Inadvertently finding yourself in the midst of a film-shoot is not unusual here.
Though barely known outside of India, “Mollywood” is big business and attracts devoted fans. The industry is based in Cochin where there are plentiful scenic locations to act as movie backdrops.
“It’s a wrap”
I can’t remember exactly how old I was when I saw the film: probably around twelve.
I know it was a Sunday afternoon. After lunch, watching the television film matinée, my mother would do the weekly ironing, as my sister and I sat mesmerised by old black and white movies. (The mystery of how our term for afternoon performances is derived from the French word for morning has still not been explained to me.)
“Lost Horizon” had a powerful impact. I was inspired to search out the book from our local public library. But the film is only based on the novel. There are major differences; notably in the endings.
And now comes my confession.
For the first and only time, I defaced a library book. I took a pencil and, in my best hand-writing, added a short coda. This vandalism was prompted by the shock of reading a book that did not end happily. I needed the hero to find what he had lost.
I was reminded of this by listening to BBC Radio 7 on the internet. They are currently transmitting a dramatised version of the book.
More than four decades have passed since that Sunday afternoon. I tell myself I am a little wiser. Failure and unresolved tensions – in life and literature – are somewhat easier to cope with. “And lived happily ever after” no longer raises my hopes, just an eyebrow.
However, this is not quite the end of the story. Many years later I was destined to reach my own Shangri-La, a haven found by accident, stumbled upon during a reluctantly taken holiday.
There are no snow-clad, hidden valleys. The secret of eternal youth is not currently on offer. Arrivals and departures are arranged by scheduled flights and taxis, not through plane crash and hazardous frozen treks. My home is in the tropics of Travancore, not Tibet.
But I have finally realised much of the peace and happiness that was so tantalisingly first glimpsed all those years ago, watching “Lost Horizon”.
(When writing this post, I came across an interview with Frank Capra, where he gives an account of the film’s almost disastrous opening.)
“..and the earth did quake, and the rocks rent.”
The sun has set.
With the dying of the light, Kalampattu begins.
The drums start pulsing their hypnotic rhythms.
Song, dance and frenzy conjure up dark powers.
Suddenly, my sensibilities are repulsed by what is enacted.
I feel as shocked as any Victorian puritan.
I put away my camera.
Chicken may be gone from my menu for some time…
The local LG Service Centre had called to say my DVD player was ready for collection, following its recent malfunction. I decided to combine the trip with buying coffee.
The taxi driver was new to me; his driving style unnerving.
The weather was poor.
And more rain.
For an hour, I sat in the back of the car.
The driver alternated between rapid accelerations and emergency stops. His hand continuously sounded the horn.
I felt nauseous and bad-tempered.
We finally reached our destination. But the service centre had inexplicably re-located since my last visit. A move not mentioned when they called, and signed only by the damp sheet of paper, pasted on the door of the old premises.
Their new workshop was a few kilometres away, across the city.
Forty-five minutes and several phone calls later, we found it.
After waiting a while, the DVD player was produced. I asked to see it tested.
During the return journey, following yet another emergency stop, I pointedly readjusted my seat-belt.
I put my hand on the driver’s shoulder and made it clear he must ration the use of his horn.
The rest of the trip was spent in relative silence, with me half-wishing the driver would make a foolish mistake, to further justify both my opinion of him, and my irritation.
We reached Ravi’s Coffee Shop.
Ravi, himself, was there.
The sights and smells were comforting and absorbing.
Ravi’s quiet dignity; his calm, noble face; and his gentle smile brought me to my senses.
I started to see my frustrations in perspective. I began to laugh at myself.
Living abroad entails many changes.
One of them is the loss of language proficiency.
Facing the challenge of LG’s repair-shop, and an over enthusiastic boy-racer, my first inclination had been sarcasm: a skill I spent decades honing before retirement.
But my Malayalam is non-existent, and local English is limited.
Sarcasm achieves nothing.
A more balanced approach to life’s small frustrations is now required.
“Laughter and tears are both responses to frustration.. I myself prefer to laugh, since there is less clearing up to do afterwards.” Kurt Vonnegut Jr.
Following on from yesterday’s story of ill-fated love,
I am put in mind of a visit to the opera.
The production was staged in The London Coliseum:
A performance of Bizet’s Carmen.
The lights dimmed,
As the plaintive chords of the prelude resonated throughout the opera house.
Then, over the sound of her rustling sweet wrappers, the voice of the woman sitting behind me could clearly be heard.
“Eh” she announced, in a strong rural accent.
“Listen to that music.”
“You can tell it’ll end in tears.”
When some European friends recently stayed, we decided to visit to Madurai.
Having seen the splendour of the temples, we drove to the nearby palace.
The columns and colours give the building grandeur and beauty.
There was no chaperone.
Such meetings are usually considered scandalous in India.
The girl started to cry.
Although not wanting to pry, I found myself caught up in their story
The boy offered his handkerchief.
She threw it on his face.
Gradually, they both began to laugh.
What made their romance star-crossed?
I guiltily zoomed the camera in for my final shot.
Reflecting on the countless times that this scene has been replayed.