Boyhood – A Kind of a Review

boyhood3There is a scene in Boyhood when Olivia (Patricia Arquette) suddenly cries out “my life is just gonna go like that… this series of milestones…” We all would want to agree with her. After all what’s a 60 years or more or less of it in this eternal cosmos. And yet what director Richard Linklater (of Before Sunrise/Sunset/Midnight series and Waking Life) says is far beyond those lines.

Boyhood is predominantly the story of Mason (Ellar Coltrane) as he grows from a dreamy six year old into an 18 year old – literally. In a life controlled, limited, conditioned and ‘what not‘ed by parents (even step ones too), Mason is as much an out of the place kid as we all have been during that age. Mason’s world is as dull or as happy it can be – cycle rides, school, friendly neighborhoods, an annoying sister Samantha (Lorelei Linklater), along with a yearning for a father who happens to be their mother’s divorced husband. And when Olivia moves out of home in hope of making it better for her kids, their world gets as complicated as it can get. And so begins a child’s biggest and a necessary nightmare – ‘loss of innocence’ and dealing with it.

It is sometimes tough to realize when in the film Mason and Samantha have grown older and we take cues from their changed hair styles or tooth braces or such physical clues. But it is their underlying emotions expressed subtly that tell us about their growth. Richard Linklater ponders on – how quickly these kids grow and yet they are kids, who look at the world with different viewing lenses, coming into their own sooner than later. Linklater delves into the kids innocence and growth as easily as he mixes the talk about pop culture and existentialism ala all his previous films.

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It seems for all the major characters within the story life seems event less – even as the kids’ father Mason Sr. (Ethan Hawke) continues to visit them and tries to be as much a limited father he can be within his visiting hours; and even as Olivia continues her education and also marries a second time. The second husband, for reasons never known (how can any child know) turns out to be a good but disciplinarian and an alcoholic father. So the big events in the life of these kids are those when their seemingly working arrangements, for which they might have struggled – at least emotionally, fall out as both their parents make more and more mistakes – probably teaching Mason a lesson or two about life.

The camera is set in places as if we were sitting with Mason, his glass eyes absorbing everything, and we think we have an answer as to why he seems withdrawn. In these withdrawn worlds of these characters come the moments like when – Mason Sr. tries to educate his daughter (in her mid teens) about being ‘protected’, else he gently warns her about mistakes like he and his once wife did. There is no guilt there, just a feeble feeling that life could have been different and better if it were so possible, which disguises a father’s heart-felt confession about not being a better parent. Or when Olivia asks her son if he had had a joint and he replies yes innocently, and she can only smile about it. Or that Samantha and Mason have very little to say to each other as they grow up but connect to each other as silent witnesses of being the kids of their parents. Of course it’s Linklater – he never takes sentimentality take over on what he intends to document. He paints a rare canvas that is real, living and continues to make us wonder bout what is the meaning of everything.

In a world where kids fights for growth have to be dramatized to be understood (Harry Potter), Boyhood is the exact opposite of it. (May be the director knew what he was doing and that’s why he covered the Harry Potter mania here.) In a world where teachers, media and anyone who can boss you will offer advice about making it big in life Boyhood looks at things that are generally considered small.

Linklater’s biggest achievement in the movie is to capture the growth of not just a boy but of what is generally called family – despite it not working the way it is expected to. Life seems to offer them a second chance every time and sometimes they make the best of it, sometime they don’t. It’s all acceptable here. For those who can’t – life’s events are memories. For those who can make the best of these chances – there seem to be more chances. And in a life where chances come and go by the toughest thing is – to not to give up on what doesn’t necessarily make sense but connects us all, to continue to dream of something beyond what is visible, to feel the moment take over you – like how you felt looking at the sky as a kid or when you got really high, and if possible find a partner who can share that dream and make meaning out of it.

No Linklater’s Boyhood isn’t just about Mason. It is about everyone and what makes life tick and how one retains it – despite the odds.

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The Three Brahmins!

 I was born in February (or so I have been told). And since about 10 years now, Februarys are extremely tough for me. The kind of introspection that they push me into… with the comparison of what I planned and imagined to achieve and haven’t yet makes me go crazy. (Without wanting to be sounding sexist in Februarys I could be worse than a girl on PMS… seriously). Right now I think I have found a way of dealing with it. I would post here, few works of mine – some old, some new, but not necessarily known to all of my friends or family members etc. Some are just random thoughts and some would be short stories (if I can find them) I had written in the past. The idea is not to correct / edit anything except for a few typos; instead I have to let these thoughts out (with a hope that they might reach people who care about them).

