Friday, 18 December 2009

Remembering Titanic

As the whole world gets ready to embrace the new James Cameron film, I decide to revisit a film which fascinated a child 11 years ago.

I was hardly five then. But to this day, the sunny April day of 1998 is as clear in my mind as anything else. A new English film had become the talk of the town. It had won 11 Oscars (I didn't know what an Oscar was) and became a global hit. (As though they were the only criteria for a good film) It had come to Kolkata and as expected, became an instant smash hit. People all over were rah-rah-ing about the film on the sinking ship.

My relationship with cinema till then was not very developed. I don't remember seeing many films before that. (You certainly wouldn't expect a five-year-old to appreciate Orson Welles or Satyajit Ray, would you?) I was taken to movie theatres a couple of times before but the experience at the cinema hall was nothing memorable to speak of.

We didn't know anything about this new movie except the fact that the protagonist was a sinking ship. I remember that Aunt managed to get five tickets for Mum, Dad, Sister, herself and well, that little child. I was very excited. I was going to watch a movie!

The day finally arrived and we were all ready to go to the movie theatre. Multiplexes were strangers to Kolkata until 2003. Single-screen halls were all we had then. We went to the Globe Cinema to see the movie called Titanic which was "edited to suit the family audiences in India". It was as clean and family-friendly as a five-year-old can possibly see.

And oh my Flying Spaghetti Monster! The crowd! What a crowd it was! Thank the FSM that I didn't get lost in the crowd that evening.

We were able to find our seats amidst the clamour. In a while, the lights were turned off and some trailers were shown (I don't remember which trailers they were). Then the movie started suddenly. The theatre became silent at once. As the treasure hunters went deep into the Atlantic, I (and possibly, every member of the audience) was immersed too.

Cut to: The scene at the Globe Cinema three-and-a-half hours later.

I was crying my hearts out. I was choked with emotion. I couldn't hold myself together. The movie gave me a feeling I wasn't yet familiar with: grief. The man called James Cameron had just given me one of the best experiences of my five-year-old life. Titanic was the power of cinema unleashed before me. In these three hours, I knew what the celluloid screen could do to a person. I knew how wonderful, how magnificent, how spectacular the medium of cinema could be. At that point, I knew I had fallen in love with movies.
I had difficulty in understanding the words mouthed by the characters but what they said wasn't hard to understand at all. To use a very clich├ęd expression, the language was very much universal. On that special evening, I was entranced by the vastness of the scale of the movie. I was captivated by the quiet charm of Kate Winslet, who's still my favourite actress. There were sequences which left me thrilled, amused, shocked and excited. I remember being horrified by the scene when Rose tries to commit suicide. I remember being amused by the scene when Jack (Leonardo DiCaprio, who would go on to introduce me to Martin Scorsese) almost misses the ship. I remember being awed by the scene of Jack and Rose "flying". I remember being shattered by the sight of Jack sinking to the depth of ocean. I remember the effect the James Horner score created on my mind.

I remember the experience which I don't think I will ever be able to forget.

Next few months, Titanic was all I knew. I made terrible drawings of the ship all over my drawing books. I pestered everyone in the family to bring me anything which was related to Titanic. The rooms in my house were adorned with posters of Titanic. In a couple of months' time, we had our first PC. Just imagine how excited I was when someone gave me wallpapers of Titanic on my computer! I had the opportunity to see another spectacular achievement of Cameron – Terminator 2: Judgment Day.

Let me recount a heartbreaking experience here. One fine day, my parents gifted me an audiotape of the James Horner soundtrack of Titanic. On receiving that cassette, I was, needless to say, very enthused. I kept playing the tape in a portable cassette player in an infinite loop, especially the Celine Dion song. But my joy was short-lived because the tape was somehow damaged one day. But at that moment the tape was out of stock and my parents couldn't get it replaced immediately. I had just lost something very precious to me.

Time went on and my Titanic mania eventually subsided. Gradually, I was introduced to cinema. I started realising what good cinema really was. I discovered the classic films and started to appreciate cinema as a medium of abstract art. I no longer had a soft spot for Titanic. It was just another crowd-pleaser, nothing more. It was very manipulative and unnecessarily sentimental. It's perhaps the worst Best Picture Oscar winner ever or even the worst film ever. It may even be the "most dreadful piece of work" ever, as declared by Robert Altman. I don't think it's a great film, or even a very good one. It definitely didn't deserve all those 11 Oscars. According to popular opinion, it should have deserved 11 Razzies or something even worse. Isn't it funny that we accuse Titanic of being popular (or populist for that matter) and declare it the worst thing mankind has ever experienced based on a popular opinion?

I have to repeat that I don't think Titanic is a very good film. But it's perhaps not as abysmal as it's made out to be. But I can't deny how it affected me when I was a child because it opened up a new door for me and it remains an important film of my life. This film was my first tryst with the thing called cinema.

As James Cameron comes out of his 12-year-long hibernation with the sureshot-blockbuster Avatar today (it was "tomorrow" when I started writing it), I become just as excited as the child who was floored by his earlier film 11 years ago. I think Mr Cameron will be able to bring out the long-forgotten child within me with his film and will inspire him to love a film from the bottom of his heart. It's not always the greatest of things you have a place in your heart for. Sometimes, just something mediocre can move you or inspire you. That is just good enough, sometimes. I mean, who can imagine that it was schlock and grindhouse which gave us a filmmaker like Quentin Tarantino? It's his love of films (I mean all films, not just greats or classics) which makes him the finest auteur of today.

I am more than willing to believe Ebert when he says: 'It takes a hell of a lot of nerve for a man to stand up at the Oscarcast and proclaim himself King of the World. James Cameron just got re-elected.' And I am all ready to bow before the King.

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