Wolf Hall: Season One

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“Put Thomas Cromwell in a dungeon and by evening he’ll be sitting on cushions with jailers owing him money”, said Thomas More to his wife. That’s the premise we are bought into. But how does Cromwell do it? What does it take for an underdog to make that leap from being a low born to not only gain the confidence of his King, but even puppeteer his rule? As Cromwell himself puts it, he’s like the tamed lion, you may stroke it, but beware the claws. Six hours of methodically paced story telling with manic attention to detail that ends with an majestic embrace informs us like none other.

Peter Straughan’s adaptation of Hilary Mantel and Peter Kosminsky’s direction gently places us in Thomas’ orbital of power politics played by the wonderful Mark Rylance. He is ably supported by the talents of Jonathan Pryce as his mentor Cardinal Wolsey, Anton Lesser as the stubborn Thomas More, and Damian Lewis as King Henry. And Claire Foy, with her beaded garments and supercilious presence, is a joy to watch as Anne Boleyn. Can’t wait to see her play Elizabeth in the upcoming series, The Crown.

The beauty of the show has been the fine straddling of the anti-hero timeline. Cromwell is at the centre piece of so many wrongs from his childhood shown to us in flashback mode. And he is correcting them one by one. But is he connecting those dots consciously? Does he realise  or visualise them when one event triggers the other? Is he in control of this portion of his destiny, which is to become his legacy? Those painful moments compose and define what he turns into. One particular moment for example which keeps repeating itself in the show is the play where his ex-patron Wolsey is humiliated. Even when his hands are shivering wondering the prospect of losing out of favour with the King and having his head spiked, a glimpse into the play and its players makes him sure of the revenge that he needs to plot. The plan is not clear yet, but the motive is. This sinister side of Cromwell is deftly handled.

Most scenes are shot in the dark with only candles illuminating the place, and Thomas lurking somewhere, just like he prefers to be noticed for his deeds. And Henry is always in the limelight with his gorgeous royal presence, ambling around his palace yards like a peacock, making sure he matches his framed portraits in the palace. He is a bigger brute than Cromwell is, but you’d expect nothing less from a King. And Cromwell knows to be the snake his King wants him to be without ever turning into a viper in his master’s bosom. To top that, his master is his only “friend” in the whole country, rest either being paid informers or vengeful enemies plotting his decline. The ghost of Wolsey also reminds Cromwell once, “The King wanted a new wife. I didn’t get him one, and now I’m dead.”. This balance between high praise and poor death while keeping a poker-face is what makes this show a compelling viewing. This is television at its best.

Flowers: Season One

How do we classify a piece of work into its respective genre? Does such labelling serve anything more than a marketing necessity? Is that even a necessity in the first place? Flowers, the new TV show, is deemed a ‘dark comedy’ which, quite frankly it isn’t.

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The motley members of the Flowers family are led into a anniversary party, a scheme pulled up under the guise of exhibiting happiness by the hysterical mum of the household, Deborah. Her husband Maurice isn’t supportive of this idea having just failed at a bid to commit suicide, which is witnessed by his aged mother who suffers from dementia. Granny Flower dies trying to hide the hangman’s rope in the attic during the said anniversary party.

The twin children of the Flowers household are at odds with each other for their pursuit of a common suitor & unrealised personal dreams; the son being a incorrigible man-child who invents things (one of them deliriously titled ‘fumigating fondue machine’), and the daughter, a composer of melancholic music. Deborah teaches Trombone, evidences of which are not shown but left to our own better understanding of how they might transpire.

Such a premise informs us that dysfunctionality is at play here. As ludicrous and crude as it gets, we keep falling into the trap of believing that this show is a farce. Add to it a Japanese illustrator with malapropisms, we enter a cultural stereotype without realising that he might be the most adjusted character of all. And he isn’t Japanese without a reason. We are made to realise all of that only in due time. No rush here to present and load us with oddball occurrences, dream sequences, poetic nuances and all what-about-ness before gently pulling the rug from under our feet, and mocking the viewer as though with the question ‘how good was that’.

For all its brilliance, what I still wonder is whether all the ground shifts the story made were organic. In the sense that, did the show remain true to what it set out to portray with its whimsical absurdity and dense writing? Dysfunctional families have been the quintessential flavour of fiction, but why label each as a comedy (dark or not). Not the perfect analogy, but the recent season of Veep had an episode titled ‘Mother’. Every exchange Selina makes with her dying/dead mother and her staff in that episode is cringe worthy, but it felt right labelling it dark comedy because it hit those notes consistently. We weren’t stupefied into horror or amazement, there was no need to question what we were watching because Selina kept just being her unpleasant self and was getting better(worse?) at it. The viewer knew she could be that way in such morbid times, yet needed to see it in action and thats what the show gave its viewers. That consistency of behaviour was what I found lacking in Flowers. I am glad the way the parts added to the sum in the end, but there was a tonal disparateness in every subsequent viewing which was hard to ignore. The characters turned more remorseful and hurt bound than simply being endlessly weird and closeted with one another. This made for good drama, while I thought I was headed towards a sitcom set piece and family homilies.