(This piece I wrote 2-3 years ago.)

It was around 11.00 am in the morning and it wasn’t the time to sleep. But after getting a few chores done early in the morning I had given into some sleep on the floor just like that.

And then they came – the Three Brahmins.

I call them Brahmins because I have no other name. From their distinct pilaka on their shaved heads, the sacred janjamu going along from their left shoulder to the right waist, and the dhoti with silk border – what else do you call them!

The moment I saw them, I knew I was going to give them money, I just had to know WHY!  The very fact that I don’t believe in giving alms and yet why I sometimes give away money is a contradiction I have long ceased to ponder upon.

They asked me to come out of the gadapa (threshold) or let them in. I asked them inside. They asked me if I belonged to the Reddy caste. I waited a second. I didn’t know I would.

***

12-13 years ago, I had then just come to Hyderabad, looking for a nice place to settle down in. Owners of places who were ready to let out their places would ask me my caste, and the moment I replied Madiga, some would raise their eyebrows, some would say they are not ready to let out their homes for me despite the fact that I am a vegetarian (and didn’t even booze until much later!) I vaguely remember a professor of Physics telling me that his house was let out only for brahmins and vysyas!

My mom taught me a trick. To tell them a different caste name – “what’s the big deal” she would ask as long as I could get a place! I remember my mom not trying to hide her caste with people, but for her son, she was ready to give up her ideals!

***

Few years ago, my then girlfriend had asked her father to allow me to talk to him so that I could request him to permit us to get married. He knew my caste, and associated a funny swear word with it. My girl friend is now my wife anyways. It is only recently that my father in law and I have begun talking to each other. Now they are looking for a guy for their second daughter, with some relaxed caste requirements. The guy has to be a Hindu though.

***

The three Brahmins asked me my caste. I waited a second. I didn’t know I would.

I always thought that I would say the answer to such a question easily and would laugh at people who were afraid to say out the name of the caste they belong to. But at that moment I gave in.

I had a feeling deep in my guts that the moment I told them I belonged to a pretty lower caste, they would run away, and here I was a man trying to give alms eh! I managed to skip the topic. I asked them what they needed. They persisted. I skipped it again even more persistently.

It was the oldest Brahmins daughter’s wedding. I gave them 51/- (now the hell do I add ONE to the FIFTY… hello I am supposed to be rationale, scientific, etc.) They needed another 50! I lied to them that I had given them whatever I had in my purse.

They asked my gothram – which I don’t remember. I didn’t lie this time. They stared at me.

They inquired if I was studying. I told them I work. They blessed me in Sanskrit. The moment I heard the word “Kalyanam”, I told them I was married anyway. The next words they used were Putra Poutri . I told them I am not interested in kids right now! (Hello… why did I tell them… wasn’t it my problem!) They said it was all in God’s Hands! And then they left. I was glad and sad.

***

As they left, I remembered my other three friends.

One, a friend from the childhood, and in whose home I reside now, sometimes not even caring to pay the rent. He just won’t ask! (He doesn’t mention that money till now yet, and I don’t have any plans to return it to him in case he is reading!)

Another, probably most educated amongst my friends and a doctor, has been a thorough supporter, no matter what I do. He just trusts me completely!

The other one, used to ensure that I don’t fall in his grandfather’s eyes, lest I will have to face a question on my caste, and would ensure that I ended up at their home every Thursday night, so that we could savor his mother’s dinner!

All three were/are Brahmins, by caste!

There is no relation to the three Brahmins I mentioned earlier, and my three Brahmin friends, and there is no aim that I intend to achieve or ponder upon through this piece. But by the end of today’s incident, I felt a deep sense of gratitude to my friends – whether it comes from my deep insecurity of being in a position where I have to be helped by upper caste to survive, which I never knew I had or from my belief in Rhond Byrne’s The Secret, I don’t want to know.

Otherwise I will have to try and raise my circle of influence to change

– the system which sees that people born in certain race need the state’s help.

– a powerful woman who thinks that the only way to raise attention towards lower caste’s problem is by spending crores of money on her statues among those of others

– all the mindsets that have degrees, phds and yet have demands of marrying people from the same caste

That’s difficult isn’t it? To change and to bring change! So I won’t think about it.

***