since the 1970s!

He debuted in 1975.

His first film was in Tamil.

In 1976, he was in four films (only one of which was in Tamil).

In 1977, he was in 15 (!) films (eight being in Tamil).

In 1978, he was in 21 (!!) films (16 in Tamil).

Funny enough, Rajinikanth was not born in Tamil Nadu.

No, rather, he was born in the state of Mysore.

However, this state no longer exists under that name.

And being born in the city of Bangalore (a.k.a. Bengaluru), Rajinikanth would have been born in what is now the state of Karnataka.

65% of Kannadigas (those who live in Karnataka) speak Kannada (not to be confused with Canada).

Oddly, Rajinikanth was born to a Marathi family.

As in, people who speak the Marathi language.

So how does he become the biggest star of the Tamil people?

He indeed spoke Marathi (and Kannada) as a child.

It was only when Rajinikanth came to the Madras Film Institute (well into life) that he finally learned Tamil.

He was 25 when he acted in his first film (a Tamil production).

But I must say, Rajinikanth is a very charismatic figure.

I never finished comparing him to other actors.

Part of me wants to say James Dean, but I think Bruce Lee might be even more apt.

Rajinikanth kicks butt.  But with style!

He has moxie!

And most importantly, he stands up for the little guys.

Having been a bus conductor himself, he has played roles such as that of an auto-rickshaw driver.

And by dint of his sheer magnetism (and an almost Soviet, Trotskyist atmosphere in Tamil Nadu), he has spawned a legion of fans who await his film premieres with what can only be compared to the manic thrall of Beatlemania.

His fans literally scream their lungs out on opening nights…so happy to see their hero in a new picture.

And Rajinikanth makes but one movie every three years now.

If all of this sounds remotely interesting to you, then you absolutely must see For the Love of a Man (which is currently on Netflix in the U.S.).

Director Rinku Kalsy proves herself worlds above many of her contemporaries with this penetrating documentary.

Producer Joyojeet Pal seems to have played a very “hands-on” role as well (as a researcher for this picture).

It’s not always clear where the action is occurring in our film, but it seems that some of it (at least) was filmed in Sholinghur (which is about 67 miles inland from the coastal Chennai).

Then again, we do catch one glimpse of the actual Rajinikanth in the film…and it is in front of his residence in Chennai.

Which is to say, For the Love of a Man is very much about fandom.

And it reminds me of my own devotion to my heroes:  Jean-Luc Godard, Mercury Rev, Bob Dylan…

So I very much identified with the cross-section of Tamil society surveyed in this documentary.

Their devotion to their “leader” is very touching.

Not least, Rajinikanth seems like a very spiritual and magnanimous person.

A really generous human being.

And THAT is what really cements the devotion of his fans.

Any film publication that ripped this movie (Hollywood Reporter) must not have its head on straight.

Anyone in Venice who pooh-poohed this film needs a good spanking.

For the Love of a Man is a masterpiece.

-PD

What About Bob? [1991)

We all need a little therapy.

Laughter 🙂

And sometimes we need a story that hits real close to home.

For me, this one does the trick.

Multiple phobias would be an understatement.

And I can relate.

You know, it’s sometimes these types of movies which make me the most weepy-eyed.

But only temporarily.

Bill Murray really knocks it out of the park on this one.

But Richard Dreyfuss is equally essential to the “trading places” dynamic at work here.

And not least, Frank Oz directed a sort of masterpiece with this film.

Bob, the protagonist, would make an excellent spy (in some regards).

His stalking skills are world-class (bar none).

But Bob has no malice in his heart.

He just needs help.

But woe unto the genius who becomes the apple of Bob’s eye.

Yes folks, Richard Dreyfuss’ patience is tested as much as Herbert Lom’s (as Chief Inspector Dreyfus…one “s”) ever was by Peter Sellers as Clouseau.

That is very much the dynamic which is at work in our film.

Leo Marvin (Dreyfuss…”ss”) is a very bright psychiatrist.

He prominently displays his bust of Freud in his office and, while on vacation, at his lakeside home.

His son is named Sigmund.

His daughter, Anna.

And his wife looks much Jung-er than in her picture.

[I couldn’t resist]

But Bob is the kind of guy for whom the “block caller” function on your iPhone was invented.

As I said, however, Bob would make an excellent member of the intelligence community if he were not a practically-paralyzed nutbag.

Bob has problems “moving”.

But, to be frank, Bob has problems with everything.

Each and every activity which most people take for granted presents a unique hurdle for the perpetually-nervous Bob.

And I can relate.

Boy, can I!

Yet, what Bob lacks in conventional “people skills”, he makes up for with an endearing, warmhearted ease that he imparts to everyone he meets.

People love this guy.

If they take a second to get to know him.

And so we start with a patient (Bob) and a doctor (Leo).

But the lines blur early and often.

And so what director Frank Oz seems to be pointing out is something which Harvard professor Clay Christensen pointed out in his book How Will You Measure Your Life? not so long ago.

While Dr. Christensen makes clear that his former classmates at the Harvard Business School all seem to share a certain dissatisfaction with their lives (regardless of their tony jobs at McKinsey & Co., etc.), his thoughts on “disruptive innovation” occasioned an invitation from the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff to speak on this latter phenomenon.

So what I mean to say is this:  yes, this is self-help, but it’s serious, serious stuff!

Funny enough, that seems to describe Bob quite well.

Operation Nifty Package could have been shortened by nine days (and spared the royalties to ASCAP and BMI) had a Bob Wiley merely been sent in to chat with Manuel Noriega 1989/1990.

