Stories, Stories...

Yesterday was characterized by a stilted sense of what some people call "fun". First, out of sheer compulsion of having to finish what I'd begun, I read up the last half of "Five Point Someone." Of the instant international bestseller, a reviewer says, "It is a book version of 'Dil Chahta Hai' ". Then, things turned out to be so that I made an early binner (brunchish dinner) and we enthusiastically headed to Regal for a first look at "Jaane Tu Ya Jaane Na". Little did I know that my day would end in cliché, stories and outrageous claims as much as it had begun with them. Setting for both: College. Age-group: Just hatched college crowd. Theme: Friendship, Love, Insecurity, Growing up, humanness. Fancy words breed great expectations. But alas! We're only humans.

That said, there are huge differences between the two: most of all, a difference of medium which leads to a compensation for plot through visual in case of cinema. There's a natural spark in Adity (Genelia) that makes Imran look like a block of wood though his effort to act shows. No such visual-compensation in "5 Point" for a person who did not come within 5 miles of IIT ever in her life.

Speaking further of characters, it just struck me that the 3 of 5-point-Someoners are at worst, alter-egos of Hari (the narrator) or at best, the alter egos of the author, Chetan Bhagat. I mean, how many representative approaches to life can there be, given the limited scope of an average-student-life? (Bhagat already makes it clear that he's writing strictly about the average. That's been decided at IIT right after the first 5 pointer assignment anyway). "I don't care, I'm the boss" (Ryan) or "I care so much I'm paralyzed" (Alok) or "I don't know whether I care or not"...(Hari)

There are average people in Jaane Tu too: One thing I totally admire about the movie is how the director never ever even once, hints at the sexuality and attractiveness of characters. He doesn't judge them for their sexiness, nor do we. Nor does Jai look at Aditi differently, the way SRK looks at Kajol after her “feminization” in Kuch Kuch Hota Hai. Obviously, there's a time lag in KKHH, but always, the emphasis was on loveliness, not on "belovedness". Rotlu and Bombs are the most average of average people, who settle for someone who would love and accept them instead of fantasizing for Aditi and Jai, respectively. The story unfolds through a circumference of lively, deep, real interesting characters all around Aditi and Jai, who, even at the center, are not the only focus. What's more, they're mostly flat and unidimensional, as compared to Savitri (the mother) or Meghana (the girlfriend). It is as if those character-perspectives on the love-story light it up rather than a story lighting up characters. There's even a cynic in their midst, who, like the audience, slowly starts buying into the story and eventually can't rest until she is assured that the couple was reunited in the end.
Compare this to Alok, Ryan and Hari. Their alternatively whiny, distant or plainly abusive families have nothing to do but serve as fillers. The author seems to be seriously confused between universality of characters and emotion, in contrast to characters without any face at all. What is Neha? A lovable girl who writes to her dead brother, wondering if Hari loves only her body!!! Why couldn't she simply write a journal? The leap from weeping over her brother's suicide note to having sex with a third year student.

After reading "5 Point", I couldn't agree more with the fact that "Tragedy is universal, but Comedy is bound by constraints of time and place." But wait a minute! If Comedy is contextual, why was I rolling in laughter when Jai whined from behind bars, "12.00 baj gaye!!" and Paresh Rawal, the Inspector quipped, "To kya hua? Tu Cinderella hai kya?" If I were living on some remote mountain where Cinderella story had never reached, this wouldn't make any sense to me.
So well, then this should not be just about context either. The fact that I never lived in a hostel, studied (or pretended to study) until 4.00 am, never gawked at girls (or for that matter, boys either), never attempted to steal exam papers, rarely got an equivalent of "5 Point" something on any of my exams- should these things keep me from enjoying the book? Technically, no. Practically, yes yes! I am simply outraged by the ridiculousness of the book, and more outraged by the claims that it shows a piece of life, that it celebrates humanness, that it is a funny take on the over-rated, idolized, glorified cult of the IITs.
  • If anyone could compete with John Donne for his metaphysical conceit, it would be Bhagat. A sampler: "Baku, a lungi-clad human toothpick, and just as smelly is my guess." Bhagat does not stop at metaphors.
  • There're similies that make you feel as if a lizard is crawling up your neck (speaking of which, do you like mine better than Bhagats? ) "Tearing his rotis like a famished UNICEF kid, Alok got chatty."! In similar vein, exam scores are equated to "graffiti written in contempt" and once a month phone-call to Neha seems like a "dentist calling home about an appointment." But which dentists in India call home to remind people of appointments? As far as I can remember, I went to a different one each time, with the frequency of probably twice in 10 years!
  • Top the stylistic charade with alliterative cherries, and this one is my favorite because it combines a similie with alliteration," The instructor sat next to the BLackboard like a BLoated Beetle..."
  • Throw in a 5 versions of the F word, 2 of the A word, three of D*** and the language can be labeled "contemporary". Mention Vodka, joints and smoke, and students who've never strayed in those arenas, voyeuristically enjoying the account, think, "Man, this is super cool!"

In reality, characters get sacrificed for a plot that neither sounds interesting, nor plausible. (Alok had to break 11 bones, Neha had to forgive Hari, Prof. Veera had to be unexplicably sympathetic to the cause of three no-gooders who could not make out the difference between right and wrong.)

At one point, Hari says in his own defense, "We got carried away." I wonder if the author would say the same thing when it comes to the writing of this book: He was trying to create a Hrishikesh Mukherjee film, but came away with a David Dhawan instead.

Mostly I pity the book, but I'm enraged when Nerds are painted black. Venkat, who has a good GPA, but is obnoxiously selfish, heartless and hardly human. I suspect the existence of a twisted cause and effect relationship here: People who have good GPAs are hardly human, primarily because of those GPAs. Prof. Cherian loses his son over his ambition, Venkat loses a friend. Nerds have no friends, at any cost, no good/true/real friends. The book almost makes a case that you should be a Five Pointer if,
a) you want to outshine your bookworm classmates through sheer creativity and independent thinking
b) you will have a much more interesting life than a 10 pointer and
c) you will find true friendship and true love as a bonus.

Now, the psychology of nerd-outcasting phenomenon is known to everyone, but my point is, this is cheap comedy- at the expense of a population who can write what one "Should do while at IIT." I would've loved a maturity in writing which does not cast people in ridiculous straitjackets and call it a touch of humor.
Remember Jai and his mom, genuinely funny, in her desperate attempt to convince an already convinced Jai, not to get into a fight? Remember the likable dimwit "bombs", looking at Jai rush inside the airport on horseback and asking, "Is he going to the US too?" haha! Remember Boman Irani in Munnabhai with his inimitable, "Calm down, calm down!"

Well, the difference was always all too clear. What remains, is a matter of choice.