Ishq Vishk and Winter Light

Warning: disjointed rambling ahead!

On Saturday we watched part of Ishq Vishk (a rhyming phrase - Love-Vove, which is used dismissively in this case: as in, What is all this nonsense-fonsense). It's a very young movie, where all that matters is having fun and falling in love. It was fun, and highly coloured, the main actors were pretty, the music lively.

But it was too sugary for our taste, so we switched to a DVD of Bergman's Winter Light. It was like being plunged into very cold water - from lush tropics to black-and-white bleakness.

Ramesh says that you can't watch an Indian movie for five minutes without hearing the word 'marriage,' and you can't watch an American movie for five minutes before someone pulls out a gun. And of course, you can't watch a Bergman movie for five minutes without running into a struggle with God. Here, a pastor is going through a spiritual crisis, agonising over God's silence.

It appeared that I was supposed to empathise with the pastor (Gunnar Bjornstrand); but he was cold and self-absorbed. And so cruel to the woman who loves him (Ingrid Thulin). What is it with these grovelling women and contemptuous men? Hemingway heroines are slavishly adoring. Raj Kapoor films were like that too - he was short, but his heroines always had to look up to him; preferably from the floor. Yesterday we saw Five Easy Pieces, where Jack Nicholson is absolutely rotten to Karen Black (as if it were Nicholson's fault, not the director's. I watch so many movies, and the characters are all roaming around in my head, talking to each other and behaving as if they were independent. And all out of chronological order.).

Max von Sydow's tormented fisherman, who fears that China will drop the bomb because it has nothing to lose, looked real to me. His elongated features glowing - Bjornstrom and von Sydow, a barred window behind them, winter light pouring in... (All this had one unintended effect on me: because it's hot here, I looked hungrily at snow on the ground, and the icy wind blowing.) The pastor has no comfort to offer, the fisherman shoots himself. The pastor visits the fisherman's wife and tells her that her husband is dead; he has no comfort to offer. He seems more concerned with his health - he has a cold - than with any human being but himself.

Winter Light led me to think of a very different film, the delightful (and light in another sense) Italian for Beginners, a Dogme film, in which a benign young pastor (just like you and me, except that he owns a Maserati) comes to a Danish town to replace the old pastor, who could have stepped out of Winter Light - he has lost his faith (and his wife, like the pastor in WL) and rants, "God is an abstraction!" The parishoners want to be told that God is love, so they stay away from the church. The nice young pastor does tell them that, so they all come back. (And find love, as well.) It's all very low-key and charming, except for the old pastor, who seems to have wandered in from another age. From the Age of Bergman.

At least none of these people / characters is certain about anything. They're imperfect and some of them are repellent, and they struggle. What a relief, after the artificiality of Love in most Indian films -- ishq vishk indeed!

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