Which is to say, Bob Wiley represents that person we all think we know:  the most annoying person in the world.

They don’t come along often.

But when they do (and we are their captive audience), it makes psychological warfare look like child’s play.

So indeed, from the perspective of Dr. Leo Marvin, Bob Wiley must have seemed like a human weapon intent on wrecking his life.

The problem was that Dr. Marvin had become more focused on accolades (Good Morning America) and money than on the excellence of his caregiving.

Dr. Leo’s kids see this quite clearly.

Kathryn Erbe is excellent as Anna.  She shows true generosity to Bob and an open heart.

Charlie Korsmo is wonderful as Sigmund.  He does the same.  He treats Bob as a person, not a patient.

But this film is therapeutic for me in that it shows (albeit in caricature) some of the very problems I go through on a daily basis.

Fear of the edge.  Ok, let’s just make this the edge.  No no, I can’t see what you’re doing from back there.

Bob has a certain bit of Forrest Gump in him.

Dumb luck.  Or serendipity.

But really, Bob is an expert on psychological problems…because he has lived them.

Mind as battlefield.  You might see it on the endcap of your local book store.

But for Bob, that’s not just a catchy title.

It’s life.

You’re in a lake…for the first time ever…because someone has just pushed you in…and you are kicking your legs, trying to get back to the pier…but you swim under the pier, because you’re nervous…and all you can say is, “Am I gonna die?”

It’s funny.  Unless you’ve lived a situation which maps neatly onto that microcosmic display.

So slowly we see Dr. Leo deteriorate.  It’s partly because Bob is so bonkers, but it’s also because Bob is succeeding where Leo is failing.

Saying a kind word.

A compliment.

A smile.

A joke.

Laughter.

Fun!

We don’t any of us hold all of the cards.

You might be beautiful, but you might be a moron.

You might be rather homely, but simultaneously brilliant.

Human talents and intelligence(s) operate on an infinite number of intersecting planes.

For each of our talents or attributes, we are weighed by the “market” of human opinion.

Illustrating that great scientific query:  “In relation to what?”

One human in the lonely crowd.

And one attribute in a body and mind full of vast potential.

Bob looks pathetic in a rain slicker at 1 a.m.

With his knee-jerk reactions to thunderclaps.

And Bob looks thoroughly bizarre with his goldfish in a jar around his neck.

But these are the humans we need.

These are the spice of life.

Some would condescend and venture “salt of the earth”.

But I am sticking with spice of life.

What really gets it is when Bob pulls a sort of witless Al Kooper and ends up on live national television via Joan Lunden.

And so we return to patience.

That virtue.

It’s a test.

And patience is its own reward.

You will find the value society places on this most essential human attribute.

Yet, this patience must be tested.  Stress tested.  Like a bank.

Over years of potentially infuriating situations.

If you make it through, relatively unscathed, there’s a good chance you picked up the tools necessary for significant patience.

But we cultivate our own patience when we recognize its priceless effect upon our own lives.

How many times would you have been up shit creek had there not been a patient person there to pull you in to shore?

If we are smart (and lovers of humanity), we emulate this patience we’ve seen in action.

We make it part of our persona.

But it will be tested!

As in a crucible!!

And so what about Bob?

Bob is the oddity which places us in just the right perspective.

A bit like Dustin Hoffman in Rain Man.

Yes friends, Dr. Leo has some issues which he is not working through.

He never saw a Bob coming.

He had no contingency for this sort of personage.

And so he is off-guard.  Mean.  Ugly.  Nasty.  Snotty.  Vile.

Dark humor doesn’t have to be that dark.

How do you deal with your fear of death?

Consider developing a fear of Tourette’s syndrome.

Et voilá!

The great Paul Laurence Dunbar understood this concept…that in helping others, we magically forget about our own pain.

One more possibility about Bob as an intel employee.  If he found a superior whom he highly respected, there would be a bond of trust which would be invaluable.

This has been Death Therapy, with your host:  Pauly Deathwish. 🙂

-PD

City Lights [1931)

Just when you think you can’t go on anymore, and then something happens.

That is a miracle.

Little miracles.

Right place at the right time.

Preparation meets opportunity.

Luck.

If the horseshoe works…if the rabbit’s foot is effective, then you want some extra help going into the ring.

And if the luck is bad, you try to wipe off the effect as with an unwanted kiss.

It’s very hard saying anything enlightening right now.

I’ve trudged up a steep hill.

Today I hit a little plateau.

But it feels like I’m back at the bottom.

Because tomorrow is back to the salt mines.

Ah, but I am lucky.

Right?

I am not a pooper scooper in life’s parade…picking up after the animals.

At least, not literally.

But it all comes down to a rather simple concept.

We go back to where the flower girl was.

We went to jail for her.

And now is only absence.

Time has passed.

And so we wander the streets.

I am the laughing stock.

Easy to pick on.

Try to preserve some decorum.

Bring a laugh to the young people who have futures.

I will not tell you the rest.

Because it is coded in film language.

Why did Charlie act so nice?

Why did he do the right thing?

Why did he go above and beyond?

It was for love.

In real life we may fail, but we too are geniuses of love.

We have gone the extra miles.

And that lost love…as sad as Górecki’s ridiculously-dense counterpoint from his third Symphony.

Sorrowful songs.

Nothing can hurt that bad.

Driving.  Alone.  Empty.

It is all part of “life’s rich pageant,” as Peter Sellers so poignantly said.

It is the same with Chaplin, Sellers.  We laugh, but we are crying.

And so “perchance to dream”…REM sleep.

Tomorrow the birds will sing.

We must keep telling ourselves that until it’s true.

 

-PD