[Warning: contains spoilers of the general arc of the story.] Merchant and Ivory's first joint production, The Householder, has all the calm pacing and quiet expression you'd expect. Two years before my beloved Shakespeare-Wallah, IM + JI + Ruth Prawer Jhabvala + Shashi Kapoor already equaled wow. I found this movie sad and thoughtful and funny (often at the same time), and it left me passionately hoping that, forty-five years later, society has changed enough that the roles these characters find themselves restricted by are much easier to overcome. Prem (Shashi Kapoor) and Indu (Leela Naidu) are very new newlyweds and have no idea what to make of each other. "How can I like her?" Prem wonders to another new groom. "I don't even know her." Prem is also lost on the job as a college instructor, unable to control his classroom, stand up to a rude colleague, or work up the guts to ask his principal for the raise he and Indu need. Indu, meanwhile, stays at home, bored and lonely, but Prem nags at her constantly, criticizing her cooking and housekeeping in comparison to his mother's, calling her stupid. When Prem finds out Indu is pregnant (from a neighbor rather than from Indu herself, interestingly), he flips out about money without thinking to ask her how she feels or to express any kind of excitement. Later, shamed by her silent non-reaction to his dither-spaz*, Prem meekly scampers away to begin a search for counsel that leads him to one ridiculous piece of advice after another. Prem eventually figures things out, though, and he and Indu find smiles and sweetness creeping in. And at the very end we all go "awwww." The actors nail their roles. It's really too bad Leela Naidu did so few films - I thought she was great here, calm but strong and feeling. Durga Khote is enjoyable as Prem's coddling and completely overbearing mother, but I thought Indu Lele as Prem's school principal's wife was even more giddily fierce and farcical. (She's in the second picture from the top.) Shashi is both funny and sad as the completely befuddled, whiny, selfish, childish Prem, a man who needs to grow up pronto. By only eight minutes in, I told PPCC that I wanted to smack the crap out of him and tell him he can clean up after his damn self. Given how much I adore Shashi, that's some good acting. It's too bad I just indulged in an image-only post, because this story too lends itself to a visual recap. In the DVD extras, director Ivory says the film is rough (despite the editing by Satyajit Ray), but if you ask me, it's beautiful and perfectly evocative of the characters' thoughts and situations. Here are a few shots I especially liked:
- Prem consults his friend Raj about marriage because Raj has been married for three years and Prem therefore thinks he knows everything. I think Raj's wife, in the window, would disagree.
- Indu and Prem plot to get mother-in-law to cut her visit short. Here Prem contains a gloat when their scheme works.
- Sharing a happy moment on the bus ride home from a wedding. Look how close together they are, no space between them, a nice contrast to earlier scenes in which the curtain hangs between them.
- Note to self: do not become crazy, yoga-advising memsaab shacked up in Delhi with a bunch of annoying proto-hippies.
- Here's one of the nonsense-spouting Americans, running around in the Ram Yantra, becoming one with the universe or some such. Fab, right? The Jantar Mantar structures are stunning on their own, and the effect here is really cool - you hear the slap of his sandals as he hops from surface to surface.
- This one doesn't relate to the story, really. Prem's students don't pay him the least bit of respect, and here they read Filmfare and ape movie stars while Prem stares out the window. Is he being Dev Anand, do you think? The collar and hair....
- As if to make up for the lousy sound, the DVD had some fun extras: an interview with the filmmakers (and Shashi too), Merchant's first film The Creation of Woman (which was Oscar-nominated), Ivory's second piece The Sword and the Flute (both of these are very worth the watch, by the way), and some great archival photos of Shashi at the time of shooting. To quote Filmi Geek, guh.
This is one Merchant-Ivory movie that I really liked inspite of its slow pace and rough edges. The travails of arranged marriages probably arent like that anymore but the dynamics of these relationships is still quite similar and the movie is interesting because of that. I just wish M-I hadnt brought in their brand of mysticism-of-the-east motif that seems to run through all their movies. In an account of a young couple's adjustment to married life, there was no need for the proto-hippies. Most of their Indian films were peppered with gurus, swamis, people looking for spiritual salvation, etc., and it seems like the eastern mystic and spirituality were de rigueur to make them seem more Indian (or exotic).
As for the exoticization, I think in this particular film they're making fun of it, because all those characters are idiots - underscored by the bombastic and totally typical western classical music playing in the background of their house. But apart from Shakespeare-Wallah, I haven't seen any of their other set-in-India or related-to-India films to comment. What do you think is the purpose of this trend in their films? It seems kind of odd that they'd do that, given that one is Indian and the other seems to be fairly knowledgeable about India, has worked there, etc.?
In general, I think it's entirely possible that MerchIv (hee) are Orientalist more to our eyes than they seemed at the time, but who knows. That might be too lenient an approach.
And then what do we make of (in this case) Indian actors and other crew who participate in an exoticizing project?
As for their films set in other parts of the world, do you feel they do that to those areas? I think one could probably argue that A Room with a View exoticizes Italy, but then again that's pretty much how the book is and the people who go to Italy looking for Art and Truth and Other Things Like That are, to my mind, clearly being affectionately lampooned.
I've never heard of Bhowani Junction - I'll have to see if I can get my hands on it!
Dear god, the brown paint. I'm currently watching Pyar Kiye Jaa in which Indian actors have white paint on their faces. My favorite example of ridiculous face-painting is Khushi, in which Kareena and Fardeen appear in..."Latino face," I guess we'd have to call it. WILL IT EVER STOP?!?
Spygirl - laughing like a loon on loon tablets!