Monday, August 08, 2005

Little Town Blues

"Oh how quaint. This is sooooooo like Toytown. You have one of everything here" exclaimed my friend Mad Seema. Yes, that is the general impression the world has of Islamabad. I remember leaving home in the early 90s. Karachiites were more forthcoming in their views. "Islamabad? Are you MAD?" For most dwellers of that city, the height of domestic travel is a trip to the not-so-French beach or a dirty weekend in Lahore. My instinctive reaction to my new home was the singular lack of people. The night silence became so insidious that I contemplated a new fascination with heavy metal. A city that could look so beautiful by day was completely black by night. No mountains, no trees and no flowers. Nothing was illuminated barring the odd street. Even the paan shops shut at midnight. I recall spending hours one night with a friend looking for cigarettes. We finally had to drive to the airport to find them.

A decade later, things are infinitely better. Sinatra crooned about moving to New York and watching the little town blues melt away. I often wonder if I have acquired the Little Town imprint. I wonder if my smart Karachi friends whisper about my acquired provincialism- even though (technically) I do not live in a province. I do not really live in a suburb either as there is not outlying "urb"to which we look for support. Deep within there is a kind of small-is-beautiful ethos at work here. Does it convert itself into small town meanness or inquisitiveness so beloved of television script writers. Well, for one, given the sheer minuteness of things, people do tend to know what you're up to. My previous house was way too central for comfort- people constantly called to ask what I was doing up so late on Wednesday night? (Nothing. Invariably.)

This line of thinking emanates from two extended viewings. The first of these is the much touted Desperate Housewives. Yes. I confess. I watched fifteen episodes over the week. Did I enjoy it? At a very basic level, yes. There is a vaguely adult humour at work and the use of Little Town as background is effective. Deep within though I was vaguely uneasy. Suburban life has its own horrors which cannot be laughed away quite so easily. I feel deep adrenaline unease when I drive through little towns like Okara or Sahiwal or Gujrat. What on earth do people do here to keep themselves busy? At best there is a derelict cinema or a run down games arcade. People look positively glazed. Is it habit which keeps them there? Or do they drug the water supply? To return to Housewives. I laughed at all the right moments but felt deeply uneasy about doing so.

On to Bunty Aur Bubbli(y). This is the latest offering from the legendary Yash Chopra and stars Bachhan Senior and Junior and the ubiquitous Rani Mukherjee. In a word, the film is awful. It tries (unsuccessfully) to ape the standard Hollywood tale of a Little Town couple who move to the Big City intent on a life of deception and fraud. Think Bonnie and Clyde; Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid; Thelma and Louise. These are tall standards and B&B fails to meet them. Why? For one negative protagonists rarely work in Indian cinema. Second, Abhishek and Rani are unconvincing as small towners. The clothes, the accents and the attitudes belie Big City. Third. The morality angle rears its ugly head. B and B have to get married first in order to sleep, cheat, lie and extort with each other. This detracts from the plot totally. Who wants to watch a safely married couple at work ?

Back to Little Town then. What is the verdict? None really. I love the Big City with a passion even though I do not get there as often as I would like to. And I love the comfort of everything being just five minutes away in Toytown. As usual, I prevaricate. I have the best of both worlds for now. And I'm not giving it away.


Blogger s said...

i got hooked on to desperate housewives last month, too and ended up watching the entire first season in a week (a record for me). the humour is definitely disturbing, as are all the characters, with their dark sides.

i hope sahiwal, gujrat and other small towns in pakiland are nothing like it though!! i somehow can't picture them having the same problems.

i actually liked bunty and bubbly - my rule is to go in with low expectations when a film has song and dance routines. if it tries to be 'different' or arty, then it has to live up to it, but in a case like this, you just have to sit back, gorge on loads of popcorn and coke and enjoy the visuals (while leaving your brain behind).

plus abhishek bachhan is my new hottie...there's something extremely 'manly' about him (i can blame this one on growing up on trashy romance novels that always encouraged us women to fall in love with 'tall, dark and handsome' types). plus he reminds me of his father, when he was young, who was INCREDIBLE then.

6:00 pm  
Blogger Ozair said...

always prejudiced against islamabad!! i guess ill just have to stay there for longer... and now i dont think i can rememebr the last time i took a trip to my uncles! :D

10:59 am  
Blogger say what? said...

ISB .. you have to be a lover of calm contended lifestyle to love this place :)

Desperate housewives seems kind of natural. I mean everyone does anything to save themselves in any way.

11:37 am  
Blogger Uber Homme said...

S: I agree with you generally on low expectations when i go to see a film. Its just that B and B hit an all time low! I think my expectations were altered by the hype I saw on display when I was in Delhi. The queues went on interminably. AB sr was INCREDIBLE though not quite with the muscular agression of AB jr.

12:40 pm  
Blogger Uber Homme said...

Ozair: Come back to isb. You may have a change of heart !

12:40 pm  
Blogger Uber Homme said...

tdh: Agreed. It's a little dangerous though. One can become TOO calm and TOO contented!

12:41 pm  

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