As Good As It Gets

Modern women, and feminists in particular, may often complain that in old movies the leading lady was often a poorly sketched character — a 1-dimensional, typical mother, wife or sister who was to be the epitome of supposed feminine qualities viz. love, sacrifice, forbearance etc.

I would like to generalize this sentiment and offer this for the reader’s consideration: our stories — which are nothing but reflections of our attitudes — tend to portray the protagonist as the source of extreme goodness, a pinnacle of virtues and morality.

We may all know deep down in our hearts, and even consciously, that there is no such thing as a perfect man, that perfection can be strived after but never achieved — but somewhere we not just hope for it, but actively tend to be partial to the (traditionally accepted) heroic qualities and such nature as we see or expect in people.

Even today, and in quite a few movies, we see this tendency to worship the heroic in the protagonist. As they say, extremes meet, and we see the habit of portraying the villain in extremely unfavourable light as well. It’s a kind of emotional and moral spoon-feeding; we all believe it, only Ghalib put it succinctly —

lataafat be-kasaafat jalwaa paidaa kar nahi saktee

— we cannot see goodness unless we compare it with filth!

For anyone who can think even a little, one can see that this is not so; that the whole premise is just flat, 1-dimensional, unnatural… These are not the kind of people you meet in real life; we all know the proverbial shades of grey.

Now if we may accept it!

Why must the Bhuvan of Lagaan win the match (and may I add, in highly improbable circumstances)? Had they lost, would his sincerity, his turmoil, his struggle, his efforts have been any less real, albeit in vain? Why do we need a manifestation of beauty to understand beauty?

Why does Ishaan Awasthi of TZP need to be a good painter? If he were equally bad at painting as he was in studies, sports etc. would his sufferings be any less worthy of our empathy? And are we to dump people, handicapped (in this case, dyslexic) or otherwise, with no above-the-average talents? Do we have no compassion, no sympathy for them?

But that is exactly who your average man is! That is what most of us are — nothing extraordinary, just normal people who are only so-so at most of the things we call daily living, nothing glorious, nothing heroic… So what about them?

Aren’t we bickering, being bitter with them just because of our inane, insane and unrealistic search for the heroic, for the extraordinary, for that missing charm, for that something more?

What’s wrong in looking at people, at things as they are?
What if this is as good as it gets? It’s still very beautiful, is it not!

As Douglas Adams once famously remarked, isn’t it enough to see that a garden is beautiful without having to believe that there are fairies at the bottom of it too?

To read other things by the author: