G C Lichtenberg: “It is as if our languages were confounded: when we want a thought, they bring us a word; when we ask for a word, they give us a dash; and when we expect a dash, there comes a piece of bawdy.”

H. P. Lovecraft: "What a man does for pay is of little significance. What he is, as a sensitive instrument responsive to the world's beauty, is everything!"

Martin Amis: “Gogol is funny, Tolstoy in his merciless clarity is funny, and Dostoyevsky, funnily enough, is very funny indeed; moreover, the final generation of Russian literature, before it was destroyed by Lenin and Stalin, remained emphatically comic — Bunin, Bely, Bulgakov, Zamyatin. The novel is comic because life is comic (until the inevitable tragedy of the fifth act);...”

Werner Herzog: “We are surrounded by worn-out, banal, useless and exhausted images, limping and dragging themselves behind the rest of our cultural evolution.”

John Gray: "Unlike Schopenhauer, who lamented the human lot, Leopardi believed that the best response to life is laughter. What fascinated Schopenhauer, along with many later writers, was Leopardi’s insistence that illusion is necessary to human happiness."

Justin E.H. Smith: “One should of course take seriously serious efforts to improve society. But when these efforts fail, in whole or in part, it is only humor that offers redemption. So far, human expectations have always been strained, and have always come, give or take a bit, to nothing. In this respect reality itself has the form of a joke, and humor the force of truth.”

विलास सारंग: "… . . 1000 नंतर ज्या प्रकारची संस्कृती रुढ झाली , त्यामध्ये साधारणत्व विश्वात्मकता हे गुण प्राय: लुप्त झाले...आपली संस्कृती अकाली विश्वात्मक साधारणतेला मुकली आहे."

Sunday, July 13, 2014

"सूर्य पाहिलेला माणूस" तसा नव्हता...Comedy is Where Socrates Belongs

Today July 13 2014 is 5th Death Anniversary of Nilu Phule (निळू फुले), the greatest actor I have seen on Marathi stage.





Bettany Hughes, 'The hemlock cup : Socrates, Athens and the search for the good life', 2010:

 "...In a city that made a cult of physical beauty – which believed, in fact, that outward beauty was a sign of an inner nobility of spirit – Socrates was famously ugly."

Alain De Botton, 'The Consolations of Philosophy', 2000:
"...Few can have appreciated his looks. He was short, bearded and bald, with a curious rolling gait, and a face variously likened by acquaintances to the head of a crab, a styr or a grotesque. His nose was flat, his lips large, and his prominent swollen eyes sat beneath a pair of unruly brows..."


...When I changed my appearance for an acting job I experienced the ugly shadow of discrimination cast on 'Muslim-looking' people...I have been rehearsing for a play for some weeks now. I am playing Socrates this month in a modern retelling of The Clouds by Aristophanes. I agreed with the director that a big bushy beard would be right for the character. It didn't occur to me that, in the wake of the horrific incident in Woolwich, this would transform me into what Nick Robinson might describe as "of Muslim appearance...".

So is big bushy beard enough to play Socrates?

More than a decade ago, I saw much hyped Marathi play 'Surya pahilela manus' (सूर्य पाहिलेला माणूस)- meaning the man who has seen the sun: Socrates. Dr. Shreeram Lagoo (श्रीराम लागू) played Socrates.

I did NOT LIKE the play one bit. It bored me to death. The only thing worse I have seen, featuring  Dr. Lagoo for 'full length', is a Marathi film 'Jhakol' (झाकोळ), produced by Dr. Lagoo himself!

My wife, Anjali, slept almost during the entire duration of it. She woke up only when Socrates (Dr. Lagoo) came down with a thud while calmly relaying bits of wisdom. (Later Anju would vow not to go to any play of my choice in future!)

What went wrong? To begin with, the choice of Dr. Lagoo to play Socrates.

If you have seen Dr. Lagoo on cinema screen or on the stage, particularly of 1970's, you know that he is a very good looking man in a conventional sense. Fair skinned, sharp facial features, thick black hair....He has grown old gracefully and still, at 86,  looks handsome despite his ailment.  

In the play,  I thought,  Dr. Lagoo looked like a sage painted by Chandamama artists. I feel the looks of Socrates matter critically in projecting what he was in reality.


Again, according to Ms. Bettany Hughes "...Of course comedy is where Socrates belongs. Where else could he be? The ugly, pot-bellied eccentric. The wrong-footing genius; the stonemason’s son who understands how fragile and foolish mortal life is, and yet at the same time how sublime. The soldier commended for his bravery who stands, like a snowman in the middle of a winter campaign, caught in one of his embarrassing staring fits. All the other characters in Socrates’ story – Alcibiades, Pericles, Aspasia – could appear in tragedy, in epic drama. Socrates, unique, world-class as he is, is at the same time a queer middle-aged man with feet of clay. A curiously comforting, curiously unsettling pilot-passenger in the leaky lifeboat. A man easy to mock...."


It's NOT easy to mock Dr. Lagoo with those sage-like looks and hence 'Surya pahilela manus' does not even get a chance to become comedy. Even otherwise, no attempt has been made to portray Socrates as "a queer middle-aged man with feet of clay". To me, he came across as Bhagat Singh of Classical antiquity.


In the past,  I have argued that Nilu Phule  should have played Nana (नाना) in Ghashiram Kotwal (घाशीराम कोतवाल),  not just because he was a better actor than Dr. Mohan Agashe (मोहन आगाशे)  but that he resembled Nana more

Considering his great sense of comic timing- amply demonstrated in a number of Marathi films like Master Vinayak's (मास्टर  विनायक) 'Brahmchari' (ब्रह्मचारी) 1938- and his looks, someone like the late Mr. Damuanna Malvankar (दामुअण्णा मालवणकर) 1893-1975 would have been  a better choice to play Socrates...

       

Dr. Lagoo, courtesy: amarujala.com


Socrates

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