“The truth is sometimes like a toothbrush, and you only share that with people you really trust”, says Deborah. This very much applies to the show as well. Will Sharpe, the writer and director, takes us through his wonderfully imaginative mind, revealing as much about his characters as he hides. Every bit of production here is top notch starting from the disarrayed Flowers’ household filled with inventions of Donald, musical notes of Amy, recordings of Morris, the artworks of Shun etc. And of course the presence of Olivia Colman as Deborah. With such wonderful artistry at play, one can only pray for more and soon.

I

I decide to walk to the station instead of hailing a cab. I agree I do carry a heavy load but that’s all right, I’ve become so used to this baggage that it doesn’t hurt me anymore. I feel like it has become a part of me of late and to admit the truth, there is something spectacular about ambling along the alley and absorbing the bustle of the market place that makes you forget you’re carrying a rather uncomfortable burden. I haven’t lived a long life, thirty-five is just a start if you ask me, but whatever wonderful time I’ve spent in my village for half of my life, nothing comes even near in comparison with how a big city can make you feel. I love the pompousness and glitterati that can make one feel important. I am important.

I have about a few hundred rupees left in my pocket and more than an hour left to reach the station. I am sweating profusely and my back is soaked. I think part of the problem, apart from the baggage, is also this tight fitting dress; darn thing sticks to me like gum. I wish I could buy something better and change somewhere but that doesn’t sound like a good idea. I would waste too much time in selecting one and by the time I am done selecting in a big city like this, the train would have left. I wish I’d been early. I am early.

I don’t like people who talk loud. I also don’t like people who stare at me like I am about steal their food. I am not a village idiot to not understand city mannerisms. I drink and eat without spilling, walk without stomping, talk without spitting, shit without stinking and lie without blinking. I am everything and anything they’d like me to be and they still think I am not. I walk past them like I don’t exist while I am still in all flesh and blood. I want to scream at them but I don’t want to. I scream within me. I am silence.

I stand in the middle of the crowd and there is a lot of tension when the train arrives. I am on time. I push my way through the throng and now stand in the middle of the compartment. I don’t think they understand how important I am to them and vice versa, else there is no reason why they’d be here with me. I wish to share how glad I was to be the one who’d absolve them of their mediocrities, limited as they can be in number. I decide that such a parting speech would only scatter the herd than form one. I foresee a time when they’d wonder who was responsible among them and they’d know it was me because I was the only one who was important, early and most of all silent in this ever so noisy compartment. I am I.

The Memorial

While remembering the contribution of the worker ant in his commemoration, the entire colony stood still in complete horrific silence as the Queen ant made her way to the center of the crowd where the lifeless body of their fallen compatriot was laid, the first time she had ever consented to grace such a public function with her esteemed presence, all thanks to the glory of the departed, his dead face tilted to the right so as to keep in line with the century old tradition of not meeting the Queen’s eyes directly even in the event of death, and the solemn moment reached its pinnacle when popular workers of the colony viz. MJSNCO2909X and QWQDMD0-3C lifted their dead mate above their heads for everyone assembled in the bright morning hours to see for one last time the lasting image of their fallen hero, a time tested expert in the field of nesting who commenced working immediately after emerging from his pupal casing and continued that trend tirelessly for the next 93 days until today when he collapsed to the ground for no apparent reason (old age – a plausible connection) thus giving his community no other option but to hold his funeral in grandeur with the noble presence of the Queen herself, who was obligated to initiate the proceedings and at the end of the memorial service thought it wise to march over his body, plucked his abdomen apart with no discernible provocation and called upon her worker class to begin feeding their fallen compatriot to the young for better days to come before leaving for her palace.

Abduction By Hand

One fine Tuesday, I suddenly felt uncontrollable spasms terrorize my body and I couldn’t bring myself to believe the changes I witnessed in my hitherto serene habitat. A sudden rush of shattering sounds ensued and all I could think was to hold onto wherever I was and not make any sudden movements that could make me look conspicuous. Once that ended, a small shaft of light slowly crept in dissipating the darkness and that’s when I saw those huge gloved hands moving toward me in swift motion. I froze in fear and surrendered myself completely to those hands that held me by my head and dragged me out of my place with monstrous impunity, and all I did in fright and shame was cry inconsolably until I saw my smiling mother and heard her say her first words to me, “My baby!”

