the black boX

ujjwal kanishka utkarsh

1/6/20205 min read

the black box...



the holiday season here in europe, or i can say at least in Vienna, is weird. Everything gets shut. Even institutions! It is crazy how well lapped up this idea of christmas is here. And the city really does slow down. These are anyway extremely isolating times, extremely divisive times, and writhin all of that, being in europe can be even more isolating. And the rhythm and flow of my work was completely screwed up by these holiday shutdowns. And on the christmas eve, when there s not much else to do, the filmmuseum was screening the wizard of oz. Had never seen it, but as even the person at the ticket booth told me, it was the highest ticket sale for the year. And a different bunch all together than usual screenings. Families, couples, kids, youngsters, and all having a ball over the screening. The air was so different. And yet again, on yet another day, being in the black box with a single light ray illuminating the screening, hidden, and invisibilised had saved the day for me. The next day they were screening Blazing Saddles, and I have never really seen a Western. Maybe if you consider Ramesh Sippy’s Sholay a western, which it at least partly is, then I have seen one, but apart from that, not really.

Anyway, there I was again messing up time and schedule and reaching much before the screening time. Had a beer at the filmmuseum bar, and got set for this ‘western’. Turned out to be not so much of a western after all. A lady at the bar who had read the synopsis told me that this was going to be a parody apparently. She liked my hair apparently, so maybe her judgement couldn’t really be trusted and later she would help me look for my tobacco pouch and not finding that, offer me a cigarette. The beauty of all that connects us within this box. The only reason she had come to see the film was that she had seen films as a kid with horses in it. She had been crossing the filmmuseum and saw that there was a film with horses and voila.

The film was hardly a western, but did have horses. Somehow it probably was only possible on screen and that too only in a parody that a black man was being made a sheriff of a white only town. Of course the population of the town is ready to shoot him down but is only stopped by the black man himself threatening to shoot the black guy, and that act of bi-polarity, is the only point which triggers all the whites of the town to see that it was actually a human being - who might actually be killed, and by no other than this black person! The connection with germany is also interesting. The German seductress gets herself seduced by the seXual appeal of the black sheriff, and of course there is the mention of how big his thing was. And it was amazing how Mel Brooks was breaking the illusion of cinema. The villain in his height of villainy and before proclaiming the hiring of villains for destroying the aforementioned town actually says ‘there goes my chance of Academy award for supporting actor’. In the most crazy of queues of villains ready to join in the militia to destroy the town - rapists, robbers, murderers, German soldiers, the klan, you name it, and the black sheriff tries to infiltritate the militia, by pretending to be a klansman!

There was this group of three young people who were sitting in front of me, and they were really loving it. The parody really had them in tickles and quite a few of the audience members. It had me amazed as to how the same struggles continues, and how talking about the same things even decades later is so difficult. It is a pity that we can talk about the other, others than the majorities can be talked about/with only on the screen. In life, more and more so it is becoming more and more difficult to. It is crazy how majoritarianism is such a driving force now, and the situation is becoming so isolating. The only ones we can have connection with are people we laugh with in the black box? Or of going for a film because it has horses in?

While the society here can be extremely isolating. But with all the things happening in India it is even much more so. It is bizarre how driven these guys are towards the idea of the Hindu state. It’s almost like by 2024 the target is to just reduce the overall voter base to contain it only to their supporters. That s another way to win elections, I guess, just get rid of all the others, of all the dissenters, of all the opposers, of all the oppressed, of all the disenfranchised and then rule with the oppressors, and be with the privileged and govern not just for them but with them, and make sure the structure isn’t questioned and even looked at. Somehow anything and everything is fine under the garb of Hinduism. Also because somehow these guys are the whole sole agents of Hinduism who can define what Hinduism is. And their idea of Hinduism, like most right - in most countries, is so narrow, so limited. These are intensely isolating times, these are intensely dividing times. So much so, that even so many of those protesting against CAA (kudos to them) wouldn’t care so much about the repealing of 370.

I had asked Saeed Akhtar Mirza, as to what does one do, how does one react, or positions oneself, when a disenfranchised community is not even ready to connect with another. Not that there was a hope of a positive optimist response, but the response that we can’t articulate political positions till the acts have been done, and the results of the same had, was quite heartbreaking. It is important to be able to protect oneself, and so on also, but if we don’t talk about things in anticipation, then... then yes, the disenfranchised and many of them will lose their lives, their identities, and so on.

Is all of this, in a larger scheme of things, just elements being prepared for another parody to be done eventually? It is such a crazy time for stand up comedians with Trump, with Boris Johnson and so on. But eventually one wonders who the joke is on - them or us? Indian political situation is far more graver - it is far more difficult to make fun of characters like Adityanath, Pragya Singh Thakur or even Modi or Shah. Maybe we will find our way to do that, but by the time that position is articulated, one wonders what all will be or will have to be lost... Until then, the only recluse seems to be in this black box, nicely invisibilising, and at least with that one ray of light hitting the screen reflecting back on us, connects us all somehow. These are the connections that are probably the only ones that we might have remaining. It is of course telling of the times we are in, that we can only connect with people when we can’t really see them, and only in the act of seeing something else (on the screen) is where we have any sense of camaraderie. Regardless, we probably need to value them and respect what we do have.