Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Karan Arjun (1995) and getting a good night's sleep...

After making it all the way through Karan Arjun the other night, all I could think was: What a joke! Ok, that's not true but I really think bad guy jr. said that more than 10 times...

Not so friends, not so. After 1) pausing the film when the title hit the screen to regain my stamina and bolster my determination to continue, [Rachel, I'm guessing that's where you turned off the film?] and 2) filing this one under dishoom, I got to the end of this film and was plunged into
a day and a half of theological musings. (Geez! Who does that?!)

It was neither the threatening tone of every character's voice, nor the strategically placed billboard-of-oversized-mouth in remote horse pasture, nor the overuse of hair gel creating bit of a soul glo effect, nor the brown hue most of the actors other than Salman Khan--and strangely including--Sharukh, nor the unnatural sound of a woman hitting her head on a piece of wood that reminded me of the lucky stump on Showtime at the Apollo's amateur night that threw me into the depths of heavy pondering.

While all of these things are perplexing in their own right, none left me dazed so much as this movie's emphasis on Kali, a critical element of the storyline. Up until this film, I'd only seen friendly statues like the one with the flute in all the K-Jo films (Krishna?), in which worship consisted of a pleasant songs, incense, pretty flowers and tasty treats. But this, this is the stuff Chick tracts are made of! [Yes, I used to read those when I was little.]

So back to the challenging theological questions...
Typically, when my mind is tangled around an issue, I meditate on it for a bit. Since I watched the movie after work, it was clearly "sleepy time" when the movie was finally done. That being the case, I refused to go to sleep without answers, which only come by asking questions:
1) Why did the movie not settle well with me?
Because the revenge theme was portrayed as justifiable AND sanctioned/perpetrated by deity. Ok. One down.
2) Why is that bothersome?
Because I don't like it. Bad answer. Because a life spent exacting revenge is a life wasted. Theologically correct. Otherwise unable to be proven. Because everybody should know that praying to scary goddesses is a bad idea. Cute. Try again. [My inner Socrates hit a dead end rather quickly.]

When personal reflection doesn't work, I usually dialogue with God until answer becomes pretty clear. [Sound weird? Stay with me. It gets more interesting.] Thus, in the interest of getting a good night's sleep--un-pious, I know--I decided to ask God (aka "prayer") for the answer. Basically, the question boiled down to:
What's the difference between praying to a goddess of destruction [for the decimation of your enemies in the form of men] and praying that you'd rain down fire from heaven [on one's enemies รก la Old Testament]? His answer: "There isn't much difference." I'm like, what? Are you kidding me?! Come on, that's crazy. I'm on your side here. But I all I got was, "There isn't much difference" again.

Keeping in the interest of getting a good night's sleep, I posed another question since the last answer was likely to keep me up all night.
So why be all pro-Christianity if it's basically the same? What's the difference? Answer no. 2: "Jesus". I'm waiting for more information. "Jesus is the difference." I'm like, Is that all? That's it?! No way. And at that moment it hit me like a ton of bricks in the stomach. That IS it. That's all. He's all. He's the only distinguishing feature of Christianity. It's so simple that I don't think words can explain the depth of that truth. If you read the blog, you've seen a post or two about Jesus already so you're probably like Um, that was a revelation? It was. I thought I believed entirely in the preeminence of Christ but had been confronted by my underestimation of his importance and ultimately, the strength of his position. Christ is the essence of that 'difference'. Nothing else can account for it.

*As for the film itself, if you want to watch how these boys go from this to this, go for it but don't say you weren't warned. Alternate title for this film: How to Make Lean, Mean Butt-Kicking Machines. Army of Monkeys has a play-by-play review here.


Totally Basmatic said...

I love your theological posts, and I love that you include so much of your theological musings in your response to Karan Arjun, a film that I also had trouble with but simply chucked into the "don't worry about it just never watch it again" section of my brain. I'm also glad that I'm not the only one who plunges into all of these theological thoughts and arguments after watching Bollywood films (the difference being I never write about them, I guess).

I'll come up with a more meaty response when I'm not working on a paper... :P

t-HYPE said...

Thanks Bas.
That post is/was very much a work in progress. I feel like there's much more that could be said about the theological stuff.

I don't think I could write anything to improve on the Army of Monkey's review! ;0)

Susania said...


[This is a re-write of my original response, which accidentally got wiped. Augggh!]

This has always been a favorite film of mine, and I'm at a loss why. It just seems to work for me as entertainment, despite the obvious flaws (barring the bits that are "so bad they're good"). I've never felt comfortable watching the sections about Kali, especially the song of worship sung to her, especially knowing what I do about the Thuggee.