P.S: Well, this was my entry for a Penguin-Hindustan Times contest to describe one amazing thing in my life in less than 150 words. Thought it was worth a post. Happy weekend, folks! 🙂

She Is Beautiful

She is beautiful. She is dressed today in a lovely white frock charmingly printed with designs of exotic flowers. She is playing hide-and-seek right outside the park with four or five others of her age group. She does seem to enjoy the game quite a lot today, as the excitement on her face is quite apparent. She sprints from one end of the park to the other looking for a good place to hide while the countdown of the seeker in the game rapidly comes to a close. She furtively glances around and hides behind a bush just in time.

She slowly peers out of the bush and watches the seeker begin the search with a few good finds. She tries to control her giggling by crossing her palms on her mouth but that’s not good enough to conceal her sniggers. She realizes a few moments later that she is the last one left unfound after what seems to be quarter hour of play. She, with the help of her friends, who give out the seeker’s imminent moves and positions each minute, crawls from one bush to the other in swift clandestine shuffles, brilliantly evades capture and in time moves to the south end of the park.

She frets thinking that she has been cornered with no more ends to move without being noticed, but fortunate for her she is now being helped by an elderly man sitting on the park bench who suggests a good place to hide. She duly follows him to the safe zone by mimicking each of his moves and now they are at the far end of the park where she is secure. She has been pricked and scratched by thorns on the way, a couple of which still cling onto her dress. She hisses in slight pain while the man slowly removes her dress and picks the thorns from it with diligence so as not to spoil it. She scans around the bushes for any movement from the fear of being found while he gingerly cleanses the dirt off her hands and legs and continues to charter areas private to her and rightfully belongs to hers and hers alone.

She feels an oddity arise in her mixed with a peculiar feeling of invasiveness, a form of offense and guilt at the same time. She is unable to express this feeling of trepidation as clearly as she wishes to and only thinks about ending this new found association by running away as fast as she can. She is pinned down to the ground in one swift motion with his hands covering her mouth the very next moment. She mumbles words of escape and forgiveness to no immediate effect and now new meanings of fear and being a subject of unfair control gradually dawn on her. She is unable to dispose the huge mass that has imposed itself rudely upon her, which has now started making awkward motions by sticking its body closer and even closer to hers. She finds the cruel meaning of those motions moments later when the pain climaxes and the body above her slumps to the side in exhaustion.

She is unable to find her voice again while her naked body shivers on the grass. She can find her spotless white frock and tattered inner garments lying a few feet away but she doesn’t find the will to rise to her feet and gather them. She doesn’t feel anything except the stinging pain in her abdomen. She watches him settle his pants and walk away, and half an hour later she gathers her dress and walks out of the park cautiously wishing none of her friends would still linger around. She is ten years old and she is beautiful.

Once Upon A Evening

My father and I wait for the bedroom door to open any second. A small murmur is heard in the backdrop, nothing more than feeble whispers. Damn, tension grows each minute. The anxiety is clearly visible on our manly faces. Dad seems to have gotten rid of all his nails and right now he is peeling the skin off his fingertips. I also seem to have chewed my nails in the past one hour. Dad and I are unable to make eye contact with each other. The second our stares meet, we skillfully divert our attention to the door. In those fleeting glances, I do realize that he is lost in his own train of thoughts: quite understandable given the situation. This was the first instance he was about to witness such a thing in his lifetime. Grandpa is watching TV. He is kept unaware of all that’s happening. Truth be told, neither of us dare to explain things to him as it would most certainly jeopardize the evening’s plans. The old man demands to know now and then why the bedroom door is closed for such a long time and why both of us are standing right outside it the entire time. We say in unison its nothing. He continues to watch TV. The 8’o clock news is on. That gives another half an hour until grandpa’s attention is diverted and his suspicions rise again. My sis and grandma are inside with mum. It’s almost been an hour since all this started, yet no word from them yet. Father knocks the door with growing impatience. What’s going on, he demands to know. We’ll be out in a minute, my sis shoots back from inside. A tinge of concern is concealed in her voice and a little excitement too. Five minutes later, the door opens. Out comes my sis first, she is all smiles. Next, grandma walks out all coy. And there she was, mum at the door! I turn around to see dad in complete amazement for the first time ever! Sis and grandma unable to control their emotions anymore give out a wild shriek! This catches grandpa’s attention, who in the middle of all things is now giving a standing ovation. And I can’t stop myself from jumping up and down in unexplainable joy! She did it! God, my mum looks so young in a chudidhar she could pass off as my sister!

P.S: Time for me pass on the Blogger Buddy award I’d once received from Karthik. I don’t know if the rules permit me to pass it onto two at a time. Yet, I’d like to pass it to Archana & Anupama. Cheers folks! Keep writing!