Dard-e-disco: What the term really means

Monday, July 21, 2008

There are times when you know something is profoundly meaningful, even if you cannot put your finger on it. I really have no clue what dard-e-disco means (the dance of pain, the pain in one’s joints when you dance, or the pain of watching anyone do disco dancing?) but it seems clear to me that it marks some important shift in the way we consume Hindi cinema. Brought up on tearful laments about the pain involved in love, and in fact in life itself, the idea that the site of dard could move from dil and jigar to disco is certainly a new one. Using the same Urdu trick of hyphenating adjectives and emotions in order to magnify effect (dard-edil, dard-e-jigar, mallika-e-tarannum), it empties the device of its previous self-importance, mocking its pretensions even as it triumphantly revels in its own superficiality. In doing so, it takes potshots at something we take very seriously — our capacity for psychological injury. Song after song in Hindi films dripped with self-pity, as we listed all that world had done us hard by. Bedard, zaalim, bewafa, rusva, tanha, duhai, barbad are the kind of words that one tends to encounter in conjunction with concepts like wafa, jafa, gam, sharm-o-haya and of course, dard.In a larger sense the Hindi film was a therapeutic dialogue with one’s self. Sudhir Kakar calls the Hindi film a place where we carry out our long-standing quarrel with reality. The theatre was a return to the womb, where in the darkness of the cinema hall, we regressed to our balledup psychological selves and located ourselves in the psycho-dramas screened to us. Hindi films have never been about any reality but again, as someone has argued, that does not make them any less real. The characters are not people, but symbolic representations of values (The awash-with-breast-milk Mother, The stern-because-of-the-burden-of-duty Father, the disruptive-young-daughter-in-law-from-a-rich-family,thevirtuous-sister-who-needs-constant-protection-from-lecherous-men) and the stories a timeless re-telling of old mythologies. Manmohan Desai once claimed that all his films were a re-telling of the Mahabharata. I grew up at a time when virtually every film was a lostand-found saga. One entered the theatre 15 minutes late waiting for the family to have got scattered and for the obnoxious child star brats to have morphed into our heroes while kicking a football or a can. As an illustration of the therapeutic role played by Hindi cinema, the lost-andfound theme is particularly revealing. The idea of emotional exile, and maternal abandonment leading to the climactic re-union spoke to something deep and real inside us. While Hindi cinema has ostensibly told us stories about the characters it portrays, the stories have really been about ourselves. Whether it was Vijay playing his disappointment with failed father figures, or a Rahul helping us negotiate a peaceful settlement with modernity, the role of cinema has been to provide us with psychological succour with its thinly veiled fantasies. Bollywood has for decades been plonking us on its lap and thudding our heads with a gentle rhythm, lulling us into a state of thumbsucking contentment. Perhaps things are changing. Not dramatically or discontinuously but changing nevertheless. The films we see in recent times are beginning to locate us outside the frame of the story. We are beginning to consume stories rather be consumed by stories about ourselves. The detachment of the viewer from the story, the uncoiling of the historical from the mythological is the process that has just been set in motion. When we are able to dance to dard-e-disco, when a film like Om Shanti Om makes us consume images of our own past, not as tradition but as fashion, it is a sign that things are changing. We are being able, for the first time to act like consumers of cinema. Cinema is being reduced to mere entertainment rather than a twisted form of therapy. And even when cinema grapples with issues, it is beginning to do so in a contemporary, conscious way. Taare Zameen Par is a good case in point where the questions it addresses belong to the world of conscious parenting. Of course, we still have our Baghbaans, we still have Karan Johar, and of course we have the saas-bahu serials which are forms of therapy masquerading as surreal nightmares. But change is afoot, and some credit is due to dard-e-disco


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