All Hail the Non-hero

Media is changing slides too fast; we are habituated to knee-jerk reactions, routine reflexes.

Published: 10th March 2019 05:00 AM  |   Last Updated: 09th March 2019 06:25 PM   |  A+A-

We see what we are meant to see, told to see. Our sight limited to what’s right in front. How then to divert attention to what’s beyond the periphery of our vision, what can be caught only through the corner of an eye? Images gallop up with frightening speed, the next replacing the last before we can drink it all in. Media is changing slides too fast; we are habituated to knee-jerk reactions, routine reflexes. Spoon-fed from birth, our blindfolds too are custom-made.

In this myopic world, nuance is nothing. How then are we to appreciate gradation in tone or scene, analyse what raises the hair on the nape of our neck? Viewers are used to being visually manipulated. The eye of the beholder is easily controlled, the camera sees to that with its zooming and panning.

We know Shakuntala, but not Priyamvada or Anasuya. The unsung heroes who rallied around a giddy and then distraught Shakuntala through love and loss. While Shakuntala’s grief is described in minutiae, her confidants are only foils, breathing backdrops. They are there to make her look good. Her tragedy is everything, her lack of awareness of her friends’ woes only natural.

A hierarchy ensures that the spotlight falls on the hero, the main protagonist. The rest, deemed extras or junior artistes, are only props. Challenging then to notice minor details and support systems, simply because we are not trained to do so. Schooled from childhood to ourselves strive for the main-stage, for the arc lights, it is impossible to appreciate the runner-up.

Bharatanatyam narrative Sakhi, choreographed and performed recently by Aranyani Bhargav in Bengaluru, focuses on the minor character, looking beyond frontality. With the spotlight off nayika, the sakhi takes centre-stage to voice her side of things—so much more interesting than the clichéd and fevered ramblings of the heroine.

Sakhi distracts you when the boyfriend ain’t coming; sakhi holds your hand when your heart is broken; sakhi berates you when it’s your fault your lover is aloof; sakhi waits with you, wails with you, and also becomes your spine, supporting you to stand post-betrayal. A repository of so much loyalty and faith, of kind words and the occasional scolding when sorely needed. An ode to friendship that’s also a pointing to the essentials in life.

When the recent success of the movie Gully Boy brought side characters into focus, audiences witnessed the wholesomeness brought in by the rest of the cast, with back stories and specific dialogues, and sometimes in danger of upstaging the lead characters. The stammering, the obese, the bespectacled, the squeaky-voiced are no longer portrayed as comic relief. Bollywood buddies are now you and me.

Parents, aunts, neighbours, the milkman—all look set to get their due in films. Art imitates life and vice-versa. Let’s look forward to relishing the sidelines, glorifying the understudy. What lies beneath may fascinate more than what stands up all vain and narcissistic, bombastic and twirling its moustache. Let’s hear it from the famous writer’s domestic help, from Cinderella’s lost slipper, from the bean in Jack’s back-pocket, from anyone who’s been overlooked in our eagerness to hear a story.shinieantony@gmail.com

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