CHENNAI: Do you remember the late 90s romcom You’ve Got Mail, in which two business rivals — played by Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks — fall in love with anonymous online personas of each other? In life-as-usual, the two bicker endlessly, unmindful of the fact that they are doing so with the very anonymous lover for whom they otherwise save their best. The happy ending is, of course, in the climactic revelation of identities, allowing for a mutual realisation that the rival is also, and more importantly, the email lover.
One can sense in this a templatised love story, in which two people fall in love with an alternate idea or manifestation of each other, unaware that this hallowed self belongs to the banal individual confronting them in banal circumstances. In the happy end, the secret is out, and the platonic passion for an anonymous person colludes with simple, corporeal love. This collapsing is a powerful thing: it also removes any antipathy either character felt for the other.
For me, however, the happy ending has always seemed too facile, and I wish writers would stop ignoring the great tragic potential in this story. But let me first talk of the cheap moral extractable here, of which much is made of. The moral simply is: we shouldn’t deny the possibility of amazement in people we meet in daily life. Even the poster of You’ve Got Mail said: ‘Someone you pass on the street may already be the love of your life.’ But what is one supposed to do with this knowledge — accost people and proclaim this probability? I’ve never had much patience for this interpretation, and I believe that the story is to be understood primarily as a love story, and not a moral fable.
Anyway, now let me give an example of the tragic potential I mentioned earlier. Imagine two neighbours A and B, both in love with anonymous personas of each other (say fake Facebook profiles). Unlike the standard template, here A and B don’t hate each other in real non-Facebook life, but are in fact attracted to each other. Let’s say that, on one particularly beautiful night, they happen to sleep with each other.
The next morning, embarrassed, they both agree to just forget about it. In their conversations with the Facebook profiles that they are otherwise in love with, they fail to share the truth about this night. None of them want to spoil the online relationship, which somehow seems stronger than anything else. Then, after some days, the obligatory revelation of true identities happens.
Now the tragedy is bare, for now the simple movement from platonic love into corporeal reality is impossible. A and B have both cheated on each other, by sleeping with each other. They’ve both erred, they’ve both withheld information about that error.
I opine that someone needs to try out such subversion of the old template, if only to complicate matters to a delicious degree.
(The writer is publishing his first novel ‘Neon Noon’ in July 2016)