Friday, August 03, 2007

Ingmar Bergman - An Unlikely Tribute

Ingmar Bergman is dead. The morning papers brought me the news. I went through Adoor Gopalakrishnan’s tribute to the master, over coffee and cereal and then, as I usually do while reading the newspaper, turned the page to see what was next (a follow up on the recently released Bangalore doctor, Mohammed Haneef, bird flu in Manipur and Rajiv’s dream – according to Sonia - about a woman president in India). A couple of minutes down the line I suddenly realized my brain wasn’t registering what my eyes were reading, at all. The reason was this funny lump in my throat which refused to go away, which I was eventually forced to acknowledge and look at.

I realized it had to do with Bergman. Funny, I thought. I seldom react this way to the death of public figures, no matter how sorry I might be at their passing away. The last time anybody’s demise had affected me personally had been over twenty years ago when J. Krishnamurti, one of my favorite philosophers and teachers (whom I never personally met) had died, leading me to babble sorrowfully a day or two later while lying on the psychoanalyst's couch.

What was it about Bergman that now made me feel sad? It struck me that it was not only to do with his own death, but with the passing of an entire era, that is to say, with the graying of an entire generation of youngsters who imagined time would stand still and that they would never see the wrong side of forty, let alone fifty or sixty as some of us are doing. Bergman in my mind is inescapably connected with chicken rolls oozing mayonnaise eaten in the dark, loud arguments about the merits of his various films and silent giggling. There was the time when some of us went to see “Wild Strawberries” for example (I think it was at the Excelsior) and sadly enough the only thing I remember today is trying not to choke over the shock in the voice of a German friend among our group, who had nudged me and muttered in a panic stricken voice, “Retts – there are retts in this hall!” while the rest of us watched a large rodent scampering up and down the aisles with more than a little amusement.

It’s not only the image of scuttling rats in cinema hallways which Bergman brings back when I think of him now. It is also memories of a bunch of us exuberant film buffs getting together after every show to dissect what we had just seen and experienced. Mostly we would land up in the pocket sized PG room which the B’s, a mad, carefree couple in their late twenties, had rented on Peddar Road, just round the corner from where I lived. So, over drinks and snacks we’d fill the air with the sound of our own voices as we argued and fought with each other over what had just been screened. Some of us loved Bergman’s pensive, often dark treatment (me) others intensely disliked his style though most of us agreed that his last film “Fanny and Alexander” a fairy tale cum horror story centered around the get together of a rambling, adulterous, philosophical family, was possibly his best offering – a positively magical piece of work.

On one occasion we’d been so preoccupied tearing each other to bits over some obscure aspect or other of a movie we’d just seen, we’d completely overlooked the shortage of food at home, which came to our notice only when our stomachs began to rumble in unison at about ten at night. Please note, this was before the days of fast food service when uniformed, decorous young men on motorbikes rumble to a stop before your door bearing a stack of thin crusted cheesy pizza or a plate of tandoori kebabs to fill the cavern expanding in your belly.

On this occasion, someone was obviously required to go and fetch some food but because nobody wanted to break up the party and step out we eventually decided to cast lots. A young fellow called Golly (I never figured out how or why he got his nickname), became “it” and wishing us a melancholy goodbye, set out to fetch us all biryani from the closest Irani restaurant a couple of kilometers away, while the rest of us continued to pour ourselves generous measures of rum from the B’s waning stock of liquor and to wax eloquent on the meaning of life, death, relationships and dark areas of the human soul, topics which Bergman’s movies invariably threw up.

Half an hour passed. An hour passed. There was no sign of Golly returning and remember, again, this was before the days of the mobile when you could track down each cough and fart of a loved one who had strayed. An hour and a half later, when we called up his home with bated breath, imagining the worst, we were told by Golly’s mother that he had returned a while ago, finished his dinner and was already in bed.

Oh well. It is ages since that happy group disbanded for various reasons. The B’s who had decided to turn into responsible adults and to complete their joy in life by producing children, packed up and left for Pune which they figured was a more healthy place to bring up kids than Bombay. Two of the group went on to become well known film critics. One of the couples emigrated to the U.S. Golly got married and had kids of his own. And I dropped freelance journalism to become a psychotherapist.

That’s life. We don’t meet that often any more and when we do, of course it’s not the same. Not really. I don’t expect or even want it to be the same and yet, thinking of Bergman today keeps bringing back that funny lump in my throat.

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