Ages ago, I took an undergraduate elective on Shakespeare along with two of my friends. We were probably the three most interested students in our class, and had a great deal of fun discussing the Bard on hot Wednesday afternoons over shikanji at the Sky Lawns. One of our assignments was to write a paper on some aspect of Shakespeare we were interested in exploring. I picked a somewhat ambitious topic: Absurdist elements in Shakespeare’s plays. In my most charitable mood, I would describe my paper as complete and utter crap. But that’s besides the point.
My friend Mallu picked a somewhat strange sounding topic, a line from Hamlet: There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in our philosophies. When presenting his work, he would ask us questions like, what if Hamlet’s dad’s ghost wasn’t around? What if there was no storm in King Lear. I remember us (Renu and me) arguing with him that it was no more than a dramatic device, and I remember him getting frustrated with us for not getting it. To this day, I am not sure I got what he was getting at.
But that line from Hamlet stayed with me. Initially, it would pop up from memory when trivial things happened that I couldn’t explain, like my computer choosing to reboot suddenly. But over time, as it settled and percolated into the deeper reaches of my understanding, it began to take on more significance. It came to be about locus of control.
I bring this all up because of all the hype surrounding Sarkar Raj, set to release this Friday. It reminded me of an earlier RGV movie called Darling, a small venture that followed close on the heels of his disastrous Sholay remake. If Sarkar proved that it is possible to make a great tribute to a great movie, Aag proved that it is equally possible to make an abyssmal one. But more on that movie later.
Darling had an interesting premise. Fardeen Khan is a successful businessman with a loving wife and kid, who has an affair with his secretary. On a weekend rendezvous with her at his friend’s beach house, she tells him she’s pregnant, he doesn’t react well, things get ugly and he ends up accidentally killing her. He buries her in the backyard of the beach house and goes back home, but finds himself haunted by her ghost.
Here’s what I don’t get. The subject of the movie isn’t the ghost. The subject is his fear of discovery. In those initial scenes after the murder, this is what you see: A man who has committed a crime, covered it up and now finds himself unable to sleep. Up until this point, the movie is amazing. And then it decides to become a ghost story. Why, I wonder?
What if there was no ghost? Couldn’t RGV have made the movie simply about this man, and left the supernatural out of the picture? Just the relentless tension as he slowly gets dragged into his own grave as the people around him dig up hers… that would’ve been a fantastic movie, I think.