So why, then, was this a popular film? Why does revenge as a theme draw an audience? (I regularly ask the same question about the Horror genre). In the Western world, Revenge often figures in stories and the arts (The Revenger's Tragedy, Les Liasons Dangereuses, even Hamlet) but in the 20th century we've softened the impulse... the hero turns away from the final act of revenge, but then the villain always makes a last mad dash to destroy him, and so the hero is given tacit permission to kill. It's textbook.

But based on the Bollywood films I've seen (and I know, they have as much basis in reality as "Friends" is an accurate depiction of single Americans), the Judeo-Christian ethic of turning the other cheek isn't ingrained into Indian culture; and why should it be? Their culture is built on an entirely different moral foundation. Why, then, does the revenge element of the plot work for me as a professed Christian?

Because it's honest. I think we all instinctively long for justice to be done. But in this fallen world, it is all too rare, and within our sinful natures, we twist that natural desire into revenge. I'm not saying that's acceptable... but it is understandable.

On a purely frivolous basis, I also like this film for the Bhangra Paale and Gup Chup numbers. I think Mamta Kulkarni was a really good dancer!

Beth said...

I haven't seen this, but I'm really wishing someone who knew something about Hinduism would pipe in here, especially on Susania's comment about turning the other cheek. Though I'm only just beginning to realize what I don't understand about India (goodness, how much more broadly could I speak?), I would not say that the Indians I know, and the aspects of Indian culture I encountered while there, are less forgiving than the westerners I know.... Maybe I'm missing the point of her comments, though.

Anyway, I too love to get into weird discussions inspired by Bollywood! I'm glad we've all found each other!

t-hype said...

Agreed Beth. I'm extremely open to dialogue and it would be interesting to have a view from the other side.

flygirl said...

hi t-hype, and all,

you pose some very interesting points, and i really like that you express so much of your devotion in your blog. there are a few things i'd disagree with, though...hope i'm not out of line, here! as background, i was born in to Buddhism but ahave a very strong interest in hinduism.

firstly, i have seen the first fifteen minutes of that film and i think that's all i needed :-) awful stuff! yet strangely you keep watching in the vague hope it might improve. the revenge theme does run strongly in many Bollywood flicks, and here I would agree with susania's second paragraph, that in the 20th century the notion has been softened somewhat but it has existed in all societies. i guess many Bollywood films portray the Angry Young Man response (cf. Bacchan in the 60s), you can often see it crime serials. i can only imagine that it gives a sense of empowerment that's purely enacted on screen.

with regards to the issue of thuggee...which was outlawed in the late 19th century (I think), and was hardly mainstream at the time. Also, you have to realise that though the revenge seems officially sanctioned by the Goddess, this is purely a cinematic affectation. There are so many films in which revenge is apparently sactified by the Deity, it's an appalling travesty that completely goes against the notion of ahimsa, or non-violence that is a Hindu tenet. It's purely twisted by film. susania, I'm not sure what you might mean by Indian culture being built on a "different moral foundation." what do you see as this different foundation? but i like your second last para: it is a natural human reaction, and our response is to twist the desire fo justice into revenge.

The Kali aspect of the Goddess Durga is always difficult to explain..an aspect tht was hard to deal with until i actually started reading about it....This is a reasonable explanation of the symbolism, also Wikipedia has a pretty good article. Mother Kali can, i guess, also be interpreted as the totality of mother nature, both in her apparent cruelty and compassion. but above all, the Mother is compassionate. Read any of the writings of Ramakrishna Paramahamsa or Vivekananda, and you will find it is this quality of her that is most celebrated.

while i would join with you in celebrating Christ, the only other thing I would say is that really, I don't think that there is a massive difference between teachings in Hinduism and Christianity. I think the difference between the old beliefs of raining fire and truth is what Christ teaches: truth, love, compassion. it's what separates the merely human from the Divine.

sorry to have taken up so much space...

Susania said...

in answer to Flygirl's question about my statement that Hinduism is built on a different moral foundation... it just is, in the same way that Islam is built on a different foundation than Buddhism, which is built on a different foundation than Judaism, which is built on a different foundation than Shintoism.

Morality differs from religion to religion; what is morally repugnant to one religion isn't necessarily so in another. Example: Christianity disapproves of suicide, but Hinduism and Shintoism don't.

CS Lewis does a great job of talking about the different moralities of religions; this link breaks it down pretty well.