Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Avatar, Avtar, Bindiya and Collective Memory

Latest blockbuster from James Cameron has created vehement supporters and detractors and I am in no mood to put 10 things to love/hate the movie. There is a hilarious comparison of the plot with Hindi cinema's hackneyed exploitation and revenge stories, though the title of movie taken: Roopa ka Badla sounds more like exploitation,female revenge stories like Bindiya aur Bandook). Celebrated movie reviewer Roger Eberts who don't find novelty in the movie yet loved it. And then there is Great Bong (Random Thoughts of a Demented Mind) , one of very few people who can take dementia to an art form. He posits Avatar is just our beloved Kaka's (our Pusspa lover Rajesh Khanna sahib) classic Avtar with an extra 'a'. Something I totally agreed to.

I loved watching the movie, period. Obviously it had a totally unoriginal plot but Cameron's way of seeing things in the movie was what engaged me. Never for a moment did I wonder that I am watching an oft repeated story. This apart from the 3D experience did it for me.

After reading Ebert's view on rationality of the Na'vi one point in depiction of Pandora's culture intrigued me. That was depiction of collective memory. Conflict of development society vs tribal culture is obvious, if one has progress as its goal then other has harmony. If one has corporate as its collective then its community for the other. That many ancient cultures have ancestor reverence/worship is also nothing new in movies. The list to compare the two cultures is endless and have been depicted in numerous Hollywood flicks & Hindi cinema. The contrast of collective memory is shown subtly when trees are shown to be uprooted and it is claimed it will destroy ancient memory in them. I think this is an allusion to History vs Mythology. Myths and mythology are a form of collective memory where in each generation reinterprets and retells them in their own way thus adding (and even forgetting). Tribal/ancient cultures all over the world rely on mythologies to understand their past, origin and even future whereas development societies always have history to understand their past, science to understand origin and predict future, so in a sense Big Bang Theory and Theory of Evolution are indeed two mythologies.

History with its linear notion of time, textual culture (what is written is true, what is true should be written) and objective reality (what really happened) always conflicts with mythology which always has a jagged if not circular notion of time, oral culture (believe in whatever has been said since time immemorial), A small case in example would be controversy on Adam's Bridge or Rama Setu. People on mythology side had nothing else to claim than invoke the sacred whereas people who had to take sides with history questioned historical authenticity of Rama and the whole conversation went down to dogs.

Well I had hoped if Cameron could have delved more into this part rather than make a typical Hollywood grandeur story, where win/loss takes over delving into nature of things. And that is why I love Charlie Kaufman's movies.


DEVESH said...

Excellent comparsion. Holistic view. Guess i had wrong expectations from the movie, i was expecting something philip dick type:

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